Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Powering Down: Living Without a Tumble Dryer

Drying sheets over a chair on a rainy winter afternoon.

We bought our one and only tumble dryer sixteen years ago when our third baby was born in winter in Tasmania. We were renovating and had no clothesline. It felt like the decision at the time was dryer or disposables. We went with the dryer.

Since the winter of nappies I have only ever used the dryer intermittently. I love hanging washing on the line. It is my favourite chore - it gets me into the sunshine, and in close proximity to my garden:) It makes the washing smell like sun and wind and fresh air. What's not to love? So the dryer has been mostly used for emergencies - school uniforms, sport uniforms, rainy weeks. I have even found that the washing dries well over two sunny days in the winter.

Now that I have no dryer, and it is a very wet winter this year, this is what my very small dining room looks like most days:

I don't mind this - I think drying washing looks cosy, and also adds needed humidity to a room heated by a woodstove. I would prefer some antique clothes horses - they are on the wishlist.

I take advantage of physics - hot air rises - by hanging socks and shirts on wire coat hangers from the top of the doorway. 

Also on the wishlist is one of those lovely wooden clothes dryer racks that hang from the ceiling.

Now, in a small house every corner has to be put to work, and all the systems need to be as efficient as they can. This decorative basket also holds the pegs for the clothes airers:

Do you live without a tumble dryer? What systems do you have set up to dry clothes?

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I have been wielding the cordless drill with joyful abandon recently. If only I had realised that DIY was this much fun! For years now I have been hunting for this 'Postal Mail Only' sign. I knew I had bought one, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Finally it turned up while The Man was cleaning out his shed before I left the old house. I was so excited! Now I can elegantly refuse junk mail:)

I love this cowbell. It was a Christmas present many years ago. It came from India, via the Oxfam shop. I am very happy to report that I have not bought a single new decorative item for my new house. It is all about reusing my old favourites, bringing them out of storage, dusting them off and hanging them up. Actually, now I come to think of it, I bought two houseplants. But the pots are reused:)

Benson-the-bad-dog has discovered he can jump over this section of fence to chase the cats. This week at work I had not one but two neighbours ring me to let me know they had returned Benny to the fold. I have such lovely new neighbours.

Today I bought a bog-standard fence topper panel from the hardware shop and sawed off one leg (not mine, the fence panel! Though the other is always on the cards with me and tools), and screwed it onto the fence. I am SO proud of this very ordinary achievement.

The first retaining wall post! I had these sleepers delivered the other day from a local timber mill. They are a family operation, with very reasonable prices. Their delivery truck has a wooden truck bed that is growing grass from when they carted hay last summer. Makes it a pleasure to buy local.

I borrowed a friend's circular saw to cut the sleepers in half for posts. I didn't cut off my leg:) In the end I managed the post holes with only one bag of cement per post. BUT two posts are a little wobbly. I think I used too much water. I may have to top up those two holes with another half bag of cement. Will that work? When it stops raining..

When it rains I come inside and put up dozens of screws and nails for Posy's pictures in her room. Now she can't ever change any of her furniture around. Then I put up pictures in my room. I never change furniture around because I Fear Change.

On the right is my great-grandmother's school slate. I have a slate pencil somewhere. When I find it I will write something pithy. All the other pictures are from the op-shop and the mirror I bought years ago but could never find exactly the right place to hang it, so I left it on top of the wardrobe. Finally it is on the wall. I think I need one more picture on the left to balance everything..

Tell me about your DIY projects. I love to see people making their lives their own. My brother, for instance, is handpainting his motor bike paisley. Because why wouldn't you?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Green and Thrifty

I know practically every recent post features photos of my wood heater, but that is because my winter life revolves around it. Tonight, cooking vegetable soup.

