Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Goals

 The final frontier - part of a very unloved garden at the new house - currently last on a very long list of renovating projects

As the year draws too a close, I sit here munching leftover cake from Little B's birthday this week, and reflect on the year that has been. It's been so much better than the year before, and really how could it not be. We've faced the challenges thrown at us, we've grown closer as family. We've sold a house, bought a house, embarked on a renovation.  Did I mention I'm in love with my new house and we're not even living there yet :-)

And so I reflect on last years goals. We only expanded our vegie beds by one (yummy asparagus) but we did put in 3 new fruit trees (cherry, plum and almond). I've focused more on preserving the foods that we could (but not as much as I've liked) and amazingly improved my health ten fold. I'm still not where I'd like to be but I'm sure intent on getting there.

So here is my list for 2012:
* start and expand the vegetable garden at the new house
* to keep our electricity usage at the new house to a minimum (it has a smart meter but solar will go in asap)
* to spend more time crafting and gaining more skills in this area
* to find alternatives to the products we currently still buy at stupidmarkets and shop more often at farmers markets
My word for this year is "Embrace"...

* I'm going to embrace my last year as a stay at home mum
* I'm going to embrace the opportunity to start a new veggie garden from almost scratch
* I'm going to embrace being a renovation queen for quite a long time to come (we think)
* I'm going to embrace what life brings my way

I've decided that again this year I am going to be kinder to myself and generate less internal stress, enjoy more simple pleasures, I want to find more time to craft, to garden, to live sustainably and enjoyably.
I like the look of Tricia's skipping supermarkets challenge and will watching this with avid interest. We're investigating as many opportunities as we can to use viable technology alternatives to run a mainstream type of house. 
Bring on 2012!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

I love looking at life through the eyes of an almost 5 year old and the lead up to this Christmas has been a fun filled joyful one. My family makes me feel truly blessed this year and I could just eat them all up :-)

So I would like to wish all you lovely people a truly magnificent holiday season. May it be full of fun, sparkles, love and laughter.  xx

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Where does the time go?

Due to a small technical glitch, we've been without internet for the last week. Funnily enough it actually feels like weeks have gone by?? Crazy - especially at this time of year. So in my solitude, we have been

* making piles of metal and wood :-)
* painting chairs
* baking and icing gingerbread biscuits (to eat and to give...hmm a lot have been eaten LOL)
* making crunchy cereal toppers as christmas gifts
* trawling a few secondhand shops for last minute goodies for me and Mr B
* making jam
* playing in parks with friends

And what can I say we have been having great fun. The stress of settling on the house is abating even in the face of our ongoing renovations. The sun is shining, christmas is coming and I'm happy :-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thriving on Neglect

Our garden has been a bit neglected of late. The most exciting thing to me that I've done has been to pick, dry and plait our first harvest of garlic. It's currently hanging on our back porch and smells delicious everytime we walk past.

Even with neglect the garden continues to thrive. We've harvested a few zucchini with plenty more growing. Our first little lebanese cucumbers are growing as well, and we have baby tomatoes everywhere. The beans have climbed over the trellis and onto next doors rogue jasmine. No beans yet but lots of little white fluffy bugs. Anyone know what they could be?? They are on everything in the garden and food and flowers alike.

All bar one of our watermelon seedlings gave up and died and I have no idea why. Lots of sun, water and love...but maybe something else was missing??

Speaking of something missing, cutting through the jungle at our new place we found an old vegie garden. Needs lots of work but it's in the perfect spot and has the potential for extension. We've also discovered an established almond tree (full of almonds), 2 apple trees, a nectarine, a lemon and one very sad sick looking lime tree.

There's also an old chicken coop, which is in surprisingly good condition since it's lain abandoned for at least the last 3 years. It just needs a good clean out and some work on the roof and door. We had no idea of the garden's promise as you just could not get in and look due to a massive dog, debris and a serious case of out of control undergrowth.

But this house is starting to feel like a really good fit. It has lovely bones and so does it's garden.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Countdown to Christmas

In amongst our renovating madness, we are also getting ready for Christmas. This year Little B's advent calendar is part home-made, part craft, part cooking and part experiences.

We went to the local carols by candelight weekend before last because the advent calendar promised Little B fireworks. Didnt hurt that it was free, that Jay Laga'aia was the kids entertainment, that it was close to home and that we bumped into friends and shared our picnic rug. Little B adored the firework display even more snuggled up with his bestfriends.

