Skinflint Sunday: Our new orchard.

Look at the sunlight beaming in through the window! You can almost hear the choir of angels!

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that when we lived in the old house we had a thriving food forest garden. Over time, I built it up to over 30 fruit trees, over 12 metres of veggie gardens, (both traditional and wicking) as well as having chooks.

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne I had to leave all of that behind and start again. Thankfully, I have a lot of friends who also garden, so all of the fruit trees were dug up and rehomed. I kept a few that were in large pots and brought them with me.

Scout with a ball in her mouth.
Gardening with Scout around always involves throwing the ball.

There they sat on the side deck, ignored and neglected. I was working all the time and was also focussed on getting the back yard, with its veggie beds and outdoor room up and running. Last year I planted an apricot, a pomegranate, a lime and 4 apples out there, so at least I was doing something...

Half-eaten lemon tree
My poor lemon.

I don’t know how long this lemon tree has been in its pot. When I went to replant it I was horrified to see that something had been eating the leaves. You can see on the right hand side that the branches are bare. Whatever-it-was had travelled across from the mandarin tree next to it. OOps.

I examined the eaves and found a couple of tiny caterpillars and a few cocoons. Killed them and then planted the tree in the front yard near the path for easy access to the lemons.

This tree has the nicest lemons, with very few pips. I’m hoping it gets a new lease on life.

Mandarin tree without leaves.
My nude mandarin tree.

Speaking of oops, here’s the mandarin tree.

The branches are all still limber, so I’m hoping that being in the ground will make it bounce back. I’ve placed it close to the edge of where the garden bed is going to be, near the letter box. If any of the boys end up spawning children, I figure this will be the perfect spot for little hands to pick a mandarin or two.

Health(ier) looking blood orange tree.
Blood orange.

This one isn’t quite so bad, probably because it was out on the front verandah so I saw it more often.

I’m not a huge fan of blood oranges, but Mum and Tom28 adore them. I bought this one at Aldi a couple of years before we left the house, so it’s ONLY been in the pot for 6 years or so. The leaves are yellowing a bit but the fertiliser I popped in the hole with it should fix that.

Sickly looking avocado trees
Avocado trees.

But by far the stupidest thing I did was buy these avocado trees last year, then leave them on the deck sitting in a dog water dish. I thought they’d be fine – they’d retain any water and not dry out.

A couple of months ago I went out to feed the worm farm and saw that the avocados were looking AWFUL. They were dropping their leaves and the water dish was full around them.

I raced indoors and googled. Sure enough, avocados don’t like getting wet feet. Another OOps! I lifted them out and let them dry. Hopefully, they don’t have root rot. Honestly, I don’t expect them to live, but I feel bad for neglecting them so we popped them by the fence and made the sign of the cross over them. We’ll see if they survive.

Plum tree
Satsuma plum. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

The only trees in this section of the garden that I have no worries about are the plums. This is because I bought them the day before, so they haven’t suffered the out-of-mind, out of sight beneign neglect that I inflicted on the others.

Honestly, Fortnate Frogdancer is a real thing.

I woke up on the first day of Spring and thought, “I’m going to buy some plum trees and get the boys to plant them in the front yard. Today’s the day!”

A sensible person would have thought this a month or two ago, when bare-rooted fruit trees were being sold. Now at the end of the season, they’re not so easy to find, particularly if you are fixated on a specific type of plum.

Gran’s favourite plum was Satsuma. They had one in Inverloch and I can remember her picking one, biting into it and savouring the taste. One of the plum trees HAD to be a Satsuma.

Which of course were all sold out all over the state. Just as I was about to give up, I found one! I ordered it, with a pollinating plum (did really care which one) and 4 columnar apple trees for beside the driveway. I was so happy.

I debated about getting them delivered but decided to save the $30 delivery fee and pick them up myself. Thank goodness I did that.

To days later, when I was at the nursery, I glanced at the trolley full of my plants and gasped in horror. The plum trees were labelled ‘Santa Rosa’ and ‘Mariposa’.

“NO!!!!” I said. “I ordered a Satsuma! It HAS to be a Satsuma!”

They looked at my receipt and one of the guys offered to go out and check if they had one left. I saw another guy shake his head at him, and I was sure that I’d have to go home with one plum tree and a store credit to get a Satsuma next year.

But he came back with one. (Turns out it’s a regular sized plum, not a dwarf, but I can keep it pruned.)

“You’re very lucky”, he said as we manoeuvred the plums into my car. The plums were so tall that the tips of the branched were touching the windscreen.

“I know,” I replied. “I think this is the last one in the whole of Melbourne.”

7 trees in the ground.
My orchard.

Here’s the final vista. I plan on keeping them well-pruned so they don’t get too big and entangled. The next job is to create a ‘no-dig’ garden bed around them all and next year, once the cardboard under the mulch rots down, plant some flowering shrubs and ground covers here and there to make it all look pretty.

I’ll have stepping stones to the trees so we won’t step on the soil very much. It’s going to look beautiful – an oasis of calm as you step through the gate from the world outside.

Skinflint Sunday – make those food supplies stretch!

Scout before we trimmed her beard.

Sitting here on the couch, listening to the rain drumming on the tin roof of the verandah, looking at the slick brick paving of the driveway, it’s fair to say that I’m still enjoying lockdown.

