Monday, March 19, 2018

Make Do and Mend

I have had these duck cup measures since I was ten.
 Rosy did a splendid job of mending Mama Duck for me.

The ability to make do and mend is a superpower that will help to save the planet by preventing the resource depletion that is currently threatening so many habitats and ecosystems. In the New World Order instituted by me, Benevolent Dictator of Earth, those who choose not to go out and buy new things, but instead just make do with their old things, will be awarded medals. People who can fix and mend things will be accorded superhero status. Capes will be handed out.

Last week Paul noticed a fraying phone charger cord in my car. At least 10cm of the rubber coating had come off which made him shake his head sadly.. he mended it for me in five minutes, with a layer of duct tape and some heat-shrink tubing. Now we can charge our phones in the car without danger of electric shock. Paul actually is a superhero of fixing things, as many electronic engineers/off-grid cabin dwellers are.

In our family we are more try-it-and-see-what-happens types when we attempt to fix things, which is like an apprentice superpower, because you never get to be a superhero without experimentation, right? A few weeks ago Rosy got out the glue to mend her Fitbit and I lined up a queue of other things that needed mending that I had in a box, because I am a procrastinator. So Rosy mended a china stork for me that I had broken when dusting too enthusiastically,

glued on the beak of my duck one-cup measure from the set that my Grandma gave me for Christmas when I was ten, see above, and the glass lamp shade from the bathroom light fitting that I broke the week we moved into this house, nearly two years ago now.

They are all working perfectly again, and so today I actually got the glue out myself and fixed a doodad back onto the thermometer that sits next to the fireplace, and the glass thermometer thingy back into the thermometer that lives in the kitchen. It has been the week for thermometers falling apart.

The name of the glue I am using is Allfix, which I think is a spectacular name for glue. Clearly there is nothing this glue cannot fix for me. I am so happy because there are six things now that I will not need to replace due to the mending powers of glue, duct tape and heat shrink tubing.

Such small things, but added up over a lifetime there is so much that we can manage to not go out and buy just by mending something, or even more simply, by leaving an old thing in place and just re-using it over and over again..

Friday, March 16, 2018

Green and Thrifty

One way to keep the dandelions down is to pick them and put them in a vase before they go to seed..

So much glorious weather this week, all the sun, and now gentle rain, the most perfect combination of weather events for kicking along the vegies that I have put in the garden recently, which need to bulk up and heart (in the case of broccoli and cabbage) before the cold weather sets in. Fingers crossed I got them in early enough. Weather pundits are predicting a cold winter, but who would know? In the Little House on the Prairie series, a long winter was predicted by a)the local native American people and b)beavers. I do not have access to either of these sources of information. There must be clues in the landscape and knowledge passed down for generations, but I am at a bit of a loss as to how to come by either. I feel like it is important information we should all learn - how to live in our landscape, what our weather is doing. Knowing when the rains are likely to come (generally end of May), when to plant winter veg (generally slightly earlier than I tend to get around to it). Here is a useful piece of local information which always works for me: plant peas in Spring when the wattle first comes out. Also plant peas now, and they will sulk all through winter, then burst into flower in spring for the earliest peas. This information is really only useful for local gardeners though. Which is true of most gardening advice. Local knowledge is golden, and that's what gets lost if generation doesn't follow generation learning the secrets of the one that has gone before.

Phew, rant over for the day.

One of the marvellous things about Partner Paul is that he has fabulous friends, who now get to become my fabulous friends whether they like it or not (my fabulous friends also get to become his, because sharing). So Paul's fabulous friend Bron gave me a box of pears from her tree which I cut up and put in the dehydrator, so now I have lots of delicious dried pear chips to nibble on and put in the muesli.

Having finished off last year's walnuts a couple of weeks ago, I have been filling my pockets with the first of this year's walnuts as I walk the dog of a morning. There are three walnut trees that I know of on my dog walking round, and I am getting a pocketful or so each time. Into the muesli they go.

