Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The truth about Christmas

Our Christmas get-together turned out to be a good day. Just to prove it, here's an adorable picture of Dave (aka: chef) with a little red number his sister bought for him, LOL.



It had "Merry Christmas", written on the apron & "Christmas Cook" on the hat. He even liked the matching rubber gloves. His sister bought it as a joke, but then Dave has never been one to turn a challenge down. A lot of fun was had by all.

Having shared how wonderful the day was, I also feel I need to write about my changing feelings towards Christmas. Growing up, it was always a difficult time with separated parents. My dad would promise to see me on Christmas day, but then he wouldn't show up. Not even a phone call. Maybe three days later I'd get one, only to arrange a quick drop-off for presents. The older I got, the more I realised that Christmas was a day of fallen expectations. I tried to be brave for the day itself, then I'd get hit with all this sadness the day after Christmas.

I really thought I was over those sentiments this year. Certainly, I have come a long way. I wasn't filled with as much angst leading up to the day, or maybe I was deflecting that angst with all the cleaning I had to do beforehand, LOL. Nonetheless, I still experienced the after Christmas blues. But I don't think my experience is so unique now.

Even our daughter was more inclined to cry over something after Christmas. I'd asked what she was crying about, and she put on a happy face and said, "nothing". It eventually came out that she felt let down by the fact she didn't get a bedtime story for the second night in a row. We had a few late nights so we said their wasn't time for a story.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the whole lead up to Christmas. Is it an artificial state of happiness, we're all expected to take part in? If you're caught feeling sad, then you're the Anti-Christmas spirit! If you're caught not buying presents or eating copious amounts of food, then something is wrong with you?

We had a very subdued Christmas this year. I very much enjoyed it. But still - the after Christmas blues came. Even to my little girl who had a lovely time and was loved by all. It got me thinking that maybe Christmas isn't something we should save up for one day towards the end of the year. Maybe we should be focusing on making each day special and enjoying the people we meet, when we get the opportunity.

A present can be your smile and a genuine hello.

It's funny that we appear to borrow from the year, chances for happiness and community, only to be paid back on one day - and one day only. I realise now I think, it's not just about taking the commercialisation out of Christmas. It's also about bringing meaning to the rest of your life in between.




Anyway, I did manage to make a couple of gifts by hand, which I was very proud of. Each bundle consisted of 4 knitted cloths, a bar of soap and a Christmas themed tea-towel. Oh yes, and 12 hours worth of knitting time. Each cloth took me 3 hours to finish. But I'm glad I did it. I hope they work well.

I'm actually indulging myself now, and knitting my very own dishcloth, LOL. All those hours knitting and I haven't made one for myself.

To everyone, a safe and happy New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winding down

I've been absent from blogland lately, only just catching-up with blogs in my favouites list today! You see, we've had a sudden change of venue for Christmas this year. One of Dave's relatives who normally hosts Christmas for the family, decided to spend it in another part of the state. Which is okay, but then Dave stood up to the plate and offered our house for the next venue.

Which isn't a bad thing either. It means we don't have to travel an hour away in Christmas traffic, as we normally do. And we've been meaning to host a Christmas day, "one year" too. But I guess we weren't expecting to make the decision 2 weeks away from Christmas, LOL. So as you can imagine, it's been a little chaotic around here.

I probably won't be around much, until after New Years. We're still going through with our no spend year in 2010. In fact, the commercialisation of Christmas has made us all the more determined to change the way we do things. The stuff we have decided we don't need any more could fill a few wheelie bins. As wasteful as that sounds, it's better to have realised this now, than waste another year (or ten) being blissfully unaware. We will rehome what we can, but as I place stuff into the bin, I remember the waste - our waste - we still own it, even as we disown it.

This time of year though, I can't help but think about what's important. I mean, what's REALLY important. I grew up with a single parent who was forced to live green, purely for survival's sake. She used to make my dolls for Christmas - I loved them because they came from her hands. No one else had a doll like me. Even though it meant I got teased at school for being different, those kids had no idea the difference that went into making my gift, to the plastic ones they received.

I guess I learned to loathe plastic toys early, LOL. Yet how many am I giving away to the secondhand shop now, which our daughter has accummulated? I don't buy them for her, relatives do. Even my husband has no qualms picking up a plastic toy, as long as it's on sale.

Grrrr!!!

But he's made vast improvements on how much he used to buy. And he's even agreed to the no spend year. Twelve months ago, he'd probably look at me strange - raising an eyebrow, wondering if I was having a laugh at his expense, LOL. Bless him! We're making progress...

Anyway, I just wanted to remember all those single parents doing their best for Christmas. All those fathers and mothers who may have to work on Christmas too. The elderly who may not have a family to spend Christmas with - or those who have lost loved ones before their time. I choose to remember these people because they have more to offer Christmas, than any present under the tree. They know what sacrfice is all about.

Bless you and yours.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas capers

A few days ago, we decided to pull out the stash of Christmas decorations from hiding, and get into the spirit of things. Guess what we ended up doing?



Yep, we put up the Christmas tree and some festive Christmas themed lights, as seen below:



This light (on top of the bookshelf) is a Christmas tree shape, and a glowing star will be hung above the chest freezer soon. Ooops...did I say chest freezer?

