Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Organising Information

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

The most common item on my To Do list is "tidy office".  My office is an alcove off the dining room which houses my husband's desk, the kids' laptops, my business stock, my desktop computer and all of our household paperwork and personal finance 'stuff'.  It's only 3m x 3m and has no door - so it needs to be well-organised all the time!

There seems to be so much information coming into our lives - local newspapers, magazines handed on by friends - as well as my couple of favourite mags bought new, books to be read, homeschooling resources, lists, my precious diary, paperwork for my volunteer roles and my business...  And then there are bits and pieces like recipes, notes from workshops and meetings, samples and catalogues from suppliers, birthday cards to send, bills to pay.  Argh!  It's very easy to be overwhelmed...

So, every now and then I clear off the 2m x 2m dining table, which is just beside the office, and I start to make piles of things which need to go in different places to where they have accumulated.  Of course, I could deal with paperwork and other items the day they arrive, but with six children, homeschooling, the farm, the business and LIFE - I am just not that organised.  But I am a little organised, and I will share below some ideas I've found invaluable for keeping track of the paper trail...

Household Notebook
I got the idea for a Household Notebook from organizedhome.com.  I bought the biggest ring binder I could find - it's the white type with the clear insert cover.  On the spine I used the printable 'household notebook' label from Organized Home, and on the front I inserted a beautiful photo of my garden.  Inside I used a whole box of clear sheet protector sleeves and some plastic dividers I found in our house.  I made labels for the divider tabs - farm, house, me, education, food, family, community, work.  I left a couple of dividers at the back of the folder in case I decide to take on any more roles! All of those pieces of paper I've saved and wanted to keep were sorted and filed into this folder, which sits upon my desk to be grabbed whenever required.  Items in it include maps of the orchard, drawings by children, scraps of poetry, booklets, brochures, handouts, master menu lists the very many other lists...

Garden Journal
I have never kept a Garden Journal, but I wish I did!  I do have maps of trees and perennial plants around the house paddock, but nothing for the vegie gardens.  I searched online for images of Garden Journals, to see what sort of thing I'd like to create, and the options are endless!  From online journals to scrapbooks, meticulous record books and everything in between!  If I had a garden journal, I'd keep a record of which seeds I sow when, and the results.  I'd write notes about frosts and rainfall if I had a system in place.  I'd boast about harvests and preserves in my garden journal.  Do you keep a garden journal?  I'd love to hear about it!

Finance Folder
Our finance folder is a bit like the household notebook, but it's all about money.  It has a beautiful title page with an image of blooming flowers and quotes about wealth.  Then there are a couple of pages of important numbers and details, a printed calendar for the current year for easy reference and a page with the months of the year with regular bills written in their month - insurance renewals, rates, vehicle registrations.  There are sleeves for bills to be paid, my balance sheet summary (I work well with pen and paper, rather than spreadsheets or online budgeting programs), a sleeve for that month's receipts or accounts paid for my business, wish lists for birthdays, bank books for the younger kids' accounts and other taxation, budget and finance bits and pieces.  This is a system I have used for over 10 years and I really like it.  As soon as a bill comes in, or a receipt hits my desk, it is filed in the finance folder.

I like to cut recipes from magazines, receive hand-written recipes from friends, print recipes from forums and websites...  So I bought 4 ring-binder folders last year and labelled them - sweets & baking, meals, preserves and Thermomix.  In each folder I have more clear plastic sleeves and in the Thermomix folder I organise recipes approximately by recipe type - meals, sweets, preserves, dairy, etc.  The folders look great on a shelf in my kitchen and anyone in the family can find our favourites.  They are also a great inspiration at menu-planning time, because every single recipe is hand-picked by us, so there's no sifting through things we don't like in recipe books!  I used to keep a lot of recipes bookmarked on the computer, but with our power outages and internet interuptions, especially in our summer wet season, I have gone back to paper versions.  After creating these folders, I had a big clean-out of unused recipe books, copying the one or two recipes I used from many, and passing them on to others to enjoy and use!

Filing Cabinet
We bought a 2nd hand filing cabinet for next-to-nothing about 18 years ago.  At first it had just a few suspension files hanging in it, and some junk in the bottom drawer.  As our family grew larger and our lives grew busier, the filing cabinet accumulated more folders.  Each year, when I do our tax, I clear out unwanted pieces of paper from the filing cabinet and shred them for use in the chook nests, or to start the fire.  There's something very satisfying about incinerating old bills!  I don't file items as soon as they come in.  Maybe because of the awkward corner the cabinet is in, or maybe because I'm just a procrastinator!  I have a green file folder on top of the filing cabinet which fills with papers to-be-filed.  Every couple of months or so, I file away these papers when having an office clean up.  It's a method which suits me, and the two-step process in fact reduces some of the items filed, as I might put something in the green folder just-in-case, but by the time filing day comes, I realise I didn't need to keep it.

