Saturday, November 24, 2012

Grubby Little Fingerprints.

I have grubby little fingerprints all over my house.

Brannen sized fingerprints, that he proudly places on every surface he can reach, as if to say, look, Mum! I am standing!


I'll be on the move, soon, and I won't need to hold onto anything anymore.

But, for now, I still need something to hold onto.

I love these grubby fingerprints. They remind me that he still needs to hold on, and I'm happy to keep holding him for a little while longer. Also, they force me to get down to Brannen's level to clean them.

It's been awhile since I have viewed the world from the height of a very young almost-toddler.

And, as he is my last one, I'm savouring the view.


It was Brannen's first birthday yesterday. We celebrated in a very low key way. He opened his two homemade presents, we played at a friend's house and had pizza in the park for dinner.

Happy Birthday, my wee little man.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What if Money Didn't Matter

I really enjoyed this clip, and it resonated with me completely. Thanks to Meagan over at This Whole Family, which is where I found it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Easy Peasy Healthy Chocolate Bliss Balls

Easy Peasy Recipe Swap (via Mezz Makes Stuff)

Healthy (yes, healthy!) Chocolate Bliss Balls.
Sugar-free, dairy free (not that I mind a bit of dairy) and grain free.

For all you Thermomix owners, I have adapted this from Quirky Cooking's Cacao and Walnut Bliss Balls, to make the recipe suit our family's style and what we generally have on hand in the pantry! For all non-TM owners, don't stress, you can do this in a food processor.
Also, I am quite a non-precise cook, so all my measurements may be in the very technical units of 'about', a 'splash' or a 'touch'. You'll work it out.

Process about 80g cacao powder (or nibs, or hey you could get really radical and just use cocoa powder!) together with quite a few (fresh, not dried) dates (say, about 300gm, maybe a bit more) until mixture is crumbly. Add a couple of handfuls of cashews, or pistachios, or any kind of nut really, a nice big dollop of coconut oil, some shredded coconut, a pinch of good quality sea salt, a smidge of vanilla bean paste (or extract, or essence), some sweetener if you choose (I use a splash of honey or rice malt syrup) and process until sticky (add or subtract wet or dry ingredients until it looks right). Roll into balls and stick in the fridge. Or just eat them.

Easy peasy. And darn impressive. And full of beautiful good fats and the super-ness of cacao. The kids WILL NOT know they are healthy, so when they ask for another one, you can scrunch your face up, and pretend to think REAL hard, and then when you say yes, you earn yourself extra cool mum cred.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Considered Christmas (Part Two - Joy)

Yesterday, I said I loved Christmas. I especially love how we do Christmas. Over the years, we have developed a few little rituals and ways of doing things to make our Christmas celebrations fit us perfectly as a family. There are a thousand ways of 'doing Christmas well', keeping the Earth and its people in mind, and finding a way that fits your family is essential, otherwise you will be unlikely to enjoy it or repeat the experience. With that in mind, I am going to share how we are preparing for Christmas this year in our house.


This is an old photo - don't worry, our tree isn't up yet!!

This year, we are selling the bulk of our pre-children shop-bought decorations in favour of homemade ones. Some will have been made by me, such as our advent calendar bunting, and some will be made by the children. A couple of friends and I have organised to do a Christmas craft 'swap', where we each plan one craft activity to do with all of our children, and most of these will be Christmas decorations.


This is probably the biggest area that we differ from the 'norm'. The gifts we give each other generally can't be found in a department store catalogue, and most of them will cost nothing. There are a couple of exceptions - I bought each of the kids a wooden toy from a friend's home based business, and I am buying Nath a hunting knife from a man who makes them locally. Most of our gifts, however, will be homemade. If we do happen to venture out to the shops for gift-buying, it will be to op-shops.

For extended family on Nath's side we do a Kris Kringle. Each brother (and partner if they have one) 'buys' for another brother. I use the term 'buy' loosely, as while there are no restrictions, a lot of us tend to homemake our gifts for each other. Since there are five brothers and four of them are married, it reduces the gift buying dramatically. For everyone else, it is handmade. Grandparents love gifts made by the kids, and we tend to give the kids' great-grandparents a homemade jar of something, and a photo of the kids.

We have stockings, which I made, but they are by no means stuffed full and consist of smaller handmade gifts (such as the halos in the picture - which didn't last too long!!). Our kids generally only get one or two gifts from us, plus their stocking, then maybe one to share.

