from zebras to aardvarks

It would be hard to even have a tiny little presence on the blogosphere and not be aware of the plethora of themed blog posting programmes around.  The most common seems to be the A to Z.  The idea is that you blog each day about a subject (about which presumably you know a little) beginning with A and then B and then C and so on.

For the most part I’m not a great fan of these because they have a terrible tendency to generate blogs about obscure and relatively uninteresting topics in which neither the writer nor the reader have a great interest.

However, it occurred to me that our decluttering journey has plateaued a little.  We have been through every room and every outbuilding.  To be honest, I think we need to go through them all again, and no doubt we will in a couple of months.  But we need a challenge to keep us on board.

Having said that we have gone from this,

 

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to this.

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And that doesn’t even include the now empty and immaculate outbuildings 🙂

 

I hate to follow a trend, I like to be contrary.  So I thought I would take the A to Z challenge and turn it on it’s head.  I aim to declutter at least one item a day (and hopefully considerably more) starting with an item beginning with Z and 26 days later an item beginning with A.  I don’t know if I even own anything that begins with Z, but I will have to find it and let it go.

Fear not, gentle reader.  I will not post every day for the next 26 days on my progress.  I will give you an update every now and then, and FB friends will be subjected to a daily post.  In the meantime I have just packed up a van in the pouring rain to take stuff to the auctioneer.  By the time the van was full the rain stopped and my lunch was yet another burnt offering to the Aga god.  Only we about one more van load to go and then we are really down to the small fry.

Now to find something beginning with Z.

 

from haybox to wonderbag

Those of you old enough to remember the three day week and the oil crisis will remember sudden and unexpected power cuts and half cooked dinners.  My mother overcame this by making a haybox.  To be fair rather than using hay she used a sturdy wooden box and a selection of cushions.  The idea was that you brought the meal (usually, but not always, a soup or casserole) to the boil, popped it in the box, surrounded on all sides, top and bottom by cushions and left it to cook.

Fast forward some 15 years and I went out to work as a health education volunteer in Umtata in the Transkei with Project Trust.     It was an amazing experience, I hope as much for the people we worked with as it was for us, the volunteers.  As a side line if you are or know somebody who is looking for a volunteering experience in the developing world PT is not only one of the oldest, but also one of the best in the business.  They are not, unlike many, in it to make money.  They have been going since 1967 and have sent over 6000 carefully selected volunteers overseas.  But I digress.

One of the issues faced in the Transkei was the lack of fuel.  We built a simple haybox (this time using hay!) and with our trusty three legged potiji

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we went out to show people how to save on fuel and still have a hot meal at the end of the day.  We used it ourselves and it failed us only once, a particularly stringy goat at Sitebe.

Recently I came across this.

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My newly arrived Wonderbag.   Essentially it works in exactly the same way as my mother’s cushion box and our haybox.  But there are three fundamental differences:

  • For every Wonderbag purchased another bag is donated to a family in Africa.
  • The Shwe-Shwe bags are made by women in South Africa creating jobs and income.
  • The World Wildlife bags generate a donation to WWF for every bag purchased

It’s also great for:

  • Camping
  • Picnics
  • Students
  • Bulk cooking
  • Working families – cheaper than the slow cooker and no worries about leaving the slow cooker on whilst you are out.

If you are still unsure have a look at this.    What are you waiting for?

creeping out of the corner

Way back here I rather piously blogged about decluttering my wardrobe.  Then here I made an inventory of all my clothes.  Then I went and hid in the corner for a while and now I am back on the wagon.

For most of us decluttering is an ongoing process.  Most of us have accumulated so much stuff that it just cannot be excised in a flash.  There is also a psychological and emotional element.  Much as we want to let go it is hard, or at least it is at first.  Believe me, it becomes much, much easier with time.

For charity

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For Ebay

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This is the latest wardrobe cull.  Six  months ago I could never have believed I would be getting rid of these items, but I have learned that I don’t wear them.  I don’t wear them because I don’t know they are there, I don’t wear them because either they don’t feel right, or my lifestyle no longer needs them.  And therefore I don’t need them either.

This afternoon I am going through the t-shirts and accessories and then tomorrow I will do a new inventory.  It has not been all one way.  I have bought clothes.  The clothes I have bought have all been similar in style, cotton jersey/bamboo/linen and very relaxed and easy to wear.  Easy mix and match and easy to layer.  I have noticed a general trend towards similar colours and no patterns on my main items, using scarves and jewellery to add colour.