Speaking of foraging, my friend Karlin was telling me about her friends who picked 250kg of roadside apples the other day and made it into cider. I am not normally a jealous person, but right now I want to go apple picking and get a cider press..

I planted lettuce. Finally.

I came home one day to find a packet of parsnip seeds at the front door. I had planted a packet of commercial parsnip seed but only eight parsnips germinated. Parsnips are tricky like that. They germinate reliably only from absolutely fresh seed. But once you have a few parsnips in your garden, you will always have them, because they self-seed prolifically. My friend Maria offered some seed from her parsnip forest, and now that has gone in and will hopefully fill out the gaps in my parsnip rows.

I cleaned out the shed. Why is this green and thrifty? Because I found several things I needed and didn't know I had. Two tap timers. This is good because I often accidentally leave the sprinkler on. A bunch of hose fittings, also good because mine are getting old and the taps have started dripping. Now the shed is nearly ready to house the wood pile for winter. And, it is tidy. I can find all the things that I need. It is a joy to go in there. Before, I dreaded climbing in over all the things and hunting under bags and boxes and having other things fall on my head.. I am going to give away the electric mulcher, a whipper snipper, the bike that none of us have used in two years. So many things I have in my pared down life that are still excess to requirements. Let it all go..

I love my garlic braid. This is the first year I managed to make one that stayed together..

Having said that, my parents have been cleaning out their garage and keep sending me texts asking me if I want paper from the moving boxes, and egg cartons to use as firelighters, and the plastic from covering the furniture when they moved. They wondered whether I would like it to make a little green house. And of course, I said yes. It is all on the way to recycling, so if I don't successfully turn the plastic into a green house, I will just send it on to the recycling centre at the tip, but until then it might warm up my tomato seedlings in the spring.

I cut back the lemon verbena bush as it is getting hard to walk past it. It is growing in a large pot along the walkway at the front of the house. It is so gloriously perfumed, both the leaves and the lovely delicate white flowers, which waft their scent seductively as I walk past, tempting me every time to stop and smell.. because the good life consists in always stopping to smell the lemon verbena. I hung up the cuttings in the shed to dry for tea. This winter I will be drinking the memory of those delicate white summer flowers.

When I arrived at one of my gardening jobs this week at my friend Katherine's place, I discovered that as well as leaving the whhelbarrow out she had also left a bag of vegies from her garden for me. Thanks Katherine:)

This week from the garden we have been eating potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums, garlic, rhubarb, lemons, tarragon, basil, rosemary, Cape gooseberries, pineapple ground cherries, and the first handful of green beans. I don't have many green beans because I planted them too close to the tomatoes and the tomatoes swamped them. We live and learn.

Tell me about your green and thrifty projects this week :)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tarragon and Parsley Salsa Verde

Every time The Boy and his partner visits us in Tasmania they go op-shopping and buy me presents, which of course I think is adorable. This summer they bought me a Nigella cook book, Nigellisima, and I was delighted to discover a recipe featuring French tarragon, which is my favourite herbe de jour. Honestly, French tarragon, a revelation. Eat it sprinkled on salad, on boiled, buttered potatoes, in potato salad, as the secret magic ingredient in sauerkraut, on chicken, baked salmon with lemon, and chopped up in salad dressing. Yummo. Also, as a perennial herb, once you have it in your garden, you get to keep it and it grows into a giant bush, which is lucky as all your friends will want bunches all the time. The first winter I thought I had killed it, but, it's ok, it always dies down to bare branches in winter. Just cut it back to the ground and it will sprout up out of the ground in spring. Such a gem of a plant. I have recently discovered that it is possible to hack off chunks of the tarragon plant and replant them. New plants for free! Make sure you plant French tarragon though - the Russian tarragon leaf is larger and coarser with a not so splendid flavour.

