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Our cashflow this year has been snug.

Irene and Denise, our wonderful financial advisers, read us the riot act about not having enough for retirement if we didn’t start funneling every spare cent into super immediately, so we’ve been trying our hardest to do that. But as a result, we have substantially less disposable income this year.

That’s ok, because even though I don’t like it, we’re really quite good at it. We’ve had lots of practice. And it’s very empowering – there’s a sense of achievement and control that comes with tightening the reins.

The first thing to go, of course, was fine dining. We’ll still have the occasional fancy meal with friends, but for the most part, $60 dinners have been replaced by $13 curries and rotis at Spice Alley. If I’m honest, that’s a win, because I far prefer eating there to anywhere else…

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Instead of buying large quantities of meat in bulk as we used to, I now haunt the “Save Me” section at our local Harris Farm Fruit Market.

There are spectacular savings to be had  on high quality grass fed and free range meat nearing its expiry date. I won’t buy chicken or mince that’s getting too old, but I’ll happily come home with pork, lamb or beef cuts with a day or two left on them. They’re usually reduced by 30% – 50%.

I picked up a 2.2kg free range pork loin recently for $12.84 and turned it into two containers of stir fry strips, three boxes of pulled pork, a jar of lard, and two boxes of stock. That’s five family dinners’ worth. The rind was cut into small pieces and frozen to enrich future stews…

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For retail therapy, I’ll pop into Reverse Garbage once a fortnight with $20 in my pocket. That’s always enough for me to come home with craft treasures, like rainbow ribbon at $5 a bag…

Or a mountain of handbag vinyl in bright colours for just $14…

I made dancing ribbons and a windsock…

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…and the vinyl was paired with zips and pulls (also from Reverse Garbage) in these funky little pouches…

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We are blessed to have access to wonderful free art in Sydney, especially with the Biennale currently showing, and I’ve been trying to visit all the spaces before it ends on 11th June. My favourite so far has been Carriageworks and I highly recommend a visit if you have time. Marco Fusinato’s enormous installation is great fun, but be warned, the video below is loud!

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On Saturday, I popped into the Art Gallery of NSW to view their Biennale pieces, but it was hard to go past the huge John Olsen painting on the ground floor. I sat and stared at it for a while…

Reclaiming the Inner Space by Indian artist N. S. Harsha was very impressive – I liked it as much for her use of recycled packaging materials as I did for the design. The hand carved wooden elephants were particularly lovely…

The Art Gallery is a fascinating old building, with creaky parquetry flooring and hidden wings just waiting to be discovered. While looking for the Adrienne Doig tapestries, I stumbled across the Gallery library in the basement (complete with stern librarian). This piece appealed to me very much…

Indigenous artworks form a large part of this year’s Biennale, including these adorable creations by the Yarrenyty Arltere Artists of Alice Springs. They’re on display at the MCA

…as are these elegant and touching burial baskets, woven by Ngarrindjeri artist Yvonne Koolmatrie…

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I’ve picked up the latest batch of stripey socks from lovely Richard (if you’re new, you can read about the socks here and here). As always, I’ve Napisanned, hot water washed and tumble dried them…

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We delivered 120 sanitised socks to the Exodus Foundation for distribution to the homeless, and kept the rest to play with. Here are a few new craft projects to add to the list.

I cut rings from the socks and zigzagged them closed. They make brilliant elastic bands for holding beeswax wrap in place…

…and, as my friend Anita discovered, fabulous hair ties…

I created padded coat hangers using scraps of fleece and a pairs of socks…

An old idea worth mentioning again simply because it’s worked so well…after months of catching every oil drip and keeping my shelf completely clean, I’ve replaced the sock around my olive oil bottle…

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Lastly, Priscilla’s sourdough loaves continue to keep us all fed – at about 50c loaf, it’s something that we never need to scrimp on! And the beeswax wraps do such a good job of keeping them fresh, that we’re now wasting very little…

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It takes a bit of thought and creativity to live more frugally, but it’s so empowering. Do you have any tips to share with us?

I was tidying up our medicine cabinet recently and found these. And even though they’re nearly 20 years old and very out of date, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.

As many of you know, when Small Man was three months old, he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma 4S cancer. He had a golf ball size primary tumour on his adrenal gland which had metastasized into hundreds of smaller tumours in his liver, causing it to swell to over three times its normal size.  Emergency surgery removed the primary, after which the doctors adopted a wait and see approach, as this particularly rare form of cancer was known to “self-resolve”. We were told that the “4S” stood for “Stage 4, Special”.

