Two weeks to go!

It’s two weeks until we move into our new home!

We’re starting to clear out at the temporary rental we’ve been in, and today my partner and I visited the house, together with our real estate agent and a guy from the heating company, looking at the different options for heating the home. It’s an old house and there is no heating, except for three old fireplaces.

The main living room. You can see one of the fireplaces in the far wall.

It felt odd visiting what will be our new home, and good to have a look around. It’s a beautiful old home, but it needs a lot of work. It’ll keep us busy for quite a while, I suspect!

The house and garden from the rear. It’s in a lovely sunny spot, central to everything. The house needs work, and one of the first tasks will be a full external repaint in summer (around Christmas for New Zealand)!

We were there for well over an hour – I could tell the poor real estate agent was getting restless – but in the end we made some decisions, and we should have heating organised by the time we move in.

Currently the library, this room will probably be our master bedroom. I’m looking forward to painting and decorating it, and will be sharing the “before and after” pics here at the blog!

We’re all really looking forward to moving in now, especially my two kids, who are sharing a room, and my partner’s son, who is living downstairs in the storage room under the house in the rental. Not exactly ideal! We’ll be redecorating the kids rooms one by one, and I’m looking forward to sharing what we do as we get it all done.

As for the garden, I’m keen to create a meditation garden in the front, and to have my chooks again out the back, and my partner wants to build a fire pit. I’m not sure how I feel about the fire pit, but sometimes living with someone you love means compromise.

Not long now!

Don’t follow just because someone wants to lead you

The world is growing increasingly partisan.

The political middle ground seems to have fallen away, leaving people clinging to the edges of extreme political thought.

But I’m saying, don’t follow simply because someone wants to lead you.

When longstanding friendships come to an end over political disagreements, and people are “unfriending” their friends and family on Facebook over who they may or may not have voted for, it has all gotten out of control.

Partisanship serves nobody, except those who would divide us all on petty issues.

The truth is, our differences are minimal. We most of us want the same things:

We want our children to grow up safe and whole…
We want our communities to thrive and be healthy…
We want good healthy food, clean air, clean water…
We want access to good doctors and good quality education…
We want affordable, quality homes…
We want to be safe from war and terror…
We want secure jobs that give us dignity and don’t compromise our integrity.

If you’re like me, all of these things are important. All of them.

Divide and conquer

It seems that many of those in power – across all parties – would seek to focus on the little things that don’t affect us day to day.

“Divide and conquer” is working well.

They seek to turn us against our neighbours. To encourage us to label and view them as Not Like Us, and to divide our communities.

That way, we don’t look too closely at what those in power are doing, do we!

Work together

I’m saying, Stop.

Stop the partisanship.
Stop labelling people as Them and Us.
Stop giving some leaders a pass on bad behaviour while others get held to the wire.
Treat all people equally and fairly.
Uphold ideas, not ideology or parties or celebrities or leaders.

It’s time to look on the old world with fresh eyes. Reconsider our long-held beliefs to check if they still hold merit for us.

Don’t follow simply because someone – or something – wants to lead you.

Lead yourself, with your own mind, and you will find the best way to travel.

think

Bring home memories, not clutter

Overseas souvenir shops sell mostly junk. When you buy stuff on holidays, most of it is rubbish that you’d never buy at home.

So don’t.

Do you really need that miniature plastic Eiffel Tower to show you’ve been to Paris, or that pair of mouse ears to prove you’ve done Disney? Who are you trying to impress?

Does clutter – no matter where it’s from – ever really impress anyone?

These days, when I travel overseas, I pack light. Last time I travelled to Europe I brought just one single carry-on suitcase plus a handbag for an entire month. That was all I needed. While away, I bought a couple of fridge magnets as mementos, and a ring when I was in Spain. I didn’t need any more.

Don’t waste your time buying clutter when you travel. Spend your holiday forming lovely memories instead.

You won’t regret it.

In the rose gardens of Madrid, Spain, at high summer.

In the rose gardens of Madrid, Spain, at high summer.

Ending food waste – with suburban chickens!

Chickens are the ultimate Pets with Benefits.

