Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Testing the powers of the solar oven in the middle of winter

The weekend just gone gave me a chance to test cooking in the solar oven in mid winter.  Here in Orange trying to find the combination of a not too frantic weekend and the abundance of sunshine has been rare - so I gladly snapped up the chance to get out the solar oven again when I had the chance.

Although having a shorter cooking window compared to summer and having to move the solar oven three or four times I was able to get a meal and a bit underway in four hours of sunshine....

First, I nearly completely cooked another Indian style meal in our solar oven... I just had to finish the meals in the conventional oven inside for the last half hour.. we added some poppadoms and ......

Cooking in the solar oven at the same time as the Indian food was a packet of four bean mix - prepared beautifully so that the next day I could turn them into baked beans.  To bake the beans I used our conventional oven because the clouds came in - but they were a welcome treat after soccer.

Our baked beans had local bacon, organic chopped tomatoes, and a dash a Worcestershire sauce ... served on crusty bread it was great.  The kids even judged it better than the supermarket bought canned baked bean.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Technology free" Tuesday and Thursday evenings

Back on the 26th January I posted a blog entry to declare that Tuesdays were to be TV free - it has now been 6 months from our original commitment and we are proud to say that there has only been a rare occasion when this challenge has been broken (for example,  when the kids managed to get onto the local TV news).

Board games with the family and other activities such as marbles have become a part of TV free Tuesdays - it has been a fantastic result.

I guess the time has come to make more of a commitment to free up family time in the evenings.  I am inspired by Tricia's story of removing the TV from the lounge room and all the responses that that post received- so we have now agreed to add Thursday nights to our TV free nights and we have agreed to change from TV free to technology free nights - that is no emails, no web surfing, no Facebook, no after hours work on the computer, no playing on the iPod Touch.  So that's the challenge now - "technology free Tuesday and Thursday evenings".

Even with the introduction of a TV free Tuesday we have found that many more evenings have been spent playing family games rather than habitually turning the TV on.  So we are hoping that with the introduction of technology free evenings we will have more time with the kids and maybe the adults can find the time for some quiet reading or time learning new skills like a playing musical instrument or working out to play Mah Jong with the Dad's Grandparent's old Mah Jong set that is sitting un-used in the games cupboard.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Leopardwood - could this be my totem?

I have just returned from another teaching trip out west - to Nyngan this time.  It was great to get out into western NSW and the warm weather compared to Orange was really enjoyed - I felt like a basking lizard.

A highlight of the trip that I would like to share with you is seeing Leopardwood again.  As a family we have been out to western NSW and southern Queensland a couple times over the last few years and have been introduced to Leopardwood - I had heard about them but had not seen them until these trips.

Leopardwood is an example of a species that has adapted from it's once widespread rainforest ancestors to now survive as isolated trees in hot dry climates with less than 250mm of rain a year, and has adapted to survive wildfire.  A far cry from living in rainforests of dense vegetation with high rainfall and no fire.  They are a member of the Rutaceae family - that's the plant family with oranges, lemons, boronias and correas to name a few.

It has a couple of features that make it one of my favourite trees.....

It's bark patterns which are apparently reflected in the grain of the wood also...

When it is young it is a prickly rounded shrub - probably to deter grazing by animals such as the Diprotodon or Giant Wombat the kids hypothesise... and then the tree grows up out of the protection of this dense prickly base - it is hard to believe that they are the some tree until you piece it all together. 

In the picture below you can see the prickly shrub at the bottom and the young tree growing up out of the middle.

In the photo below you can see the prickly foliage and branches still attached to the lower trunk of a taller tree....

Leopardwood trees scattered through an arid open woodland in western NSW

As part of my permaculture course I have been asked to consider what my 'totem' might be - does it have to be an animal?  Can I have a couple? Maybe the Leopardwood could be one of my totems?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Strawbale houses

We went across to the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days on Friday... it was good to get back as we have missed them for the last 5 years or so. 

One of our highlights was checking out the strawbale house display - it was great to see and hear about some of the benefits of straw bale buildings... the kids even got onto the local TV news talking about strawbale houses.

Some of the features of building with strawbales that appealed to us were:

1. That straw is a renewable resource - a waste product - that has a very low embodied energy.

2.  We loved the earthy look of the strawbale house finishes along with the fact that they can be made from healthy building materials and clean up at the buidling site is much easier with the main building material being able to be used as garden mulch!

3.  Probably most impressive is the insulating properties of strawbales as a building product - strawbale walls having an R-ratings of up to 9 compared the low R-ratings of other building products.  I like the idea that if combined with a passive solar design strawbale houses should not require artificial heating or cooling - WOW.

Here are some phots of the strawbale buildings being constructed at the AREC site  at Mudgee.

A website that we will be looking at in more detail will be Ausbale - The Australasian Straw Bale Building Association.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Animal on Bikes"

On our way to the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo for a school holiday activity we drove past the "Animals on Bikes" along Obley Road.....  here are some of our favourites.....  it certainly made for a fun trip...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finding soft alternatives to harsh cleaners..

