Tuesday, December 18, 2012

One week of Mew

It has officially been one week since we located a wee kitten inside our garden wishing well. It's been a big learning curve of feeding with a syringe, moving to a bottle, and with plenty of kitten napping in between. I guess kittens are just like babies in that regard.

Photo compliments of Sarah

We had to start feeding him with a syringe because that's all we had at the time. It was the perfect size for his small mouth but it was certainly an art to keep him interested. He recently graduated to a small bottle which is a lot kinder on his mouth.

 Photo compliments of Sarah

We always know when he's had enough milk, because he becomes drowsy and cannot keep his head up for long.  Small kittens sleep a lot.

Little pudgy boy

And who couldn't resist an afternoon siesta, with a full belly and a warm friend to curl up next to. He dreams a lot and wiggles his wee paws. We like that he's growing a round belly, as we are not so worried he's being underfed.


So we decided to name him. David wanted to call him Wishes (as he found him in the wishing well) but the two girls in the house wanted to call him Mew - as that's all he says right now..."mew-mew-mew". He is developing a rather loud purr at the moment too.

Rather than have to choose between either name, we decided to call him Mew-Wishes. That way, we can call him both names OR we can call him by either. Maybe when he grows into a cat, we'll morph his two names into Mewichious?

At the moment though, he's our little Mew. And just because we're corny...

~ Mew Wishes you a Merry Christmas ~

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I had plans...

I had plans to write another post in the new series I have currently going, but then something unexpected came up. Something really unexpected.

Our ornamental wishing well

A surprise arrived in our wishing well in the garden yesterday evening. Of all places, it's not where we expected to find what we did. David went outside on dusk after the rain had eased, and startled one of the local cats, which suddenly jumped out of our wishing well. Curious, he popped his head into the well and saw...

 An unexpected interloper

She must have been moving her litter, or maybe this was the only one - but we guessed she chose the wishing well as it had a cover from the rain. As it was nearly dark we brought the little guy inside as we thought we knew who owned the cat.  After a phone call to the neighbour we discovered it wasn't their cat, but they directed us to another house further up the street.

David got in the car and drove there, but it turned out it wasn't their cat either. So now we are left hand feeding the new arrival. We haven't seen the mother back since. Today we visited the vets to buy the proper kitten formula, and he seems to be eating with a healthy appetite.

I really wish people would de-sex their animals. Though the fact it arrived in our special wedding day, wishing-well, has more than "surprise" written all over it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Individualism part 2

I have been mulling over a sister post to "Individualism", and it's turning out to be quite an ordeal to write. I was compiling all the information into one post, when it probably needed several. So I'll start by sharing the back-story to my personal experience with government subsidies...because I didn't just arrive at the conclusions I have without experience.

The first subsidy I ever received, was back in 2001. You may remember it as the "First Home-Owners Grant". It was a new Federal initiative meant to offset the introduction of the GST, and was funded by the various States. It was intended as a one-off payment ($7,000) to people who were purchasing their first home. As I understand, the scheme is still going today.

It was great news for us back then however, as it meant we could buy our first home. The sticker price on our Australian dream, only cost $64,000. After the grant was applied and our small deposit, we only had to borrow $54,000 from the bank. It doesn't sound like much now, but we barely earned $30k between us.

Prior to moving in

Our little 3 bedroom house, became the centre of many "firsts" for us. It was the first house we lived in as husband and wife, we brought our first daughter home from hospital there, we planted our first vegetable garden and it made us feel wonderful to play our part as first home owners.

As exciting as all this was however, something started to change in the background. I'm referring to the incredible "boom" in house prices. We had just gotten through the door before prices started to escalate. The First Home-Owners Grant, achieved exactly what it was meant to do: cash people up - so everyone was vying to sign on the dotted line.

As property values were increasing so rapidly, many investors (including retirees putting their superannuation to work) decided to buy investment properties. Pretty soon, it was becoming impossible for young couples to buy a house on the wages people were earning. This rapid escalation even saw the government double the First-Home-Owners grant for newly constructed houses.

What this meant to us personally however, is our house went from being worth $64,000 back in 2001 , to  $174,000 in 4.5 years. We sold our house in 2006.

Construction almost complete

We were patting ourselves on the back too, as the sale of our house cashed us up to build on 5 acres. It looked rather good from where we were sitting. That was until the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in the US arrived in 2007. I remember it well, as we were in the middle of building and naturally worried about interest rate rises. They didn't rise much at all, but the GFC certainly set the stage for emerging economies like China and India to sell their cheap labour and manufacturing. As their economies started to boom, it meant oil prices started to rise across the globe.

Which directly contributed to us receiving our last government subsidy. Another Federal initiative was created to help individuals convert their petrol cars to LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) which was around 50 cents per litre back then. Heaps cheaper than petrol, which was edging closer to the $1 mark.