Sprung! Okay, we did get a chest freezer and new fridge recently. Our old fridge (after 11 years loyal service) wasn't keeping her temperatures below 5 degrees celcius. So we decided to do a package buy, and hopefully I'll be able to give the old fridge away to serve as a cooler for someone. It still works, it just shouldn't be used for perishables like meat.

I'll do a post on how we came to our decision on the fridge and freezer later, and how we saved on energy consumption over all. But now it's off to make Christmas presents and all round festive activities.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beat the heat!

I figured it was one thing to talk about alternatives to buying air-conditioners and fans, but another to provide resources for people to consider. Em brought up the excellent idea of building a pergola on the western side of her house. I've got two trellises on my western side, but the sun still gets in. Maybe I have to wait longer for the luffa seeds to cover it, for maximum effect?


One trellis with a luffa attemtping to climb it

Anyway, here's some links to get your creative minds thinking:

Pergolas

Pergola ideas no plans with these ones, just awesome pictures
Pergola with planters, plans from the Better Homes & Garden website
Simple pergola plans from Mitre 10 website
Another pergola download PFD document from the Bunnings website
Pitched roof pergola download PFD plans from Magnet Mart website
Pergola construction a pictorial tour from start to finish, of one person's project

Arbours

Rustic arbour ideas no plans but some great pictures
Entry arbour plans and instructions from Black & Decker website
Square arbour plans from the Better Homes & Garden website


Trellises

Large trellis which could be used as a stand alone garden feature, or entry way for a house.
Garden trellis download PFD document from the Bunnings website

After all that, you may be wondering what's the difference between a pergola, arbour and trellis? Frankly, I think it's whatever you want to call it. I would consider a trellis anything you can train a plant to grow up, but it can be incorported into the design of an arbour or a pergola too. So what's the difference, LOL?

Have fun looking at all the great pictures and plans - maybe you'll be inspired to look at improving the natural cooling design of simple structures and plants, outside your home.

Just remember you should check with your local building codes (via your shire council) to see if you require planning permission first. If your structure falls under a certain height or floor space you may not need planning permission. If you are intending to attach it to the structure of your house however, you will need planning permission.

If you're afraid of how much it will cost, try using some second hand building materials - not bolts, nails and screws however, as it could compromise the structures integrity. And just think the money you spend on the initial cost, could be saved on less cooling requirements inside the home.

Multi-pronged attacks against the extreme elements, are better than a single option dependant on electricity supply.

EDITED TO ADD: if you use the images links and notice a page about subcriptions pops up. Just use the "back" feature on your browing window, and press the page link again. I noticed it only did this to me, the first time I wanted to click the next image.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bringing the elements together

If you're living in South-East Queensland at the moment, you cannot escape the extremes of temperature we're having. It's no different for us either, only we made a decision never to buy an air-conditioner again. So we're now experiencing the fruits of the alternative measures we've put in place.



What fruit though? We're barely keeping the tree alive, LOL. Thank goodness for fans! But it just goes to show the flaws in our house design are still huge. We thought insulation in the walls and roof (extra sarking too) would buffer us against temperature extremes. Even choosing a light coloured roofing iron was meant to benefit us by not drawing excessive heat into the roof cavity.

But it's very simplistic to stop at just one or two measures. You need a whole raft of elements to have any real impact. This current heat wave for Spring is a reminder we still have a long way to go.

I consider the dwelling we build on our land, part of our land management practices. So often we've been taught it's a separate entity. When we put our house plans together at the builders, for example, it was all about the house - not the elements surrounding it. Consequently, now the house has been built, we have to find other man-made solutions to rectify the problem.



Above, you can see the picture of our house as it was reaching it's finishing stages. What I loved about it was it's classical design. In this heat-wave though, what do appearances have to do with anything? If we had our time again, we would've gone down the path of earth building in some form. We had a perfect slope to utilise and plenty of raw material on site. What we lacked however, was the confidence that it would work.

So I'm now going to show you a wonderful blog all about earth bag construction. These people really engage with their dwellings as part of the landscape. Please check it out.

I'm getting a lot of ideas reading this blog. I'm not intending to duplicate anything here, but it's given me inspiration to start veiwing my dwelling as more than just a man-made construction. It can be more, I just have to figure out ways that utilise more natural elements to compensate.

Currently, we're looking for air ventilation systems in the roof, as we don't have any installed. All that heat gets trapped in the roof and radiates into our living areas. After all my research however, I found the perfect unit for our situation. The smoothline. It doesn't utilise any moving parts, it's bushfire resistent and you only have to install them on your roof to get them to work. Other ventilation systems we looked into, required installing additional (internal) vents in our ceiling for the outside units to work effectively.

Okay, so we started off being a little idealistic about our house design, but we're being taught by the weather now, to be more savvy with any additions we make in future. I think airing out the roof cavity has to be a good place to start. The units I have priced aren't as cheap as other systems on the market. But I've done the research on their longevity. No moving parts means no replacement parts. No electrical or solar panel, means no replacement parts or operational costs in to the future either.

While I will pay more initially for these units (around $600 for 4 units) the lifetime is extended infinitely. That's because it relies on natural elements to do the work.

I would encourage everyone to start thinking about alternative solutions to a "natural" problem. The more we rely on machines (ie: air-conditioners and fans) the more dependant we become on their design working. Once we buy these mechanical units as a solution, the operational costs are on-going.

