Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Local insects and animals - the noisy miner

Three days ago my partner greeted me at the door with a grin and the words "I've got a present for you", I was immediately suspicious as 'present' has become a code word for 'lots of work' in our relationship. I came inside to find an ominous looking box on my desk with a tiny bit of fabric sticking out the bottom. When I opened the box I found the little fellow below nestled on a t-shirt (begging questions about Kev' driving around shirtless).

He (I'm assuming his gender) is a noisy miner; a bird native to this area, although not around the humpy. He coped with a close up inspection fairly well and I discovered a slightly damaged wing on the left side and a slightly more damaged hip on the left side. As he was picked up on the road (sitting like a stunned mullet, according to Kev') I assume he has been clipped by a car.
He can grip a perch with both feet, but sits with one leg off to the side. I am hoping he has no broken bones, and after three days he would be dead by now if he had any (gangrene sets in fast).

Noisy miners in the wild eat nectar, pollen, fruit, insects and occasionally a little lizard. I am feeding him a mix of fruit smoothie with added insectivore mix that we keep in the cupboard for emergencies, I also add one drop of pentavite (liquid vitamin). When I can, I will add some nectavore mix (lorrikeet food), but at present I have none in stock. He seems to love the mixture. I went out and collected some white ants for him too, which he had fun playing with, but didn't eat.

When he can put all his weight on his leg and fly around we will begin the long process of re-assimilating him into the wild; probably at my parent's house where there is a family in residence, although their complicated flocking behaviour means that he will not be accepted if he is a she; apparently the females maintain fairly rigid territories which do not overlap while the males wander about in gangs, joining new gangs on a random basis.

This little man needs a name for the (hopefully) short time he will be with me; any ideas?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Another old Singer sewing machine reborn - Lilly gets a new lease on life

Some time ago I found another old Singer 201K at the Tender Centre...there were spider webs and rust every where and she was fairly filthy. I couldn't just leave the old girl there (these old machines are as hard to walk away from as puppies at the shelter) so I bid on her. Of course I won the bid, nobody else seemed to see the potential behind all that grime, so home she came. I squirted sewing machine oil into her inner workings and wrapped the machine head in oily rags while I carried on with life, sparing her a glance and a thought now and then as I hurried by.

Now, months after I bought her home, I have finally found the time to restore her, thanks to an enquiry from one of my readers. First I needed a name, it always seems so rude to call these grand old ladies 'it'; two of the neighbourhood kids who came to visit, and were conned into helping me move her out into the work area, decided to name her Lilly it is.

Lilly was made on the 5th June 1946 in Kilbowie, Clydebank (Scotland).
Her serial number is ED815331
She is a model 201K Singer in a model 46 cabinet.

A blurry picture of Lilly before I started working on her.

After the first oiling and wipe down

The accessory draw was a mess. Sorry for the blurry photo

The treadle assembly was neglected too

A Facebook message from a lovely lady who was interested in giving Lilly a home spurred me into action. I checked her over (the sewing machine, not the lady) and ordered a new drive belt, new beehive tension spring, new stitch control nut and a cleaning brush. Then I gave the filthy cabinet and treadle assembly a good clean with kerosene (for the metal bits) and home made furniture polish (for the wood bits).

Much better after a good scrub.
A good soaking in kerosene for the inner workings of the machine head had Lilly turning freely again and a scrub with a toothbrush over any dirty external bits had her as clean as possible. Lilly has several areas of staining on her and the black japanning (over the head and base) are worn in places, indicating that she has had some adventures in her long life.

The new parts finally arrived and I put her together in a lather of excitement; then it was time to test her. I found a really useful site with tutorials and manuals for Singer treadles.

All ready for a test sew

Trying her out on thicker materials

And on knitted material

The finished project, a lined pencil case with a zipper

A close up of Lilly's serial number

The inclusions she will come with

She's a strong and proud old girl.
So now Lilly is ready to go to a good home and make beautiful things. I have enjoyed getting her going again and I'm now on the lookout for my next project.

