So I've been researching canning methods.

Source: unknown. Please let me know if you know who created it.

I believe it started a couple of years ago, when The Virus Which Must Not Be Named was first being talked about. I thought about doing some canning and preserving, and wondered if it's possible to can meat. And I decided it must be, because you can buy things like chicken and tuna and Spam in a can, and it's perfectly fine to eat. So I think I did a Google search or two and found out about pressure canning.

And then I looked up pressure canners in Australia, and instantly regretted it. Ouch. That's a huge expense for someone who doesn't even know if they want to do it! I wonder if I could borrow one from a friend. Who do I know who might have a pressure canner? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

So I gave up on that idea for a while. And every now and then, I'd think about it again. Because you never know when the power will go out for an extended period of time and freezers will fail. I didn't want to have to cook up a bunch of meat all at once to make sure it didn't spoil, and hope we could get through it before we had to throw it out.

A couple of weeks ago, in Dr. Berry's Patreon group, he posted a link to a YouTube video about canning meat. I think that video mostly talked about doing it in a pressure canner (of course), but in the video they talked about another video where you DON'T need a pressure canner to do it (say, if the power goes out, and you have to cook up a bunch of meat quickly so it doesn't spoil). So instead of watching the original video, I watched that one. And I found one about Amish canning methods, which is water bath for everything, even meat.

So yeah, you could say I question the official guidelines for pressure canning non-acidic foods. I'm not saying you shouldn't, I'm just thinking...I need more information.

I did some research today, and found out a few things, and came up with more questions. First, what I know or found out recently.

1. The Amish use water bath for everything.
2. Before 1980, everyone used water bath for everything.
3. Botulism is fatal in 5-10% of cases.
4. Honey isn't recommended for infants under 12 months because of the risk of botulism. After 12 months, they develop resistance to it.
5. I asked my mom if anyone she knew ever canned meat, and she said my grandma canned chicken once when she was a kid.
6. Botulism spores are not killed by boiling water. You need to get it to 250F (about 120C) to kill it.
7. You have to have just the right conditions for botulism to be there in the first place, and then reproduce, so it's actually pretty rare.
8. Botulinum toxin is found in soil, and it's most common for intravenous drug users to become sick from it.
9. Botulinum toxin needs an anaerobic environment (no oxygen) and warm conditions to grow.
10. A lot of places in the world, water bath canning is the only method they have.

Now the questions.

1. Regarding #4 above, if infants develop a resistance to botulism by 12 months (or thereabouts, obviously everyone is different, it could be earlier or later), wouldn't they also be resistant to it in canned food?
2. Was water bath canning always as 'dangerous' as the authorities tell us it is now? Or did people just have better immune systems to handle it? How many of us have healthy immune systems now?
3. Regarding #8 above, if it's found in soil, then wouldn't cleaning your food really well before canning mitigate the risk somewhat?
4. Regarding #3 and #7 above, if it's so rare, and only 5-10% die from it, is it really worth all the fuss making sure people buy expensive pressure canners to can their non-acidic foods?
5. Couldn't you just add some acid to food to make it more acidic?
6. Is our industrial food production part of the problem? Does this make botulism more prevalent, using modern pesticides, herbicides, and factory farming procedures, and thus necessitate pressure canning of certain foods that are grown/raised this way? Would fully organic fruit & vegetables, and pasture raised meat be less prone to these problems?

It seems to me that if you keep all the food really clean, cook it hot enough and long enough, make sure your jars are clean and undamaged, make sure your lids are clean and seal properly, and do the water bathing properly, and then store it correctly after it's preserved, that should minimise the risk of most toxins.

There's still a lot that I don't know, and I'm not advocating one way or the other. I just think there needs to be more open discussion of this topic, rather than one group of people shutting down the other group of people just for thinking differently.
Categories: Ponderings
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20 years ago today

Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I woke up at 8 am from the best sleep I'd had since switching from the night shift a few days before, to a beautiful blue sky. I had a good feeling about the day.