In this scorching heat however, the temptation is there to run up to the first salesperson who can change it quickly. But I've done that before in our previous house in town. We ended up with a cooler house, but the electricity we used became an added burden. And what happens when the power goes out? You're back to having to tolerate the natural elements on their own terms again

Nu-uh, I don't want to sign us up for more on-going debt to solve a problem with weather extremes. Especially when it's the design of the house which is the problem.

I look foward to sharing any modifications we make in future.

EDITED to add another link if you're interested in building an earth bag home. This blog gives plans and layouts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Garden mesh in the kitchen?

When Dave did the shop recently, he collecteed the wrong size garbage bags for our kitchen bin. They were too small! What to do? Well I searched high and low, in every nook and cranny, for a tall thin container to put the new bin liners in to.

Reduced to looking in the garden shed for solutions, I found the answer in a rolled-up piece of garden mesh. I just secured the liner with a couple of pegs.



It's doing a fantastic job and it's even higher than our regular bin, so it's easier on the back too! I never thought I'd see garden mesh in the kitchen, but there you go.

It does the trick for the time being, and I didn't have to spend an extra cent. Weird but works!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Believe in your dreams

The one thing we sacrifice as we get older, is the innocence of belief. We seem to become cynical of what we know (or don't know) yet. Perhaps this is the burden of knowledge?

I've realised with all these new changes in our lives recently, the hardest challenge of all has been "keeping" the belief in what we're doing. You see a lot of easier options all around you - just spend a little more money than you've got because instant consumption is addictive. It seems easier. Sending my daughter to school, seems easier too, but I know in reality it comes with it's own unique downside.

Why is it that in the world of adults, belief seems like such a dirty word to use? We resist the thought belief is really quite easy and indeed necessary, in the midst of uncertainty. Maybe because we think only radical people, perhaps even mildly delusional people, believe in something they can't see, touch or hear yet? We like certainty - it's safe.

When I look back at the history of my life though, belief in what I was doing made me become what I was doing. Maybe I didn't realise what was happening to me at the time. Perhaps my innocence of how the real world works, made me capable of believing I could do anything? Sadly, it seems the more knowledge we possess, the more limited we become in accepting belief (without certainty) is a natural state of being too.

Belief without certainty - now isn't that how all dreams come to light in the first place?

I just wanted to put these thoughts out there for those following difficult steps in their lives at the moment. Maybe you're doing something really hard and you can't see the end result yet? The world with all it's easy plunders, could be tempting you away from fulfilling your dreams right now. Start looking for the innocent pleasure of uncertainty again. You were quite capable of doing it when you were younger, and remember how liberating it was then?

How much time did you spend thinking about what you didn't know, and how much time did you spend thinking how much you'd like to do - if only you had the freedom? The gift of knowledge is a great thing, but don't lose your ability to dream because of it. Sometimes the things you can't see are still worth pursuing nonetheless.

Keep believing in your dreams because "you" can do it. I can do it too!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sewing room

If you're fortunate to have a dedicated sewing space, chances are, all manner of junk will find it's way in there, sooner or later. My sewing room is no different. Knowing I'd have to create and repair stuff to make our no-spend year more enjoyable, I started organising the room better. And for the most part I have - but a few inexpensive changes to furniture was also required.

Firstly, the before shot. This was my only dedicated sewing space...half for sewing and half for putting stuff together.


Before...

What I thought was originally good about this arrangement, was being able to push my sewing machine and overlocker to the back when I didn't need them. Only problem when I was putting stuff together though, was have to constantly move the machines forwards (if using them) and backwards again when I wasn't.

So I went looking for a better way of using what I already had around, and this is what I came up with.


...After

I moved the original sewing table to the other side of the room, in exchange for another little table, purely dedicated for using the machines instead. I didn't need such a large table with this arrangement, as I can use opposite sides for both machines.


New sewing table

The chairs fit nicely underneath the table too. So no need to move machines around any more, just switch chairs. I'm going to make a proper table cloth with fitted skirt later on, but this white one will do for now. The ironing board you see in the background, was originally on the other side of the room too. Seen below...


Before...

My mum made the leadlight window...we're going to find a place in the house to mount it permanently. For now, it has been moved to another room where it will be safe. Once the ironing board was moved however, we had space for the old sewing table.


...After

I've placed the large table here to do all my cutting out on, and basically put stuff together. Of course, I still have some stuff to get rid off or store somewhere else, in order to clear the top.

All in all though, I feel better prepared to create things in our new sewing space. I wouldn't mind teaching our 6 year old daughter some toy making projects, or how to make little carry bags. She's been asking for some nice summer dresses too.

All in good time though.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reducing inorganic rubbish

I don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner, but when I started saving our margarine containers for other uses, I suddenly realised how many we were going through. When my plastics cupboard refused to take any more, I began**shock horror**throwing them in the bin again. I knew there had to be a better way!



Ironically, we've always used block butter for our cooking, so it wasn't hard to simply buy extra blocks to use as spread. We continually use the hard plastic container (in the above image) which we simply place the butter block into - and the best part is, the only rubbish which goes in the bin is paper.

A very simple stratagy I'm surprised I didn't key into sooner.

