Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Are My Chances?

Miss Berry is now 26 months and we have been trying to coax her into toilet training and failing miserably. Our last try ended like this:

Mummy: "Honey, why don't you do a wee on the toilet?"

Miss Berry: "I don't want to do a wee in the potty, I want to do a wee in my pants".

Mummy: "Oh, OK."

That was about 2 months age. I did not want to force the issue in case she realised she was able to manipulate the household with toilet antics, so things have continued as normal. Also, I don't think you have any where to go to when your 2 year old gives you a straight up answer like that.

Anyhoo, we were at Montessori earlier in the week and the teacher handed out an article on toilet training using Montessori methods. Brilliant, new ideas to help get the ball rolling again. One point they make is to put the child in training pants so they can get the feeling of being wet or dirty. The idea is the child does not want to be wet and will thus be encouraged to use the toilet/potty.

So, good in theory huh? I thought so and decided to dive in with a lovely colourful purchase.

Even if the plan goes straight down the toilet (pun intended) at least the training pants look adorable drying on the line.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Accepting Nature into the Backyard - All of it.

We tidied an area along the side of the back yard on the weekend. We removed all the pots, swept and then re-arranged them to create a more open area of paving next to the BBQ area (which is on the right of the photo below).
We were hanging some wall pots to the lattice under the pergola and I look up and just above my head are two huge huntsman spiders.

After making a ridiculous noise and making sure I wasn't covered in spiders, Mr Berry and I move to the other side of the pergola and began to hang another pot. Just as Mr Berry lifts the pot up, an even bigger huntsman crawls up over the back of the pot and straight towards him.

To illustrate the magnitude of the situation, arrow 1 is pointing at the first huntsman incident. Arrow 2 is pointing at the pot involved in the second huntsman incident. I am sure you are not surprised that the second pot did not get hung.

Yep, ew.

I did not take photos, nor am I going to search the web for photos of a huntsman (you can do that yourself). I am still feeling all crawly just writing this. Seriously, they were huge. The one that came out of the pot must have been a girl spider. She was at least 50% bigger than the other two, especially in the body.

To lighten the mood and wait for the adrenaline rush to subside, Mr Berry and I discussed whether the two boy spiders were hanging around waiting for the girl spider to, you know..... Which then led to the question of whether girl huntsmans eat the boy huntsmans after doing the deed. Which then led to a series of other questions; are the boy huntsmans going to fight it out for mating privileges and if they do and she will eat the successful suitor, would the winner or the loser of the fight have to go forth and multiply? etc etc. Finally, we calmed down and the questions got a bit more mature. And we headed inside to our old faithful, Google.

We learnt that most web pages gloss over the actual mating ritual (who'd have thought?) but the girls are protective of not only the eggs but also the babies (how cute). Huntsman spiders will not kill you (contrary to our reaction, we did know this already) and won't usually bite, but if they do it will hurt like buggery but you'll be fine in a couple of days. Also, a lot of types of huntsman are pretty social and can hang out together.

The most important thing though, is the benefit huntsmans can have in your garden. They eat a lot of pests including cockroaches, and are eaten by lizards and birds. Which as much as my scalp is tingling at the thought of them, whether they are the eater or the eatee I win both ways.

In building our backyard, we hope to encourage local wildlife to visit. I love watching the little skinks, ladybirds, local birds and the many insects that are beginning to frequent our backyard, but I must admit that spiders were not on the list of things I wanted to encourage. But, without them there would be a gap in the food chain and one more reason for the birds and lizards to stay away. If I want the pretty feathered creatures than I must accept the horrible hairy ones too. Nature is both of those things and each is as important as the other.

So, before you get your fences sprayed and knock down every spider web in your yard. Think of the important role they can play and try to come to terms with accepting all of nature, not just the cute bits.

In the meantime, I am a long way off not panicking at the sight of a large spider and inside the house is still off limits to them. (Any found inside are met with a big, heavy shoe - although a shoe would've just bounced off these three.) And I am staying clear of that area of the yard for a while - perhaps till Christmas - who knows. It's one think to be accepting of nature, it's another to comfortably play alongside it.

This entire area is off limits until I no longer have the heebie-jeebies or unless someone is with me (Miss Berry doesn't count).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spend-Free Days

Yes, it has been a long long time since I posted last. I have no excuses for being so slack (again) and I am not sure 'losing my blogging mojo' is the reason either. I have been very busy though, working on the house and garden.

Which brings me to the topic of today's post. I have dipped into our savings a bit too much lately and I need to rein in my spending. As you can imagine after buying the house, moving in, making repairs, laying turf, making the back garden and the odd furniture purchase, our savings are at a bare minimum. This makes me nervous. Christmas is just around the corner, the car needs servicing and there is bound to be something else around the house that needs repairing.

Some reasons for my spending lately - vintage school chairs picked up at Cobbitty Markets.

Ideally, I would like six months of essential living expenses in savings and we will slowly work back up to this. At a minimum, I feel comfortable with three months - as this is the waiting period for our income protection.

So, to get me in the spirit of reducing my spending, I am going to have two spend free days per week.

Another equally valid reason - My new toy shelf. Hopefully my lounge room will remain tidy for a bit longer.

Why spend free days?

I first heard of this idea from Frugal Trenches and I find it an excellent way to reinforce healthy finance habits.

  • Firstly, you have to plan your spending. You have to anticipate when you will run out of milk and plan to buy some on a spend day.

  • It also minimises impulse buys. If you want something and it is a spend free day you have to wait at least til the next day to buy it. Often you realise you don't really want/need the item and don't buy it.

  • I seem to spend a lot less over the week with a couple of spend free days. When ever I go to the supermarket I always end up spending $30-$50 on a handful of items. By reducing the amount of times I go to the supermarket, I am buying less products and therefore spending less.

  • It also helps you to remember your goals. I find that doing when I do the budget for the month it takes about 3-4 days after that for the motivation to wane and I forget about the budget and begin to increase my spending. By spacing out spend-free days, I am continually reminded to stay on budget and I remain motivated.

So, if you are trying to keep to your budget but are finding it hard, why not have a go at one spend free day a week?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Before Shots - The Front Garden

I have just realised how long it's been since I last posted. I really need to get my butt back into gear. All our time is spent on the house and garden at the moment. There are so many things to get done but I am beginning to feel we are making some progress, even if the list grows longer each day.

Here are some before shots of our front yard.

This is from the footpath. We had started to clean up the front (hence the green bin and rake) when I remembered to grab the camera. The trees at the front are mainly lilly pillys but we think they are going to need replacing in order to make a hedge. They have been neglected for too long and there are huge gaps in the branches right where the hedge should be. They are a beautiful variety (not sure of the name yet). The new growth is pink. The two palms are going though.

I am standing on the driveway here. We are trying to coax the box hedge back and I think it is beginning to work. The little grassed bit will eventually be replaced with garden. There is also some lovely old stone edging under the grass that we will rescue and reuse for the garden edging.

This is from the porch. We have a huge front porch that will be lovely and cool in summer as it misses out on the afternoon sun. Not sure what pot plants I can put there though. You can get a better idea of the grass area here. My plan for the front garden is a mix of native and traditional cut flowers. I think I will keep the backyard as the productive area.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Starting on the Back Yard

I have just gone through my photos and realised I don't really have a complete before shot of the back yard - oops.

Here is the best photo I can find (at least it has the area we began work on).

Our backyard is basically edged with weeds that have become trees or shrubs, ten ill-placed pines down one side, a sterile mulberry tree and a camellia. All of which have been left to go nuts. That's just two sides of the yard. The other side has a shed (yeah!) a pergola and a beautiful old frangipani tree that has paving right up to the trunk. There isn't any grass in the middle, just a few weeds and dirt.

The great thing about this is that we can pretty much design the garden ourselves. I am working on a design and I will post it as soon as I can figure out how to.

