Monthly Archives: January 2013

on electricity


I did get the children back home on Saturday night, thankfully, as the waters steadily rose through the night and by Sunday morning, when my neighbour and I waded through several mildly coursing creeks, we found that our road into the valley had started to resemble a 30 m wide raging river.

So Sunday was a bit of an adventure for the kids, and we gossiped and drank milo at our neighbours’ house.  But by 4 pm, our ‘valley lock-in’ turned into a survivalist crash course.  No power means no water, as I am not on town water, and need the pump to get water through the taps.

For meals I toasted bread in the frypan, boiled water for tea (which I desired every 10 minutes for some reason), and made a lot of rice.  Normally I have a stockpile of UHT milk, but had none, and no fresh milk either.  Sunday I had planned to buy food….  We had no fresh fruit and minimal veg.

For entertainment the kids drove me mental with their constant fighting made puppet shows, played spotlight in the lounge, and tidied their bedrooms :).  In the evenings we told ghost stories by torchlight, and R1 was especially good at throwing menacing shadows across the ceiling.

On Monday they started to pong, so I washed their bodies and hair in the sandpit.  I was quite angry with R2 when he dumped sand in the water I was going to wash R1’s hair with, but I suppose he didn’t realise the stresses I was under to provide the barest necessities.

I am pretty sure that we could have had a lovely few days inside with no power, but trying to source water was my biggest worry.  I put a water filter jug out in the rain which provided drinking water for some time, until the damn sun came out…  I had buckets filled with water in the bathroom which we used for hand washing, then toilet flushing.  I collected water from empty planters to boil for washing the dishes.  Today was a gloriously hot sunny day which dried out all the mould which had already started to form, but oh my god I was thirsty.  Thankfully we bathed in the neighbours’ swimming pool, which made all the difference.

I learned some very valuable lessons, and by the time of next year’s floods, I will have installed a tap in the side of my water tank, or a separate water tank for this purpose, and have a generator for the fridge.

But I think I will also leave the kids on the outside with their father, if possible.  It entered my mind that of course, this would be the time of all times that the kids would probably need medical attention, and there was just no way of reaching the outside world, apart from a very long and arduous hike over the hill.  At least down in the suburbs, while they may not have power, they have amenities, roads they can journey along, people they can visit, supermarkets they can shop in, and water that actually comes out of taps.

After the power came back on tonight, my first comment was, ‘what do we do with it?’.  It had only been 48 hours but to all of us in the valley it had seemed like a marathon of back-to-back survivor episodes. I felt an affinity with ‘olden days’ women who made do and got on with the business of making our children stink less.  I soon got over that, though, and embraced my new old life again.


in an octopus’ garden



There are more hills beyond these, which on a clear day are quite visible.  Today we are under water.  For some reason you can’t see the thick sheets of vertical rain in these pics – but I also took them when the rain had eased a little.

Today is one year to the day when I planted my first food plant.  And I have not looked back.  At first, I madly planted everything that took my fancy, but now I have learned a lot and lost a lot (of seedlings), and have planned out my vegetable garden for this year.  And that plan stated, Australia Day – the beds are to be built.

So out I went in the rain, without a raincoat which just made me too sweaty, knee high socks and my gumboots.  It felt so good to be gardening again, as lately I haven’t been able to venture outside due to the extreme heat.  In the rain, I got so much done.  Until I started slipping over in the mud puddles all over the ground.


Did I mention there was a lot of rain?

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The cows didn’t seem to mind getting their hair/fur wet.  But I was thankful to strip off my sopping clothes and have a hot shower (the last of the hot water though until the electric water heater kicks in).


Then I made mango relish and started knitting a new dishcloth on the snuggle couch.  Quite possibly the most perfect Australia Day ever…

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Until the neighbours rang to say that in a few hours the creek will be up over the only road into the valley and 4 tornadoes will come through overnight.  So out into the rain again I went, to secure the guinea pigs on the deck, and all loose items in the shed.  Then I tried to get the kids home and secure, but that is a lot more difficult as their father doesn’t want to leave his Australia Day party early, despite the prospects of my valley being flooded in for the next 3 or 4 days.



