Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The hand you're dealt

You know how at Easter, after stuffing yourself silly on chocolate, you swear never again! Until the nausea is forgotten about, and you're back to eating the regular 4 squares of chocolate, a day? Yes, I really do that. The 4 squares, that is. I don't gorge on chocolate at Easter any more though - not like I used to. Yet there are other vices, which still manage to catch me out.

Like doing online research, and learning how to use computer graphics programs, in new and interesting ways! I had a binge session recently, followed by the swearing off technology, until my senses returned. Hence, the sudden silence on the blog front.

But I have stuff to share, you funky let's get to it!


Remember this stuff? It's meant to fall from the sky during our summer rainy season. But decided to skip it entirely, and make a late appearance, in autumn instead. I wasn't going to mention the first storm. Or the second. The one with large hail. Ultimately though, I was expecting the storm activity to disappear. Thankfully, it decided to love on our property a while longer, with steady, all day rain.

So that now...

 It's accumulating

...puddles are begging to form in the swales again. This sight always makes me so happy. But after this year, I recognise a swale of itself, is only as useful as the rain falling from the sky. So I look upon it, a little more soberly. Extremely grateful however, we still got a reprieve from the dry.

So now life can slowly begin to emerge around the new water source again.

Sweet cycles

I caught a couple of dragonflies, dancing around the pooling water. Teasing it with their feet and tails, as they dipped in. I had to follow them, up and down the swale. Because their iridescent wings, didn't want to stay still long enough, for my camera to focus in.

This is part of the tantilising orchestra though, which always emerges after the rain settles in. I couldn't resit chasing the dragonflies, in the rain, as it felt like forever - since hearing the delicate whisper of their tiny wings.

 Hello there

The resident kangaroos were feasting on the new greenery, which they had waited for the rain to bring, also. October last year, was the last flush of decent greenery they got to enjoy. Now her gaunt facial features, from the summer drought, are just starting to fill out again. Which also makes me very happy to see.

But again, I reflect soberly. How quickly it can all change.

 Remember these, hugelkultur mounds?

This was mostly dust, not that long ago. The paths are slowest to respond to the moisture, with all that compaction. Yet how quickly the greenery emerges elsewhere, after the rain. I was beginning to wonder if we would see it, before winter came again.

It's still not the kind of rain we're used to dealing with - the reason we built all those swales and ponds to begin with. But we could still feel the soil take a deep breath, it desperately needed.

 Like a sponge

With the dwindling heat of autumn, the moisture still has time to break down the plentiful supply of wood material. I've already seen several blooms of fungi emerge. While hopeful to see at all, it's still not as plentiful as normal years. But really, what is normal nowadays?

The weather patterns are changing, and maybe this is the new normal?

Human ingenuity

Unlike our dry-stone retaining wall, which is pretty permanent and predictable - nature has been fluctuating to more extremes. More heat. More time between drinks. Even more rain when it does fall, which causes more erosion.

Really the jostle is to find some kind of medium, on this ever fluctuating scale of normal. Is drought normal, for this particular 10 year cycle. Or is it, the wet? In the wet, is a great time to get plants established. In the dry, it culls a lot of potentials and breaks your heart.

Like night and day

When everything starts to green up again, the casualties, really begin to stand out. This hardy native, Westringa (right) is cactus now. Yet the Brazilian cherry on the left (also known as Surinam cherry) was able to pull through. Although, the cost was not seeing any fruit flushes, all growing season. There just wasn't the rain to spark that particular event.

Still, it lived. Which cannot be said for some of my other fruit trees.

Bupkis baby

I've lost all my bananas, an avocado, and surprisingly a mulberry tree. These are normally, the most bulletproof edible fruit trees I've come across. This one was planted in the lowest gully, which normally floods. It hasn't happened for well over a year now, but I thought surely this specimen had the best location for survival?

The dry slopes are much less forgiving. Yet the oldest mulberry we have, lives on those very slopes, and managed to pull through.

Original mulberry (centre)

It's extremely sparse on the leaf front, as it's normally covered in leaves. But it's also an older tree by several years, than the one which died recently. It was established in a flood too, so had the opportunity to send it's roots down deeper.

I also credit it's survival, from being planted on the berm of a swale, as well as stacking functions around it. While I think it looked like the flooding gully, was giving the other mulberry more water, it wasn't being held up as much, as the swale was doing, for the surviving mulberry. The directed water in the swale therefore, really encouraged the tree roots to go down deep, in the years we were receiving rain.  