Maybe I’m enjoying it a little too much? After mentioning to a mathematically-minded friend that I’ve signed on for another year of part-time teaching, he queried why. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m really worried about Covid, especially working in a school. No one can force those kids to socially distance. You’d need to point a gun at them, and even then they’d forget.

After selling my sweet little urban farm and moving 16kms away to The Best House in Melbourne, I released enough equity so that financially, I’m pretty well set up. I haven’t quite hit “the number” that I’m aiming for to feel safe enough to retire, but honestly, if I pulled the pin now I’m pretty sure I’d be ok.

But… I’m a little leery about what is going to happen to the economy once all of the government payments like Job Keeper and Job Seeker start getting wound down. I really don’t want to retire and then have the bottom fall out of my nest egg.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for years will know just how hard the struggle was when the boys were little. I think that once someone goes through poverty like that, it’s very hard to let go of the safety rope that is an ongoing wage. I know that mentally, I won’t want to let it go until I feel VERY financially safe.

At the same time, I don’t want to go to work and catch the virus, either.

I’ve nearly finished all of the retirement-proofing that I want to get done on The Best House in Melbourne. I just have the ensuite and the side fence to go and I already have the money set aside to do them, once lockdown eases and people can go back to work.

For the moment, I’m going to let my decision to go back to work stand. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months. Maybe these harsh lockdown weeks will do the trick and the virus will simmer down and it’ll be safe to go back to work. I suppose there’s nothing stopping me from pulling the pin if I feel unsafe once I’m back. My fear of slipping back into poverty will mean that it’s a decision I won’t make lightly!

Balancing this, of course, is that I don’t want to leave the school in the lurch if I DO decide to leave. I’d definitely want to allow enough time for my 2 heads of department to find a decent replacement. They’re good people – I don’t want to create drama for them. Ugh. Bloody pandemic! I had it all sorted out until covid came along!

Decisions, decisions. Still, the really good thing about all of this is that all those years of frugality, making the hard money decisions and sticking with them, and finding pleasure in the simple things around me means that I have given myself options.

In the middle of a pandemic, that’s probably a good place to be.

Now, speaking of frugality – it’s Skinflint Sunday! What have I been doing to stretch our dollars?

* I’m aiming for serving a vegetarian dinner every second or third night, to make the meat in the freezer last. News stories have been saying that the border closures are going to make the prices of goods rise, particularly meat, so I figure that eating more lentils and veggies will have the economic benefit of eking out the meat we have, plus it’s better for us.

Also, Past Frogdancer bought heaps of dry beans, barley, nuts, rice and lentils. It makes good sense to use them up. I have lots of thermomix cookbooks from Thermobexta and Skinnymixers which have DELICIOUS vegetarian curries, soups and, well, everything else you could think of. We’ve been dining like KINGS! Vegetarian kings. Every second night.

Bread rolls made the old-fashioned way – with added yeast.

* Years ago, when we were driving to the bread shop and getting their leftover bread for free every Tuesday night, I used to use the baguettes as garlic bread. I’d make them and freeze then in foil, then pop them in the oven whenever we had pasta. It’s a good way to fill up teenage boys and make them think they’re having a treat.

It occurred to me that I could use the yeast I bought in a mad panic as the first lockdown hit – the yeast I haven’t touched because I’ve been making sourdough bread – could be used to make thermomix bread rolls. Once cool, slather them with garlic butter, wrap in foil and freeze. Voila! Garlic bread!

Home-made garlic butter with parsley.

We tried them out last night, served on the side with our macaroni bolognaise. Smelled so good, cooking in the airfryer. The boys loved it. The best thing is, I made 2 batches of the rolls so I still have 10 rolls in the freezer, ready to go.

*I’m still working on the garden. I have brussels sprouts (YUM), caulies and cabbages growing, although I’m not too sure if they’ll be successful. They seem to be growing a lot of big outside leaves but nothing much is happening in the middle, which is the business end for these vegetables. I have a MASSIVE silver beet plant which has gone to seed but is still producing viable leaves, so that has been my go-to for leaves to include in just about everything. I loves me some fresh green leaves to keep the Covid away!!

I have a rule that, if at all possible, something from the garden has to be used in our lunches and dinners. Even in these lean wintry days, there’s still the green leaves from the silver beet and warrigal greens, chives, parsley and other herbs, as well as things like the bay leaves from my little potted tree. Surprisingly, even the rhubarb is still going strong. I expected it to die down.

Soon I’ll be dragging out my seeds and starting to plant for the spring and summer gardens. With today being so gloomy and rainy, though, summer seems an eternity away.

*Reading. Boy, have I been doing a lot of this! I set a stretch target on Goodreads of reading 80 books this year. So far I’m 10 ahead of schedule. I’ve been listening to audiobooks from the library as I do things like painting fences and quilting, while also borrowing kindle books as well. I read so quickly that spending $40 on a book that would only take me a day or two to finish isn’t a good use of my $$$.

Around 30 years ago I read a book called Ringworld, by Larry Niven. It wasn’t especially well-written, but on the other hand, I never forgot it either, so it had to have had something going for it! He wrote 3 sequels to it, (of which I read 2). A few weeks ago I found out that he also wrote 4 prequels, plus a final sequel.

