Decision Time

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This is my first post for 2020 but it does not seem right to be wishing you a ‘Happy New Year’.  The bushfire disaster in south-eastern Australia is worse than ever, with more confirmed deaths and property losses.

If anyone asked me where I have been in the 5 days since my last blog post, the best answer would be “in limbo”.  We made our way to stay with extended family in Canberra.  After record-breaking heat (44C) yesterday, the capital is now covered with a blanket of thick smoke.  Several locations, including Old Parliament House, the National Gallery and Questacon are closed and people are being advised to stay indoors.  Unfortunately, the smoke seeps into everything but our problems are minimal compared to the areas which are directly impacted.

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As you can see from the map below, Canberra is semi-surrounded by fires.  The yellow markers are active fires, red is emergency and the blue ones are contained.  In some cases a single marker indicates a fire which has burnt an area in excess of 150,000 hectares (about 370,000 acres).

Fire Map

Some of our extended family are in areas closer to the fires so we are constantly trying to keep track of the progress of the fires.

We plan to leave Canberra tomorrow morning and drive home over a couple of days.  The western part of New South Wales is not in the high danger area and where we live is south-east Queensland is well away from the current fires.

However, we are still at the beginning of summer and these fires may be just the beginning of a catastrophic fire season as most of the entire country is drought-affected and tinder dry.

Please stay safe wherever you are.

 

That Was 2019

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I am writing this on the final evening of 2019 in a motel room in Rutherglen, a small town on the Victorian side of the Murray River which forms the border between Victoria and New South Wales.

Rutherglen is not where I expected to be tonight.  We were supposed to be in Bermagui on the south coast of New South Wales, however, it is right in the midst of the horrific bushfires raging in the south-eastern corner of Australia.

This photo is from Mallacoota on the coast near the Victoria/NSW border at about 10am this morning.

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I have gone back and re-read the 34 blog posts I wrote in 2019.  That is only about 1 post every 10 days on average.  At the end of 2018 I mentioned that I was going to have all of my photos sorted in 2019.  That did not happen.  The content of my 2019 posts is interesting.  They generally focus on my interests – gardening, cooking, sewing, op shopping and trying to be self-reliant and minimise our carbon footprint.  However, the posts from the latter part of the year tend to reflect the increasing concern over the climate crisis and my personal connection to it.  These included having a bushfire evacuation plan as well as growing food in extreme heat and saving our precious rainwater.

One event which I did not post about was the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) which has held in Madrid earlier this month.  Angus Taylor, the Federal Energy Minister, represented Australia, however, his prime effort was to block any real progress on global climate action.  As a result, Australia was singled out as being one of a handful of countries who set out to thwart the process.

I am reticent to use the word ‘unprecendented’ but that is the best description of the massive bushfire emergency which has been menacing almost every state and territory of Australia over the past 2 months.

Climate change did not cause the bushfires.

Climate change is contributing to the conditions which have allowed bushfires of the scale we are now witnessing to occur.

If the last day of 2019 is any indication then 2020 is not going to be a happy new year for many Australians.  My fervent wish is that my fellow citizens are all safe.

Many of us have worked diligently for years to make lifestyle changes to reduce our personal carbon footprint but our governments will not take action.  The Murdoch media and fossil fuel industries constantly facilitate climate denialism.  This cannot continue.  My New Year’s resolution is that I will take whatever action I can.

I make no apology for this post nor the fact that there will be more blog posts which focus directly on the climate crisis in 2020.  These will be balanced with important positive actions.  We must all do this together.

And one final comment.  Please read this article from the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Gardening in Extreme Heat

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My apologies to those of you who live in the northern hemisphere.  Here in Australia summer has just begun (officially) after having sweltered through the driest and second-hottest spring on record.  Daily temperatures in excess of 30C, and sometimes 35C, have been the new normal here for several weeks.  Hot, dry and windy days have increased the fire risk to ‘severe’ on many days.  We live at about 400m above sea level and within 30km of the coast so our conditions are nothing like those facing the drought-stricken farmers further west.

Growing food in our current weather is a challenge but one I am prepared to try.  Summer means salads and salads mean lettuce.  So, I am growing lettuce.  I have some in one of the main garden beds which was grown from seed as well as some in styrofoam boxes that were purchased seedlings.

I water the plants thoroughly twice a day – early in the morning and again late in the afternoon.  I cover them during the day and so far this seems to be an effective strategy.

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We picked the first leaves today and are looking forward to plenty more salads based on lettuce grown without chemicals within 10 metres of our back door and completely devoid of packaging.

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Making a Difference

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Australia has just recorded the driest spring on record – EVER!  Additionally, it was the second-hottest spring on record and fell just 0.04C short of the record.

We live in what is generally regarded as a high-rainfall, temperate sub-tropical area, however, that description seems but a distant memory.  As the hot, dry weather continues we are constantly looking for ways to save our precious water.

Our water supply is entirely rainwater which we collect in the 2 large tanks with a combined capacity of close to 100,000 litres.  In the 14 years we have lived here we have barely scratched the surface of that capacity, however, the current drought has made us consider what measures we can take to preserve every precious drop. If we were to run out, our only option is to buy water.  Even purchased water has to come from somewhere and there does not seem to be an endless supply.

In an effort to be as self-reliant as possible we are trying to grow more of our own food which necessitates watering crops in the dry weather whereas during a ‘normal’ season they manage quite well on the natural rainfall except as very small seedlings.

