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Letting Go

Hydrangeas Eggs and Knitting

Over the last couple of weeks Reubs and I have been working on decluttering the spare bedroom that will soon be our baby’s space. Our house has no storage (just the kitchen cabinets and one small closet in the hall) so when we moved in two years ago, all of the things that had no place to go got dumped in the spare room. In the time that we’ve been here we have acquired more things and many bits and pieces have made their way into that room, mostly just because we had nowhere else to put them or didn’t know what to do with them. For some time now the spare bedroom has been a source of anxiety for me. It reached the point where you could barely walk in there without disturbing a precarious pile of stuff and I had to avert my eyes when I walked past the room, as the mere sight of it stressed me out. We both knew we had to deal with it but had been putting off the inevitable clear out because, quite simply, it’s hard. Letting go is hard. But now that our family is growing and we need the space, we couldn’t put it off any longer. Over Christmas we began the process of simplifying our possessions.

Our clutter mostly fit into two categories; collections and sentimental objects.

The first things to go were the collections. Reuben and I both have bowerbird tendencies and like gathering collections of “special” things. Up until recently, a perfect day off together would always involve visiting a few op-shops or a flea market and bringing home a little haul of treasures. In the last few months however, both of our attitudes toward things have changed. Though I love my piles of vintage linens, stacks of vintage crockery and other odds and end, I’ve started to feel the weight of all the stuff my life and have really felt the urge to reduce my possessions. With this shift, I’ve also felt much less of a desire to acquire anything more. Going through our clutter room I was horrified by the amount of stuff I had picked up at op-shops or markets over the years, but had been sitting boxed up and unused ever since. I have reached the point now where I just want a small selection of items I really, really love, rather than a large collection of things I kind of love. We’ve cut back on our op-shop and flea market visits and, slowly but surely, I’m learning that when we do pop into a charity store or market, I don’t have to bring home every little item that I fall for. It’s ok to let some lovely things go.

The second group of things to sift through was the stuff we’d kept for emotional reasons. Reubs and I are both very sentimental by nature. We tend to imbue objects with too much meaning and find it hard to let go of things, which has resulted in us carting around boxes of sentimental stuff for years. We are realising now that, unless we want our home to become a museum of junk, we cannot keep everything with a memory attached to it. We have to learn to separate our memories from our possessions and only keep the most treasured items. After all, the physical objects are not what matter, the memories attached to them are. As Tricia touched on in a recent post, you have to let go of the things that used to be important in order to make space for the things that matter now. I’ve been concentrating on those words as I sift through our possessions and pack things in boxes to give away.

Since Christmas we’ve donated several boxes full of things and some furniture to a local op-shop, and we’re almost at the point where our baby’s room is cleared out and ready to paint. There is still more to do (especially in our kitchen cabinets and wardrobes!) but with each box that leaves our home, I feel the weight of the clutter lift. Removing all of the excess stuff from our house will make our lives simpler, tidier and easier, and already our home and our hearts feel lighter, freer and more open for it. I know now that in letting go of things that belong to our past we aren’t losing our history or throwing away our memories, we are simply making way for the future.

Katie xx

Comments { 30 }

Summer Harvest

Beetroot

Reuben and I have learnt so much about growing food this year. Our approach to our garden really changed after reading Jackie French’s book, Backyard Self Sufficiency, and seeing Jackie’s talk on the same topic at the Bendigo Writer’s Festival. I touched on Jackie’s ideas in this post but, basically, her philosophy is that the traditional neat rows of vegetables you see in European gardens are not ideal for the brutal Australian climate. Jackie advocates planting in groves, with a variety of plants all mixed together, planted close to each other. This allows the bigger plants to protect the smaller ones from the elements and can reduce the impact of pests.

Food Forest

As Jackie says “Most Australian gardeners plant too far apart. This is a relic from another culture: in European gardens you had to grab every available ray of sun. Our gardens need more shelter. Lots of leaf cover means the soil is insulated from the heat and cold, and the plants get more protection against frost.” Jackie also says “Don’t plant straight, neat rows: they allow pests to start at one end and march down the row munching, like guests at a smorgasbord. Break up plantings so that there is no large groups of any one plant.” We followed these guidelines while planting our veggies in spring and it has a resulted in wild, rambling jungle of healthy plants. While our garden isn’t the neatest or prettiest this way, it is the most productive it’s ever been. We call it our food forest, and we love it!