I got on my computer and checked my email and the Bannerbored, a message board for fans of Steve Taylor who also used our IRC channel called #bannerman. I saw a post from my friend Alex in Canada saying to pray for New York, because a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

Yeah, right, I thought. I thought it was one of those internet hoaxes that were so common in those days. I mean, how many times have we seen that kind of thing in movies? Total hoax. And I couldn't believe my intelligent friend had fallen for it.

But everywhere I looked online, I saw the same thing. And I don't remember exactly what happened after that, but at some point I realised that maybe this wasn't a joke and turned on the TV. And I think I saw the second plane hit, or I tuned in just after, and the good feeling I had about the day was replaced with impending dread.

This was when I knew it wasn't an accident. It was deliberate. And the country wouldn't lie down and take it.

We were united. We weren't Republicans or Democrats. We were Americans.

I've been gone now for almost 18 years, and from what I see from over here, the country is more divided than ever. I've certainly never seen it this divided in my lifetime. The 60s we're pretty turbulent I know, but I wouldn't know if that was worse. It's hard not to worry whether I'll even have a country to go back to when I finally get the chance. I just have to keep reminding myself that God is in control, and ask him to remind me when I forget.

How we got out of debt and stopped living paycheck to paycheck

I've been thinking about writing this one for a long time. And I just listened to a Dave Ramsey video where he was talking about advice, and whether people are going to listen to you based on how you give that advice, and he said that hardly anyone is bothered by you just telling your story. So here we go: the story about how we stopped being 'normal' and paid off our debt, and built up our emergency fund.

Once upon a time, we spent all the money that came in to us. Whether it was Darrin's pay, or the family tax benefit, or the tax at the end of the year, gifts, whatever - we spent it as soon as we had it, and it was gone. I could go shopping on payday or the day after payday, and spend everything without thinking, get home, put it all into my finance app on my computer, and go, 'oh crap, how am I going to buy petrol this week?'

So what would I do? I'd shuffle bills around, so that the transfers I'd set up wouldn't go through. I learned a long time ago that it's better for me to make fortnightly installments on quarterly bills like gas, electricity, and water, so missing one of those payments wouldn't be a big deal - I'd just make up for it when the bill came in.

If I couldn't shuffle the bills around, I'd login to Centrelink and get an advance on my family tax benefit. Or if an advance wasn't available, I'd transfer some money from my business account (back when I had it) and use that for the petrol or whatever I'd forgotten to account for when I spent all that money on too many groceries.

Elijah was born in November 2018, and so we got an increased Centrelink payment for about 13 weeks. And we needed a new fridge, as ours was on its last legs, so I started saving up some of that money to buy a new fridge. Boxing day 2018 (that's the day after Christmas for you Americans who don't observe it), it was stinking hot, and I knew the crowds would be insane, so I ordered our new fridge online. With saved money. I thought I was the coolest because I'd prepared for this. Our new fridge was AWESOME.

The very next day after it was delivered - I kid you not - our washing machine stopped mid-cycle. It was a front loader, so if I opened the door, water everywhere. I eventually worked out how to drain it so that it didn't flood the laundry room, but I still had that half-washed load of nappies to deal with.

I started looking at washing machines online. A brand new one of the size we needed was around $1000. I desperately searched for an appliance store that would accept Afterpay. I had zero luck. So my next port of call was Radio Rentals. I don't think they exist anymore (or if they do, in a different capacity), but they would let you 'rent' a product and pay it off over time. Their prices weren't great, but we didn't have another option - or so we thought.

Radio Rentals turned us down for a rental. So we said rude things about them and I started thinking, ok, NOW what can we do? We had learned years ago that credit cards were a bad idea for us, so we didn't even have those anymore. We didn't have any savings. We had a new baby and needed nappies, but I didn't want to spend $27 a week on a box of nappies for him. And a toddler as well, who was still in nappies, at a pricetag of about $27 every two weeks. I needed to use my cloth nappy stash. But if it was going to cost me as much at the laundromat as it would for disposables, where did that leave us? We NEEDED a new washing machine.

