Creating an urban homestead and news about life.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I wanted to write a post on the benefits of flowers and water. This is a shot of my friend's front yard. She owns her lovely home, and I am still sharing while I am looking for a place to buying and continuing to save. The benefits of flowers and water in your garden are significant.

It makes it a pleasant place to be. This is not an ordered garden, It just grows as plants self seed or as she puts cuttings in and tends them. I am sure that some of these were there before she moved in. Some people want ordered gardens, I am more of the casual look, but can appreciate an ordered garden as well. My grandparents have every different plant in it's own bed and seperated from the next species. Whatever it is your garden needs to be somewhere you enjoy being. Put some ornaments, mosaics etc around. I love having a place where I can hang a hammock under a deciduous tree, it can shade me in the summer and be a warm sunny place to sit in winter.

It brings life into the garden. Flowers and water attract insects who come and perform an essential role in pollinating your fruit trees and vegetables. Many birds also come to eat insects, nectar and hide in the safety of the plants from predators. Kate from Our Red House (see links at the side) has just written in her blog about a nest of baby birds they found in their garden. Growing up we had a family of magpies who would generally produce at least one set of offspring each year. We had a bird bath and natives with flowers outside and could watch as first the parents sought food for the baby and later brought it out to learn to fly.

It keeps your garden healthy. Many of the insects who are attracted to the flowers you are growing will assist in managing the pests in your garden, rather than you needing to resort to a chemical spray which is dangerous for you and your family, and kills off the good insects as well, leaving your garden more susceptible to attack.

If you can build a small pond, you will possibly attract frogs into your garden, who are great company and also great at managing your pests, especially the slugs and snails, which can be harmful for chickens in larger numbers.

Hmm, that's all I can think of for now, but if you can add anything please comment on this post. Ta and talk next week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A book with a view

I also wanted to share today about a great book I am reading. Back from the Brink by Peter Andrews. His story was shown on Australian Story earlier this year as a follow up to a story done a couple of years ago and when I was on the Permaculture stand at the Royal Easter Show this year probably 30% of people were talking about this story. I watched the show on the internet (either youtube or the ABC website - can't remember) and was challenged by his ideas, that fit in with my own. Recently I was in the post office and saw his book for sale, and had to buy it. Then I had a nice surprise when I went to pay for it and it was half price.

I had an early meeting this morning and had some time before work so I took the book down to the river and read for a while. He is talking in the bit I have read so far of his observations of the different conditions at two properties his family owned, one very rural and large and dry (a few thousand acres) and the other smaller (50 acres) and irrigated and fertilised. He noticed that the stock on the irrigated property would deteriorate and there were stock losses from illness, whereas stock on the other property occasionally died from thirst or fire but did not require the level of maintenance. Gradually he came to an understanding through observation of the properties and travel to America and England to look at horse properties there that biodiversity and no tilling made a difference to the ongoing success of the property. I loved the remark he quoted from an english farmer that pasture was not healthy unless it had over 40 and preferably closer to 80 species of plants growing in it.

From watching the show I know that there is more to come about him buying a property that was very run down, saline and eroded and applying what seemed crazy techniques to most other agriculturalists but as the photo on the cover of the book shows he was able to bring land that was dead back to life, and his farm is a green belt through a surrounding brown landscape.

Just thought I'd share a photo of where I was reading. Nowra, the town where I live, lies along the Shoalhaven River, which is a beautiful river in the Shoalhaven. It is lined with rocky cliffs with some of the best rockclimbing in Australia until the town where it opens to a flood plain. Where I was sitting was just at the end of the cliffline and there is a lovely spot that catches the morning sun with a comfy rock to sit on.

Visiting Port Stephens

I was in Port Stephen's for a friend's 60th birthday on the weekend. He's the one just behind me (Roger) and Ainsley his wife is in the background. My mum and I drove up there Friday afternoon, dropping in on the way to my best friend from junior high who I had not seen since then and had lost touch with after she married while I was overseas and relocated. We got back in touch with each other through myspace (thank god for the internet) and arranged to meet as she lived on the way to Port Stephens.

On Friday night there was a formal dinner and I was surprised that of the people sitting at the table I knew all bar two personally (out of ten) and had expected to know only a handful of people in the whole party. One couple were pastors of my church in Sydney I have recently left to move down the coast and their son. They were there because they started the church of the same denomination that my friends attend. Then there were a bunch of men who are all leaders on the scout camp that my friends have assisted on for years and that I went to help at this year as well, and then two men from the church (Oh and my mother) It was really nice to have that interconnectedness, and a small reminder that our huge world is not so big and definately not so far away. I love meeting new people and have made some new friends on the weekend as well, gradually as my world becomes bigger, the world as a whole becomes smaller, and places and events have more meaning because of the connections I have there.

