Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Seize the day

I had a fairly clear plan of what I wanted to do with the kids for lessons today.  Belle was to start with a couple of pages in her maths text book, Buddy Boy and I with a maths lesson and Pumpkin writing a poem.

The morning unfolded and my plans changed.  It was cold this morning.  Very cold.  I had used all the sheltered wood so I went to the pile near the cutting block to collect more.  When I came inside, we all went to the window to admire how the layer of frost on the wood glistened in the sunlight.  It looked magical coated with sparkles!

When we had all dressed and made beds, we headed out to the orchard where we milk the goats each day.  Belle chose to milk while I fed the chooks and refilled hay nets for the evening.
Buddy Boy wandered around feeding the ducks and geese.  Then he called to me, "Mum, I saw something amazing!"  I expected it to be something very boring like the goose drinking water or similar but wandered over to see.  "I saw spikes!  The goose was chasing something with spikes."  We wandered over to the geese and sure enough the goose had chased an echidna which was hiding in a corner.  Buddy Boy was right.  It was amazing!
Then we lay on our tummies in the sunshine waiting for the echidna to move into a good position so that I could snap a photo of his face.  We lay still, whispering quietly and enjoying the sun on our backs while we waited.  When we grew bored of photographing the echidna, Buddy grabbed some more wheat and tried to hand feed the new chicks.  He had no success but it was lovely to listen to him coaxing them.
We watched the geese and rooster arguing over some food then walked the goats back to their paddock.  Finally Buddy rediscovered a doll he had left out in a pram overnight.  I left him playing outside with his 'baby' and went to help Belle.
She was in the kitchen, finishing up the milking.  She had measured out the milk, placed it in the fridge and was in the process of washing the milking buckets.  She was asking about what she could bake and settled on Anzac biscuits.  I found the recipe book for her and left her to it.   I have found she prefers to cook independently and requests help when she needs it.  I poured some boiling water for her and lit the stove.  The rest she did by herself.
Pumpkin and Buddy dried the dishes while I refilled the fire and then we played a game together.  The morning flowed and felt right.  I couldn't bring myself to spoil their wonderful mood and insist they sit at the table with text books out.  Sometime this afternoon I will probably bring out the books for a short while but right now I'm enjoying watching my children just 'being'. 

They've decided to go and play outside for a while.  I asked Belle to recite a couple of tables before they went and we played a counting game for Buddy's benefit and then they ran off to play.  Some days school work seems to be the be-all-and-end-all but other days life itself seems so good that school work doesn't seem so relevant.
We experimented with this candle we say online.  It's just an orange peel with olive oil and it really works!
I love teaching my children at home because it is so flexible.  I place so much importance on the children appreciating nature, being in touch with their world and learning practical skills in a way that makes sense to them.  As a family, our priorities are somewhat different to many in the general population and, like all families, we would like our children to grow up with our values.  I welcome these gentle days that are full of wonder for my children.  I love listening to them laugh, play, imagine and, yes, argue too.

Tomorrow I may feel differently and be frantic about getting through enough lessons.  We have plenty of days like that.  It's hard to find the balance.  But for today, I'm just going to revel in the beautiful people that are my children!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

CERES excursion and Plastic Free July report

We are well into the Plastic Free July challenge and I can confidently report a huge fail in my efforts to avoid single use plastic!
I've stopped saving my plastic since taking this photo because I managed to completely fill and even overflow this plastic bag.  I think I know all I need to know to convince me we need to try harder.  I'm even contemplating saving my plastic every month so that I can monitor how we are going.  It concerns me that we have done better in the past.  We should be moving forward, not backward!  To add insult to injury, do you see the discoloured patch on the table?  Me, who never, ever irons, decided to iron our hankies this morning.  Seeing as they are small, I thought I'd be clever and not get out the ironing board.  I just ironed them on a hand towel on the table.  Not thick enough obviously!!

We've had a great week all in all.  I've been meaning to take the kids to CERES for an excursion for a long time now.  I kept putting it off though because I find it very tiring taking the kids on a trip by myself.  While they are (usually) pretty good they still require a great deal of energy in supervision.  So when Hubby had a day off this week, we jumped at the chance to go even though it's school holidays.  It wasn't a very schoolish excursion anyway.  We basically just had a good look around.