I have been able to skip the gym this week because:

a) my gym buddy is on holidays, so no-one to nag me:)
b) yesterday I had more fire wood delivered. We have no off-street parking so I get the wood delivered in my car-park space on the street, then cart it, log by log down six stairs into the wheel barrow, then stack it in the shed. That took care of two hours, glutes, legs and arms.
c)today I spent two hours digging five holes for my retaining wall. That took care of back, shoulders and arms again. Tomorrow I expect I won't be able to move, but I want to saw the posts to size and put gravel in the holes, and maybe even cement... tonight I calculated how much cement I will need on an on-line concrete calculator. Using the dimensions of the holes I have dug I will need 31 20kg bags of rapid-set concrete! I may have been a little over-enthusiastic digging those holes, and might have to add a little dirt back in.. the cat really enjoyed helping me dig holes. He helped by sitting in the bottom of the hole I was digging..

The Girl was home for her mid-semester break, and while she was here she helped me finish the granny square rug that I started, oh, maybe two years ago now. No, hang on, found it, apparently I crocheted the first five squares in 2013. Well, that's only three years, not bad. Here are all the squares which we laid out to our liking then threaded with long pieces of yarn into rows and numbered each row. We had no idea what we were doing and made it all up as we went along.

Then we sewed the squares into rows, and then sewed the rows together. We did this while listening to an audio book, the narration of which lasted for nine hours, so I can tell you now that all that sewing took two, sometimes three people approximately nine hours and fifteen minutes.

The dog thinks it was all worth it.

It looks rather fabulous right now, but I am not sure whether I might crochet around to edge it. I will wait until my mum gets home from her holidays and ask her how one might even do that. All crochet decisions are best left to Grandma..

When we moved into our house the doorway up to the attic had no door on it. Rosy appropriated the attic for her bedroom, and for some picky, picky teenage reason she seemed to think she needed a bedroom door. So one day, to stop the whining, I told her I was going to the tip shop to buy her a door. "Yeah, yeah," she said, my precious little sixteen year old poppet.

In truth, I had very little faith that I would find a door, because I have seen the door selection at the tip shop.. and it is usually dire. But going to the tip shop is fun, and there are no whiny sixteen year olds there. Anyways, I came home with these:

Such darling doors, maybe from a wardrobe or pantry, and they miraculously fit the space perfectly and only needed a tiny bit of planing by the local helpful handyman. Admittedly they are blue and pink, but I have a paintbrush and a can of white paint, and Good Intentions. And Rosy likes them. Well, she will like them more when they are white, but she sees the potential..

Best part? $15 for the pair.

It is eerily quiet here at Chez Blueday, because the wee girls have gone to visit their dad this week. I am marvelling at the way the house remains tidy, but somehow I am finding myself still doing their washing five days after they left. How does that work?

Well, it is 8.38pm, which means time to tuck myself up with two cats and my book so I can be up at dawn to do Tradie Jo retaining wall magic (fingers still crossed).

Friday, July 8, 2016

Green and Thrifty

This week I have two new wood storage systems. Previously I had been storing all my logs and kindling in washing baskets, but this week my parents bequeathed me the family wood-box which was a wedding present to my great-grandparents circa 1912. It is actually hideously ugly, a very bizarre Edwardian contraption, a box with inlaid walnut decoration that covers a galvanised zinc coal hod, as far as I can work out. Anyway, I love it, despite its ugliness, and it is perfect to store kindling in. A friend passed on an old copper that was cluttering up her mother's garage, and now it is doing sterling service holding logs. So now my dining room is looking much more elegant, and really, those wicker washing baskets left a terrible mess on the floor as bits of wood and dirt leaked out of the gaps in the wicker. Plus, now I can have the washing baskets back for the washing. Win, win.

My electric beaters broke. We attempted to use an old manual egg beater instead, which is brilliant for whipping cream or eggs, but useless for creaming sugar and butter. Creaming butter with a wooden spoon is a little tedious, but doable as long as you only want basic creaming, and not light-and-fluffy creaming. I must say, those long vanished housewives must have had excellent muscle definition, so if I swapped my weekly arms workout for creaming sugar and butter it would probably all equal out. Our daily exercise routine was Granny's daily chore list.