The new gas conversion certainly helped the family budget, but only for about 12 months. Because pretty soon everyone was getting gas conversions (including buses for public transport) so inevitably LPG prices climbed as a result.

A definite pattern was beginning to emerge in my lifetime, but I still wasn't convinced until the recent solar subsidies started to come into effect.

Early days in our new house
posing in front of a cake

Like the boom in house prices and then the petrol/LPG prices, the boom in connecting solar to the National electricity grid, has started to show in the economy too. It's driving up the prices of electricity. I know this is often fiercely debated, but there is more to this situation than meets the eye.

I will save the full explanation for another post, as this is where it starts diverging from the intent of this post.  Needless to say (in brief) when heavy demand is suddenly placed on an individual network, designed for something other than solar, it starts to need massive upgrades. Massive means expensive. As consumers of subsidised products, we often see the fault at the delivery end - the suppliers. We see them as greedy corporate entities, trying to make more profit from helpless consumers.

But aren't we also acting in a self-interested manner when we get someone else to foot the bill for our consumption, for our exclusive profit? That "someone else", are the future tax payers of Australia. Just because the government dips into revenue to help Australians make purchases, doesn't mean it's free money.  It comes from collecting tax revenue.

So if we want to start increasing our taxes, a sure fire way is to continue borrowing from the revenue base. As a family, we've borrowed around $10k in the past eleven years. That's just one family in Australia. I say "borrow" in as much as we're expected to give it back. Our local Council rates have risen dramatically, vehicle registrations, and what we pay in the economy has risen also, due to the fact business are expected to pay more to operate under new government legislation/levies/taxes, etc.

If we want to see prices continue to rise at the unsustainable rate they are in the economy (as I've witnessed in just eleven short years) then we'll continue to buy with fast money, without any thought of who will pay in the future. We are the ones who pay. We always are. So will our kids when they start earning money.

Most of our pre-fab retaining walls were purchased on borrowed funds

Our wage of $30k eleven years ago, has almost had to double to pay for the increase in cost of living - and I've noticed we don't have as much disposable money as we used to either. This is despite all the cheap labour and manufacturing coming out of China and India now - and the fact we have stopped making unnecessary purchases.

I decided to write this back-story down, as there's a far bigger picture going on beyond our personal stories. I took part in a great deal of personal profiteering and saw it as "good", then criticised the corporations for wanting to make money from the services I demanded - and ruining the environment as they did it. There's a simple answer to this equation however - desire less services as a consumer and use only what money is truly your own. Just because it comes from government subsidies, doesn't mean it has less damaging potential as borrowing from the bank.

At least with a bank, you know what you'll be paying with interest and when your contract will expire. With government money, they can set the return at any rate they want and the contract never ends for the rest of your life, your children's lives and their children's lives, etc.

Consumers who are kept away from the real price of what they're purchasing, contribute to a great deal of waste in the environment and loss of freedoms. When we demand a government that will give us stuff on the cheap, and pressure business to give us what we want NOW, we're going to end up with a big cost blow-out in the economy. Who is going to pay for that? Certainly not the corporations and certainly not the government. We reduce our freedoms when we demand more - be it plasma screen tv's or solar panels. It still requires copious resources en masse.

I started to think if I really wanted my daughter to have to earn the kind of income rises we've had to endure to meet the increase cost of living. These increases have been substantial, considering the minimal time-frame it occurred in.. I started to wonder if there was an alternative to this juggernaut, which actually makes sense?

 A personal decree helps when handling your money

The only one I've been able to come up with, is determining myself to pay full sticker price for consumer purchases - with the money we earn now, not potential earnings: be that from tax revenue or bank credit. Doing things in real time, seems to have a built-in mechanism, where I only demand what I have the resources to buy. I also start paying more attention to efficiency, because if something isn't very efficient, why would I bother investing in it?

Which is what I discovered in my research into solar panels. Being connected to the grid is the most inefficient use for what solar panels were designed for. But I will cover that topic more in depth soon.

This post is about attempting to understand what we do in our households, en masse, and how it affects larger forces in the economy to our detriment. We may not necessarily want to acknowledge those effects at first glance, especially when there's a short term gain to be made. I've often asked myself recently, would I have taken the First Home-Owners Grant if I knew the effects it would bring? Chances are, if I was that savvy with money to understand the consequences in the first place, I wouldn't have needed to borrow anything.

Fruit can be unique from the ordinary

I know taking the opportunity back in 2001, bore a different kind of fruit though. It was the realisation, borrowing from future earning potential, only means everyone has to work harder to stay ahead.  If we are going to pay for tax revenue, let it be for the important life saving services and for the genuine disadvantaged. They need that revenue, more than the middle class need their ever increasing (unrealistic) dreams of utopia to come true.

