Friday, 30 March 2012

Waste Management

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I received an interesting piece of junk mail the other day. It was a mass mailing postcard from the local trash and recycling pick-up company, obviously sent out to addresses not currently using their services. It quoted about $20 a month for weekly garbage and bi-weekly recycling service. What I found interesting was that they then compared their rate to, by their accounting, the much more expensive option of hauling your own garbage and recycling to the landfill.

Now I live in a semi-rural part of a mid-sized town in the western United States. It's the part of the country where many people drive, or at least own, a pick-up truck. So hauling our own trash to the dump is a viable option for us. The local landfill recently doubled their rates, going from $5 to $10 for an average truck load. The dump is clear over on the other side of town from us, maybe 7 - 8 miles away. The truck gets an average of 20 miles to the gallon of gas. So, with gas going up all the time, add in maybe $2.50 - $3 for the gas to get there and back. So, a full-load trip to the dump costs us less than $15.

They came up with $15 per trip as their "haul your own" figure - that's reasonably accurate, I'd say. But what I found interesting was that they then used twice-a-month trips (therefore $30 per month, at least) as their comparison to show that using their service would cost less. Do most folks really generate that much trash?

We make dump (and recycling) runs about once every three months. We take a daily newspaper, but some of that gets used as wood stove fire-starter (our only heat source) half the year, at least. Instead of a garbage disposal we have a chicken bucket and a big set of compost bins built from salvaged pallets. I buy my milk in cardboard cartons instead of plastic. Whenever I have space in my freezer, I refill the cartons with water and freeze them - a handy ice source for camping or cooling a batch of homemade beer. When I buy juice, it's usually frozen concentrate instead of plastic jugs. We reuse bail-closure bottles for beer, hard cider, and kombucha; reuse glass canning jars and freezer bags for garden produce. I cook from scratch and do a lot of my own baking. I buy pantry items in bulk (those I don't grow and dehydrate myself) and then use 5-gallon tins and gallon glass jars for storage. For other shopping, I'm mindful of excess packaging as well.

I have a recycling area set up under the back side of my kitchen counter (that also holds light bulbs and other electrical items, empty bottles awaiting reuse or a trip out to the crates in the shed, and paper grocery bags I'll reuse until they are falling apart - and then I use them to hold newspaper recycling). I also reuse paper grocery bags to separate plastics, glass, and metals, folding down the top edges so they'll last longer. Those are emptied into plastic tubs on a shelf out by the garage maybe once a month. We have a local business that pays for metals for recycling, so we have a 55-gallon drum for aluminum and another smaller can for copper or steel - maybe a once-a-year trip, if even that, to empty those.

Out by the garage, we have three 44-gallon rubber trash barrels, and then a few 2- and a couple of 5-gallon metal cans for stove ashes (we have an old non-catalytic wood stove, enabling us to burn pallets and scrap wood, so our ashes have quite a few nails in them). To be honest, we'll fill up those cans before we do the trash barrels. We've never (knock on wood) had any problems with our garbage barrels and bears or raccoons. I do try to keep smelly trash to a minimum - rinsing, bagging, or wrapping everything - and there are good lock-down lids on the barrels (a necessity because of our infamous Washoe Zephyr). And, to be honest once again, I live in a desert climate - stuff is more likely to dry out than rot.

My husband has a couple of buddies he'll call, too, before making a dump run, and they return the favor. So a truck load is most often a combination from three homes, each taking a turn paying the landfill entrance fee. So for our trash, garbage, and recycling, we'd pay $5 a month without his buddies; averaging more like $2 per month on the dump-buddy three-month system. I think we'll stick with the "haul your own" option.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

We really REALLY need to talk about resilience.

Aurora@Island Dreaming

Yesterday the news broke in the UK that sizable numbers of tanker drivers had balloted to go on strike, possibly as early as next week. The UK has been here before, most spectacularly during the fuel protests of 2000 when fuel refineries were blockaded and the country was a mere '9 meals from anarchy'. Media coverage and a few either well placed (if you're cynical) or incredibly dumb (if you're cynical) comments from a few high profile politicians urging people to top up their tanks and have a jerry can of petrol on standby have led to queues and panic buying.

My own nation desperately needs to start talking about resilience. It doesn't really matter if tanker drivers go on strike for a few weeks. Well it matters, it will cause pain and disruption to a lot of already stretched people, but it doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the fact that we collectively and individually saddle our entire beings on the availability of a rapidly depleting, mostly imported, polluting, nonrenewable liquid fuel. THAT is a real problem; and judging by the commentary in today's papers, the majority of the UK public still doesn't get that. According to the International Energy Authority, 'conventional' oil production peaked in 2006. The potential short term pain we are about to feel is nothing in comparison with what awaits us in the next few decades if we don't wake up.

I became aware of peak oil several years ago, along with tottering housing markets, banking collapse, austerity drives and the potential for civil unrest. What did I do with that awareness? Well, I read voraciously for a few years. I read Richard Heinberg's 'The Party's Over' (a very good if somewhat gloomy introduction to peak oil if you need one) and many of the titles in its bibliography. I read and read and read and made moves to change my own life and become more resilient. Some of these I wrote about on my blog, preaching to the already converted. Who else did I tell? Pretty much no one. As all of these dire warnings became reality, I found myself unable to really talk about them effectively. These are not isolated problems that can be blamed on or palmed off on others to solve and as such are hard to talk about. Talk about bogeymen is cheap and this is instead a conversation  predominantly about personal responsibility.

I came across this video last week that explains the problems we are facing in a natty animation. I posted it to my Facebook page and it got a single like - from someone already in the know.