I suffered strong pangs of chard envy!
 The children had so much fun on the play equipment!
 What a clever use of recycled materials. Buddy has taken to trying to ruin my photos with face pulling of late.
 So then I tried to take one of just his sisters, without him in it.  He didnt' like the idea of not being in the shot, so decided to be sensible.  LOL  He does love a photo of himself!!
 They also climbed on this great piece of bamboo equipment.
CERES has community garden plots, a scheme for restoring broken bikes, a market, permaculture nursery and so much more.  The children were so well occupied that I forgot to keep snapping the camera.  Hubby and I actually *gasp* held hands as we strolled along!  The kids usually keep us far too busy for those sorts of shenanigans.  We'll be going there again, for sure!  Apparently they have music playing on a Saturday morning.  I'm not sure if that's part of the market or separately but it sounds very appealing.
Have you visited CERES?  Maybe you're lucky enough to get there on a regular basis if you live in town.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cheap and easy yoghurt

My mother rang me this week to discuss the way I make yoghurt.  She used to always make her own yoghurt but it was many years ago.  In fact, she used to make her own bread, keep a garden for veggies and cook what we needed.  It was through necessity because we lived in a place where there were no shops.  I believe there was a monthly trip to get supplies but then she made do.

Now she wants to have a go at making yoghurt again but doesn't remember the process.  I pointed her to Rhonda's link at Down to Earth.  Rhonda has easy instructions.  I made some yesterday using this method and it worked perfectly.
However, if you want to try a cheat's method.....

Do you have a yoghurt maker?  There are sachets for yoghurt making in the desert aisle at the supermarket. You are supposed to use a full sachet to make up one batch of yoghurt in them.  I like my yoghurt to be cheap so if I'm using the purchased sachets, I do it differently.
I put one cup of powdered milk in the container and add water but not right to the top.  That way I have room to stir the mix.  Add two tablespoons of the mix from the sachet (the natural one, not flavoured), do it up with a rubber band and pop it back in the fridge for next time.  Stir until well mixed, then add more water until the container is completely full.  Give it a good shake to mix the contents thoroughly and put into the yoghurt maker, following the instructions on how much boiling water etc.

A few hours later you will have yoghurt.  The sachet last for several batches instead of just the one!
I prefer the proper method of making yoghurt but if I'm short on time I use the cheat's method.  It is certainly better than buying yoghurt.  Shop bought can never be as fresh as homemade, accumulates lots of food miles and wastes material on packaging.  Mind you, I do love the bucket my last bought batch came in!

Do you make your own yoghurt?

Monday, 14 July 2014

In with the new

I've been conflicted over what to write this morning.  I had a happy little post in my head because I'm feeling very contented at the moment.  But then I read an interesting blog post about the carbon tax!  Sadly, the article was predicting the demise of the carbon tax this week which will make Australia the only country in the world to back track on climate action.

I am ashamed of the Australian attitude in so many ways right now.  It's not just the carbon tax either but our attitude to asylum seekers and numerous other issues.  We've always had a reputation for being casual and laid back.  Was this image only a result of an 'I'm all right Jack, bugger you' attitude?!  The average Aussie doesn't want the carbon tax but the average Aussie is living very comfortably.  That makes them very selfish in my eyes.  They have an amazing knack for wearing blinkers and ignoring the plight of so many other humans in the world that are already suffering as a result of climate change.

Anyway, I can feel myself winding up.  I've decided not to discuss my feelings on the matter in depth because I simply don't have the energy.  It's the start of the new term today so I'll focus on my children, our home and our personal efforts to address climate change.
We address our own carbon emissions by keeping our minds on the big picture.  We constantly reassess the details of our lives and try to make changes where we can.  Sometimes we do it better than others, depending on our focus with our children and other things happening in our lives.
We try to keep things in perspective.  I have become a 'scruff' in recent years because I couldn't give a damn if my socks match or if I have a 'gardeners hole' in the knee of my jeans!  I wear my holes and mismatched socks with pride.  The true perspective is that my feet are warm and I am not unnecessarily wasting resources on an inconsequential detail like whether or not my socks make me look tidy.  There are, of course, times that it matters and I need to dress conservatively.  If I'm going to a restaurant, a meeting at our local shire, etc.  These are the times that I bother to make sure I dress in a manner that is acceptable to the general public.  I pretty much have one or two outfits that are like my 'going out' uniforms.  Some of the items were bought new, some from the op-shop.