My next step is to start making my own clothes using ethically sourced natural fabrics.  I have made up a few toiles and am waiting for the first fabrics to arrive.  I’m no great seamstress, so it is fortunate I don’t need to wear a fully fitted suit every day.  But fortunately I can make the kind of simple clothes I do like to wear, and like the food I make or grow myself I know where it has come from and how it was made.

raw chocolate

In my determination to reduce our waste I am reducing what we buy and looking at ways to reproduce products at home.  So today I made chocolate.  Well, I might as well practice on something I eat a lot of!

I  have a school friend Sarah Wheeler  who set up Pure Melt Chocolate in Mulumbimby.  I bumped into her whilst I was in Australia (as one does) and she inspired me to have a go at making our own chocolate.  I purchased the cacao butter, agave syrup, pure cacao powder and dried vanilla and off we went.

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First melt the cacao butter.

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Then add the cacao powder

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Then add the vanilla.

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Finally the agave syrup.  According to the instructions it would take approximately 100 stirs to incorporate.  That was about right.  It became the most beautiful shiny mixture.

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Then into the moulds and the fridge.

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Less than an hour later we had this.

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Oh my goodness, it is the most delicious chocolate I have ever tasted.  Even the Singers and the Dancer are converted.  I am never going to buy chocolate off the shelf again.  I have a head full of ideas to try.  Ginger is close to the top of the list, I may crystallise some orange peel, or add some cacao nibs for cruch,  chilli is an option.  Too many to list.

zero waste vs zero food miles

Once upon a time all our needs were met locally.  We collected wood for a fire, grew and raised our own food, made our own clothes us using whatever fabric was local to us from hemp to cotton to wool.  There are some people who, admirably, manage to do this today, but for most of us it is essential to engage in transactions with third parties to feed and clothe and entertain ourselves and our families.

I have long been involved in both the Slow Food and Local Food movements.  I was a founder member of The Durham Local Food Network and believe passionately in supporting local producers, not just of food but of as many other consumables as possible.  However how can I reconcile that with a zero waste lifestyle.  You would have thought it would be easy, surely the two go together.  But they don’t.

Bea Johnson, who genuinely does live the closest to a zero waste lifestyle as anyone I have come across in this journey purchases almost all her food from Whole Foods.  This is because she is able to take her own containers (thus no unnecessary plastic or even paper bags for anything from bread to meat) and she can purchase loose goods from pasta to biscuits from the bulk bins.  Well therein lies the first problem.  However, lovely Whole Foods is, it is essentially an upmarket supermarket (and has prices to match).  There is little local about purchasing my oats at Whole Foods even if I could get to one.

So the other option?  Durham Food Co-op buys in bulk from a large range of local producers and the balance from Infinity Foods (a co-operative wholesaler of organic and non-organic foods); Durham Farmers’ Market  has an excellent selection of local produce; I have access to a good local greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and cheese merchant.  The problem?  Most of the food I buy will come prepackaged.  I don’t have the option, other than for the vegetables, to use my own containers.

Last year I read about Plastic Free July, unfortunately I heard about it rather late so when I attempted to go plastic free for a week I didn’t have the ongoing tips and support and fell quickly by the wayside.  I have signed up for Plastic Free July for this year and am giving myself three months to prepare.  I am going to need it.  Plastic free is very hard to achieve.  The easiest way to go plastic free is to start making as much as possible from scratch.  I make my own soft cheese, yoghurt, dog food and dog treats, granola, jams, jellies, wine and cider vinegars, pickles etc.  I have asked for a canner for Mothering Sunday with a view to canning our own home grown vegetables.  But there is only so much I can do myself and I don’t work full time so I have the time to do all this.

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So do I go package (and predominantly plastic) free or do I go local?  I know in my heart I will go local.  But that will mean compromise.  What is more important to you.  Zero waste or zero food miles?

food wrap and parrots

EDIT!!!!

I have been advised that due to the low flash point of beeswax (ie. the fumes produced become exceptionally flammable and could cause a fire) it should always be melted in a bain marie (ie. in a bowl over boiling water).   As beeswax also has a very low melting point (approx 62 degrees) this should  not take long.

I suspect that dipping the cloth in the liquid wax would result in a cloth with far thicker wax covering than required or even useful.  So I am going to experiment with melting the wax and brushing it on. Will feedback later.

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Forgive me if this post is full of typos but this

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has been on my right shoulder for much of this afternoon.  And whilst we now get on quite well and she no longer tries to give me multiple ear piercings, she does still have rather sharp claws and I am wearing a sleeveless top and my right shoulder is rather sore.  Also she is moulting and so is intent on removing her loose bits of feathers.  She does not seem to have appreciated that I am not a bird, I do not have feathers and I do not need the feathers I don’t have to be removed…..

Today has been a busy kitchen day.  I think  a month away has given me aga homesickness.  So today I made, yoghurt, granola, kimchi (for the first time), granola bars, yoghurt cake and bread.  But the most exciting aga experiment did not involve food, but this.