For easy spreading, I keep the plastic container in the pantry where it's cooler and it's right next to the spreads too. So I'm not opening the fridge every time I want to make a sandwich. In summer, with the heat, that's a good thing! It means less energy consumption too.

Win, win!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

New assignment

Forgive my absence, but I've been on a wandering journey down many paths recently which has finally arrived at (yet another) pivitol decision in our lives. The fork in the road said choose one path or the other, because you can't choose both. It's something I've been contemplating, on and off, for two years now. I've decided...



...to homeschool our daughter. She's had one full year in prep already, and nearly completed grade one this year. It wasn't a completely wasted experience and I consider she's matured in many ways since starting school, but there are other parts beyond my (or the teachers') control which concerns me.

Firstly, the phrases and terminology she comes home with. This is stuff other kids learn from their home environment and share in the playground. She comes out with it when we're at home, like it's automatic, and I have to ask where she's heard these things before. I've grown increasingly uncomfortable in the knowledge that she's adopting attitudes and understanding which belong to older children - maybe even young adults. The kids don't fully understand what it is they're saying, but it's becoming the language of the playground. The more we explain this language is inappropriate for her to use, the more she feels alienated from her school mates.

Secondly, I find the controlled school machine, unyielding. I never "got it" when I was at school, so I'm finding it increasingly difficult to help my daughter "get it" too. Homework has to be in on time, regardless of the family's circumstances. If she doesn't conform, she misses out on stars while her school mates get rewarded. I feel this is unfair to our family, as it is "us" that has let her down because of either health or work issues at home.

So rather than continuing to feel like we're not playing our part in the school machine, we're going to take the responsibility of home educating our daughter ourselves. I don't imagine it's going to be easy, but since the 2 weeks she's been home already, I've noticed a remarkable difference in her attitude.

She's very keen to get involved in more family activities. She's talking with us more too. Picking up books, wanting to tell the time, asking questions. Instead of feeling like there's a set time for set learning, it's like a floodgate of curiosity has been opened and we're all being inspired by it.

I'm sure there will be more to share on our new venture in the future. In fact, I've already started a homeschool blog which I'll put a link to eventually. It's still in development so there isn't much to share yet. Needless to say, I've got a lot of learning to do myself into the various home school systems. I'm warming towards natural learning and ecclectic at this stage. I've already hooked up with a homeschool group in our area, so we have an avenue of support.

It's a scary step to take, but one I feel propelled to explore. It feels like a step in the right direction though.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting into the mind-set

We've already been experimenting with our "no-spend" challenge planned for next year. We didn't put any stringent rules to it, but we decided to see how winding down our spending activities early, would go.

So last Sunday we decided to visit our local markets in Plainlands; as Dave had the day off from work and we'd always been "meaning" to go there. We only took $30 as a cap on spending, with no intention to buy anything. Most of the time however was spent talking to stall holders. It was a great way of socialising and it distracted us from spending money. In fact, if we had only intended to go with spending money in mind, we may not have taken the cues to chat to the stall holders at all. We met some pretty interesting people too - a guy who bred miniature horses and a couple who grew cactus.

Why is it that making a financial transaction seems to take up so much of our time and social energy, when simply talking is so much cheaper and easier?

By the way, we did end up spending small amounts of money getting our daughter a ride on a miniature pony, and I also bought a succulent known as "hens & chickens", or "house leeks", as they're meant to be edible and water wise. We wanted to support these particular locals because they supported us by coming out for the day, and giving us something to do as a family.

On the way home from the markets however, we decided to visit the annual Celtic festival being held in Helidon. We saw a young lass dancing over some swords, heard some bag-pipes and our daughter even tried her hand at archery, for which she received a little certificate of participation.


Free archery at the annual Celtic festival, Helidon, Qld

What did it cost us at the festival - zilch! It didn't even cost us petrol money, because it was on the journey back home from the markets anyway.

More remarkably, was discovering we hadn't switched on the TV or computer for the whole day either. It was Dave who first mentioned it, as we sat down to a late lunch at home. Our daughter had this big smile on her face because even she hadn't missed the TV. Later that afternoon, Dave and she played a board game, while I baked some muffins, chocolate cookies and a rice pudding for dessert.

I don't think the TV went on until the next morning, for ABC children's programs.

What happened...???

Some where along the way to limiting what we intended to spend that day, came a family with so much to give one another. None of us expected to realise that. The mind boggles at how we managed to miss this for so long.

So the challenge is looking more encouraging than limiting, from where we sit now. But I will say we've had a few dramas with money too. Mostly to do with the actual process of spending it. I'll expand on that in future posts, but needless to say, spending money can sometimes bring great stress with it too.

I'm looking forward to dropping that part of our lives, more and more.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The challenge conditions



We have outlined the conditions we're setting on our no spend year - it's just an outline at this stage, but it's a good place to start as any.

Firstly, the $5 for each member of the family. This is our own personal spending money, we can do what we want with it. Doesn't that contradict the no spend concept though? Technically, yes, but we also consider it a pressure valve for the challenge. If one of us suddenly weakens, we have that limited means to money. Limited, being the target reason we're getting the $5. It's there but it's limited.

