A Letter from our office – on the kitchen table!

10 05 2014

Another guest post from Steve Harrison…….. you have to love the guy for his ethics! Apologies (to you and Steve) for the formatting, but it’s the best I can do with what Steve emails me…… enjoy anyway!

I spent a day and a bit fixing my crashed hard drive. Luckily I had a back-up drive. In fact I have two. Double redundancy. This happened once before and I wasn’t so well prepared and did loose a bit of past data, because I hadn’t manually backed up for a few weeks.

I managed to rebuild my hard drive this time, using digital chewing gum and analogue string. It’s all a bit bodgey, so I have ordered a new drive and will swap it over when it comes.

The very next day the laser printer died. I’m not too surprised, it is 15 years old and gets through 4 toners a year with all the printing of the books. I rang up a laser repair bloke and he just laughed at me and hung up. At the next one I left a message and he never did ring back. The next call was more informative, he politely explained to me that at a $100 call-out fee and a minimum $45 service repair quote fee I could get 3 new printers including a new toner and drum in each, so why was I bothering?

I’m a bit appalled at first, but I guess that it is 15 years old, and that’s a long time in digital evolution. I’m lucky that the man down at the toner refill shop in our town still carries the stuff I need to put in them.

Still, I don’t like to throw out anything that isn’t fully worn out. I have another go at the old printer, blowing it out with compressed air and washing the paper lifting roller fingers with metho to make it sticky again, but to no avail. Although the paper handling parts are shot, I work out that I can pull out the paper tray and manually feed one sheet at a time into the mechanism and it will print it, before it goes into jam up mode with the second sheet. If I pull out the toner unit and the paper tray and then re-insert them, it clears the blockage signal. It will then take another sheet. I battle on from page 69 through to page 119 to finish one copy of Australian Wood Firing. Every ten to fifteen sheets or so, it starts to print out garbled garbage all over the page instead of text. I have to shut down the soft ware and re-boot, switch of the printer and re-start it. It does work, but I just can’t bear it.

I admit defeat. I’ve wasted 3 hours. It’s an ancient Brother printer, I google to find the model closest to this one that is currently available, and lo! There is one available for sale in Mittagong, so close. I call in and buy it the next time I’m down the street. $79 which is 50 dollars cheaper than buying the toner and drum separately. The machine is therefore free and they are paying me the equivalent of $50 to take it out of the shop. If I was not the person that I am, I could consider just buying a brand new printer each month instead of buying toner refills. It would be cheaper. What a stupid world we have created for ourselves! So mindlessly wasteful.

Anyway, I just can’t bring myself to think like that. I can’t do it. All that embedded energy, all that perfectly good stuff going to land fill.I really hate built-in obsolescence.

Well, No. Not digitally, surely it would be one’s and zero’s. So three’s would have to be 010101 in some sort of binary digital speak similar to this. In actual fact it is 0011, but that doesn’t look very funny, unless you are a mathematician. Most of us aren’t. And mathematicians aren’t know for their humour.

I get it home to find that the new printer doesn’t have driver software that goes back 14 years to the age of our old computer. The system software is so old that it isn’t supported anymore. Snookered!

I’ll have to update the operating system on the old desk top computer. It can be done apparently, you just down-load it from the cloud. Yeah sure. This computer is so old that it doesn’t even have a modem in it!

It’ll just take more time. Until then I will run everything off my laptop. We had already decided that we would not replace the desk top computer, once we got used to owning a laptop that does everything that the old desktop did, only better, faster and more conveniently. The old desk top computer doesn’t know it yet, but its digital days are numbered.

As the orders for my books keep coming in and I’m the person most amazed by this. I need to have a reliable working system to get them printed. I have been toying with stripping all the text to ASCII format and converting it to html for conversion to Apple iPad book format or Amazon Kindle format. In this way I can sell them digitally through the cloud. I can’t imagine that it is too much work to get that done, but then I still have the problem of the hundreds of images that are embedded in the text at the moment. They can’t be included in the Kindle format, so I will have to set up a data base and make the images available for down load to registered customers. It’s all starting to sound like a lot of work now, and not the kind of work that I enjoy. I certainly can’t afford to pay to have it done professionally, so that is why I’m still printing and binding books one day a month on the kitchen table.

I don’t like the idea of cutting down trees and shipping them here as paper, then me shipping that paper back across the globe to my customers in the US, Canada, UK and Europe. I do choose recycled paper to print on, but I’m noticing that it is getting quite hard to find these days. Instead, they are selling ‘certified green’ paper. It smells of bullshit to me. I was never really confident that 100% recycled paper really was, but what can you do? I choose the best from a bad bunch of options.

My sincere thanks to Len Smith, who is always a trove of good advice and amazing information about computers. I couldn’t do it without you Len!

I’m sure that you’ve heard enough about our grubby financial dealings, private teaching classes and our digital detours.

The other thing that happens in our kitchen is the cooking of all the green food from our garden.

We have been making some nice meals from our garden, dealing with our excesses, using up some of our many capsicums at this time of year, I have been roasting them and pickling them. They are delicious. Even better after a day or so of ageing in the jar.

