Noticing beauty

On a recent trip to the vet, I stopped to use the toilet at a national park lookout. I pass this tiny park in the rainforest on every trip to the vet. I have used the toilet there many times in the past, but today I noticed something I have never noticed before… beauty.

Of course I realise that the rainforest is beautiful, and appreciate the cool, damp depths of green I see there, but what I experienced and felt today was on a whole other level.

After using the toilet, I happened to glance up at the clear plastic skylight in the ceiling. I stood transfixed in awe for quite some time by what I saw there.

The photo above doesn’t do it justice, but the layers of leaves with the sun glowing through them just filled my soul with a quiet joy I had not realised was missing from my emotional diet.

I took a couple of photos to share here and to record that moment of utter peace and joy. I will be looking out for these moments more in future, it is a potent and addictive drug.

Washing an entire fleece (in urine)

All right, this is a really yucky post. I have heard and read about how traditional spinners used to wash fleeces in urine to get them really clean. The theory (or maybe science) behind it is that the alkalinity of the ammonia in the urine reacts with the lanolin in the wool to make a very basic kind of soap. This soapy mess then cleans the wool.

Wool scoured in this way is then rinsed (multiple times, I imagine) to get rid of the smell. The resulting wool is soft and unfelted apparently. It also removes a lot more vegetable matter than other kinds of washing (according to the hype). I want to give this method a try, but not anywhere near the house.

This experiment needs;

A big tub with a lid: Thanks to a quick thinking husband, I found one of our fire safety bins (not so useful in the rain) and gave it a good scrub.

It does seem strange to be cleaning a bin that will hold urine.

A raw fleece: One of the partial fleeces I have in my stash should be small enough to fit in the container.

This one is a Merino cross fleece with a lot of dirt and lanolin in it.

A water source for rinsing: The garden hose has a 30 metre stretch and gives nice hot water on a warm day.

A place away from the house to minimise the awful smell it will no doubt produce: The far end of the yard, behind the garden bed will have to be far enough.

A whole lot of pee: It is just as well the urine should be aged for this, as there is no way our family can produce enough to fill this tub in a day or so. We use a bucket for night time pee trips (so we don’t have to go outside and wake the dogs and sheep up), so I just began to collect that pee in my handy bin instead of tipping it out way up the paddock.

Collection started.

The fleece is soaked in the urine for about a day (two if it’s really dirty), then the whole lot is tipped out and the fleece rinsed multiple times to take out any remaining smell.

The fleece in the urine, before it sunk to the bottom. This fleece is larger than I thought.
After the fleece soaked into the liquid, I did have to add some more water to make sure there was enough liquid to wash the whole lot.
The first rinse has washed out a lot of dirt and lanolin, but the smell is still there.
I filled the bin up with clean water and some home made soap and set the fleece to soak overnight. One more clean rinse after this should make the fleece clean and get rid of the smell.
It took quite a few rinses to get the water to stay clean (ish). I just kept refilling the containers and transferring the wool between them.
Finally, after four rinses, the wool is not giving off too much dirt.

The fleece is spun out in the washing machine and spread out to dry on a sheet in the sun.

I squeezed out as much water as possible and took the whole lot in to spin in the washing machine.
I lined the spinner with a clean piece of cloth and wrapped the fleece up in it to avoid small pieces of wool clogging up my machine. There was still a fair amount of dirt in the fleece as you can see by the residue it left in the spinner (it needed a good clean afterwards).
I spread everything out on a clean (but old) sheet in the sun. It will take all day to dry I think, even in 36 C heat.
The wool in certainly clean and hasn’t felted at all. It does still smell a little, but the sun will bake that off.

The result?

After carding,I have a usable fleece to spin.

My final immpression is that this is an effective way to clean a fleece if you have no soap. It does seem to stop the fleece felting and the wool is cardable and as soft as can be expected from a course fleece. The smell really put me off though. I think I will try washing a whole fleece with soap nuts again, but do the two day soak.