When we do the maths $5 doesn't sound like much on it's own, but each member of the family will receive $240 for the year. A total of $720 for the period of the challenge. This money is for our own uses, but we can also pool that money for gifts. For example, on Mother's Day, Dave and our daughter have the option to buy something for me individually - or they can pool their money and give a joint gift. They may not want to buy me anything at all, choosing instead to make something - saving money.

If it comes to giving someone else a gift, we can pool our money together too. The objective isn't about "how much" can I have, but rather how much can I do on a limited amount of funds. By including our daughter, we're hoping to help her understand how to manage money better too.

The other condition we're contemplating is a set amount of money for projects. By projects, I don't mean anything our hearts desire. Pretty much, all projects will come to a halt for 12 months. However, one of the connundrums which almost talked me out of doing this challenge in the first place, was the need to maintain our property. There are a few projects/items which would not be sensible in the long run, to hold up for the year of the challenge.

What we were considering were:

1. A freezer: to store bulk foods cooked in advance, and to be able to buy in bulk when there are specials. As we don't have the ability to grow food at this stage, we will still need to buy it in. We will have a set budget for food which won't alter. Having a freezer expands our options of doing more with our food budget.

2. Wood heater: it will be a free source of heat, utilising an on-site wood supply. It will reduce our winter electricity bills, as well as a continued supply of heat during power outages. The chopping, stacking and collecting of wood becomes a source of activity for the family during winter and the months leading up to it. The heat generated will also allow us to do a range of inside activities (in the living areas) with a degree of comfort. Most importantly though, it also helps reduce fuel around the property during the low bushfire risk period - winter.

The above two outlays, I would really like to do in the next 12 months. I will describe a few more soon, but I would consider them "optional" outlays. One and two, described above, would really assist us in our no spend year. I can't imagine how difficult it would be during winter, to not want to crank up the electric heaters if there is money saved in the bank. We would have achieved so much half way into the challenge, only to be thwarted by having to freeze our butts off inside.

3. Fencing: if we could include this one, all the better, as it's possible our dog will be returning to us next year, when a relative sells their property where she's been living. But the fencing is also required to protect lifestock (and plants) from other animals. We have received quite a few visits from our neighbour's dogs - on both sides; and this is a concern for us for our daughter's safety. While they seem like nice dogs, that all changes when a child may not have an adult standing around for protection. I have also caught one of the neighbours' dogs, charging our Hilltop coop, to see the chickens fly around in a tizzy.

4. Carport: to protect the cars from the elements, thereby reducing maintenance bills and generally improving the life of the vehicles. At present we have no protection for the cars, not even the shade of a tree. Of course, I could only see this outlay happening if we could find a second-hand carport or one given to us.

5. Curtains: to help improve the insulation of the home. Our two sliding glass doors (dining room & laundry) currently have no curtains and is a terrible heat escape during winter.

We have not decided if we will proceed with these outlays, but the option for a set amount of money put aside for necessary improvements, is something we feel is important. I was thinking anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 as the set budget for outlays. When I look at those large numbers, I feel like the challenge is not worth the effort - but I also wonder if I don't put a cap on possible outlays, then we may not last the distance of the challenge.

Giving up spending on unnecessary desires is one thing, but giving up spending where it will save money in the long run - that seems a little contradictory too. Improving the life of a vehicle, saves money in the long run. Providing a free heat source during winter also saves money in the long run. Fencing saves us from having to replace damaged plants and livestock.

With any money spent on outlays however, the aim would be on sourcing second-hand items in reasonable condition.

This is our general (first draft) outline of the conditions for our challenge. Any comments and suggestions welcome. For example, how would you number the 5 outlays according to importance? Could we do without the freezer perhaps? Maybe fencing should be the top priority? Perhaps we should do without the heater for another 12 months?

What do you think...?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New financial perspective



We've been mulling over money for quite a while now. First it invovled getting our heads around the new house payments and everything to do with the property. Then we suffered a set-back when Dave lost his job suddenly. Now he's found new secure employment, we've reached that level of comfort again where we don't have to worry.

Still, we can't get money out of our heads - or at least, I can't. Something doesn't sit quite right with me. How much is enough to live on comfortably, without living to excess? The answer to that question came via my daughter. We've always taught her that she just can't have everything she wants. There is only a certain amount of money to go around. Yet, hidden in those words, was the denial that we were spending every spare cent we had on meeting our own desires.

We came to realise that Dave and I don't have any perspective on how much is enough. We don't have a parent in control of our freedom any more, so it's been left up to us. Well, now it's time to develop a new perspective.

We've devised a plan (a challenge) that will last a year for our family. It will be a no spending year. For 12 months we will not spend money on anything we desire. Of course, this is our first attempt at doing such a thing, so there needs to be a few concessions.


Dave & our daughter, mentally prepare for the challenge

I will go into the specifics later on, as we're still in the planning stages, but the general guidelines for concessions will be:

1. We will each receive $5 a week but that's all the access to money we'll get.

2. We need to spend on a few outlays before the challenge, to save money during the challenge.

Like I said, I'll go into the specifics later on, but the intention of the challenge is to limit our desires for an entire year. If something unexpected happened in the future, we would be forced to live like this anyway. Before that happens, we'd like to voluntarily discover how much is enough. It's only for 12 months.