However, when I borrowed an electric beater from a friend to make cup cakes for a party, she gave me a set because she had two. Truly, there is so much stuff in the world, and I have wonderfully generous friends. Even so I am aiming to cut down on appliance use so I have pulled out a bunch of cake recipes that don't require creaming. Now I know why boiled fruitcake and slice recipes where you melt the butter and sugar together and mix, were always presented as marvels of ease in old cookbooks.

I need to build a retaining wall to prevent my future vegie garden from sliding down the hill. First I planned to use interlocking concrete bricks, which are made locally. But concrete isn't particularly sustainable, plus the quote for the bricks was over $1000. Also, each brick was 18.5kg, and the capping stones were 20kg. I have no off-street parking, and each brick would need to be hauled down six wonky garden steps, around the house, and down another five or six steps before even reaching the retaining wall. Recipe for a dicky back and no friends, or hundreds of dollars more to get a nice man in to install them. Time to think again.

I looked on Gumtree and found a local timber mill who will cut hardwood sleepers to order. I watched a number of you-tube videos on how to build a retaining wall, tramped around the garden with a tape measure and string line, designed it on paper, and dug a more-or-less flat foundation. Soon I will have fifteen timber sleepers delivered for the sum of $318. Then, I will build a retaining wall. Yes, me. Fingers crossed..

See that gorgeous black earth? When the fence man came to rebuild a section of fence for me, he came to me with the bad news. "You know how at your old place I had to go out and hire a jackhammer to break up the clay to put your fence posts in? Well, at this place I can't find any clay at all so I'll have to go and buy some more bags of cement." Yes folks, the bad news every gardener wants to hear. I went out to inspect the one and a half metre (five foot) deep holes he had dug, perfect black loam all the way down. No raised garden beds necessary here. Bliss.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

I'll Have a Sausage in Bread and Some Democracy, Please

The best thing about Australian elections is the sausage sizzle and cake stall held by the local school which is where we line up to vote. Also meeting all your friends and neighbours and people you haven't seen for years. The worst thing is the abysmal space that both the major political parties are occupying, known as 'The Place Where The Privileged Prop Up the Affluent at The Expense of Everyone Else'.

For excellent political commentary see here (US, Brexit vote) and here (state of the British Labour party). Not relevant to Australian politics? Think again.

From the first link: Once the dominant minority loses the loyalty of the masses by failing to deal with the needs of those outside the circles of affluence and privilege, sullen outward conformity and secret revolt replace the mutual trust that’s needed to make a society function. John Michael Greer

Sometimes I wonder exactly why we need a government. I mean, without a government the wealthy and powerful would be free to go along their merry way exploiting the mass of humanity and plundering the environment without compunction, and with a government... Well, yes, see what I mean? 

If you are feeling very depressed by the politics of your particular neighbourhood this week, don't despair. We are nearing the end of Business as Usual, in politics, economics and the weather. We have strained the resources of our planet and credulity of the general populace enough already, and it won't be long before we all get the governments and the climate we deserve. Again, no despair. Give the planet and politics five hundred years or so, and it will all shake down nicely, as we either learn to live sensibly or obliterate ourselves out of existence. Either way, we must just live as well as we can, be kind and courageous as we can manage.

Our lives are uniquely and intrinsically our own. It is a responsibility that few seem willing to bear.
Penny Rimbaud, quoted in How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson.

This is an excellent book and antidote to just about any ill. The first time I read it I thought the author was charming but slightly mad. I have read it at least once a year since, and he becomes more sane every time I read. Because we are all marching to the beat of the wrong drum. A little bit of us all slowing down and rethinking our priorities won't hurt us, or our politicians either. We are citizens, not consumers. We can be creative producers, not consumers. We can direct our own lives..

And also, sausages in bread and fairy cakes make election day almost bearable.