I'm not suggesting for one minute, we should drop the pursuit of our dreams. But if it's not dealt out in "real-time" however, earned with our own labours, then it means we increase our need for resources ahead of time too. Because the energy used to make those resources available today, doubles (even triples) the need of an individual, because we're borrowing on future labours.

Can the future handle that kind of demand on resources? At some point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in, which will be the theme of my next post on the matter.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gluten Free Shortbread

I love a good shortbread recipe. Being gluten-free, doesn't mean you should miss out either. This recipe for shortbread is very simple - just the way I like it! All the ingredients should be found at your local grocery store.

~ Ingredients ~

1/2 cup cornflour
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup butter (125g)

Sift all dry ingredient into a bowl and then cut cold butter into small cubes. Rub together until you get a soft dough.

Roll dough into a ball first (it's easier) then gradually roll into a sausage. Roll the sausage to about 5cms in diameter. Cover, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Remove from fridge and cut into approximately 1cm pieces with a large chef knife. Place shortbread on greased and/or lined baking tray. These will spread with cooking so give them space.

Bake at 160 degrees Celcius for 20 minutes. Edges should be very lightly browned. You don't want to burn these or they won't be as light, and melt in your mouth.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container. Made 16.

When Sarah and Dave came home in the afternoon, Sarah wanted to call them Pancake Surprise, because "surprise" they're not pancakes! Dave said after one, he wanted to go all Cookie Monster on them.

Not bad for a gluten free shortbread.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


First, a quick explanation of some of my recent posts and the ones I am yet to write. I will be talking about controversial issues in a frank manner. This might make some feel uncomfortable at times - especially if what I write about bears some resemblance to them.

I want to reassure I'm not making judgements on how others determine their lives. I'm  using this space however, to verbalise some of the concepts I've had to process in order to make changes myself.

Onto the subject of individualism - let me start with another popular term of reference called, "self-reliance". It pops up quite a lot in the subjects I like to read about. Like all popular references, the meaning tends to change by who is interpreting it. Which brings me back to individualism again, and how we like to accept certain realities on our own terms.

I won't leave self-reliance just yet however, as it's one of the issues I've been trying to understand lately, in the society we share. Self-reliance is an attempt to be more capable, more equipped and prepared for one's needs in life. This stems from an individual pursuit, therefore it's a personal attempt at self-reliance. What I have found self-reliance is not however, is removed from economic reality.

To put it another way, every individual action, plays against a back-story which has been playing since time began. That entire back-story (no matter where the individual enters) is not devoid of others or shared resources.  I'll use a specific example here - government subsidies.

In our old suburban house, we used many government subsidies (State, Local and Federal) in the form of rebates on purchases which were deemed as having "sustainable" attributes. There were many on offer in Queensland. They were intended as a productive step as a community, to address Climate Change. Government subsidies can be quite useful if they're organised sensibly.

But there is also a dark side to government subsidies, consumers aren't always eager to understand. Government subsidies are paid for by Shire, State or Federal revenue, depending which government is offering them. The back-story here is, it took a pool of resources to take up the "self-reliant" option as an individual.

That same pool of resources however, has to pay for Hospitals, Public Servants wages, Libraries and other important infrastructure.

If I may quote Margaret Thatcher (1983) former British Prime Minister, "There is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers money".

When individuals rely on government subsidies to be more self-reliant, they are utilising a pool of tax collected from the majority. So it cannot really be claimed to be an individual pursuit. Why am I pointing this out? It can be easy to believe in writing our personal story of individualism, that the back-story belongs to us too. But it seems hard to accept we arrive where we are today, by the input someone else performed before us.

I personally have accepted government subsidies because they were on offer in the past. I have used doctor's appointments I may not have needed, but wanted reassurance, because I knew it was going to be charged to Medicare (not me). At the time, I accepted those financial benefits because they were on offer and I thought I should use them.

Once I realised however, that a public resource is a shared one, I started to be more selective in how I accepted government subsidies. I turned down the solar panel subsidy which was on offer, because after researching the details, I realised only a portion of the State was going to receive the financial benefits (the consumers of solar panels) but the cost burden was to be shared by everyone.Which meant the hospitals would have to give a little to the consumers of solar panels, the libraries and public transport too.

There are genuine cases for government subsidies and/or benefits. Like people with a physical or mental disability which need help accessing the community. They really do need those shared public funds, to help them achieve what most healthy people can take for granted. There are also many government programs to help people start their own small business. But all these benefits/programs/subsidies are intended for an economic return, back into the shared resource pool.

When I assessed the possibility of a solar subsidy however, I realised the scheme was all about personal financial gain. I wasn't expected to give anything back for the contribution others made. That made me feel, not only like I was encouraged to be a thoughtless consumer, but one who didn't have to think very far beyond my own wallet.