Yesterday, Mr Berry started on clearing the backyard. There were seven (yes seven) small pines planted along the north-eastern fence (there are still four absolutely huge ones there blocking a lot of the morning sun - they need a professional). Seriously, they were about 70cm apart - who would do that? They were chopped off and mulched. It took just about all day but by nightfall this is what remained:

I don't know if you can see the stumps at the back. Mr Berry only had time to get three of them out. Around the trees was full of Wandering Jew so we needed to do as much weeding as possible before lifting the stumps.

And, all seven trees were turned into this:

Not even a cubic metre of compost. I was sure I would have enough for a hot compost pile. I haven't checked the pile yet to see if it is heating up at all. If it's still cold by lunch time I will pile it into my smaller bin and start it cold composting.

Now that the sun can get to the ground there, we are going to make an interim veggie patch. In the long run I want a mandala garden for the veggies but that will take some time.


And a big Happy Father's Day to all the Dad's out there. I am lucky to have my Dad and Miss Berry feels the same way.

Rhonda from Down to Earth wrote a post earlier in the year that reflects my thoughts on Father's Day.

It's true, the boys are often lurking in the background of the blogs and we get glimpses of them now and then. In reality, Mr Berry is the opposite. He is at the forefront of our family, supporting, guiding and following. He is my team member, and makes up for my weaknesses and helps my strengths to grow. Thank you Mr Berry for being a wonderful husband and father. I love you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A New Oven

So, it turns out our oven is broken and cannot be repaired. The exact phrase was:

"It's over 10 years old so the parts aren't made anymore".


It is stainless steel - it can't be that old. But no, apparently 10 years is over the hill in oven years (perhaps they age similar to dogs).

The current oven is gas, but I think I want an electric one. I have checked out CHOICE and read their reports on ovens and apparently gas is no longer all it's cracked up to be. Electric ovens have improved over the years and an electric oven can have so many cooking options that they can be much more versatile than a gas oven.

Here is my wish list for my oven:

  • Non marking stainless steel (for grubby little finger marks)
  • External Grill (or super duper internal grill that won't splash fat through the entire oven)
  • At least three shelf positions
  • Cooking options like fan or different elements on or off
  • Self cleaning - but will heating the oven to high temps damage my timber kitchen?
  • A side opening door sounds really nice but not at the expense of other things on my list
  • A door with a large window so I can see the food without having to open the door during cooking
  • Shelves that won't tip when they are half pulled out and have safety stoppers so they won't come all the way out by accident.
  • A smokeless grill tray (especially if we go for an internal grill)
  • A non-tilting grill tray with stoppers like the oven shelves as well as a grill tray that comes out far enough to reach food at the back of the tray.
  • A shield on the front of the grill element to stop burnt fingers

Other things to check:

  • The inside dimensions
  • Energy Efficiency
  • How easy it is to get to the bulb
  • Ease of removing shelves for cleaning plus lack of nooks and crannies on the inside of the oven.
  • The warranty length
  • Service times etc.

So that's my check list for today. Hopefully by the weekend we will have purchased one. I had no idea how much I rely on using an oven.

Monday, August 24, 2009

We've Moved In

Wow, I can't believe it's been a month since I posted last. Time has just flown.

We have moved into our new house and the boxes are unpacked - although some were simply up-ended in the spare room to sort out later.

Miss Berry has settled in now. She was a bit homesick for our old house for the first few weeks but is OK now. She loves the garden and will spend all day running around outside. Our old house was on a slope and there was a flight of stairs from the back door to the garden. I was terrified of her falling down them and couldn't leave her in the backyard for even a second. Now our backyard is much more user friendly and we have a fantastic patio area that has a full view of the yard so I can sit back and have a cup of tea whilst she runs wild.

The gardens are very neglected - which is good. I have some ideas for a garden design and will work on it over the next few months. We have put in an application to council to remove some very large trees that are damaging fences and paths, and once they are out we can clean up the rest of the garden and start thinking about planting productive fruit and veg.

I don't have any photos as yet, I did find the camera but the battery was dead. I think the charger must be in that aforementioned pile in the spare bedroom. That's a job for today.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cleaning Windows

It has been so long since I've posted. We have been very busy organising the move and de-cluttering everything and this week we have started packing.

We have also decided to save some money and do the move clean (in both houses) ourselves. Usually I get a cleaner in - I'm not keen on the idea of cleaning a house I'm not going to live in. But by doing it ourselves we will be saving a few hundred dollars and we can spend it on getting the garden or chook pen set up.

So, today I am tackling the windows. I use Enjo cleaning products, but a weak vinegar solution for the glass and soapy water for everything else will work just as well. I also like to add a few drops of essential oil to the water. Just pick one that smells nice.

We have old sash-cord windows which means a lot of timber and deep sills. I begin by dusting and sweeping the sills and timber. I also dust the venetians. I then clean the glass - vinegar and water works really well but I use my Enjo window cleaner. All the timber is then wiped clean with a damp cloth and dried off with an old cloth nappy. Don't forget the tops of the window frame and around any curtain rods.

I then move to the venetian blinds. If you dust your venetians regularly, then they won't need much cleaning. It's when the dust builds up that you need soapy water. Because we are moving out, I will clean them with soapy water. I have an Enjo Flexi but you could use a cloth. Whatever you use, it needs to be damp. If you are using a cloth, add a bit of soap to the water (just a little though, you don't want to spend time rinsing suds off.) Dry the venetians with the nappy and you are done.

The bedrooms have continuous curtains on them too so whilst I am cleaning the windows I will pop the curtains in the wash. Once the machine has finished I will hang them straight back up to dry.

Once they are done, leave the blinds open and enjoy the fresh smell of essential oils. Make yourself a cut of tea and sit down and enjoy your hard work.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Plastic - Evil Or Just Misunderstood?

Did anyone watch Addicted to Plastic on the ABC last night? It was a documentary on the problem of waste plastic and what people are doing to solve the problem.

One person interviewed said that the plastics industry isn't evil and planned to swamp the earth with toxic plastic waste, but rather we all got caught up in post war consumerism. Plastic was marketed as the great time saver. Mum's could have more time to themselves because they wouldn't have to wash up. (More time? Yeah right.) And coming from the frugality of the war time, you can understand the desire to have a life that was very different from the reminders of war.

Since then, our desire to accumulate more stuff has grown exponentially. We want our lives to be 'simpler' and require less work so we look for disposable items, pre-packaged foods and other convenience items which means heaps and heaps of plastic being thrown out each day. Even the idea of a plastic bag that is used once then thrown out (or put in a cupboard to multiply) sounds ridiculous when you consider the alternative of a re-usable fabric or canvas bag that can be washed over and over again if needed.

Throughout the documentary, I kept thinking that the problems we have with plastic is not because of the plastic but rather because of our behaviour and attitude towards plastic. If everything that was plastic was made out of say linen, (imagine for a minute that this linen is rigid and is just like plastic - only linen) our attitude to packaging would be very different. Imagine using a tea towel once then throwing it away.

I think plastic has it's place and can be useful (think of tupperware - mmmm tupperware) but we need to let go of the idea of plastic as a disposable substance. Every time you throw out a piece of plastic remember that plastic will always remain plastic - and it has to go somewhere, forever. Now that doesn't sound very disposable.

So, what can we do about it?

I understand that changing the way you think as well as unconscious habits can be extremely difficult, but with some effort on our part there are things we can do.

  • Stop excessive buying. Plastic is in everything so the first step is to reduce spending. If you buy less new stuff and repair what you have or search out second hand items, then less plastic will be thrown out and some of the plastic that is out there will remain out of land fill for longer.