One morning in summer, ten minutes before we were due to leave on one of our Big Days Out I was whizzing up this beautiful tarragon sauce fresh from the garden, and there were trenchant comments from the rest of the family who were standing around the kitchen saying things like, "Really, Mum? You really need tarragon sauce that badly? I'm sure we'll be fine without it, can't we GO already?" However, at lunchtime when we all tried this divine green sauce for the first time, suddenly the tune changed, as everyone greedily scooped it onto all the food in sight. It was delicious on the chicken salad, and pitch perfect on the home made olive bread with cheese. I believe it was also being smeared on crackers with olives, and although it probably did not get added to the dessert, there was not much of it left by the time we returned home that day.



So if you live in a garden blessed by tarragon and parsley, lemons and spring onions, as I do, this is the sauce for you. Just ignore the chicken part of this recipe, and make the sauce, and put it on everything except dessert.

The blonde one is mine. The dark one I have happily adopted.

Thank you, gentlemen xx

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Up a Ladder

I began International Women's Day up a ladder, in my Blundstones, with a power tool, wrestling with a hedge for my friend Carla. So many good things happened for me today. I got to work, doing a job that I enjoy, I sent my girls off to get an education, I read a book, I had a nap, I cooked a healthy dinner for my children. I had a very privileged March 8.

Last night I watched a video by a Swedish researcher who wanted to help students to understand their relative place in the world in regards to things. Most of the Swedish students she interviewed imagined that they were about in the middle of the distribution of the world's wealth. Anna Rosling Ronnlund sent out a team of photographers all around the world to create a visual database to demonstrate to us all our place in the world. The Swedish students are of course, right there at the top of income distribution, as are most of the readers of this blog.

I love projects like this. I am such a nosey parker. As a child my favourite reading matter was a stack of old National Geographics. I loved diving into the details of other people's lives. I still do, which is how I have managed to lose a few hours on this website. To really drill down, click on a family, which will take you to a house tour, then you can click on any object in that tour which will allow you to compare that object with the same object of every other household in every income bracket all over the world. You can compare the stoves, beds, toys, toothbrushes and toilets of the world!

How does all of this relate to International Women's Day? I have a lot of ideas jumbled up in my head. How very little material goods so many people have. How mostly poverty is a product of inequality of power and resources. How improving the lot of women and girls lifts a whole community. How here in our highly developed societies most women have freedom, autonomy, choice and material wealth beyond the dreams of the vast majority of the world's poorest women, and yet we are spiritually bankrupt, in a culture of violence, which treats both men and women as pawns in a mad game designed to extract wealth from the many and concentrate it in the hands of the few. Where role models for our girls are the women who have competed and won in the vile and violent game that is the power structure that frames our society.

There is lots to work on and so many ways we can do better as women. There are also lots of wonderful, fabulous women who work every day to make the world a better place for our girls in ways that are different and paths that take another route. This is the kind of woman I aspire to be. One who finds a path that is overgrown and little used, and says, "Let's try this one and see what happens." Of course, we will need good boots and some decent pruning equipment for that.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Green and Thrifty

I was watching a video the other day about building a passivhaus - where the house is built so tight and with so much insulation that it hardly needs any heating or cooling, and the owner builder said that the secret is in the thousand tiny things you do to reduce heat loss, not in any one, big thing. This is exactly what I find when reducing household expenditure, and journeying towards less waste and using less energy. There is no one big, magic cure-all, but every little daily action adds up to making a large impact.

This week's small actions:

I made fruit and nut bread. I am pretty good at baking bread, if I say so myself. It would cost a good $8/loaf to buy the bread I make. In fact, I can't think of anywhere in town I can buy an organic loaf, so my bread is practically priceless!

I used the last of last year's foraged walnuts for the nut part of the bread.

This week I looked at an expensive seed mix for bread at the wholefood shop, then realised I have all of those seeds at home. I mixed all the seeds in a jar, then tipped the required half a cup into the blender and whizzed it up. Voila! Expensive seed mix for less.