That is the ugly side of subsidies and I've received a few. It wouldn't be wrong to receive a subsidy if (a) you genuinely needed it, and (b) it helped you contribute something of equal value, back into the shared pool. What so many government subsidies on offer do today however, is keep us expecting we're entitled to freebies from invisible, limitless pockets. They especially use the excuse of Climate Change because it's a popular topic with voters.

But there are no such things as invisible, limitless pockets, and we can see the way the various tiers of government are handling their revenue. We see it whenever the teachers and nurses go on strike to receive a fair wage. We see it when we visit the hospital emergency room and have to wait hours to receive attention. We see it when prices go up across the entire business community when government implements more taxes.

The reason they have to increase the tax revenue, is because they're spending it on popular voter issues. Sadly, the increased taxes doesn't always reflect into real price increases for updating hospital equipment and the like.

I've been a recipient of those consumer freebie subsidies from the government in the past, and in all honesty I could have afforded those purchases out of my own pocket. I just would have waited a little longer to save for them. It always feels more like self-reliance that way too. I know the difference, as I've saved for things before government subsidies came along, and we are saving for things now.

The more individuals become dependent on government subsidies as a way of making ends meet, the less we are expressing our true individualism, and in fact becoming less self-reliant. How many of us actually want to view it that way however? I know I have refused to see it as dependency in the past: I saw it as my entitlement because the subsidy was directed at me and what I wanted. When it came from the government too, it's easy to forget they're taking money from taxpayers to pay for consumer wants.

I decided to explore my true individualism and experience making ends meet without government subsidies. I want my purchases to mean something more than entitlement: which is what so many subsidies have driven us to feel. I'm referring to subsidies specifically used to purchase goods for the home.

In the good old days, you had to work for what you wanted to put on, in or around your home. I want to be more like an old fashioned consumer. I don't want my home smothered with the latest green bling, I'd rather see the green back in nature. Or at least if I did purchase what I thought would help reduce costs to run the home, I'd want to pay for it without fast money. That way I have the opportunity to spread my consumption over an entire lifetime, not just how much I could fit in the next 12 months.

Imagine how much of the environment would be preserved, if we all spread our consumption over a lifetime, rather than purchasing everything we can in the next 12 months?

I've made a couple of important decisions recently, which I hope will see us through the next decade or more. First, I wanted to stop borrowing money from banks and credit lenders - we've done that. Second, I want to set money aside for necessary purchases (water tanks, an all-weather driveway, wood heater, etc) and we're close to meeting a target for one of them. Third however, and it's only been a recent addition: we want to stop borrowing from government revenue. It's like a public owned bank, only they own the public.

That's not my idea of self-reliance at all.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A visit to my sink

So I mentioned in an earlier post how we've been working on steps to free ourselves of stress and working in more positive ways. What a better place to start this example, than visiting my kitchen sink.

The time these photos were taken, was after 2pm yesterday. Should I feel embarrassed? There are various states of cleanliness happening here though. But I guess together it still looks a right mess.

Above, is the business end. This is where all the dirty dishes get stacked. I tend to always have dishes here, even once I've done a load of dishes. If my sink water has gotten too dirty, I hold some back for the next load of dishes.

This is the partially clean end.  I've already put away the clean dishes, but some clean cutlery and large cookware still remains. The cutlery is easy enough to put away, but the larger cookware requires some heavy lifting into a low cupboard - so I haven't raced to complete this task yet.

And finally, this is the very opposite of the business end. Everything here is clean too, I just haven't figured what I'm going to do with them yet. I still don't have a permanent home for the steel thermos, I have some jars I have to decide if I'm keeping or recycling, and there are some plastics I'm rethinking the purpose for also, so they don't have a permanent home either.

I always have my kitchen sink used for something related to dishes. I very rarely have a completely bare sink. This has only been a recent development in the past few months. It happened to coincide with my dishwasher springing a leak. I've successfully replaced other parts on the dishwasher myself, but this time the leak is inaccessible. Or at least it is by someone who doesn't know how to fully take apart a dishwasher yet.

So I've had to contemplate - what is the value of a dishwasher to me? I used to love it because I could put a full load of dishes on AND do a load of hand dishes, to get me a mostly clutter-free sink within 30 minutes. I could also keep dirty dishes off the sink by stacking the dishwasher as we used stuff throughout the day.

When it came to cleanliness though, I sometimes had to redo dishes which weren't washed properly in the machine. At the time our dishwasher sprung a leak, we had some other expenses arrive and fixing the dishwasher just didn't seem like a major priority. So I've been living with my staggered levels of cleanliness on my sink ever since.

An arrangement like this would have bothered me before, as I placed a lot of emphasis on organisation. I wanted to be away from the kitchen sink as quickly as possible. Yet as I've let the dishwasher go in importance, I've realised I'm actually capable of organising mess without stressing. It just means I don't always have a perfectly clear sink in the shortest amount of time possible.