Hmmm… I checked the library but they only had hard copies of some of the books. I wouldn’t be able to access them until the libraries open up again after lockdown, and who knows when that’ll be?

I ferreted around and found where I could download these books for free. Since then I’ve been in a deep dive in the worlds of Known Space. I’m up to the stage of re-reading ‘Ringworld’ now, before I tackle the rest of the series. It’s been HOURS of fun. Some of these books are definitely more entertaining than others, but I’ve set my hand to the plough and I’ll finish this job.

Then I’ll tackle the pile of physical books beside my bed. As long as there’s books in this world, there’s no need for anyone to be bored.

Anyway, that’s probably enough Skinflint Sunday for one week. I’d be interested to know what you think about my job dilemma – and also if you have any hints and tips for things that you’re doing to stretch your resources a little futher. There’s always more to learn!

I grew ginger! In Melbourne!

Some readers may recall that I’ve been bringing home the food waste for composting from the school I work at for around a year or so. Last December, the Food Tech room had some sprouting ginger in its offering for the day. Honestly, it was still good enough to use for cooking and ordinarily I would’ve done so, but the gardener/experimenter in me wanted to see if I could grow it. I had a wicking box free, so why not?

Ginger in a tupperware bowl.
The sprouting ginger from work, chopped and soaking. Don’t do this.

I googled and the video I watched said to chop it into smaller pieces, soak them for a day and then plant. Leave them until the above-ground plants die down and then harvest.

Too easy. So I did what he said and then pretty much left them along for 6 months.

Ginger is a tropical plant which likes to grow in dappled shade. I figured that I should put it on the north-facing side of the house where it’d get the most sun, seeing as how I’m in a temperate/cool climate. Over the 6 months I ignored it. Sure, I topped up the wicking box with water and I liquid fertilised it a few times, but that was about it.

Then a couple of days ago I glanced at it and saw that the plants were dying back. I thought it’d be a hard job to harvest the rhizomes, but it took all of 5 minutes.

My impressive harvest.

Honestly, if I was looking to feed a ginger-starved family, I’d conclude that it wasn’t worth it. I think I got LESS new ginger than the ginger I planted!

And yet…

I’m encouraged to think that with almost total neglect, I was able to get a crop, no matter how small. I wonder what would happen if I actually gave another crop a little more TLC?

He used to be a Simple Savings member, like me!

So over breakfast this morning, I did a little googling and found Rob Bob’s channel. He has a food forest garden up in Queensand so his climate is far more conducive to growing ginger, but he also gives advice to people in cooler climates like me.

Turns out I did quite a few things wrong.

  • First up, he says that I should’ve kept the ginger chunks big, not cut them smaller. It gives more energy to the growing plant. Whoopsies.
  • I had about 9 chunks in the one pot. Again, not such a good idea. Too crowded.
  • The wicking bed isn’t great for ginger. Apparently they like to have some air around their roots.
  • I should’ve been fertilising them every 3 weeks or so – not every 3 months. My bad.
  • And the final kicker – he says that in cool climates, you should let the plants die down AND THEN LEAVE THEM IN THE GROUND FOR ANOTHER YEAR TO RESHOOT AND GET REALLY GOOD GROWTH!!!

Damn that American guy I listened to the first time!

Anyway, I’m going to do this again in Spring. I think it’s important to earn how to grow the little things that add interest and piquancy to our food. I remember reading somewhere that if/when supply lines get stretched and things are no longer easy to get (a typical peak oil scenario), the staples will always be around, but the little luxuries like herbs and spices will be a lot harder to get. Presumably they’ll be a whole lot more expensive too.

Ginger, garlic and chilli chopped up in the thermomix.
I wish I could convey the smell. Glorious!

Anyway, I won’t save any of these baby ginger roots for planting. Here is the first lot being used for a satay chicken dinner, with a home-grown chilli as well. (Garlic from Costco. I’m not perfect!!)

It’s really satisfying to cook with ingredients that you’ve grown yourself!

Loving lockdown!

A rounded pic for my rounded sourdough!

It’s been a while since I wrote here but the truth is I’ve been so busy. You know how retirees always say with a smirk, “I don’t know how I ever found the time to go to work!” Well, I think I’m getting a taste for how that feels.

Not that it’s really the same. For the last 4 weeks I’ve been remote teaching. For anyone interested in what teaching from home is like, I wrote a post on the other blog about it.

Two weeks after writing that post, I’ve learned to keep out of my work emails during my days off. I have a quick look at breakfast, just in case a kid submitted something late on the day before, then I sneak a very quick look in the late afternoon, but that’s IT! Otherwise, I was working right through the week, working 6 or 7 days but only getting paid for 3. Frogdancer Jones is not a charity!

I thought I’d be reading heaps of books, but I haven’t been. I mean, I’m still reading but not every day. I think that because I’m reading so much on the screen when I’m working that when I have free time, my eyes want a rest from print.

First coat almost done!

One of the jobs I wanted to have done by the end of iso was to get my fences painted, particularly the front fence. One of my ‘panic buys’ at Bunnings was a 10L tin of ‘Monument’ coloured fence paint, along with a redgum stain for the uprights.

