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.