We're hoping to start the challenge from the 1st of January, 2010.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Septic tank garden


We finished our landscaping project around the septic tank this morning. While it's easier on the eyes, it also serves a functional purpose. A mixture of plants and rocks, holds the slope in place but it also reduces our need to maintain this area with mowing. I hope our septic tank serviceman has a nicer time doing his job too.



We completed some of the infrastructure 2 years earlier, by putting in sleeper treads for stairs and using some of the logs felled from a tree, for the lower section. But we're talking about our recent developements, which started by weeding this area first...



Afterwards, we started to place the rocks sourced from a local supplier who had a property in the area with bush rock. They were small enough to be handled by the two of us. Placing the rocks "just so" however, wasn't easy - as you tend to want to stand them upright. We stood back several times to make sure it looked more natural than not.



Once we were happy with the final rock placement, we simply added plants and mulched with the free bark supplied from our local tip. The stepping stones you notice in the picture below, were free too. A relative is getting their property ready for sale in the near future, so we helped clean up some of the stuff they won't be needing any more. It helps both them and us.



Some of the plants to go in this area had to be tough. As it can get quite hot and exposed, with little irrigation. So another local find was the Rhoeo plants from a roadside stall, that also sells horse poo. We know the young lad who stocks it as he goes to school with our daughter. It's a form of pocket money for him, but we're also very impressed with how committed he is. His little roadside stall always has something to offer the community. It was only a few dollars for an ice-cream container full of these plants.


Rhoeo plants

The mondo grass below was also propogated from our clothesline landscaping project. I had no idea that mondo grass threw runners - I always thought they clumped. But there you go...a hardy and versatile bit of grass. Best of all, no mowing required!


Mondo grass

Then we have the frangipani tree rescued from my mum's house. I'm hoping the rocks in winter will help keep the frost from it. This little stub has travelled all the way from Coffs Harbour originally, where we used to live. It has been much larger in the past, but was cut back by frost this year on my mum's property. Here's hoping we get a beautiful tree. It has the pink flowers with yellow centre.


Frangipani tree

Last, but not least, is the dwarf bamboo. It doesn't really grow canes as such, but has beautiful red folliage for new growth. A tough little nut to kill too. Very waterwise in the garden. We bought two of these which were marked down to $3 a piece. Very economical!


dwarf bamboo

It looks pretty sparse at the moment, but once the plants fill out, it will be a lovely area. We've also planted the lower section out, but here's a quick reminder of what it used to look like:



The picture below, is what I edited for my blog header image too. But now it's been weeded, mulched and even the lomandra longifolia grass is in flower. It smells incredibly delicious!



What I really loved about this project is how it took over 2 years to finish. What's so great about that? Well no-one was watching the clock, so no-one was agonising about it! This truly has been an inspirational project. It has demonstrated that as long as you're patient, frugal and committed, you get what you want in the end. No-one died waiting for it to be finished either, LOL.

Cost wise, we spent $6 on plants and $45 on rocks. That's just over $50 and we have a retained wall which is water wise too. I can't remember what the plants cost for the lower section, as that went in last autumn. It wasn't that much - you could safely say we spent under $100 in total for the whole thing.

We're going to be taking a new approach to projects next year, as we're planning to reform how we spend our money. More about that soon.

EDITED TO ADD: I just realised the last picture isn't the one I edited for my header image. It was one taken in-between the two shown. I did a post back in autumn here. You should notice the lomandra was trimmed in the header picture, but this one has grown out again. The little red/black succulent plant, is smaller in the header too - after just being planted.

Thought I'd clarify for those who pay attention to those sorts of details, LOL.
I do!! ;)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Busy at work

I've been busy around the house of late. I decided to spend a few days off the computer to catch up with neglected areas and tasks. It's been great ploughing into the work, but hectic too. My patience has been exercised a little: which isn't my favourite pursuit in the world, LOL.

At the moment, all my tasks piggy-back one another. So one little job can hold-up a raft of others. That's where my patience is required - and a truck load of persistence I may add, too! It can be difficult spending an entire day, just getting one job completed, and then realising multiple half-done jobs are still waiting for your attention.

It's like watching a pot boil, I know, it's not going to happen. Still, I must persist - work, toil, work...find my happy place...did I mention work? I guess someone's got to do it, LOL.



These rocks remind me of my head sometimes, but they're also one of the gardening projects we can tackle in the heat. It's a very small area to work in, so results happen quickly. I originally purchased plants for the front retaining wall which were beginning to look poorly. With the wall not being anywhere near ready for plants yet, I had to improvise. This patch of garden was the likely candidate.

But I'll have to leave the rest of that story (and project) for another day. Did I mention it's 2am in the morning?!!?

Ah well...no-one's perfect. ;)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Summer craft - waffle dishcloth



I always know when summer is approaching, as I do more undercover projects to get out of the sun. It wasn't long before I put my new basket to work either, to hold my waffle dishcloth knitting. It was sprawled all over the table before and very messy. Now I can move it to the table (or from it) very quickly.

The waffle dishcloth must be the most done to death knitted cloth project around - and why not - it's a great design!

I found the original pattern on Deb's Homespun Living page didn't work with 4 ply cotton very well. I could only find 4 ply at my local Spotlight store, so I set to work experimenting with the original pattern.

