Composting for tiny gardens (even courtyards & balconies)

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Hello! This is my city garden! It is the size of a single car-space, because until two years ago, it was a single parking space. We gave up having a guaranteed place to park our car in favour of creating a green room in which to relax, ponder and play, and it was the best decision we made in our entire home. The photograph above was taken last week, while I was cleaning up after a garden party during which we had had 40 guests over for afternoon tea. It was a warm day, and there were not one but three compost receptacles decomposing away in this very small garden. But nobody could see them, and nobody could smell them. Hurrah! 

How did we do that? 

In my ongoing quest to reduce waste in our home, and lessen our impact on the planet, it has particularly irked me that we didn't have a composting system. Even after we built the garden, I continued scraping mountains of food-scraps into the bin every day. 

Essentially, space was the problem. Even the smallest of compost bins were quite big in relation to our garden. They'd create a giant, plastic eyesore, taking up precious growing-space. And, more to the point, occasionally smelling bad. (I know, I know, properly managed composts don't smell. Much. But if your garden is so small that you can all but touch both sides of it when stretching out your arms, that puts you in very close proximity to the compost no matter where you go. I live in Australia, friends. Things get hot in the summer. Pile as much dry matter and mulch as you like into that bin, the stench of slowly rotting watermelon rinds and browning banana peels will find a way to cut through, as do the sandflies. It's gross.) 

Day after day I kept scraping rinds and pulps into the rubbish bin, wishing I could scrape the guilt of my wasteful habit away with them. And to add insult to injury, I was paying good money to buy compost for the the garden in spring-time! I did my best to keep the waste low, by planning better, shopping smarter, and being more creative with my cooking. Thanks to the magic of the Instagram community, for example, I now have a host of delicious ways to use the green parts of leeks in my cooking. Recently I've learned how to dye fabric using avocado seeds and skins. But still, the rubbish bin is full of compostable matter every week. 

Or I should say, was full. Enter the composting cannon. 

Fair warning: I am about to wax lyrical about this product. I'm not being paid, sponsored or in any other way encouraged to say this stuff. These links are not affiliate links, and these makers don't know I'm writing this blog at all. I'm just thrilled to finally have found a solution to my organic waste problem.

(BTW in case the composting cannon doesn't appeal to you, I've also provided a bit of a product round-up of some other fantastic composters for small spaces, as well as beginners tips on composting, at the end of this blog post.) 

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I discovered this little Australian invention at the CERES Community Environment Park, but you can also buy it online here. It is such a simple idea. You simply bury the cardboard cylinder in your garden (or in a planter box or big pot). Empty your food scraps into the cylinder, add a bit of mulch or shredded paper for dry matter, and push it down with the plunger provided. There's a mesh lid that keeps vermin away, holes in the side for worms to make their way through, and the whole thing breaks down over many months, delivering compost direct to your garden! 

When I first took mine home, I couldn't quite figure out how it worked (it was just too simple - surely I was missing something!). So I've created a kind of mini tutorial for you in case you want to try it yourself. 

How to use the Composting Cannon in a tiny garden

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Step 1: Take the cannon out of the box, stare at it a while, and scratch your head. It will look like the picture above. There will be three cylinders, all with holes in them, each one fitting inside the other (like matryoshka dolls). Wire lids sit on both ends. Finally figure out that you have actually bought three "cannons" for the price of one, and feel very silly for not realising this in the first place. Separate them out. The wire lids are sized to fit the different width cylinders. 

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Step 2: Find somewhere in your garden where you can dig a hole about 12 centimetres wide, and 30 centimetres deep. If you're using pot plants, as long as the pot is at least 30 centimetres deep, you can use that just as easily. (The only challenge will be if your pot is too shallow - you don't want part of your composting cannon sticking out the top, looking ugly). Bury the cannon, leaving just enough of the rim sticking out of the top so that you can fit the wire lid over the top. 

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Step 3: It's ready to use! Tip any plant-based food scraps you like into the cylinder (some tips: citrus, onions, dairy and vegetable-fat products will slow down the composting process so should be minimised; and meat and animal fats should be kept out altogether because they attract rats - and smell really bad. There's a more extensive guide to what should and shouldn't go into a compost in the download at the end of this post). Now add a handful of mulch, dry leaves or even shredded paper on top. Use the plunger (it comes with the kit) to push everything down, then put the lid back on. Repeat this every time you have more food scraps, and that's it.

There is literally no maintenance - the worms do all the work for you, not only breaking down the scraps and creating the compost, but then carrying that compost through your garden or planter box, delivering it directly to the roots of your plants. 

According to the website, each of these cylinders will compost more than 20 kilograms of organic waste during a four-month period. So with three, that's more than 60 kilograms transformed from stinking landfill into beautiful, nutrient-rich compost for the garden. 

This is a really unobtrusive composting system. My three, when I'm not topping them up, look like the picture below. Actually they look even less obtrusive, because wind and birds cover them each day with the mulch, which I had to move aside to take this photograph. 