Monument is a very ‘Melbourne’ colour. Melbournians tend to wear a lot of black, and I think there must be an unwritten rule that says that every house in Melbourne has to have a touch of this colour somewhere. I don’t care if it’s popular – I love it.

At first I wasn’t all that fussed about getting it done, as we were told that school would be out for the whole term. But now, just in case, I’ve decided that every sunny day that I’m not working, I’ll be out there waving a paintbrush around. If we go back earlier, I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t have the fence done.

I decided to use a brush and not a spray gun for a couple of reasons. One was that I think you get a better coverage with a brush. The second was when the woman over the road told me about when she hired a guy to spray paint her fence in her previous home and the wind took it and covered the neighbour’s cars with droplets of paint. The guy had to pay to get the cars completely resprayed!

Dammit!

So yesterday, I finished the 10L tin of paint. The street side would have been completely finished except for this last little scrap. I was scraping that tin, trying to find just a little more paint…

The fence palings are really thirsty, so what I thought would be enough paint to finish the job hasn’t even finished the first coat on the front fence I still have to paint behind the gate, which will be a bugger of a job because of all the metal posts there. I can see a trip to Bunnings in my future on Thursday. I can’t go after teaching today because I have an English meeting after school hours. *sigh*

Even in a pandemic, there’s no escape.

A couple of days ago I found this handwritten, posted-with-a-stamp letter in the mail. It’s from our local Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even having a padlock on the front gate can’t keep them out!

It needs some pleats at the side.

Who says face masks have to be boring? I made a couple of masks for when I go shopping. I think the chickens add a jaunty air to my appearance, don’t you? The good thing about these is that they’re reusable – I just threw it into a bleach solution when I got home and put it through the wash.

Obviously it’s not going to totally save me from the virus, but for a quick shopping trip to the supermarket, it reminds me not to touch my face and it’s a barrier to breathing in any germs. Plus it was a novelty for me to make something that wasn’t a quilt.

Evan23’s quilt… and mine.

So speaking about quilts, I finally began Evan23’s yellow and grey quilt. We bought the fabric way back in January, so it was past time for me to get onto it. I guesstimated the number of squares I’d need and spent a few days cutting and sewing them together.

He wants a queen-sized quilt, which is a sizeable project. When I laid them out on my bed (also queen-sized) to work out the layout – I discovered that I’d made DOUBLE what I needed. What an idiot! So now Evan23 and I will have mother-son matching quilts. Not exactly what I intended to have happen…

Another quilt.

I’ve also pieced together a lap-quilt for a friend. I had some fabric left over from the ‘Outlander’ quilt, so waste not, want not!

I love my Golf. 8 chairs fitted inside!

At the end of January I ordered 8 teak chairs from Schotts in Moorabbin to go with my teak outdoor table. My verandah out the back is finished and the chairs were one of the final things I needed to make it all ready.

The woman who served me said that they’d have to order them in from China. At that stage China had shut down lots of things because of the virus. She said that they were due in at the end of April, but with the virus, who knew?

I shrugged, thinking that it would be getting colder by then, so if the chairs didn’t arrive for months it wouldn’t make that much difference anyway.

Well knock me down with a feather if the chairs didn’t arrive on time! I had a week to collect them. I hadn’t left the house (except to walk the dogs) for a couple of weeks and it felt strange getting into the car and driving to get them.

I also took the chance to visit Mum and Dad. We sat on their back verandah, appropriately socially distanced of course! I hadn’t seen them in around 5 weeks. Tom28 brings them their groceries every Saturday and they talk to him in the front garden, but apart from that they don’t see too many people.

The chairs in their new home.

To my shame, the veggie garden has been left it its own devices. Once I get the fence finished I’ll be very busy cutting and dropping the old tomato and celery plants and dragging away the old zucchini, squash and pumpkin vines. It looks like a squalid dump at the moment.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. I’ve already picked 2 pumpkins and there are another 3 or 4 still out there. I’ve never been able to grow pumpkins before, so it’s a little bit exciting.

Tiny butternut pumpkin.

This wee little pumpkin grew, like all of the others, out of the compost materials that I was bringing home from work. It only had 300g worth of pumpkin, which was perfect for adding to the mashed potato on the top of a shepherd’s pie. It’s so satisfying to eat things that you’ve grown yourself.

Doll quilts for the next-door neighbours.

After I made the lap quilt for my friend, I had a few leftover blocks so I made these for the kids next door. They have 4 kids under 5 and honestly… lockdown is a struggle for them. I hear lots of tantrums and arguments from the kids so I figured that if they had something new, it would at least distract them for a while. (And hopefully won’t give them something else to argue about!!)

Plain flour loaf of sourdough.

A blogging friend put me onto a terrific website for sourdough bread. The guy who runs it is a whizz at putting up recipes that are simple to understand and which actually work. He’s also incredibly attentive to the comments, where people ask questions and offer suggestions, which makes his blog an absolute treasure-trove for sourdough baking! The loves at the top of this post are from the simple weekday sourdough recipe, which I’m excited about because it means I can keep the sourdough loaves going even when I’m back at school.