I remember hearing that there are seven degrees of separation between everyone on the planet. Eg I know someone who knows someone who knows someone etc etc etc who knows anyone else in the world. I was thinking about this and about who would be someone who it would be hard to know. My first thought was - the president of the united states. I thought about it and realised there are only three degrees of separation between me and the president of the united states. It may be more between me and some people but in general I believe the gap is small. Between me and the Queen of England there is only two, as both my sister and my grandfather had personal encounters and conversations with her when she had a visit here when I was younger. I say this not so to namedrop but to think and to challenge us all to think about our connectedness. The more we are connected surely the better the world will become.

Anyhow, I had a lovely weekend. Above is a photo of us sailing on the bay in my friends yacht and below is the view from the restaurant where the dinner was held. The world is a beautiful place.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Having an impact.

We have an election coming up in Australia, everyone's favourite time of year. Someone was saying today that shops are claiming their Christmas shopping is down because of the election, but I don't believe that. I personally would go shopping to avaid having to watch the endless screening of political backstabbing and attack that invades the television at this time.

However, I then thought about the potential to have an impact as an individual at a time like this. A lot of people prefer to do their world changing one seed at a time in their backyard, however there is an amazing opportunity for people who care about sustainability, the environment, the value of families, and workers rights to stand up and be counted. Politicians are out in the community holding forums and get to know you sessions. Why not try talking to them about the things that are important to you.

I think it's great to get out there and lobby your council and your politicians for the things you want to see, be it green waste bins, rebates on green power, community gardens. It may not happen, but then again, you might plant a seed, or be the nth person to talk about that issue and tip it over the edge.

I think a good way of raising an issue is letter writing. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper and send a copy to any councillors, politicians etc that you can locate, and then follow it up with a phone call. I have done this on a number of occasions and have seen people take notice of it. Make sure that your letter is brief, to the point and you back up your argument. Most newspapers like to have different topics to print.

Good luck and let me know if you are successful, or if you have any other ideas for ways of having an impact.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Making Aprons

I am hard at work at the moment making my apron for my swap partner Bren. This is the second swap I have participated through Rhonda's Blog "Down to Earth" which you can link to through the links on the left hand side of my blog. I am really enjoying working with the fabric I bought to make it something with beauty and meaning and not just something practical.

I really like aprons, but I like the ones with bodices as well as skirts. There is something special about putting on an apron when you get ready to cook or clean, or to go and pick vegetables from the garden for dinner. I have a lovely babushka doll apron that is my favourite to wear. My mum got it for me at some markets on a holiday once, and it has lovely colours and fabrics. A friend of mine has a lovely hand appliqued apron with birds and dragonflies that she has never used because she likes it too much (it was made for her as a gift). We decided she should use it for a peg apron, as then it will not get very dirty.
I found this picture of a patchworked apron that I would like to try copying, I like the idea of incorporating those skills of beautiful handywork into something practical like an apron, that takes it from being something to keep the dirt off your good clothes, to a thing of beauty in itself.

An apron was the very first thing that I made on a sewing machine with my mum, learning how to hem and to decorate it. It was green with a pattern on it, but I can't remember what. It was a waisted apron, which I probably wouldn't make now, but I was very proud of it at the time.

Aprons speak of working to me, but working with purpose and passion for a house you care for and a family and friends that you love. It speaks to me of not being afraid to get your hands dirty, to make a mess, to be creating. It says I am happy in my home and in my family. It says that doing the little things well are important.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mountains in the Mist

I had an amazing weekend. Met with some guys from the outdoors club at my uni and went down to the Budawangs (a wilderness area with great bushwalking and lots of mountains) which is out of Milton on the NSW south coast, about an hour south of where I live. It was forecast to be wet, which didn't stop us, but did mean that I forked out for a proper hiking rain coat - a goretex. It cost a bit, but really was worth it.

The first night we stayed at the campsite at the carpark for the start of the walk. First thing in the morning packed up wet tents and headed up the mountain. It was wet, misty, foggy but lots of fun. You initially walk up straight towards the castle, a huge mountain with a rocky top which was the aim of our walk but as you get closer, other mountains appear. Walked up a narrow ridge to the base of the cliffline through forests with the ridge dropping off dramatically to either side.