I have an old Singer 306 machine in the cupboard, these old girls use cams to make fancy stitches and are powerful enough to sew through leather. Maybe my next project will be to make her functional again.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The anything-but-simple country life.

Recently I read a post on a friend's blog about 'simple country living', as I typed my comment it occurred to me that this was a great subject for a post.

What is a simple country life? Is it living on a bush block, keeping chooks and a cow? Making your own preserves and cooking from scratch? Is it watching the sun rise over an unsullied tree line every morning? or is it hauling endless buckets of water to trees and garden and learning to do basic veterinary repairs yourself because the vet's travel fees are more than you earn in a week?

For me it is all these things and more.

So why do some people stay and others leave? Is it because the realities of life are just too...well...real?

I thought I would put together a little list of some of the realities I have noticed in my thirty plus years as a bush dweller and my six years as a humpy dweller, feel free to add your own realities in a comment;

Things are not convenient; you will run out of gas on Saturday night and all the local shops are shut on Sundays.

Other beings live here too, most of whom want to eat your vegetable garden and/or your chooks.

Everyone knows your business, even if you only see them every few months.

When there is a crisis you are expected to contribute, turn up for fire fighting, donate to families who have lost homes, go to funerals, pick up car parts in town, etc. Next time it might be your crisis.

Nobody cares what you have, only what you can do...unless you have an operational tractor, then everyone will care.

Relax and be yourself; everyone knows if you are 'bunging it on' anyway.

The most interesting people in the world live near you; the woman who worked for the World Bank and brokered loans between countries (and makes great yoghurt), the man who taught mathematics and astronomy in a Melbourne university (and has a semi-rigid truck licence for the fire truck), the woman who trained animals for TV shows (and knows the easy way to tan skins). Get to know them.

Death is inevitable, chooks are eaten by snakes and quolls, dogs are bitten by snakes, sheep and cattle go down with paralysis tick and wallabies are hit on the road by cars. This is the biggest life lesson the bush has to teach you, accept it and make good use of every minute.

Can you add to my list?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The wheel of the year - everything goes around and around

In our home life we use the pagan 'Wheel of the year' as a calendar to plan work and play on and off our property. I find that using sabbats as a guide for farm work is efficient and just makes sense.

What is the Wheel of the year?

Image from

The Wheel of the year (hereafter known as the Wheel) originated in the northern hemisphere, in the Celtic world (and probably many other cultures too). This means that the traditional festivals and feast days that mark the turning of the seasons (Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Candlemas, etc) just don't apply to us here in the southern hemisphere. We all know that when it is summer here it is winter in the UK and US, don't we? Because of the tilt and spin of our planet we have endlessly varied seasons and climates. This also means that pagans need to recalculate their sabbats so as to be in line with the natural world, fortunately this is easy; we just 'spin' the Wheel forward by six months.

As most pagan religions arose from rural farming societies and worship Nature in her many forms, the sabbats and rituals which are common to them have a practical side. I know that when the snowdrops and hardenbergia flower at Imbolc (beginning of spring) that the sheep will soon be giving birth. I know that when I bless the beans, squash and corn seeds on our Ostara (spring equinox) altar it is time to plant them in the garden. I know that when I pick a pumpkin to make a Samhain (beginning of winter) jack-o-lantern it is time to bring in the whole pumpkin crop because frosts are imminent and that when I let the house fire die at Yule (winter solstice) and bring home a candle or a living coal from the Yule fire to relight it I have cleaned out the fire box of all it's accumulated ash just before the deep bone chill of winter sets in.

I have been making myself a graphic organiser showing all the jobs around the humpy that relate to the Wheel. What do you think?

Of course it doesn't show all the work of the year yet. It's a work in progress, like so many other things here at the humpy. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Home made toothpaste- an adventure in reducing waste

Having recently discovered a great website called 'Trash is for tossers', I decided to have a go at making and using one of their recipes; a toothpaste alternative (even less rubbish for the dump bag). The 'Trash is for tossers' website has some great cleaning alternatives and tips for reducing waste. Of course some of the suggestions and tips seem very self evident too, but that is to be expected as the writer lives an entirely different lifestyle to me; she lives in New York, in an apartment, and I live in the Australian bush, in a humpy.