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The contents of your cylinders (and the cylinders themselves) will start to decompose after about four months. It takes even longer than that for them to start to be unusable, after which you can replace them (they are not expensive to buy, especially when you consider how long they last) and start all over again, adding more nutrient-rich compost to other areas of your garden or potted balcony. 

One last thought: I do think you need to be somewhat realistic about just how much food waste you can fit into these little babies. We are a hungry family of four and, thanks to 50 percent of our family being pre-school aged, a lot of food gets dropped, tossed, played with or otherwise rejected (especially the vegetables!) so we tend to generate a lot of waste. On some days, when (for example) we've eaten through four bananas, made freshly-squeezed orange juice for the whole family, had a few slices of watermelon, and made a vegetable stir-fry for dinner, we can fill an entire cannon in one hit. If I've filled all three in quick succession, I do sometimes have to wait a few days and go back to putting the food scraps in the bin, until the food breaks down a little. So that's not ideal, but it is still a LOT better than our previous habits, and a great result for a tiny, inner-city garden. 


Clever composting solutions for tiny gardens 

Here's a quick round-up of some innovative composting solutions I've discovered online that appear to be great for reducing organic waste and creating garden nutrients when you only have a small space in which to work. (Remember I've only tried the Composting Cannon. I think I'll try the Bokashi next, and the two systems can supplement one another). 

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Composting Cannon: a cylinder that is buried directly into your garden and slowly breaks down

 

 

 

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Compot: another system (more like a plastic bucket) that is buried directly into your garden

 

 

 

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Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler: a barrel on a stand than can be spun every couple of days to aerate the compost without needing to dig or turn

 

 

 

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Bokashi scrap fermenting: a system that is used to actually ferment kitchen waste (including meat and fish) by using micro-organisms to break down scraps, without creating bad smells

 

 

 

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Hungry Bin: a continuous-flow worm farm, on wheels so you can move it around your garden or balcony 


What do you think? I'd love to know your ideas or experiences on composting or otherwise reducing and reusing food waste in small spaces. And in the meantime if you're keen to get started but this is all new to you, I've created a handy, guide below with some basic tips on composting for beginners (including what to include and what not to include in a healthy compost), whatever system you decide to use. 

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How to use mail-art templates

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It’s been a while since I shared my mail-art on this blog, so I thought I’d show you some of the envelopes I’ve been making and painting lately. These are all my original drawings but instead of drawing them directly onto the envelopes as I normally do, I printed these from templates I created for my Mail Art Colouring Book

If you haven't come across it before, this colouring book contains 62 original mail-art designs, ready for you to download, colour and personalise so that you can make your own mail-art that looks like (your own version of) the envelopes on these pages. The designs vary in complexity (some are detailed and intricate for folks who like to colour for mindfulness and relaxation; others are quite simple so you can make beautiful mail in minutes, or get the kids involved), and there are loads of designs and themes, including several for Christmas and other holiday mail. 

Each month, I also share new templates in my free newsletter, which will re-start in the New Year. So with all these templates floating around, I had a thought… if you use the newsletter or the colouring book (or both!), maybe it might be useful if I was to provide you with some tips on really making the most of these designs for your mail. All the templates are super easy to use and personalise, but in this blog post, I've tried to answer all the key questions that people ask me about making my own mail-art. Things like the paper and card-stock I choose, painting and colouring tips, and thoughts for maximising their chances of success in the post. 

Even if you don't use the templates, I've created a download below that you might like to use. It summarises these tips, but also includes a blank envelope template for you to create your very own mail-art design. Either way, I hope this helps you. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments if I haven't answered them here, and I'll try to update the post to help you. Likewise, I’d love to know if you have other mail-art tips you could share here with others, and would be thrilled to see what you create! 

Finally, if you’d like to sign up for my free newsletter with the monthly templates, or buy the Mail Art Colouring Book for yourself or a friend, simply use the buttons below. 

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Step 1: Choose and print a design

Follow the link I give you (either in the free newsletter or the colouring book) to access the template. It will be a PDF document, A4 size. That means you’ll be able to print it onto standard copy paper (either A4 or US Letter) to fold into an envelope that is approximately 16 x 11 centimetres (or 6.33 x 4.5 inches) in size. 

Choose the paper or card onto which you want to print. These envelopes can definitely be made from standard copy paper. People worry that this is too thin to survive the post, but think about the business envelopes you receive in the mail - they are just as flimsy, sometimes even more-so! 

Personally I like the look of brown, recycled kraft paper. I try to find paper that is a little bit thicker (copy paper is normally about 80gsm and the envelopes you see in these pictures were made with 120gsm paper), because I choose to paint my envelopes, and paint can buckle the paper. If you can’t find thicker paper or don’t want to, you can flatten painted envelopes by resting them under some heavy books overnight after the paint has dried. 

Step 2: Make the envelope

Cut out around the edges of the template. Now turn it over so that the design is face-down on the table. Fold the back up, and the sides in. 

