Thursday, 31 May 2012

Weighing Up Organic & Natural Newborn Options

by Amanda 

Instinctively mothers want the best for their babies. Our main concerns are for their health and well being. Before and after new babies arrive we are bombarded with information from well meaning family members, friends and books, blogs, informative websites and magazines. It can be overwhelming and often times leads to uncertainty and utter confusion. Try to pay attention to the things that matter most to you, consider what is practical and listen to your instincts. There are options and choices for everything baby - new, second hand, borrowed, hired,  handmade, organic and eco friendly. You may choose a combination of these things depending on your budget and lifestyle or may choose one only. Whatever YOU choose will be the best for YOUR baby.

When I was expecting with my last son I had a bee in my bonnet and I only wanted to use organic skincare, organic bedding, organic bath linen and organic clothes. But when I started to investigate these options and products I realised we simply couldn't afford everything and as it was our last baby it didn't make sense to be spending that much money. I did manage to pick up a few items from ebay, but not every item I was seeking could be found there. I then started to weigh up how often these items would be used, their value after use and what items would be in direct contact with my baby's skin.

I prioritised the wish list and skincare wasn't an option for me. It had to be natural even though I didn't plan to be using it all the time. As skin is so porous and can absorbs traces of all kinds of materials, I didn't want any products to go near our baby that had ingredient lists with long words that I couldn't pronounce or understand. Natural and organic skincare was an easy choice. It had to be simple and in most cases I can make the products myself.

I then looked at bedding and decided to buy a secondhand cot and mattress. As new mattresses 'off gas' chemicals (that's the 'new smell') a new one was not on the shopping list and as we couldn't afford an all natural one, a secondhand one was the best choice for our child. I was lucky to pick up one locally that was in excellent condition. My compromise was to layer the bedding with organic linen and I purchased two sets of fitted, organic bamboo sheets for the bassinet and the cot. I also chose an organic mattress protector. Admittedly I did have a few sheets left from my previous children's bedding and these are my spares. Using pre-loved sheets are a wise choice for bassinets as they are only used for such a short time and most are in near new condition.

Bath linen was another priority for me, as again this would be used directly against my baby's skin. I chose two organic bamboo towels and a 3 pack of bamboo muslin washers. Muslin washers are by far the most gentle cleansing cloth for newborns and I highly recommend them. The bamboo towels being so absorbent, dry the skin very quickly and the fibres are soft and super gentle against a baby's skin. I am still using all of these items today along with some hand knitted washers (see pictured) and they will last beyond the toddler years.

When it came to newborn clothing I chose to buy and use only secondhand items made from 100% cotton and wool where possible. Items that have been used and washed over and over again have had their manufacturing residues washed away and this put my mind at ease. We were gifted many items and I chose to buy a few organic undergarments, again because these items were against his precious skin. Style wasn't an issue for me. Items had to be practical, easy to put on and take off with minimum fuss.

Other items that I chose to buy organic were the Organic Ergo Baby Carrier (half was a gift), natural medicines and remedies, cloth nappies, feeding products and a handful of toys for gifts. I didn't require bottles to bottle feed, but if you do, you may want to use glass bottles or at the least BPA FREE plastic ones. There are plenty of options and compromises and secondhand can be the most eco friendly if this is something you strongly value. Make your own decisions about what items you really need and weigh up the choices and alternatives in relation to your budget.

Don't forget to make the most of the opportunity whenever someone asks what you really need or want for your new baby and don't be afraid to share your core values and wishes. You may not like to ask for something organic due to the price tag, but there are small organic items that will be appreciated like organic socks and scratch mittens or you may know someone that makes beautiful crocheted ask for one in organic cotton! The path into parenthood can be an opportunity to learn as much as you can about the impacts of the living environment you create for your child and sharing what you learn with your family and friends provides a supportive environment when your baby arrives.

What decisions did you make or do you plan to make about choosing products and items for your babies in relation to your values?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

With Thanks

Saying thank you is more than good manners.  It is good spirituality. 

~Alfred Painter~

Posted by Bel

I hope I can tackle this topic without seeming all Pollyanna-ish...  I was explaining to someone the other day that my main tool for dealing with any challenging situation is gratitude.  The concept of conscious gratitude was first revealed to me in the Simple Abundance books by Sarah Ban Breathnach in the ‘90s.  If I can find at least one positive to every negative, then life’s on even keel.  And it is all about balance, after all!  If I can find lots of positives in my life, then life’s good!