I think I understand why KONY2012 went viral and generated so much interest, when videos like this one do not. Murderous individuals are so much easier to 'solve' than murderous circumstances. You watch and post the video, you have done your bit - doesn't it feel good? You have helped change the world. You watch a video about the triple whammy reality of resource depletion, economic collapse and environmental degradation and within minutes you start to feel a little off colour. You may try to rationalize it away as extremist nonsense and stop watching. If you can't quite manage to rationalize it away and continue to take in uncomfortable information, you won't feel good for a very long time to come. Watching the video is only the very start of your contribution to the solution, because in essence, the problem is all of us choosing convenience over resilience every step of the way. The change has to come from within and comes to bear on every lifestyle decision you make.

This lack of resilience thinking also explains why the prospect of oil tanker drivers going on strike is causing such a furore here at home. Yes, it is going to be very inconvenient - but wouldn't it be better to stop the bellyaching and use this as a practice run for real energy shocks and disruptions that are undoubtedly going to be a part of our future. Resilience is not having a jerry can on stand by and sending out the army to deliver fuel. Resilience is designing our lives so that a temporary disruption to petrol supply doesn't warrant such attention, because other systems are already in place to take up the slack. It is sharing lifts and getting fit enough to walk a few miles instead of driving. It is buying a bike and learning to maintain it. It is maintaining a pantry and a kitchen  garden. Resilience demands forethought over immediacy. It demands that we make changes and choices and lobby government, but that we don't expect them to listen or to create a resilient society for us.

I haven't communicated any of this and it is time to own my own frustration. These issues encapsulate some of my deepest fears for my children, my community, myself. If I can't communicate these deepest fears and hopes to my nearest and dearest, in the same way that they express their own insecurities to me, then I am not really communicating, am I? It isn't a case of preaching, it is a case of revealing a little more of yourself and potentially taking flack and ridicule for it. So this week I aim to introduce these issues to someone who currently doesn't know or care and a tanker strike is the perfect opportunity. And then I will do it again with someone else next week. I aim to fill my barren Facebook feed with videos and links like the one above, promoting everything from economic collapse theory to up cycling old furniture and repairing bikes. Resilience is the very issue of our time and won't become a reality until the majority of people embrace it as a filter through which to view the world. I aim to start a conversation.

What do you do to promote resilience? Should we even try?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Treasure What You Have

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.
"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; 

but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for"
-Epicurus, Greek Philosopher (341 BC - 270 BC)
I found this quote when stumbling through the web the other day, and it got me thinking. I remembered reading about a psychological effect that describes this quote to a tee. It is called the ‘DIDEROT EFFECT'.

Let me explain.  Have you ever purchased something, something you really wanted, only to discover that it made the rest of your stuff seem a bit old and dated?  Rather than accepting some variance in the style against your older possessions, have you then been tempted to upgrade your old and dated stuff? This is called the ‘Diderot Effect’, named after the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–84) who first described the effect in an essay titled "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown".  In this essay he describes how a gift of a brand new scarlet dressing gown leads to unexpected results, nearly making him bankrupt in the process.  

How do you become bankrupt just by receiving a gift of a new, sleek and beautiful scarlet dressing gown (aka smoking jacket).  Well the effect kind of tricks you like this.  Have you ever bought nice new shirt, and thought that your old pants now look shabby against it?  So you go and buy new pants to match, and shoes, and a handbag, and a belt, etc.  You get the picture.  The same can be said for putting a new piece of furniture into a room of existing pieces.  Soon you are shopping at the mall or high street to buy new furniture and fittings to make the original purchase look at home probably to the detriment of your bank account.

The same thing happened to Diderot or so he wrote.  He thought that his new robe looked so nice, that he thought that all the stuff in his apartment looked drab and ordinary against it.  So he bought lots and lots of new and expensive stuff to spruce up his abode, with a big hit on his financial accounts.  In the end he had this to say,
"I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one … Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances, but the rich man is always under a strain.”
Between 2001 and 2006, I too was a victim to the Diderot Effect.  I would buy a new stereo system, only to think not long afterwards that I needed a new media player or DVD player to go with it.  The old one was in good working order so I was behaving irrationally.  When I bought a new computer, I would also upgrade the display, even though the one I had was perfectly okay.  Same goes with a lawn mower that I had, which just needed a little TLC, but I dumped it and bought a new one.  My old petrol (gas) can was old and rusty, but still functional, but I bought a new one, and threw the other away with the old mower.  Yes friends, I was wasteful as well.

These are just a few example of being sucked in by consumerism for consumerisms sake.  Today I would call it the 'steak knife effect' after all of those infomercials that start off flogging you one product, but then throw in a whole bunch of other stuff (that you never wanted anyway) just to justify the deal in your mind!

It has taken me a few years since my green epiphany, and a lot of thought after reading a book by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss titled "Affluenzza - When Too Much is Never Enough", but I am no longer influenced by this effect or most advertising for that matter.  I only replace what I need, when the old item is beyond repair, and only after I have gone without it for a few weeks to see if I can get by without it.  Case in point, my clothes dryer that broke a few months back.  You can read about how we adapted in the absence of this so called laundry necessisty on the post on my personal blog titled "Ditching the Clothes Dryer".  This is a classic example of rethinking and changing my behaviours for the better.

My warning to you all is beware the Diderot Effect and get off the consumerist treadmill which will help you stop the upward creep of material desire. Knowing how much is enough is a powerful skill to possess in this, the age of rampant consumerism.  Despite what advertisements tell us, stuff just doesn't satisfy our desire for meaning, and it is a very poor substitute for your sense of self worth within a manipulative and demeaning society.  I don't mean to sound preachy, but it feels to me that consumerism in western society is totally out of control for all the wrong reasons.