By constantly assessing our personal impact we are often trying new things.  We've changed the way that we cook so that we have dramatically reduced our packaging and our food miles.  Sometimes that sees us eating some pretty weird meals.  For example, yesterday saw us eating a pizza with oranges and rhubarb.  The oranges are local (grown by a friend), in season and the rhubarb was in our garden.  I spread the pizza with the fruit butter that I bottled in Autumn.
I thought the kids might love the sweet pizza but the experiment was a bit of a flop.  The oranges didn't have the sweet, citrusy flavour that I was imagining.  They made the pizza quite bitter.  But again, perspective... our tummies were filled with food that was wholesome and local, if somewhat bizarre.  So it wasn't the yummiest meal we'd ever eaten.  So what!  Will I try it again?  You bet!  But I'll replace the orange with some bottled fruit.  Maybe pears.  We also had a pizza topped with silver beet and rocket.  It was yummy.

I'm also learning new skills.  Having brushed up on my knitting in the last couple of years, I keep attempting to take my knitting forward.  I'm making Buddy Boy a jumper at the moment and it's the first time I've attempted a V neck.  It was doing my head in yesterday!  Decreasing at one side every six rows while simultaneously decreasing every alternate row on the other side.  Argggh!  And getting to the bit where I should have three stitches remaining but finding five.  *Sob*  Now I have to work out how to even up the other side of the V neck when I don't even know what I did wrong.
I have assured him that the needle will be gone when the jumper is complete!  He was feeling a bit nervous.  Ha ha!
Belle wearing the knitted dress I finished two years ago.
But persist I will, because I want to learn new, low energy skills that benefit my family.  I know persistence pays off because I taught myself to knit socks on four needles and they are the nicest socks I've ever owned!  So warm in winter (and match ;-)) but they weren't easy.  It took me several frustrating tries before I achieved the first sock.  These days I really enjoy knitting socks because they seem easy now that I know what I'm doing.
I've learnt to milk goats, make cheese and I stubbornly continue to bang my head against the garden.   Nothing much grows but I keep at it!  I think healthy veggies require more time than I have in between lessons, milking, cooking etc. 
New ways of doing things just require thought.  Our fire is keeping us warm at this time of year so I pop the porridge on top of the fire instead of the gas stove.  It make sense to use resources in more that one way.  I do, however, heat the kettle on the stove for that very first cup of coffee.  Once warm it goes on the stove too.  Patience is not a virtue I possess when it comes to my morning caffeine hit.

There are heaps of things we've changed over the last few years.  I don't know what my next new skill or practice will be, but I do know there will be plenty of new things that we will try as a family.  It doesn't always work out perfectly but we are happy, comfortable beyond the imagination of many in the world, and pleased that we are reducing our family's level of pollution and will continue to do so.

To use a well worn analogy - the path we have chosen is not the easiest; in fact, it's pretty bumpy sometimes.  However I think it's much more beautiful than the main road and I happen to know that the main road is leading to nowhere and very, very fast!  We are not lonely.  Many of our friends are walking down our path as well and we have lots of fun and laughs along the way.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Paprika biscuits, plastic and a nice surprise

There's no missing the fact that these school holidays are the winter holidays!  We have slushy areas underfoot, it's been bitterly cold and one day last week the sun failed to show through the fog.  That's almost unheard of in these parts.  The Bureau of Meteorology predicted a 'mostly sunny' day but it didn't eventuate.  The temperature only reached seven degrees!
It was on this particularly biting day that Buddy Boy and Pumpkin took part in a football holiday program.  The idea was for the parents to drop the children off and leave.  I was looking forward to a rare day alone with Belle.  However, it wasn't to be.  Within an hour I received a phone call to say Pumpkin was crying with cold because the cuffs of her pant were wet.  I was still in town so I raced to the op shop and bought a complete outfit including a long sleeved thermal singlet!

The poor little girl was sitting in a car shivering when I arrived but a change of clothes and a cuddle and she was ready to play again.  I didn't want to leave again in case I was needed.  After all, the day was not improving. Hence Belle and I found ourselves outside for most of the day on the coldest day for ages!
I did decide though, to take Belle to a local coffee shop for a nice, warming hot chocolate as a bit of a treat to get us through the day.  As it was an unexpected visit, I was unprepared and had no cash.  Our purchase was under ten dollars (the minimum allowable for use of a card) so I quickly looked around and saw a packet of freshly baked short breads.  That took our purchase to around thirteen dollars and I could pay with my card.  And that's how easily it happens!!  It wasn't until we got outside that I realised the biscuits were prettily wrapped in plastic.