Thankfully, blessedly, Small Man didn’t need chemotherapy, but he had to undergo a brutal but essential testing protocol over the following four years to ensure the cancer didn’t spread any further. Initially, we spent a fortnight in hospital every six weeks (by the end, we only had to go in once a quarter), and it took its toll on all of us. By the time he was one, Small Man would start crying when we turned onto the motorway entrance towards Westmead Children’s Hospital. In later years, at the end of each round of tests, he would stop talking completely for a week.

The only effective way to track what was happening inside his tiny body was through nuclear imaging scans, so our son was injected with radioactive isotopes and strapped down to a scanning bed. Apparently neuroblastoma kids are notoriously difficult to sedate, and Small Man used to put up an admirable fight. It wasn’t until he was old enough to be hypnotised by the Wiggles that the process finally got easier. Prior to that, the only thing that would settle him even slightly was an elephantine dose of chloryl hydrate – the doctors used to tell us that the dose could knock him out for up to 12 hours, but we were lucky to get 45 minutes. He also needed iodine to protect his thyroid during the scanning process, but he was allergic to the formulation that the hospital used. In the end we had to crush up iodine tablets usually dispensed for nuclear emergencies and feed them to him in a sugar syrup through a syringe.

It was all so long ago but I treasure these old bottles, because I don’t want to forget. They remind me to always be grateful for everything. They remind me how lucky we are to still have our strong, strapping 21 year old son.  And they remind me that as individuals, Pete and I are powerful, but as a team, we’re unstoppable.

Sometimes, life can feel very tough. In those moments, it’s good to remember that we’ve been tested before, and we survived. Yep, I think I’ll keep those bottles. 

My young friend Sophie, ever her mother’s daughter, decided that even though she’s studying for her HSC this year, she’d make 51 bracelets to give to her fellow cast members in the school play. As it was a production of Beauty and the Beast, she was keen to use a red rose as the focal bead.

I convinced her to make phone dangles instead or bracelets, and offered to lend her a hand. We spent a happy few hours shopping, then beading and turning loops. Each little ornament had a single rose, a glass pearl, and a gold filament bead…

Monkey Girl made Soph’s day by telling her that they were very Dulce & Gabbana…

One of the best parts of the day was discovering the amazing I Love You Beads warehouse in Leichhardt. It’s huge, has the cheapest prices I’ve ever seen, and the staff are very friendly and helpful….

They are the only authorised Swarovski wholesaler in Australia and New Zealand, and have an enormous range of crystals and findings on offer…

There are beads in glass, plastic, crystal, semi-precious minerals, wood, coral, shell and more. They have strands of freshwater pearls in a variety of sizes and colours, every imaginable finding, tools, stringing and wiring materials (although no precious metal wire), as well as display items and gift bags.

It’s a members-only club, so you need to pay the $10 joining fee before you can purchase anything…

I came home with a few beads to play with, including strands of 10mm amethyst rounds, unusual non-shiny black agate and large faceted tiger’s eyes. To give you an idea of cost, the tiger’s eye (no photo, sorry, it turned out quite blurry) was $16.90 a strand and the amethyst $10.50. Both had enough beads for two bracelets. The 1mm elastic I used to string them set me back just 85c a roll…

I made matching agate earrings and bracelet, as well as a funky art deco green plastic ensemble. The blue Chinese crystals were high quality and cost just $3.50 for two strands (they were on a buy one, get one free promotion), which was enough for  a necklace, bracelet and earring set using findings that were already in my stash…

Tibetan skull  bracelets are traditionally carved from bone and used as a memento mori – a reminder of mortality and the transient nature of existence. I made mine from a $2 strand of plastic beads and elastic string. As a reminder of impermanence though, it works…

We had such a fun afternoon! If you’re a Sydneysider who enjoys jewellery making, or craft in general, I’d highly recommend a visit. No affiliation, just a happy customer!

PS. I take a mesh bag with me to bring my purchases home – jewellery findings almost always come in little plastic bags, but you can avoid a couple of larger ones if you bring your own.

I Love You Beads
311 Parramatta Road
Leichhardt NSW 2040 
Phone: (02) 9572 8288
Fax: (02) 9572 8878

Whenever I’m away from Sydney, it’s the blue that I miss – I think the colour of our sky and seas is very distinctive. Here are a few autumnal photos from my morning walks, and a recent visit to the beach. It’s actually raining this morning, so it seemed a good day to post them.