Updated to add: A very thoughtful piece about Pauline Hanson's surprise election success. Is she our very own Donald Trump, capturing the vote of those who are disenfranchised by our current political elites?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

In Which I Realise I am a Sexist Pig

For many years, embroiled in the welter of child-raising and relentless domesticity I was quite grumpy about the fact that Certain Men would do anything rather than change a nappy, take a toddler away for a couple of hours or clean the bathroom. "But you're so good at it," a Certain Man would say as he wandered off to tile a floor for three hours or so.

It wasn't until The Man left that I realised just how gender-specific the roles had been at our place. I never put out the bins or mowed the lawn. I had never used a cordless drill. I generally didn't even change a light bulb. In my mind I excused my lack of manly talents with the line, "but he's so good at all of that." Also I didn't want to mow the lawn, because who does? But then, he didn't want to clean the bathroom, because who does?

But over the last couple of years I have begun to tease out the pattern of our lives. Firstly we had very gender-specific roles because our parents did. We swore we would not end up blindly reflecting the lives of our parents, but that is exactly what we did. We became parents very young (we were both twenty two) and before long we were living their lives. He was out working to support his young family, I was home bringing up little children. We needed to conserve our small income so I did the bits that could be done with small children at heel - cooking, mending, home schooling, gardening, and he did all the bits that couldn't be done with a baby strapped to the chest - chopping firewood, gutting and rebuilding our bargain fixer-upper. There is nothing wrong with this pattern - it is very efficient and has been used for millenia because it works.

But like many modern families we had wanted something different. He had planned to be more involved with bringing up the children, we had planned to be partners in our daily lives, but then, we weren't. It was much easier to just coast along in out traditional gender roles. And once we were on different tracks it was so much easier to drift apart. He became more career oriented, I was completely family focussed. Again, none of this was wrong - he needed to concentrate on career because I wasn't earning, and I needed to focus on the family because he wasn't there on a daily basis. Both of us conceded that this was necessary. But it felt wrong to me. It wasn't what we had planned or wanted, but we couldn't stop for long enough to work out how to do things differently. Or we felt we couldn't.

In hindsight we had options, but all of them involved self-reflection and talking about how we felt (not our strong suits). If we had been determined I could have helped him build the house and we could have shared the child care. Then he could have been closer to the children and I could have become a far more practical person than I am now. As it was both of us became resentful trapped in our roles alone but didn't want to rock the boat because it seemed there was no alternative. And truly, The Man was much better at building a house, and I was much more calm and patient with the children. But I have just realised the true reason for that.

It takes thousands of hours to truly master a craft. At first you are really bad at it, and then you slowly get better by doing it over and over and over again. When we are young we are used to being really incompetent at all sorts of things as we start learning how to live. Then we become good at a bunch of things, mostly the things we have a bit of natural talent in, but sometimes just things we have to do. After we get good at a range of things it becomes unbearable to have to go back to being an incompetent beginner again. Plus, our perfectionist culture doesn't tend to reward adult failure.

The Man, who is an engineer, always liked tinkering around with tools, although he had never actually built anything until he started experimenting with making furniture for us out of wooden pallets and off-cuts, and then rebuilding our house. Natural interest plus talent plus necessity plus endless repetition made him an expert and should the bottom ever fall out of the engineering market he will be able to make an excellent living as general handyman.

I, on the other hand, possessed a useful pair of boobs that was the only thing that shut our first colicky baby up. Plus there were some equally useful hormones which attached me to the baby like duct tape. I have put in my thousands of hours of child wrangling, also read every parenting manual on the planet, and now, although small children aren't my natural forte interest-wise, I make a pleasant living hanging out with five-year-olds, because believe me, I know five-year-olds by now.

For me, unhandy as I am, the art of building was arcane and mysterious and 'impossible' for me to learn. For The Man, dealing with temper tantrums was overwhelming and exhausting. And yet, had we been humble enough to ask for help and guidance from each other, we could have learned. We would have learnt new skills, we could have learnt to be patient with each other, we would have become partners in parenting and building a house and life together. Instead we both felt trapped in lives that weren't quite right.