This loaf is from a new recipe he just posted, which is a sourdough bread made with 100% plain flour/all-purpose flour. When David26 and I went to Costco on that crazy day, we bought 2 big bags of plain four. I was actually wanting baker’s flour but there was none to be had. I’ve been eking out my last remaining bakers flour in the Simple Weekday recipe by using plain flour for most of it, and substituting bakers flour when the recipe calls for whole-wheat flour.

This new recipe is a really good way to use the abundant plain flour I’ve got. I put some pepita seeds on top, just for fun. I was rapt at how high it rose. It doesn’t taste like sourdough but it’s a beautiful loaf of bread just the same. I had the first slice – the crust – just now for breakfast. Bloody beautiful!

Jeffrey.

So yeah – lockdown is going really well. I really hope they keep the schools closed for the whole term because I really don’t want to get sick. But in the meantime, there’s plenty to do to keep occupied!

A week into lockdown at Frogdancer’s place.

Scout brought home a tummy bug. She was very sick for a couple of days, but she’s bounced back now!

(This post is a cut and paste of the one just published on the FI/RE blog. If you’ve already read it, you’ll get deja vu if you read this one.)

So it’s been a week since schools shut down when the school holidays were brought forward by 4 days and we’re now in official ‘school holiday’ time. Lockdown was officially brought in on Saturday night (I think), so what has been going on here while the country grinds slowly to a halt?

David26 packing his bags to move over to his girlfriend’s place. She lives at home with her parents…

We had the uncomfortable chat with adult kids that a lot of families are having, especially since the new laws came in forbidding meetings of more than 2 people. David26 was over at Izzy’s place when all of this came into effect. For newer readers, Izzy is immunocompromised as she’s fighting leukaemia. After checking with Izzy’s family, David26 has elected to stay there for the duration.

He came back, masked and gloved, to pack some clothes, food and musical equipment. He’s spending his days helping Izzy’s Dad with major renovations on their house, (aka learning some manly skillz) and writing lots of music with Izzy. He’s happy.

Evan23, facetiming from Ballarat. Strike a pose!

Evan23 is up in Ballarat with the other people from his acting course. This photo was what he sent after I said that his hair looked lustrous. It made me laugh! Apple doesn’t fall far, as they say. He’s moved into the share house that his girlfriend lives in, along with one of the other podcast guys. Lots of board games, lots of drinking, lots of painting. He bought canvases and paint as part of his panic buying before the lockdown.

Tom28 is an accountant and so far he’s been able to hang onto his job. We have long phone calls nearly every day.

Fortunately, I’m sharing lockdown with the quietest and most introverted son. Our house is blissfully quiet. The only sounds I hear, apart from his lectures from his uni course, are music or ‘Animal Crossing’ drifting from his room. We have little chats, then part to do our own things, then we meet up again to share things we’ve seen online etc. It’s chilled.

I posted this shot below, after a wonderful moment on Saturday night.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been back since, because on Sunday little Scout came down with a tummy bug and was really quite sick for a couple of days. Then, just as she was getting better, Jeffrey came down with it.

Jeff this morning.

Jeffrey was VERY sick. So sick that I took him to the vet at 8 AM yesterday. She couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so directed me to feed him boiled chicken and rice. This morning he ate some, the first food he’s had for over 2 days. He then wagged his tail. I’d say he’s turning the corner. Phew!

Correction still goes on…

I had to bring home some correction and I was getting kids who had self-isolated earlier to send me work via email, so I was still keeping busy in the last few weeks of term. One poor little boy, who only scored 4/30 on his grammar test, sent me what sounded like a chirpy little email after I released his mark to him.

Something along the lines of “Hi Ms Jones! Could you please send me my grammar test so my Mum and tutor can go over it with me? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!”

Poor kid. That’s the LAST thing anyone would want. His Mum was almost certainly standing by his shoulder, dictating what to type. I’d already given him 15 extra minutes to complete the test, as I knew he struggles with English. Fortunately – or UNfortunately, depending on whether you’re the student or his Mum – his was a test I’d brought home. So I photo-ed the pages and emailed them across.

Another chirpy email thanked me. Poor kid…

The new fence – naked.

One of the projects I want to get done is to paint the front fence. Over the fullness of time, the lawn will be mostly replaced by garden beds. It’ll be an oasis. The following photo is the colour scheme I’ve chosen.

Soon…

My parents have been gallivanting around, so I had a stern talking-to with them. They’re over 80, for God’s sake. Anyway, after this, they’ll either heed what I say or they just won’t tell me. After all we’ve been through with them, health-wise, over the past year, you’d think they’d be more sensible.

My first pumpkin.

Look at this fine pumpkin! I’ve never been able to grow them before, but the compost materials I’ve been bringing home from work, coupled with the wicking beds, have brought forth a bonanza of pumpkins. I’m so happy. This one was so heavy it fell off the vine, so Ryan25 brought it in. It’s sitting next to the tromboncino zucchini seeds I’m drying for next year.

Ryan25 just came in to tell me that it looks like Australia is starting to flatten out the curve, which is good news. Meanwhile in the US, this is happening:

It beggars belief, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I hope that you and yours are safe and well. It’s a time to quietly enjoy our nearest and dearests and live life at a slower pace. It’s Wednesday morning at 10:30 and I’m still sitting on the couch in my pjs. On a normal Wednesday I would have taught 2 classes by now! Jeff is snoring beside me, Ryan25 is playing some 80’s music and the sun is shining. I’ll have brunch and get out into the garden today, I think.