So to sum it all up, Treasure What You Have.  It will save your bank balance, and might just save a few resources in this ever declining, resource strapped, finite planet of ours.

Have you succumbed to this effect and regretted it later on?  How did it make you feel?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

First Aid on Livestock

By Danelle Stamps at My Total Perspective Vortex

One of the lifestyle changes that we quickly learned living on a farm and having animals is performing our own veterinary care on our livestock. We simply cannot call the vet for every little thing or have them come to the farm to do wound care daily. We do call the vet, but only when it is necessary and often we call to make that determination. 

That meant we had to learn to give shots. This means we manage a pharmaceutical selection in a fridge. This means we have to not be squeamish. 

Knowing this level of animal first aid, having supplies on hand, and maintaining a good relationship with our vet has saved the lives of several animals on our farm.

Last week after shearing the sheep, somehow one of the ewes sliced a tendon on a fence. I went to take naked sheep pictures and found her bleeding and limping.  

So yesterday a friend was curious and asked what this was like so I thought I would post a walk through of the wound care:

First, when any injury happens it is important to clean the injured area, with sheep that means shearing bald around the area. Then they need an antibiotic (penicillin) to ward off infection and a tetanus shot. These guys sleep outside on the ground or in hay and the common tetanus bacteria is found in dirt (not rusty metal, like most believe). 

This is wrap and bandage that has to be daily changed for a while. The cut is just above the joint.

Her niece is in with her. They are 2 weeks apart and are best friends. Sheep are social animals and need a companion or the depression that sets in can hinder healing.

First we remove the old bandage. This stuff is what we call vet wrap, but it is exactly the same thing used on people- a self sticking bandage.  This part seems to cause her more discomfort than any other part of the process.

Notice I have a towel under where I am working. That is to keep hay from getting in the wound while it is exposed.

Chad is in charge of holding her while I do the work on the wound. Keeping her calm and not freaked out keeps us all safe from injury.

This is Ichthammol: hoof treatment, and skin antiseptic goo (Ichthy-goo for short). This gets applied to the wound. Gloves keep things cleaner, but also touching the wound with my bare hands to spread the goo does not appeal to me. You know? I am double gloved so I can slip the goo'd glove off and then still have on a glove to do the next part. 

Then the clean bandage goes on. In this picture you can see the old Ichthy-goo, not blood.  The actual cut, while serious, is actually pretty small.

The new wrap goes on. To get the tension right and not too tight, pull the length out to wrap and then wrap it around. I  took this one twice around the wound, once below the joint and once at the joint. 

And then she's good. It does look like it is healing and she is starting to put weight on it. I might have the vet come out and look at it next week to assess the next step in wound care- leaving it open to air and wrapping at night maybe? Or going more days between changing. Not sure how long we have to use Ichthy-goo either. We are learning that is for sure.

This wound is different than the predator injuries we have dealt with before. It was a clean cut and small. That doesn't mean it isn't serious though. The vet's first assessment was that if we don't get through this she might need amputation or to be put down. We are making this huge effort so we at least save her lamb. Even so, the vet is happy with her progress this week: clean wound and putting pressure on the leg to walk with it.

What we didn't have when we had our first animal related emergency injury was any supplies at all. I called a neighbor at midnight because when Chad hauled 4 injured lambs last year into my kitchen, all bleeding and torn up by a fresh coyote attack I had not a clue what to do or what to use. If I could go back and give the old me a list of basics this would be it:

Vet wrap. Lots of it. AT least 3 rolls.
Vet spray- a gel type spray on wound cleaner and protecting cover
Gauze pads, lots of them
Honey (to get the animals out of shock and hydrated, we mixed honey in warm water)
Penicillin and disposable hypodermic needles
Tetnus and disposable hypodermic needles
rubber gloves, both surgical ad dish gloves
a shearing razor, electric
mints, strong ones for people to suck on while working so the awful smells don't cause additional problems (like people puking)
fly spray made for wounds- we lost a ewe last year to screw fly larvae and almost lost our Hobbit dog too.

and bottled clean water.

Most of this can be kept in a fishing tackle box for easy to go access. Often we use a 5 gallon bucket with a cover though.

It isn't much, but that's a better start than the nothing we had on hand two years ago.

What would you have?

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Wildlife That Bites

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

It's been a wet wet wet summer, second La Nina year in a row, and all the dams and tanks are full. There are puddles in every hollow and anything left out fills up with water. I swore during the decade and a half of severe drought that we've just been through that I would never complain about rain ever again, and I'm not. The upside - flowing creeks, green hills, no catastrophic bushfire risk - is definitely worth it. But there is a downside.

It's a great year for mozzies.  

This week they seem to have all metamorphosed from wrigglers at once, and for the first time we have had to start putting the mosquito net over our bed down of a night. It's nice sleeping under a mosquito net, specially now the nights are a little cooler. But it is interesting that it is only now that they've managed to outbreed the predators, and I wonder why.

Up until now, the control measures for mozzies have consisted of what we don't do. We don't use glyphosate, anywhere.  There is still a lot of vigorous debate around the internet about the safety of glyphosate for humans. The Agrarian Urbanites had a great post a little while ago. My own opinion is that it is not just unsafe but evil in the same vein as Phillip Morris and James Hardie. But there is no debate, hasn't been for a long while, that it is deadly to frogs in minute minute quantities. The frogs around our place are very happy, very amorously noisily happy. We get used to it, but visitors remark about the cacophony. For a small creature, they make a lot of noise, and they eat a lot of mosquitos and wrigglers.