Now run a glue-stick down the sides, and press the back to them so that they create the envelope. I always say use a glue-stick because liquid or paste glues are too bumpy, and spray glue is too hard to keep to just one space (you don’t want to end up glueing your envelope shut!). Fold the top of the envelope down, ready to be sealed later on once your letter is inside it. Now turn it back over. 

Step 3: Colour the design

You may want to paint, like me, or use pencils, markers, pastels (with a fixative afterwards) or anything else you like. I use watercolour and gouache, outlined in waterproof ink. Whatever your medium, here are some tips to help make your mail sing. 

* Shadows: look at the designs and think about where the shadows would be in this picture. Things get darker in corners, for example, or under ledges (under ridges of shelves or pot plants, under leaves when one overlaps the other, under the chins of animals, etc. Look for curves in the picture and think about where shadows might be. I tend to paint my ‘standard’ colours first, then add watery patches of blue or grey to the shadow areas. So for example you can see greyish-blue making shadows on the white icing of the bundt cake above, around the base of the hanging pot-plant, and on the faces of some of the letter-boxes. Other times I just use a darker version of the colour I’ve chosen, to create shadows. 

Shadows make your pictures seem three-dimensional. Even if there aren’t obvious places for shadows in the designs, you can create this three-dimensional effect by imaging the scene is next to a window, with the light streaming in from just one side. So in the mail with the tea and cake, for example, you can see shadows on the left-hand side of the cups. And the same on the posts of the letter-boxes. 

* Colour: bright or subtle, it’s up to you. But you need to make sure that the postie can easily read the address and this means keeping the areas where you’ll be writing the address light and bright. In the post boxes, for example, I made some of the ‘writing’ areas white. On the Australia Post box, which is normally red, I added some white so the black text would still stand out. On the barn door, ordinarily that would have been a darker brown but I lightened it to make the address pop. 

In the areas where you write the address, it’s also wise to keep things simple and stick to just one colour or shade. But in other areas, mixing things up a little will make your design look that much more special. So for example on the Christmas holly wreath, I chose to make the leaves light and dark instead of just flat green. It’s hard to see in this photograph but there are also two colours to the berries - dark red and a kind of fire-engine red. It doesn’t look like much but if the colours were all the same, the picture would be a lot more flat. 

Step 4: Get it ready to post

Write the address where it belongs in the design. To help you, there are suggestions at the bottom of all designs in the Mail Art Colouring Book indicating the best place (or places) to write names and addresses. Of course there are no rules and you can switch things around if you need to, but I’ve planned each of these illustrations to help you create lovely mail-art and ensure that the postie can see where to deliver it. 

Make sure the address is written in something waterproof (like waterproof ink) so that the address won't run or blur if rain gets on the envelope. 

If you think the address might be even a little hard to find in your design, use arrows or words (like “Kindly deliver to”) to point the postie’s eyes to where the address starts. 

Put a stamp on the top right-hand corner of the envelope. You’ll need to look up your country’s postal rules to learn how much this needs to be. These envelopes are standard sized, but depending on how thick or heavy you make them, and how far they go, this will impact the cost of the postage. If you think you need to add more stamps and they won’t fit without ruining your design, write a little note underneath the stamp saying “More stamps over,” then add more to the back of the envelope. 

On the back of the envelope, write the words “Sender” or “From” and then your own address. This way if your mail-art can’t be delivered, it will come back to you and you can try again. Make sure that if you have put stamps on the back of the envelope as well as the front, you do write the word “Sender” or otherwise above your own address, so the postie doesn’t confuse this for the recipient’s address. 

Once you’ve put your letter and anything else you want to send inside, close the envelope, and seal it up with glue-stick or sticky-tape. Add anything else you feel like. A wax seal, a sticker in place of a seal, washi tape… whatever suits your style! 


Don't forget your free download!

Use the printable below as a handy list to recap all my tips above. Use the blank envelope template to create your own mail-art design (be sure to leave space for a stamp at the top-right, and make sure the address area is clear for the postie). 

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Why we all love brownies

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What is your go-to comfort food recipe? That one thing you can bake, stir, chop or pick that cheers you when you're down, makes any celebration sweeter, or reminds you of someone - or somewhere - that holds a special place in your heart.

Turns out that for many people all over the world, it's brownies. Rich, sweet, gooey, chewy (and easily made gluten-free) chocolate brownies. 

When I launched the "meals in the mail" project a few months back, I asked people to do two simple things:

1. Send me their favourite recipe in the mail, and
2. Tell me what makes it special to them

Now as I sort through all the heartfelt letters, delicious recipes and creative mail that came my way, themes are starting to emerge. And one of those themes is this: everyone loves brownies. 

I tender in evidence, these seven recipes. 

Sonya in Australia, for example, shared her recipe for dark chocolate brownies with salted caramel (below). She said: 

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"Home-made brownies can say a lot of things - I'm sorry you lost your job, let's celebrate the winter solstice - and this recipe has even survived a trip in the post. When my friend Jemma's second baby arrived, I baked these brownies, sandwiched them between two thick slabs of cardboard, and dropped them in a post box. They survived the journey from Canberra to Sydney in one piece."