Next post: organising daily information - diaries, calendars, menus and more!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Frugal Pops

by Danelle @ MyTotalPerspectiveVortex

This summer, before I started canning up any fruit, I did what one of you all suggested. I took stock of my pantry to see what we used and what we still have a lot of. Well, we had a lot of peach sauce and canned peaches. It seems, I hoarded it as precious until it was canning season for peaches all over again.


So while contemplating the situation I ran to the grocery store for juice and snack food and stopped in the frozen treat aisle. Hmmmmm, natural Popsicles are really hard to find and expensive. Why? It's just frozen juice and puree?

Light bulb moment.

So to copy my favourite brand I grabbed a few extra things, like a whole pineapple and coconut milk, and headed home with a mission.

My goal was to mimic these household favourites and not break the bank.

Out came my food processor. Out came my huge stash of plastic (I know, I know....) pop moulds. I always lose the brightly coloured sticks that come with them and instead of tossing the set I buy large amounts of cheap wooden sticks. That way I won't have to try and wash them, let alone find them to wash them.

So basically I started with the ripe pineapple. 

The key to replicating the store bought pineapple Popsicles was using the  fibrous core. I'm not kidding. It isn't as sweet or tender, but without it the treat is too watery once frozen. So chop up all the pineapple meat and toss in the food processor or blender. 

Next, of all the sweeteners, a simple syrup of raw sugar and warm water works best for this one.  I added a wee bit of lemon juice too.

Give it a whirl. The fibrous core take a bit more to get smooth in my machine, but I also didn't want the mix to get frothy. Taste it before you pour. It needs to be sweet and citrus. Add more syrup if you need. A little salt to, if inclined. 

The mix isn't thick enough to stand the sticks up perfectly. You can stretch plastic wrap or get a tray with holes to hold them up, but I just some back in an hour and stand them up again. Sometimes I forget and the kids don't really care.
Recipe: Pineapple Popsicles, about 12 good sized ones
1 pineapple
1 pint of warm water
1 cup of raw sugar
1 pinch of salt
1/4 cup pure lemon juice

Next up, coconut creme.....
Next up, coconut; not pictured is the 1 cup of greek yogurt. 

These were easy, but the sweetener needed to be maple syrup and not sugar.   To get the right texture, the shredded coconut and yogurt were the key.

Recipe: Coconut Cream Popsicles
1 cup/can of coconut milk
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1/2 cup of shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup of Greek yogurt

Strawberry, from my year old freezer stash.....

This was also easy. Here's the recipe:
4 cups of frozen strawberries
1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of warm water

Yeah. That's it. Compare that to the 5$ a box for 6 "all natural" pops. That recipe makes 10 big ones.

From the peach sauce I had canned, I got a little fancy:

Salted Butterscotch Peach Pops

Melt 1/4 cup of butter and add 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Bubble until Carmel-y, melted and all saucy. Then add pint of peach butter/sauce. Salt to taste. I used 1 tablespoon. Cool and add 2 cups of apple juice or peach juice.

Makes about 10 pops.

You can make these even more fancy by layering with honey sweetened Greek yogurt.

The butterscotch peach sauce also makes amazing ice cream topping.

Here are items that make great Popsicles:
apple, pear, peach sauces and butters
fruit jams
pie fillings
frozen fruit
cheeses, like chevre and feta

and.....just a little maple syrup and salt in water, frozen up. We use that for heat stroke and heat exhaustion farm workers. It's like Gatorade or Pedilyte but better (and cheaper).

We play around a lot with different combinations every week. We try to include as much whole fruit as possible for the fiber and benefits. My kids have free access to these treats. I don't have to go broke providing them (again, store bought are between $3.50 and $6 for a box of 6) and they are super healthy. I have even been known to throw in spinach.

What are your favourites and recipes?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

What to use as bin liners - Plastic Bag Ban

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

As some of you may know, here at Australia's capital, we are soon going to have a plastic shopping bag ban. From 1 November 2011, shops will no longer be able to give you a plastic shopping bag for the goods you buy from them.

This has raised quite a discussion in my little community - specifically what are we to use as bin liners? While many people I know use re-usable shopping bags, we all (me included) do the occasional shop without them so that we can take home the plastic bags and use them as bin liners.