Toothpaste recipe
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
25-30 drops peppermint oil (food grade)

Instead of peppermint I used orange oil (That's what I had).

original toothpaste recipe

My ingredients

The ingredients in the container, still quite hard

I added hot water to the saucepan, but didn't have the hotplate on as the container is plastic.

We have toothpaste.

I used about a teaspoon for my first brush.

As the instructions stated, this toothpaste is much saltier than commercial paste and it doesn't foam, but my teeth are clean and my mouth feels refreshed and strangely cleaner than usual. I think I will persevere with this new paste and see if it helps clean my chronically coffee stained teeth. Maybe I could add a few drops of peroxide to the mix.
What do you think of this simple recipe? Will you try it?
If you do, I would love to hear your experiences and improvements.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dyeing yarn with indigo

Indigo dye vats have fascinated me for a while now; the magic that happens when you add fibre to a yellow green dye pot to get a blue result puzzles and excites me. Recently I found the time (and courage) to have a go at it; thank you Sandy for the push.
First I did a fair bit of research about how indigo is made from the plant. Indigo is made from the leaves of indigo plants which are fermented, soaked in a caustic solution and then dried to produce the blue 'rocks' or powder that comes in the mail for me to play with.
Once I had my little pots of powders and chemicals, I downloaded the instructions for use and got to work...

I decided to dye some hand spun cotton as I had an order for cotton gloves.

I gathered up pots, scales, utensils, indigo, caustic soda
sodium hydrosulphite, yarn and a sense of adventure as per instructions 

I added the caustic and hydrosulphite to the 15 litres of water

I added the indigo to the dye pot

It made a big pot of blue at first, so I put the lid on and waited.

Until the pot was yellow/green with a copper scum on top.
This photo doesn't show the copper scum to full effect, but it is there.

I decided to experiment with cotton, merino and suffolk yarns (because I had those lying around).

Better late than never, I found a pair of rubber gloves.

I made a tiny skein to test dye first, this one is cotton.

Well, it came out blue.

So I tied the skeins to a bit of wood and lowered them into the pot.

They went a lovely shade of dog vomit green/yellow at first.
 The copper scum shows up much better in this photo.

I lifted the yarn out and waited for it to turn blue

Which it did

Then faded to a much lighter blue as it dried.

That was the batch that worked......the story of the vat that didn't is much the same until the 'lifting the yarn out' stage then I found that my four skeins of cotton yarn (which take forever to prepare and spin) had turned into a big blue jelly fish in the bottom of the vat. I eventually figured out that the 150g of caustic recommended in the instructions was just too much for the yarn and it melted. The second lot I cut the caustic down to 15g (about a tablespoon) and it worked well; must have been a misprint.

In ancient times indigo dye vats were made using stale urine (because they didn't waste anything). The processed indigo was stuffed into a cloth bag and lowered into a big tub of stale urine and left to ferment for a week. Cloth and fibre was then soaked in the vat for various lengths of time then rinsed (really well, I would think) and left to dry in a breezy place. This kind of dyeing vat is called a sig vat. I will try this method at some point, when I can afford more indigo dye.
Maybe I should try growing some indigo plants, what do you think?
Have you tried indigo dyeing? What was your experience?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Happy Lammas to all

Lammas is the sabbat of first harvest; the time of year when we pick the last of the summer fruits from the garden and preserving for the winter is in full swing. At this time of year the animals are usually fat and healthy, the young ones have grown into that awkward teenage phase and the harvesting of staples like wheat, corn and potatoes begins.

Lammas is also known as 'loaf-mass' as this is the time when the first bread is made from the newly harvested grain. The Corn Lord gives up his life for the ripening of the grain at this sabbat and to celebrate this we eat newly baked bread and honey.

This year we had a quiet, gentle ritual with a few examples of our harvests on the altar and feasted in the evening by the light of an almost full moon.

A very fruitful Lammas to you all. May all your harvests be huge.