  • If you do buy something new, choose products that have minimal plastic packaging. The most obvious items would have to be fruit and vegetables that are in a plastic tray and then wrapped in plastic. What's with that? Other things to consider are individual serves of snacks and biscuits. Try to avoid other purchases such as clothing that is wrapped in plastic sleeves.

  • When you buy a plastic product that will be thrown out, choose a product that is made from a recyclable plastic. All councils have different plastics they will take for recycling but you can usually check what they are from your local council website (most plastics have a little number on them - that's how you can tell what's what).

Are you getting a theme from the above points? Yep it's Reduce, Reuse, Recylce. A simple but very effective way to solve a lot of our waste issues, not just for plastic.

So why not start reducing the amount of plastic you use today. Say no to a plastic bag. Better yet, keep a plastic bag from home in your handbag or car. That way you will always have a bag with you and you will be keeping one more plastic bag from being tossed away.

If you missed Addicted to Plastic you can check it out on ABC's iView.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good News. We Have Bought a House!

The contracts were signed last night and it is now official. In six weeks we will have the keys to our house.

Ok, so this is not our new (or old) house. I found it on flikr by *Susie* and thought it was so cute. I'd buy it.

Searching for the right house has taken us a while and it was disappointing when we missed out on the last house. But, as we all know, the right house will come along and this one ticks a lot more boxes than any of the others.

It is beautifully old and still has a lot of the original features. It has had a renovation at the back so it has an internal laundry (yeah!) and the toilets are inside (even more yeah!). It is very livable so we won't be living in squalor and we will be able to cope with it as it is for a few years without any problems. But it has been a rental for a while so there is a lot of cosmetic work needed - which is great. We can put our own personal eco-stamp on the house and garden. The garden is basically non existent except for a super large old frangipani (how nice is the backyard going to smell?) and last night I dreamt of garden designs and the things we will need to do to improve the soil as well as all the fruit trees I will plant.

I am also a little bit shocked that it has actually happened and I don't think I will really believe it until we get the keys. After all, anything can happen in six weeks for this to fall through (the main one being the bank failing to get it's but into gear - they are still taking a huge amount of time to get anything done).

So, now I have to start thinking about packing. Actually no, I am going to ignore that for a week and just enjoy dreaming of what my new garden is going to look like.

And, if it ever stops raining I am sure we will have many, many walks. This house is just around the corner from where we live now.

I have just noticed that this is post number 95. Perhaps I should work on a giveaway for my 100th post? I will think about what I can put together. Giveaways are so much fun.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Permaculture St George

After months of searching, I finally found the details for a local permaculture group (turns out I had the wrong name, duh).

So tonight I went to my first meeting. I had a great time and went home with lots of food for though as well as an aloe vera cutting and some cos lettuce seeds. They meet each month and membership seems to also include some other bonuses such as LETS membership.

Here is the web site if you are interested and live in the southern Sydney area:

On the weather front - it is freezing. Who would have thought the beginning of winter could be so cold. Was it like this last winter? Each summer I believe it will never again be cold and each winter I believe it will never again be hot.

On the way home tonight the car registered the outside temperature as 9oC and this morning Miss Berry's room was 13oC. I think I might make more of a note of the temperature in this blog so I can look back next year and compare the temps. It has also been pretty windy. We haven't had any rain for a week or so and the wind has really dried everything out - I must water this weekend.

Thankfully we don't get frosts in this area. Although the veggies have slowed down I can still plant throughout the winter without worrying about frost damage.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What Is Simple Living?

"Living simply isn't about self-imposed poverty; it's about consciously deciding what is important in life and reducing our needs to those of greatest importance."

- Linda Cockburn, Living the Good Life

I am reading Linda's book Living the Good Life at the moment and am finding it very motivating. I would recommend it to anyone interested in living sustainably. You can also check out her blog here.

There are a some ideas from Linda's book I wanted to mention today about living simply. I must admit the term 'simple living' is not something I usually say out loud. I find it has a certain cringe factor about it. A lot of people seem to have no idea what it means and end up giving me a sympathetic poor you attitude that assumes we are living simply because we can not do otherwise. I find people fail to realise the environmental impact of living a high consumerism lifestyle, as well as the health impact of fast, convenience foods. Even as I try to explain to them why we have made these decisions, they have already turned off - I can tell they do not understand.

I no longer try to explain our lifestyle choices to people. Friends can read about it here (and some do - hi Diana) and other friends are happy to remain oblivious and label us as hippies. That's ok, our choice to live simply was not made so we can broadcast to the world how great we are. There is no need for us to tell everyone about it, but for those that are interested I have always struggled to describe our way of life in a few sentences.

To me, simple living encompasses so many aspects - the environment, our health, saving money, reducing consumerism (and waste), the family and the list goes on. It is empowering because we are not being caught up in the flow of today's society that demands that happiness must come with excess packaging and a huge credit card debt.

But going against society's norm is challenging. It is hard to stick to your guns when advertising is screaming at you wherever you turn. When socialising with friends generally comes with a price tag. There are days when I really do feel like I am swimming against the tide - perhaps one of those really strong rips you avoid when you go to the beach. That no matter how hard we try, advertising will suck us under and back into the evil underworld of shiny plastic things. So why do we keep struggling?

Linda says "living simply or sustainably, whatever term you use, may mean that from the outside looking in, you may be labelled poor. This is a construct of our society, which builds its successful-person model on income, what products they choose to spend it on, how they 'wear' it, what house they live in and what they drive."

And yet, those of us that embrace simple living know that whilst it is the opposite of what society deems successful, it is far from poor. And that is what I sometimes have a hard time conveying to others. There is absolutely no need to feel sorry for people living simply. In fact I sometimes feel sorry for those who don't. But after reading Linda's book, I think I have found how to describe what we do and why we do it to people.

Linda describes simple living as "not about giving things up, forsaking them, frugality, denial, stinginess, deprivation or lack. It's about taking things up: self-determination, freedom, autonomy and abundant living."

What do you think best describes simple living? I'd love to hear your ideas on how or if you describe living simply to others and what responses you get.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An End to the Mouse Saga

I told you about our little mouse here.

By Saturday we still hadn't caught the bugger. He was still eating the bait off the traps without setting them off so we headed down to the new and super big Bunnings store to get more traps.

We bought three different types.

The three traps at the top are the new ones. The plastic grey one on the bottom was the original one we used - it didn't work.

So, we set them all with peanut butter that night (he seemed to like peanut butter the most). And went to bed with our fingers crossed.

Sunday morning we woke to find our little friend had been caught in the nice humane keep-him-alive trap.

He was such a tiny little thing and whilst we were happy for him the be caught and killed in one of the other traps, now that he was caught alive we couldn't bring ourselves to kill him.

So Mr Berry bundled Miss Berry and the mouse (not together - the mouse was in a bucket. Miss Berry wouldn't fit in the bucket so we put her in her car seat) in the car and set off for Oatley Park. A nice large recreational park with lots of bushland. He and Miss Berry let the mouse go on the edge of the bush and they were happily watching the little thing scamper away.

All of a sudden the mouse changed direction and headed out onto the grassed area of the park and before you could say 'oh look at that little mouse' a bird swooped down and took him.

Mr Berry was speechless.

Miss Berry said 'Where did the mouse go?'

I don't think I need to say any more.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Simple Scones

I wrote about making scones the other day and here is the recipe I use.

Makes approx 12 scones.

2 cups self raising flour

pinch salt (for a flavour enhancer, not for taste)

30g cold butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup cold milk

1/3 cup water

extra milk for glazing

Preheat oven to 210 oC. Prepare your baking tray (I use baking paper but you could grease if you want to).

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Scones need lots of air so this step is important. Add the chopped butter and rub in lightly using your fingertips -it will end up looking like fine breadcrumbs. Only use the tips of your fingers. You shouldn't have any flour on the palms of your hands and you should be using a light touch.