Then Nanette in The Netherlands shared her recipe: 

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"I got this recipe from an English girlfriend when I was 25. Even 30 years later and some little changes, it is our favourite family brownie recipe. The whole family makes these brownies for birthdays, or just when someone is in need of chocolate or comfort food." 

From Canada, Sherry shared buttermilk brownies and a tribute to her mother Elaine: 

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"This is my mom's brownie recipe and I can't even begin to tell you how many of these I have enjoyed over the years. My mom is an amazing woman... in addition to raising three kids with a husband who was away much of the time, she worked full time and still managed to be there for all of our girl guide meetings and art shows. The brownies were and are still a go-to recipe that even the pickiest eaters enjoy." 

Jessica in Australia shared the recipe for Caramello brownies that won her boyfriend's heart: 

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"I first made these to impress my boyfriend and it must have worked because we're still together seven years later! They're always a crowd-pleaser and make your house smell great when they're baking." 

And then from Denmark, Linea shared her hygge-inducing Lazy Brownie recipe: 

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"This cake tastes like a little piece of chocolate heaven if you use good ingredients and a tiny bit of love! I love that moment of silence when everyone takes a bite and just enjoys the chocolaty-ness! My favourite thing to bake in winter-time and eat with a cup of tea." 

Laura in New Zealand shared the brownie recipe that helped her make it through some tough times: 

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"This recipe belongs to Kate, my boss at the New Brighton Library in Christchurch. Even though both of us no longer work in that library, her brownies helped the team get through some rough patches. They never let me down." 

And in Austria, Miya shared a recipe for olive-oil and sea-salt brownies that came to her via a friend in America, who adapted it from a recipe in the NY Times: 

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"I love this recipe for several reasons. Firstly, it's genuinely easy but decadent and delicious! Secondly, my husband produces olive oil in Greece so it's one of my favourite things to make for him if he needs something to showcase his products - an act of love, if you like. Last but not least, it was given to me by my hot-mess New Yorker friend Meaghan. We met in our first week of moving to Vienna 10 years ago, and have lived in and out of each other's homes ever since, sharing a love of music, baking and the charming contradictions that make Vienna what it is. So I'm passing this recipe on to you and your community in the spirit of our friendship and the city it was born in. Wholesome yet a little decadent, simple yet a little extravagant, familiar and cosy but also a bit of a hot mess. And if you ever come to Vienna, you're invited to coffee and cake!"  

So if you're wondering which of these seven recipes for brownies I'll share in the finished book, the answer is...

All of them. Naturally! Firstly, because this cook-book is not only about the recipes, it's also about the stories, the memories, the connections, and of course the mail. And secondly, because maybe you might want to try a little experiment when you read the book: a brownie bake-off for you and your friends, shall we say? I wonder what your favourite secret ingredient will be. Sea-salt? Caramellos? Buttermilk? Olive oil? A mother's love? 

Meals in the Mail is a cook-book project celebrating meaningful, nostalgic and comforting recipes from close to 250 people from all over the word, written by hand, and sent by post (often with stunning illustrations on the recipes, or the envelopes, or both). 

People who sent in recipes for meals in the mail will all receive a copy of the e-book for free, and get first dibs at buying the physical cook-book, which will be on a limited print-run.

If you'd like to be among the first to hear when both versions of the cook-book are available for sale, and to get updates on the projects and sneak peeks at the recipes, the best way is to sign up to my newsletter (right now I'm also giving away a copy of my mini e-book "Making Mail: 10 steps to writing letters that become keepsakes," to all subscribers). 

And now, back to the question I asked at the start of this blog post. I'm dying to know: what's your go-to comfort food recipe? (Is it brownies??) 

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21 thank-you letters to write today

Happy World Post Day, dear friends!

Today, 9 October, is World Post Day, an official UN-sanctioned "day of observance." Every year, more than 150 countries celebrate World Post Day in a variety of ways, some countries even observing the day as a public holiday. (The rest of us can live in hope). 

Adding oomph to World Post Day, the world has also been celebrating International Letter Writing Week - the week that includes 9 October - for the past 60 years. Established by the Universal Postal Union in 1957, International Letter Writing Week aims to "encourage world peace by encouraging cultural exchanges among the people of the world, through letter writing." World peace, friends. 

That goal is every bit as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, so I wondered if you'd like to join me in a mini-challenge, starting today, to write one letter a day, all week. But there's a twist: all seven letters need to express gratitude. Can you do that? Spend seven days feeling all the gratitude and expressing all the thanks, in writing? Seven thank-you letters in seven days. It's totally achievable, yes? (And don't forget folks, this is for world peace). 

Do you want to make your challenge public, so we can all cheer you on? Use the hashtags #worldpostday and #7gratitudeletters to show the world what you're doing. 