If I cannot keep my 6 year old away from alcohol, then I have to refocus on what I can do, to ensure that the world my children live in is as sustainable and healthy as possible.

So I am hitting the refresh button today, and refuse to give way to anger and loathing.

In the last 12 months I have been continually refreshing, resetting and revising our lifestyle choices.  This has mostly been reactive, as a response to a new author or blogger I have discovered.  Of course, credit where credit is due.  It was Rhonda’s blog http://down—to— which started me on this path, and her ethos is that simplifying your life is a step-by-step process.

Here are the steps I have already walked this past year:

  • cut out kitchen sponges and wipes and knitted my own dishcloths
  • cut out chemical cleaners and made my own laundry detergent
  • eliminated paper towels
  • avoided takeaway coffee
  • reduced packaging of bought goods, especially plastic bottles
  • refused plastic bags
  • reduced indiscriminate hobby spending drastically
  • reduced meat consumption, and only organic when we do eat red meat once a week
  • stopped flushing the toilet and use buckets of bath water instead
  • baked every loaf of bread since June

But looking into the next year, I am making a list of other conscious steps I want to make towards a simpler, greener, cleaner, freer life.

These include ridding our home of tupperware / plastic containers; cling wrap; canned food and petroleum-based candles.  We will eat more solely vegetarian-based meals – this on request from R1 who is starting to realise where meat comes from.  Any meat we do eat will come from animals who have lived in our valley.  We will also cut down on any non-essential travel, and particularly air travel.  I feel so guilty and flying 4000 kms for a long weekend a few weeks ago. The last time. I am also going to go one better than the home made laundry powder which has borax in it, and will buy some soap nuts, which can also double as head lice remover – school goes back next week!!

I still feel very guilty about small habits which I can’t shake, one of which is my Nespresso coffee machine with its dependency on capsules bought in a store which makes my skin crawl with its ostentatiousness, a cathedral to consumerism.  But today while stocking up my habit, I found out that I can recycle the capsules at the store and the aluminium will be melted down.

So tick, I have solved one tiny dilemma today. And also made an inroad on my first step for 2013 – I bought metal and BPA-free tupperware for the kids’ lunch boxes (yes more brand new spending, but will hopefully last a school lifetime).




I need to vent today, so please excuse any ensuing ramble.

I am not a parent any more, but a ‘co-parent’.  What this means is that nobody is parenting my children, as I cannot make any long-term decisions regarding their welfare without his acquiescence / veto.  And I cannot talk to the man.

I have just found out that their other ‘co-parent’ is moving into a [$2.9 million] share house with 2 mates, and he has the children almost half the time.  I may be overprotective, but I am not happy with this arrangement, not just for the oh my god what could happen overtones, but for what this will mean in terms of any boundary setting such as ‘bed-times’, if there are grown men who work in the mining industry (please ignore overgeneralisations) playing loud music, drinking beer, etc, on weekends.

I also found out that on the children’s recent holiday with their ‘co-parent’ to the co-parent’s parents’ house, one of the grandparents mixed an inch of white wine into my (6 year old) daughter’s juice and didn’t tell her until afterwards.


And I can’t do a thing about it legally.  As the orders he won against me state that he has 100% decision-making over their daily lives while they are in his “care”.

Yet I cannot exercise  my duty of care for my children which I cannot switch on and off according to ‘access days’ and my heart is breaking.

Sunday log


This was the last week of our summer holidays, as I head back to the office and R1 to vacation care and R2 to his kindy/day care tomorrow.  We had visitors from home, my dad and my teenage half-brother whom the kids adore.  It was also a bloody hot week.