I pop a little note in each day with a drawing of what we will do that day. Today we painted pine cones we collected at Phillip Island to look like Christmas trees.

We've also donated a gift under a local gift tree for disadvantaged children, bought a goat for kindy, and had hand made dominoes. This weekend past we made clay gift tags to go with our fabric gift bags (Little B just loves any excuse to work with clay). I have to say I'm really enjoying Little B's excitement and enthusiasm as well as this little snippets of family time away from the new house.

For me the importance of his advent calendar is threefold: he gets to countdown to Christmas; he gets to create, take part in and enjoy family traditions; and finally he learns that Christmas is about giving and being kind rather than about getting and wanting goodies only.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cleaning is a dirty job

Yay settlement occurred last Thursday and we are now the proud new owners of our house :-) Hmmm but we have been cleaning the place ever since. Family have been helping us to scrub this house for the last 4 days and it's not finished just yet. We can honestly say that this house has not been cleaned for many many years. It's currently taking between 4-6 buckets of a borax / water solution to clean the walls alone (and they all look as black or blacker than the water above).

You know a house is dirty when you clean a room and it looks like it has been repainted!!

We thought this room's walls were coffee coloured - guess what they're white!!

I've hand scrubbed the beautiful wooden floors 3 times so far and we have done a great job of lifting off the surface muck. Granny B spent a day cleaning the inside of the windows and vacuuming out the window frames and found the original paint colour for outside.

As much as I detest yet another renovation, the underlying beauty of this house keeps me motivated and with the sun shining in this afternoon, I was even heard to sigh in my appreciation.

I spent part of Saturday pruning back bits of the garden (which is a monstrous mess) and found some lovely surprises (which I'll save for a later post).

My endless lists and getting quotes prior to settlement means we have hit the ground running on settlement. Restumping started Friday, plumbers have been through and start replumbing a lot of the house on Wednesday, locksmiths have changed all the locks and next week the roof is being fixed and the possum problem sorted. We mean to have the basic structure ready for Mr B to rip out the bathroom immediately after Christmas.

Then the rest of the renovation will be a long project that we fix over time. With the bathroom done and some plastering we can live here and do bits as and when we can afford them. But we are so happy to have our own place again. We wont move in until Feb approx, but it's ours and we love it and it feels like closing a very solid door on our moldy house experience. This house gives us hope and lays a path of potential for this new part of our future.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reuse - furnishing a house

With settlement looming, one of my lists has involved refurnishing the house on an extremely tight budget **. The first thing we did was investigate and order the most energy efficient appliances we could afford within our budget (one of which was a 5 star fridge). After that was out of the way, I've moved onto furniture with the $$$ that remained.

My extreme reaction to mold initially ruled out secondhand furniture. Since most opshops smell like mold or mildew they send me off into an immediate asthma attack and can also induce numbness in my left arm. But at the same time, I didnt want to buy Chinese made mdf rubbish because of a) it's environmental impact and b) most of the stuff smells or offgasses toxic nasties.

Instead I started to investigate secondhand shops. I've managed to find a few different ones who could tell me whether products smelled, had water damage or any mildew / mold apparent. Their shops are also smell free to me, so no reaction. And voila our secondhand mission began. Since the house was built in the late 1930's and has beautiful art deco features, I've been focusing on art deco furniture or furniture that is vintage from the 1940's/1950's that has history or a story. And I have to say I've had a ball :-)

Last weekend I picked up the above beautiful antique bedside tables - they are from the Grand Hyatt during the 1930's.

I've also collected some stepped and plain bookcases as well as secondhand chairs. The secondhand chairs need painting to match our new house better (I like purple but not on a chair).

This Depression Glass bowl was thrown in as a freebie, and who can forget our gorgeous vintage blackboard for Little B. I just couldnt resist even if its a want not a need :-)

It's been quite fun searching for all this furniture and been extremely budget friendly. The better bargain I can get the more $$$ I have to spend on other aspects of either the renovation or furnishings for the house.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Dirty Life

"As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you", Kristin Kimball

The Dirty Life is a memoir written by Kristin Kimball and is the story of how she fell in love with a farmer and began a different way of life as together they transformed a derelict farm in a remote town in the US. I loved this book and count it as one of my best birthday presents. It's easy to read, refreshingly honest about the hard graft of farming but at the same time passionate about the process. Kristin's enthusiasm and honesty roll over you like honey.