The observation I take from this particular drought, is while water is indeed the crucial factor here, large amounts (passing by) are no indicators of success. It's "directed" water, held back, which really sets up the roots better for extended dry periods. So I need to identify how to concentrate water, when it does fall from the sky, and place my edible trees around it.

 Lush and green again

The clear winner though, has to be the grass. An annual which seeds itself quite readily, is the quickest to respond to water. It all but browns off at the surface, and we never scramble to save it. Yet it completely overtakes the garden, as soon as the rains return.

The heavy seed-heads are bent over, when they're laden with water too. So it carpets the ground, to hold-in more moisture. I know it looks unruly and unkempt, but we hardly scramble to control the grass either. For starters, there's just too much of it, but it also has a vital cycle to perform, setting seed for the next drought. So it can emerge quickly, after the rains return again.

 An early morning, walk in the bush

How do I feel about it all though? Grateful. Sober from the experience. And finally, hopeful in a new directed purpose. Not that swales are the be all, and end all. Especially when it comes to establishing plants (short term) in a drought. Seriously, they're useless when it comes to that! But you've got to cop it all on the chin, and be realistic. This is nature, we're dealing with here. It's not made to please us, or our ideas of what a garden is meant to be. It's there to make us better gardeners, whatever the season.

So set up your infrastructure, regardless, to take advantage of the wet cycles. For me, it's swales and ponds. But be prepared to find the best medium, in the drought cycle too. Whatever that happens to be. We're talking decade investments in a garden for resilience, not annual returns. Although they're always nice to have, and I will always "try" to glean some kind of annual edible harvest. Greenthumb nirvana cannot be based on that premise alone though, or its likely to bring disappointment.

Because annual plants are short lived, and designed to expire quickly anyway. Throw in an extreme event, and they're the first to fail. It's more disappointing for me, when my perennial trees fail. But I've got to cop that on the chin, also. If I choose, I can accept the feedback delivered, and work with it. That's what nature's going to be doing, without me anyway - so why not become a willing student in the process?

I hope your gardens are delivering treasures, whatever they're being subjected to, at the moment. I know we don't always get, how we desire it to be. We can still play the hand we're dealt though, to the best of our ability.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Unexpected bills, part 2

Somewhere between the car dying, replacing the battery, and having it die again...the oven in the kitchen went kaput! We only had the element replaced eight years ago. Yeah, I'm kidding. Eight years is pretty good, in the world of Whitegoods. Just the timing, could be better.

 Old faithful

In the post written back in 2011, I estimated $180 for the repair bill of our (then) broken oven. Well it came in, after GST (Goods & Sevices Tax) at $190. We got eight years longer, from old faithful. Could the same great, repair company, come to our ovens' rescue again?

Indeed. They replaced the element and a few lugs in the back. It cost $208, this time. A mere $18 hike in eight years. That's cheaper than two coffees and two slices of cake, at a cafe. Also, that's now TWO ovens of ours, they've prevented going into landfill. Makes me want to do a happy dance!

Inside my 12 year old oven ~
 element, around the fan

Speaking to the technician, he said there isn't much, which can go wrong in a BASIC oven. Electrolux parts can fit our oven, even though the brand (Gianni) no longer exists. We got lucky. Apparently, Westinghouse is the Whitegoods company in Australia, with the MOST readily available parts. But if you have an oven that fits Electrolux parts, you're fortunate. As they're well made. Our eight-years, straight run, on an Electrolux element, can testify.

Wow - eight years. That went fast! Guess we've been living here, for almost 12 years, come this Easter.

Made a passionfruit slice, yesterday ~
(Gluten Free)

I can probably expect to write my next, "oven carked it", post, in 2027. Hopefully the car is still around then, and me too! The emergency fund better stay in shape, though. Because just like taxes, death (of Whitegoods) is a given. It's comforting to know however, our stance on purchasing only BASIC Whitegoods, may continue to stand us in good stead.

One small, side note - in case my regular repair company ever goes anywhere, there's also Downs Appliance Repair (DAR) in our region.

A rare, light-bulb moment

Oh yes, one other thing I forgot to mention - our fridge light-bulb, carked it too. At a mere $3 or so, pocket change in comparison. But doesn't it all add up in the end? Bad timing. An extra month's grace would have been great!

In the scheme of things, we're still doing okay. I don't have to choose whether to get the oven fixed, OR, put food on the table. Even though Murphy's Law, applies in this situation, it's still not the end of the world. It's good to keep that in perspective.