Steps forward

1. Escaping to the air conditioned library, I checked out 4 books which seem to have a theme…


I soaked them up immediately, reading the first chapter of each and then jumping between books for days.  I have finished No Impact Man and 21st Century Smallholder, but will definitely have to read the latter a few more times.  Reading No Impact Man and seeing the type of lifestyle he led before embarking on his year long experiment at living without environmental impact, I realise that I am already some way along my journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

2. I made jam.  Pretty much, in a nutshell, that is a massive leap forward.  Jam making was the one insurmountable. For nearly a year I read countless books and blogposts regarding jam making, but until today when the kids baulked at the plums from the market because they were too tart, I did not have the courage.  God knows why, because the recipe for plum jam was plums, sugar and water.

So utilising all of my acquired knowledge I jumped in head first.

It seemed like I was doing it right and wrong at the same time.

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I sterilised all of my implements and put a saucer in the freezer for the wrinkle test.  I measured out my ingredients.  (To give you an idea of how huge a leap forward this was for me – I am a grown woman and yet have never ever weighed out ingredients for a recipe before. Truly.) A minute before I had to start the rolling boil the plums were still firm so I mashed them despite the recipe not calling for this action. I conducted the wrinkle test multiple times, beyond the time specified for maximum rolling boil, but the jam still swam on the saucer.

No matter, I poured the runny jam into jars and took photos because I was just so damn proud of myself.IMG_1103

Later I realised I had halved the plums and sugar quantities but not the water.  Oh well, next time.  Because there is definitely going to be a next time. It is so easy!!  (Unless you get it wrong 🙂 )

Step back.

1. This one is dad-related.  He wanted to take the kids shopping for their Christmas gifts, so I met him at a local mega shopping centre.  I hadn’t been there for so long and I seriously had a visceral reaction to it.  My legs hurt after walking around one shop and I realised I was no longer ‘shopping centre fit’ capable of walking all 3 levels for 6 hours at a time.  This was the good part.  Unfortunately, R2 hadn’t lost the art of consumption, and became attached to all sorts of flame wielding plastic men.  I caved in and said he could have them after we couldn’t find a single wooden toy by the third toy shop.

He played with them for all of three minutes before declaring he wanted to collect the ‘whole set’.  My heart broke to see him back on the ‘I want’ merry go round, when we were doing so well off it.

R1 only wanted school shoes, white volleys, as her Christmas present, no matter how much my dad tried to talk her out of it.  But this made me think – am I pushing an unachievable and demoralising asceticism on my children in my own egoistic pursuit of a certain kind of lifestyle?

While these Sunday logs measure my slow incremental weekly progress, my dad’s visit showed just how much my way of living has changed in less than a year.  There were stark contrasts between what we both felt were ‘normal’.  He double plastic bagged every little thing he bought and then ripped the bags open so they were unusable.  He bought a slab of 500ml water bottles which he chilled in the fridge, creating excessive rubbish and consuming energy, when I had a jug of filtered water for drinking.  His first option was buying takeaway when I preferred to use what I had at home.  His suggestion that I poach eggs in a plastic container in the microwave (I felt physically ill at the thought of this).  His inability to be inside a warm home without air conditioning.  Litres of soft drink in the fridge.  Assumptions that I hang out at the shopping centre with the kids.

These all horrified me.  Yet I hadn’t really noticed myself changing so much.

magic happens


I was reading a blogpost by Tanya at Suburban Jubilee last night who has created a fairy kingdom in her garden for her nephew and asked if others are doing the same.

For R1’s birthday last year I bought her a set of 5 fairy toadstools which I had desired ever since seeing them at a local market near my mother’s, but which we didn’t have a garden for until now.  When R1 created this garden, ‘suddenly’ 2 fairies took up residence – Lilly and Lucy.


While eschewing fairy gardens as being too ‘girly’, R2 was feeling left out. So the kids created a little garden for male fairy Max and his fairy horses on the other side of the below ground tank.  Being a bloke, Max clearly needed his own man fairy space.  The fairy horse watering hole was circled by stones painted with white paint mixed with glitter.