So at some point, I looked at Gumtree. Prior to Facebook Marketplace, this was THE place to go if you wanted to buy or sell anything secondhand in Australia. I found the size washing machine we needed. It was in Craigmore, which is only about 20 minutes away (maybe 15 in good traffic). And it was a price we could afford. And he would deliver. So I arranged all that, and we still have that washing machine to this day.

March 2019. My car's brakes were grinding BADLY so I booked it for a service. As expected, it needed a lot more than just a service and brakes. I was getting anxiety over not being able to sign up myself for the credit that the mechanic offered. So Darrin had to sign up for it with his income details. My mom arrived for a visit about a week later, and we didn't have any money to do anything for the first few days. (And then we all got sick anyway, so the only thing we did during her visit was go to the last ever Brickalaide/Kidz Gigantic Day Out, which was actually pretty pathetic compared to the year before. But that's another story.)

Somewhere in all this, I signed up for Audible. Because when you're in debt and living paycheck to paycheck, of course you need to pay $16 a month for an audiobook! I had a list of books I wanted to listen to, because it was easier to listen to an audiobook than sit down and actually read one with four kids in the house. Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover was on my list since the beginning. It was just on there as 'oh yeah, I should read that one sometime.'

July 2019. I'd done our tax, and we were expecting a refund, as usual. One night I was looking through my Audible list, because I had another credit to use, and saw Dave's book there, and decided to get that one. So I started listening. And everything he said made sense. I didn't want to live like this anymore. I wanted to be FREE from money stress.

Darrin & I sat down one night after the kids went to bed, and we came up with our new plan (or rather, I showed him the spreadsheet of the plan I'd made and he said 'yeah, whatever you think is best'). And so we went to work.

(Yes, writing it that way sounds like Darrin doesn't care about the financial situation, but that's not true. He's just not interested in managing the budget and where all the money goes. But he's happy to discuss something when it's relevant and come up with a solution we can live with. He's good at coming up with alternate solutions that I may not have thought of.)

We were planning to sell our house and move to a bigger one after our tax came in and we paid off a few things. Sadly, but actually not sadly, because of this, I realised that if we tried to move house at that point, we would have been shooting ourselves in the foot. Because when you buy a new house, and the water heater dies the next week, and you don't have any money because you just spent all your money on buying the new house, moving expenses, lots of takeaway while you get the kitchen in order - you can't afford a new water heater! So painfully, we decided to wait. And I'm glad we did, even though this house SUCKS BEYOND BELIEF! (actually no - the other day when the rain was bucketing down, I realised that although this house sucks in a lot of ways, we've never had a problem with the roof leaking. So praise God for that!)

So...I cancelled my Audible subscription. And Prime. I started using cash in envelopes - yes, actual envelopes! - and when the money in an envelope was gone, that was it till the next pay. And that actually wasn't as hard to handle as I thought it would be - because it was only ever 14 days till the next time I put money in the envelope.

I started delivering catalogues - you know, the store ads you get delivered to your house. The money wasn't great, but it was money. And I could take the baby with me if Darrin wasn't up yet in the morning. I'd listen to the Dave Ramsey Show while I walked. Still miss that part of it - I don't miss the putting catalogues together every week and having them take over my house, but I did enjoy the walking.

I sold some stuff around the house that we didn't need anymore. I realised at some point that those FTB advances were actually debt, so I added those to the debt snowball. I printed out a debt payoff chart from Debt Free Charts (all their debt payoff charts are free to download - if you have other goals such as savings, decluttering, even Bible reading, those cost).

We all enjoyed looking at the Debtris chart on the fridge. And whenever I'd colour in some blocks, I'd play the Tetris theme song on YouTube. We heard it so much, the kids were singing it to calm Elijah when he was crying in the car. I kid you not. 'Bub bubbub bub bubbub bub bubbub bub bubbub bub bubbubbub bub bub bub.' And it worked.

Before long, the only debt we had left was a loan from a friend who helped us buy flights to get overseas for my dad's funeral in 2015. And one day when I was talking to the friend about it, they said not to worry about it anymore. So we were officially debt free.

