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!

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).

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.


Finding a balance

I’ve just been reading a bunch of interlinked year old posts about the sustainability of sustainable living, the difference between ‘sustainable’ and ‘simple’, and finding a point of balance. 

They’ve filled me with a sense of hope and determination, while drawing a resounding ‘yes!’ from my soul. And they appeared to resonate with many others too, based on the numerous comments. 

The thing is, I often feel quite inadequate and hopeless when I read the blogs of the really accomplished sustainable/simple/Eco lifestylers. I know that is never their intention, and I also know it is often the case when reading about people who’ve progressed a long way down a path you are just beginning to tread. And, I do find them inspirational too. 

I think perhaps part of my trouble is that I’m not just beginning, surely I’ve been on this path for years. There was a time, for instance, when we grew far more of our own food & bought largely organic. But then we had children, both switched to part time work, and suddenly felt we couldn’t afford so much organic produce any more. And, didn’t have the same amount of time to put into the garden, especially in those years when we’ve had babies or toddlers – this past season has been a disaster in the vegetable garden! Recently I’ve made a commitment to buy almost exclusively organic meat, and at the very minimum free range (where that is an issue) and to go back to eating more vegetarian meals. But, we are about to take a serious look at our budget, because over the past year of me not working we’ve used up all our savings. So what will give?

I think part of the struggle for me too is the feeling of wanting to do everything now, but realising we need to take things step by step, and perhaps plan out some of those steps. That way it can feel okay that we’re not doing everything yet, without fearing that we will never get there. Though in truth we probably will never get there, if ‘there’ is some sort of perfect fulfillment of everything that could be meant be sustainable living. 

There’s nothing wrong with striving towards perfection of course, unless it makes everything seem so hard that you give up. Perfection is not sustainable. 

So what are all the aspects of a sustainable lifestyle that I am striving towards, if ever so slightly? Or that I would at least like to be striving towards?

  • being carbon neutral – lots of the points below really come into this, but it’s worth identifying on it’s own, while it is certainly not the be all and end all of sustainability.  
  • Shopping ethically; supporting only sustainable practices with my dollars – now this could mean anything from not buying coffee produced with the assistance of child labour, not buying clothes made in sweatshops, to buying only free range chicken or organic produce. None of these things do I do perfectly.
  • Reducing my waste buy buying less rubbish (including packaging), and by reusing or recycling whatever I can.
  • Using recycled paper products whenever possible, eg recycled toilet paper.
  • reducing my addiction to having “stuff”.  Part of the idea of decluttering is learning to live with less stuff, while allowing some of that stuff to find a useful life somewhere else. (Another part is that having less clutter seems like it would make life easier and more pleasant, especially in a household as un-keen on housework as this one!).
  • Eating locally gown food, weather it be in my garden or from a local farm.

There are probably more points than that, but this post as been languishing in draft form for at least a couple of weeks, so it’s high time I just hit publish and put it out there. 

These are the posts that started me off:

Update by notes

I don’t seem to have time for anything lately, but here are a few notes of where we are at:

  • We’ve signed a contract to get $28,000 worth of solar panels, ie about an 8kw system. This has involved extending out mortgage, but we figure we’ll put all the income earned by them back onto the mortgage and have the extension paid off in around 12 years, after which it will earn us a few hundred a month, and in the mean time, it’s contributing green energy to the grid, so all is good.
  • My decluttering is coming along slowly. I have been taking a few bags of stuff (clothes, books, toys) to Vinnies most weeks, not to mention all the old magazines I’ve recycled, that weren’t even worth donating to anyone (why was I keeping them?) but I can see that it is going to take me a Really Long Time, to get through the whole house. So far I haven’t been very systematic about it, which I’m realising I probably need to be, if only to keep my motivation up.
  • Our vegetable garden has been a complete and utter failure this season, due to absolute neglect combined with lots of rain – it is over run with thigh high weeds. Though the parsley is still doing well in amongst it. I think we need to build a chook dome and put the chooks in there for the winter, but that’s just one more thing to try to fit in to our lives.
  • Speaking of chooks, the two new ones we bought towards the end of last year are now laying, and we are getting lots and lots of eggs. Three laying hens is just right though – we are using up the eggs pretty effectively, but never quite run out. It’s lovely that some part of our backyard pantry is doing okay!