In these two spaces, the kids organise the furniture, decorate the scenery, dig swimming pools and hang up ‘tyre swings’.  Fairies are high maintenance creatures!

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Just ask the girls from next door…. When these gardens were first created, they would have to come over every day after school, while mine were still at after school care, to deposit messages from the fairies and sprinkle around a few flower petals, in order for R1 to elatedly cry out that the fairies have been to visit.  When the girls started to tire of this, R1’s daily expeditions out the back resulted in cries of ‘the fairies hate me, they don’t come any more’.

Conveniently, the fairies returned with a note to say they were heading off on summer vacation for a while.  A slight reprieve for the girls.  Until 2 days ago, when R1 happened upon a torn note amongst her fairy toadstools.  Then the welcome wagon came out and signs were painted.


And I got in on the perpetuation of the magic as well – R2 got to see the fairies flitting about the garden courtesy of the sunlight glinting off my watch.

This is a beautiful age, when they truly believe.  But it takes a bit of work in keeping the magic alive, a support network with a common purpose in keeping the belief going.

It is not helped by random external intrusions from the disbelieving world such as my father stating facetiously to R1 in response to a childlike query: ‘And I suppose you still believe in the tooth fairy as well…’.  Gasp. Horror.  The web of wonder can disintegrate in moments.

this is Australia…


There was no lightning cracking over these cane fields last weekend, but this was a part of Australia I had never been to before.

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I was driven around by my dad who had been married to a sugar cane farmer’s daughter for 10 years.  I got the ‘industry’ tour, with all of the ins and outs of sugar processing pointed out to me.

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I learned new terminology like ‘Burdekin Snow’ and ‘Burdekin Trash’: the ash from the burning off and the debris from cane respectively.  In fact, the Burdekin is central to transport, life and livelihood here.  This is the Burdekin bridge and the Burdekin River which irrigates the fields.

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I met third and fourth generation sugar cane farmers, whose origins were Greek, Italian and Spanish.

One of the most interesting people I met, though, was a woman who worked with government in groundwater, and her views on irrigation, separation of land and water titles and metering were thought provoking.  Instead of working against nature, she argued, farmers need to learn to work with it.  As an outsider, I agreed with her position.  But I don’t think she has an easy job convincing people who have done things to the land their way for generations.  There was a lot of talk of ‘spraying’, ie pesticides.  I know industry and home production are two very different kettles, but I fear the increasing use of pesticides as humans pursue greater domination over the environment in the face of crashing global sugar prices.

Water nearby was also valued for fishing and swimming. And quite a welcome view after driving through cane field after cane field after cane field.

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I am actually quite tall!!


2 years on


Two years ago, and a bit, my house looked like this after the flood waters had started receding.



This photo was taken from my top floor bathroom looking down into the backyard and the top of my clothesline.

I didn’t take these photos as I had been home with the kids for my 2 weeks’ holiday.  We lost everything on the ground floor which was mostly kids’ toys, a couch, fridge, and all my stuff in storage.  Upstairs, volunteers had broken in and removed most of the small things, clothing, books, rugs, etc, and some furniture.

After the floods had completely receded they returned most of this, some of it broken, and I came home to a bonfire heap of my worldly possessions in the middle of my lounge room floor.  I admit to spending part of that first day rocking in the foetal position.  But mostly, I got stuck into it.

It was just stuff.  Stuff that I had fretted and worried about for a week over on the other side of the country.  Then fretted a little more when I heard about the volunteers and the idea of, you know, strangers handling my things.

Now I think it may have been post-traumatic stress, but at the time, I thought I had experienced catharsis.  The floods had swept through the house and taken the decision making from me in terms of letting go of excess stuff in my life.  I threw out the broken and water stained, and then asked myself the question of every item left over, whether I would have cared if it had gone in the flood as well.

This resulted in a week of journeys back and forth to the Vinnies, removing the excess from my life.