We don't spray or whack spiders, and only destroy their webs if they really are pushing the friendship by building across the doorway or the garden path. I know many people hate spiders - maybe it is a genetic, primal thing designed to stop our ancestors trying to eat them. But the feeling is mutual, and spiders have a lot more rational a fear. I took this photo a while ago. Once you realise what you are looking at, you can see literally hundreds of webs in the trees below our house. I defy a mozzie to make it's way unscathed through that lot!
We don't do anything at all about the microbats. Years ago, a pair used to live in my son's closet, hanging upside down from the hanging rail in the darkest back corner during the day. I took the photo at the top of this post one time when I found them sleeping in some doonas I had hung on the verandah line to air. Mostly I don't know where they live, but sometimes we hear them swooping around the bedroom, scoffing mozzies. I know there are bat-bourne diseases, but I figure I'm in way more danger from mosquito bourne diseases.

But now the mozzies have broken through the predator protection barrier, we shall sleep under a mosquito net at night, and use my lemon oil spray around dusk when they come out. It's very easy to make. In lemon season, I use a vegetable peeler to peel the outer layer of skin from a lot of lemons, enough to pack a glass jar full, and cover with rubbing alcohol.  After a couple of weeks, the peels all go white, the oil in them dissolved out into the spirits. It makes a great massage oil, and a small amount in a spray bottle full of water makes a nice smelling, lemony mozzie repellent.  

It's just coming into lemon season now, but I still have a jar full left from last year.  And I figure with the amount of noise those frogs are making, there should be lots of baby frogs to catch up before I run out.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Meal Planning

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Around 10 years ago whilst working in pharmacy, a work friend introduced me to meal planning. Every Friday she would come to work with a handful of recipe books and food magazines. She would sit with her books, a notebook and pen on her meal breaks and write out the menu for the following week, along with a shopping list for anything ingredients she might need. I found this weekly event quite interesting and inspiring and I attempted myself to do the same, but I only did it on and off and for a couple of weeks at a time. At the time I thought she was very organised, a dedicated cook and someone that liked to try new things all the time. I didn't think much more of it than that. But now I see the bigger I understand just how much this simple tool can change your life!

I have started meal planning again and these are my thoughts on it now:
  • I can see it will save us money
  • I can see it will save food from being wasted
  • I can see it will assist in using ingredients that we already have in the freezer or pantry
  • I can see it will inspire us to try new foods
  • I can see it will encourage me to 'stretch' ingredients and be resourceful with leftovers
  • I can see it will save me time
  • I can see it will stop the "What on earth am I making for tea tonight" experience that overwhelms me every now and then
  • I can see it will encourage more involvement from our family as to what we are eating and what we can make together as a family
  • I can see it will encourage me to use ALL of my cookbooks
  • I can see it forming a major part of my 'job' as a homemaker to plan and be organised

What I can't see is that I will stop this time. I am excited about meal that a little weird? I love having my little 'weekly menu' up for our family to see with references to cook books and pages so I know where to find the recipe for each day. I love knowing that I can balance our meals out for the week in advance and I love the feeling of being in control and organising this important part of our lives.

Tuesday's meal of homemade ricotta gnocchi with a tomato, mushroom and baby spinach sauce

Do you meal plan? How has it worked for you?

Amanda x

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Pumpkin Cookies

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Our winter squash supply serves as our pumpkin supply for pies and other desserts too. Instead of thinking of recipes and going from there, with a staple like winter squash, I like to keep some cooked on hand. Like canned pumpkin only I don't can it, I just keep a stash of cooked squash on hand in the refrigerator during the dark days. The squash keeps well in storage until the following summer, so I just constantly monitor the squash and cook about one or two a week.

Sweet Meat winter squash

We like these cake-like cookies because they are soft and not too sweet, and they are a good way to use up extra squash leftover from dinner or just an excuse to cook up another squash and make cookies.


4 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
4 t pumpkin pie spice or a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger etc., to taste

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 T vanilla
2 cups cooked squash or pumpkin

1 1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 375 F. Measure dry ingredients into sifter and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together, add vanilla, mix well. Add pumpkin, mix well. Add dry ingredients gradually and mix until well blended. Stir in raisins and mix until well distributed.

Drop teaspoonsful of dough on parchment lined baking pans. Bake 10 -12 minutes. Cool.

Monday, 19 March 2012

How to make recycled sweater leggings

By Megan @ The Byron Life

Hello! This "how-to" was posted on my blog back in 2010. Now that the weather is turning colder for us here 'down under', I thought it would be timely to share this simple recycling project with you. Even if you have just basic sewing skills, as I did at the time, you'll be able to make these.


 It was rainy and cold yesterday, and since we've had so many sniffles and colds of late we decided to make it an at-home day. In between chasing little kiddos around the house and feeding teenage hordes, I managed a spot of sewing for my girl.

Last week I showed you the little leggings I made for the baby from a recycled sweater/jumper and there was some interest in a “how to”. As I didn’t photograph the making of those particular leggings, I started on a new set from another recycled wool sweater to bring you this “how to” . Today, in Part One, I’ll show you how I made these pants for Miss Three. In Part Two I’ll show you how to make baby leggings, with enclosed feet.

(I hope the following “how-to” makes sense; after attempting to explain all of this, I now have an even greater appreciation of those crafty types who write fantastic “how-to”s.)

How To Make the Pants:

1. I started with this sweater and the arms were a perfect length match to Melli’s legs.

2. Turn the sweater inside out. Cut off the arms, as shown. I didn’t felt this sweater, so I left the seams intact so the knitting wouldn’t unravel.