At the end of the day, the children were presented with show bags of goodies.  Rulers, a football, all wrapped in plastic.   And again, that's how easily it happens.
I'm taking part in the Plastic Free July challenge and thought it would be easy this year, having done it before and being relatively happy with our efforts.  I thought it would get easier each year.  So much is dependent on what you are doing though.  I had my eyes wide open for the supermarket, expecting this was where I would need to avoid plastic.  I was caught off guard with the extra activities we participated in.  I wasn't about to tell my children that they had to miss out on the show bags that every other child was receiving.
In a similar way, Belle and I brought plastic home yesterday.  Hubby kept the younger two at home so that Belle and I could have some time together and we headed of to a charity craft day.  Lots of little raffles during the day saw us gather several little gifts covered in plastic.
At home it's a different story.  It seems fairly simple most of the time.  Most ingredients we need are already on hand from our bulk food buy.  With the addition of butter (paper wrapped) and milk (straight from the goats) I can provide cakes and biscuits galore without a scrap of plastic rubbish.  A large pot of soup full of veggies and herbs wasn't too bad either.  The shanks were plastic wrapped but I cooked enough soup to see us through three meals.  Yay!
A large casserole (three meal size too) and enough snacks baked to last several days meant limited plastic use.  The diced beef also came in single use plastic but that was the only piece for three meals.  Cooking in bulk is a great way to reduce rubbish and it also means less work later in the week.  Bonus!!  I made sure I had savoury snacks as well as sweet by cooking some cheese and paprika biscuits.  They remind me of a particular brand of small cheese biscuit that I used to love snacking on years ago.  But no packaging, no palm oil, no preservatives and very easy to make!  I'll give you the recipe so you can try them but be warned, they are more-ish!

Paprika Biscuits

85g butter
85g cheese (grated tasty)
1 cup plain flour
1 tspn paprika
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn dry mustard
poppy seeds to sprinkle

Beat together butter and grated cheese until soft and creamy.  (Beat for a few minutes)  Sift together dry ingredients, add to cheese mixture, beat until well blended.  (The recipe I used, suggested dessertspoons rolled into balls but I made mine much smaller.  I find them a better size for nibbling on.)  Place on greased oven tray, flatten slightly, sprinkle poppy seeds lightly over each biscuit.  Bake in moderate oven 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Loosen and cool on tray.  (Made about forty little biscuits for me)

This recipe is taken from the ancient copy of The Australian Women's Weekly,1970, that I bought at the op shop once.  I have converted the ounces to grams.

Now for my nice surprise.  One of my dorking hens often refuses to sleep in the pen, choosing to perch up a tree instead.  Well, she wasn't up the tree over the last three weeks, unbeknownst to me!!  Out she came the other day with ten little charges.  Although we don't want 'moggy' chooks (these are crossed with the Australorp rooster) you can't fail to be happy when you see these little chickies.
 Daisy was most surprised to see ten little chickens running around in the milking shed in the morning!
Here's hoping your life is giving you nice surprises too!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Slow living in June (Monthly nine)

Brrrrr!  I hope you've found your beanies, scarves and thermal underwear.  It has been sooo chilly this past week!  I'm snuggled in front of the fire as I look back fondly on June before I rush headlong into July.  The winter solstice has passed so I'm savouring the cold weather while I can.  Before we know it, summer will be back.

I'm joining Christine at Slow Living Essentials as she hosts our bloggy records of our achievements in June.  Click on the button below to see what others have been doing.
Slow Living Essentials Monthly 9 link up - Grab my button!
Nourish - We ate cheese, cheese and more cheese as I experimented with flavourings for my newly learnt skill.   We celebrated two important birthdays in the last week of June.  Hubby turned fifty and Rosie turned twenty-one!  The focus of everything in my month was organising a celebration while still continuing with teaching my children and caring for the animals.  Our June nourishment revolved around preparing party food for others while I cooked enough to entertain large numbers.  My poor family didn't get much TLC in June.  Hubby and the kids had to get used to smelling the aromas of dishes wafting from the kitchen while being told not to touch!  I fed them on the quickest, most basic food I could throw together.  Oh, and cheese!