I'm here to help. By way of inspiration, I've shared 21 gratitude prompts below, to get you thinking about the people you might like to write to this week. They are borrowed from a much bigger list of 40 gratitude prompts and 100 letter-writing prompts, which I share with students in my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written. 

Use these prompts any way you like. Maybe they'll provide you with literal inspiration, or maybe they'll help you think creatively, about the other people in your life who would appreciate a little note of thanks from you.

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21 gratitude prompts

  1. Thank your postie for delivering the mail through rain, hail, snow, wind, heatwaves and unfriendly dogs (leave an anonymous letter in a public post box)
  2. Thank that bookstore employee who made some really great recommendations
  3. Thank your mum or dad for, you know, your existence
  4. Thank the barista who makes your coffee just the way you like it
  5. Thank your grandmother for the excellent scones
  6. Thank that Etsy seller for putting a personal touch on their sale
  7. Thank your partner for enriching your life
  8. Thank your school teacher for inspiring you to learn
  9. Thank your child’s school teacher for going above and beyond
  10. Thank your green-grocer for sourcing those great organic apples
  11. Thank a politician who actually did something good (nobody thanks politicians!) 
  12. Thank a musician for filling your life with song
  13. Thank your friend for having you to dinner
  14. Thank your aunt for the birthday card
  15. Thank your children for making you laugh
  16. Thank your favourite blogger for working so hard to put out quality, free content
  17. Thank your favourite podcaster for the same reason 
  18. Thank a charity you support for the good work they do
  19. Thank an author for the inspiring read
  20. Thank the housekeeping staff of somewhere you holidayed
  21. Thank your future self for learning the art of gratitude (hide the letter in a book

Download the list here if you'd like to print it off to take it with youand of course don't forget you can always pin it for later. x


ps. If you're in the mood for even more letter-writing inspiration, I want to remind you about my letter-writing and mail-art e-course, "The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written." 

Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. There's also a host of downloadable resources, and access to my own private mail-art pen-pal group. Registrations are open right now, and you can find out more here

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Inside camping

Get ready kids, we are going camping!

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First, pitch the tent. We'll need damper, can somebody rub butter into flour? Light the campfire.

All set? Let's play some card-games on the picnic rug. Snap. Go Fish. Close your eyes and guess what food I'm putting into your mouth. Oh no! Who could have predicted that game would end in tears? Shall we snuggle inside the tent for a little while, and tell spooky stories? 

Dinner time! Who wants another sausage? Can you pass the damper? Cocky's joy, anyone? I have a great idea: let's roast marshmallows! 

WHAT a sky! The rainbow lorikeets are loving it, too, they are making quite the racket. I think it has stopped raining.

But brr, it's getting cold, and almost dark. I have hot milo in the thermos. Come on, let's cuddle next to the fire and look for pictures in the flames until we fall asleep. 

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Have you ever tried inside camping? It's a fantastic rainy-day activity, and has the benefits of being warm, cosy, and completely screen-free! 

I've made you a handy guide to inside-camping set-ups, games and food (including a damper recipe that can be adapted for cooking in a campfire or in the oven). You can download that here, and of course don't forget you can always pin it for later. x

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14 ways to boost creativity and find inspiration

These are some of the things I do when I'm stuck, stumped, confused, de-motivated, or just facing some kind of creative block. I thought I'd share them, in case you want to try, too. 

You probably have a hundred more. If so, I'd love to hear them! 

1. Create white space in your life, time in which you are doing nothing, or doing manual non-thinking labour (walking to the tram stop; in the shower; washing up; weeding the garden). Don’t listen to podcasts or music or anything, and let your brain rest and wander without agenda 

2. Seek inspiration: go to a gallery, listen to music, listen to a podcast, read a good book (not a blog, a real book). Social media is good but also prone to trends that we can get sucked into - try to look further afield than the Internet 

3. Take a walk with a camera. Even if you’re not a photographer or creating visual art, looking at things through a camera lens creates a different perspective and helps unlock creativity in your brain for other projects 

4. Get a good night’s sleep. I know, sometimes that's easier said than done, but it’s hard to think creatively when you’re tired

5. Get a second opinion. Ask someone who you admire creatively (and who you trust to be constructive) to look at what you’ve done, and brainstorm ideas or opportunities. OR share what you’ve done on social media and invite feedback (but only if you feel this is a supportive community for you)

6. Try something different. If you usually like to paint, learn a language instead; if you like to write, take a cooking class. It's the creative part of your brain's version of "a change is as good as a holiday"

7. Do it for the joy of it. The pressure of deadlines, income, other peoples’ expectations, can all get in the way of creativity 

8. Get some exercise. Even just walking regularly can help but, according to research, the key word here is regularly

9. Avoid social media distractions. Take a few hours away from your phone every day - maybe even put it in another room. If you can’t help yourself, remove social media apps from your phone

10. Write down your ideas, thoughts and feelings by hand. This prompts “reflective functioning” because it causes you to both feel an experience as you write it down, and then reflect on it, or make sense of it, when you read it back. I don't know why, but this is a lot more powerful when you write rather than type 