I did a very minute change, which I will bold, but it just requires a few extra stitches and a change in needle sizes. Trying to do the original pattern with 4 ply and the 4.25 needles, gave my wrists terrible cramps. Save your wrists and use smaller needles if you're going to be using smaller than 8 ply cotton.

I loved the avocado coloured cotton and have other colours to experiment with also. These are my first two dishcloths which I hope to add to.



Waffle Knit Dishcloth

from Homespun Living

Materials: 1 ball 4ply cotton yarn; additional yarn for colored stripe, if desired.
Size 9 needles

Directions:

Cast on 44 stitches.
Knit 3 rows for border.

Row 1: (right side): Knit.

Row 2: K 3, purl to last 3 stitches, k 3.

Row 3: K 3, (P 2, k 1) 12 times, p 2, k 3.

Row 4: K 3, (K 2, p 1) 12 times, k 5.

Repeat these 4 rows, 6 times. If a colored center stripe is desired, change yarn now and work rows 1 – 4, 2 times in desired color.
Change back to main color and work the 4 row pattern, 6 times.

Knit last 4 rows.
Bind off and weave in ends.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From pre-loved to loved again

In line with my recent Date & Walnut loaf tins, discovered at our local Op Shop (Thrift store) I also came across another serendipidous item. I say serendipidous, because I was just thinking the week before, I need a mirror for our 6 year old daughter. We have a mirror in our room and the bathroom has one of course, but she's now of an age where dressing up is fun and having her own mirror would be useful.

She spotted it while I was looking through the furniture section and pointed it out to me. She didn't ask for it, she just said how pretty it looked. Well, I almost turned it down because it was $25, but after I'm done with it, I'm sure the price will be long forgotten. Here's what she found:



Of course, I had a piece of furniture in mind when I bought it - another pre-loved item, way back when my now 24 year old brother, was a wee little newborn. It was back in the mid 80's and my mum bought this second-hand dresser for $35. Which by today's currency value, would equate to forking over $100. But when it first came home, it was used by my older sister in the bedroom we shared together. I think I got to use the bottom drawers because I was shorter, LOL. Then it became my brothers set of drawers, when he was older.



My mum gave it to us after we moved into our new house, as a family heirloom. But it's like the two pieces (when put together) were made for each other. Of course, I'm going to give them a new paint job with pastel coloured paints, to suit a young ladies bedroom. I want to do this for my daughter, as I can remember how my mum would buy pre-loved furniture and tailor it to our needs at the time.

As a kid, it felt great to have a parent dress up the bedroom. It made you feel special, especially when they found a new way to store all your favourite books and toys.



Speaking of which, my mum also gave us one of her bookshelves recently. It's one of those cheap MDF made ones, but I loved the thought of extending it's life a little further. With a new lick of paint, it too will be transformed into a young ladies bookshelf. I even managed to find some gorgeous teddy-bear family bookends, from the second-hand shop too.



It may take me a while to finish decorating her room with pre-loved items, but I hope I can share with her the adventure of creating new stuff from old stuff - rather than buying it new. Why stop at furniture though? We also found some pre-loved books for her to re-discover.



Dave actually found these and thought she'd like to do some of the craft projects inside. I hadn't looked inside the books until we got home; but guess what I found upon opening the first page of one of the books?



A decorated kids bedroom, all with handmade stuff! Our daughter is a bit over the dinosaur stage (as a bedroom theme) but it just re-enforced the sentiment that creating stuff for your child's bedroom has a charm all of it's own. It says..."I had you in mind when I made this"...and they get to keep those memories for a lifetime.

But I also had to take a few goodies home for myself too, as I want to start bringing more pre-loved items into the home. In many cases, they're far superior than a new item, as they've stood the test of time and wear. Many are often personalised too.



Like this notes holder, made from wood but decorated with flower decopage and covered with clear varnish. I can hang it on the wall in our office. But I'm always looking for storage items to organise things better. The wicker basket with carry handles is always a handy thing to have around too. I can store my knitting projects in it, craft stuff or anything I may need to take on the run. But I also found something I have been looking for, and that's a scrap-book tote.




Not brand new - pre loved, but it only cost a dollar and it will get a second lease of life. To think I've turned down buying a brand new tote on several occasions - I'm glad I did!

If you're prepared to be patient and wait for what you're looking for, buying pre-loved items (even being given them) becomes a very satisfying exercise. Not just because you were prepared to wait for it, but it also asks you to take part in a personal journey - what do I need and who has needed it before me?

That's where the satisfaction comes into it - rediscovering what someone else had a use for in their life, and tranforming it into something new in your life.

While it looks like I bought a lot, I actually spent very little - and each piece has an intended purpose. Pre-loved can be loved again...and again...and again. :)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Date & Walnut Loaf



I personally haven't made this recipe before (until today) but I have glorious memories of eating this loaf with old people. It always seemed to be the elderly who knew about this particular recipe and took the time to make it. I suppose it has to do with the cylindrical baking tins. If you haven't seen them before, they could look like some weird kind of storage tin with two lids. They aren't that common nowadays.


Ready to go in the oven, top and bottom lids on

So imagine my surprise when I was looking through the Op Shop recently, and found a couple of loaf tins. They were five dollars each but were in excellent condition. I took them home with me and here I sit today, with that satisfied feeling in my stomach, after eating the classic Date and Walnut Loaf...mmm...

