Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cleo's Cottage

We moved to this place 9 years ago. A fairly basic old house on a very basic block of land. It had a lavender hedge, a dead gum tree and a few young trees - pittosporum, a cyprus hedge (!!), a fig, a leptospermum and a silver birch.

We came here with two babies, a cavalier king charles spanial named Kimba and a hope that this would be home. Despite putting a fence all around the yard, one morning, a couple of months after moving in, our dog was hit on the road and died. Heartbroken, exhausted from unsleeping twins, feeling isolated and  defeated, our house went back on the market. 

But during the contract with the estate agent, things changed. I met new friends at the local playgroup, our kids started sleeping a little bit more, I started to fall in love with our little patch and a big ginger cat marched into our lives like she belonged here. She was an adult cat and clearly very comfortable here. We think she may have been left by previous owners and not come out until Kimba was gone. But whatever her story, she came to us, found a little place in our hearts and our home. We named her Cleo after the ginger cat in the children's story 'Cleo the cat', which we happened to have out from the library that day and who did much the same thing as our Cleo (ie. marched in, had a bowl of milk and made herself at home). 

Over the years we got chickens, then a new puppy and then some guinea pigs.  Another puppy a couple of years later and then more chickens.  Kittens for the boys a couple of years back and then goats and bees last year. The house has changed and changed again. Not a single one of the original plants remain, but a thick bushy garden and a food forest have grown around us. And all through it, Cleo, who was never really a house cat, was there. She tended to stay in the front garden, never keen on venturing indoors, but very happy for a cuddle and a pat in the evening sun shining on our verandah, and a pretty, fluffy welcoming party near our front door. 

We don't know how old she was when she came to us - we never took her to the vets (though we wormed her and treated her for fleas regularly). A couple of years after her arrival she seemed to become an old lady though - still able to fight of the odd stray cat, but happy to just sleep and dribble on anyone willing to cuddle her. 

This year, we noticed something wrong with her eyes. The pupils stopped dilating and were huge black pools at all times of the day. She went blind and restricted her movements to the verandah. The boys made sure she had a warm blanket in a bed, a bowl of food always present nearby and we tried to keep stuff out of her way. But she seemed happy still. Greeting everyone with a miaow and a smooch, purring like a little engine if you'd sit with her for a while. 

Then yesterday, she wasn't there. Just gone, the way she just came. We think her time had come and in her lovely, independent lady way, she went away to die. We'll miss her fluffy, chatty presence on our verandah. 

I think that maybe Cleo was sent to us to make this place our home. A little feline guardian angel to bring warmth and sometimes humour to our family and what was then a relatively unloveable garden. And now, here we are, having nearly sold it again this year, but realised that it is always going to be home and special to us, maybe her task was done. 

And I think, as a final tribute and thanks to her, we've finally, after the last three years of trying to, decided on a name for our home, and therefore put that last stamp of 'ours' on this place. From now on "Cleo's Cottage" is where we belong. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

September homeschooling mornings

The sun is creeping over the horizon earlier and earlier as we leave true winter behind us. The boys are obviously feeling the warmer, brighter mornings and are getting up, getting dressed and going outside to play long, elaborate games before breakfast. Last month, we couldn't drag them out of bed till the fire had warmed the house. 

This is one of the things I love about homeschooling - the mornings. They're so much more peaceful and free. Stay in your warm cozy bed and read half a novel in winter; head outside, feed the animals and use your imagination to create a game full of extraordinary characters and twisted, complex story lines in spring. I wonder what mornings will bring in summer and autumn?

Back when the boys were at school, mornings were regimented - get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack lunch, pack your backs. Then the boys would beg for a half hour of 'screen time' before the had to go to school. Don't get me wrong, I love a good routine and I think that in our society, sometimes they are the best things, but routines that feel unhappy aren't good.  

Mornings were one of the first things that made me think about homeschooling the kids. Mornings where they just didn't want to go to school.  I know we all have those mornings, but the boys weren't being lazy, or hating the schoolwork. They weren't being bullied or struggling to get through the day. They just wanted to stay at home in a place that felt warm and comfortable. They wanted to be with their animals and hang with me. And I wanted to continue the brilliant discussions we were having (those of you who have ever had a discussion with our kids will get that!), I wanted to teach them about our world and see what their clever little brains were capable of. 

