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Less Toxic Living: How to Reduce Your Everyday Exposure to Toxic Chemicals – An Introduction for FamiliesThis personal blog is no longer being updated.

Please go see SustainableSuburbia.net.

Or, if you are interested in my book, Less Toxic Living: How to Reduce Your Everyday Exposure to Toxic Chemicals – An Introduction for Families, go to lesstoxicliving.net.

Or, if you were looking to check out some Norwex products, check out my Norwex Independent Sales Consultant (what a mouthful!) site – kirstenmcculloch.norwexbiz.com.au, or contact me about having or attending a party in Canberra or online (within Australia). Here’s the 2014 catalogue.

Being Frugal with Fermented Vegetable Scraps!

I haven’t got very far with culturing vegetables yet (though right now I have cabbage and carrots fermenting, my first batch of water kefir on its second ferment and second batch on its first, and yoghurt – which I’m making every other day right now – just finished and setting in the fridge), but this seems like a great frugal tip:

A jar of shredded cabbage with scattered grated carrot, fermenting in brineOne more tip that some people don’t think of is to save those vegetable peelings and scraps. Carrots, zucchini, parsnips, celery, broccoli and cauliflower stalks and more can be washed well and cultured.

To do so simply set aside your vegetable scraps for a few days in the refrigerator until you have enough. Then wash them really well since they are the roughest parts of the vegetables. Then chop into small chunks and throw into a jar. Make a brine with a water to salt ratio of 1 quart to 3 tablespoons. Pour the brine over and allow to culture. Makes a great multi-colored condiment for your plate.

Like in many aspects of kitchen work, culturing can be done frugally and sustainably with only a small amount of extra effort. Waste not, want not.

From Cultures for Health: Getting Frugal with Cultured Foods.

(PS I haven’t actually decided to revive this blog as such, but this seemed too long to put on the Sustainable Suburbia Facebook Page – which was my original plan – but not quite right for Sustainable Suburbia itself. So here it is. Maybe there’ll be more, maybe there won’t :) )

Where on Earth Have I Been?

For quite a few months – okay, over a year – I haven’t updated this blog, which is because I lost the password, and the password reset wouldn’t work (it kept telling me to fill in a captcha which wasn’t there!). Finally I figured out how to get a new password using an emergency password reset script, and so I am back in. But, now I have to decided whether to revive this blog or not. In the meantime I’ve continued blogging at narrating kayoz (which is mostly my mummy-blog, but has always included some sustainable living posts), as well as the occasional somewhat personal post on the main Sustainable Suburbia site, here. And of course, all my posts on the main site are on my ‘author page’ here.

So for the moment, I think this site will remain here, but dormant. If you’re new here, feel free to explore the archives, or join us on the main the SustainableSuburbia.net page.

Sustainable Living Blogs Linky Lists

Sustainable Suburbia Sustainable Living Blogs List screenshotI’ve been playing with the idea of setting up a Linky List of Sustainable/Simple/Slow/Self-Sufficient Living Blogs* for a while now. I haven’t seen such a list anywhere (although I’ve found short lists here and there that individual bloggers have published). I think the idea of community is essential to the sustainable lifestyle, and while ideally this will include some ‘in real life’ community, online community can be of huge value also.

It’s taken me a while to figure out just how to structure this list. What I’ve done, is created a bunch of Linky Lists with different specialities, all under this one Sustainability theme. SOLE food, homesteading, crafty hand made and so on. I thought about doing it by country or limiting it to Australia (I would also love a list of Australian blogs – maybe I should add an extra one for Southern Hemisphere?), but there are too many awesome Northern Hemisphere blogs to exclude them. I also thought about making it slightly more complicated, where each blog gets its own page which can be categorised as many times as you like (eg, Australian, SOLE food, urban homesteader, sustainable parenting), but that seemed too complicated and much work for me.

So Linky Lists it is.I have added a few blogs already, but if you find yourself there and a) you don’t want to be there or think you should be categorised differently (plenty of blogs will fit into more than one category), or b) you want a different picture or title, then please just add yourself they way you’d like to be, and send me a message and I’ll delete the original listing.

Please do go add yourself if you think your blog could fit into any of the categories below. I would also love it if you would promote (or at least mention) this on your own blog, to get the ball rolling!