3. Bring your two “arms” together as shown. You can see the pants shape now. Pin the “arms” together at the arm-holes, and sew carefully along the inside of the seam all the way from front to back of the pants. Make sure you line your stripes up.

4. My attempt at explaining this in diagram-form. You sew the two arm-holes together at the dark lines in the drawing, keeping the inside of the pants hollow...

5. So it looks kind-of like this

6. Turn out the right way and now you have pants! Just like that. Next, they need a waistband.

7. Cut a waistband from the body of the jumper, as shown. (For your waistband you could also use the stretchy waistband of the jumper itself, but in this example I am saving the jumper waistband for the baby pants.)

8. Sew the waistband ends together so it matches the width of the pants.

9. Matching the waistband seams with the side seams of the pants, place your waistband over the pants, right sides facing, and sew together at the top.

10. Turn it right side out and it will look like this. (yours will be prettier, and straighter, because you are not sewing on my vintage Lemair which had a complete breakdown over sewing these pants!)

11. Measure some elastic to your child’s waist and now we sew this into the waistband.I sewed the ends of the elastic together, and sewed them in the inside of the waistband, at the back of the pants first. Then simply fold over the waistband so the elastic is tucked away inside. Pin like this all the way around, and then sew it together.

12. Et, voila! The end result is a wonky, but cuddly, soft and warm pair of woollen pants for Miss Three.

"Jumping beans", new purple boots and a tiara are optional extras!


Friday, 16 March 2012

A Green Fashion Show

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
A women's group I'm active in is putting on a Fashion Show as a fundraiser on Saturday. We do this every Spring - reserving the Governor's Mansion as our venue, gathering raffle and silent auction items, getting local celebrities and politicians, men and women, to volunteer as our models. In the past, we've partnered with various local chain department stores for our fashions, letting them showcase their latest Spring styles and trends. But this year, we've decided to go "green" (and not just because it's St. Patrick's Day).

even the Mayor, our MC, was wearing a thrifted tuxedo
All of our fashions this year are "experienced" - either vintage, refashioned, or clothing on-loan from local second-hand, thrift, and consignment shops. Members of the group, and some of our models, have been scouring local shops for the outfits - cleaning, mending, and altering them as needed. As with all our fashion shows, our models have the option to purchase their outfits afterwards. My task, during the show, is to serve as assistant to the first group of models - the owners and managers of those local shops. I'll then get to go sit out front to watch the second and third groups, our local movers and shakers, as they take their turns on the runway.

Our guests too, have been gently encouraged to wear vintage, recycled, refashioned, or thrift shop finds. They then are to tell others at their tables about what they're wearing, what kind of a deal they found, what they've done to customize or alter it. Special prizes for best outfit, or best deal (bring your receipt), will be awarded to one person at each table, as decided by the rest of the table.

I really don't have the time nor inclination to shop for something "new" for myself. Since it will be St. Patrick's Day, I do want to wear something green, however. So I've been refashioning one of my husband's t-shirts he never wears. Free from a bar, it had a big ugly beer logo on the chest, but the shirt itself is a really pretty green tie-dye. I cut the bottom off below the logo, trimmed off the bottom hem, and stretched that loop to make the edges curl under - voilá: an infinity scarf. I've cut petal-shaped circles from the sleeves and upper back, and am in the process of folding and gluing them into three fabric flowers to fashion into a pin to fancy up the scarf.

 a thrifted "wedding party" - the bride's dress was $225; all 9 outfits, shoes included, totaled less than $500
I had to write this post now, before the event, because it's my turn today (which is Thursday where I live, in the U.S. Pacific timezone, but already my scheduled Friday on this Australia-based blog). So I haven't included any photos (yet). If you want to re-read this in a couple of days, I'll try to update this post with a few photos from the show, and my finished no-sew embellished scarf. And so, you'll see, I did.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


 By Aurora@Island Dreaming

This months project has been soap, led by the example of a good friend. So excited have I been by the knowledge that I can make yet another necessity of life at home from three simple ingredients, that I made two batches and have been melting them down and adding things to them, just to see what can be done. Exercising my creativity and personal preference, in this instance, to make a soap that soothes, or at the very least does not irritate, my problem skin.

I am not what you might call traditionally creative – I am no artist, unlike many of my relatives. I have long loved the idea of setting out as a creator of musical works, as a dancer, as a sculptor, as a creative force, putting in my 10,000 hours of hard slog to then reap and sow the rewards of mastery. But I am a tinkerer and have never found anything to so catch my imagination that I could invest 10,000 hours in it. Yet I create in many ways – I am not artistic, but creative.

There was a time when not only did I not create, but I consumed with abandon. It was a short period of my life where I came to have disposable credit and the marketplace was eager to furnish me with worldly goods - in every flavour of synthetic vanilla that I could handle. The consumer economy does a nice line in convincing us that we can have the perfect life, if we just buy x. And then the new improved version of x a few months later. But ultimately everything that is mass produced is designed with an average imaginary customer in mind.

I never did find a mass produced soap that didn't inflame my skin. I never found the perfect sofa to fit in our small lounge. I still to this day would love to find the perfect pair of jeans, but I know that they will have to be made, not bought. The mass market can furnish us amply with things that almost meet our true needs. If you have unlimited time and money, then your chances of finding a match between need and product offered increases, but for the rest of us we often make do; and we may be called to compromise not just our personal tastes and preferences, but our ethics also. Whilst the market for 'ethical' goods expands, it is still hard to furnish the necessities of life from its offerings; and whilst the pursuit of perfection is futile, the reality of flimsy or poorly designed products can be infuriating.