The upstairs couch had only been water stained but I decided we didn’t need one and that bean bags on the floor would suffice.  So I sold it on ebay for 99c.

Two years on, and you wouldn’t know it.  I have stuff again.  Granted, not furniture, as I am still very slowly buying piece by piece.

I wish I could have held onto some of the insights, though, into how stuff can own me, and cause stress and unhappiness.

day of[f] work


I am perilously close to getting used to not going to work.

Yesterday I went to the office with my sore back, but left early to go to an acupuncturist.  Today I stayed at home, as the pain was quite debilitating and the long walk across town from the train station to my office building crippled me yesterday.  But today I did work and achieved a lot, in between sessions of lying flat on my back on the couch (working on healing).

I spent the morning drafting and redrafting my planting schedule for my new vege beds, including a monthly calendar of activities.


In the afternoon, I researched my family tree in the lead up to a mini family reunion this weekend.  I used the Births, Deaths and Marriages indexes and Trove newspapers to come up with this.


I finished off the day with some weeding at dusk.

A full day of productive and immensely satisfying work.  Unlike going to the same workplace day after day.

Not that there is anything wrong with my current job – in fact there are parts I feel are very meaningful and interesting, vastly unlike my last job with a consulting company where I was treated like an automaton, unable and not allowed to have feelings, opinions, ‘issues’, hormones, interests, commitments, responsibilities.  Things I have in bucketloads.  There, I was explicitly told by manager to leave the office building one time that I was crying.  I was also told that work was my number one priority and I had to work my family life around that (I am a single mother!!!).  That was the day I applied for my current job.

An indication of how traumatised I had been by the previous workplace – in my second week at my new job I had an unpleasant event happen in my life, and I was asked by my supervisor if I was going to be alright.  My immediate response? Yes, I promise I won’t let it affect my performance.  She repeated, no, are you going to be alright?  I had forgotten how to be treated like a human being.

So when my manager yesterday showed concern and empathy regarding my back and said to take as much time off as I need to recuperate, then I know I am in a good place.  And yet……the idea of spending most of my waking life away from my home where the real work needs to be done is grinding and weighing me down.

Sunday log


Really really hard to remember the whole week.  I do recall going back to work, but it still seems a little hazy.  So this week’s log is pretty much all about today.

Steps forward.

1. Due to my forced down time this weekend with a still very sore lower back, I managed to get through some creative projects which have been hanging around for…quite a while…  I finally shaped the soap which has been ‘curing’ on my washing machine since October.  It was my first attempt at making soap, one lot with dried sage, the other with cinnamon and oat.  They didn’t quite work out so I think I may have subconsciously abandoned them, until now.  The shavings will make a great liquid hand wash…when I get around to it.  I also finished the dishcloth (Rhonda’s pattern) I began knitting for my Auntie’s Christmas present a month ago.  It is just as well, as I am flying up to see her on Friday.


2. Besides knitting, I also got in a lot of reading today.  I am re-reading Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Free.  When I first read this book 7 years ago, freedom meant something very very different.  Back then, I needed to be free of the ex-husband.  I have achieved that.  Well in terms of my physical location anyway.  I can trace the origins of my desire for a vege garden back to this book, but it never seemed important or vaguely practicable, until now.  Now my vege garden is the centre of my universe (and the kids).  The best part of picking up this book this week is realising that I am on track to freedom.  I have already started to implement many of Tom’s pieces of advice for achieving freedom, such as not watching tv, not having a credit card or direct debit, using minimal technology and appliances, embracing pain and suffering, and leaving the kids alone to do their own thing.  Next on the list will be learning to play the ukelele, stop voting, and work less and play more.

Step back.

1.  I honestly can’t think of a single step backward this week.  Even having the kids away on holidays, which I thought would be a bad/sad thing, has a silver lining.  I get to eat dark chocolate rum ‘n’ raisin Tim Tams and drink cider before cooking dinner.  Out in the open.  I love being able to ‘out’ my secret mummy behaviour.