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When the sun appears after a few days of rain, it’s impossible to take a bad photo on the Inner West Bay Run…

On clear, still days, we get sky mirrors to rival Anish Kapoor

I see the same vista almost every weekday morning, but the colours and textures change subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) from day to day…

We don’t have narrowboats in our canal, but over a hundred years ago, a ferry service into the city left from this point…

Finally, a couple of photos from our recent visit to Mistral Point in Maroubra…

It’s always a joy to be able to stand at the edge of our island continent and marvel at the magnificence of the Pacific Ocean…

Have a lovely weekend, folks! ♥

One of my favourite places to eat, as I’m sure you know by now, is Spice Alley near Sydney’s Central Station. It’s a pretty hip place – cashless transactions, recyclable paper plates, biodegradable wooden utensils – and the food is great too.

Inspired by my friend Clare, I was keen to start bringing my own cutlery with me on visits there rather than using and throwing away the disposable ones on offer. But when I looked at buying a utensil carry case, I was taken aback by the cost. I’m sure we’d all live greener lives if it wasn’t so expensive to purchase eco-friendly kit. And I figured that as we’d already made our own mesh bags, beeswax wraps, furoshiki and crocheted dishcloths, how hard could it be to sew a utensil holder?

Turns out it’s not very hard at all. Here are my lazy sewing instructions – please adapt them however you wish.

I began with a $2.80 tenegui (Japanese tea towel) from Daiso. You could use any fabric you like, but this one already had hemmed edges and the weave was thin and easy to stitch through. Plus, the designs are dead cute and very affordable. I use the same fabric for both our cloth napkins and for lining my bannetons, so I knew it was going to wash and launder well.

Each cloth is around 35cm wide by 85 – 95cm long (for $2.80, you don’t always get precision sizing).

Step 1: Cut the fabric 56cm (22″) from one short edge. If your fabric is 95cm long, that will leave you with a rough square and a long rectangle.

Step 2: Now cut the long rectangle in half length-wise. You’ll end up with two pieces each approximately 56cm x 18cm (22″ x 7″).

Step 3: Hem the unfinished edge of the square. This will be your travel napkin. I use a double hem, but you could simply overlock (serge) the edge and turn the hem under…

Step 4: Hem the two unfinished edges of one of the long halves.

Now, grab your cutlery and decide how deep you want the pockets to be. I folded my fabric up 19cm (7½”).

Pin the sides and stitch them together to form one deep pocket. I stitched through all the layers, which was easy to do as the tenegui has such an open weave.

Tip: If you’re making this from heavier fabric, you might want to do an overlocked (serged) and stitched hem rather than a double hem, so that you only have to sew through four layers of fabric rather than six. Using a longer stitch length and a strong needle helps as well.

Step 5: using a washable marker, divide the single pocket into smaller ones. To be honest, I only marked it up for the photo – when I made mine, I just  eyeballed the stitching lines.

I sewed one line down the middle first.

On the left side, I stitched another line down the middle to form two equal pockets. Then I sewed a line off-centre on the right side to form a bigger compartment for a spoon, and a smaller one for a straw.

Step 6: pop your cutlery in and check it all fits. You could also sew a tie on the outside, but I just roll mine up and pop a silicone band around it…

Ok, so it’s not a fancy quilted job with carefully finished edges and an attached tie…but that means it’s a doddle to wash, it only took ten minutes to sew, and it won’t clutter up my handbag any more than is absolutely necessary. Best of all, I didn’t pay $32 for it, and my $2.80 tenegui was enough for two utensil wraps and a matching napkin. That’s very cool, right?

As I mentioned at the start of the post, buying eco-friendly products can be an expensive exercise, especially if you’re serious about minimising single-use items. To replace paper towels, paper serviettes, plastic shopping and vegetable bags, and cling film, we use a large quantity of cloth napkins, crocheted dishcloths, beeswax wraps, furoshiki and mesh bags.

I’m not sure we’d have been able to afford everything we needed at retail prices – “green” products are a growing market and there’s a lot of profit being made at the moment. If you’re in the same boat, I’d encourage you to make your own. Here are all the patterns and tutorials we’ve written so far – hopefully they’ll be a useful starting point!

Mesh Bags

Mesh Bags (pattern at the end of the post)

Furoshiki

Knitted Dishcloth

Crocheted Cotton Dishcloth

Crocheted Acrylic Dish Scrubber

Beeswax Wraps

Cloth Napkins (second half of post)

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And here are the posts so far on our Waste Reduction Plan:

27 Jan 2018  A Waste Reduction Plan

2 Feb 2018  A Long, Rambling Catch Up

15 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Progress Report

20 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Fine Tuning

 

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