Instructions

  • Please choose no more than two, or at most three categories, that you fit most comfortably under (one is also fine). You should only choose three, if you fit comfortably under one of the general topics (urban or out-of-town homesteaders or parent-blogger), but also focus closely on more than one of the specific categories. Some bloggers may fit a little into all these categories, but many have a particular focus to their blog – those are the ones that should be in those particular categories.
  • Type your name (if you like) and blog title into the title field – if you list yourself twice, please use the same title both times.
  • Join the Sustainable Blogs linky listsIn the usual Linky List ettiquete, please create a link back to the list page or the Sustainable Suburbia home page from your blog. Thanks. Feel free to use the button to the right, or just use a text link.
  • I’d also love it if you would promote this list in a post, so we can get as many bloggers represented here as possible.
  • If you have any suggestions for how this could work better, do please get in touch.

Categories

If you have a website that isn’t really a blog, but is a resource that you think should be here, add it under the last list. If there are a lot of them, I’ll start a separate ‘resources’ Linky List.

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*I could add in eco-friendly or green lifestyle, but they don’t start with S now do they?

Liam is teaching me to crochet a baby blanket!

Liam is teaching me to crochet. They have this lovely 12 ply wool at school which I have bought several skeins of in different colours (okay, two different purples, two blues and a cream – I’m nothing if not predictable in my colour choices). They use this same wool in school for all their projects, starting with twisties, finger knitting and French knitting in kindy.

Liam's knitted satchkin patchkin dollThe big wool project of first grade was knitting a satchkin patchkin doll (all in knit), second class was a rainbow hat, using rib and then stocking stitch, and now in third class they are learning to crochet, which Liam has shown a much greater affinity for than knitting. First they made hacky sacks, and a bag to keep them in, and now they’ve moved on to making either a cushion cover or, if they want to, a blanket.

Liam’s chosen to go for the blanket, and that’s what he’s teaching me. It starts basically like a granny square, but then instead of finishing at a small square, then making more squares, then crocheting them altogether, you just keep going around the outside of the square, adding more rows of trebles, until it’s big enough.

Of course, I stuffed mine up already, putting two sets of three trebles somewhere there was only supposed to be one set, but I didn’t notice until I was half way around the next colour so… I just left it. It adds character you know. :) Plus I think I also stuffed up something in the beginning, though I’m not sure what. I’m knitting this to be a gift for a friend’s baby though, so at some point I’ll have to decide if I’ve learned enough that I should finish this one off (maybe it could be a long promised blanket for Mikaela’s teddy), and start again, or if I should just keep going with this one.

I imagine it will depend on just how long it seems to be taking me and how much better I seem to be getting. Liam’s definitely looks better than mine so far. Mine seems a bit lopsided – I think I am mixing up the tension too much and mostly doing it too tight. I don’t think it really matters though, when all is said and done. I think it will still work out and hopefully you’ll have to look close to see that it’s got rather a lot of imperfections!

Here they are at the moment. Liam’s is the bigger one!

two growing granny squares, one in blue and cream, one in red, orange and yellow

Liam's making a rainbow blanket - red and orange is just in the process of giving way to yellow and green, then will come blue and I guess indigo. Mine's just going to be blue and cream, but there are two different blues that I will use. The blue I've started with is actually not as bright as it looks here - that was the flash!

Woohoo! We are now net producers of Electricity!

Finally, only about 2 months after the solar panels were installed on the roof, and 6+ months after we signed the contract, our solar power system is turned on! It’s an 8 kW system, so we will be producing far more than we use. We’re still paying for 100% green energy (to make sure we are effectively buying back our own electricity and not not some from a coal fired power plant!), but we will still make quite a bit of money back, which will then help us pay off the system.

2 rows of solar panels on a tiled roof

Of course, we are also still using gas for heating and our instant gas hot water, which is not a renewable resource, so over time we’ll want to convert more of that over to the solar – well, the heating anyway. Eventually we might get solar hot water, but we certainly won’t be switching back to an electric water heater before then! But for the moment, we need to continue to work on just reducing our electricity consumption so as to pay off these panels as quickly as we can, via the feed-in tarrif.

And of course, even after that, the question remains as to whether we should switch from gas heating to electricity to use “our” solar power, or whether it’s a better option to feed that back into the grid to replace coal based electricity for other people (which is, after all, worse that using gas, though neither is renewable and both do have some level of emissions).