Isn't that the emphasis most home makers aspire to: always having a clean home? I wonder how realistic that was for home makers before machines came along however? I wonder how many kitchens remained spotless?

There are advantages to having machines to help with daily tasks - just which ones are the ones we should fund for our lifetimes? I like having a washing machine for cleaning clothes, but do I really need to stress over repairing a dishwasher that never really did the job as good as me anyway?

Sometimes it's worth dropping the stress levels and picking up the task at hand, with a positive look at the advantages. I've realised it's not about the money or the convenience any more - it was just taking the time to deal with what was really stressing me. I expected to have a clean sink in the shortest amount of time possible.

How realistic is that, with all the demands placed upon modern families today?

Do you have expectations associated to your work which stresses you too much?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Making money from others

I have been studying economy for a while now. It started back in high school "economics" class. I didn't like it. I could do the sums alright but the theory of making returns by reducing expenditures (which could come in the form of wages) didn't sit well with me. I was being indoctrinated to treat people's livelihoods as an expenditure. I was being indoctrinated to separate "people" from the sums, in order to make a financial return.

In my own family budgeting later on, I started by stripping down all our expenditures, but it seemed the liabilities were always going up. The assets were always depreciating and we had to work harder and harder at breaking even with a modest profit. The modest profit went into savings for replacing or maintaining necessary equipment. Which included our health too.

I gradually came to the conclusion we were working to feed a whole pool of fish and not just ourselves. That's what economy does. We didn't just have to earn money for what we were using ourselves, but we also had to earn money for others to be kept employed - or worse still, we worked for others who made bigger profits from our charitable labours.

This is nothing new to the impoverished poor around the world. I'm also referring to the poor in our own country.  Social commentary has suggested these people don't help themselves. They don't send their kids to school, they don't maintain a job, they're lazy, etc-etc. Yet little is understood about how difficult it is to enter modern preoccupations with high productivity, when you enter at the shallow end of the pool. If you were born into economic indoctrination without thinking about it, well yes, it's much easier to become obsessed with high productivity and profits at all costs.

Economy is great at making money - that's what it's designed to do. What economy is terrible at however, is making people aware of their responsibility to other people sharing the pool. It's how we treat others, which determines the value of our social equity.

We seem to have placed "environment" as a cause to represent the greater good of others, but in reality, all that happens is more money exchanges hands. Economies are getting more and more efficient at extracting profits from more and more individuals, and yet at the same time, we're becoming less conscious of our social equity.

I've determined myself to find ways to make money less and less relevant to who I am as a person. I'm not talking about forgetting money exists and we don't need it. But I want to detach it from my central core of motivation. It's why when I contemplate any purchases now, I ask myself, what is the real value of this? Will it take from me, more than it costs?

I laugh when I think about that statement, because not long ago I would still think in terms of money - you know - will this purchase take away time I'll have to buy back by earning MORE money? I was still thinking of myself in terms of how much, and do I need more money?

In order to understand social equity and what it means to re-invest in that pool however, I think the only way is to remove money as a motivator to decision making. People have to become your first priority. In the past, I would have been scared by that thought: scared to think I wouldn't put money first. Because it exposes you to the possibility you could do without. You could be made to feel incapable. That's what it feels like when you've always put money as the motivating factor in your life. It scares you to think you have to attempt a different set of priorities.

But money can never be an equitable esteem of people's worth, and the more we think in terms of money, the less we get back in social equity.

I've got a few examples to follow up with this post, but more about that later.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A different kind of debt

The weather has been a tad extreme lately, hasn't it? In our parts of South-East Queensland, we had an extended dry period through Spring and now the temperatures are skyrocketing. It's around these times of extremes, people inevitably start contemplating climate change. 

I was reading some blogs yesterday, asking that very question: could Climate Change possibly be a hoax with all this crazy weather around, and what could possibly be gained by such a hoax? I wanted to comment, but then thought maybe this subject is best explored on my own blog.

Navel orange showing effects of weather extremes

I do believe in climate change, but not the modern icon it has been dubbed lately. For millions of years the climate has been changing. What is new however, what has captured our attention like animals staring into the headlights of approaching vehicles; is this concept we are entirely responsible.

There is some merit in that. What I disagree with iconic Climate Change and its followers however, is that industrial solutions and science will make a difference. It is believed if science can wrap their collaborative heads around greener industrial solutions, we can stop all this wanton destruction. But there are problems with adopting this kind of belief system as a solution.

It simply continues to ignore natural boundaries and imposes more of man-made agendas into the natural world. That's where critics of Climate Change have a point about it being a hoax. It all comes out of research laboratories and computer programs which make projections based on data. Once politicians get a hold of the data, they begin planning their next election campaign. Fear is projected onto the public, for the purpose of continued man-made agendas.