Once the cliffline is reached the vegetation changes and we found ourselves walking through dense scrubby plants walking over small creeks and past breathtaking views. Breaks were short as the weather was not inviting and in fact, the cool weather made it much easier a walk than the previous time I had been there in a 36 degree heat wave. At this stage you do not walk much higher, rather follow the cliffline around the mountain to the otherside, where the mountains really unfold.

We dropped our packs in a cave and went exploring through monolith valley, a protected wilderness area that is full of rock topped mountains, monoliths (huge towering stones) and deep pockets of rainforests. We walked through to the other side and it looked as though we were standing on the edge of the world as the fog was blocking out the mountains which I knew were there, only 400 metres away. We went back through the valley, locating a beatiful natural stone arch and other spots where my breath was once again taken away before we left the valley to cross the last section before the climb back down to where our packs were. Problem. The mist was so thick that we couldn't see the surrounding mountains which are normally a wonderful guide to the meandering path. Shall we say it took a while to get back through that misty, swampy and disconcertingly darkening valley. A few prayers were offered up and at long last the boys listened to me (lol - it's actually completely true) and we made it back.

We reached our campsite just as dark approached, cooked dinner and soon afterwards went to bed.

But the weekend didn't end there, In the morning when I un-zipped the tent there were blue skies. Just a few metres from where out tent was was the lookout from where both the first and second photos were taken. The misty one about 15 minutes before the other with me in it. The same mountain top is visible in both. It really was magical to watch the mist and fog swirling around the mountains with only the rocky peaks sticking out.

After breakfast we packed up and headed back up to the main track from the campsite and then spent the morning climbing the castle, a very famous bushwalk in our area. It requires quite a bit of climbing and scrambling to get to the top, including a few places where ropes are placed, but nowhere you would need a harness. Once you get to the top it's about 500 metres to a kilometre across the top which is covered in dense scrub and lovely circular rock pools with frogs swimming in them across to the opposite side where you get this view.
The big mountain in the front is Byangee walls and it's the same mountain as was in the other pictures but from a very different angle. Looking at both of them gives you a bit of an idea of the height of the mountain we climbed. I think it's around 870 metres up. The pointy mountain in the distance is pidgeon house, another slightly easier bushwalk that is frequently attempted, and has ladders installed to get up to the top so less climbing is involved.

After grabbing some lunch back at our packs, we took a shortcut through a tunnel that involved passing all the packs through the tight spots, and then a long walk back down the mountain. I have spent the majority of the week recovering physically, and thinking about where I will go next.......

Am also working hard on my apron for the swap on Rhonda's Blog (see the link to "Down to Earth" on my blogroll on the side) I am making one for Bren in the US of A and very excited.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pink Balloons

Today I went to the funeral of my friend's mum Lyn. She has been struggling with breast cancer for 11 years and this monday gave up the fight after developing a serious brain tumour. My friend was her full time carer for over a year as her capacity to function gradually decreased, but never her love of life or her family.

Everyone was asked to wear pink, which is the colour that represents breast cancer research. It was lovely as Lyn had planned her own funeral about a year ago, and her biggest instruction was that she wanted it to be fun, no sad funeral for her. My pastor conducted the funeral and decided to talk about the colour pink. He even rang up the cancer council to see why they chose the colour pink - yes it was because pink is a girls colour!!! He gave out pink kit kats and tim tams (both Australian chocolates, which have been made with pink fillings as a fundraiser for breast cancer research) and talked about the artist "pink" She has a song that says If god was a DJ, Life is a dance floor, Love is the rhythm, You are the music. If God is a DJ, Life is a dance floor, You get what you're given, It's all how you use it.

It was a challenging week for me as my mum has just had a mastectomy and has been fighting breast cancer for almost 4 years now. Things look good at the moment, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. We know that over then next 6 months she will undergo some really vigorous chemotherapy and then need to be driven 3 hours each day to receive radio therapy as our city does not have a linear accelerator (we're lucky - people up to 2 hours south of us have to drive 6 hours return for the treatment.)

We each only get one life, and we don't know what life will serve us. We can't control that. The only thing we have control over is ourselves, how we respond. Do we get scared and shy away, give up and lose hope. I choose to live, to believe, to take steps like eating well and exercising that give me life, to try and live with no regrets, never pass up an opportunity to do something new.

My challenge to you is to do something new, it might be a bit scary, but it's likely going to be really fun as well.