Housing chickens. They’re cheap to house – I built my chicken “tractor” out of recycled materials and some pieces of wood for very little money. Their nesting box is a plastic crate nailed to the side of the shelter end of the tractor, and their bedding is hay – one bale of hay lasts all year.

You can see the egg hatch in this photo. The shelter end of the tractor is made from recycled swimming pool cover. The tractor has no mesh on the bottom so the chooks can graze freely.

You can see the egg hatch in this photo. The shelter end of the tractor is made from recycled swimming pool cover. The tractor has no mesh on the bottom so the chooks can graze freely.

Moving the tractor. If you have a portable coop like mine, or even use a rabbit hutch for your chickens (they’re ideal), you can give your chickens access to fresh grass every day, then just move the coop along when they grass is gone. Their droppings fertilise your garden, and the grass helps keep your chickens healthy.

Chickens for renters. If you keep a small number of chickens in a portable coop or rabbit hutch, they’re a suitable pet even for renters. Check with your landlord, but many of my friends rent AND keep chooks! Better yet, with a portable coop you can take your chooks with you when you move!

Feeding chickens. Chickens end your family’s food waste and cut down on garbage going out to the landfill. We keep an airtight container on the kitchen bench for everything we don’t eat, and it all goes to feeding our chickens every day.

Chickens will eat practically anything. Mine won’t eat avocado skins or pits, and they’re not so keen on carrot ends, but everything else (including leftover chicken!) goes to the chooks.

I have friends who also give me their food leftovers. They simply keep a bag in their freezers and, when it’s full, they give me the bag which I give to my chickens. This way, I rarely have to buy chicken food.

Food waste is a real problem in our society. Instead of buying cat or dog food, and creating a problem, why not keep chickens, and solve a problem of waste for your family and family friends? Our chickens live on the leftovers of three households, so they’re really doing their bit for the earth 🙂

My chicken tractor, which fits up to six birds.

My chicken tractor, which fits up to six birds.

Eggs for free! My chickens lay an egg a day, pretty much all year around. That’s not too bad for an animal that gets rid of my food waste problem too!

Natural insecticide! Did you know that families that keep chickens have fewer flies in their homes! It’s true. Chickens eat flies, and they’ll help keep other insect populations down.

Natures gardeners! Have a vegetable plot that needs digging over? Put your chicken coop on the plot a few weeks before you want to plant. The chickens will dig it over for you, and fertilise it with lovely chicken manure. Work done! 🙂

Choosing your chickens. When choosing your chickens, you may want to opt for a great egg-laying breed. Breeds vary a lot. Mine are Hylines, a smaller breed well known for laying daily. Google your breed before buying.

A hyline chicken, the breed that I keep. They're great layers - I get an egg a day most days!

A hyline chicken, the breed that I keep. They’re great layers – I get an egg a day most days!

5 steps to a sane and simple Christmas

Christmas is a consumerist paradise…and hell for would-be minimalists like me.

Here are five steps to keeping Christmas sane and simple:

1. Plan your budget in advance.

How much are you going to spend on each person? On each child? Plan a budget and stick to it. If you can put savings aside through the year, that’s better than having all your expenses come at once.

2. Double-up with joint gifts for children.

Buy one great gift the wole family will enjoy. For example, this year we’re buying a games machine for my kids, plus some games. They’ll both love it, and can share it, plus we’re sharing the expense between them.

3. Buy one great gift, instead of lots of little things.

Small gifts can really add up! $20 here, $40 there, and before you know it you’ve spent hundreds with just bits of plastic rubbish to show for it. Instead, buy one great gift that will be really appreciated and that will last.

4. Give experiences, not stuff.

Have older loved ones? Why not take them out? Ideas for elderly relatives include:

  • River cruises
  • Picnic in the park (if the weather is suitable – I live in New Zealand, and it’s summer at Christmas!)
  • Take them fishing
  • Take them to a play
  • Take them to the zoo
  • Buy them wood for their fire, or pay a bill for them! (many companies offer vouchers)
  • Book them in to a hotel for a night
  • Mystery flights
  • Take them to Carols By Candlelight
  • Take them to work at a homeless shelter with you – and learn the real meaning of Christmas!
  • Volunteer together at a lost animals home
  • Have a day out at the Botanic Gardens
  • Do “brunch” at a lovely little boutique cafe
  • Visit a baby animal farm, or farm sanctuary together
  • Go on a winery tour together
  • Eat fish and chips huddled up watching the waves in the car by the beach

5. Give greenery for gifts.

Instead of stuff, why not give the gift of living things?