Sometimes I almost believe my family and friends when they tell me I’m just too busy, overworked, or just plain crazy.  Juggling kids, homeschooling, relationship and friendships, a business, the farm and animals and volunteering in the community as well...  Yes, life is full.  But it’s really just a season.  Already I have one adult child, and within a decade all six will be grown up!  I am currently selling my business, after an enjoyable few years of nurturing it from a hobby to a real source of income.  Sometimes farm life is very demanding with lots of baby animals to nurture, gardens needing overhauling, the cow to milk once or twice a day (which leads to lots of time in the kitchen processing and preserving the abundance).  And sometimes it’s a lot quieter – waiting for babies, no milking, fallow gardens or just enough rain and sunshine to ignore the lot and let it grow!  So many 'seasons'.

image from HP

Remembering the quiet times, and appreciating them for what they are, fuel me through the inevitable hectic times of my life.  Sometimes I am so rushed that, for example, sitting and waiting for the cow troughs to fill with water could easily irritate me.  But instead of feeling frustrated about what else I could be doing, I feel gratitude for the chance to sit (even in the drizzling rain) and look around me - to Be.  I glance at the nut trees, feeling blessed at their maturity and abundant crops; the bee hives full of busy workers who not only create delicious honey for us, but also pollinate our gardens and orchard; the kilometres of fences my darling husband built and repaired so that we could keep large animals like by beloved cows and that crazy horse;  the water flowing from the hose – gravity-fed, clean, fresh spring water which keeps on coming all the year round; my cows and their offspring - the companionship, mowing, milk and even meat our herd provide us with.  I am surrounded by such abundance!  To everyone else it looks like hard work - muddy, smelly, physically challenging, expensive, responsibility-laden hobby farming!  But I know I am blessed and I am grateful for the chance  to live this dream I’ve held for so many years.

To read more about gratitude on the co-op, see:
Gratitude by Aurora
Being Grateful by Eilleen
Bloom When you are Planted –  a Note from the Frugal Trenches
Enough by Bel

Tell me, do you use conscious gratitude as a tool to cope with the pressures of your life?  Perhaps you keep a gratitude journal or have some other ritual?  Please leave a Comment with your experiences, or share something you are grateful for...

Sunday, 27 May 2012

How Simplicity Prepares You For The Harder Times

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Late yesterday evening I wrote on my personal blog about the difference in the experience of frugality when it is forced vs. it being a choice. The days grocery shopping "adventure" was still fresh in my mind. And in truth, my mind was on the black formal dress shirt school is insisting each child owns by Monday (for a concert), my daughters need for sandals, my son outgrowing his trousers (again!), four prescriptions that need renewing this month, three bills which recently arrived and a petrol tank in the bottom 1/4.

I've lived a frugal and simple life for many years. You will find us hiking instead of shopping, watering our community garden plot instead of going to an adventure playground or theme park, and spending our evenings reading, playing games, riding bikes or volunteering instead of frequenting paid activities. But this is the first time under our new circumstances of it not being an adventure, or a reason to save for something (emergency fund, car repair fund, holiday fund, long term savings plan). This is no longer about choice, but circumstance. The two very different c's.

The difference for me is two fold. Firstly, the "what if' thought is never far from my mind (what if there is another bill, or an emergency which costs $$ arises) and secondly, the constant need to prioritize, or choose what to cut in order to make it all work. And that isn't a nice feeling at all.

And yet, honestly, I see beauty in how we live. Yes, I've certainly learned that when things are already tough, more seems to go wrong - like a double blow that seems, at times, ridiculously unfair. But I've also learned about joy, faith, perseverance and commitment to a choice, and owning that choice even when it no longer feels like you've chosen such a path. If we had an extra $1000 a month, the reality is, our activities would not change, you would still find us hiking, bike riding, visiting parks, cooking from scratch, playing games, making art and crafts and loving life. None of that would be any different. What would change is the bank balance, our ability to easily deal with the emergencies that arise and perhaps a little bit more peace. But the reality is, we are not poor, we have a very nice roof over our heads, our fridge and cupboards are full, everyone has all the clothes they need, we have more books than we could possibly read (though we are trying!), we have our garden plot, a car that gets us from A to B, each child has a hobby, or two, that they enjoy each week. And our life really isn't any different, except that I need to be far more creative at times. And you know, the artist in me knows, creativity is never a bad thing!

I'd love to hear from you. Do you have any tips for me, or other readers, about embracing forced frugality or living well on less?

Friday, 25 May 2012

New Post for my Handtool "Shed"

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I've written about using a huge rural-type mailbox as a handtool "shed" out in my garden, a few years ago, here. It's a great way to keep my tools close-at-hand, easy to keep track of, and protected from my harsh climate.