She also doesnt beat around the bush: "tranquil and farming are two things farming is not". Farming sounds bone achingly tiring. But she also explains its promise of connectedness with the land, the celebration of effort and her gratefulness that she found it.

One of the first things I did after reading this book was to go out and plant more in our vegie garden. More eggplants, more capsicum, peas, lettuces, corn.....quite simply more. This book made me feel passionate about my garden.

Then I re-looked at a local CSA and it's organic boxes of fruit and veg. It buys the majority of its food from local sources. Combined with our local biodynamic grocer (which is run by a local farmer, who sources local if he can), I feel like I'm making a concerted effort to support local farmers and industry. And I guess like Food Inc, that's one of the key things that comes away from this book. How important it is to try and source your food locally and to support local industry.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sun, sand and surf

 Phillip Island 2011

* we relaxed, hung out, read books, made sand castles, checked out the sights and did lots of walking. We even managed to investigate a gorgeous kitchen garden and milk a cow at a historic working farm

* the Penguin Parade was a highlight. We did the Penguins Plus which meant the penguins literally almost passed by our feet (so worth the extra $40)

* we investigated lots of different beaches, and it was not unheard for us to go down to the beach 2 or 3 times each day. After dinner was our favourite time.

* Little B's shell collection expanded exponentially, especially after visiting the shelly beach at Rhyll. He's also now the proud owner of an old crab shell and claw

* sign of a great holiday...last year he assured me he was moving to Goolwa. This year Little B is moving to Phillip Island to live :-) He's sure they must have a great kindy there LOL

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Great Kilowatt Challenge

I'm joining in with Greening of Gavin's Great Kilowatt Challenge. Here is the challenge in his own words:

"Who would like to join me in an energy  challenge?  We will only begin with grid Electricity as most folks have it connected.  Subsequent posts will be about the following;

how to read your meter, the quick basics about electricity terminology, how to manage the data you are collecting, documenting your energy baseline for the first week, and then launch into an energy efficiency programme. I have an MS Excel spreadsheet that I designed that will help out.  For those who don't have Excel, Open Office or Google docs will suffice.  I will guide you all the same.

The posts for the challenge will be over four weeks and at the end of each of the four weeks we will post the total percentage of electricity reduction we each have made.  It should be good fun, and I hope that we can all achieve a big reduction in our consumption".

I am really looking forward to this challenge for a number of reasons. We have tracked our electricity usage in the past - namely at our first house before and after we got solar, and then initially at our moldy house. Since we are currently based at Granny B's and she has just had her solar installed, we are keen to reduce her usage as much as possible. She is preparing for her "retirement" in the future and would like to be as resourceful and frugal as possible as who knows what the future may bring.

We also settle on our new house in a few weeks, and begin a renovation that will include things like insulation and rewiring to reduce electricity usage to name a few things. A new house always brings surprises / challenges with usage until you get a hold on all the extraneous variables like drafts, insulation etc, so this challenge couldnt happen at a better time.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the next 4 weeks bring.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

this saturday i'm grateful for holidays

Cowes Beach, Phillip Island 2011

Back from five glorious days at Phillip Island, this Saturday I'm grateful for:

* holidays - it was only five days but it may as well of been twenty. I feel invigorated, refreshed and ready to tackle the oncoming reno that begins in two weeks

* weather - the forecast was for cool wet weather but instead we had five days of sunshine and warmth. Think tshirts and shorts weather (drawback when you only took one tshirt *giggle*)

* audiobooks - no tv, no phones, no internet - sheer bliss. We took along some audiobooks (as well as real books) for Little B to listen to during the drive and for some down time. Our current favourites are Sparkle Stories - this storytelling family is really lovely. We havent found a story yet that Little B doesnt like and they impart some great growing up wisdom.

Check out Maxabella loves for some Saturday gratefulness...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beachy keen

Horseshoe Bay, Goolwa 2010

The beach is calling us (again) so we are off on holidays to Phillip Island. Here's to lots of sand, frolics and fun. Looks like the weather might be against us but Little B is super excited and looking forward to the beach, penguins and seals in all their glory!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Late Spring in the Garden

The weather has been so changeable of late - cold, warm, rainy, windy, sunny - you name it, we've had it. But spring has been quite kind to our garden.