Stay safe! Stay home!

Stockpiling. Is it a sin or sensible?

This is a copy of a post I wrote for my FI/RE blog yesterday. I thought it was really relevant to the readers of this blog as well. I’d be interested to hear how you handle this.

My panic buying this week at Bunnings – fence paint and potting mix.

With all that’s been going on around the place with people panic-buying toilet paper and the like, I thought I’d share my views on having a stockpile of food and non-perishables around the house. I’ve had a stockpile for the last 2 decades and I find it a really useful and economical way to run my household.

Going back 20 or so years, (in the time before Aldi), I started building a supply of food and other things when things were on special. I was living on a single parents pension of around 18K/year with 4 small boys to feed, so money was incredibly tight. Over the course of a year or so, I gradually built up the supplies in my pantry so that in the end, I was pretty much buying as much as I could when something was on special.

In other words, we were eating most of our food at a discount. When baked beans, for example, were half price, I’d buy 10 or 20 of them, depending on how much leeway was in that week’s budget. Then we’d gradually eat them down until the next time when they were on sale, when I’d buy the same amount again.

Short-term, this was a more expensive way to run the household, but I’ve rarely been a short-term thinker. Over the course of a year, I’d easily save a few hundred dollars on meat, groceries, pet food and cleaning products. I was so poor that a few hundred dollars made a HUGE difference to our quality of life. The stockpile was worth doing.

When Aldi came to our neighbourhood, it was different. They had no ‘specials’ as such, but their prices were so much lower that I gladly started shopping with them.

And I still kept a stockpile. Why?

I realised that liked having reserves of food and other staples around. I liked not having to run to the shops every time I ran out of an ingredient, because I almost always had a replacement in the back cupboard. It gave me a sense of security and comfort in the fact that if something unexpected happened, I knew I could look after my boys and that we wouldn’t have to go shopping if people were out there acting crazy.

When ‘The Walking Dead’ came along, I christened my stockpile ‘The Zombie Apocalypse Cupboard’ and that’s its name today. Hearing the supermarkets run on a “just in time” policy of stocking their shelves cemented the idea that having a small stash of necessities wasn’t a bad idea.

So, seeing as I’m a bit of a prepper, how has the Jones household been acting in this time of Coronavirus?

I’ve so far been ahead of the wave. I’m a teacher and sooner or later it appears that Australia will have to close the schools down. The only question is when. I fully expect to have to self-isolate at some stage, given that I work in a school with nearly 2,500 kids and 200 teachers. That’s a lot of bodies that the virus would love to inhabit! Given all of that, it made sense to me to get ahead of the game and make sure that we had everything we’d need if we couldn’t leave our house for a while.

Years ago I read an article about the people of Sarajevo when they were caught in the middle of a war zone. It included a list of all the things they most prized. The number one item? Toilet paper, closely followed by matches and perfume. I’ve never forgotten that, so the Zombie Apocalypse cupboard has a dedicated shelf to the old bog rolls. Back in early February, when stories started to surface about this new virus but it was long before any panic-buying, I quietly stocked up on loo paper.

Then, in the next week or two, I bought a few extra tinned and packaged goods. Things like tuna, chickpeas, pineapple chunks (for pizza) and paracetamol. Grain-free dry dog food and the raw meat patties I feed Poppy, Jeff and Scout were also on the list. Dishwasher tablets, aluminium foil and baking paper came soon after that.

By the time I noticed toilet paper shelves were starting to empty pretty rapidly, I was feeling like our food situation was ok. But what would I do with my time if I had to self-isolate for at least 2 weeks? Remote -teaching my students would take up a bit of time. But there’d still be extra hours to fill…

Reading is my #1 passion. I have at least 15 books piled up beside my bed and a huge number waiting to be read on my kindle app. I have Netflix and Foxtel, so the tv viewing and book reading situations will be fine. But what about other things?

While everyone in the last week has been going crazy in the supermarkets, I’ve been at Spotlight quietly buying quilting supplies and at Bunnings buying fence paint for my new front fence, along with decking oil and potting mix.

Stockpiling doesn’t have to be just about the food. I’ve brought the paint buying forward a month or so, but now it’s done.

Though it hasn’t been all fun and games.

Two days ago, David26 and I went to Costco. It was a Tuesday morning, 10 minutes before opening time. David26 was worried about his girlfriend Izzy’s family and wanted to buy a few staples for them. Against my better judgement I agreed to take him.

The premier of Victoria had issued a state of emergency the day before. S**t was starting to get REAL.

It was incredible. When we arrived, there were easily 1,000 people ahead of us in the queue. It snaked around the carpark. David26 and I looked at each other.

“Well, we’re here now,” I said. “We probably won’t be able to get toilet paper for them, but we can get other things. And while we’re here, we need a 3L bottle of milk and I could always top up the dogs’ grain-free food. Then, if we’re isolating ourselves at home, the dogs’ll definitely be ok.”

It took us 25 minutes to even get to the front door. By the time we got there the signs were up saying ‘NO MORE TOILET PAPER.” By the time we reached the front of the queue, it was almost twice as long as when we got there.