I would be ever so grateful though, if no more unexpected repair bills, came to visit for a while.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Unexpected bills, part 1

As the title suggests, there's more to this story. We had a couple of unexpected bills, join the queue of regular expenses, for this time of year. Anyone who owns a home, knows Council (County for the US) rates are due, the first electricity bill arrives, and in our particular case, annual registration for one car and a trailer. Oh, did I mention the insurance too? Car, and home.

Thank goodness, my car rego, comes later in the year. I guess it was feeling left out, and decided to die one afternoon. Not entirely unexpected, as the battery light had appeared on my dashboard for about a month. I assumed it was a dying battery. When it did quit, we simply replaced the battery and thought all was well. Until...

"I'm Givin' Her all She's Got, Captain!"

The day it was booked into Toyota (just to make sure) the battery was completely dead again. Brand new battery! Thankfully, I'm a member of RACQ, so they jump-started the car at home, and checked the issue. It was then, I discovered, I wouldn't be going anywhere. Not driving anyway. They would have to tow my car, into Toyota.

In order to save the brand new, top of the line battery we just purchased, it was best not to drive the vehicle at all. Because the alternator was overcharging the battery. Okay, great to know. New alternator time. Over $700 later though (includes a service and a few extra parts) I had my car back. Crikey!

Truly, I'm grateful RACQ and Toyota, were able to rescue my little sedan. Even though it had to stay in longer than planned. Three days, all up. I've also got another $300+ bill coming in a few months, to fix a few other issues they found. On the whole though, my car is pretty problem free. I rarely have issues with it 99% of the time. Not like the Ford I had, previously.

I'm sure this was smaller, a few months ago!

Gotta love, torn seat-covers, for that true vintage look I've been aiming for. Okay, maybe not? But to appease my DIY, frugal mindset, which had absolutely no place fixing my car at the time, I decided to give my car, some extra care and attention, when it returned home. Best part - it would cost absolutely '0' mullah.

And maybe it will know, I truly do appreciate it, and not try any more drastic attempts for attention, in future.

Matching pair

Both the driver's side, and passenger seat-covers were torn. And nothing says I live in the country, without sealed roads - like dirt, caking the entire carpet. My kids have worked hard, trouncing that inside the vehicle. Actually, it's not that hard. You can see the culprit in the lower left-hand corner. The dirt is just begging to jump inside the car, on the bottom of shoes.

Thankfully, I had the sense to purchase front car-seat covers, in the middle of last year, when on sale. I just hadn't gotten around to installing them. Maybe it's time, when the $700 paid to fix the darn thing, looks like overcapitalising.

Much better! 
Still must work out, all those wrinkles

After the dust settled once again, in our little corner of the world, it was a good reminder how important an emergency fund is. There's virtually no public transport system, in the country (school bus only) so you have to ensure your vehicles are working.

A stroke of good fortune in all this, is my husband happened to be on holidays, when it unfolded. So I didn't have to worry about how the kids would get to the bus and back. Especially when the walk home, looks directly into the afternoon sun, with almost no shade.

Stay tuned, for part two, in the queue of unexpected bills.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Almost, catch-up time

I have a lot of catching up to do with you guys. So many times I wanted to sit down and write a blog post, but there was barely enough time to catch my breath, during the day. Nothing earth shattering is happening in our world, just regular stuff. Which is actually good stuff!

It's been a mixed bag of some expected things, and some not. The unexpected (read: expensive) things we didn't want to happen, were delightfully balanced out by encountering some unexpected savings too.

I promised myself, I would sit down a little this week, and tackle a post to catch up! Not one big post, but lots of little ones. I think I can manage that. But first...

White Baker's flour ~
organic, and Australian ingredients

This, just in today, after returning from a trip into town for supplies. If you're a baker of bread, and happen to live near, "The Source" - a bulk buy, bring your own packaging and mostly organic shop, then check out their special on Baker's flour.

It's normally $27 for a 5kg bag of flour, but for this week, it's only $20. Or $4 a kilo. I know I can get it cheaper at a Supermarket - somewhere between $11-$14, for the same amount. Which is the route (confession time) I normally take. But at such a reduced price, I wanted to try what organic, Baker's flour would be like to make bread with. I don't know if this is a local special only, as the general website seems to list the normal price.

I intend to take a serious look at how I shop for food, this year. In an attempt to reduce plastic packaging, and see if I can source more local produce. I actually had a couple of wins on that today. Which I'll share in another post.

Anyway, if you want to know where, The Source, Toowoomba store is located, it's on the corner of Ruthven and Campbell Street, opposite, "The Spotted Cow". If you want to know where's the nearest store is in your State, check out their Store Locations link.

Have you come across any great specials in your area, recently?