11. This idea comes from the Me & Orla "Bloom and Grow" Instagram course. Create a Pinterest board of things that inspire you. Or several boards, if you like. Whenever you come across an image or idea that you like, or that sparks your curiosity, pin it to your board. Then at any time when you are looking for ideas, you can revisit that board for creative inspiration

12. Collaborate - once when I was trying to write a character of an old man, I asked an actor friend of mine to role-play the old man so I could better brainstorm ideas

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13. What else is going on in your life? The stresses and trials of life - children, work, finances, an argument with your spouse... all of these can temporarily block creativity. Be kind to yourself. sleep on it, do what you need to do first. Have faith that inspiration and motivation will return and, when life calms down a little, try one or more of the techniques above

14. Carry a notebook and pen with you everywhere so that when inspiration does strike, you can capture it before it slips away

Alright that's me for now. What do you do to boost creativity and inspiration? 

ps. I've made this list downloadable in case you'd like to print it off and take it with you. You can download it here. And of course don't forget you can always pin it for later. x

ps. have you heard about my new letter-writing and mail-art e-course?

Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. Register your place or find out more information right here

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Stickers nine ways

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A few months back I announced that I had started illustrating for ethical stationery company Boots Paper. We have been steadily adding more greeting card designs to the collection, and there are many other new products in the wings, but the designs that have me the most excited right now are a series of stickers

I have been painting these for months, and they're finally here, printed onto clear plastic so they kind of work like decals on just about anything. Here are nine ways I've been using my stickers lately, to brighten up my everyday jobs. 

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1. In my garden-jobs diary (I keep a seasonal diary so I don’t forget to mulch or prune or fertilise or sow seeds. This weekend was all about fertilising, pruning and planting) 

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2. On notes left on the 'fridge for my husband, because we both work such long hours we can often go hours without seeing each other for anything more than hello-goodbye conversations 

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3. On messages in mini-envelopes for children (I sometimes pop these mini-envelopes into the normal-sized envelopes I send to the parents, so the kids get their own letters)

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4. On hand-written recipe cards I send to people in the mail 

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5. To decorate my planner and bullet journal 

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6. On my shopping lists (because that makes the lists look pretty but also because the picture draws my eye to the list when it’s on the ‘fridge, and I’m less likely to forget it on my way to the shops) 

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7. Prettying-up gift tags in my snail-mail bundles

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8. To decorate #thousandpostcardproject postcards

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9. In my notebook 

There are even stickers decorating my Macbook right now, though I haven't taken a photograph of them. That was five-year-old Scout's idea, but I do think it's kind of cute. 

How about you? I'd love to know if you have any ideas! 


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ps. have you heard about my new letter-writing and mail-art e-course?

Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. Register your place or find out more information right here

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Five senses

For your ears:

Image credit: My Open Kitchen

Image credit: My Open Kitchen

The podcast My Open Kitchen. Oh my goodness! I only discovered this podcast very recently, when they (so kindly!) mentioned my blog and #mealsinthemail project in their Top 5 list on Episode 8 of Season 2. After I listened to that episode, I literally went back and listened to every episode of both seasons. The My Open Kitchen podcast is supposedly for primary producers - country growers and makers - but I live in the inner city and I still absolutely adore it. It's about slow-living, food and baking, gardening, and creative ways to connect and communicate through social media. If that sounds up your alley, scroll down the My Open Kitchen podcast and blog to find the show notes for each, which are full of useful links and also enable you to listen in (or of course you can subscribe in the usual ways on Androids and iPhones). Strangely, listening to this podcast has even helped me make my peace with the imminent arrival of spring and summer. Sort of. 

Also, an honourable mention has to go to Sara Tasker's podcast Hashtag Authentic, which re-started this week with Season 2. I included it in a previous podcast roundup, but just had to mention this week's episode, which was an interview with Tara Mohr. I always love Sara's podcast but didn't expect my response to this episode: I was in floods of tears while sorting the socks, and felt like a light came on inside my head about why I had been feeling and behaving certain ways. It's as though I saw things I couldn't un-see, and now I'm super motivated to take action! 


For your eyes: 

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I have two great reads to recommend today. The first is a cookbook by a lovely New Zealand lady with the enviable name of Amber Rose. (I mean seriously? Such a beautiful name!) The book is called The Wholefood Pantry and if you haven't come across it already, I highly recommend it. Basically, Amber takes us through how to make really wholesome, healthy, tasty pantry staples. The kinds of staples that most of us have bought from the shops for decades, but which can be made by hand and packed with so much more nutrition. Soups and broths, yoghurts, spice mixes, ferments, butters and oils, breads, jams... You get the picture! She also helpfully explains the why of using these ingredients and making these staples from hand. 