Raspberries

We’ve had great success with tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and corn this year, but for some reason our eggplants, capsicums and chillies never came to anything. We’ve got pumpkins and melons growing happily under our fruit trees, and have been picking spring onions, silverbeet and herbs as we use them. Our basil is thriving and will soon be ready for making pesto with. Before Christmas we had lots of delcious home grown raspberries, and now that they’ve finished, we’ve started getting blackberries. Our tomato plants have gone especially crazy and are taking over the veggie beds. Though the tomatoes are still green right now, there are so many of them, soon enough we’re going to be eating tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Zucchinis Cucumbers and Corn

Tomatoes

This summer we really wanted to have a go at preserving some of our harvest for the first time. Our zucchinis went wild in December and in the space of a just few days, our little zukes became giant monsters, so we figured a zucchini relish was a good place to start. We also had too many cucumbers to eat in salads, so thought we’d have a go at making bread and butter pickles. And so it came to be that we spent our new year’s day in the kitchen, listening to records, chatting, chopping and stirring bubbling pots over the hot stove. Aside from one incident involving a very large quantity of spilt sticky pickle juice, it was a lovely way to ring in the beginning of a new year. I’d quite like to make preserving our harvest at new year an annual event. (We used this recipe for the relish and this one for the pickles.)

Relish and Pickles

We haven’t tried our pickles yet, as we are giving them time to mature, but we cracked open our first jar of relish a few days ago. We ate it with zucchini and corn fritters (from our garden, naturally!) and it is oh so delicious. We polished off that first jar in the space of just two days!

Mega Beetroot

And it seems now I’ve got the preserving bug! I’m hoping that once the fruit on our little peach and plum trees is ripe, there will be enough for me to attempt jam making with, and I am planning to plant lots more beetroot in the future, so that we can pickle some.

Blackberries

We still have so much to learn when it comes to feeding our family from our garden and larder, but I can see we are making real progress now. It makes me so happy to think that our children will grow up knowing where their food has come from and being involved in the process of growing and preparing it, understanding the seasons and (hopefully) being grateful for all that the earth provides. A few years ago I never could have imagined how satisfying I would find growing and preserving my own fruit and veggies, but today, as I look at the little row of jars stacked neatly in our pantry, nothing could make me prouder.

Katie xx

Comments { 26 }

The Right Path

Egg

Camellias

Poppy

Happy Things

I’ve always been a worrier. I question everything, second guess decisions and fret about what the future holds, much more than I’d like to. Sometimes I wonder if we’re heading in the right direction and if we’re making progress, I question past choices and wonder how things might have been if we’d chosen something different. I worry, worry worry…

But then, I find myself painting the last coat of white on a rattly old window and I am reminded that this creaky house is ours. We own a house, and though it is old and shabby, it is full of love and music, the smell of pancakes and the sound of teaspoons tapping china as cups of tea are stirred.

I say good morning to the chickens and give them their breakfast, then I find two perfect, fresh eggs, and I am reminded that we are on the way to producing much of our own fresh produce. The glimpse of a green bud on the plum tree is a testament to the fact that one day soon our garden will be bursting with fruit and flowers.

I watch Reuben play with the dogs on the grass and I am reminded of how lucky I am to have found such a kind and happy soul to share my life with. Someone who is so perfectly similar to me and yet so totally, completely opposite to me, that we fit together like puzzle pieces. Somehow, miraculously, we found each other.

In these moments I know, with full certainly, that every choice we’ve made has been the right one (even the wrong ones) because they have led us here. We are exactly where we need to be right now. Our life isn’t perfect, but it is cemented in all of our dreams, all that we want for our family’s future, and all that we believe to be good and true. As times goes by my vision of a simple, mindful, beautiful life, grows clearer and my resolve to achieve it grows stronger.

Each day we take a few small steps forward. We are on the right path.

Katie xx

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The Chicken Tractor

We’ve had a few questions about our chicken tractor, so I thought I might as well put a post together answering them all in one spot…

Beatrice Evie Tilly and Madge

Tilly (now Billy), Madge (now Matt), Beatrice & Evie.

Reuben with Agnes and Betty

Reuben with the new girls, Agnes (on the right) and Betty.

Our flock of four has undergone some changes in the last few weeks. Sadly, Madge and Tilly turned out to be Matt and Billy, and since we aren’t allowed to keep roosters in town, they had to be rehomed. They’ve since been replaced with two more sweet little Wyandotte bantams. Keeping up with the House of Eliott theme, our new girls are named Betty and Agnes. After some initial upset amongst the girls, they have now settled in with Beatrice and Evie really well.

We actually had a bit of a scare with Beatrice this week. She was very unwell and at one point I was quite sure we were going to lose her, but with some antibiotics, two nights spent in a cat carrier indoors (with a hot water bottle!) and lots of love, she recovered. She is back to her cute, friendly, happy self again now. Thank goodness! (She’s got such a sweet temperament, she’s a bit of a favourite around here.)