Make a well in the centre and add most of the combined milk and water. Mix with a flat bladed knife to a soft dough, add more of the milk/water if you need to.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough very briefly and lightly. Your aim is to just make the dough smooth and not sticky. It shouldn't take any longer than about 30 seconds.

Roll out dough to 2cm thick (or so). Cut the dough into rounds about 5cm in diameter. You can buy scone cutters but I just use a small drinking glass. Flour the edge of the cutter first. Don't re-knead the left over dough but press it together and lightly re-roll to cut more rounds. You don't want to over work the dough or you'll end up with tough scones. Place the cut rounds onto the baking tray so that they just touch and glaze them with the extra milk.

Bake for about 10 mins or until they are golden. To check they are cooked, break one open - it shouldn't be doughy in the middle. If you want soft scones wrap them in a clean tea towel (my preference) otherwise, put them on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Serve warm with jam and whipped or dollop cream.

I Hate Mieces to Pieces

image by tomsaint11

Yesterday I was sitting down having a nice quiet lunch when out of the corner of my eye I spot a little brown mouse run into the dining room then run back out into the hallway (and I assume back into the kitchen). I did what any respectable eco warrior would do. I jumped up on my chair and did what I like to call the two step chicken dance - I jumped from one foot to the other whilst waving my arms like a chicken.

I then called my Dad.

Luckily, Dad was only ten minutes away and had time to drop in. Now I am all for wildlife - providing said wildlife doesn't enter my domain. Once they enter the house that's it. Miss Berry was miraculously still asleep so Dad went to the local hardware for some mouse traps. Apparently soft paste-like foods is better than cheese so we set the traps with peanut butter and waited.

This morning my eco warrior surfaced again and I sent Mr Berry into the kitchen to check the traps. No mouse, and no peanut butter.

I mean no peanut butter. I think the mouse had licked the traps clean. At least we have a smart mouse.

We reset the traps (still with peanut butter) and I am going out for the day. If he manages to take the peanut butter again I might try cream cheese. I think the cold is solidifying the peanut butter allowing it to come off the trap in one go.

So, the moral of this story is that it doesn't matter how old you are, Dad's can fix anything (well, almost anything).

Edited to Add: I just checked the traps and one of them has been licked clean. Little Bugger. This means war!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Last Minute Morning Tea

Today I was on morning tea duty at Playgroup and as always I was my usual organised self and did not get around to baking a cake yesterday. I really didn't want to buy a cake, not only are they really expensive but they also aren't very nice.

So, this morning I cooked 2 batches of scones and served them still warm with strawberry jam and cream for morning tea.

I was amazed (and a little shocked) at the response from the other Mums. Everyone seemed really impressed that I had scones for morning tea. In particular, they were surprised that I actually made the scones instead of buying them at Baker's Delight. (at $4ish each?) They were surprised in a good way - I received a lot of thank yous.

The thing is, I see scones as a last minute thing - the sort of things you cook when unexpected guests drop in or when you don't have time to bake a cake. I also think they are super yummy - as did the other Mums.

I guess it just goes to show that most people are not living simply. People do not take the time to bake, even though scones take about 10 minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to cook. For less than the cost of 2 packets of biscuits, we had a lovely homemade morning tea that was super yummy and not full of sugar and preservatives. And even though it was a morning tea that is one of the quickest, cheapest things you can make, it was a special treat at Playgroup.

I think that is a little sad.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Perfect Rice

I have been searching for the perfect rice recipe and I think I have found it. It is from Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food Cookbook.

Serves 4 (I think it is more like 6 serves)

  • 350g basmati rice
  • sea salt

Put a large saucepan of salted water on a high heat and bring to the boil.
Rinse rice in a colander under running water til water runs clear (this takes about 1 min).
Add rice to saucepan and wait til the grains start dancing around.
From that point boil for 5 minutes.
Drain rice in colander
Pour 2.5cm of water into the saucepan and bring it to the boil then turn down to a simmer.
Cover the rice in the colander with foil or a lid
Place colander on top of the saucepan of simmering water and let the rice steam for 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and serve.
The rice will stay warm for about 20 minutes with the foil left on the colander.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We'll Keep on Looking - and Saving

We didn't get the house.

We decided that it would be too risky for us at the moment to buy at auction. One bank (one of the big 4) has still yet to look at our application for a pre-approval - it has taken them 4 weeks so far. With the banks taking so long at the moment to give pre-approvals we had absolutely no confidence in them getting the loan organised in time for settlement. The house sold for $20,000.00 more than our upper limit anyway, so even if we had our finance sorted out we wouldn't have won the auction.

I do feel empowered in the decisions we made during this exercise. Even though I loved the house (it was perfect) we (or should I say I) was able to make rational decisions about the price we were willing to pay, the loan options we wanted as well as the ultimate decision about risk concerning the auction. I understand some people will pay anything and take any loan they can get in order to buy a particular house. That then leaves them with a lovely house, but with huge debt that they really can't afford to repay. I have heard stories of people living off their credit cards because their mortgage repayments are so high. They then roll the credit card debt into their mortgage as the house increases in value so they can start the cycle again.

This was exactly the situation we do not want to get into. Last year we made the decision to live off one income so we could give Miss Berry what we believe is the most important thing - time and attention that comes from having one parent stay at home. This means that we not only have to rent for longer whilst we save for a deposit, but also that we need a bigger deposit so that our mortgage repayments are low enough to maintain our current lifestyle on one income.

Although it will take longer to get our own house, I am happy with our decision. It has made it a lot easier to stay on budget and i think it's because the decision was ours. If we had been forced into this it would be a lot harder.

So we will keep on saving and I will keep on looking. I am sure the right house will come at the right time. There are after all, a lot of houses in our area. Surely some of them will be perfect?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Reducing Stress Levels

As you may have guessed from my previous post, I have been somewhat stressed out. My solution was to get stuck in to some sewing and forget about the whole house hunting thing for a while.

I found this tutorial on Sew Mam Sew for a great tote bag. Mine is a little different, but not by much.

I also added some inside pockets. I love my bags to have lots of pockets (there is some on the other side on the outside of the bag too.

Not sure what I will use it for. Is that really the issue anyway?

I don't seem to get much time for sewing these days. I can't get the machine or iron out during the day with Miss Berry around and after dinner I am usually too exhausted to pull the machine out and tend to reach for some handwork instead. It was nice to make the extra effort to get the bag made.

On the house hunting front - the auction for this house is today but I think we have decided to chicken out on bidding. The banks are just so slow at the moment that we are worried that they won't be able to get the loan sorted before settlement date. I have been told that the delay is a combination of the tightening lending policies they are bringing in as well as the ending of the home owners grant. Hopefully by July things will have slowed down and the banks will have their acts together.

In the meantime we will keep saving and looking. I am sure the right house will come along at the right time, although the house that is up for auction today is really, really nice. I am a bit disappointed that we will miss out on it - might get into the garden for some more therapy this weekend.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

House Hunting

I have mentioned previously (I think) that we are renting whilst saving a deposit for a house in the suburbs of Sydney. Our aim is to have a very manageable mortgage on a single wage so that I can remain a full-time Mum. Not an easy task considering Sydney prices.

Well, we have reached the very tip of our goal and I have found a house. It is up for auction soon and I am trying to get everything organised with the bank in time for the auction.

Let me say that I am unbelievably stressed and am beginning to think we should just rent forever.

It seems with the financial crisis, the banks are not only tightening up their lending criteria (as they should) but they are also taking an insane amount of time to even look at applications. It has been almost three weeks since we put in the application for pre-approval and they still haven't looked at it. Why? Because they give precedence to people that have actually got a house to buy.

But we are going to auction I tell James (no last name of course) from the bank. There will be no backing out if we win the auction so we need pre-approval before auction day. His solution was to sign the contract subject to finance approval. But it's an auction I tell him. There is no backing out or conditions when buying at an auction. His reply - oh, well don't buy at an auction.