So what did we actually DO? We followed Dave's advice. We followed the Baby Steps. We built up $1000 in an emergency fund first, and didn't touch it except for ACTUAL emergencies (like getting the kitchen light fixed after it tried to burn down the house one Sunday morning).

After we had our $1000 starter emergency fund, we threw ALL extra money at the debt. The smallest one first, then the next smallest, and the next, and so on until everything was gone.

The budget was key. Making a plan for our money BEFORE we spent it made a huge difference. I'd already been keeping pretty good records, but that's only half of the equation. So when I was working out our budget for different categories, I looked at how much we had actually spent in the last year on each, and broke it down by month/pay cycle. I noticed some categories were INSANE, so we either cut those out, or cut them down significantly. If there wasn't money in the budget for something we wanted to do, we either waited till we did have money in the budget, or came up with something different to do.

Once we had the debt paid off, every extra dollar went in our emergency fund. It slowly built up, not quickly enough for my liking, but it was growing. Our goal was three months worth of expenses. (Dave recommends three to six months. Three was fine in our case - he recommends six months if you're self employed and in some other situations).

In the middle of this, Covid happened, and although Darrin still had work as a public transport driver, his work became uncertain. A new company was taking over the bus depot where he worked, and he'd heard unflattering things about them. So he wasn't optimistic about being able to stay in the conditions that he'd heard about. But we were preparing for just this kind of situation.

In September 2020, he gave his notice and left. He got his payout from work with all his unused annual leave and long service leave, which more than finished our emergency fund. But we had to live off of that money till he got a new job, so it went down again.

In January 2021, we applied for (and had approved) payments from Centrelink while he job hunted. So I based our budget off of JUST what was coming in, and tried to leave the emergency fund alone unless something came up that we needed. It would still go down slowly, but much less than before.

July 2021, our tax came in, and it was TWICE what we'd been expecting (due to Darrin's huge payout from his last job taking more tax than was actually relevant based on his end of year income). We spent some of the money on stuff we'd been waiting for, but the rest went to the emergency fund. And finished it a second time!

We just had to have our drains cleared, which used emergency funds, and now Darrin's off work due to Covid, so it may go down again. BUT it's there. It's for us to use in exactly these circumstances. We're ok. A few years ago, this would have ruined us. I shudder to think where we'd be if we'd actually moved house two years ago, and then all this happened. If we'd never changed our habits. It certainly wouldn't be pretty.

If you're in debt and struggling to get ahead, don't panic. Just go find yourself a copy of The Total Money Makeover. Library, op shop, borrow from a friend, or even buy new if you can't find it cheap. It's totally worth it.

Edited to add: Sometimes I feel like our story isn't that dramatic, because we only had a few thousand dollars of debt. No credit cards, no student loans, no car payments (we'd paid that off just before we started the Ramsey plan). But the big difference is the mindset. We won't borrow money again. We'll save up for big purchases. Debt is not an option anymore. And the peace I have just knowing that I won't have bill collectors coming after me, late payment notices, debt that never seems to go away, that's something you can't put a price tag on. We still have a house payment (which is the only debt Dave doesn't yell at you for), and whenever we have extra money to throw at that, we will.

Can you do this if you have more debt? Yep, it just might take you longer. But once you get going, and you see the progress, you'll start wanting to push yourself harder to get it gone quicker. I've heard the same story from many other people who have done this.

It's okay if you're struggling

May and June are always hard months for me.

8 years ago this month, my little boy Ian was born. He died two days later from brain damage suffered during my pregnancy. I've changed a lot since then.

And every year, without fail, I have trouble keeping up with the duties in my business in the weeks leading up to his birthday. Blogging, client work, you name it. Sure, I do it - at least the most important stuff. But the joy isn't there.

Yeah, it's been a few weeks since I had a post up. It bothers me, but I just haven't been in the right frame of mind to come up with new topics.