While it still sits right inside the garden gate nearest the house, over time I've made some improvements to that area. When we reconfigured the garden fence, I replaced the wire gate with an old arbor, salvaged from when they were tearing down an old house down the street, rebuilt, and given a new coat of paint.

Last fall, I made a new cushion for my garden chair. This spring, the old spool I used as a garden table was leaning precariously. So I sketched out what I wanted and had Aries put together a new support post for my "shed." The smaller footprint of a post instead of the spool makes the whole area look cleaner, plus gives me a spot underneath to store the rocks I use for holding down protective covers and netting. The post puts the box up higher, so I don't have to bend over to rummage around at the very back. And the two shelves give me plenty of room for my clipboard, solar radio, seeds and plants awaiting their turn in the dirt. Plus, we adjusted the bigger, lower shelf to be just the right height to hold a cold drink when I sit down for a rest, or just to admire my work in progress.

Buying local

 Aurora @ Island Dreaming

What does buying local mean to you?

When we go shopping, we try to buy fruit and veg grown by farms in this county or neighboring ones, about a 100 mile radius. We shop in local businesses where we can as opposed to the giant chain multinationals. Why? We believe the slower our money flows back to the global financial system, the more our local area can use it to thrive.

Obviously keeping my fellow Brits in employment ultimately benefits me in times of high unemployment. That said, I know that most of our nations are so heavily indebted to each other, domestic consumption however concerted probably won't make much of a dent. Lack of appetite for exports abroad should everyone do the same spells disaster, we are all so hopelessly interconnected in the global economy for better or worse. I can control only where my own money goes.

My reasons for buying British previously have not been economic but purely environmental. It makes no sense to ship goods from the Far East when they can be shipped just a few hundred miles.The reason those imports are so cheap is often partly due to lack of environmental regulation. So in theory, whilst more expensive, those British goods should be marginally less destructive.

The UK is limbering up for both our monarch's Diamond Jubilee and our hosting of the Olympic games this year. The shops are awash with red, white and blue trinkets and goods, the majority of which are of course made overseas. I won't be buying patriotic paraphernalia, but it has raised the broader issue in my mind. Should I be making an effort to buy British?

Do you make a conscious effort to support your own national economies? Why, and how?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Peck Of Pickled Peppers!

by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese

When you have a glut of capsicums (peppers), there are a few ways to preserve them.  You can chop them up and simply freeze them, or you can roast them and preserve them in oil (but keep them in the fridge), or you can pickle them.

I prefer pickling, because the finished product can go in the pantry without taking up valuable refrigeration space, that in turn costs money.

So I had harvested a couple of types.  I planted a yellow and green long capsicum in late November last year, and harvested these last Sunday.  The red and orange ones are fiery hot, but the green and yellow are a lot milder and right for pickling.

I just slice them cross ways, seeds and all.

Cook up a litre of pickling vinegar which contains half a cup of sugar, 1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon of pickling spice and simmer for 15 minutes.  I let the pickling vinegar completely cool before adding them to the jars.

Then I pack the sliced capsicum into sterilised jars.  These jars (below) used to have anchovies in them, and they were reusable, we kept them for preserving.

Don't they look nice?  In three weeks time they will be ready to eat.  We will use them on pizza, in soups and casseroles or in salads through the winter.

They should last for a year (if we don't eat them first).  I find this method so simple, and full of flavour.  Does anyone else use this kind of method to preserve types of vegetables?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Safe Travel WIth Little Kids

By Danelle at The Stamps Family Farm

This weekend I traveled from the rural countryside to Chicago with my three kids, ages 7, 3, and 1. I did this on my own, since my husband has to take care of the farm animals and we're lambing. 

For historical record, this was the weekend of the NATO 2012 conference and Chicago was on high alert. I was delivering pork and couldn't reschedule. Chicago folks assured me that it was safe and navigable. And it was.

This got me thinking about sharing how I do museum and field trips with my littles. They are pretty young, like to run, and like to touch things. One of them also likes to lick things and she's not the baby. I usually like to take them to places during off hours with little to no crowds, but in Chicago that was not possible. It was loud, crowded, and busy. 

Here are a few things I did to make keeping track of them a little easier on me and safer for them.