Aaagh. Does this man even live in Sydney. 95% of properties in our area go to auction (not sure why that is either). The sellers for the house we are looking at won't even consider selling before auction unless we waive the cooling off period which puts us in the same situation.

On top of all that any pre-approval will be subject to a bank valuation of the property which I was told is usually about 20% less than market value. And the banks will only lend up to that amount.

Now this bit stumps me. Firstly, market value seems to be very subjective so I assume bank value will be the same. We have our limit on this particular house and we think it is a fair value, but what if the bank disagrees? Secondly, if they value the property so much lower than the market value, why will they consider lending us 90% of the purchase price, which is of course more than the so called bank value of 80% of the market price?

So, we have 3 options:
  1. Not even consider signing a contract until our pre-approval is water tight.
  2. Go ahead on a very shaking and somewhat vague conditional pre-approval.
  3. Decide we are invincible and sign a contract without any pre-approval (possibly also using our own blood for the signatures).

So, you can see where the stress comes from.

On top of all of this, it is possible that everything will fall into place the day before the auction anyway and this worry is all for nothing and what I should be worrying about is whether someone will out bid us. In this case I will also have the added worry that I have been worrying about the wrong thing.

As I said, I think we should rent forever.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why is She Always on About Food

Here's the thing - I always seem to be talking about food and cooking.

Reading back through my posts, I often seem to bring most topics back to the kitchen. Why? Probably because it is one area in our life that we have a lot of really bad habits but also because it has such a big potential to make a difference to the environment and also to simple living. And, we spend a lot time eating. Most people eat at least three times a day - more if they are snacking between meals. That can take up a fair amount of time, especially if you are preparing all the meals for a family.

I am also on a quest at the moment to making sure we are as healthy as possible. I am currently reading Nourishing Traditions and am keeping an eye out for other books about the food we now eat. I am yet to come to a conclusion about Nourishing Traditions - it is so different from what we are told to eat - but what I have read so far does make some sense.
Our diet is full of refined products (especially sugar) and I think you have to wonder about the affect this is having on our bodies. (other than making us fat right?) Some people say the reason we (as a western population) have such high incidents of heart disease, obesity and cancer is because we are eating foods that we aren't genetically designed to, and that 100 years ago (or even 1000 years) people were not suffering from these illnesses.

Really? The skeptic in me has to ask this. Were people from long ago not suffering from heart disease or did they just not know about it and therefore could not diagnose it. I mean come on, they once thought the black death was caused by miasma from 'bad air'. If they thought that, how could they possible identify cancer or heart disease for what it was.

But I digress.

Although I haven't made up my mind on some things, I do know that we are what we eat and that eating foods that are unrefined and are free of additives must be better for you. The more I read and learn about what is in our supermarket foods, they more passionate I become about removing all additive and refined foods and junk food from our diet.

Which is what we are trying to do. As I said before, we have so many bad habits (and I mean 'we' as in the Berry Family) and we really want to break them. Not just for Mr Berry's and my own health but also because we want Miss Berry to learn healthy eating habits. Breaking these bad habits and adjusting our food is a really big job, which is why I seem to always write about it.

So, sorry if I seem to drone on and I can pretty much guarantee I am going to keep droning on about the kitchen. I love receiving comments about all my posts and a lot of the tips and ideas you have are very helpful so please keep them up and I will keep you informed of our progress to change our eating habits.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Oh How Far We've Come

This morning we went to our first Wiggles concert.

If someone had told me ten years ago that the highlight of my week (or more like my month) would be to attend a Wiggles concert I would have thought them seriously deranged.

But there I was, lining up with the rest of the groupies children waiting excitingly with my ticket in hand. Not only me of course, Miss Berry was there and Mr Berry also took a personal day. We had a wonderful morning although I think Miss Berry was in shock for half the concert. She just stared at the stage and didn't move for ages and then would point and say 'Dorothy', 'Jeff' or 'Murray' like she couldn't believe they were actually there.

I also got completely sucked in to the Wiggles merchandise (and also wanted to silence a rapidly building public tantrum - Miss Berry's not mine). On the way out they were selling Wiggles balloons. Dorothy is Miss Berry's favourite so I went over to get her one and was shocked that the lady took my $20 and then turned to the next person in line. Yes that's right - $20 for a balloon. Do you think I can save it for the next Birthday party? Can we say 'Dorothy theme'?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Talk About Inspiring

Sew Mama Sew has posted a Ruffle Skirt pattern by Emu. Her flickr photos are here and they are fantastic. Check out the clothes I made group.

I love the fabrics she has used - recycled vintage fabrics too.

What great inspiration for thrifty-ness and eco-ness. If only we could all sew like this. My efforts at clothes making tend to end up looking like a Year 7 project. Perhaps I should sign up to a class and learn how to sew clothes properly.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thriftyness Here We Come

We are reasonably new to the art of thrifty-ness but I think we reached a milestone yesterday. We were driving home and I spied some polystyrene boxes on the side of the road.


We are renting at the moment and our lease is coming up for renewal soon. I didn't want to plant my garlic and leeks in the garden just in case we move before harvest time - they are too valuable to leave behind. I already had two polystyrene boxes which I filled with white garlic but I needed more boxes and I was planning on making a trip to the local grocer to see what they do with their polystyrene boxes.

Polystyrene boxes I planted white garlic in - if all goes well I will have about 25 bulbs comes spring.

The point being, I made asked Mr Berry to pull over and put the hazard lights on as I jumped out and put the boxes in the boot. We got home and I gave them a bit of a clean and they are now ready for my leeks and probably a few onions.

There is something really satisfying about reusing items - especially when you have saved it from being rubbish (or even better when you have cleaned up the roadside). I could have just gone and bought some plastic pots at the nursery or even at the local discount store. That would have been easier and quicker - I have been on the lookout for some boxes for about three weeks - but the satisfaction I get from sourcing the boxes in a frugal and environmentally responsible way is huge.

Although we have been moving towards living consciously, frugally and sustainably, it wasn't until I was able to pick something off the side of the road that I really felt like we will get there.

As long as we don't get run over first.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Erratic Gardening

Over the past 2 months I seem to be having bad luck in the garden, or perhaps just not a lot of good luck is a better description. My seeds seems to have a very low germination rate and yet I know the seeds themselves are good because when I resow them in punnets they all germinate (and I mean all) but they are now taking their time to get any further.

Except for the radishes. They are just going nuts - like they are on plant steroids.

I have spent this week trying to really look after my seedlings. Making sure they don't dry out, stroking them whilst singing gently lullabies - you get the picture.

I have also taken a trip to the library and I think I have found my life saver.

The Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow.

Not only is this book about organic gardening but she also gives you a great garden design as well as ways to manage your garden. Her techniques re-use a lot of materials so it is very cost effective and has a very low impact on the environment.

The first technique I am going to adopt is keeping a garden diary. I have a notepad that I occasionally scribble things into but it really isn't very useful. Instead I am going to start a new blog over the long weekend so I can track what I plant when and what I harvest when, any problems I encounter and also any major successes I have.

Linda also suggests using lunar planting as a management tool as well as increasing the germination rate and success of the plants. I will head to the library to see if there are any books on the subject, but I am sure I can also find a wealth of information on the net too. She points out that by having set days when you sow certain seeds and do certain jobs, you can prevent that overwhelming feeling you sometimes get when think about all the things that need to be done in the garden.

The entire book is full of great ideas and I was inspired from start to finish. I am determined to get organised in the garden and improve our productive-ness. I am sure it won't happen in one season, the nature of gardening being slow and steady, but I think that is also part of the joy I get from gardening.

I will check in once my garden diary is up and running. If anyone has any suggestions though, I would really appreciate the help.