Last year, I even had a migraine over his birthday - my first one ever. It happened to start in earnest about the time my labor started, and finally eased up about 24 hours later, just after his time of birth.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

The point of this post isn't to have you feel sorry for me. This is my life, and I accept it. The easy bits, the hard bits, and all the bits in between.

But it's occurred to me that hey, this is predictable. This happens Every. Year. So maybe I should plan for it a bit better next year.

For instance, write up a bunch of blog content to schedule over May & June, so that I don't keep putting off writing a new post when hard times come around. Maybe even get a few guest posts.

Struggling? You're not alone.

My point? If you know there's a certain time of year that you always struggle, don't fight it. Plan for it. Get some stuff done ahead of time so you have less to stress about while you're struggling. Outsource something. Drop something off your to-do list that isn't urgent.

And stop beating yourself up for struggling. We all go through hard times. And you do what you gotta to get through them.

The joy will come back - it always does. It'll just take a while, and that's ok.

Trauma and personal growth

Seven years ago was the worst week of my life.

It started off promisingly enough, on the 31st of May, 2009. I was in labour with my second child. I'd had a rough pregnancy, and I was looking forward to it being over.

But when our son Ian was born at 8:40 that evening, nothing was as we anticipated.

He wasn't breathing. He wasn't moving. His heart was beating, but that was the only sign of life he showed.

By the time we finally got to sleep at 3 am the next morning, we'd heard the worst. He was brain dead, and had been for weeks. I'd been the only thing keeping him alive.

The weeks and months that followed were like a blur. Slowly I got back into some kind of a routine, but I wasn't the same person I was before. I would never be that person again.

I had a lot of support through that trying time, for which I'm eternally grateful. But with some things, support only goes so far. You have to learn how to be a new version of yourself all on your own. And that's hard.

I'm not saying all this so that you feel sorry for me. I don't want pity. That's not the point of this post.

These tragedies in our lives help to shape us. We can either become a better person because of them, or become bitter and angry.

And believe me, I've had my bitter and angry moments. But though the experience was horrible, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, it's helped to make me who I am today. I've made friends I might never have made, because Ian was part of my life, be it for such a short time.

Some of the lessons I've learned along the way, I wouldn't have learned if it hadn't been for Ian.

But I've noticed something when I talk about Ian. Something happens to people. They get uncomfortable. They change the subject. They say 'oh, I'm sorry,' as if they think they shouldn't have brought it up. As if talking about it might be hurting me.

But if you're one of those people who gets like this when someone talks about their trauma, I want you to think about this instead.

That trauma your friend is talking about has made them who they are. And to avoid that, because you're uncomfortable, is to disregard all the changes that have happened in their life because of it.

So I would like to challenge you. Next time your friend is talking about a traumatic event in their life, step out of your comfort zone for a moment and let them talk. It'll help them to get it out, and it'll help you to know them a bit better.
Categories: Ponderings
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Life begins at 40. But should it?

I'm turning 40 this weekend. The big four-oh.

Yep, it's a big significant number. What makes it somewhat more significant is the fact that, since I was a kid, I've heard the phrase life begins at 40.

On the other hand, I've always thought that if life begins at 40, then you've wasted 40 years.

But as I get closer to 40, I think maybe both of those are true.

From the time we're born, we're told what to do, how to act, how to dress, where to go. Some of this is necessary - but some of it isn't.

Generally, we're not allowed to just be who we are. Our parents, our teachers, our whole society tells us we have to meet a certain set of criteria and live a certain way.

And it's killing our individuality. It's not surprising so many people have a mid-life crisis when they get to about 40 years old. We don't know who we are anymore, because we've shoved ourselves down so far to make room for the person that the world wants to see!

We don't even know who we really are till we get into our 30s.

Some of this, I'm sure, is because of time and experience. But I'm also equally sure that it doesn't have to take as long as 40 years to work out what we really want from life.

Because when you're told what to do all your life, you either get complacent about making any decisions at all, or you get rebellious and go totally against the flow. Most people fit in the former category, because it's easier.

But if you've gotten complacent, you don't have to live like that anymore.