Many other people are also poo-poohing the plastic bag ban in the first place, with many suggesting that this is yet another political headline-grabbing act rather than real action for the environment. Some have even pointed out that in places like Adelaide where they have banned the plastic bag, bin liner sales have gone up. A quick search of the internet reveals a news article citing that bin liner sales in Adelaide are double the national average.

Regardless of our political leaders' motives for banning the plastic bag, I have to say I support this ban. Plastic bags ARE bad for the environment. Many of our plastic bags are not disposed of properly and they end up clogging our waterways and killing a lot of our wildlife. Most plastic shopping bags take up to a thousand years to properly decompose.

For those who want to continue using plastic shopping bags as bin liners, then I think it is right that they should pay for that. (I think it would also be good if a % of profits made on bin liners can go towards environmental causes and research). When you make people pay for polluting then it makes them more conscious of it...and hopefully there will be flow-on effects in terms of reducing polluting habits.

But I am getting off topic. I guess I wanted to share what I have done and will be doing when the plastic bag ban comes in.

Firstly, the big one is to reduce the amount of waste that is going into landfill. Since embracing simple living, I no longer have a lot of waste to begin with. Currently, my waste consists of one plastic shopping bag a fortnight. This is how I reduced my waste:
  • Compost - all my vegetable scraps are placed in my compost bin (note you may want to check out my indoor newspaper compost bin post).
  • I recycle all hard plastics, tins and glass bottles.
  • I try to buy in bulk and not to buy goods with lots of packaging.
  • I serve smaller portions at meal times so that there is no meal waste that contain lots of meat (and therefore can't go in the compost bin). My children and I can always come back for seconds and thirds if we are still hungry
All of the above has meant, that pretty much the only thing that goes in my one plastic shopping bag bin liner are small amounts of meat scraps and bones as well as other soft plastic packaging (eg. packaging that my cheese comes in).

Now as I said, I do admit to going shopping once every few months or so so that I can get the plastic shopping bag for use as the bin liner. I am now down to only 5 plastic shopping bags...this means that I can continue to use those bags for the next 10 weeks (given my current waste output). After that I will no longer use plastic shopping bags for my bin. And I am hoping to completely avoid having to buy plastic bin liners. So here's my plan:

1. Soft packaging (eg. bag for the frozen peas etc) will be used for wet meat scraps and other wet items that can not be composted.
2. Dry meat scraps (eg bones) will be wrapped in newspaper and placed directly in the bin.

It doesn't look like a comprehensive plan....but then again, I tend to like simple, easy to remember plans. :)

I hope you are having a good day.

The bevy of black swans living in my local lake

Friday, 2 September 2011

Pick Early, Pick Often

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
When I first started gardening, I thought I'd grow vegetables just like the ones I'd seen in the grocery store - big, perfect produce. But then reality set in. Those veggies were most likely so perfect because they'd been liberally covered with -cides: pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides. I wasn't going to do that. I preferred to live with imperfection - bits I could cut away, as opposed to chemicals I wasn't sure would wash off.

I still thought the ideal was the super-sized fruit I saw in the market, though. I'd leave my harvest on the plants as long as possible, trying to let everything get as big as possible. But one year, an especially early freeze warning made me go out and pick all the tender crops - tomatoes, peppers, chiles, eggplant, and squashes. And then it didn't freeze, followed by a gloriously long, mellow autumn.

The real goal of any vegetable plant isn't really to produce food for me - all it really wants to do is produce mature seeds, to perpetuate the species. I think the plants I'd clear-picked realized they had no fruit, ergo no seeds, and almost immediately set another flush of blossoms. But where I'd picked maybe two or three of my big fruits per plant, this late flush created lots of fruits. Those same small plants now held a dozen chiles and eggplants each. And the long season that year let me harvest just about all of them, too.

The light bulb came on. If I did that earlier in my short season, maybe I'd get a bigger harvest even if the frosts came normally. The following year, I picked the first fruits as soon as I had something to pick. The plants responded with more blossoms, and a much bigger harvest overall. And I found it works not only with the fruiting plants, but with the vining crops as well.