P1000525Beeswax.

At the Artisan Fair at Byron Bay on Friday evening last week I came across a lady selling waxed cotton food wraps.  This appealed to me on several fronts.  First, no plastic, second the food can breath and third it is a lot prettier than cling and fling 😉  What appealed to me less was the price.  So I had a go at making my own.

First cut your cotton.  Taking the modern connotation of the word organic out of the equation for the moment, cotton is an organic substance, polyester is not.   Linen or hemp would probably work just as well, but I happen to have a lot of cotton oddments lying around so I used cotton.

Place on a baking tray.  Use an old one, you are not going to be cooking with it again.

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Sprinkle granules (or grated) beeswax over the cotton and place in the oven.  I used the aga on Bake but about 180 would be about right.  Do keep an eye on it.  The wax melts fast and you don’t want it to burn.  It’s not as if you are making a souffle, opening the door is not going to cause a culinary disaster.

Once melted brush the wax evenly over the fabric (again using a brush that isn’t going to be used to spread beaten egg over your prized apple pie).

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Hang up to dry.  I put ours outside.  It is a windy day.  They were dry in seconds.

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Wrap up your food.

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You will have noticed that the baking tray is quite small.  I wanted some bigger clothes.  So this time I just sprinkled the wax, folded and sprinkled again (a bit like making puff pastry!).  The wax melts through all the layers.

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It worked just fine.  So now I have sizes for cheese, for small bowl and for large bowls.

I had intended to read the paper now, but the parrot seems to have eaten it

luggage, ex-pat kids and airports

I love airports.  I think is it partly because I spent much of my childhood as an ex-pat child.  I was one of those children with a red and white striped label around their neck being escorted through security.  I grew to hate the being escorted everywhere bit, but I did rather like the Air Canada policy of putting single (ie not a whole group of forty or more kids as you used to get on the Hong Kong run)  in First Class so they could keep an eye on them.  First Class in those days was just a really big chair and as a minor there was no free wine, but it was still rather cool.  I became quite an expert on which airline looked after the UMs best.

Once you have checked in and you are airside you abdicate all responsibility.  There is nothing you can do except wait.  I like to do this with glass of wine or tea, depending on the time of day, a book and  my eyes.  Just watching people, wondering where they are going and why they are going there.

With  my newfound minimalist eye I have expanded my people watching to luggage watching.  We travelled with three children under three (we have twins).  We travelled with a toddler and me heavily pregnant.   We did all of that long distance to countries that you could not reach by a direct flight from the UK so we had the added fun of crossing Paris, usually in rush hour.  Believe me, even with all of that you really do not need to bring the entire nursery with you (and that was in the days before iPads).  My eldest daughter, then aged 2 occupied herself from Newcastle to London, London to Paris and Paris to Pointe a Pitre with a tiny doll about 2″ tall and an empty meal bowl which became dollie’s bed.  Her younger sister, a couple of years later,  suffering from a nasty gastric upset that materialised out of the blue and involved copious vomiting was kept occupied by a dolls house made by her sisters out of a cardboard shoebox in our hand luggage and furniture and people drawn on scrap paper.

I have watched people check in monumental cases and then take a pretty enormous wheeled carry on bag on the plane.  Yes it is possible that they are emigrating or taking vital supplies to cousins overseas …..  But ALL of them?  No I don’t think so.

It strikes me that if stuff gets in the way of living, which I have discovered it does, then surely stuff gets in the way of a holiday.  Surely a holiday is a time to relax, to let go, to try new experiences.  How on earth can you do that if you are lumbered with luggage you have to keep packing and unpacking and keeping track of and washing…..

going home and thinking about what next

Today is our 20th wedding anniversary.  We met at the Boss’s brother’s wedding.  He married an old school friend of mine.  She and I met on our first day at boarding school on 16th September 1973… and now we are sisters in law.

The Boss proposed four weeks after we first met.  As I was living and working in Sussex and he was living and working in Glasgow that means we had only met three times before he proposed.  I knew he would propose that weekend.  I told Chrissie, with whom I then shared an office at Sightsavers   that I knew he would propose that weekend.  She laughed but laughed again on Monday when I told he had and I had accepted.

So twenty years  and three children later we are in Australia and have had the most wonderful laid back day.  We travelled up to Nimbin;

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ate samosas in the park in the craft market and listened the music; drank margaritas at The Balcony

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and watched the world wander by; had stupendous burrundi and chips at The Fish Head

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and listened to the drummers on the beach; lay on the beach whilst I taught the Boss the little I knew of the southern hemisphere constellations (the Southern Cross and the Keel); watched the fire dancers; wandered back to the market and bought our daughters a present and came back to our apartment for a glass of wine and some good music.