I'll share the recipe so that others may start a new tradition - but don't worry, without the two loaf tins you can still use an oblong (4 cup capacity) loaf pan instead. Here are a few images of the classic nut loaf tin in action, first.


Top lid comes off to check with a skewer, to see if it's ready

This has almost risen to the top after baking, which is why you only ever fill the tins a half to two-thrids full before going into the oven. Another tip with filling, is make sure the base is on securely, place it on a baking tray (standing up) and don't ever lift it to meet the spoon as you're filling - or you'll loose the lot on the floor or bench. Carry the tray to the oven and slide it (with the tins) in together.


The base will always be more flat than the risen top

Here is the base after baking, when I removed the lid. Do you see the seam on the side as well? It has three clever notches which hold the tin together, then only releases once you remove the top and bottom lids. Like so...


Cake comes away easily from the greased tin

This smelled so good when I removed it from the tin - kind of like sticky date pudding, only more nuttier. The reason these tins are so good with heavy cake mixes however, is they steam as well as bake. You end up with a really moist cake. For this reason, make sure at least one of your lids has a small hole in the top, to help some of the pressure escape. All my lids had a small hole.

It's important to note when setting your oven, to also make sure you have enough height for the tins to stand up. I had mine on the lowest shelf level, and removed the second shelf entirely.

Oh yes...and best served with lashings of fresh, cold butter, on the warm sliced loaf.




~ Date & Walnut Loaf
~

1 1/3 cups chopped pitted dates
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
pinch salt
1 1/4 cups hot water
~
2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 cup (100g) butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

1. Oven setting 180 degrees celcius/350 F/gas mark 4/fan-forced 170 degrees celcius.

2. Grease 2 x cyclindrical loaf tins or 1 x 4 cup oblong loaf pan with melted butter, fat or oil.

3. Put the dates, soda and salt into a bowl and pour over the hot water. Set aside until cool.

4. Sift flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, then stir in the walnuts and sugar until well mixed.

5. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together roughly, then add the beatn egg until combined.

6. Separate evenly between the 2 loaf tins, or place into the single pan.

7. Bake 1 hour or until skewer comes out clean. Bake another 15 minutes if required.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Making do

September has been one of those months where everything seems harder to do. There's been no rain for weeks, so no successive sowing in the vegetable garden. Everything I've put in previously is struggling, if not outright dying, and we still have to make the water last for the household.

Challenging, but not impossible to make do with what we've got. Hopefully October will see some easier times.

Yesterday, we took out a medium sized eucalyptus tree which was near the veggie patch. It would've come out sooner, but it was offering a little shade to the chicken coop and seedlings in the afternoon. But we have a building project marked for the veggie patch soon, so it simply had to come out.

What to do with all those branches? We put some in a pile so they wouldn't be in the way, but we also put some on top of the chicken coop.



My choko vine died and I've yet to plant another (if I can find one) so it made sense to place the medium sized branches on top of the exposed roof line. I couldn't use small branches, as they would've blown away; nor could I use large branches either - in case it put too much weight on the structure. So I settled for medium sized branches, which seems to have done the trick.



I reckon the chooks have got to be pleased - much better than staring at concrete rebar and blistering sunlight. As the eucalyptus leaves are still fresh, they should be moist enough to cool the air slightly. Only until they start dying back and falling off that is.

Maybe just enough time to find another choko vine?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Recycled Garden beds

We've recycled some disposable containers from Dave's work (broccoli boxes & 10lt ice-cream tubs) to create some instant garden beds. I was tired of seeing nothing in the veggie patch growing, due to a lack of rain, so it was time for some instant results!

I haven't modified the containers in any way, as they're living underneath our verandah and all water will be strictly measured out. Some of you may be wondering why I didn't just plant straight into the styrofoam boxes? I feel a little funny about growing food in styrofoam, in case the food takes up any nasties from the boxes. I don't know if the plastic ice-cream tubs are any better, but at least it's food grade plastic.

I wanted the styrofoam boxes however, to help insulate the tubs from too much sun exposure, as they do receive some morning rays. I managed to fit 2 ice-cream tubs per broccoli box.


Recylced garden beds

Not bad for an afternoon's work, but I have to say I still paid money for such instant results. The containers were free, but the premium potting mix and seedlings weren't. In total I spent $42 at the nursery for a punnet of capsicums, roma tomatoes, spring onions, basil, a punnet of strawberries and 2 bags of premium potting mix.

I'm already layer propagating the strawberry however, and should have another plant within a few weeks. If I keep doing this as the strawberry throws out runners, I should make my dollar value go even further.


Layer propagating, strawberry runner

I must say, it's nice to have something to tend to which isn't being scorched by the sun, or using up ridiculous amounts of water every day. And I made sure I only selected plants I knew we would eat. I even selected the "roma" variety of tomato on purpose - as ordinary as it is - due to it's pest resilience and ability to perform well in extreme conditions. I'd rather have an ordinary tomato growing in my garden, than have none for the summer season at all.

To help them a little more, I'll also be buying some seaweed concentrate to add periodically.

These are just some of the compromises we're learning to make here. Even if we can only ever manage ordinary vegetables, it's still home grown and packed full of goodies. That's what we're aiming for by growing our own. Should the heavens suddenly open up and bless us with more rain, we can then start planning for bigger, more demanding crops.