If you grow zucchini, you've probably seen this in action. As long as you keep picking the zukes small, they keep coming. But miss one 'til it's club-sized, and the plant slows down. I use the same procedure with my winter squash. If I leave the first pink banana squash that sets on the plant, it will grow into a 20-pound monster. But if I pick the first one and give it to the chickens, the plant responds by producing 5 10-pounders instead. Pick early, pick often, harvest more.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Small living

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We live in a small house. At first it was a necessity - it was the only two bedroom house we could afford to rent at the time. The rent is still incredibly cheap and so we are using the opportunity to build up our savings. The house is a mid- terrace, with a total living space of just 51.5 square metres (approximately 625 square feet) including the bathroom, stairway and hallways. There is also a small patio yard at the back, about 3.5m x 4m. There are now two adults, a toddler, a baby and two homebody cats packed into this space. The house is not exceptionally small for the UK and there are many in almost identical houses down our street who have an extra child, or a dog, or an extra adult packed in.

I have been into a few of my neighbours' houses. Some of them are kept completely clutter free, with minimal furniture and decoration - absolute bliss to my eyes that are more accustomed to scanning various piles of stuff from toys to laundry to bubbling demijohns in our own home. Yes, those homes are lovely. But contrary to appearances they do not lack stuff - it is just the kind of stuff that can be tucked away out of sight, single purpose gadgets and inert objects. The TV is the sole source of entertainment with a few DVDs lined up neatly on shelves. Very few books to be seen, certainly no arts or craft materials. Nearly every function of life has to be outsourced for lack of space and tools. In short, there is absolutely no resilience. Disruption to the food supply chain? You will be hungry in three days. Your internet connection fails? You will be bored.

I love the idea of minimalism - of having as few possessions as possible, of not being defined by the stuff we own. It would be very easy to do in the city too, with 24 hour shops and every kind of service under the sun within walking distance. At one point last year I became completely enamoured with the 'Tiny house' concept. Could a balance be struck between lack of stuff (actually a very green concept) and a modicum of self reliance? Some of the approaches I wish I had learnt, or implemented, when we first moved in:

  • Resist the temptation to hoard things for a rainy day unless you have a project, a timeslot and an adequate storage place in mind - fabric that will only become mildewed before it is finally used, packets of seed you will never have the room to sow and a down winter jacket that sees daylight once a decade are no good to anyone.
  •  Stack as many functions into as few objects as possible. Have a large hob to oven casserole instead of a casserole and a saucepan. The baby is bathed in the kitchen sink in our house - I don't know how we ever justified a plastic bath cluttering up our tiny kitchen the last time around.
  •  Ensure you have like minded friends with whom you can pool resources. Resist the temptation to own every tool  - everyone can justify a clothes airer, but everyone owning a pressure washer is ridiculous.
  •  Make sure your possessions reflect your priorities. Sell the fiction books if you no longer read them to make time and space for craft supplies. My knitting needle collection has been pared down from around twenty five pairs to eight that I will use regularly - and now I focus on simple patterns that I will actually make and wear as opposed to the wonderful but complicated fashion pieces in magazines. Knit to live, in my case, not live to knit. In effect, pare down your ambitions and you can pare down the amount of stuff you need to own, whilst still being productive.
  •  Do not feel guilty for limiting the number of toys your children have. We have given up buying toys as family and friends tend to furnish our house amply at Christmas and  birthdays. It is a sad fact that many lie discarded at the bottom of packed toy chests, or are broken within a few days. Our son tends to play with the same few things he has since he began to be aware of toys - bricks, marble runs, the odd figurine, musical instruments, art materials and his all time favourite, the cardboard boxes they came packaged in.
  • Learn to use the space you have unconventionally. Store bulk food under the bed in airtight plastic boxes. Make stored pumpkins decorative book ends each autumn. Use the space under sofas for yarn and the space under the bath for tinned food.

I now understand that our house will never be entirely uncluttered, but that is the price to be paid for cheap rent and a continuous succession of interesting experiments - usually involving some form of living organism that needs to be watched. There can be no tucking bread dough or drying seeds in a drawer out of sight and mind.  Our tiny kitchen windowsill currently has assorted trays and papers with saved seeds spread out to dry, along with the teapot, washing up liquid, a triffid like house plant that I have been meaning to re-pot for an age, some children's paint brushes soaking in jars and a few stray bulbs of garlic hanging from the window catch. There is a box of brewing equipment and a 25kg bag of barley stashed in our wardrobe. The living room windowsill is covered in green tomatoes interspersed with bananas (for all the street to see) in the hope they might ripen up.

We are still prioritising our stuff and gradually reducing and replacing it until it suits our small living quarters. Frugality and resilience are not synonymous with possessions and hoarding 'just in case'. They are states of mind that encourage creativity and problem solving, balanced with just the right 'things' to achieve an ends - in effect, living much better lives with less.