Our wrapping 'paper' this year will be made from Christmas-y material for the gifts going under our own tree, or recycled paper painted by the kids for everyone else (our butcher is old-school and still wraps everything in butchers paper - I love it.) I am making all our gift tags by hand (apart from the ones the kids will make with their friends) over the next couple of nights.

If this all seems like it will take a lot of time, remember, we don't watch TV, and I save a whole lot of time by not needing to do Christmas shopping!


I only buy one thing outside of my normal grocery shop - and that is a grassfed, organic, free range pork rolled roast from The Naked Butcher. Other than that, we just shop as usual, spending the same amount as usual, and make everything from scratch as usual. This year we are camping with friends from December 23rd until after the New Year, so we will take our standard camping fare along with us. Food gifts are made with things we generally have on hand anyway, or things in abundance in our garden. We even make our advokaat (alcoholic egg nog) from scratch!

Spreading Some Christmas Love

My lovely sister in law, Mezz, posted a question on her blog yesterday, which prompted some very thought-provoking discussion with our kids. What can we do to spread a little extra love and care around at Christmas time? Here is my comment on her blog after our discussion:
Hi Mezz,
Thanks so much for this post. We used it to provoke some very special conversation with the girls. We posed your question, then told the story of the REAL 'Santa Claus' (our kids know the man in the red suit is a fake!!) and talked about how in our area there are loads of people whose Christmases may not be very happy ones.
We decided to focus on our local Women's Refuge (there are often children staying there too) and the girls decided to wrap up some of their toys they don't use anymore to give as presents, make some Christmas cakes and Christmas decorations, and take them all in.
Unfortunately, most Christmas 'welfare' campaigns focus on people outside of our own communities. Its really important to focus back in. Our kids are so darn privileged, I worry that they may be growing up without a real understanding of some of the issues their own local people deal with everyday.
The girls made me so proud during this discussion! The ideas were theirs (except, of course, that we suggested where our gifts may go to), and we are very much looking forward to making extra decorations and cakes to brighten up other families' lives!

So, in a nutshell, these are our Christmas plans. Like I said, this way of doing Christmas suits our family perfectly, but I would love to know how you and your family celebrate!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Considered Christmas (Part One - The Problem)

I love Christmas.

I need to make that clear, because I am about to embark on a little tirade about the Silly Season and I don't want anyone to think that I am coming over all Bah Humbug.

But, seriously, we as a society have completely lost touch with what this festivity is all about. I'm staying away from the religious side of Christmas here on my blog, and want to talk instead about what most people refer to as "the spirit of Christmas".

Apparently, having some Christmas spirit means talking endlessly about what major, plastic and mass-produced toy is on sale and where. It means trawling the shops, standing at checkout lines for ages, battling the crowds of thousands of other people who have the same idea about "the Christmas Spirit". It means racking up some serious credit card debt, or at least experiencing some financial pressure due to spending on presents, food, decorations, drink, a gift for Aunty Mavis' estranged husband.... the list goes on.

Apparently, every child needs at least fifteen presents with their name on them under the tree, otherwise we may as well pack the dear child up and send them to the poorhouse now. Apparently we need to fill up two regular sized shopping trolleys with every kind of 'sometimes' food under the sun, because we wouldn't want to go hungry on Christmas Day, would we?

The average Australian (singular, not per family) is forecast to spend $1600 towards Christmas this year. That's nearly DOUBLE the average household's (not single person) weekly disposable (after tax) income. Credit card debt peaks in the first quarter after Christmas each year, sitting earlier this year at an average of $4700 per Australian card-holder.

Does this not seem a little ridiculous?

And that's just the money side of things. We can also look at our Christmas over-consumerism in terms of the world's people, our local communities and the environment as a whole.

From The Buy Nothing Day website:
What is so bad about shopping?
It’s not shopping in itself that’s so harmful, it’s what we buy. The rich western countries - only 20% of the world population are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth. As consumers, we should question the products we buy and the companies who produce them.
The idea is to make people stop and think about what and how much they buy effects the environment and developing countries. Increasingly large companies use labour in developing countries to produce goods because its cheap and there aren’t the systems to protect workers like there are in the west.
I'm sure I have posted this video before, but the lead up to Christmas is a fabulous time to watch it again and be reminded of the need for more mindful purchasing. If you haven't watched it yet, please do. It's a major reason we started to live the way we live, and I am passionate about its message.

We can't shop our way to a better world. Every purchase we make has an impact (even the eco, fairtrade, sustainable ones). Every dollar we spend is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.