My second recommendation is Lunch Lady magazine. Probably you've already come across this Australian quarterly beauty but, if not, it is such a wonderful read. I have every issue and look forward to it with ridiculous, childlike excitement. Even the typography and graphics are cheerful and somehow welcoming, like a hug. There are quirky and nutritious family recipes; essays from parents that have made me laugh, or cry, or both; and fun, accessible, family-friendly activities. Like edible garden tips, how to make coloured pasta, a guide to mushroom foraging, and common trail signs used by woodmen and campers. 


For your mouth:

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Of course, that has to be Meals in the Mail right now. As I finally read through all the letters and recipes that people have sent me, my heart just swells. This project is about food but it's about more than food: it's about what that food represents - comfort, love, nostalgia, community... And this project is about mail but it's about more than mail: it's about connections, and travel, and cultures, and art, and the love, care, generosity and permanence of writing things by hand. 

Budget-wise I don't quite know how I'm going to make this book happen in a way that celebrates it the way it should be celebrated. I had counted on 20 to 50 recipes and stories, which I was going to photocopy and bind. Now I have more than 200 recipes and stories, many of them illustrated, as well as the beautiful envelopes they came in. The cost of printing this book is going to be considerable, and I am as short on the time it takes to successfully run a crowd-funding campaign as I am on the cash to just do it myself. However... I am determined to make this happen, and to make it as beautiful as I can see in my mind that it will be. I have my thinking-cap on. Watch this space! 


For your nose:  

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Even the simple act of breathing in deeply, and exhaling fully, is like a mini-meditation. You can feel your body relax. And now for the flavour - take a wiff of these:  

  • Pick a sprig of mint or rosemary and crush it in your hand
  • Coffee in the morning 
  • Stand near the ocean, close your eyes, and inhale
  • Bake bread. I once read a quote somewhere saying that parents of small children should bake a loaf of bread every morning: even if you get nothing else done that entire day, you'll have delicious bread to eat, and the whole house will smell great
  • Bury your nose into an old book
  • Go stand in the garden when it rains
  • Tip-toe into your sleeping kids' rooms before you go to bed, kiss them, and breathe in the smell of their warm hair and skin 

For your hands:

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Have you heard? I've made a downloadable colouring book! 

On the one hand it's a traditional colouring book, the kind you'd turn to for a spot of creative expression, and mindfulness. But what makes it different to most other colouring books out there is that every one of the illustrations is designed as an envelope template, so you can make it and post it off when you've finished. 

The idea is that this colouring book is not just for you, but for the people you care about, who will be surprised, touched and thrilled when they receive your colourful mail-art in the post. 

The downloadable colouring book will be available in October, in time to make and send mail-art for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other end-of-year mail you'd like to send. There are 60 illustrations, and the book is available for pre-sale now (currently on special for $17.95, down from $23.95, until Monday 11 September).  

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What to do with the green part of leeks

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Now that's a catchy title, isn't it. A poet I clearly am not! Anyhoo... 

Last week I made my favourite cauliflower and leek soup (with truffle oil - it is SO good. If you'd like the recipe, let me know and I'll share it on here). As always, though, I was left with the tough greens of the leeks, and no idea what to do with them.

But instead of tossing them away as I have in the past, this time I put the greens back into the 'fridge, then put the question to the Instagram community: "I made soup but what can I do with the green parts of the leeks?" 

As it turns out, quite a lot! In case you have the same question, following are some of the tasty suggestions I received. 


Fondue de poireaux (leek fondue)

This was suggested by @ninondanslenclos. She says, "Cut the leeks in small parts and let them simmer with water in a pan at low heat, until the leeks are soft. Also, you might replace some of the water with white wine and/or creme fraiche (French habits). Add salt and pepper depending on your preferences. I would advise to serve with white rice and chicken, or tofu for a veggie version." 

Chicken stock 

Food writer @estelletracy suggested using the green parts of the leeks when making chicken stock. There are loads of recipes for making stock online, this one looked good to me. 

Soup, stew or broth 

Similarly, @__roxana_nicoleta uses the green parts of leeks to flavour all kinds of slow-cooked things, including soup, bone broth, vegetable broth, and stew.

Steamed leaves 

As a simple but tasty-sounding idea, @thetallphotographer says, "The end bits can be tough but the paler bits are lovely steamed with garlic butter." 

Leek, potato & bacon pie

How delicious does this sound? From Denmark, @lineaswonderland shared the following recipe:  

Ingredients: 
Tart bottom (home-made or store-bought) 
3 leeks (or the greens of them) 
A pack of bacon bits
4 eggs
2 dl* cream
800 grams (28 ounces)
salt and pepper

Method:
* Set the oven to 250 degrees Celsius (482 Fahrenheit) 
* Peel the potatoes, cut them into small pieces, and boil them for 10 minutes
* Line the pie-tray with the tart bottom, and poke holes in the bottom with a fork
* Set the tart-bottom in the oven for five minutes
* Cook the bacon (@lineaswonderland suggests doing this in the oven to minimise greasy mess)
* Whip together the eggs and cream, the season with salt and pepper
* Clean, separate and cut the leeks into rings
* Put the bacon, potatoes and leeks into the pie, then pour over the egg and cream mixture
* Bake for 30 minutes  

*dl stands for decilitre. 2 decilitres are equivalent to 200 millilitres, or 6.8 fluid ounces


What do you think? Would you try these? Do you have any recipes or ideas to add to this list? 