House plants, seeds for the garden, herbs, or even donating to a charity that plants trees to offset carbon – these are all great gifts that won’t clutter up your loved ones’ lives.

Merry Christmas!

christmasballs2

10 tips for suburban sustainability

This is the third post in a series titled “100% sustainable – is it possible?”. I hope you enjoy my analysis of different lifestyles, their ecological impact, and the possibility of humanity achieving sustainability.

We’re selling our farm, and moving into the suburbs of a small town to live.

I’ve already talked about how small homesteads aren’t necessarily sustainable, especially when you factor transport into the equation. The next question is, can suburbs be sustainable?

I think they can, but it depends on a lot of factors. So here are 10 tips for suburban sustainability.

1. Localize, localize, localize. Even in a city, you can localize. Find hobbies and social groups that are close by. Use the local shops where you can, and local businesses. Share tools and household implements and knowledge with your neighbours – and get to know your neighbours!

Every suburb or area has its own unique “vibe” and identity. Become a part of yours, and become known as a local member of the community. Make sure your kids are known too. You won’t regret it.

2. Transport. Transport is the big one. No lifestyle is sustainable if you need a car to get you everywhere. Choosing a home that is close to where you need to be on a regular basis (work, schools, hobbies) is a huge factor.

3. The size of the home. Big homes use more energy in just about every respect. Consider lighting, for example: my home (the farm) has 33 ceiling lights. My friend’s small bungalow in town has just seven. My farm was built in the 1980s; his bungalow was built in the 1930s.

Houses may be built more efficiently now, but as time has gone on they have got bigger, and added more “features”. Extra rooms, bathrooms, porches and windows all use lots of energy.

In short, if you want to know if a house will send you broke before you buy it, count the ceiling lights and windows.

4. Choose the smallest home that will fit your needs. You’ll be happier, wealthier, and have more free time because you won’t be spending so much time cleaning and maintaining a huge home!

5. Search for the sun. When you’re house-hunting, take a compass with you. Find north. If you live in a cold climate, the more low north-facing sky you can see (in the southern hemisphere) or low south-facing sky you can see (in the northern hemisphere), the warmer the house will be in winter.

Sunshine will make a massive difference to your heating bills.

6. Thick curtains, rugs and insulation. Make sure your home, wherever it is, is well-insulated. It’ll pay for itself very quickly. Likewise, thick floor-to-ceiling curtains will keep the warmth in in winter and keep the house cool in summer. Floor rugs are also great for warmth, and can be cleaned and replaced easier (and more cheaply) than wall-to-wall carpet.

7. Use your greenspace. I’m continually surprised at the fact that, on our farm, most of our home-produced food comes from the small amount of greenspace just outside our front door. Plus our chickens, which turn food scraps into eggs.

Don’t think for a moment that you need a farm to be sustainable. And don’t underestimate the amount of food that can be grown even in pots, on a balcony.

Just in pots we grow: cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, lettuce and a variety of herbs. They provide summer salads and desserts in very small space. It’s easy to do.

Strawberry plants - plus a few flowers - on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

Strawberry plants – plus a few flowers – on our kitchen windowsill. My kids are watching them eagerly!

8. How much is that doggie in the window? How much does your pet really eat? I’m not saying don’t have a pet, but do the maths before you take on a pet. And if you do choose to have a pet, go to the SPCA if you can, and give a lost pet a new home.

9. The Farmer’s Market. Check to see if there’s a local Farmer’s Market, and use it. you’ll save money and shop more efficiently. Locally grown produce is almost always better, and usually cheaper as well as more sustainable.

10. Get to know your local secondhand stores. Buying secondhand is much more sustainable than buying new. And don’t be afraid to pass on old, outgrown items instead of binning them.

That organic homestead dream…is it sustainable?