Roasting green caps over the burner flame on the stove top

After roasting the caps are placed in a plastic bag to sweat for twenty minutes

After sweating, the charred coating is scraped off and they are sliced into strips, placed in a bowl and covered in oil and vinegar dressing. I served them at the wood firing workshop and they disappeared very quickly.

It’s time to make more stock for general use. I enjoy taking stock and making stock. It’s very cheap to make and adds loads of flavour to all sorts of meals through the week.

Browning onions in olive oil.

Using what is at hand in the garden to make the mirepoix.

roasting the cheapest stock bones from the butcher $3.50 worth

Once roasted the bones and veggies are all boiled down together. The bones and veggies are then removed and the liquor reduced and a bottle of local merlot added and reduced further.

Once reduced down to 1 litre, the gel is placed into 2 containers, one frozen for later and one in the fridge for this week.

It’s a fabulous thing to do that is so rewarding and it cost next to nothing and doesn’t have any preservatives or any salt.

It helps us survive on a limited budget, but most of all it is all made here in the kitchen using as much of our own produce as possible and cooked using the heat from the wood that we grew ourselves, in our own forest and burnt in the kitchen wood fired stove.

As winter and the cooler weather approaches, we have an excess of lemons. I shave off the very thin layer of zest from 25 lemons. It takes about an hour to do it well without disturbing the white pith. I want the zest to make limoncello, a lemon flavoured liquor. All the zest is added to a bottle of Vodka and left to soak for a month. After draining and filtering, it is mixed with sugar/water syrup and is delicious.

I decide to use half of the juice to make a lot of lemon juice ice cubes for the freezer. The remaining half of the juice is made into a lemon drink cordial.

Sweet and sharp, it is really thirst quenching

Digitally yours,

I am Number 4, you are Number 2

Steve Harrison





The power of two….

10 05 2014

THIS, is DTM’s 500th post.  I knew the milestone was coming up, because every time I post something, WordPress says to me, “congratulations, you’ve just written your 497th post!”.  Or whatever the number happens to be.  So I’ve been wondering what to write about on such a momentous occasion, but really, life at Mon Abri just keeps on going like nothing in the rest of the world matters, even though, as we all know here, it does…….!

A month ago, I did my back in.  I was sitting on the space allocated to me on the milking stand while I milked Jezzy.  Having finished, I simply stood up, and as soon as I was fully upright, bang, it went, just like that…..  I barely made the twenty metre walk back to the house.  Whilst the doctors and physios keep telling me it’s not unusual to ‘do one’s back’ while basically doing nothing as compared to lifting heavy bags of animal feed, this still baffles me.  I’ve had this bad back for thirty years, but it pisses me off that it goes from simply bending down to pick up my socks off the floor……

Normally, I get over it within two to five days, but this time it’s taken weeks, and I can tell I’m still not back to normal, and frankly I worry far more about becoming a cripple than dying… this lifestyle is not for whimps or cripples!  There are things to be done…..

pizza2What I needed was a Wwoofer… and along comes  Alessandro, the pizzaItalian Pizza Chef…….  We’ve never had a lone Wwoofer before, but he seems to love working alone, and you only have to teach him something once, and he just does it.  In fact, you can’t stop him!  He’s cleaned up all the weeds around Zone 1, planted heaps of punnets of food seedlings, stacked two uteloads of firewood for next year (with more to come..), and, as an added bonus, cooks amazing pizzas!  Now we have the AGA firing on all eight cylinders again, plus another mouth to feed, I’ve been inspired to cook up a storm and dust off all my Italian recipes.  Alex (as he likes to be called) has been experimenting with different types of flour because, to him, pizza making is a science as well as an art, and he meticulously likes to apply all that his ‘Master’ taught him back in Italy.  We’ve invited friends for another pizza night tonight, I could really get used to this!  One of the projects I want him to help me with is rebuilding the cob oven I started nine years ago that got destroyed in unseasonal torrential rain and which I never finished….  I was building a house at the time after all!  Watch this space, this rebuild will be thoroughly documented sometime here.

tractor1Having watched Geoff Lawton’s “Chicken Tractor on Steroid” video, I decided to give it a try.  We can’t do it exactly the same as he has done, our property is too small and we have fences in the way everywhere; however, we are now re-tractoring our zone 1 using farm gates, and a small aviary shed we bought from Bunnings to house the chooks.  Moving them takes some effort, but the results are worth it.

The first photo shows where we just moved them to.  (click on the photos to enlarge) Since the rains started, all sorts of things have reseeded all by themselves, some good, some not, but it’s all biomass and chooks just love biomass.

tractor2The second photo shows where they were just prior to the move.  There’s nothing left on the ground except…..  marvellous glorious COMPOST!  Alex has raked it all up and heaped it and it should get really hot in no time.  He is planting Cassava there as I write, and we’ll soon enough have it ready for more mulched veggie beds.

tractor3The third photo shows where they were when we were in Tassie last January.  All those pumpkins (and tomatoes, and sunflowers, and…) are growing there just by themselves, I did NOTHING…..  the ground was enriched by the birds, the seeds were in the feed, all we needed was rain, and voila…. in a few more weeks we’ll have more pumpkins than we’ll know what to do with!  And who knows what will come up in the new bed?  This is what Permaculture is all about…..  abundance with very little work, community assistance via Wwoofers, eating healthy food at the end of it all…..  What more could you want?