Now, I am not saying that we could have saved our marriage and that life would have been rosy had we chosen that different path - I just don't know. I think our differences lay deeper and were more intractable than that. I don't have regrets about the paths our lives have taken. The Man has a new partner who is a kind and positive influence on the children's lives, and I am happier than I have ever been, if still a little terrified of power tools. I do regret taking the safe and easy road though, and I am determined to take a more thoughtful, maybe more difficult, but certainly more rewarding route in the future.

I have discovered that I can indeed mow the lawn, although I have now given that up as I bought a new house with no lawn at all, and gave away the lawn mower. I can also take out the bins and change a light bulb, and today I used the cordless drill! The Boy showed me how it works when he was home at Christmas time, and today I charged up the battery and actually used it to drill some holes to add an extra shelf to the old sets of shelves I am currently using as a kitchen dresser. So far that takes the range of tools I know how to use to three. I can sand with the electric sander, drill a hole, and wield an adjustable wrench for a myriad of purposes. Very proud! Mind you, this man built an entire hobbit house with three tools (chainsaw, hammer and chisel) so I figure I'm just about there..

I am happy that my girls are getting to see a mum who is capable of having a go at most things, and willing to be very, very incompetent as I work out how to do very basic home improvements. I am also very happy to be at a stage in my life where I can look back at my many failures and say, "Oh well, I tried really hard and my intentions were good.. and that's what matters."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Winter Solstice Man Flu

Winter solstice early morning moon-set

Posy and I are celebrating the winter solstice with terrible, terrible Man Colds. Living in a male-free household it behoves us to take up the slack in all things manly - in this case having a worse cold than anyone has ever had in the history of humanity. Probably the flu. Probably we will die. Actually, I can't speak at all except in a whisper, which I can raise to a pathetic croak in an emergency, like calling in sick to work today.

Today we have slept the day away, happy to be safe and warm out of the wind and the rain (always more satisfying to be ill in bad weather), with a brief foray out into the very fresh air to bring in more wood for the fire.

Apart from two panadol at midnight last night when I couldn't sleep due to sore sinuses I have resisted the urge for drugs (none of which 'treat' the cold, merely alleviate the symptoms), and stayed with old fashioned and gentle remedies from the kitchen and garden.

Restorative Tea


This potion is from my friend Sharon, herbalist and nurse. 

Two long lemon skin strips, peeled with a vegie peeler.

One cinnamon stick.

One knob of fresh ginger.

Several sprigs fresh thyme (excellent for loosening mucous. Good for coughs).

Several sage leaves (wonderful for soothing sore throats).

Pop in infuser, pour over boiling water and sip all day. One infuser full of herbs lasts me all day. I store it on the window sill between doses.

'I AM GRACEFUL' Green Sludge er, Smoothie.

This recipe is from Sarah Wilson's excellent I Quit Sugar for Life book.

Ice, 1 tablespoon chia seeds (we soak these in water overnight), 1 large cucumber, 1 lemon, 1/2 green apple, 2 celery stalks, handful coriander (we substitute parsley), 3cm knob ginger and turmeric (no fresh turmeric in our kitchen), 1 cup coconut water (we use about a third of that, due to my, er, thrifty gene, and add extra water). Whiz up in blender. Make sure the lid is on properly. Rosy didn't. Once.

Now, if you are not a green smoothie enthusiast you will be looking at this and thinking, "But that is green sludge." And yes, indeed it is. But it is green sludge that is very good for you and very easy to digest when your immune system is busy doing other things. It is magnificently refreshing, and also when you have a man-cold you can't even taste how healthy it is. I chug down several small glasses over the course of a delicate day.

As I write Rosy is home from hockey practice and making chicken soup with the stock I providentially made a few days ago, and tonight I will dose myself with a steam inhalation laced with the eye-watering sinus goodness of eucalyptus oil. None of these things will likely cure me, but all of them will add to my health and happiness, instead of merely suppressing some useful biological functions as over-the-counter medications do, and they are green and thrifty as well. Win, win!

Please tell me your home remedies for a really dreadful man-cold. We need everything you've got!

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