This is the second post in a series titled “100% sustainable – is it possible?”. I hope you enjoy my analysis of different lifestyles, their ecological impact, and the possibility of humanity achieving sustainability.

A lot of people interested in living simply have a dream of one day buying a small farm and living sustainably.

We were those people too, and six years ago, we bought a small farm on the outskirts of a small city in New Zealand.

Our farmhouse in the morning. It's idyllic, beautiful...and a lot of hard work. It's also not sustainable.

Our farmhouse in the morning. It’s idyllic, beautiful…and a lot of hard work. It’s also not sustainable.

If I was expecting our lifestyle to be more sustainable, I soon learned the opposite. You see, there were a lot of factors I just didn’t take into consideration regarding sustainability and small homesteading. Some of these included:

Petrol. Living further out really added to our transport costs. Where our farm is situated, we rely on cars for everything. The nearest bus is several kilometers away, and only runs twice a day. The nearest supermarket is six kms away (3 miles). The kids’ school is a ten kilometer round trip (four miles). Those distances might not sound like much, but petrol is about three times the price of what it costs in the US, so if you triple those distances you’ve got some idea of what we’re dealing with, day in day out.

No public transport. Related to this is the lack of public transport. Public transport is a real winner when it comes to sustainability, and private cars are a nightmare. When everything you do is reliant on the private car, you are NOT on a winner.

11-dec-11 044

Yes, we could use bikes for everything…except I have young kids, and my daughter is disabled. They’re simply not practical. And we live on a steep dirt road.

Country supermarkets are more expensive. We can shop at our local supermarket – but I save well over $50 a week by shopping in town. Shopping locally comes with a hefty price tag attached. So I shop in town, and have to add that commute to my petrol bill.

extrasheep

You can’t be self-reliant in this day and age. Well, you can, but it gets boring and is non-stop work. So in summer, for example, we often live day after day on our own summer produce (salad stuff), our own lamb, our own eggs. But unless you want the few things we produce for every meal it gets really boring really quickly. I’m surprised at how little we produce of our own, yet we produce more than any homesteader I know.

Homesteads use a LOT of chemicals. Or a LOT of muscle. We’re organic, and that means I spend days on end every year rooting up weeds to stop them spreading. It’s backbreaking work, and thankless, because I know I’ll be doing it all over again the following year. But most homesteads are not organic, and rely heavily on agricultural pesticides and herbicides.

The mortgage. Most small homesteads are up to their eyeballs in debt. We have a hefty mortgage too. The only reason we manage so well is because my ex husand earns a huge wage, and we were fortunate with the housing bubble in Australia when we sold our previous home. But to my mind, when I reconsider everything, there’s nothing sustainable about debt. If I was doing it all again, I’d never be at the mercy of the banks to this extent.

Our property...that's us, with the orange roof.

Our property…that’s us, with the orange roof.

Farmers markets and discount stores. There aren’t any, out where we live. Ironically, we used to go to the Farmer’s Market when we lived in town, and we’d buy all the lovely produce that people grow out here, on farms like ours. But out here we’d have to travel into town early on Saturday morning to take advantage of the market. It’s too far, and so we don’t have that benefit. Same with discount stores – there are none out here, except for one small “Warehouse” which charges more than the town version.

People underestimate how much can be grown on a city block. Also ironically, most of the food we produce, apart from the lamb, comes from our chickens and veggie plot. All of which are easily achievable on a city backyard. All a farm gives you is the option of large animals – sheep etc., and as I say above, those sheep cost a lot in added mortgage.

So what have I learned?

I think the homestead dream is better off as a dream, for most people. It is lovely living out here, but it’s very expensive and not at all sustainable.

Country properties use more energy, more petrol, more chemicals (usually), and are a lot more work. They’re also huge time sinks. They’re usually bigger and more expensive, and take more energy and effort, and cost more (debt). The return for all this is minimal.

Overall, I know a lot of people who are homesteading, and none of them are living sustainably. We certainly aren’t.

I think this was something I had to discover for myself. I’d had dreams of owning a farm all my life, and now I’ve done it. But I’ve also learned some hard lessons along the way – namely, that not all dreams live up to the reality.