Lamb Cutlets with Potatoes

  • 4 potatoes, peeled
  • 1 tbs breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tbs soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 8 lamb cutlets, french-trimmed

Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Spray a baking tray with oil (or grease as you would). Cut potatoes in half lengthways and place cut side down on a chopping board. Cut thin slices in top of the potatoes making sure you don't cut all the way through. Place the potatoes on the tray and spray (or drizzle) with oil. Roast for 45 minutes. Sprinkle potatoes with the combined breadcrumbs and parmesan and roast for a further 15 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, combine the chilli sauce, sugar, rind, juice, garlic and paprika in a shallow dish. Add lamb and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat a non-stick fry pan over a high heat and spray with oil. Remove lamb from marinade and reserve the marinade. Cook lamb for 3-4 minutes each side or until cooked. Remove lamb from pan and set aside to rest (I cover it with another bowl). Add remaining marinade to pan, reduce heat and simmer until thickened (about a minute).

Serve lamb topped with cooked marinade, potatoes and a side salad.

Serves 4

This is a weight watchers recipe hence the low fat version of spraying everything with oil. You can just use olive oil from the bottle and go easy on it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Recipe to Remember

Pasta with Pumpkin and Chickpeas

  • 500g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 1 red onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • pasta, enough to serve 4 (about 400g)
  • 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp of basil pesto (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 200 oC.

Toss pumpkin, onion and garlic with olive oil and roast in oven for 30 minutes. When cooked, squeeze out inside of garlic to toss with pasta.

Meanwhile, cook pasta and add chickpeas to the pot for the last couple of minutes to warm them through.

Drain pasta and chickpeas and toss with garlic, pesto and olive oil if needed. Fold though the pumpkin and onions. Season and top with freshly shaved Parmesan.

Serves 4


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Wonderful Day

Well, it started raining yesterday around lunch and it hasn't stopped since. And it's great rain. It's not the light-not-really-get-anything-wet rain, nor is it the torrential-flash-flooding-wash-everything-away rain. It's the constant-middle-of-the-range rain and I love it.

The sky is dark and even with all the blinds open, the house is still dark and most rooms need a light on (not all at once obviously). It isn't too cold though, so we can open the front door and sit and watch the rain.

All the pot plants are out and the veggies are getting a good water. Every time it rains like this I wish for the day when we have our own home and can get a water tank.

So what do we do on a day like this? Other than cuddle up under a quilt or sit and watch the rain? We have a big pile of books to read, tea parties to play and beautiful pictures to draw. Unfortunately some of the chores need to be done, but I think some can be put off for another day so we can enjoy the weather.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Challenging the Way We Think

As part of our journey to a simple and eco friendly life, I have needed to challenge the way I think about most things. There are so many things we do in life that are just accepted as the way things are and I don't think these things are particularly good for us.

As an example, I spoke to someone the other day when I was making spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and they asked me what jar of sauce I use. When I told her that I make it from scratch she seemed surprised as if the idea to make it from scratch never occurred to her. This person is a fantastic cook and 20 years ago she would have only made bolognaise from scratch. Perhaps it is advertising and marketing that has drummed into us that the only way to make certain meals is to use a base product from the supermarket shelves.

I don't mean to single out this one conversation (or meal for that matter). There are a lot of other foods and products that people assume the only way to get them is to buy them ready made - breakfast cereal, custard, snack foods, pasta and bread (including ready made bread mixes) are just some from a very long list.

I can understand why people use ready made ingredients and there are days I resort to them too, but I think it is much healthier for ourselves and the budget if ingredients are as close to their original state as possible.

It also makes it easier to control what I am feeding my family. Try to find a jar of minced garlic or ginger that doesn't have sugar added to it (or preservatives for that matter). All I need is garlic, so why do I buy a product that has sugar and preservatives added to it? Why is it that I am finding it so hard to source a local supply of real garlic? I hate to use a cliche but it seems the corporations or perhaps we should call them the powers that be have successfully drummed into us that the minced garlic in a jar is the only garlic we should use.

So, what do we do about it? Well, whatever we do it is going to be hard. I am finding choices are limited unless I am prepared to drive all over Sydney (which defeats the whole not driving thing - another post eh?). I am trying to question everything I do and ask myself why I am reaching for that particular product and if there is an alternative that is better for my family, the environment and my budget. If you think about all the things we do in a day that are automatic, that is a lot of habits that need to be questioned and more than likely broken.

And habits can be hard to break. Especially habits that have ingrained into us for years. I don't think I will ever be able to sit back and assume I don't have to question things and neither should you. Even if you decide to continue down the path you are on, at least you have made that decision for yourself.

So, why not open your kitchen cupboard and pick up a jar and read the list of ingredients. If you picked up a can of peaches for example, are the ingredients just peaches and peach juice? Are you happy to be eating all the other ingredients? I know I'm not.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Doing, Less Blogging

I have spent the last week or so away from the computer (and internet) and have been doing a lot of the things I read and write about. As I have said before, I can lose hours reading all the wonderful blogs I subscribe to.

Miss Berry and I have had a wonderful week. She is such a delight and I love watching her grow and learn about her surroundings. I have also begun to introduce her to craft and have decided we each need our own project so I don't take over hers and turn into the imposing Mum (turn into? you ask). The big winner has been pavement chalk. We have a path to the clothes line and underneath it is covered in lovely toddler scribbles. I also drew her a hopscotch and she has been practising her jumping. Chalk is messy though - try to avoid the dark colours if you can.

Australian Tomatoes from Coles. The label says "Australian vine ripened".

My quest to reduce our food miles is still continuing. I found a brand of canned tomatoes at Coles that says it is Australian Made. It is twice the price of the imported ones that you get from Aldi which is insane. How can a product that comes half way around the world be half the price of a local product. But, it is still a cheap ingredient at $1.60 ish a can so I will stick with the Australian made one.

Thanks Fiona for the link to an online Australian Made grocer - If you are interested in buying Australian made this site is a great resource.

I have also began a big autumn clean inside the house. We have venetian blinds on all the windows and they are looking really dusty so I am working my way through the house and giving each room a big clean. I feel so much better when the house is really clean.

The oven is next on my list and I keep putting it off - I hate cleaning the oven and I am not sure why I hate it so much. I don't use a commercial cleaner so I don't have to worry about fumes or anything. It's going to be a big job as I haven't cleaned it since Christmas when I cooked the pork in it which of course splattered everywhere. Worth it for all that yummy crackling though.

The Capsicum is growing strong with heaps of fruit forming as well as new flowers.

My basil crop. Everytime I look at it new flowers have formed. I keep harvesting the stems with flowers to try and keep it going for longer.

So, this weekend we are going to spend it in the garden. The remaining beds need to be prepared for planting, the seeds already sowed need to be thinned and the compost needs turning.

One of the beds I planted up this week. I have sowed Kale, Silverbeet, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Leeks and Radishes here. The punnents are sweetpeas to put at the back of the bed.

Anything to keep me away from cleaning the oven.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reducing Our Food Miles

One of the ways we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint is by buying locally produced food. We do not seem to have a farmers market in our area where the stall holders are actually farmers so until I can find a really local source for our food, I am aiming for Australian Produce.

The term ‘food miles’ refers to the distance a food has travelled from the time of production to your plate. Obviously, the further your food travels, the more energy is consumed and the higher the carbon output. Food miles does not take into account the amount of energy needed to produce the food which can vary widely, but I think that is an issue for another day.