Another aspect to consider (at any time of the year, not just Christmas!) is that in our own communities there are people who are doing it tough. As Christmas is a time of joy, celebration, family, friends and food, people who are marginalised, financially struggling, separated from family, lonely, suffering from mental health issues or in other ways not able to celebrate Christmas the way they may like to can find this time of the year particularly hard.  If you think there are no people like this in your community, you aren't looking hard enough. Does your community have a hospital? A mental health department? A women's refuge? A drug and alcohol agency? Centrelink? Employment agencies? My community has all of these, and I am in no way saying that everyone who accesses these services is not going to have a merry Christmas. I am merely saying that these services exist to support people who need support, so if your community has one or all of these services, you are likely to have people who are doing it tough living nearby.

This all sounds pretty bleak, I know. But I believe those who have more, have a responsibility to those who have less. My family is looking forward to a festive, funfilled, feasty Christmas. We just have plans to do it in a way that respects the Earth and its people, that spreads some true Christmas cheer around our community, and that teaches our children to want to make a difference.

Tomorrow, I'm sharing how our family will be doing Christmas this year (with not a shop in sight!) So stay tuned, for some real Christmas cheer :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Muffins, Meringues, Mess and Magical Moments

 Sometimes, you have just got to let it all go.

Let the washing pile up.
Let the beds remain unmade.

Let the baby cart the recycling rubbish all through the house.

Let the kitchen mess build up.

Let faces remain unwiped.

Let the kids drag their stools up to the bench...

...and pick all the blueberries off the bush....

...and create.
....things don't turn out how we expect them to.

And that's okay.

Sometimes, nothing says "I love you" more than....

...."Come and cook with me."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Finding Focus and More Makings.

This week, we switched the TV off.

Big step. We have done this before as a whole family, for a few months back when we were first getting into living in a simpler and more sustainable way. I loved it, as our evenings were spent productively, making foods, or brewing, or sewing, or, heavens above, even communicating! But TV slipped back into our nightly routine, and before long we were finding we were watching TV all evening, every evening, and going to bed later and feeling more tired during the day. Our routine had slipped, we were less productive around the house and relying on convenience foods more. We communicated less and felt generally more stressed and disengaged. We have often had week-long breaks from the kids watching TV since then, but haven't been able to kick the habit ourselves.

It's been a great week (apart from me being quite sick earlier in the week!). We have had long overdue conversations about our budget, our goals as a family, how we want to achieve them, how we spend our time. We have been brewing and bottling and baking and creating. The time we were spending in front of the box is now being spent busily doing the things we need to be doing regularly to ensure we can live the simpler life we want to, without getting caught in the trap of not having pre-prepared enough food to get us through the week without buying additional groceries, or even take-away lunches, for example. We feel more connected as a family, and to our home, and to our goals.

Two goals have come to the fore in the last couple of weeks. Major Goal Number One is, we have decided that for a few months, we are buying nothing (apart from food and consumables) (and apart from one little craft book.... ahem.) There was a bit much slippage going on in our finances, we don't need anything above what we already have and we have a number of financial goals that we would like to achieve, that will enable us to meet Major Goal Number Two. MG#2 is that within the next two years, Nath will reduce his working days down to three days a week, while I remain as a non-working mother. This will obviously impact our income quite drastically, which means we have to work very hard while we still have a decent income to equip ourselves to deal with a cut in finances. The priorities in the short term are setting up all of our garden beds to become food producing, upskilling ourselves to be able to produce even more at home (such as fermented foods and cheeses), and setting ourselves up to be able to hunt and forage locally. Eventually we will need more water storage (our current water tank is for the garden, not for other household use), a solar electricity supply and some way of acquiring dairy (I keep telling Nath we need goats.....)

This focus has brought about a reinvigorated energy in us. We have ripped out the garden beds in the backyard, ready for prepping for vegetable planting, and Nath is sorting out his WA gun license. We have planted out a whole bunch more vegetables, from some heirloom seeds I bought this week (six varieties of tomatoes? Yes, please!) We have more chickens on their way, so hopefully with the two young roosters we have currently, we can establish a pattern of breeding and raising chicks to keep some for eating and some for laying. The quails are fattening up nicely and I think we have a nice mix of males and females in there for now.

Tomorrow we build the little woodshed to store the wood we collected at the end of this last winter, so it can dry out all summer ready for next winter. We are also getting into the big shed to do a big sort and clean out, so it can be a functional space for Nath to hone his 'making' skills in. Nath being able to build, repair, upcycle and engineer is a key part of MG#2.