Six months into our homeschooling journey, we've had plenty of all of that. Playing with, or just being with, each other and our animals. Detailed discussions about politics, religion, history and science. Days spent working in the garden and days spent learning maths concepts and getting super excited about solving crazy equations. 

We've made posters, read lots of books, done boring worksheets, walked/roller bladed/scooted for miles, dissected organs and built things. We've done so much in this six months and yet haven't even scraped the surface, and I'm starting to understand that those little brains, inside the gorgeous heads of my kids, really are quite brilliant and capable of amazing things. 

I don't know how long our homeschooling journey will be or what the outcomes will be. But for now, I'm looking forward to lots and lots more happy, relaxed mornings and plenty of awesome living, loving and learning in our home. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

With a little help from our friends

When we started out on this sustainable living journey (which later became turning our backyard into a mini farm!) a few years back, we felt like we were on our own. But the more we did and the more we talked about our plans and projects, the more our existing friends put up their hands with offers of help, offers of materials and support and interest. And then, gradually, we found that we were making new friends - likeminded new friends who were on similar journeys and who were keen to learn from us as well as teach us, share with us and help us out too. So this post is just a little thank you to all of the people who have helped us out along the way, with things like..... 

-Lifting water tanks over 5 foot high fences
-Scavenging fencing materials (buckets, barrels, pallets, carpet, tyres and other things!) from rubbish piles because you knew we needed them. 
-Foraging with us for blackberries, apples, mushrooms, fish, weeds and cool things from opshops. 
-Offloading your excess cucumbers, pears, tomatoes, peaches, meats and roosters into our fridge (ok, the roosters didn't go straight in the fridge, we turned them into meat first!)
-Letting us utilise your buck for the purpose of getting our goat in kid (even if it failed dismally!)
-Giving us wool for our latest crafty efforts of spinning and felting (and then trying to gjve us even more wool - we've now been offered enough wool that we could've re-insulated our house with it!)
-Cooking and preserving with me and sharing your recipes. 
-Pointing us in the direction of a supply of firewood just waiting to be cut and collected. 
-Offering places for our goats to be tethered (even though our cantankerous goats hate going across the road from home, let alone to a paddock down the street, so we haven't been able to take you up on the offer!) 
-Delivering hay bales from your stack and bags of manure from your horses. 
-Sharpening our chainsaw blade. 
-Listening, offering advice and even coming to look at properties with us when we were trying to decide whether to move or not. 
-Sharing your knowledge about everything from making salami to growing fruit trees and hatching chickens. 
-Learning to be beekeepers with us. 
-Supporting our journey and our choices by buying us books and magazines with great ideas, pointing out websites and not being freaked out by using our waterless toilet. 
-Giving us your excess veggie seeds. 
-Helping out with ideas, materials and lessons for our now homeschooling kidlets. 
-Making awesome pizza peels and oven trays for us.
-Supplying us with your empty beer bottles for our home brew and jars for jams. 
-Caring for our ever growing menagerie when we go away. 
-And so much more. 

I hope that as the years go by, we manage to repay all the favours and gifts   and/or pay it forward to others. Thank you so very very much to our beautiful friends and supportive families - we couldn't have gotten this far without you.

We love you guys!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Haircut, pancetta, shimmies and lamb chops