 Where do kangaroos go for their security?
They seem to like our backyard

This is the modern iconic saga, families and individuals are forced to  comprehend, whenever the weather is extreme. Ancient cultures used to comprehend their local Deities wishes - today we comprehend the politicians and scientists. What can we offer them as way of recompense - our gold, our children's future, bigger institutions, another government department, more complex scientific equipment, our unconditional permission?

Here's the irony however. Nature has given all these things to mankind already: her gold, silver, uranium, fossils, the future inheritance wagered on gamblers with addiction problems, carved herself up to build bigger institutions, raised and fed people to earn "degrees" instead of tending the fields. When I think of Climate Change, I think of institutions and cultures which don't want to return to nature for a solution: despite the unconditional permission nature has given us.

I wonder though, do we feel safe yet with all our modern solutions? Are we no longer exposed to nature by re-writing her? Has the corporation and modern politician crying from the pulpit for our collaborative futures, delivered anything remotely not like destruction yet?

The irony for me is, we put more faith in our own solutions, but hold very little faith in nature's ability to keep the balance. It's a dichotomy of epic proportions: and yet the weather is still changing, no?

 Native Lillypilly, doing well in the extremes

This is why I agree the climate is changing: nature is attempting to return life to balance. Nature will always have the final say, no matter how clever we believe our solutions are. If we would just get out of the way, like the animal staring into the vehicles headlights, we might stand a chance of surviving what's coming.

We made our tree change back in 2007, feeling we were missing something we couldn't really understand. While we only live on 5 acres, we are surrounded by hundreds of acres of bushland. We don't have fences, and not many of our neighbours have either, so there's no definitive boundary between us and nature. There is only what we create around our dwellings. We are all very fortunate to experience the larger natural space as a shared one though.

This has taught me about the bigger picture than myself. There have been times I haven't appreciated the imposition of neighbour's domesticated animals, but in a way, this taught me about the resilience of nature too. It's why small birds nest in dense and prickly thickets. So I planted more of those. It is why trees create shade for the understory, so we planted more shade trees.

Sure, it takes a while and costs a lot of money we can little afford - but I figure we've already earned more than our share of resources from nature, without giving anything back. That will be our debt to repay for the rest of our natural lives. And it is the reason why I don't focus on politicians or scientists when it comes to understanding climate change. They never pay back, what they take in resources to solve the problem. The money exchanged does not service the debt owed.

But everyone can work towards reducing the need for industrial solutions and planting more trees for the bigger picture. There are several areas we've been working towards changing slowly ourselves, which I'll discus in future posts. It's just the basic steps we've been taking to free our time of needless stresses, and areas we can work in positive ways.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Gluten Free Spring Rolls

I found myself in a bit of a dilemma recently. I've had cravings for those large fried Spring Rolls. I never eat them normally but pregnancy is changing that!

The problem with Spring Rolls however, is they are full of gluten. I am not friends with gluten, or rather, it is not friends with my body. It likes to make me feel irritable, sore in my ligaments and gives me piercing headaches. So my dilemma became the occasional torture session while eating Spring Rolls.

That was no fun, so I went in search of gluten free spring rolls I could make at home.

Served with a side of "bubble and squeak"

Oh yes, these were really delicious. Made with rice paper wrappers I avoided the gluten in regular pastry. These don't have the same texture as normal Spring Rolls, but the filling still gave me that tang I was craving.

This recipe doesn't use meat at all and still tasted great!

Onto the recipe.

1/2 head sugarloaf cabbage - shredded
2 carrots grated
1 onion finely diced
1 bunch fresh coriander chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
1 inch piece fresh ginger, finely grated
approx 1 cup vermecilli (rice noodles)
pinch ground white pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
2 tabs gluten free soy sauce
2 teas rice wine (check to make sure it's gluten free)
oil for frying
{1 pkt rice wrappers}

~ substitute apple cider vinegar if no rice wine~

Prep fresh ingredients

I like to cook my filling a day ahead, because it can take about 4 hours before frying those lovely morsels. Most of that is fridge time, because you need the wrappers to dry after rolling. They are very tacky otherwise.

I made my filling in a wok. Turn up the hotplate to high and drizzle wok with a little oil. Fry onion (stirring) until transparent and slightly caramelised, but not burnt. Keep adding oil if it starts sticking to the base. Add garlic and ginger and stir.

Caramelised onion, garlic and ginger

Next add  your shredded cabbage, carrots, and stir with tongs until cooked a little. Add your gluten free soy sauce, rice wine (or apple cider vinegar) and both types of pepper. When nearly ready, add chopped coriander and stir through.

 Adding fresh coriander

The last stage is to add your vermecilli (rice noodles) and you need to prepare them at least 10 minutes before hand. I cut my vegetables then put the kettle on to boil, so I could add the water to the vermecilli in a bowl. Strain water out when you're ready to use. Add the vermecilli to your cabbage and it should look like this...