In Australia, we have two labels to look out for and they each mean slightly different things - Australian Made and Product of Australia.
Australian Made means that a product is ‘made’ in Australia and at least 50% of the cost of production occurs in Australia. This can mean that a lot of the raw materials may be sourced from overseas and made into the product you will buy in Australia. Of course it can also mean that the majority of the raw materials are from Australia.
Product of Australia means that the main ingredients are made in Australia and the manufacturing or processing is also done in Australia. This label signifies that the majority, if not the entire product comes from Australia.
There is another label you sometimes see that is Australian Grown (I also see Produce of Australia). This one is pretty self explanatory and means that the major ingredients have been grown in Australia. If this label is on a product with more than one ingredient, be aware that there can be some imported ingredients but they won’t be the main ones. If you are looking at a product that only has a single ingredient such as fruit and veg then you will know that they have been grown in Australia.

When you look at the definitions of these three labels, it seems that the Australian Made label is a bit of a joke. They may have put the bits together in Australia, but if the bits come from all over the world then I think it really defeats the point. I am looking out for Products of Australia or Grown in Australia and am looking for alternatives when I can only find products from overseas.

We are starting our local buying in the supermarket and will move to other areas from there. Just adjusting your supermarket purchases is a big task and it is one that will make a huge difference. So far I have found about half of our grocery items are already products of Australia and 99% of our fruit , veg and meat is from Australia.

I go to a number of different supermarkets to do the grocery shopping including Coles, Aldi, Franklins, IGA as well as my local butcher and grocer. My butcher only sells Australian meat and the grocer clearly labels the origin of their produce.

I was surprised that Aldi had a lot of Australian products, as do the other supermarkets, but there are some things across all shops that I am having trouble with - the main ones being canned vegetables and beans. I haven’t checked Coles yet, but I am yet to find canned tomatoes, beans or legumes that are from Australia. The majority of them come from Italy. I am not sure what to do if I can’t find Australian canned tomatoes as I use so many, especially in winter. I haven’t needed to buy dried legumes yet so I am not sure if I can use them as an alternative to canned beans and lentils.

So, I will keep searching and hopefully, over the next month or two my trolley will only contain Products of Australia and our carbon footprint will be reduced even further. I must admit, it is not an easy task as it requires a complete rethink of the way we do our shopping but I definitely believe the effort is worth it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Mr Darcy

The ABC showed the first two episodes of Lost in Austen last night and I forgot how much I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice.

I first fell in love with Mr Darcy (as I am sure most women did) with the BBC’s production of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy. I used to watch that series over and over, usually whilst (can’t help myself – sorry) hand quilting. I then moved to Emma and then Sense and Sensibility but my favourite has always been Pride and Prejudice.

So, having awakened one’s appreciation for the novel, I did the reasonable thing and searched the internet for the other episodes of Lost in Austen. As any good adaptation of a Jane Austen novel should do, it had me in tears in the end.

Don’t worry, I won’t provide a spoiler and tell you how it ends, you can look forward to watching it yourself next week (or doing what I did and searching the net). I am going to do the housework I neglected this morning and day dream of my Darcy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

From Seed to Seed – February

As I mentioned earlier, I have taken up Melinda’s growing challenge.

I grew some veggies last year and over summer I tried a few varieties using heirloom seeds. This season I have even more heirloom varieties to try and also to save their seed to use next year.

I thought I would post a round up at the end of each month (or beginning of the following month if I am really slack) to summarise what I have been up to in the garden as well as a brief list of things to do over the next month.

If you are interested in joining the challenge or want to check out what other participants are up to, visit One Green Generation for the links.

Currently sowing
Corn Salad, Radicchio pallla rosa early, Mesclun Lettuce mix, Beetroot Melbourne early slowbolt, Cauliflower phenomenal early, Cabbage red dutch, Valerian.
Newly Planted
Dwarf Sweet Peas, Purple Basil, Thai Basil,
Capsicum, Cherry Tomatoes, Chamomile, Sweet Basil,
Seed Saving
Lettuce x 2 (I knew I should have marked what types they were when I planted them – all I know is that they are yummy!), Agapanthus

These are my current seeds I am saving. I chopped the heads off at the end of flowering and I am letting them dry in the garage. Hopefully, they will be successful.

To Do

  • Plant out lavender, chervil, pennyroyal, and beetroot seedlings.
  • Remove the last of the Lazy housewife beans from the trellis and compost soil to prepare for sweet peas.
  • Continue preparing the rest of the garden beds for the winter crop.
  • Look at seed saving for chamomile, borage and tomato.
  • Sow next batch of winter veg.
  • Figure out when and how to harvest the Rosella (pictured below)

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Weekend Round Up

This weekend flew by and before I knew it Monday morning had come around - again. I spent too much time this weekend catching up on a lot of the wonderful blogs I read and I realised I am way too addicted to the internet. But I can't seem to cull them and find I am adding more to my reader each week.

So, I thought I would share some of my favourites from the weekend and you can share in my addictive-ness.
For the cat lover. This is a must to visit each day.
Simple Green Frugal Co-Op always has a wealth of information in their posts and this weekend was no exception.
Julie is really getting stuck into the seed sowing - which reminds me, I must get out into the garden this afternoon.
For a good chuckle.
This is a new quilting blog I found recently. Very inspiring.

Ok, so that is just some (and I mean only a few) of the blogs I have been reading over the weekend. I won't shock you all by listing all of the blogs I follow. I look through the other half of my list and post some other links next week.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table – Preserving in a Water Bath

This month’s topic at the biggest kitchen table is preserving using a water bath. Preserving is something that most people put into the “oh how cute, you make your own instead of buying one from the shops” category. I find a lot of people think preserving is now a waste of time and is old fashioned.

Now, I completely disagree with this. Firstly, have you ever read the ingredients list on a store bought jar of relish or chutney? There is usually a long list of ingredients that are added to preserve, flavor and colour the product. I like to know exactly what is in the food I am giving to my family. A lot of preserves are also imported and one of our goals is to reduce our food miles so that is another strike against the store option.

I also get an immense satisfaction when I make my own preserves. I enjoy seeing the delight on people’s faces when I give away extra jars as well as the enjoyment people get from eating my preserves. I suppose homemade preserves are reasonably rare and they are treated as something special (as compared to a store bought jar).
When I researched preserving I was concerned about the risk of botulism contamination. To minimize the risk, I decided to buy a Fowlers Valcola Preserving Kit (actually, it was a birthday gift – thanks again Mum). This ensures an even temperature of the water and so far I haven’t had a failed seal. It's very easy to use, comes with really easy instructions and recipes and I would recommend them to anyone thinking of preserving. Here is the link to a site that sells them.

I also have some FV jars but when I made my first chutney, I had too much for the jars and ended up using some jam jars I had in the cupboard (never throw out glass jars, they can be used for so many things). I actually found the jam jars to be just as good – better than FV because you use the same screw top lid when the jars are opened. I now prefer to use glass jars that I have saved. The lids do need to be checked to make sure there isn’t any damage done to the underside rubbery bit. You can buy new lids here and here.
I store my jars in my storage pantry which is under the house. It was once a dark room and is, of course, dark as well as having an even temperature and is dry. Each jar is also labeled with the date, the contents, and which recipe I used. Storing them on an open shelf in the kitchen may look fantastic but it will quickly ruin your hard work. Perhaps a recipe is needed that will look good on the shelf but isn’t for eating? Note to self: google.

There are heaps of recipes on the web for all sorts of preserves. I started with a recipe from the web for my mango chutney and tweaked it here and there until I was happy with it. I also borrowed a few books from the library on preserving, but my favourite is A Year in a Bottle by Sally Wise.
Sally has heaps of recipes that are easy to follow and I think it makes a great book if you are just starting out or are unsure about adjusting recipes – there are so many different recipes in this book you don’t need to adjust anything.

I tend to be a bit of a sucker for homemade preserves from markets. I also like to support cottage industries. When we were down at the Sapphire Coast in January, I picked up some tomato pickles at the Bega markets. The man selling them was either old enough to be my grandfather or he spent way too much time in the sun. He said it was his mother-in-law that does the cooking and preserving and he travels to the local markets to sell them. Now that I think about it, he must have just spent too much time in the sun, otherwise his mother in law would be 110. As you can see the jar is almost empty – Mr Berry puts it on just about everything.