And how could I forget!  I had to perfect a mulled wine to serve our guests.  The temperature was only eleven degrees on the big day so the warm wine was a hit.  I ran a practice batch at home and loved the results.  The house smelled beautiful and it was deliciously warming!
Prepare - A generous family with an olive glut meant I finally had the opportunity to try my hand at olives.  Daily rinsing is still taking place.  The pot smells so good and olive-y as I tip off the rinse water each day!
Reduce -  With Plastic Free July firmly in my mind, I was very conscious of not producing too much plastic waste.  Plastic Free July starts today and I'm really looking forward to the challenge this year.  I encourage all of you to take part.  It is just a personal challenge but really gets you thinking.  By preparing party food in advance and by choosing a menu around ingredients that I already had on hand, I was able to feed many people without creating too much rubbish.  I did buy several packs of those disposable takeaway type of containers, a packet of paper straws, a packet of paper napkins (plastic wrapped of course) and three packets of pastry which created plastic waste.  I'm sure there was more rubbish that I've forgotten to mention but all in all I was very happy with our efforts.
I enlisted the children to help label home made drinks
Green - I made some soap with our goats milk.  It looks lovely and I'm looking forward to trying a few more recipes. 
I made labels for party glasses from old wine corks.  They looked quite effective on the kid's drinks.
terrible photo but just to give you the idea
Grow -  The garden did it's own thing this month.  I didn't really give it a look in.  It still served me well by providing rhubarb for my fizzy rhubarb drink and I managed to weed my way to some chives that I used for one of my cheeses.  I thought I'd lost them forever in the jungle but some persistent pulling out of grasses revealed a lovely healthy patch of yummy chives!
Create -  Sorry, not much to report here.  Just many ongoing projects.

Enhance -  I was on the receiving end of this category as many friends pitched in to make our celebration a success.  Friends and family cooked dishes, set up a kids play area, helped on the night and one even brewed some beer!  Thank you everyone!
Discover - The children have been learning about Australian history and I have become very interested myself along the way.  I've been borrowing books from the library about family life in the early 1900's.  I've also been delving more deeply into Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care because one of the goats has developed foot rot.  I thought I had been doing such a good job of caring for them but it's a huge learning curve!  I've also begun a new Coursera course about... (you guessed it) changing the world.  I do enjoy a small challenge!! Lol

Enjoy - I've enjoyed family, friendship, rain and bitter weather which served to emphasise the cosiness and comfort of our home! 
I hope your June was lovely too!

Sunday, 29 June 2014


Hubby and I were out in the shed last weekend and I noticed a basket I had decorated years ago.  Back then I was a single mother but I only had a small garden and my dad used to mow my lawn for me.  I wasn't very involved in the local community either and I had lots more time for craft.

I regularly made the girl's clothes that were better quality than I could afford to buy.  I made reversible jackets and little wool coats as well as summer dresses.  More often than not, I completed outfits with matching hats.  These clothes are still in use nearly twenty years later.
Finding the basket brought memories of my crafting flooding back.  Now it feels like looking back on someone else's life.  I can't imagine having so much leisure time or using it in such a frivoulous way!  Hopefully I will pursue craft again one day because it was such a nice way to spend time and I felt good about achieving results.

I made raffia hats, did cross stitch samplers, crocheted a couple of blankets, started rag rugs etc.  I never chose to stick to one craft and perfect it; rather I preferred to try my hand at everything.   During this time I learned to make soap and herbal remedies as well.
I was making the basket for a good friend's fortieth birthday but I didn't get it finished before the big day.  She was the only older friend I had at that point and I chose the ambitious project because a fortieth birthday seemed such a huge occasion in my mind.  I was in my twenties and it seemed to me that at forty she was nearing the 'one foot in the grave' category!

I need to clean the basket up and make some minor repairs.  It was in a disgusting state in the shed.  Some Welcome Swallows have pooped on it and I think mice were in there at some point.  I found an unfinished knitting project that had been chewed.  I also found an unfinished rag rug, complete with strips cut and ready to go, that I love as much now as when I began it.  I've popped them in the washing machine so I can try and finish it off one day. 
There was also a pattern for a cross stitch, along with the materials, from a 1992 craft magazine.  I nearly fell over when I realised that it is a picture of the type of house we currently live in.  I must have always wanted to live in a house just like ours!

 Again, I can't wait to get time to work on this project.  Maybe  one day, one of my children would treasure a cross stitch of the house they grew up in.

There was a rag rug in the basket too.  I really like the colours and would love to complete it to use on my lounge room floor.  I still do a few simple craft activities but they are always practical.  I tend to make things we need like a drawstring bag to keep my camera in or knitted dishcloths.   I like to have some larger knitting project on the go too so that I can knit in the car when Hubby is the driver.  Currently I'm knitting a jumper for Buddy Boy.
There are just too many wonderful things to do in life and not enough time to pursue them all.  Yet now I have another dream.  Someday, when I'm not milking goats (or wasting time on face book :-))I'll be sitting in front of the fire like a lady of leisure, peacefully, gently, calmly embroidering memories.