Mini road-rage spats, with honking horns, were happening in the car park. Just as we reached the front, a police van quietly drove through and parked on the corner, clearly to keep an eye on things. Anyone trying to push into the queue was quickly told where to go… and by that I mean down to the end of the queue, not to go straight to hell!!!

Once we were inside, those massive Costco trolleys were racing around in all directions. People with a wild look in their eyes were grabbing everything they could lay their hands on. There was a limit rule of 2 cans of Glen-20 per membership, but at the cash registers I saw quite a few people who, like David26 and I, had come in a pair, trying to argue that they should be able to take 4 cans. No one got away with it though. The Costco staff were standing firm.

As we were waiting to pay, I whispered to David26, “If this is what it’s like on a Tuesday, imagine what the end of the week will be like if the news doesn’t get better? Not sure I’d want to be here then.”

So, what with my normal preparedness and yesterday’s Costco run, I guess I’ve seen both sides. So which is best?

If you’re an adrenaline junkie who likes to pit yourself against the odds, then yes! Leave everything till the last minute and go out and take your chances.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a sin to be prepared. You don’t want to be THAT guy who has 4,000 rolls of toilet paper lining his garage, but I think it makes sense to have a place set aside for things that you regularly eat/use as a back-up. When things are going wrong, the fewer people who are out on the streets competing for things, the better.

If any (or all of us) gets the virus and feels sick, it’s a comfort to know that we have everything we need to look after ourselves well within reach. By having the Zombie Apocalypse cupboard, we’ve eliminated that anxiety from our lives. If Tom28 has to come home if he has no work and can’t pay his rent, there’s food enough to cover him.

Having a stockpile of the basics eliminates that awful fear of not being able to provide for my family. Twenty-two years ago when I left my husband, I had $60 in cash, 4 small boys and no job. I did a Scarlet O’Hara and vowed that, as God is my witness, these boys will not suffer for what I’ve done. I would provide for them, no matter what.

Having a stockpile is, for me, an essential cushion against misfortune. Or a pandemic. So if you don’t have one at the moment, how do you build one up?

DON’T do what all the frenzied shoppers at Costco are doing. Going by the overloaded trolleys we saw, there are going to be lots of people with a massive credit card bill to pay in the next month. Obviously in this time of Coronavirus, buy what you need to get you through, but as for a stockpile for the future?

Do what I did when I was young and poor. Do it gradually.

Buy extra of the things that you’ll eat when they’re on special. If money is tight, buy an extra one. If you have a few more dollars free, buy multiples. Store them in a line in your pantry/zombie apocalypse cupboard. This is so you can keep track of use-by dates.

If you happen to buy more of a particular item before you’ve used up everything in that particular item in your stockpile, PUT THE NEW CANS/PACKETS AT THE BACK AND MOVE THE OLDER THINGS TO THE FRONT.

This is called rotating your stock. It may not be a sin to have a stockpile but it’s certainly a very bad thing to waste time, money and shelf space on food that you have to throw out because you didn’t use it in a timely fashion.

I’ve read that some people mark their stockpile items with a permanent marker of the date they bought them. Me? Nah. But if that idea floats your boat, go for it.

Over time, as various items come on sale or you have a few extra dollars and can buy a few extra things, your stockpile will build up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Only buy what you and your family like to eat and make sure you rotate your stock. This way, there’s no waste and you always have stores available in case something unexpected happens. It’s the most immediate way to provide a safety net for the ones you love. Having a paid-off house comes second.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on stockpiling. I’m proud to say that my two boys who are living on their own also saw which way the wind was blowing and stocked up on a few non-perishables before the supermarkets got crazy.

I normally don’t ask for comments, but I’m curious as to what you all think. I’ve laid out my history and why I’ve always had a store of food and such in the cupboards. Are you like me? Or do you have another way of navigating the world?

Frogdancer Jones turns over a new leaf.

The baby quilt has been finished, showed off at work and then passed across to my nephew and his wife. The baby hasn’t made an appearance yet so the timing has been perfect.

(The border is dog bones, in keeping with the other side of the quilt.)

Here’s the back side, being held by my sister-in-law Jen at the rehab hospital where my brother in now living. Physically, he’s recovering from his stroke pretty well. Cognitively? He still has his good and bad days.

The centre panel of this side of the quilt is a piece of fabric someone gave me AGES ago. I held onto it, thinking, ‘One day this’ll be great for a baby quilt.” Sometimes you just have to wait for the right project to come along.

Jeff, living his best life.

Skyrail has disrupted our access to the dog beach for almost a year. Now, the for the first time, we were back! I took them over earlyish on Thursday morning, which is one of my “off” days now that I’m working part-time. The dogs couldn’t believe their luck.

Scout, making sure that I really didn’t bring a ball, much to her chagrin.

When Scout realised which way we were heading she pulled against the lead so hard she was almost levitating. My plan is to bring them down here for a leisurely walk on my 2 days off, when we’ll have the beach pretty much to ourselves. Jeff is a bit leery of bigger dogs, so it’s more enjoyable when there are fewer dogs to keep an eye on.

10,000 steps! I slept well that night.

Since half my family and friends appear to be falling ill or suffering from deathly diseases, I’ve realised that perhaps I should start to move a little more. I ordered a Fitbit and I’ve set the goal level for 10,000 steps a day. I need to be fitter, so I’m turning over a new leaf and I’m going to be toned and terrific before you know it.