As consumers of raw materials, as creators of finished products, we ultimately arrive at something more meaningful and more personal - if often roughly hewn - than the mass produced could ever offer. As salvagers and renovators we reject synthetic vanilla and one size fits all to find the best imperfect solutions we can. We use what we have to create something worthwhile. We make do, in the very best sense; and it is inherently rewarding.

I am almost over soap, for the time being at least (and we now have enough to ride out a few years cleanly!). There is sauerkraut fermenting on the side, making best use of an extra cabbage picked up for pennies last week. This is weighed down by a demijohn of pomegranate wine made from bottled juice that was on offer. There are bath bombs waiting to be wrapped and given as gifts and a pile of DIY and craft books stacked high on the solid side table that was once a wobbly chest of drawers. It isn't artistic, it isn't beautifully staged, but it is a very creative space.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Exiting The Rat Race

Back a few years ago, I remember thinking many times that something was missing in my life. I could never put my finger on what it was, and strived for answers. I would buy the latest consumer and electronic goods, upgrade my computer yearly to a faster model, buy the latest PC games to spend endless hours of my free time on. I worked hard and long in my quest to earn more money so that I could afford more material possessions in the vain hope that I would find satisfaction and fulfilment. 

It didn't work, but like many other people stuck in the rat race, and due to my inaction and consumeristic habits, it was as good as it got. No-one wants to be unfulfilled in life, but sadly many of us are still looking for that "something" that is missing. Credit card balances were through the roof, and I was living a lifestyle way beyond my means.

I also found it hard to unwind each day, and realised that my head was swimming with so much stuff that my mind raced a fair bit of the time. I wasn't in touch with my surroundings, sometimes out of tune with the wonderful people I shared my life with, and I certainly was not in tune with the plight of the planet. I was blissfully unaware of my impact on it and to the ecosystems that exist upon it. I had drifted on the tide of a life half lived for far too long.

What a sorry state of affairs! I had an inkling of what might be wrong, so Kim and I started to attend meditation classes so that we could both learn to relax. I really enjoyed the experience, and things began to change. After a meditation session, I felt connected to my inner self in a way I hadn't experienced in my life.

Then came the day that I went to the cinema to watch a free movie provided by work, and it changed my life. It was as if I awoke from a horrible dream, and if you have read this my personal blog from the beginning, you will know the rest of the actions I have taken to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

All the actions aside, I think I have only once described the emotions and personal changed that have taken place with in me. Firstly, I have taken a step back, and had a really hard look at myself and the way I lived before my epiphany. I have managed to come to grips with who I am, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I found that by looking within, rather than searching for answers in the outside world, I found that I was already complete and that my life was complete. I found that a simple life had meaning, albeit occasionally hard work, and it was not about blatant consumerism that the TV blasts at us, day in, day out. In fact, I found myself watching less and less TV, and began the research and learning that ultimately helped my understanding the climate change problem, and the ways I could reduce my carbon footprint.

At first my family thought I had lost the plot, but found that their husband and father began to talk about more interesting things, and made them think about things that challenged their own understanding of how our civilisation works. I had another purpose other than the daily grind of work. Not only did I feel fully connected to my family, which brought me great joy, I began to feel connected to the Earth, through my gardening endeavours. I may have said this before, but growing your own food is one of the most uplifting and spiritual things I have ever done, and certainly one of the most fulfilling. All of the things that my family and I have done over the last two years have brought us closer together, and we spend more meaningful time together. I now stress less about work, and am more relaxed at home, but more active and took a pay cut so that I could work a 9 day fortnight. I have also lost 10 kg in the process and now know that by looking at my inner self, I changed who I was for the better.

Nowadays, we rarely go out anywhere by choice, but we have a fuller lifestyle. We have comfort in knowing that we produce our own solar electricity and solar hot water, drive less, and have reduced our consumption across the board. We make things together, we grow food together, we cook together, and most of all we have fun together, which is really the simple home truth that people caught in the rat race just don't realise. Living simply, and honesty, like our grandparents, is what a full life was, and still is, all about.

It makes me sad some days, when I realise that it took me about 42 years to get it, but my goodness, I am making up for it now. I still work to pay off the house, and actually enjoy work without the stress, and find it a great way to spread the word about my lifestyle. I stopped sweating the small stuff. We are paying off the house and our other debts very quickly, so we should be debt free in about five years time (maybe a little longer). We don't live in a McMansion (never did anyway), and now live within our means. Credit card debt has gone, with the nasty consumerism troll now living at the bottom of the compost heap like the rotting matter it is.

It feels great to be alive, and to have a goal as big as the planet for the rest of my time on it. I have found the "something" that I was missing. It was inside of me all along, and I just didn't know it at the time!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Value of Stuff

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I went to a garage sale this morning, and it has been going round in my head all day. "Are you moving", I asked, just by way of being friendly. "Yes", she said, "My ex has already moved out. Half this stuff is his."  Huge piles of stuff out on the footpath to be collected for the tip. Huge, unsorted, unloved piles and bags of stuff for sale. So much that it was hard to get enthusiastic about finding a bargain amongst it all.

Sometimes I like garage sales - I rarely shop for stuff anywhere else but op shops and garage sales. Second hand, ironically, doesn't usually mean worse quality. Often I can find beautiful quality things that have already stood the test of time. A lovely old damask tablecloth. A big, heavy china mixing bowl.  A bread baking tin already well seasoned. A garden fork made from real steel. A pair of real Birkenstock sandals. A "Made in Italy" woolen winter coat. A fishing rod that will make a great birthday gift.