We retrieved a square plastic washing-up dish from our camping equipment and it now lives in the kitchen sink to catch any excess water from washing hands, rinsing dishes etc and that is then tipped onto various ornamental shrubs to help keep them alive.

The other thing we did was to buy 10 metres of hose to attach to the washing machine outlet.  Before I do a load of washing I unroll the hose out of the laundry and across the verandah so that it empties the washing water onto the hibiscus bushes at the front of the house.  The only problem is what to do with 10 metres of hose when it is not in use.

Today, we located a bracket that we had and GMan kindly attached it to the wall above the sink and now the hose coils neatly in place when not in use.

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What changes have you made to save water or other resources?

What to Take?

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I know that 2 weeks have passed since my last post as I have been occupied with various activities both at home and elsewhere.  However, I will save those stories for another day.

Although we live in a semi-rural area, bushfire has not ever been regarded as a high risk due to being in a high rainfall area (1800mm or 72 inches is our average annual rainfall) with relatively high humidity and a generally temperate climate.  This has changed over the 14 years that we have lived here with longer dry spells, periods of low humidity and an increasing number of days over 30C and even over 35C.

We have been watching the increasing fire emergency with concern for the residents who have been impacted.  Yesterday the emergency came too close to home.  An uncontained bushfire was burning a mere 10 kms (as the crow flies) from our home.  It was posing a threat to properties to the point where people in the immediate area were readying themselves to leave.  The threat has eased today but we are mindful that things can change very quickly.

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GMan and I have made a physical list of what we would take/do if we needed to leave the property.  It is in 3 parts:

1. What we would grab if we had to leave with virtually no warning.

Clothes – long-sleeved top, long pants, closed shoes and socks
Wallet/purse and car keys
Laptop, charger and external hard drive
Phones and chargers
Documents (passports, certificates etc) which are all stored together and easy to grab
Medications and prescriptions – I now have 2 weeks worth stored together

2. What to do before we leave.

Shut all windows and doors
Turn off gas cyclinders
Open chicken run

3. Additional items if we had a little extra time to plan.

More clothes
Woollen blankets
Feather doona
Jewellery
Contents of single-drawer filing cabinet
Box of family history documents
Camera
A couple of items of value
Some non-perishable food
Chickens  (in a large cardboard box)

The overwhelming majority of things on these lists are based on practical considerations rather than any sentimentality.  Decluttering over a number of years has allowed me to look rationally at what is really important when the chips are down.

I hope I never have to action these lists but the way things are changing I can no longer leave things to chance.

Please have a plan, stay safe and remember, that above all – it is only stuff.  Your life is paramount.

Collective Action

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Much of what I write about here falls under the broad categories of cooking, gardening and sewing and of course, the all-encompassing category of self-reliance.

The little things that I do every day contribute to my overall philosophy which is summed up in the byline of the blog – ‘A Simple, Sustainable Life’.

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It is important that we should never underestimate the value of the little things that we can all do each and every day.  However, sometimes we need to look beyond our own backyards and get involved on a larger scale.

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8 days ago on 30th November several major Australian cities and regional centres saw significant numbers of school students, young people and adult supporters marching for their future – a future generated by renewable energy, not coal.  I marched in support of these intelligent and articulate youngsters.

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I am somewhere towards the rear of this photo which was taken today.  There were many, more more out of view of the camera.

Thousands of people marched again today and will continue to do so until our state and Federal governments take serious action on climate change.  The most pressing issue is to have the proposed Carmichael mine by Adani in the Gallilee Basin stopped.

There will be more events in the coming weeks.

All of the research shows that a clear majority of Australians support this action so please consider being involved.  Stand up and be counted and let the politicians hear our collective voice.

Meanwhile, I have made another batch of strawberry jam.  That is 8kg of strawberries made into jam.

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Plastic Free July

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Well, it is a week into to Plastic Free July and I decided that rather trying to to buy any plastic for the whole month, I would simply shop and live as I do on a regular basis and try to capture a true picture of my plastic consumption.

Having our own vegetable garden and fruit trees certainly helps.

Orange juice ready to freeze.

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Grapefruit marmalade.

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Yesterday I took a Weck jar when I went to buy feta cheese at the deli counter of the local IGA.  This was a definite win, but only after reminding the attendant to weigh the jar before filling it.  A reminder that this is not yet the norm and you need to be ever vigilant to ensure that your plastic-free attempts are not hijacked by well-meaning staff.

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Fruit and vegetable shopping is relatively easy to achieve plastic-free, particularly if you choose local, seasonal produce as much as possible.

Here is what I bought today.

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The supermarket is a very different story.  The items I bought today represent the majority of what I buy at the supermarket.  By its very nature, everything is packaged.  The cans are recyclable as is some of the plastic but, as we know, recycling should be the last resort.

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There was also a bottle of vinegar which did not make it into the first photo.

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We make at least some of our food from scratch which helps to eliminate some plastic packaging.  These include bread, pizza bases, tomato sauce and peanut paste.

These pizza bases are partly pre-cooked and ready to be frozen.  The plastic wrap is old cereal packets which have been washed and re-used many times.

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I am far from perfect when it comes to Plastic Free July (or any other time for that matter) but by making and growing some of our own food, having virtually no takeaway and not shopping for recreation we are fairly successful at limiting our single-use plastic consumption.

Are you participating in Plastic Free July?  How is it going?

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Remember, there are no failures – just increased awareness.  And that is a good thing.