I dried plums from my neighbour's tree for chewy snacking goodness.

I planted out broccoli, cabbage, silverbeet, spring onions and kale. I potted up some flower seedlings that have popped up in the vegie patch to replant elsewhere. I discovered that French tarragon is very easy to divide, so I dug up a chunk for Paul's garden. It is very important to always have French tarragon available for my salads wherever I go.. I finally packaged up the beetroot seeds I saved and had hanging on the plant in the shed. I planted beetroot seeds in the vegie garden, and sprinkled them around the flower garden. This year I have had self-sown beetroot popping up in the flower gardens, so I am helping that process along a little..

My mum brought me rhubarb and blackberries. I gave her tomatoes.

We all ate 'car crash' vegies and drank 'car crash' wine from Paul's unfortunate escapade of last week. The 'car crash' peaches weren't in mint condition, so I stewed them with the last of summer's blueberries from the freezer.

I made all our meals, and the girls had a packed lunch every day. I love it when we get through a week without resorting to the school canteen!

I made passata from my tomatoes. I keep giving them away, but more keep coming..

When Paul's sling from the emergency department at the hospital gave up, I made him one out of a jaunty pink plaid Madras cotton from my fabric stash. It was left over from making a maternity dress when I was pregnant with The Girl twenty one years ago. Paul wore the sling with great panache until he could get a proper one from the physio on Monday.

In the spirit of using what I have I am working through the enormous collection of herbal teas in my kitchen. I do not buy these, they turn up as gifts, or as unwanted refugees from other kitchens. I must drink them up before they take over my house. One cup a day. I will be super healthy, relaxed, detoxed and rejuvenated, according to various labels.

I made a new batch of Bathroom Paste and Salad Dressing.

Paul and I found a plum tree in the street on the way home from the shops and foraged a bunch of plums from it. Paul is very tall which confers a distinct foraging advantage.

From the garden this week we ate potatoes, tomatoes, Cape gooseberries, pineapple ground cherries, lemons, rosemary, sage, beetroot, parsley, thyme, basil, capsicums. But mostly tomatoes.. To my great shame we are buying lettuce. Must plant more lettuce..

And one big thing - I did not buy a single thing other than food this week. Which is lucky, because the roofing man finally turned up to fix the leaking roof. A roof that doesn't leak? Priceless. Well, actually, it wasn't. It was quite expensive. But, roof not leaking. That is Good.

You know, I was feeling like I hadn't accomplished much this week, but writing it all down, I feel like I have made more progress than I thought. Tell me your green and thrifty triumphs. I promise you will feel better for it!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Swings and Roundabouts

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.
Forrest Gump

When my lovely man, Paul, rang me last Friday afternoon I didn't know that he was calling me from the back of an ambulance, that he had crashed his car in the rain on a notorious winding stretch of road on the way back to his mountain cabin. Somehow, miraculously, he avoided major injury. I don't know how, because he flipped the car and crushed it out of recognition. The doctors at the hospital patched him up but refused to let him go home, partly, I think, because they couldn't believe he could survive such an accident with only some ligament damage to his shoulder. They were convinced he must have concussion or be bleeding internally, or something, surely? But no, apparently, like Tigger, Paul can bounce.

Still, however bouncy, he has injured his shoulder pretty thoroughly, and won't be able to use it for six weeks or so until the ligaments have healed. I hauled him home so I could play Florence Nightingale, a role I have always enjoyed, and the poor man has had to put up with being ministered to by me, and fed soup, and being bossed mercilessly for days.

The whole experience has made me think very seriously about community. We live in a world where we are very mobile and move about for work or on a whim, away from family and support networks, but what happens when things go wrong? What happens when you injure your shoulder and are then sent home from hospital and there is no-one there to do up your shirt and make you dinner and tie your shoelaces and fetch your medication and drive you to your physio appointment? I mean, it must happen all the time, but it would be pretty bleak and difficult.