Life begins at 40

Let's make 'Life begins at 40' an outdated phrase!

Pursue what makes you happy, and not necessarily what feels 'safe.' If you want to be an artist, a writer, your own boss, whatever - don't let the uncertainty stop you! Sure, having a 9-5 job is steady and reliable income, but is it worth it if you're bored out of your mind?

If you can't afford to quit your full time job, find another way to pursue your interests in your off time. Maybe you don't want to make a business out of it, but life is meant to be lived, not just endured.

And, by all means, ease up on your kids a bit. They'll only be kids for a little while. Let them enjoy it while they can.

Do you think life begins at 40? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Post a comment below. :-)
Categories: Life, the universe, and everything Ponderings
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Who are you?

I've started and restarted this article so many times that now I don't know whether I'm coming or going.

Who are you? On the surface, it looks like a simple question. But it's loaded. Oh boy, is it ever.

How you answer that question may depend on who's asking. I know it does for me.

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Who are you, really?

This is a post that's been brewing in my mind for months. I've been seeing a lot of articles about introverts. And hey, I'm an introvert, so I'm kind of interested in these introvert articles! It's nice to finally see people saying that IT'S OKAY to be an introvert, to prefer time on your own, to not have time for small talk. But this post isn't about introverts. It's not about extroverts. It's about knowing yourself, and allowing yourself to BE yourself.

I've seen a lot of articles, too, about just being you, and making that you-ness part of your business. And that's all well and good - IF you know who you are to begin with. If you don't know who you are, how you tick, and why you tick the way you do, chances are you'll end up trying to be someone you're not. And you'll be miserable.

All of my life, I have struggled with social anxiety. As a child, it took me ages to get comfortable in a new situation, particularly when that situation was thrust upon me suddenly. For instance, if someone I didn't know walked up to me and asked me a question, I froze. If someone I knew asked me the same question, I didn't have a problem.

Most of the messages I was getting from people said that what I was, was wrong. I should be more sensitive, more outgoing, more fun, more fill-in-the-blank. This only exacerbated the underlying social anxiety. I shoved that part of me down as deep as I could, only to have it surface at the worst possible moments.

As soon as I started to acknowledge that the anxiety was a part of me, a funny thing happened. I started to cope a lot better in new situations. When I recognised my own quirks for what they were, I was able to make allowances for the extra time & effort it would take to work through them. These days, my anxiety episodes are few and far between. I know I'll most likely have this for the rest of my life, but as they say, knowing is half the battle.

Part of what helped me along in this process was when my husband introduced me to something called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). By answering the questions in the test, I found out my personality type according to the MBTI. I started to read up on my type. I learned which of my traits were due to my personality, and which ones weren't. (For what it's worth, I'm an ISTJ.)

The MBTI has been infinitely helpful. I understand myself - and others - a lot better. I don't automatically assume that someone's being a jerk if they don't do what I expect, or what I think they should do. Well, okay, I'm human, so sometimes I do. But when I stop to think about it for a minute, I realise there's often more to it than what meets the eye.

So here is my challenge to you. Get to know yourself this year. I mean, REALLY know yourself. It will be uncomfortable. It might even be painful. But trust me - it'll be SO worth it.
Categories: Ponderings
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Question of the week.

What exactly is the difference between a chocolate cupcake and a chocolate muffin? Sugar content only?
Categories: Life, the universe, and everything Ponderings
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One of the great mysteries of life.

Why do mobile babies keep trying to crawl through a space that's too small for them?
Categories: Life, the universe, and everything Ponderings
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The cupboard under the kitchen sink

This one's been bugging me for a while.

So just about everyone has a Cupboard Under the Kitchen Sink, where they store all the things that say "Keep out of reach of children." This is a cupboard UNDER A SINK, which means it's fairly low, and, unless you put a lock on it, quite accessible to children. And they'll figure out the lock eventually anyway, because childhood is for figuring stuff out.

Call me crazy, but wouldn't it be easier to just put the bottles on a HIGH shelf somewhere?
Categories: And then melvan hastily ranted... Ponderings
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