Here are some snaps of some of the makings in our house lately:

Miya's Tinkerbell costume for Book Week at school. It was made from an old muslin wrap of Brannen's, some ribbon, some scrap material and fencing wire! She was chosen from her class to stand up in front of the whole school and say who she was dressed up as, and it was a very proud mama moment for me!

Salmon and broccoli quiche. I haven't made pastry for so long, and I had forgotten how much better it is home made than the shop stuff!

Homemade washing liquid. This is a project I have been putting off for a long time, but it was so easy! I made about eight litres, and it cost me around $1.50. I got my recipe from Rhonda at Down To Earth.

Apple cider. Well, this was a mission. Mainly because I don't have a juicer. I milled the apples in the Thermomix, then ran them through the mouli, then squeezed them through a muslin lined sieve, until I was happy that I had the right consistency of juice. I added whey collected from draining home made yoghurt, and left it to ferment for a few days. It is now completing its fermentation in the fridge, and I am contemplating further fermenting it with brewer's yeast to make it alcoholic, as I love alcoholic apple cider. We'll see.

 I'm making some curtains for the kids' room. I just used an old pair of Ikea curtains I bought when Nath and I were first married, and drew up a simple design, then cut out the shapes from scraps of material I had in my stash. This is the first curtain. It's pinned ready to go, and when I have sewn it all up, I'll work on the second curtain.

I picked up two large bags of cooking tomatoes at my fruit and veg shop the other day, six kilos in total. Tonight I cooked them up into a puree and bottled them with my much loved Fowlers Vacola unit. I netted about five litres, which should last us awhile.

Nath distilled some clear spirit tonight (similar to vodka or white rum, at about 40% alcohol volume). This run netted us 8x750ml bottles, with a total cost of under $20. With each bottle costing us $2.50, this is clearly a significant saving. It is also a more sustainable and ethical choice, with many alcohol companies having been given the thumbs down by Ethical Consumer for their unethical practices, and the environmental implications of large scale production of alcohol that then travels long distances (in our case) to get to us. Not to mention the preservatives and additives found in commercial alcohol. Of course, in accordance with the law, we only use our home-distilled spirits for cleaning purposes!

It's very late here, and I am off to bed. I'd love to hear what makings have been happening in your house lately!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Treasure Hunting

Nath, the kids and I went on one of our scavenging dates yesterday. We found an awesome website that outlines when and where Perth's roadside collections are, complete with maps of the boundaries of each pick-up. We decided to head out on a freebie adventure to see what treasures we could find.

If this sounds a bit unglamorous or even downright dirty and desperate, I'd like to point out that nearly everything that goes out onto the curb for collection ends up in landfill. So much of it isn't broken, or unusable, and is put out for collection merely because it's owners have no use for it or have replaced it with something new. Roadside collecting is more than finding treasures for me, it's also about reducing the amount of so-called rubbish that ends up in landfill for no good reason at all. If we can truly use it, I'd rather give something a new lease of life than have it end up at the tip!

So, after a trip to the tip to empty our trailer of greenwaste, and a stop at the op-shop so Miya and Eden could spend some of their snail collecting money (more on that later!), we were off.

Check out some of the treasures we found!

With summer approaching, having bottles of cold water ready to go in the fridge is always handy. These are in perfect condition, they just need new seals. Luckily, I have some of those!

A lovely wooden tray, perfect for breakfast in bed.

I couldn't believe it when I saw this gorgeous enamel serving dish on someone's front verge, what a gem!

Sitting alongside the enamel dish was this deep casserole. I loved the design on it, so in the car it went!

There is nothing at all wrong with this wicker basket, and I was after a new laundry hamper, so I whipped up a liner for the inside, and.... voila!

This old wooden stepladder, after a sand back and a bit of paint, will make an excellent pot stand, or bookshelf, or teddy bear storage, or..... we'll see!

We also picked up some old hose to run around the sharp edge of a tin-lined garden bed near the kids' fairy garden, a watering can (yay! I have been asking on Freecycle for one of these!) and a bin with a swing lid that I discovered was full of little jars and lids - perfect for some of the Christmas gifts I am thinking of making.

It was a very worthwhile foray into the suburbs, even though it always takes Nath a good few hours to recover after venturing down into 'the city'. I'm really loving the opportunities for creativity that living frugally brings. Over the next few weeks, we will be foraging a bit more for food that is readily available in the local bush areas and learning a bit more about about our local flora and fauna and how it can complement our bought groceries and homegrown produce. I'll keep you posted.
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