  1. Shoes without laces. I was not about to stop and retie over and over, nor did I want them tripping. 
  2. All kids and mama in the same bright colour the entire weekend. We went to a thrift store and bought 10 orange shirts in various sizes. That's all they wore for the trip, even for jammies. This way they (and me) get used to seeing each other in that colour and .can register it faster in a crowd or a panic. 
  3. Black permanent marker, written on their skin on their backs my name and cell phone number. Why? If they get lost, they can tell someone that's where the data is. It isn't somewhere they can see it and mess with it. If they were to get snatched (unlikely)- that data won't wash off and is easily checked for by authorities. I got the idea from a medical show, patients writing on good limbs or bellies to remind docs which things they didn't want done. It occurred to me that a kidnapper (again, unlikely) could change the kid's hair and clothes easily but permanent marker takes 21 days or harsh chemicals to remove if they even realize that the data is there. Ha. 
  4. Hair. Down. They usually wear pony or pig tails. Let's just be honest here- in close traveling quarters that style is too tempting to pull and yank on and sibling fights will escalate. Trust me, I know.
  5. Extra clothes. We had extra orange shirts. One of the girls threw up in the car, and changed right away into another orange shirt. Ice cream has necessitated clothing changes too. These are kids, kids eat messy. 

  1. Protein for breakfast. Forgo the hotel sweets and go for eggs and sausage (except for the last day and sugar crash them for the drive home!). 
  2. Bring snacks. We brought in our very small bag venison meat sticks, cheese, and water. 
  3. Water. Drink it.
  4. Dinner. Lunch. Snacks. Try and bring food the kids are used to. New foods or processed foods they are not used to eating can upset their bellies. Nothing like a vacation full of vomiting in the car, poop emergencies at the art museum.  Bring food you know they like and won't upset their digestion.
  5. Get them to eat, but don't force the issue. Excitement makes my kids not want to eat. Pick your battles.
The baby:
  1. Baby wear. Much easier than trying to haul a stroller. Sometimes my 4 yo will take off and I can chase her with the baby tied on. A stroller full of baby doesn't allow that.
  2. Only bring out of the car what you will need for the amount of time. 2 diapers max for 3 hours is what I need. Why haul a diaper bag all over for that? Two disposables will fit one in each pocket.  Cell phone with one, credit card and cash in the other (front pocket). 
  3. Water, sippy, snacks. I also try and plan the intensive activities around his nap (in the baby carrier) so I can guide and talk to the girls better. 
  4. He gets the marker treatment too, but really, since he is ties to my chest, he isn't really a flight or baby stealer risk.
In the Car:
  1. Music they like. Nothing is more aggravating to a kid than being forced to listen to talk radio for a 7 hour car trip. Find kid music that won't drive you batty either. I like They Might Be Giants. The Beatles is another favourite. Kids like oldies they can sing to. 
  2. DVD player. When things get tense, break out a never before seen classic cartoon. Works every time. No one can say they hate it if they have never seen it.
  3. New sticker books. Puzzle paper. Crayons. Fresh brand new crayons are always a treat at our house.
  4. "Box of ponies". My girls love My Little Pony dolls. They can brush their hair and sort the dolls while buckled in.
  5. Song games, I spy, just talking.  
  6.  Lots of potty breaks, big movement breaks, fresh air run around and play breaks. They are kids and kids need to move. 
  • General Reminders:
  • Keep phone charged and on at all times.
  • Don't carry a lot of cash
  • Be aware of who is around you and where
  • PAPER MAPS- GPS can fail, be wrong, or suddenly die. And then you will be scared and lost and a little freaked out (like I was in Houston two years ago). GPS is fine, but keep the paper maps close by anyway.
  • Print off a list of local hospitals

What do you do to keep kids safe while traveling?

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Bigger Better More Spectacular

Every year for the past 25 years our community has celebrated Yule. Not the Christmas hot mid-summer Australian present buying consumer madness. The real solstice, Yule, the mid winter point, the longest night, the darkest night, the point, (though it might not feel like it), when days will start to get longer.

We have a giant bonfire and an inside fire pit, flaming torches, candles and lanterns. Each year we have to warn the children not to play with the sticks in the fire -  carefully put wood on the fire but don't take it out or you'll drop embers. 

Each year we have a  homemade feast and we exchange one gift that each of us has made. We pick a name out of a hat six weeks earlier. The gift must be handmade, and even the littlest children are included. Every year it follows much the same tradition. Every year there is the same frantic rush to finish presents, the same secretive excuses to find a hat size or a coat size. 
There is a ritual to the gift giving. We stand in a big circle around the bonfire, and the littlest child goes first, round the circle carrying a lantern and their gift, until they find the person it is for. During the night we have a show-and-tell where each person shows off the gift they got and tells the story of who made it and why they love it. Every year there are the ohs and ahs as the story unfolds. It is perfectly magical.

About twenty years ago our nearest big town started a lantern parade to celebrate the solstice. It has grown to be a major tourist attraction, with sponsors, permanent staff, public liability insurance, posters and its own website. It has marshals and a designated route and viewing areas. I'm sure it's spectacular.