Lichen dyes – Usnea inermis (ammonia extraction)

On the way home from work I often notice trees that have lichens on them. Recently I stopped to see if there were any on the ground under one or two of them. There was a lot (we have had a few windy days) on some dead branches on the ground, so I came home with another large lump of Usnea to play with.

This time I wanted to try an ammonia extraction, which apparently gives a pink dye. Ammonia can be found in many places (supermarket shelves, rotted fruit and vegetables, and in urine) but I decided to go old school and use urine (since I am collecting it for wool scouring anyway).

I found a spare jar with a lid, and popped the lichen into it with enough urine to cover the Usnea. This concoction was left (in a dark, little used cupboard, away from visitors and pets) for about three months. I shook the jar daily (after making sure the lid was tight) and took the lid off to oxygenate it every few days and eventually got some colour from the mess.

After a week the mess began to show some colour.

After a two week soak, I decided to use my dye. I had to spin, ply and wash some wool to use my interesting (and very smelly) new dye on. I decided to set up a table outside so the smell has less chance of following me home.

I placed my newly washed yarn (home spun from our own sheep) into the dye bath and left the pot in the sun for two days. I didn’t want to take the pot into the house to heat it as the smell is horrific. When I eventually took the yarn out, it looked to be a brown colour rather than the pink I was expecting. I rinsed (and scoured, and rinsed, and rinsed) the yarn and it lost almost all of its colour.

After All that time I ended up with a beige. In order to salvage it a bit, I plonked one skein of the three into an iron after bath and got an interesting colour change.

As you can see, iron does indeed make colours darker and more intense. It also seemed to help get rid of the smell. All that washing has felted the skein a little though. I will try to salvage it with some hair conditioner.

Usnea seems to have an affinity with rough barked trees, Ironbark in particular.

My conclusion is that usnea is best used as a dye in a water bath and that I obviously did something wrong. I do love experimenting with new dyes, and I guess I have to get used to gaining insight into which plants give beige dye (maybe I could call this series ’50 shaded of beige’).

Local insects and animals – Large Mason wasp

This gorgeous girl has been building nests in my craft room. She is a Large Mason wasp or Potter wasp. These chunky insects are native, solitary and non aggressive (just like me). I hear this girl humming to herself all day while she builds her nest, happy in her work. It would be lovely to be able to make a deal with these builders and get them to build our mud house for us.

These wasps catch caterpillars in the garden to seal into their nests and feed their babies. I find this part of their life particularly gruesome as the grubs are alive, but paralyzed when the babies start to eat them (so glad insects don’t grow huge enough to eat us any more). I wondered why all the Cabbage White moth caterpillars had suddenly disappeared, maybe this girl was to blame.

If you see these B52s of the insect world, please leave them be, they may be ridding you of pests you didn’t know you had.

Making sugar wax at home

Alright, time for too much information… I haven’t shaved, waxed, tweezed or any other method of hair removal for at least a decade, until recently. I am generally not bothered by body hair (it is supposed to be there after all). Last week I had a girls day out with my youngest daughter and part of that was to unceremoniously rip the hair from my delicate under arm area (also my eyebrows and chin/lip areas). The lovely beautician explained that she would be using sugar wax to eradicate the undergrowth, of course I listened intently to the history and attributes of using what is essentially toffee to remove hair, it was actually fascinating.

Apparently sugar waxing was used by ancient Persians and Egyptians to remove unwanted hair from the entire body. It is less painful than regular waxing and is made from all natural, biodegradable ingredients. I do enjoy the sensation of having soft, smooth skin on my arm pits, so while the novelty lasts, I think I will have a play with sugar wax. I do believe I have found a way to be more socially acceptable on my own terms (not that social acceptability is high on my to do list) and allows me to enjoy some bonding with my daughter (which is high on my to do list).