Finished filling

Let cool then refrigerate for rolling in rice paper wrappers the next day. I found my rice papers in the local Woolworths, but I'm sure other supermarkets or Asian grocery stores would stock them also. I got about 20 wrappers in the packet, and it turned out to be plenty for three people, including leftovers for lunch the next day.

Products made with rice are generally gluten free

Time for the fun part! Get a bowl of warm to hot water (I used a big metal mixing bowl) and dunk a single wrapper into the water. Depending how hot it is, depends how long you leave it in the water. I found a quick dip on both sides is all I needed at first, but as the water cooled, it needed slightly longer. You then stretch the wrapper on a plate gently and fill with about a tablespoon of filling.

Fold up the end...

Then fold in both long sides of the wrapper...

Roll tightly until you have neat rolls and place on a clean plate. I had a larger plate filled, but these were the last three. You don't want your rolls touching one another because they're now going to be put in the fridge for a few hours (uncovered) to dry out a little.

When it comes to frying, use a frying pan and turn your heat up until oil is ready. I used olive oil. You then turn your heat down to medium, as rice wrappers are quick to cook. Use tongs to place rolls in the hot oil. Only fry about three at a time, because they'll wobble around at first and threaten to touch one another. Once they do touch, you're going to end up with a split wrapper when you try to turn them, and cabbage will go through your oil.

My first batch did this, but when I reduced the numbers down to three, it went amazingly well. And that's it! Best eaten fresh but still lovely the next day.

Friday, November 9, 2012


So I went to my dating ultrasound yesterday. Nothing flash, but everything is happening as expected - perfect heart beat and development. Picture below:

Click to enlarge

Due date is expected around 31 May 2013, give or take. They say I'm presently 10 weeks and 6 days. So it's kind of real now. Our newest member of the family has officially made it to the blog.

Sarah joined us at the ultrasound, and Dave said it was the first time we got to see each other with the four of us. I didn't think of it like that. I was too busy trying to figure out the parts! No sexing done at this stage, so still a mystery.

In case you cannot make out the picture, the baby's head is the big round thing! They still look like a little tadpole, but they'll be growing pretty quickly. It's amazing how this whole process works.

Friday, November 2, 2012

$avvy meals

Ever had the problem of eating roast chicken one night, and whatever is left manages to find it's way to the back of the fridge? I'm always looking for ways to use leftover roast chicken, because it's so hard to pull off the meat once chilled.

I think I may have found the answer in soup! Chicken noodle would seem the most obvious choice, but I'm not a big noodle fan any more. I also had a large pumpkin I needed to use, so decided to make chicken-pumpkin soup instead.

Stockpot, frame and meat

I just placed the roast chicken frame in a stock pot and covered it (almost) with water. I also chucked in a couple of chopped shallots. I then boiled for about an hour which was plenty to get the flavour out. Do remember though, stock made from a roasted chicken frame won't be as subtle in flavour, as the marrow in the bone has already been cooked out.

Once you're satisfied with your stock though, take the frame out and set aside to cool. The meat will fall off and makes it so much easier to remove. Even though we ate most of the chicken the night before (breast, legs and wings) a remarkable amount of meat still came off the frame.

Soft chicken meat

Below is how much of the chicken frame was left after pulling the meat off. Not much, and not too smelly to put in the bin (wrapped in newspaper) either.

Stripped chicken frame

While the frame was on to boil, I cut and roasted the pumpkin in a moderate oven. It caramelises the flesh, and makes it sweeter. Once cooked, set aside the pumpkin to cool a little, then scoop out the flesh from the skin, and place in the cooked stock.

Yummy, dry roasted pumpkin

I also had those few remaining roast vegetables from the night before. They were placed in the stock too. Potatoes and pumpkin. I reckon if you had leftover swede or turnip, it would taste great too!

Leftover vegetables from the night before

I then used my Bamix (stick blender) to puree it together. I then put the chicken meat back in and added a can of corn kernels. Although I *loved* the chunky sweet-corn in my soup, both David and Sarah said they would prefer it softer. So maybe add a can of creamed corn instead, if you don't want chunky kernels.

The spices I used were cayenne pepper (gave it a subtle bight) cumin, salt and white pepper and a lovely splash of Worcestershire sauce too. You can also add cream to the mix if you want, but we tend to add it after serving.

The chicken stock makes this a very filling soup!

This is the finished soup, minus the cream as I hadn't poured it yet. It was so delicious! Being pregnant and having awful reactions to meat for some bizarre reason, I found this soup a lovely compromise. I seem to be able to eat small amounts of lean meat, but nothing with fat. Cooking out the bones gave me a great boost of much needed protein, without the nausea!