Go horseriding,
Learn to dance
Play a new sport
Explore a bushwalk/trek and find a beautiful bushwalk
Make a new friend
Learn to sew
Try a new recipe
Do some volunteer work
Work in a soup kitchen
Offer to babysit a friends children to give them some time alone (or together)
Paint a picture
Go for a swing at the playground
Join a choir
Go see a musical/opera/play etc
Go to a day spa

If you do one of these, or something else, please let me know and tell us about it, and have fun.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Art of Bottling

This week I spent a lovely evening with some new friends bottling pears. It was a lovely night and a great time to get to know them better, enjoying a lovely wholesome dinner with some wine with the sound of bottles clinking in the background. Looking out through the north facing passive solar windows at the darkening bush enjoying the small things.

For those who are interested I use a fowlers vacola system which is an Australian system of bottling fruits and vegetables. It uses a glass bottle designed to fit a rubber ring and corresponding lid on top of the rim. A clip holds the lid and ring in place during the cooking process, and as the bottle cools down a vacuum seal is produced that will keep fruits for about 12 months.

I grew up eating fruits preserved in this way for sweets my entire childhood when we went to my grandparents (my parents didn't give us sweets very often so this was very special) but I never saw my grandmother making them. Last year some friends asked me to came around for a night of bottling and in much the same way they showed me practically how it is done. Shall we say I was hooked.

I bought some bottles at op shops and garage sales and then had the idea of speaking to my grandparents, who had a spare bottling unit and gave it to me complete with thermometer, more jars and stainless steel lids (very exciting as these can be reused, whereas cheaper-tin lids can only be used once or twice.

So when I was catching up for coffee with some new friends and they mentioned they had gotten a unit second hand but were too afraid to use it because they didn't know how, I suggested we get together and have a bottling night. I went to the local wholesale fruit market and asked how much a box would be. one box was 18 kilos which was a bit much for us to do in one night, but they were happy to sell me a half box for the same amount per kilo (about half the advertised price.) It pays to ask and to get to know your shopkeepers. Hopefully once I buy a property I won't need to but fruit to bottle, but until then I still buy fruit, making sure it is on special and in season so that I get the best price for the best quality. Things like pears and quinces and stone fruit are very seasonal and ideal for bottling because you can't buy local all year round.

We spent an hour or so peeling and slicing and packing the fruit into the bottles and then filled them with water, placed the rings and lids and clamps on and stick them in the stovetop unit and left them to simmer away while we cleaned up and then enjoyed our dinner. We had energetically peeled more pears than fit into bottles so we stewed some up in red wine, raw sugar and cinnamon served with double cream for one of the most delicious desserts out.

My bottles don't look quite this good ( and I don't have enough people to eat this many yet) but I'm working on it. And I have some more bottles of pears to open - just whenever I feel like. I have new friends who I'm a lot more friendly with, and that was a blessing.

Love to you all til next time. Hannah

PS, my mother has just had surgery for a mastectomy, hoping this is all that's needed apart from the dreaded chemo and radiotherapy. If you have a faith please hold her up in your prayers.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Today is world blog action day, an idea that was generated to say what if people all over the world could unite today to talk about one of the most important things in the world, the environment.

My journey in relation to the environment has been quite a long one. I grew up in a family that loves the outdoors, we had a very large houseblock by Australian standards for town dwellers and gardened and went bushwalking and camping frequently. My grandparents were all keen gardeners growing up during the war and in hard times and they produced a significant proportion of their food theirselves.

My family was also a Christian family and through my own growing faith and reading of the bible I came to an understanding and conviction of our great responsibility to steward this amazing planet which sustains and provides for us.

During my time at university I became more politically involved and aware, understanding more about how decisions are made and I guess, becoming more sceptical about the political systems. For me coming across the idea of permaculture was a lifechanging experience, as for me, it just made sense. Permaculture is about designing systems that work with nature and with the experience of nature to be sustainable. It involves gardening, house design, community networks and governance if you want to as it is a design system. It was developed initially by two taswegians (Tasmania is the island state just south of the mainland of Australia) and is now studied, practiced and taught all around the world.

For me i love the idea of working with nature and not against it to provide food, shelter and warmth, I love the fact that it is a positive movement, that is rather than protesting about things it doesn't agree with it is about offering alternatives, applying changes step by step. For me I don't have to be an island unto myself, I value relationships and learning off my friends, whether in person over coffee or working together on someone's garden or over canning up seasonal fruit, or over the wonder of the internet.