The actual experience was not as painful as I remembered (from long ago), the sugar mixture was at room temperature, the hair came off easily and left behind soft skin. I was not sore or irritated at all. When I got home, I started looking for recipes to make this magical sugar wax.

I found recipes all over the internet, and eventually settled on this one, although this one had a lot more information.

I measured 2 cups of raw sugar, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup of lemon juice into a saucepan and heated it (I did stir the mixture a fair bit, as I hadn’t remembered the instructions to not disturb it). I let it reach the boil point and turn a darker shade of toffee, without taking temperature or timing at all, then took it off the stove and let it cool for ten minutes. Last of all, I poured the mixture into a small plastic container and waited for it to cool down enough to play with.

The resulting goo is a deep golden brown and is VERY sticky. I apparently didn’t let it boil for long enough so I will have to use cloth strips to remove the goo (and hopefully the hair) for as long as this batch lasts.

I spread it onto my leg with a butter knife and slapped a cloth strip over it. After a short pause for dramatic effect, I ripped the cloth off. There was indeed a lot of hair on the strip, but not all the hair came off my leg.

A patch of hairy leg
Goop ready to go
Lots of hair came off
Bur not all.

After a lot of do over and swearing, I managed to get the majority of the hair off. In conclusion, this works!! Although I don’t know if I have the patience or motivation to use it on my legs at regular intervals. I guess social acceptability just isn’t attractive enough to draw me in.

On my walk I saw… – number nine

I think this will be the last post in this series, unless I find something amazing to share. I will keep walking as often as I can with the dogs (I do enjoy it), but I have shared most of the treasures that will hold still to be photographed. Todays focus has definitely been fungi and lichen. With all the rain lately, the bush is taking the opportunity to produce fungi and lichen of all shapes and sizes.

The fungi and lichen is growing on the ground, on wood laying on the ground, on standing trees, on rocks, wherever you look there is lichen and fungi. Nature is amazing!! The purpose of fungi is to break down materials into plant food, when it rains they can really get a lot of that done. I am hoping that the fungi will hurry along the decomposition of the fallen wood on the ground on our block (left over from logging) so there is less fire hazard for next fire season. Even in the rain, we are thinking about our next dry period.

On my walk I saw… – number eight

It is still raining, I don’t mind though (better rain than fire). I took Melvin for a walk today in a rare gap in the drizzle, but we were two kilometres out on our walk when the rain began to pour down. We both got very wet and needed a towel before we were allowed back in the humpy. I didn’t see a great deal of note on our walk, but we both enjoyed it immensely. I managed to take a few photos of interesting things (to me anyway).

I think this is some kind of pincushion moss. It is beautiful and makes everything look magical.
This little flower is tiny, I had to get really close to get a photo of it that didn’t just look like a white dot.
The wattle is flowering too.
More hardenbergia, but with a slightly different colour.
The lichen on the rocks are spawning. Those little black dots are spores (I think).
I’m not sure what this little flower is, but I love it’s cheery yellow.
This is a white ant nest that has lost it’s protective layer of clay. I thought it looked a lot like an exposed brain. You can see the channels that are the hallways of the nest.
This causeway is on our road out (not the driveway). It is flowing really well and is full of frogs and insects.

Melvin and I are enjoying our wandering so much. I remembered to hit the ‘Workout’ button on my watch today and apparently my usual walk is about four kilometres long (there and back), It doesn’t feel that long at all.

On my walk I saw… – number seven

It has been raining for a few days now, and I missed walking, so I went for a walk in the rain (between showers really). I didn’t see very much of note on this walk because all my focus went to keeping two dogs untangled on their leads (one at a time from now on), until I was on my way home.

I skirted around some puddles in the driveway and saw some dog prints in the mud at the edge. Not remarkable in itself, but the tracks didn’t belong to my dogs and they weren’t there on the way out.