We also got an Effergy wireless electricity monitor with the system (Armada threw it in for free as we are getting such a big system), which will help us easily monitor our electricity usage from moment to moment and day to day. I’m hoping being able to see that – and explaining to the kids how it works too – will help us manage more effective behaviour change as a family, to cut our electricity use right down.

But in the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy watching the metre tick over, showing how muchmore  electricity we are producing than using. That’s going to be fun.

 

Wants, Needs, Chook Tractors and Learning to Budget

I recently made the decision to purchase a chook tractor (mobile chicken run). I got very excited, because we can’t really put our chooks in our veggie garden (aka weed farm) at all now, with risking the dog eating them, because from there they can get up onto the deck. Plus, the kids shut the dog in the veggie garden the other day* and he pushed a whole through the fence that keeps him out of said garden. That’s easily fixed (I hope) but just shows that that fence is not really dog proof, if he’s motivated to get through.

We used to have our chokes in a home made (by my brother though, not us) chook tractor, but it was made out of bits and pieces of timber we’d salvaged which weren’t necessarily all that appropriate for the job, and eventually it fell apart (ie rotted). I’m sure if we really put our minds to it we could make another one – in fact I’ve been wanting to make chook domes a la Linda Woodrow for years – but at the moment we have a few other projects on the go (particularly getting ready for an overseas trip) and we just cannot fit that one in this Spring.

So, I got all excited about the idea of buying one of these  (even though I’d prefer one of these, but they are just a little too pricey). I was a little concerned about finding the money, but then the Mister reminded me about some money we have put aside, that I had somehow completely forgotten about. So I started planning how we could rotate the chooks over the veggie garden – rearranging the beds a little for a better fit – to get rid of all those weeds so we could actually plant seedlings out later in the Spring.

Then I looked up the bank statement of the account we had that money in, and I’m sure you’ve guessed already what I saw. We transferred (most of) that money into our main account months ago to pay school fees. That’s why I’d forgotten it was there – because it wasn’t! It’s amazing how much savings you go through when one of you is on (unpaid) maternity leave for a couple of years.

Now, we do still have enough money in the bank to buy that chicken tractor if we really want it. But we have other expenses coming up, like the ongoing school fees, we’re about to get cavity wall insulation put in, we might need some plumbing work done… So probably we should just leave the money where it is, and do without a chook tractor for another year. And without a vegetable garden for another season if necessary.

I recently introduced a guest post on Sustainable Suburbia by talking about how living within one’s means is an important aspect of sustainable living. Living on credit – or on savings – is just not sustainable for the long-term. I think I need to take some of my own advice. I will soon be negotiating a return to work, as my parental leave entitlement is coming to an end, which could mean

a) I go back two days per week and the mister drops down to three days, which because of the disparity in our salaries (and may I say that I always earned more than him before we had children?), means we’ll likely be worse off than we are now, though I haven’t looked into it properly yet, taking into account tax rates and things, or
b) I go back almost three days and he drops down to three days, we find childcare for Eliane on the shared work day, and I finish in time to pick the kids up from school at 3pm, in which case we should be slightly better off than we are now, financially speaking (as long as we are not using paid childcare), or
c) (if I can’t negotiate hours that work for us) I end up quitting my job altogether and we stick with our current arrangement.

So what all this means is that pretty much regardless of our work situation next year, we need to start budgetting better and sticking to it. Which likely means, no chook tractor just now.

_______________________

*Our yard is divided into three unequal sections – from smallest to largest: veggie garden and paved clothes hanging area (maybe 1/5 of the yard or a bit less) chook run  & access to shed (about 1/3 of the yard); the rest – containing the ‘lawn’, the deck, the swing set and the big boofy Labrado (actually, if you include the deck area in the calculation, this is probably easily 3/4 of the yard in total).

The first Canberra Urban Homesteader’s Group meeting and whatnot

Today I attended the first ever Canberra (& surrounds) Urban Homesteaders meeting, and it was really awesome. We had about nine people attend, interestingly eight women and one man. I’m not sure what they means!