I'm so glad I planted our tomatoes early because they are growing beautifully. Those few extra weeks when the weather was warm and mild have really made a difference.

This is my best bunch of potatoes yet. I'm absolutely sold on using the growing bags and will get a few more next year. During the worst weeks of rain and a few storms, we've been able to move them under cover on our back deck to stop them getting waterlogged.

I'm still having an ongoing battle with snails and slugs. I lost all my lebanese cucumber seedlings, my first batch of pumpkin & sunflower seedlings and nearly all my carrots to snails and slugs. I gave up on the carrots in the end (we have two that survived LOL).

But my 2nd batch of pumpkin seedlings are doing well along with the zucchini. I dont think Granny B's yard has enough sun for these but we'll see. We are going to plant in conjunction with each other next year once we have the new house, and will plant what works best at the appropriate house.

And we are trying watermelon this year for Little B (seeds courtesy of Bec at Eat at Dixibelle's - thanks Bec :-) They seem to be growing really well. We've put them in half wine barrels and so far the snails have left them alone. Also means we can take advantage of the seriously sunny spots in the garden which are too small for vegie beds.

Our first pear is growing. It's only been 5 years in the making but we nursed this tree through some seriously hot droughty summers, so are very proud :-) We finally ripped out our dwarf peach tree - it's had leaf curl no matter what we did over the last few years and it was starting to affect our other dwarf trees. Now it's gone the nectarine especially seems to be recovering all on its own.

And last but not least, my beans. This seemed to be the only plant that would grow for me when we first started vegie gardening years ago and they get better and better each year. I love my beans xx

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No Stuff Motivation

I really love Bec's recent post on "No More Stuff Until Christmas". Over the last few years we've really tried to focus on being no more stuff kind of people. And on a side note, after having to get rid of all our belongings, it's amazing how unimportant stuff really becomes.

But stuff has risen it's ugly head again recently in of all places with Little B's physio. Physio is hard at the best of times and getting a nearly 5 year old to do it every day is shall we say a challenge. The answer I'm told is to bribe him with toys. This is heartily encouraged by both therapists and in the words of one "buy him whatever it takes to get him to do it". Now with both of them encouraging this, it would mean that I would be buying Little B 2 toys a week or 8 toys a month. Seriously, what child needs 8 new toys a month? And even if I was buying secondhand - that's still 8 new toys a month!?!?!

Needless to say I have found this attitude grating rather than encouraging and it has more than ruffled my feathers (not helped by a crankypants child who doesnt want to do physio everyday). So our answer has been to create our own reward charts. Working with Little B we have created two rewards charts - one for outdoor rewards and one for cooking rewards. Each week, he gets to pick something from one of these lists as his reward. We then alternate the charts so he picks outdoors one week and cooking the other. He chose the things on the list so that they motivate him to get through his daily exercises.

As you can see from the list, they arent earth shattering but they are things he really likes to do with the undivided attention of either or both parents in tow. He loves to cook and while this list isnt complete yet, we are already looking forward to making cattle cookies this weekend.

I'd hate to think where we would have put Little B's 36 new toys if we'd gone down that path - to be honest the mind boggles.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Solar Tracker IRL

We had a great time away. One of the highlights was seeing Lake Eildon full to the brim. People could touch the bridge as they went under it on boats :-0 I remember not that long ago when it was dry dry dry.

I also finally got to see a community project that Mr B worked on for a number of months earlier this year. He designed and installed the solar tracker and static solar as part of a Eco Living Sustainable Communities Project by the Rural City of Wangaratta. I'd seen many photos but it was really impressive up close - you can see from the pic the sheer size of it compared to Mr B. The tracker currently generates enough electricity to power 3 houses.

And my SIL's 40th was great fun. A beautiful balmy warm night, lots of fun people and my BIL has built a wood fired cobb oven by hand. And provided the most delicious home made wood fired pizzas on the night. Needless to say Mr B was instructed to take a very close look as I soooo want one of those at our new house :-)

And last but not least we noticed quite a few houses in the area from the art deco era. Which allowed us to take pictures and get ideas for the outside of the new house. Especially this roof which has the original terracotta tiles in situ. We're not that lucky but now have a colour that we can at least try and match to.


Now that's what I call a thoroughly enjoyable weekend :-)