Sometimes garage sales are nostalgic and wistful, when people are moving on from a stage of life that has memories.  Sometimes they are headlong and precipitate, when people are clearing decks and launching off into a new adventure. Sometimes they are even tawdry and tacky, when people shop as retail therapy, and end up with piles of junk that no-one, not even they really want at all.

But sometimes there are sad stories of stuff once desired, shopped for, bought, but in the end worth nothing. She sold us some weights that were his for $1. "Serve him right," she said, "for leaving me with all this stuff to get rid of."

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Frugal Angst

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Spring cleaning is a good time to purge, and for me it is a good time to reassess my hoarding frugal re-purposing strategies. My parents were adults during the Depression and WWII when rationing was necessary. Subsequently, everything was saved. I grew up watching my mom wash and dry plastic bags for re-use. So much so, it is second nature for me to just automatically save everything that comes my way. My hubby is the same way, socks beyond repair become grease rags, coffee cans can hold nuts and bolts, and old jeans can become patching material for new jeans.

I'm in the camp though that I don't think I can ever get enough canning jars since I use them so much. The collection above is about a day and half worth of scratch cooking from the freezer and pantry. So I of course save all my jars, and use my rusty rings and used lids for freezer storage items. These are destined to go back to storage for summer time preservation.

Lately though, I have been going through lots of stuff I have saved, you know, like magazines I can't live without etc. Straddling the old way of information gleaning and the Internet has been giving me conniptions. I find comfort in my old quilt magazines, but I know if I needed a patchwork pattern I would never even begin to look through 25 years of magazines - I would consult one of my quilt books or just draft my own pattern. I donated them to a senior center where at least the photos of quilts would bring joy a few more times to someone. I no longer had that need. My quilt bucket list is already too long... . For me letting go is the hard part. Saving something for someday, some doomer scenario or just plain to save it is one of my bad habits.

So systematically I am retraining myself, to not save every useful container that comes my way. Our waste stream is pretty small, since we don't really purchase much, but still, I think I have enough yogurt containers for now. Besides magazines I went through our storage areas and recycled all those yogurt and sour cream containers that are just too useful. Keeping back a storage box of each is enough I think.

So what do you think, is frugality causing more hoarding? Or is it a necessary evil of frugality to have lots of stuff?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Beginning Beekeeping

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Have you heard about how much trouble honeybees are in?  Bees aren't just a means to obtaining honey, bees are actually responsible for the pollination of most plants which provide food for us.  They play a vital role in the survival of our society!

Bees face many challenges, and beekeepers can help increase healthy honeybee populations.  In pesticide-free areas especially, even if you don't want to be a beekeeper, you might like to offer some of your land (or rooftop even) for someone else's hives.  As well as producing honey, having bees on site helps increase the productivity of gardens, farms and orchards.

For awhile we have wanted to have our own bee hives.  As well as pasture land, we have rainforest, a large mixed orchard, a macadamia grove, wild food and flower gardens and numerous wind/privacy breaks of native trees.  We have had some hives here for a few years that belong to someone else, but for various reasons we decided to learn more about the honey bee business ourselves...


First I got a few library books, which explained some basic beekeeping info.  We still had many questions, though, so we asked a friend for advice.  He is part of a beekeeping club locally and was a wealth of info.  We asked more people we knew with hives and got some conflicting information, but also a lot of local knowledge.  We found out what we'd need to buy, and what we could borrow.

Some equipment we bought through our friend in the beekeeping club, and some we bought online.  We did look for local secondhand items, but there was nothing around.  It cost us about $900 to buy a full suit, tools (lever, smoker, brush, uncapping comb), two brood boxes (the bottom box where the Queen lives and babies bees are made) and two top boxes (where the honey for us is made and retreived).  There's also frames, wax sheets (to speed the process up), a queen excluder and possibly more bits and pieces I haven't noticed!  It was quite an investment, but we hope that the money will be recouped in honey before too long.  How fast the hives are filled with honey really depends on the weather.  I've heard that locally, hives have filled more quickly in the past couple of months than they have in years.  Weather events like cyclones affect honey collection around here.  We have the advantage of the bees having multiple sources of food, so supply is affected less than with hives situated in a monoculture orchard, for example.  Our permaculture-inspired property of course enjoys the benefits of having many thousands of bees here as well!

We have been doing a bit of maintenance on the hives which are here (with permission) now that we have a full bee-keeping suit and smoker.  The colonies are strong, and the honey is a nice mixed blend - good news for us as we set up our first hives.

Below are a few resources we've found useful so far.  I will post more of our honey journey once we've set up the hives!

Beekeepers' Associations (Australia)
Bee Facts
Become a Beekeeper *

* Check with your local department of agriculture or primary industries to find out about regulations and licences required where you live.

Monday, 5 March 2012

There Is Nothing Like A Walk In The Woods

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I've been a mother to two for six months. Adopting two children who have quickly become the lights of my life! As they are older, there is much pressure to do (though I'm sure this internal & external pressure can occur even if one has a wee babe in arms). I don't have many mummy friends, being only the second of all my friends to become a mother, the other had her first baby last year. The parents at the school gate are older and always seem so much more put together than I am. Their children seem to be masters at everything: yoga, ballet, tap, gymnastics, soccer, hockey, music, swimming and skating. They busily discuss how filled each weekend is with friend's Birthdays, which must be celebrated, and skiing and tutors and, and, and...For the first few weeks, or months, I wondered if I was doing my children a disservice. What if that tutor would make all the difference? What if not being able to skate yet becomes a sore point? What if they never catch up after such a rocky start in life? But slowly, one day, when on a long Sunday walk through the woods with a friend I realized something profound - my children are masters at nothing except being children. They know how to run, skip, hop and jump. They love collecting sticks (& counting them!), they like to giggle, laugh, tickle and be tickled. They like to explore and jump in puddles and visit farms and visit the ducks. And for them that is the good life.