6.45am: woken by the goats who think that exactly sunrise is breakfast time. Argue with Stu about which one of us is getting out of our warm bed to feed them. Decide we both need to get up anyway. 
7am: Stu is out feeding animals and waking up the mini farm. I'm inside starting kitchen chores and looking for my hairdressing scissors. 
7.30am: my hair now about half the length it was (selfie hair cut - big success) I'm feeling better and we're all munching on muesli or fruit muffins for breaky. 
9am:  off to a friends house for a 'Pig Day Out'. Arrive to find the pig (one that us and our goats had been acquainted with earlier in the year) already dead, bled and ready for the next stage. Kids ran off the play and Stu and I mucked in assisting with some 'dead pig beauty therapy' - a hot bath, a removal of body hair and a quick detox (aka a removal of organs). This pig, like the ones our friends have done in previous years, had been raised very well on scraps, rolled around in the mud of a large paddock and been treated very kindly for 11months and was now destined to become all sorts of cured porky goodness - salami, pancetta, sausages and much more. 
2pm: a delicious lunch, which Kylie had been working on all morning - fresh sourdough, garden salad, sausage rolls and pies and the freshest pork spare ribs ever - yum!  Then the men headed back to work - fat preparation time and listening to the footy on the radio. Kylie and I went to visit their chooks, grabbed a  barrel for my seaweed fertiliser to be made in and talked gardening. 
4.45pm:  left them to it with the pig, they'll have many more hours of pig things to do over the weekend. We had to get home, take the goats for a walk in the beautiful evening sunshine, make a big bowl of pasta for tea and then it was time for me to metamorphose into a belly dancer. 
8pm:  show time. Another one of our regular Greek night performances at a local restaurant. My troupe of 3 dancers performed for half an hour to a great audience. So much fun!
9pm:  a quick post-gig chat and giggle with my dance sisters before I headed home. 
10.30pm: full of warmth from a day of friendship, laughter, sunshine, work and lots of good, real living, Stu and I headed to bed. 

6.30am: up to make some bread for the day. I've been too busy to organise sourdough (which is what we've been eating recently), but a quick batch of rolls, a white loaf and a batch of muffins will do. 
7am: feed goats (yep, sun came up!)
8am: breaky with the family and time to do a few quick jobs around the house before it is time to head out for the day. 
9am: Stu is off to be a soccer dad with one of the boys and I'm off to another friends house to help her out butchering a couple of sheep that she'd had hanging over night. 
11.30am: sheep cut up into lots of chops, roasts, ribs etc. we bagged them all up, filled their freezer and our esky full of enough meat to last our family a really long time. 
12pm:  Stu (who was done with soccer), Jacki and I headed off with our combined herd of kids over their private path to the beach. Paddling, a little winter dip for a few kids, rock pooling, sand boarding and seaweed gathering kept us all entertained for an hour or so before our tummies suggested we should head back over the dunes and taste some of our hard work. 
2pm: a freshly picked garden salad, my fresh bread and some barbecued lamb chops filled happy bellies - yum. 
3.30pm:  on the way home, called back into the 'pig friends'' house to check on progress (nearly done, cool room full of salamis, pancetta and rolled cured meats that look amazing!), drop of some of our wool for them to try felting and to pick up a microscope that we're going to use to look at some organs we retrieved for dissecting and other cool biology lessons. 
5pm: home again. Time to load the freezer up and pop my seaweed into my new barrel. A spot of work in the garden and time to admire the last of a beautiful final day of winter. 
6pm: basic dinner - French toast and some preserved fruit. Four exhausted people ready to chill for the rest of the evening. 

That's what I call a crazy, busy, slow living weekend! ;)

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sunshine through the leaves

Baking delicious sourdough creations and converting recipes for thermomixing. 

Digging, carrying, sifting and creating wicking beds ready for a summer full of veg that have not suffered dehydration before they had a chance to grow. 

Building a new herb garden from recycled tyres and filling them with lots of lovely herbs, but also a grapevine to give our kitchen window summer shade and winter sun, a kiwiberry and a gooseberry - just for fun and maybe some yummy food. 

Creating costumes and sets for a fabulous play that the kids wrote last week and then watching proudly as they rehearsed and then performed it fabulously. 

Waiting hand and hoof on my demanding little goat who is hopefully delivering us a new kid or two or three in early November. 

Enjoying spinning on our spinning wheel (a fabulous garage sale find), in front of warm fires on chilly evenings. 

Celebrating academic achievement with my kids and stretching our brains over challenging  maths and science problems one day, and then spending the next digging in the garden with them and doing no book work at all. That's what we love about homeschool. 