Chooks

Beatrice and Evie.

Chicken Tractor

Everyone in the tractor, watching me excitedly as I walk over with some fresh silver beet for them.

We first got the idea for our chicken tractor from an episode of Gardening Australia. Our girls have a small coop under our little apple tree where they sleep and lay. It’s big enough for them to wander and scratch about in, but they quickly denuded it of any greenery and we wanted to give them access to fresh grass, weeds, bugs and grubs, so they could scratch and forage. Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to, we can’t let our girls wander free range (because our fences are inadequate and our dogs would like to eat them!) so a chicken tractor was the perfect solution. The tractor allows us to give them access to fresh earth and grass to happily carry out their natural chicken behaviours, digging and fossicking, while staying safe.

On wet or windy days, and days when we aren’t home, the chooks stay in their coop, but when the weather is good and we are at home, we put them out in their tractor. We put them out in the tractor mid to late morning, so they have time to lay in their laying box before they go out, and bring them in just as it starts to cool off before dusk. We move the chicken tractor a few times throughout the day, so they always have access to fresh greenery, bugs and grubs to pick at.

The tractor itself is just a light weight run that we purchased from a discount store. Reubs originally planned to make one, but when we found the perfect thing for a great price, we snapped it up. We bought the run when we only had two chickens and though they are still very happy in their tractor, now that our tiny flock has grown, we are planning to upgrade to a bigger one.

And that’s it really! How we work our chicken tractor. If you keep (or would like to keep) chickens in a small backyard or a space that isn’t safe for free ranging, we highly recommend this system. The girls love having the chance to scratch for bugs and dig in the dirt, and we love hearing their happy, chooky noises from the garden!

Katie xx

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Suburban Jungle

Reuben and Veggie Beds

Gardening

Poppy

Garden

Planting

We spent a lot of the weekend in the garden, building two more veggie beds, planting a couple of citrus trees, pruning and pottering. Though our garden isn’t producing much now, it feels good to be building something for the future. From little things big things grow.

I must admit, when Reubs and I moved into this house I was a bit worried about going overboard in the garden. Our block is very small and awkwardly shaped and I seriously doubted that we’d ever be able to make it particularly productive. Reubs was keen to make the most of our limited space and cram it full of edibles. He immediately wanted to rip out all the lawn and replace it with a giant veggie patch, and was adamant that we had enough space for a number of fruit trees, but I was reluctant. It seems crazy to me now but I didn’t like the idea of not having any lawn and I was scared that if we planted too much our yard would look messy and unattractive. (What would the neighbours think?!) So we started small with two little veggie beds, a couple of fruit trees and two chickens, and bit by bit we’ve added more and more. We now have four large veggie beds, ten fruit trees, two passionfruit vines, a couple of berry plants, two elderflower bushes (for making cordial) and hopps (for making beer) which we plan to plant next to the car port so it can climb. We are also hoping to turn a whole corner of our yard into a large chicken coop, so we can keep a bigger flock of chooks. Slowly, I’ve come to realise just how much can be done with a small space (we still have room for so much more!) and I now have a completely different kind of vision for our garden. Not a tidy lawn, tidy veggie beds, tidy trees and small tidy chicken coop, but a rambling patch overflowing with homegrown fruit, veggies, flowers and chickens.

I recently bought Backyard Self Sufficiency by Jackie French (which I highly recommend) and today I was having a read when I stumbled across a quote that so perfectly summed up what I’ve been thinking and feeling, that I had to share it with you. Jackie says:

“I have two images of suburban life today.

The first is of a neat house set in a mown lawn with trimmed shrubs and a sandpit; a clean kitchen with yesterday’s takeaway containers in the sink; and the latest DVDs to fill your life after dinner.

The second is of a suburban jungle: a maze of tangled apple trees and grapevines, carpets of strawberries, and kids with mulberry-stained faces who don’t come inside till dark. You trip over a box of apples in the laundry and the kitchen smells of summer tomatoes and of the basil on the windowsill.

The kitchen shelves are full, so are the lives of the inhabitants.

The richness of our lives depends on our surroundings and what we fill them with.”

I know which one I’d prefer. Bring on the jungle.

Katie xx

PS Just in case you are wondering what our “chicken tractor” is doing in our new veg beds – we were using the girls’ scratching skills to get a headstart on digging up the grass.
PPS My cute apron and trowel are from lovely Brenda‘s wonderful new shop.

Comments { 28 }