In modern society we have more and more organised "rituals". We have sporting events that have advertisers and betting and ordered seating, versus back yard cricket or kicking a ball where children learn social and physical skills, where they hurt themselves, or hit the ball into the neighbor's yard and have to negotiate its return. We have fireworks displays for New Year that are organised by governments. We have Christmas carols on TV and businesses that hire just Halloween costumes. 

But for me, rituals need to be real and personal to be meaningful. not bigger, better and more spectacular. One day I might go to the Lantern Parade, but only if the date doesn't clash with our Yule.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Amber Teething Necklaces

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Parts of this post have been published before on my personal blog, but I thought I would be good to share here too.

We started using an amber teething necklace on our son a year ago. As he started wearing it before any symptoms of teething occurred it is hard to say if it has helped. My first child breezed through teething without a tear, the second was miserable and not knowing any different he was offered several pain relieving methods of the non-natural kind. With Ben he has been a little grumpy at times, but overall he is content, so I would like to think that the necklace has helped.

Ben in amber 

Australia is one of the last countries to 'cotton on' to baltic amber being used to ease and calm babies and children through teething. Across Europe and many other countries babies wear these special necklaces from birth. The treatment is old and said by many to be effective. I am new to this style of treatment, but not new to the awareness of the healing properties that can be found in minerals, gem stones and any other natural product that comes from our earth.

Babies do not 'chew' on these necklaces. That isn't recommended as the amber is soft, so could break, and not necessary either to assist how the amber heals. Instead the necklace is designed to be worn against the skin and healing oils are released in trace amounts into the skin. The oils contain Succinic acid which is believed to have calming and pain relieving benefits. Succinic acid can also be found in plant and animal tissues. Recent scientific evidence is proving the benefits of what people have known for thousands of years about this 'millions of years old' treatment for many ailments.

Baltic amber is a fossil resin making it extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear. In my opinion the safest necklaces are knotted between each amber bead and have a safety release ring or catch. Ben has been very happy to wear his necklace and as I have read from many reviews the children don't even notice wearing them.

Regarding safety with amber necklaces:

I was hesitant at first, from both a mothers perspective and an early childhood educator. I agree there is a risk involved with any necklace worn by a baby or child and that is why I would never use one without constant supervision. Most necklace manufacturers/designers recommend that they are removed from around the neck to be worn as an anklet when your child is put down to sleep. I probably wouldn’t allow my child to wear one of these in a care/kinder environment either, but that is just a personal opinion.

I did a lot of research on these necklaces/bracelets and couldn’t find any evidence of a child choking on a bead and they are said to be too small, however again, constant supervision is recommended. It is a touchy subject with many parents and practitioners divided, therefore I believe it is up to the parent to consider the risks involved and take responsibility for their decision. I would recommend thorough research of any treatment whether natural or not to treat or care for family members and even pets.

With all that I have learned since having my first child, I would personally prefer to try any natural teething remedy before reaching for the common teething gels and analgesics etc. You will find some information provided by a local health practitioner on my personal blog regarding other alternatives to regular pain medication, if you are interested. You can read that here.

Do you have any experiences with natural teething remedies you would like to share or know of?

Amanda x

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

In Praise of Hoop Houses

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I sing the praises of our hoophouses a lot.  But I can't help it, having a covered growing space really makes the difference in our food choices, by extending our growing season and allowing us to bring some crops reliably to harvest.  It's common here to spend months growing tomatoes only to have them never even get close to ripening, or when the fall rains come early, you can lose your tomatoes to blight in a heartbeat.

For us the investment in a greenhouse for what some people spend on a family vacation each year was well worth it.  We like to stay home and we like to grow our own food.

Besides growing food crops in the hoophouse itself, we also use the space for starting plants for the outside garden, and for sale.

Ripe peppers are a possibility now with the hoophouse. 

Even though we live in a great berry growing area, I have moved our strawberries inside to keep them safe from the deer.  

 Indigo Rose tomato.

Ripe tomatoes are now a given in quantities large enough to supply us with all the canned tomato products our family consumes in a year.

Greens of all types are a staple - inside or out, but the hoophouse allows us to start cold hardy greens earlier than if we waited to plant outside.

 Greens, greens, greens.  It's pretty easy to eat your greens when they are so beautiful!

To keep costs down we don't the heat the space, but try to fit in crops that just need a little boost in heat or drier space to get started.

A frost nipped the zucchini a little last week, but the plants have bounced back fast with our recent warm spell.

All in all, I really can't say enough in favor of having a hoophouse for a go-along gardening space if you live in a somewhat marginal or short growing season area.  We love ours!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Bring back the Milko!

by Megan from The Byron Life

Every day my family of five drinks a lot of milk. We have it on cereal in the morning; in our coffees and teas; we drink it by the glass full and we use it in cooking.