Motivation to declutter

Following a link from Little Eco Footprints, I’ve just found Small Notebook: for a simple home, and surfed to a great post on her Inspiration to Declutter most of which I could almost have written myself, but the first point is for me the money shot (so to speak):

1.  A sense of calm. When a home is crowded with stuff, it goes beyond cozy and starts to look messy.  If my home is a mess then I feel overwhelmed and stressed.  It’s also incredibly distracting from the people who I really want to be giving my attention to.

Yes, that is just how I feel. Why have I lived like this for so long?

I’m not kidding myself, decluttering this house is going to be a long process, and one that I will struggle with along the way, particularly because it seems contrary not just to my nature but to the rest of the family’s as well. A friend told me recently that her friend said it took her eight years to truly declutter her house.

Eight years! Well, I’m sad to say that I could easily believe that it will take us that long too. On the upside, as the years move on the children will be older and we’ll have more time. 😉 However, even if we don’t get the house completely decluttered in 2011 – or ever – I’m determined to keep at it, and I feel sure that however much we do manage, each piece of clutter that leaves the house will make us feel lighter, calmer, and help motivate us to continue.

And now I am off to sort through the kitchen drawer!

“Declutter” is the word

My word for 2011 is declutter. I thought about simplify, sustainability, and even Reduce – far more elegant than declutter, don’t you think? But I settled on declutter because that’s what we really need to do.

Decluttering has been on my agenda for a couple of years, but has only been a passing fancy from time to time. A bunch of clothes given to Vinnies now and again, but no real impact made on the house.

And to me this is a sustainable lifestyle issue, because it is also about living simply, about reducing – reducing the amount of stuff we bring into the house, and reducing the amount of stuff we hold onto that maybe someone else could be using.

It’s also about simplifying the process of keeping a tidy house (something we are absolutely hopeless at), and it’s also about providing a clean, ordered environment for my kids, where they can play and create and work without feeling overwhelmed by the clutter, the choices, the mess. In Steiner terms it’s important to provide a beautiful environment for young children, and that’s hard to do when there is clutter everywhere.

I’ve been a packrat my whole life, and also chronically lazy when it comes to house work. I don’t like doing it, and more, I don’t like wasting time on it. Time is precious and I simply don’t have enough of it to be wasting it on maintaining all this clutter. And I am starting to feel that the clutter is making it hard to think clearly and creatively. And if it’s hard for me, what’s it teaching my children?

On top of all that, I’d like to pass on better habits to my children than I have developed myself. Now, I’m not kidding myself – forcing a massive decluttering could just turn them into packrats. My mother always kept a tidy house (though not excessively so), and as a child I sort of thought that being tidy was something you simply grew into when you grew up. Evidentally not. But anyway, at the moment I am quite sure I am teaching them bad habits, so I might as well at least try to model good ones, and if they catch on, so much the better. If not, well, nothing lost.

2011 is the year of decluttering. Wish me luck.

Simply decluttering January

Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life

Following a link from Sustainable Eats’ Simple Lives Thursday meme (from last week) to Dr. Laura’s Adventures I just discovered an ebook I am going to buy and read Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life. The first 12 pages are available free and just reading those has re-inspired me to work on our clutter. I’d add it to  my 2011 reading list there on the right but it’s not on Amazon and I don’t have time to create that list by hand right now.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for a truly minimalist life, but the line “I enjoy clean, tidy, uncluttered rooms… but don’t like to clean” is so true for me. I really am sick of living in a cluttered, messy environment where we can’t find the things we want, but on the other hand, I really don’t see us getting better at staying tidy with the amount of stuff we’ve got.

I think part of the secret is having a place for everything (which we don’t have), but the other part is just having less of everthing, to need a place for.

Two years ago I undertook to focus on decluttering in January…  And, I did do some decluttering, but no where near enough. So it’s time to try again. I declare January 2011 decluttering month. And I plan to start with my wardrobe. I’m not back to my pre-pregnancy weight yet (10 months on!), but I’m getting there, and I’m never planning to be pregnant again, so I can begin with all the clothes that are too big for me now.

But I also plan to get rid of a whole lot of clothes I’ve been hanging on to that I *might* want to wear again one day, but somehow didn’t between the last two pregnancies. With very few exceptions (my wedding outfit is the only one that comes to mind) I figure if I didn’t wear it between the last two pregnancies then it is probably years out of date and has to go!

Second up will be our overloaded filing cabinet. Perhaps we’d file things more quickly if we could fit them in there without a struggle.

First things first though, which is to empty the walk-in-robe of the boxes of kids clothes (too big for the Ms Ten Months too small for Ms Four), which are sitting in there because the studio/spareroom/storeroom got flooded in the horrid rainstorms early this month. It’s time to get organised!

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