My chicken-pumpkin soup - I'm having another bowl for dinner tonight! Out of one roast chicken and some vegetables, I was able to feed a family of three, three hearty meals. I'm very happy with that. No more roast chicken, hiding in the back of the fridge from now on!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Caught in a moment

Has it been so long? Yes, it has. What has happened to the person who would blog about every little thing we did? I'm still here, but several things have changed. Don't know how to explain it without releasing a novel, so point form seems best:

- Projects are stalling due to funds and time available
- With the warmer weather approaching, I tend to stay inside a lot more
- Researching mini projects at the moment, but not much to write about
- I've taken a vow not to mention "ideas" until I'm well into implementing
- Since I'm pregnant now (surprise) many of our plans are changing

Without going into all the details, life has basically been turned on it's head and often when that happens, I find it better to repose. I gather more information and meditate on it slowly. It's difficult to write about, because it's still so up in the air. How can you talk about stuff you're still mulling over and may not even happen?

It's quite possibly the pregnancy hormones talking, or the plain and simple fact I've evolved since starting this blog. I don't know how to write about who I'm becoming, or where we are heading. Life in so many ways, feels amazing. Yet dreams are having to change which is sad. But good. Just kind of sad too.

If I sound conflicted, it's because I'm going through the process of deciding what matters. That's not easy. With no deadline to meet either,  it could take a while. I hope that makes sense?

Rather than continue the long run of silence, I thought to briefly outline our present reality. That's all I have to share, but thanks for taking the time to read.

Are you caught in a moment too?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Getting things done

Monday was a good day. No, it was a great day. I wish every day could be like Monday, but we just have to accept what each day brings. Why was Monday so great? Well the day was so warm and enticing, we decided to move a lot of things around the yard.

We started by collecting dirt which was dumped by the side of the road. There was so much dirt from clearing all the drains after the flood, the Council ran out of places to put it all. So they've dumped tonnes of dirt in a clearing, near one of our local streets. It's got a lovely collection of weeds growing on it now, but we take a trailer load of dirt every now and then - plus rocks we find for our drystone retaining wall. While we were there recently, we also found this...

Plant in the foreground is my propagated rosemary

It's a lovely old piece of wood. Could have been a telegraph pole for all we know, but it was very big and took a lot of creative thinking to get it into the trailer, then up a slope once we got home - to it's final resting place. Dave and I enjoyed the challenge and working together as a team.


If it's going to end up in land fill, I can't see why it shouldn't find a useful place in our yard. I love the rusted nail (the size of a large bolt) or whatever that metal thing is. And I know the lizards will love the extra hiding space it will create for them.

We unloaded the trailer, full of soil, rocks and the log, stopped for some home made yoghurt for lunch, and then found ourselves starting another project. But first we had to build a plinth.

It begins

We hunted around the yard for some old bricks. I found the perfect amount in a neat pile, gathering moss, and some snails! There's a bit of Toowoomba history in those bricks, as they have "Toowoomba" stamped on the bottom. They were given to us by a friendly Toowoomba resident, but alas, we don't know the story behind them.

A splash of sand

Then I used the old fish tank sand, which has been sitting in a bucket for around 2 years. Sarah often plays with it, but I didn't need much, so I borrowed a little.

Fills the cracks nicely

Then I swept it into the grooves between the bricks, to ensure no weeds grew up between them. So our make-shift plinth was finished. All we had to do now was move a few rocks to get to what we wanted to put on it.

Welcome home

It's been a long time coming (about 5 years here) but we finally found a proper spot for our wedding day wishing well. It was built for us by some lovely relatives, for guests to put their cards in at our wedding. The two other houses we lived in prior, we never managed to find the right spot for it - and it only took 5 years to find the perfect place here.

Our daughter was chuffed to see it close to the back door, rather than down the back. She turned the handle as she had always done in the past. We spoke about what we were going to plant around it and possibly "in" it. The possibilities...

 Needs some TLC

But all that time spent unprotected outside, has left it's mark. You can see some kind of fungus or scale has developed underneath the eaves. And below we've lost some shingles that will either need replacing or be disguised.

The well was built around an old washing machine barrel

I'm all for looking rustic, but I also want the wood to last a bit longer. I've got some clear varnish specifically used for marine applications, which I think will be good protection for this old gal!

Not me - the wishing well. ;)

 Going up!

I would also like to say, no snails were harmed during the plinth construction. Although I'm sure some would say, that's a shame. I just couldn't knock them off. The foundation of our wishing well, had to share with the little things in life too. After all, it's the little things that make the big things worthwhile.

Looking through the arch which has a 3 year old luffa vine

We can see the wishing well from the back door and it's a reminder of how far we've come. Monday was the best day we've had in a while. Not because the other days aren't good enough, we just got in touch with what's important. Family, and getting things done together. It's not always possible, but when it is, we cherish those days.