I am now known as the hippy to my family and friends, but I haven't made these changes in my life because I am afraid, I think fear can only incapacitate, not empower. I am afraid for the future of the world, but I also have hope that there is an alternative to the destructive way we are living. I live this way because I have tried small changes and found my life to be richer and more enjoyable. I get satisfaction from the food I cook and from preserving food, from harvesting food I have grown myself in soil I have helped create through composting my waste. I love creating things that I wear and use with my own hands, and I love the friendships I have made through this way of life. Slowing life down a little is very powerful.

Signing off, Hannah

Friday, October 12, 2007

Spinning Around

I have wanted to learn to spin for a while now, and was in a craft group (part of the permaculture group I was in in Sydney) where others learnt to spin but at the time I was working on some weaving. So when I recently moved back to the South Coast (of NSW) I thought I might look into it some more.
A friend at work told me she learnt to spin at a day course half an hour up the coast, but when I called them they are no longer running the courses. I tried to contact spinners and weavers locally but couldn't get onto one group and another met during the week which was impossible for me due to work commitments.
Then the other day I went to the new exhibition at the local art gallery, and it was an exhibition of works by the spinners and weavers. I met some of the members and found out that the local group meets on a Saturday and the next meeting was the coming Saturday. I went along and met a great bunch of women, a couple of men too, although they weren't spinners. They showed me how to comb a fleece and how to spin and offered to lend me a wheel to practice on until I buy one.
One lady had just had her sheep shorn and sold me a fleece to get started on and off I went to pick it up, however on the way there was a garage sale, and I found an ashford spinning wheel very similar to the one in the photo, (my camera won't hook up properly at the moment) This one only had a single treadle, but is very simple and compact to fit in my small hatchback. I had a go at spinning on it and it was fine so I ended up with my own spinning wheel. I could only justify it because I had learnt to spin that morning and I had told myself I wouldn't buy a wheel until I could spin.
I am really enjoying spinning, either watching the television or talking with friends and it really is quite meditative, and satisfying as you see the bobbin fill with wool. It's a lovely sound as well and the lanolin on the fleece is beautiful and soft on your hands. Next time I go I am going to learn how to ply....and then make something.....more then.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sprouting with Joy

I was introduced into a simple and easy way to make your own sprouts at home by friends in my permaculture group in Sydney and now that it is getting more towards salad weather here in Australia I have gone and bought my supplies from the local health food store and started. I bought chickpeas and mung beans, you can buy these from your local supermarket if you prefer. I then soak them overnight in a bowl of water (lukewarm but not hot) Then they go into the salad spinner. If you don't have one of these I reccomend it, it's great for washing lettuce and fruit before putting it in the fridge as it removes all the water that helps grow mould so they last longer. This isn't the same as mine but it's a similar idea, you have a basket inside a bowl and the basket is spun around like a centrifuge or the spin cycle of a washing machine using a handle on the lid, a push button or a pull cord.

So place you soaked sprouting grains and beans in the lettuce spinner and give it a good spin. Then eery 24 hours minimum, wash the sprouts in fresh water and spin them again. They are ready to eat when you see them starting to....sprout! Sprouts are delicious in sandwiches, salads, blended up with some tahini for a delicious dip, you name it.

Sprouts are highly nutrition, they can be grown locally year round, which means less embodied energy, and they are a great source of protein and vitamin C. A sprout is a seed starting to grow into a vegetable and can be made from the seeds of vegetables, grains, legumes, buckwheat and beans. And they are delicious. I will try and post a photo of them once they are ready to eat in a few days.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Introducing Me!

I thought I should post a photo so you know who I am.

Starting somewhere

This isn't really a start, because it's just an addition to the journey, I hope some people might join and be a part of over time. It's called swirlyness because swirly was already taken, and a good friend and I often wish each other a swirly day. Not a happy day, because most days aren't 100% happy, but swirly for me speaks of something that is joyful no matter what comes your way. It is full of colour and light and hope and life.

I had a swirly weekend. I am housesitting for a friend from work and last week two cats went missing, on the weekend I found one quite paralyzed from a paralysis tick and is now in the animal hospital having treatment. This was stressful and still is as the other one is still missing.

Yet also on the weekend I ran into my sister down town accidentally, I leant to spin and straight afterward happened accross a secondhand spinning wheel at a garage sale at a great price, I had some good friends round for dinner, I had a friend from Sydney call to tell me she was down my way looking at and we caught up for lunch. Altogether a most lovely weekend. Hope yours was too.