There were a whole lot of different skills and variations on the homesteading theme, with probably the one common feature being the desire, and/or plans, to do more.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat, Photo by 'Just Chaos' (flckr)Conversation veered from chicken house designs to garden plans, discussions about food preservation to hunting feral goats. Or raising cute little Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk. Bee keeping came up to, though none of us currently do it. I learned that you can only harvest native bees’ honey in the warmer climates where there is plenty of pollen for them year ’round – down here in chilly Canberra they can only produce just enough honey to see themselves through the winter. There’s none to spare for hungry humans. Oh, and there were a couple of architects there who design sustainable houses! Maybe one day we will be able to afford to have them design us an extension to our house :)

We each introduced ourselves with a bit of our homesteading story, but typically I didn’t feel I did a very good job, covering our currently defunct vegie garden, but failing to talk at all about our fabulous solar system, our focus on energy efficiency, our somewhat nebulous plans to collect rainwater, or my current sort-of-focus on learning to be just a little bit more handy – though I did finish the rib section of the hat I am knitting for Eliane, while I was there.

A while ago (probably several years in fact), Rhonda from Down to Earth had a meme going asking people to write a little about where they are on their journey. I never got around to it, but maybe I will do it now!

In other news, we still have not go our solar system turned on, but supposedly the inspection will happen before the end of this month, and then we will finally be self-sufficient in electricity at least!

The Solar Panels Go On!

First the brackets:

installing the first brackets

Don’t be fooled by the blue(ish) sky. It was windy and with occasional sprinkles of rain, and made it to 8.7 degrees C that day. When they started at 7am it was 4.8 degrees.

brackets all the way along the roof, but no panels on yet

A few of the panels waiting to go on:

Solar Panels

The first row goes up – before the wind picked up and they had to take a break:

the first row of panels going on

Rugged up to watch:

two kids rugged up in jackets and beanies and standing on chairs to be able to see

All the panels are on! Now we just need to get ACTPLA to approve it so we can turn them on…

42 solar panels on the roof

We ended up getting a pretty big system, 42 panels in all. I’ll talk about how we decided on it in a different post. For now, I am pretty pleased each time I come home and see those panels on the roof. But I’ll be even more pleased when they are actually doing something! Edited to add: Here’s why we decided on such a big system.

Mindfulness and simple living, one small step at a time

Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unravelling, it’s the unravelling
And it undoes all the joy that could be.

Joni Mitchell is one of my all time favourite singers, and my favourite Joni album is Blue. That quote is from the first song, ‘All I want’. The song is about a love affair, but I was singing it as I cleaned my kitchen yesterday and thought how truly it applies to living a sustainable lifestyle.

It’s hard to reduce consumption when you are always seeing what other people have and wishing for it. It’s hard to be happy with your average size, west facing, three bedroom home when you are busy envying your mother’s lovely sunny north facing living areas, or your friend’s big north facing, fruit tree filled back yard with all its great nooks for kids, or another friend’s four bedroom home with large separate living areas and perhaps a study.

And importantly, if you are busy envying your friends, or even just lusting after the lovely homes you see (but can’t afford) in the real estate pages, it’s hard to busy yourself making the most of what you have.

I’m currently reading Buddhism for mothers of young children by Sarah Napthali, dipping into it here and there when I have a few moments. The idea of existing in the moment ties in well for me with the idea of learning to be happy with what you have and where you are. How can you live in the moment if you are constantly longing for more and better? Or to be more and better?

square baby bean worn by Eliane

Eliane modelling my first attempt at knitting a beany.

But by the same token, it’s tricky to appreciate the moment if you are constantly comparing your eco/sustainability/simple lifestyle creds with your friends or blogging mentors too (who me? would I do that?). Napthali is big on being kind to yourself. Living mindfully doesn’t mean beating yourself up everytime you notice your thoughts straying to how much happier you would be if only you had that extra bedroom, or how much better your life would be if only you could declutter your house a little quicker. It means noticing those thoughts and then moving on.

Rhonda Jean from Down to Earth says there are no simple living police checking to see how well you are doing, to take things one step at a time, just do something. Make a start. Napthali has a similar attitude to living mindfully.

I am taking simple living, living mindfully and decluttering each one tiny step at a time. When I covert my friend’s house, I notice my desire and move on. When I feel overwhelmed by the extent of the clutter, I pick up one piece of paper and file or recycle it, or put one toy back on the shelf or into the Vinnie’s box, which sits by the front door. At least, that’s my aim. Tonight I really wanted to start on a new square beanie for Eliane, since the one I knitted last year is really a bit small, but I ran out of time. So I have wound off a ball of wool to be ready to start tomorrow. One small step at a time.

 

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