I have being trying for some time to cut back on the use of strong chemical cleaners in our household. We have a classical atopic family and the kids and Dad are allergic to many soaps etc... so we have been a no soap or shampoo shower and bath family for some time.. and we use a range of microfibre cloths around the house...... 

In fact, the kids, now 9, 7 and 4 do not get their hair washed with shampoo and conditioner - and have not since their birth. They have grown up with sorbolene in the bath and shower.   To detangle our youngest's wild curls we use a "magic" spray of curling solution - water.  It works well - she will not even let the boys use it because they don't have curls.

On a more personal front - I have been using Tricia's moisturiser bars in the shower for some extra oiling and protection for dry skin, and have just recently changed to cleaning my teeth with bicarb soda and are currently trialling bicarb soda as a deodorant - I believe that it doesn't stop you sweating or the wetness but changes the pH so the bacteria don't grow and smell.  So simple.

What "green" low chemical personal toiletries have you tried?  What are your favourites.

A while ago we stopped purchasing commercial cleaners for the kitchen benches, windows and the bathroom.  We now have a cleaning kit a mix of vinegar, bicarb soda and vinegar - I feel so much better letting the kids help with the cleaning now.

My bathroom cleaning kit - a spray of vinegar with a little Eucalytus oil for the glass, bicarb soda and borax powder and a vinegar spray for the tile, toilet and floor.

In the kitchen, we use a dishwasher .... I tried various alternative options for dishwasher powders (bicarb alone, bicarb and borax, and also bicarb, borax and a commercial powder, along with reduced amounts of my commercial powder) and have decided that the best option is to just reduce the amount of "green" commercial powder that I use - I have cut back to about 2 teaspoon fulls per standard wash (about 1/4 of the powder compartment on the dishwasher door) and it seems to be working just as well - we were previously filling the detergent compartment.

The bicarb and bicarb and borax options in the dishwasher seem to leave the glasses and dishes with a film on them and almost chalky.... if anyone have any better ideas I would welcome any comments.

For general bench top cleaning I use microfibre clothes, old cloth nappies, bicarb soda and a spray bottle of vinegar with a couple of drops of essential oil for that fresh smell (I have a lemon grass fresh spray at present). 

I found this file on 60 uses for bicarb soda - so I guess of got a lot more uses to explore. What I like about simple cleaners such as bicarb soda is that they come in a recyclable cardboard box and they are cheaper than commercial cleaners.

In the laundry we have had to change to low allergy laundry powders because of eczema rashes... with the best results often from the low additive / low fragrance "Green" laundry powders... I also strip wash the kids school shirts and Dad's work shirts a few times a year to get them cleaner and fresher.  One thing that I have on my list to try - is to use no washing powder for clothes that are not really dirty... I have heard that this works!

One of our big "green" philosophies for household cleaning is to not over clean or sterilise the environment - that is live with a little more dirtyness - it won't kill us - and maybe it is even better for us!

What are your best "green" cleaning ideas?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Compost and craft

Being the start of the school holidays I am in need of help around the house and bribes to keep the kids occupied while at home...  I have started with a list of "Mum wants" and a list of "kid wants".... the system will work on trading basis - we all do a job together and then they get to do a kid's activity.

Day 1 has worked well... we went out this morning and shovelled out a layer of wet rich soil/manure from the chook pen.  We made a compost pile that should be well cooked (composted) by the time spring comes around.

It's based on a Cambodian Compost Recipe that we used at the ELF community garden for our Permablitz last month.

The boys are putting down a straw layer.....

...... then on goes a layer of green mulch....

...sandwiched between these layers was the rich manure layer from the bottom of the chook pen.....

The reward (?bribe) being that they got to do some art and craft.......

The creations....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Children's books with environmental teachings..

Just thought that I would share what have become some of our favourite children's books with environmental teachings...

One that we got out of the bookshelf yesterday was 'The Jungle' - a great book with transparent overlays that transform the pictures to reveal many unexpected things - on the final page revealing what the most dangerous animal of all is!!

Our oldest came and joined in reading of The Jungle - it was one of his favourite books to explore when he was young.

The most destructive animal of all revealed!!

An old favourite is 'The Lorax" by Dr Seuss - a great story on consumersim and the destruction of the environment - afterall we all need a thneed - "A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!"

Graeme Base has some great books - our kids spend hours lost in the detail of the beautiful illustrations.  Have you explored "The Waterhole" and "Uno's Garden" ?

On the topic of beatiful illustrations - described as an environmental Where's Wally... its great to see leaf litter illustrated is such a good light and showing all the life in leaf litter... a must see "Leaf Litter" by Rachel Tonkin - there are also some teachers notes for this book.

"Window" by Jeannie Baker is simple book with no words has kept our kids occupied for many hours just telling stories from the pictures - a great story of urban encroachment on native bushland areas.

That's just some of our favourites - we have many books on Australian native plants, animals and ecosystems as well as a growing range of Aboriginal stories.

Do you have more books to add to the list?