Man! 10,000 steps is hard!!! When I first got it I lived my life as usual, to see what the base-line was. Turns out I’m a lazy person – if I cracked more than 4,000 steps a day it was a miracle.

What I’ve decided to do now is to beat my weekly average each week. Gradually I’ll get used to walking more and my steps will naturally increase. I’ve just come in from half an hour’s yard duty and I’m on 6,205 steps. I still have to walk the dogs when I get home, so maybe today I’ll crack the 10,000…

I’ve had this device since early January and so far I’ve only gone past the 10,000 twice.

Finally, I picked this tomato from my garden last week.

Um… it it just me or does it remind you of… something…?

Fruitful.

A very small sample of what the garden has produced this summer.

My year 7s are sitting doing a reading test on their computers in total silence, so I thought it’d be a good time to get this neglected blog up-to-date.

Remember how last year – the first year of my new expensive wicking vegetable garden – the soil was awful and hardly anything grew? Well, after bringing home vegetable scraps and coffee grounds all year from work and turning them into compost, things have certainly changed! We have had LITERALLY hundreds of tomatoes spring up, which is insane because I didn’t plant any! Some were from last year’s sickly crop, but most were seeds from the compost I made from the school’s waste.

Free food!!! This makes me happy on so many levels. Beans have gone crazy too and so have the squash.

Each bag will be a bolognaise one day. So far I have 50 of them in the freezer.

I’ve been weighing the tomatoes out in lots of 400g, like a tin, and pairing them with around 200g of squash or zucchini and some herbs and popping them in the freezer in the laundry. By the time this harvest has finished I should have well over 70 bags put away. There’ll be no excuse for getting take-aways when I’m tired now!

Speaking of fast food, I did my annual spend for last year and I spent $1,175 on restaurants and fast food last year. Yikes! Some of these meals would be for when I took people out to see a theatre show and I’d pay for dinner (that’d be the boys!) or going out to lunch with the girls in the holidays etc, but the vast majority of that money was spent at the charcoal chicken or fish and chip shops. This has to stop.

However, some spending is more fun and will last far longer.

Dogs? What dogs?

We now have a new front fence and electric gate that actually works. I can’t tell you how great this is. The dogs are far quieter now that they can no longer see other dogs walking past and I love that I can now sit out on my front verandah with a sneaky G&T on a warm afternoon and not be on display to the whole street.

We’re letting the wood cure for a month or so and then we’ll be painting it. It’s going to look fabulous. If I’d had my ‘druthers, I would have gone for a clinker brick fence, but I’m wary about tagging. If someone spray paints on a brick fence it’s ruined, but with a fence like this I can always paint over it. Tagging doesn’t seem to be all that much of an issue here, but back in the old place every front fence in our street was tagged – except mine. I must’ve taught someone who liked me!!

Scout’s like a velociraptor when it comes to food.

My apple trees went nuts earlier on this year but I decided that 15 apples on a tree that’d been newly transplanted was probably a bit much to ask. So I thinned it out. There are 3 apples still growing – it was more than fesh and blood could stand to pull them all off!

The dogs are used to getting little snacks from the garden. Poppy and Scout clearly wanted to sample.

The view from the back door.

Here’s how the garden looks.

But wait – what is this roof that you see?!?

Can it be – is there a verandah here now?

Oh yeah baby!! This entire backyard is now user-friendly. The top level is for the veggie garden, while the bottom level is shielded from the elements. We can sit out here and enjoy the outdoors without getting burned to a crisp.

Those of you who have met me IRL know that I’m like a vampire. My skin is really pale and I start burning within about 5 seconds of getting out in the sun. After nearly 4 years of living here, I can finally sit out in my own backyard and read a book without risking melanomas. This area is designed for being a family celebration place. The verandah covers half the whole backyard, so when we have Christmases, birthdays and Mothers Days I’ll be able to have everyone out here.

It’s going to be epic.

Skinflint Sunday: Being productive is fun.

I have a couple of rosemary plants in wicking boxes. I like to use fresh rosemary a lot of the time but sometimes it’s handy to have some dried rosemary on hand, especially if you want to make rosemary salt or something like that. I was getting low on the dried stuff, so rather than take the easy way out and buy some, I picked some branches and left them for a couple of weeks to dry out.

Then I stripped the leaves from the branches and whizzed them up in the thermomix. Too easy!

Here’s my magnificent spice rack that I bought when I moved into the Best House in Melbourne 3.5 years ago. Hellishly expensive at the time but I’ve never regretted the purchase.

If you look closely you can see the difference between the old and the new rosemary.

Last year when I had the new landscaping put in in the backyard, I bought a few little succulents to put in terracotta pots to place on the steps. This one went nuts and threw off lots of babies.

This now lives on the front steps. I like the round plants in the shallow round dish.

One of my transplanted apple trees started growing 16 apples! It almost killed me to have to pull them off but for the long-term strength of the tree, I had to.  (I left a couple on though; it was more than flesh and blood could stand.)

I dropped one and Poppy was onto it like a flash. She ate it.

To finish, here are (from top to bottom), Jeff, Poppy and Scout, all trying to convince me that it’s dinner time and they’re starving.