Working up a sweat at a new dance class - not belly dance and not me as the teacher. A challenge that I'm loving. 

Feeling proud of my achievements at a recent weekend of dance appraisal. Sometimes it really does seem that I've managed to fall into the perfect life for me. 

Odd social dilemmas - help one family friend butcher a pig or help another to butcher a sheep.... Decisions!

Contemplating Christmas (its only 4 months away!) and writing lists of gifts that I need to make for giving. 

Considering returning to writing my blog and trying to work out a way to do it that makes me happy and doesn't make me feel like I'm wasting time. 

Enjoying lovely late winter days where the sun shines through the leaves, our bees buzz busily around blossoming fruit trees and our chooks scratch and peck and lay lots of eggs. 

That's what I've been up to lately. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Winter ready

The winter solstice is just around the corner and I'm finally feeling like our family is ready for winter.

Our warm winter clothes, coats, beanies and gumboots are within reach for keeping warm and dry when we step outside. 

We have hot water bottles on the ends of our beds ready to be filled and slid between chilly sheets (flannelette of course) before bed. 

Our pantry is stocked with the goodness of summer and autumn all bottled up as jams, chutneys, passatta and pickles. And alongside them, supplies of dried legumes for soups, stews and curries and plenty of wheat and flour to be turned into sourdough breads. 

Throw rugs adorn the back of the couch for pulling onto knees for cozy evenings of crafting, reading or relaxing in front of the telly. 

We've gathered firewood, chopped and stacked it in our "new" woodshed (thanks to the local gun club for donating the shed and letting us forage for wood!). 

The garden is planted out with cabbages, caulis, broccoli, kale, Asian greens, snow peas and broad beans and is growing well (despite the slugs which have chewed great holes in everything!). 

And today, after months of waiting, we finally have the centrepiece to our winter - our wood heater/cooker has been installed. The house is feeling warm and toasty for the first time in a while. A loaf our sourdough just went in the oven and a pot of veggie soup is bubbling away on the top. 

Bring on the next few months of winter's cold and drizzly weather - the Wright family are ready!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Fruity muffins on winter mornings

It's cold here. Winter has hit and come with a chill and we still don't have our heater installed.

Delay after delay from the place we've bought it from means that despite being promised that it would be installed in early May, we still have it sitting in boxes on the verandah. We've been told it will be installed first thing Monday morning. Fingers crossed. 

In the meantime, while we continue to snuggle inside in our winter woollies and dream of crackling logs, bread baked by their heat and a constantly hot kettle on our wood stove, I've been enjoying playing with our sourdough. 

For about 9 months, our starter lived in the fridge and was pulled our once a week, fed, used to make tortillas and then put back in the fridge.  But I've had a few successes with bread so I'm using it as my go to loaf a few times a week and also making these delicious sourdough English muffins with dried fruit each week. I make a double batch and freeze the leftovers - they are so lovely toasted with honey, butter or jam for breaky on a cool morning. 

Sourdough fruity English muffins
This is the double batch, feel free to halve and make only 8. 

The night before you want them, put a few handfuls of dried fruit into a bowl. Add two tablespoons of delicious local honey and a cup of hot water from the kettle. Mix and allow to sit a little while. 

Then add 2/3 cup more water (you can use milk or whey if you like) and 4 cups of flour and a cup of active sourdough starter. Mix well and put in a 'not too freezing'/warm place overnight. 

Next morning. Turn an electric frypan onto medium low her. Put on the lid and let if warm. 

To your dough, add 1 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsp bicarb. Mix and knead well adding extra flour as needed. Cut the dough into 16 even pieces and roll into balls. 

Flatten and shape each ball into a rough muffin shape (roundish, about 8cm diameter and about 1-2cm thick). Place muffins into your pan and replace the lid. I fit 8 in at a time. 

Cook for 5-10min until golden on the bottom. Turn and replace the lid and cook for a further 5-10min. Remove to a cooling rack. 

Cook remaining muffins. 

To eat, split muffins with a knife, toast and spread lavishly with your topping of choice. Yum!