This dog has been passing by our humpy fairly regularly for years. We leave food for her on the path she always takes (especially when she has pups). She is a dingo (mostly at least) and belongs in the bush, she has never taken any of our animals and seems to raise her puppies with this knowledge too. She just passes by the humpy every few days on her search for food.

Today she followed us home, which makes me nervous. Not because I fear she will hurt me, but because our dogs are walking on ground she considers hers, without permission. I know she would attack our dogs if she came across them on their own in the bush and she may do the same if they are with me. I hope she will see that they will not harm her and are not hunting on her land (just passing through), but if she doesn’t, I may need to carry a big stick. This may seem like aggression on her part, but really it is just the way Nature works. We (humans in general) are not above or apart from it, we are part of the great dance that makes the world go around and as such, we must do our part as best we can.

I also took a quick walk around the garden and took some photos to share this rare lushness.

This is moss growing on a piece of cement a friend gave me, because I love lichens and mosses.
The Elder has berries (I am waiting on these for making syrup and tincture and dye, such a useful plant).
Dragon fruit flowers are amazing. I think the little yellow tongue bit, that looks like a flower inside the flower, is the male part of the flower.
The Dragon fruit are flowering again, I am hopeful that it will set fruit this time.
Passionfruit ripening nicely.
Many, many paw paw on the bisexual paw paw.
Baby lemons on the dwarf lemon tree.
Beans, carrots, zucchini, pak choi and weeds galore in the trailer bed.

Less waste lifestyle review

Gratuitous Melvin photo

Over the last twelve years or so, I have been moving towards using less packaging and making more of my own products (dragging my family, crying and whinging, with me). During that time we have managed to swap a lot of usual products in plastic bottles for home made or zero waste products.

Laundry;

Detergent – we now use soap nuts and essential oils

Fabric softener – we don’t use it

Soap nuts being turned into washing liquid.

Kitchen;

Washing up – we use fully compostable brushes for washing up and homemade dish washing tabs for detergent

Surface cleaning spray – I make a spray from vinegar, detergent, peroxide and essential oils for wiping benches and use home made unpaper towels for mess cleaning

Reusable zip lock bags – I have been gradually increasing our store of those silicon storage bags that we use in the freezer and to hold leftovers in the fridge. They save so much waste.

Dish washing tabs, saving plastic.

Bathroom;

Toilet paper – we use a bidet and family cloths to dry our nether regions

Soap – I make soap from used cooking oil every six months or so, that is the only soap we use

Shampoo – we use a shampoo bar and sometimes a conditioner bar when washing our hair

Toothpaste and brushes – we use a bought (sometimes home made) tooth powder and compostable toothbrushes

We are making a difference to our world. I needed to make this into a post (with photos) to be able to fully appreciate the many things we have accomplished. Our achievements disappear in the mass of things we haven’t done yet, leaving us feeling helpless and frail. This is my celebration and a reminder of how far we have come on our sustainable journey. Now time to look forwards.

Future projects;

make bath bud scrubbers

make my own scrubbing brushes and toothbrushes

On my walk I saw… – number six

Today’s walk was definitely about fungus and lichen. We have had some good storms and rainy weather recently (an inch of rain in a storm just last night) and everything is fresh and new. The lichen and fungus are all taking this opportunity to grow and spawn to their heart’s content.

This fungi is in my compost pile. I have no idea what it is, but it’s fascinating.
Lacquered Bracket fungi ??
A seedling small leave fig, on our property!
Strawberry Bracket fungi

The pool under the fig tree is full today and the frogs are happy.
Heterodea muelleri
Blue Billy Goat Weed, which is a good poultice for wounds, stings and boils.
Austroparmelina pseudorelicina, I pass this patch all the time, today it is green and fresh around the edges.
The Gilled polypore has put on fresh colours to celebrate the rain.
Not sure what this lichen is, but I love the close up view. It is a tiny forest of trees, a microcosm.
Geranium buds in my own garden
Even the succulents are having a growth spurt.