Paul is an anomaly in modern life in that his family all live within a five kilometre radius of his home. This is not so uncommon in Tasmania, where families tend to stick together in small communities. I like it. There is a real safety in a large family and circle of friends that you have known since childhood. There is always someone to lend a hand. Paul's mum's partner happened to be driving home a few minutes behind him on Friday afternoon, and so he was able to stop and lend a hand. He collected all of Paul's things out of his car, including his week's groceries which had flown all over the road. He took them home, and Paul's mum spent the evening washing mud off all the groceries, including several bottles of wine which had flown into the ditch on the side of the road. Miraculously, although the car was crushed and all the windows shattered, the wine survived, lids dented and labels obliterated by mud and rain. We have spent the last few days dining on 'car crash' peaches, 'car crash' beans and broccoli, squashed tins of 'car crash' coffee, and drinking 'car crash' wine. There is always a silver lining..

I think that one of the imperatives for us all in our lives as we plan for the future is not so much stocking our impregnable bunkers with freeze-dried food and ammunition, as making sure we have strong and resilient communities of people who we love, and who love us. This can be family - I asked my parents to come and live close to me when they retired, and I am very glad that they were brave and adventurous enough to retire to another state to be with me and their grandchildren. Or it can be friends - since moving to Tasmania twenty years ago I have formed a very close knit community of friends who are like family. We are there for each other when needed. We make meals and clean each other's houses and share cars and trailers and help with building projects and look after each other's children and do the shopping when needed. This kind of friendship takes time and commitment. It is not always easy, but it is awfully important. It is how humanity has survived so far. It is a web of reciprocal kindnesses and favours given without thought of return, but it comes back in the end, when everything falls apart. Paul is the kind of man who is always, always there when a friend needs him. I am so glad to have been there for him when he needed me, but even if I hadn't been here, he would have had a lifetime's worth of friends lined up to help, in fact, he still does, although, being independent and bloody-minded he is already back at his cabin trying to do everything himself. I expect quite a lot of help will make it in under the radar though, because his friends won't be able stay out of his life, because that is how friendship works..

So here is my question for today.. who is there in your life who you can call after the accident and say, "Please come and help me put my shirt on..?" and if no-one springs to mind, what kind of community can you begin creating with that end in mind? I think there is probably no more important undertaking in life than working on that kind of deep friendship, because that is the only thing that really lasts..

Monday, February 12, 2018

Quietly Heroic

Dahlias and sedum at twilight

It takes a good deal of bravery and skill to keep even a very ordinary life going. To persevere through the challenges of love, work and children is quietly heroic.
Alain de Botton, School of Life, Good Enough is Good Enough

I am surrounded by so much quiet heroism, in so many permutations and combinations. Love, work and children are significant, but by no means the sum of possible categories of life's heroic challenges. Here are some of the blessings and challenges faced by a bunch of lovely people close to me: Children, love and ill health. Uncertain work, love and giant projects. Being young, love, looking for work. Being young, uncertain health and love. Work, unrequited love and what is life all about? Getting older, uncertain health, work, love. Children, work, looking for love. Creative endeavours, uncertain work, love. Getting older, creative endeavours, uncertain health, being alone.

Every one of these splendid people gets up every day, steps out into the world and makes quietly heroic waves. Care for family, friends, colleagues, community, strangers, peace, justice. Hilarious stories, good cooking, being nice to cats. It all adds up.

Me: creative endeavours, uncertain work (they go together, somehow!), children, love. All the challenges and all the blessings.

To all of my quietly heroic friends and lovely readers - congratulations. And keep going :)

Talk to me about the combination of blessings and challenges you persevere through.. does it help to consider yourself quietly heroic? I feel very kindly towards any effort to elevate the significance of the minutiae of daily life to epic proportions. Because after all, it is what we do when we get up every day that creates a whole life, in the end..
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