On average I think we can guzzle down one-two litres of the stuff a day - sometimes less, sometimes more (depending on how many bowls of cereal my two and five-year-olds wolf down!)
Anyway, we drink a lot of milk and every time I go to my local green grocer to buy another bottle I feel guilty.


Because of this excessive plastic packaging I am buying every single day.

I don't want to stop my family from drinking milk - we have no allergies to it and it provides a rich source of nutrients and protein, especially to the two of us who are mainly vegetarian - but I do want to cut back on the plastic.

Growing garlic in recycled milk bottles

I do recycle the containers - either putting them into our recycled garbage bin for collection, or like this: as seedling containers in the garden  - but this does nothing to prevent the buying of new plastic bottles.

My mission now is to find a way to source milk - locally - that does not require me buying these stupid plastic bottles every day.

Like the days when I was a kid (now I am sounding old!) when the milko delivered milk to our homes in recycled glass bottles with their little silver caps. Remember those days?

There was no waste, the milk was fresh and we lived perfectly well without plastic. Why can't we still have that system?

How about you? Short of raising your own dairy cow, do you have a method of sourcing milk that doesn't involve plastic bottles? Do tell!


Saturday, 12 May 2012

10 Simple (and Free) Things You Can Do To Get Fit

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

Lately, I've been focusing on my health and fitness.  With that, I've been noticing that there seems to be a hell of a lot of push to spend lots of money on fitness activities and accessories.  Unfortunately, I hear people use money as an excuse to *not* invest in their health.  There are heaps of things you can do to get fit *without* spending money! I'll start the list:

1. Walk/Run/Cycle in real life - When I first started my road to fitness again, I dusted off and re-oiled an old bike (about 20 years old) and started to ride it. It wasn't pretty, made of heavy steel and its as crappy a bike as you can get, BUT it worked reasonably well. I started exploring my neighbourhood and old childhood haunts on my bike and fell in love with my world all over again.  If you don't have a bike, then walk or run!  If weather makes it impossible to walk/run/cycle outdoors, then find the biggest building you know and walk there! I tend to do a lot of my indoor walking in museums and art galleries.

2. Wear old clothes in layers - You know I love dressing up but I have to say when you're getting hot and sweaty, you're going to look  and feel hot and sweaty - no matter what you're wearing.  

3. Sign up to a free exercise program or download a free exercise app -  If you're reading this, chances are you have internet in your home.  Many people also have a smart phone.  If you have internet and/or a smart phone then you will have access to a whole heap of free exercise programs (youtube and itunes have got a huge number of them!) or better yet free exercise apps on your phone that will let you  follow a training program and log your own exercise. Its a great way to get motivated!

4. Carry your shopping bags instead of using the trolley - Its a great way to exercise those arms!

5. Turn up the dance music and dance your way through your housework - You would be surprised at how much of a workout that is (and it always gives me a good giggle while I do it).

6. Use the fitness stations at your local park - TBH, I never really saw these fitness stations until I started to look out for them....and now I see them everywhere!  I like to think of these stations as "free gyms".

7. Drink lots of water - because its good for you.

8. Play with kids - Have you ever run around the playground with your kids?  I have and oh man, its a great workout!  Yeah, I have to squeeze myself into little tunnels sometimes but hey, that just adds to the challenge! Yet another "free gym" opportunity.

9. Volunteer for working bees - There are always organisations asking for volunteers to help with landscaping or cleaning or any number of physical work.  My local RSPCA often asks for volunteers to walk their dogs. Its a great way to workout as well as help out your local community.

10. Use exercise equipment you already own - Admit it, you probably have some...somewhere. (hehe)

Anyway, I'd love to hear your ideas for simple and free things you can do to get fit.  Please comment below and add to the list!

Friday, 11 May 2012

A Water Feature without Water

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Part of my landscaping includes a narrow little dead end piece bordered by the house on two sides, the front fence, and a storage shed, under the shade of a couple of trees on the other side of the fence. The space is split between a sunken paving stone walkway alongside the house, a brick retaining wall, and a little bit of garden space. It's the kind of space that often is easier left to bare ground, and to be honest, I don't really want any high-maintenance landscaping - the fruit orchard and vegetable garden keep me plenty busy.

But it's such a sheltered and shady little nook - so different from the wind-swept sand and sagebrush hills that make up my view. And both bedrooms have windows that open out onto that space - windows that have to be opened up to catch the breeze after the sun goes down in the summer. So I've tried to turn that little alcove into a pretty, green and restful spot, slowly amassing a variety of perennial plants through trial and error that survive, and every once in a while finding a perfect little decorative item to add to the scene.