Here's the truth, the six months has taught me a lot (though I have so much more to learn - oh how I hope the gaps close soon!), but most importantly it has taught me to listen to them, to push out the noise as much as you possibly can and just be. It has made me more and more committed to a simple life, a life not found by rushing to people's Birthdays each weekend, or spending each evening hurrying from one activity to the next. Yes, balance is important. Yes, hobbies can bring such joy. And slowly but surely my children are finding out what their interests are - for my daughter it is art, my son is a little actor (we are working on his confidence and I hope one day he will be at a place where he can join a small local theatre group). But more than that, if you ask my children what makes them happy they will answer: time with our family, going to the woods, knitting together and playing games. All of which are simple. All of which are free. All of which centre around just spending time together. And slowly but surely I'm learning the age old wisdom that there really is nothing at all like a walk in the woods with those that you love. The best things really are things that money can't buy.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Seed Swap

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
My yellow crocus buds are starting to show some color, the tips of the earliest daffodils and tulips are breaking through the surface, and a few robins have shown up to glean the last of the Russian olives still clinging to the bare branches. Spring is on the way!

And that means it's time to start thinking about starting some garden seeds - inside for the tomatoes and peppers, and maybe a few lettuces and hardy greens outside. I have quite a few of my own seeds, gathered from last year's plants. Over time, it means many of the vegetables I grow are now perfectly adapted to my own local climate. Other gardeners in my area do the same.

By trading seeds, we can insure that the time and effort we've put into saving and perpetuating our locally-adapted seeds isn't lost should disease or animals ravage our own garden. With luck, someone else's plot survived.

A local greenhouse hosts an annual seed swap each Spring. Everyone is welcome to come and get seeds. There's an optional donation jar for those that don't have any seeds to trade, but no one is turned away or denied the chance to grow their own garden.

The greenhouse provides long tables, protected from the wind, little envelopes, and plenty of pencils to label your choices. Some folks show up just long enough to drop off their contributions, others spend an hour or more there, answering questions about the things they brought, trading advice about their best growing or harvesting methods. Cool season crops, such as the brassicas, greens, and peas fill one table, tomatoes and peppers another. Flowers have their own area, and assorted vegetables line the last table.

Some gardeners make their own little seed envelopes, complete with information labels or growing instructions. Others just bring little baggies or envelopes of seeds to pour out on the paper plates provided, others bring bring platefuls already labeled. Little spoon/straws make the perfect utensils to scoop loose seeds into an envelope, some people just push a few from plate onto a piece of paper and fold up their own carrier.

Some have winnowed and cleaned their seeds. Others might bring in an entire seed stalk or a couple of dried peppers, and break them apart on the spot. Some seeds have specific variety names, others are just generic, still others are just vague descriptions of something that might have volunteered in their garden and seemed to thrive in our high-desert climate.

Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware (except it's all free). Sometimes, especially with the corns, pumpkins and squashes, you're taking your chances on what you'll actually end up with in this year's garden. So many of those seeds cross-pollinate so easily, and while it wouldn't affect the appearance of last year's crop, the seeds harvested then and planted this year might turn out completely different.

But it's a great way to build community, meet with like-minded folks, share tips and learn, and get more people interested in growing their own food. Why not start a seed swap in your community?

Thursday, 1 March 2012


 Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Two years ago I was given two pink Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) tubers. I was told that they tasted like lemony potatoes and were quite good boiled, but my friend was more concerned with their pest resistance and yield than culinary applications. I had been given two tubers and planted them out in a small pot on the patio. Triffid like foliage ensued and died back in late summer. They are attractive, branching plants with trefoil like foliage and beautiful flowers if they reach stage, which unfortunately they didn't. I tipped out the pot in September to find a few handfuls of grape sized tubers, certainly nothing to be enthused about.

I kept the tubers to have one last go this year, this time in the open ground of our allotment, placing them about 40 cm apart and 10 cm deep. They were very slow to spring up, shoots finally appeared at the beginning of June. Once the foliage does appear they spread quickly and need to be earthed up like potatoes. They need a long growing season and ours never flowered. Tuber formation is apparently dependent upon day length - when I lifted one of the plants in October after the foliage had died back, there were a handful of small tubers and I thought they had failed. One month of shortening days later, we brought home several pounds of pretty pink tubers varying in size from a walnut to a small egg!

They are keeping well in the salad drawer the fridge. Small Oca roasted whole become squishy and extra lemony...and slightly insect grub like if I am to be completely honest. This may put you off, or you may want to use it as a selling point to young children who like to pretend that spaghetti is worms and tapioca is frogspawn. Larger roasted Oca resemble lemony waxy potatoes. I have added them to stews with other roots vegetables and they retain the delicate lemon flavour. Their crunchy waxy texture is similar to water chestnuts when sliced and added to a stir fry. They are delicious and very versatile.

This year we will be planting a whole bed of them in place of potatoes. Being native to the Andes, they are relatively resistant to UK pests and diseases, only a handful of them were damaged by worms last year compared with our decimated potato crop.The tubers can be left in the ground over winter, or stored at home in cool conditions and replanted in spring. I am a lazy gardener, or at least time constrained; and Oca look after themselves and were one of our few successes this year. If you can source the tubers I recommend giving them a go.