My favourite though, is beetroot relish. I haven’t been able to find a recipe I am happy with yet but I did find a yummy jar at the same markets at Bega. I am the only one in the house that likes it so it should last me long enough to continue tweaking my recipe. Beetroot relish is great on homemade burgers.

I know I haven’t really talked much about the technique of preserving. If you are after clear instructions please visit Down to Earth. There really isn’t any point in re-inventing the wheel and Rhonda’s instructions are fantastic (as always). Here is also the link to my mango chutney recipes.

If you have been thinking about preserving then the best way to start is to jump right in. It can be a bit daunting at first but once you get going it really isn’t any different to making a bolognaise sauce.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Commonsense in the Garden

Now that the weather has improved (not that I don’t love and appreciate the rain – but it does hinder my time in the garden), I have been outside the past few days weeding, sowing, preparing beds and cleaning. I was tidying up an area with lots of pots down the back of the garden when one of the biggest red back spiders I have seen came crawling out from between the pots.

There was a pot in the space in the photo, that is where the spider was living.

His body was about the size of my thumb, which for my overseas friends is big. I won’t show you any pictures of him because photos of spiders give me the heebie-jeebies and also because when I saw him, I grabbed my weapon of choice – the back of my shovel– and mooshed him. For the record, red backs are extremely easy to moosh (their bodies must be soft) but can play dead so you need to see guts to make sure they really are dead.

I am not trying to scare you away from your garden or make your skin crawl, but I would like to highlight the importance of taking some safety measures. There are some creatures that do have the potential to kill you and they can be found in the average Sydney backyard, the main two are the red back spider and the funnel web spider (the funnel web being by far the more deadly of the two but thankfully I have not seen one except in captivity). There are also some very dangerous snakes like the king brown and they can come into backyards that are close to bush land. The Berry Patch is well and truly plonked in the middle of suburbia and is not likely to get any snakes, thankfully.

Still, commonsense can reduce the chances of being bitten. Simple precautions like always wearing protective shoes (I have been very lax in this – way too hot for my gumboots at the moment) and leather gloves. It also isn’t particularly smart to stick your hand into small places that can be a favourite for spiders or snakes. Also for the record, I did not do that when I met my red back spider. I was moving the pots with my shovel to check for spiders before lifting them.

It’s not just the deadly creatures either. Even crickets can give a nasty bite if you are digging around in the ground barehanded. Blue tongue lizards are another than can really hurt and the bite can easily become infected. Then there are rose thorns and other spines on plants that can cause damage. All of these things can be avoided by using proper gloves.

There is also the sun to consider – perhaps that can be the most deadly. Covering up, wearing a hat and sunscreen are a must for most of the year.

It sounds dangerous doesn’t it? The reality is that other than skin cancer, life threatening happenings are extremely rare. It should not mean that we throw caution to the wind though. All it takes is a bit of common sense and the flat side of a garden shovel within easy reach at all times.

On a less creepy note, here is what I have been doing in the garden.

Here are red cabbage seeds I planted in punnets on the weekend.

Here is my purple basil and thai basil seedlings. I sowed too many seeds but couldn't bring myself to only use some of them so they will become a border in the front garden. To the left of them you can see some dwarf sweetpea seedlings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where have I Been?

I know it’s been a while since I have written much of any interest (assuming of course that at least some of my previous posts were interesting). I have been feeling a bit disconnected to my surroundings lately. The weather has prevented me from doing much in the garden – first it was too hot and then it rained. The heat also melted my brain somewhat and most of my usual housework chores were put aside.

I am also using the car a lot more than I used to. I am finding I am driving almost every day. Last year I was having two or three car-free days each week. I am really unhappy about the amount of time we are using the car but I am not sure what to do about it as public transport isn’t an option.

I know that by using the car for say 30 mins each day I am not exactly raping the earth (we have a low emission car – not a hybrid though), but that really isn’t the issue. If we all had the attitude of “it’s not much – how can that possibly make things worse” then all out little actions would add up to a huge action. I am deeply concerned about our society’s detrimental impact on the environment and that as a whole we aren’t really doing too much about it. I feel guilty about using the car. I feel it is wrong and I should re-adjust my life and my daily habits to reduce my driving time.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I haven’t written much lately. I feel a bit like a hypocrite writing about my eco-driven life when I actually think my life is becoming less eco-friendly, not more.

I just read that last few sentences and it sounds really extreme. That’s ok. If we don’t feel passionately about something, we are less likely to do anything about it.

So, I am going to work my way back onto the eco-wagon. This weekend I have gone back into the garden and played in the dirt, talked to my worms and admired my compost (I would have squelched my toes in the mud but – eww). The house has had a good clean and a bit of a de-clutter we are thinking of how to re-arrange our lives to reduce my driving.

My inspiration - current issues of Organic Gardener, Earth Garden and Gardening Australia.

I am also looking to books and magazines to give me inspiration. I splurged on some magazines and this week I will head to the library and see what books they have on the subject.

I suppose that when we are trying to live a life that is so different from society’s norm, it can be a challenge to stay on that path. So, for anyone else that is having the same problem – you are not alone. Remember your ideals and stick with them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Growing Challenge – Seed To Seed

I have decided to take part in a couple of challenges this year to help inspire and motivate me. The first of these challenges is Melinda’s New Growing Challenge – from Seed to Seed at One Green Generation.

Last year I began trying to grow the majority of our veggies and I am now ready to begin learning how to save seeds for the next season.

Here are the rules for the challenge (the italics come direct from Melinda’s blog):

1. Plant at least one new crop from seed, grow it organically, and save the seed to plant next year.
Well, I already am growing my veggies from seed. I use open pollinated/heirloom seeds from Eden Seeds. I am using organic methods so I can check that one off too (of course there is more about organic gardening I need to learn). I have so far saved 2 types of seeds from my summer harvest – lazy housewife beans and a small pumpkin (I forget the name of it and I have lost the tag. I know, rookie mistake).
2. Check in here when I post Seed To Seed or Challenge posts (more or less once/week). Or if you have your own blog*, you can write about your gardening there instead – or in addition. The point of #2 is to learn from one another, inspire one another, and build our growing community. So please share questions, thoughts, and discoveries as they come up.
I will of course be posting regularly about the challenge and commenting on One Green Generation.
3. Sign up in the comments below!
That’s not my comments but the comments on One Green Generation. Interested in signing up? Here is the link direct to Melinda’s post.

So, what have I been doing in the garden lately?

Here is a photo of the seeds I have saved so far. The lazy housewife beans are on the right and the dried pods are beans I haven’t taken the seeds out of yet. The seeds on the left are pumpkin seeds. I bought pumpkin the seedling at a local nursery and lost the tag so I am not sure if I have an heirloom variety or not. The pumpkins were so yummy and it was a lovely compact plant that I figured I would see what happens. Pumpkins grow so quickly that it won’t take long to see if any fruit form or not. I will either get yummy pumpkins or compost fodder.

Here is a lettuce that has gone to seed. I need to cut the top off and put it in a paper bag to collect the seeds.

My summer veggies are pretty much finished. That week of 40oC plus temperatures really knocked them about so all I have are a couple of lettuce plants that haven’t bolted and a few bunches of tomatoes. I have begun to prepare the beds as they empty with some chook manure, compost and some dried grass clippings for mulch. In a month or so I will begin planting my autumn crop.

I have written about my seed purchasing frenzy here. And here are some pics of the some of the seeds I sowed the other week (I got a bit impatient).

Thai Basil

Dwarf Sweet Peas

From the left: Purple Basil, Lavender, Pennyroyal, Chervil

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