What do I want now?  Not a lot.  I am going home with a drive to divest myself of more stuff I don’t need or want.  I am going home with a desire to do what we want to whilst we can.  I am going home with a wish to instill in my children that life only  happens once.  I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that if my daughters said they wanted to buy a bakkie (hello my SA friends 🙂 ) and just cruise around until they ran out of money or decided what they wanted to do with their lives then I would be happy with that.  We only have one shot at this life, why should it be something that other people think it should be?

 

 

 

lessons learned

So I have been living out of a suitcase for three weeks.  I brought too much.  I could have got away with half of what I brought with  me.  But every lesson learned is a good lesson.

Time out, and certainly time travelling (as in time spent travelling not the Tardis variety) gives you plenty of time to knit and to think.  Time spent living out of a suitcase gives you plenty of time to think about what you should have left behind.

When I was packing I kept to a simple colour palette.  That was good.  There was not one item in my case that could  not have been worn with practically every other item.  Lesson learned: cull all those items in my wardrobe that can’t go with at least 50% of the rest of my wardrobe (wedding dresses/ballgowns should you need them are exempt from this rule 🙂 )

I love linen, bamboo and cashmere, I love loose deconstucted shapes (think Japanese).  Lesson learned: cull the items that I don’t love to feel against my skin.  I would rather have one fabulous cashmere jumper than three okay scratchy wool ones.

I wear shoes for comfort.  Even my “smart evening” shoes have to pass this test.  Yet despite a huge shoe cull I have shoes I never wear not because they hurt but because they aren’t comfy.  Lesson learned:  I do not need five pairs of black suede shoes and those pink peep toe wedge sandals are not comfy whereas the blue suede peeptoe sandals I could wear all day and not notice.  Lesson learned:  if you don’t wear them then don’t keep them.

None of this is rocket science.  Most of this I knew already.  But still there lurk things in our house that need to go.  Our children our growing up and in a couple of years they will all have left home.  Our house is too big for two.  We need to move somewhere more practical and somewhere a little closer to civilisation.  Something was holding me back.  I didn’t want to move into Durham.  Then we had the Eureka moment, there was no reason we had to move into Durham.  We could move anywhere we wanted.  With that thought in mind it has become easy (at least in my mind) to shed even more.  I want to start the rest of my life in a free flowing space, without the millstone of stuff I don’t love, need or admire.

This is pretty much all I have worn for 3 1/2 weeks.

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spinets and other memories

One of the best things about travelling is experiencing new places and new ideas.  One of the other wonderful things about travelling is catching up with old experiences.

A few days ago we had lunch with my aunt and uncle.  We haven’t seen each other since 1992.  During that time they have lived in Bermuda, Germany,  the Solomon Islands, Cairns and latterly Sydney.  I have no photographs, but I have a wonderful experience and memories of a lovely day.  I suppose I am continuing on the theme of yesterday.  Enjoy the moment, don’t worry about recording it.

I am 50, the last time my uncle and I met I was 29.  We have both changed quite a lot since then, or at least aged a fair bit.  We have kept in touch through letters, cards and later email.  It could have been a little awkward, two people related but perhaps with not much in common.  Far from it.  We had a great day, we discussed everything from the problems of ordering a plain black coffee (Americano? Tall Black?  Long Black?  Filter?) to the Australian Health Service (well the Boss is a medic) and reminisced about visiting them in Bermuda when I was three and the number of shoes my mother apparently kept under her bed.

So, my point?  By all means accumulate physical memories, I have no problem with that IF YOU LOOK AT THEM!  I have plenty of scrapbooks and photograph albums.  But while you are filling your house with stuff that you think you should keep because it reminds you of a good time, ask yourself the last time you looked at that stuff.  Do you need it to remind you of the good time?

It is 47 years since I visited Bermuda.  I remember riding on the back of my mother’s bike.  I remember playing the piano (actually I have discovered the spinet) with a neighbour’s daughter; chasing gekkos; the first time I met a black person; swimming in warm seas; the sheer brightness and whiteness of the island  I don’t need stuff to remind me of the happy days because the happy days stick with you.  You might not remember the precise moments but the experience is inside you and doesn’t go.

As we came to the end of our lunch the couple next to us asked what our connection was with Bermuda, as that is where they were from.  Forty five minutes later my uncle and aunt had caught up with news and friends from long ago, and I was introduced as the little girl who used to play the spinet with a mutual friend’s daughter 🙂

The following day we went over to visit them at home for lunch and talking of memories, this is a rather fabulous bronze, made by my uncle, of their late dog Wallis.  She was a staffie like my first dog Figeac and reminds me of her.  Even down to the crossed paws,

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