One such item out there now is a standing birdbath - a terracotta clay saucer lined with blue enamel, supported by a single black pole. It adds a nice little bit of color and interest. And I like the idea of a little water feature in that garden, but quickly decided water wasn't going to work there.

I've written about providing water for wildlife earlier (here), especially important in my area since I live in a climate that sees no summer precipitation at all. I have two heavy concrete basins out in the open part of my yard, and love watching the birds, bees, and bunnies that visit those regularly. But I don't want fluttering, chirping birds right outside my open bedroom window at the crack of dawn. That's supposed to be my quiet, peaceful, restful spot. And I don't want to be always cleaning up after a bunch of birds. They're in the tree branches above anyway. I don't need to be attracting more to that particular little space.

And besides, it's so hot and dry here, and that birdbath is flat and shallow. Any water in it evaporates so quickly during the heat of summer, I'd have to be refilling that thing two or three times a day. It's ok empty, but just not quite right - something is missing. So, how can I have a water feature without water?

Eureka! Wandering through the local big box store, I spy my solution on a shelf over by the gift wrap section. Glass pebbles! So I get a bag of clear and a bag of various blues - mix them together and spread them out over the bottom of the birdbath (I just set it up for the season yesterday - it needs a vinegar soaking to get rid of the mineral deposit rings. Another reason not to fill it with water). I get the sparkle and reflections of sun on water without the trial and tribulations. It's perfect!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Creating A Positive Vision Of The Future

By Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin

Writing most days about living a more sustainable lifestyle is so very rewarding, and I have come to treasure telling my family's story via this blog and my own.  I strive to keep my posts as positive as I can, given the ever approaching post-petroleum future and climate chaos that we now face. Most of the time I succeed.  I have come to learn that positive visions are increasingly important in engaging people which help them to avoid and overcome fear and inaction due to these issues being constantly bombarded at them.

So many activists and environmental messages are filled with doom and despair which attempt to engage via negative emotions in an attempt to urge people into action.  It is not working, because I believe that this is backfiring more and more.  It is simply alienating ordinary people further by disengagement.  People do not want to hear negative messages by choice.  I know I don't.

However, people are becoming increasingly aware that our current consumer culture is not exactly Earth friendly, or is conducive to a long and fruitful future for mankind.  Without a positive vision to be drawn to, or role models from which to learn good examples of simple, green and frugal solutions, they probably just switch off and continue on with business as usual or get stuck in denial of these events.

I have come to realise that there is no us and them, and that we are all in this together.  People want a better future for their descendants, and are willing to work hard at a better life, but will only strive in the right direction if given all the facts, and a positive vision of what they can achieve.  The future is not set in stone, and with each decision we make, they can have a remarkable effect upon it.

So I urge you all to paint that positive vision in everything you do, say or write.  As we begin to share our positive vision of the future, we will find that more and more people will become interested and engaged, and hopefully strive towards one that will have the best outcome for all life on Earth.

Chance favours the prepared mind.
-Louis Pasteur

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Connecting the Dots

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I was looking back through my blog this week, looking for topics that have been neglected for a while. And I realised that I haven't done a "Sustainable Seafood" post for so long. And it is because I haven't had fresh caught fish to experiment with for so long.

My partner is a mad keen fisherman. I think fishing is a kind of meditation for him, with the by-product of food that lets him feel like he is doing something productive. His ultimate relaxation is standing thigh deep in water gazing out into the ocean, waiting, thinking about nothing but whether the bait is right, the weight is right, the cast is right, and how beautiful the ocean is.

He has fished all his life. He hasn't suddenly lost the knack. He hasn't stopped going fishing every chance he gets. He's just not having lucky fishing trips. He catches some, occasionally, but he hasn't caught a dinner party's worth for ages. I suddenly realised this week that he hasn't caught enough to inspire me to create a new recipe for a long time, and before that, for a long time.

There's a lot of luck in fishing. You can get the right tide, the right wind, the right time of day, the right bait, the right rig, even the right attitude and still not catch anything. Then the next time hit a run of tailor and pull them in one after another. And as any statistician will tell you, there's probability mathematics that says that it's not that unusual to get runs of luck. So you can't put the lack of fish on any individual fishing trip down to the collapse of marine ecosystems. You have to step back enough to see the big picture for that, and connect the dots.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Herbal Play dough

An easy to create play experience for kids is homemade play dough. It is so simple to make, stores well in the fridge and is much cheaper and kinder to your child than the store bought stuff! This is one of my tried and true recipes.