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Just one thing (soap nuts)

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A month or two ago I decided to share a semi-regular post about "just one thing" I'm trying to do to lessen my impact on the world around me. Living in a more sustainable and considered manner is important to me, but I'm realistic about how difficult it is to make wholesale changes in life... let alone to drag others along for the ride if they're not on the same page. 

Last time I wrote about our family's adoption of beeswax wraps to replace cling-wrap in our house, and those are still going really well. 

In this post, I wanted to talk about a relatively-new discovery of mine: soap nuts. 

Soap nuts are actually dried berries. They have a very high percentage of saponin, a chemical compound found in a number of plants, and it is great for cleaning. Saponins remove dirt and oil from clothing when used with water (and the soap nuts even lather up like "real soap"). 

So about three months ago, I started to replace the laundry detergent we use with soap nuts. I was keen to find an alternative to our regular laundry detergent, for a number of reasons. (A number of reasons which I managed to make all start with the letter P, because that's how I get my kicks and clearly I need to get out more): 

PERSON: My son Ralph and I both have skin irritations to a number of laundry detergent brands. Apparently this is a common response to two rather toxic ingredients frequently found in laundry detergents: sodium laurel sulphates (used to makes bubbles and foam, but can strip the skin of its moisturising protective barrier); and zeolites (which enhance the lathering effect of laundry detergents, but commonly cause skin irritations). 

PREVENTION: A lot of commercial laundry detergents contain synthetic fragrances. Again, Ralph is prone to allergies, eczema and dermatitis, so avoiding petrochemicals and other nasties in the clothes that wrap him all day long is quite appealing to me. 

PLANET: The high sodium levels and alkaline pH levels in laundry detergents can be toxic to plants and waterways. Also, a number of commercial laundry detergents are tested on animals, and I'm keen to avoid that if at all possible. Soap nuts, on the other hand, are low irritant, not tested on animals (duh), and can be put into the compost after use. 

PRICE: A 500 gram bag of soap nuts cost me less than $30 to buy, and lasts approximately 200 washes. 

The first time I tried soap nuts, I admit to being verrrrry skeptical. It just didn't seem likely that a handful of sticky berries could make an entire load of laundry clean and fresh. So I decided to apply the most stringent test I know: Mr B's Nose. 

If Mr B has a super-power, it is his nose. The man can catch a wiff of something out-of-place in a room or on a person at 20 paces. Admittedly, Mr B is yet to learn how to fully hone his superpower. He's great at detecting smells, but not so great at identifying them. Exhibit A: Mr B walks into the playroom, sniffs the air, and announces "Oh no, I think the cat did a poo in here!" I produce a vase of fresh flowers and ask, "Is this what you smell?" Mr B looks relieved. "Oh yes, that's it."

But I digress. Bearing in mind Mr B's super-nose, I decided to replace our regular laundry detergent with soap nuts, without telling him. When the clothes were dry I inspected them for dirty marks (there were none), and sniffed them (they smelled fresh to me). But the true test was yet to come: I put them away in the drawers, and waited. 

I used the soap nuts to wash our next load of laundry, and the one after that. I washed, and I waited. 

My husband is not famous for holding back, so I knew that if at any stage he caught even the faintest waft of something not-quite-right, he'd complain. He didn't. When, after a month had passed without comment, I confessed my switch to Mr B. The response was a quizzically raised brow, but that was the sum of it. 

Some tips, in case you want to try soap nuts too

I've been using these little guys for about three months now, and here's what I've found: 

  • They're great for general washes, and get out dirt just as well as our laundry detergents. For each load, I put about four or five soap nuts into a little bag (which was supplied when I bought the soap nuts) 
  • I use cold water, and replace the soap nuts every three or four washes. Apparently you'll need to replace them more often if you use warm or hot water
  • They won't remove stains (a non-toxic tip I've learned is to dampen a stain with cold water, then cover it in bicarbonate of soda. Gently rub the bicarb soda paste into the stain, then leave it to soak in overnight. The next morning, rinse away the bicarb and then add the garment to your usual wash)
  • Soap nuts don't have 'whiteners' in them, so if you're looking for that 'light, bright' clean, you'll need to do some extra work. Apparently you can get this with vinegar, citric acid and other non-toxic products, but I haven't tried any of these yet so can't guide you on how they work
  • There are all kinds of other ways to use soap nuts, if you want to start experimenting. On the website for the brand of organic soap nuts that I own, there are recipes to use them to create a multi-purpose cleaner, cleansing bath, jewellery cleaner, shampoo, parasite prevention on plants, pet cleaner, and a hand-washing solution for delicates

So, that's my soap-nut story. How about you. Have you ever tried them? What are your experiences? 

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