1 1/2 cups of salt
3 cups of plain flour
3 cups of water
2 tbsp of cream of tartar
3 tbsp of olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.

Warm gently over low heat on the stove and continue to stir until mixture thickens and starts to form a ball. Allow to cool slightly then knead on a protected surface until nice and smooth.

I cut mine up into portions, wrap in baking paper or greaseproof paper and store in an old tupperware container in the fridge. The play dough should last this way for a very long time, unless exposed to air. Mold can occur over time if bacteria is present in the dough...just let your nose and eyes guide you there. I have read that a tablespoon of vinegar added to the batch can hinder mould growth, but I haven't tried this as yet.

At home I mostly make plain colour play dough and let the kids experiment with texture, colour and fragrance using things from around the house and from the garden. I particularly love making Herbal Play dough as the textures and fragrances are very stimulating. I place a few bowls of plant items for the children's own selection and they help themselves to make their own smelly shapes. Dough with raw plant pieces doesn't last that well, so you may like to portion off small amounts from the original batch and just toss after a couple of days.

Other aromatic dough suggestions:
  • Spices eg. ground cinnamon, ginger or allspice or try colouring with turmeric
  • Essential oils for aroma (taking into consideration the age of the children and safe quantities per recipe)
If you have children with allergies or a food intolerance you may like to try a recipe that excludes the trigger items. There are plenty of rice flour and gluten free recipes on the internet for you to try. There are plenty of no cook and microwave recipes too! Do you have a favourite family recipe?


PLEASE NOTE: As with all children's activities it is best to supervise and do ensure that dough and plant pieces are not consumed.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Annual Chick List

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's that time of year again - chicks have been ordered and are arriving any time now.  I know lots of you are old hands at raising chicks, but new readers stop in, so this post may be a refresher, or a good list to have on hand.

My Chick List is as follows:

Chick starter.
Boiled eggs for an extra nutritional boost.
Number 1 grit.
Carbo Vegatabilis homeopathic just in case there are shipping problems.

Wash and sanitize feeders and waterers, and make sure they work!
Inspect heat lamps, have extra on hand.

I make sure the brooder is well bedded, well-rested, and all my supplies are in place, so when the chicks arrive at the post office I am ready for them.

If you're new to raising baby poultry, you're going to be mama, so it's up to you to make sure your brooding area is clean, warm, draft-free, and predator proof.

In addition, heat lamps are a somewhat dangerous way to provide heat, necessary, but caution needs to be exercised.  Many barn and garage fires have resulted from poorly installed heat lamps.  The most dangerous, I think, are the clamp on type.  Sockets for heat lamps can be installed in chick hovers, or you can make sure your lamps are hung securely so there is no chance the hot bulbs can come in touch with the bedding.

Chicks need 90F degree temperatures the first week, and turkey poults need 95F degree temperatures the first week, so any attempt to treat them the same results in too high of temperatures for the chicks and too low for the turkeys.  And ducks fall in somewhere in between those temperatures. 

Let the chicks and their behavior be your guide instead of a thermometer.  If the chicks are huddled under the lights, they are too cold, if they are huddled away from the lights, the heat is too intense.  If they are running about or taking naps you probably have everything just right.  Make adjustments as needed - raise or lower lights, add lights, or turn off a light, check for drafts. 

My rule of thumb is if the chick dies within 72 hours of hatching, it is the hatchery or weak chicks fault, after that I figure it's my fault and I do my trouble-shooting to ascertain the problem so I can make corrections.  The goal is low mortality - if you have high mortality - figure it out and don't blame the chicks.

Raising your own poultry is a rewarding experience and gets easier the more you do it - Happy Chick Raising!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Raising Calves

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

New babies are always exciting!  We have had calves born here on the farm (Wags and Mimi) and calves we've brought here and fostered onto Lucy (Honey and Poppy).  We've never raised calves ourselves though, Lucy has always helped.  You can read lots about our journey with a house cow and calves throughout the co-op blog and here.

Today a new little guy arrived - Red.  He's being raised for the freezer and is a by-product of the dairy industry.  I'm trying to foster him onto Lucy alongside Mimi (who is a big girl at over 4 months now), but Lucy's not exactly keen on calves which aren't her own!  So meanwhile I am also bottle-feeding him.

Bottle feeding a calf with calf formula is something I remember doing as a child.  Also trying to convince them to drink from a bucket by letting the calves suck our fingers.  It was lots of fun, even though newborn calves are quite pushy and can easily bump a child over!

I'll post more about our new baby as the journey progresses.

Meanwhile, read about calf-raising here.  And if you have experience with raising calves, or other baby animals, please share!