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You wouldn't be dead for quids

I bought our first mobile phone in 1990, three years after mobile calls started in Australia. The phone was Hanno's 50th birthday present; he will turn 77 tomorrow. Our first phone, a large Nokia, was not the old brick type but it wasn't far from it. In those days you could choose your own number; we still have that number.  However, the phones we have now are a far cry from that Nokia because when I slip my phone into my apron pocket every morning, it's not so I can easily answer every call, it's to take photos and listen to the radio. When we first bought iPhones, it was a non-event for me. I saw it as just another piece of technology that I wasn't particularly interested in. Now I use my phone numerous times every day but I rarely check for emails, messages or answer phone calls, my phone serves me in different ways.  However, when either Hanno or I go out alone, we keep in touch using our phones and when one of us is shopping alone, we can Facetime to show something to the person at home - and that's usually me.

At the moment I'm getting ready for the annual Aussie Backyard Bird Count, which I do on my phone. It will take place on 23 - 29 October. You can download a free app on your phone which will give you all the details. You have a week in which to use the app to register the birds you see in your backyard in a 20 minute period during the week.  If you don't see any birds, or only a few, that is valuable information, so they want your survey too. The app gives you several ways to identify the birds if you're not sure of what you're looking at. You can practise your bird watching skills in the lead up to the count by using the app as a field guide so it will give you a general understanding of which birds use your backyard for water, food and shelter.  It's a great project for adults and older children and you can sign up as an under 18s group (schools, cubs, guides etc.). The data collected from all over Australia goes towards a greater understanding our our bird life so that strategies can be developed to help any of them that are in crisis.

Many of the photos I show you in this blog are taken on my phone camera. I use an app called Camera+ which allows me to adjust the exposure and zoom in and out, although that affects the quality slightly. After taking the photo, there are a number of advanced editing features that will produce great photos, but even the ones I take, which I don't edit, are passable. It looks like its only available for iPhone or iPad, and there is a small fee now for the download, but I think it's worth it.

Yesterday morning I downloaded the new ABC radio app, Listen.  I had to. It was Sunday morning, I wanted to work in the bush house and I also wanted to listen to Australia All Over. So with earphones in and the app on my phone, I was set.

This radio program has been on the ABC on Sunday mornings for longer than I care to remember. It's sometimes inspiring, occasionally annoying and it reminds me of all of us living simple lives. People ring up and talk about what they're doing. It's usually ordinary stuff - baking for the CWA, cooking real food, riding horses, swimming, walking, fund raising, gardening, plowing crops, working at their jobs and a million other things. And yes, they are all normal people who talk about life with a passion.  I love listening because there is such a diverse group of people who call themselves Australian. You hear familiar stories and surprising ones, all things you'd never know about because they're deemed to be too common and not worth air time. I think that everyone has a story to tell and it is sometimes those who look the least likely who have the most amazing tales to tell.

So there I was, cleaning up the benches in my bush house, earphones in and doing this and that to piece together my own ordinary life. After I finished in the bush house, I went inside and made lunch - nothing fancy, cold leftovers from Saturday's pork roast rack, accompanied by potato salad with poached eggs, backyard tomatoes, lettuce and sliced pickled beetroot. I doubt you'd see it on any menu but it used up the leftovers, was easy to prepare and it was delicious plain food. Outside the birds were swooping in, the sky was blue and clear and there was the smell of a few neighbourhood lunches being cooked. Honestly, you wouldn't be dead for quids.

I have no affiliation with any of these organisations. I'm just relaying my own experiences to you.

Weekend reading

I had my eyes tested on Monday and was told I have cataracts on both eyes. They're not bad enough to be operated on yet but he said they could grow in 6 months or 10 years and to go back if I notice changes in my vision. Sometimes I have blurred vision so I guess it will get worse. Tricia had cataracts removed from her eyes a couple of years ago and had surgery soon after she was diagnosed. I'm developing mine at the same age she was then. Luckily it's only day surgery so I'll go to the specialist who removed Hanno's cataracts a few years ago.

My using up some eggs oven frittata.  Eight eggs, boiled potatoes, capsicum, onion, garlic, silver beet, cheese, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and a splosh of cream.  Delicious hot or cold.

Once upon a time I had a second blog called the Simple, Green Frugal Co-op. The blog had a changing list of wonderful writers who I invited to write there. It's been in moth balls in recent years - the last post was written by the wonderful Rose in May 2015. I thought it was about time to release the power of this project again because there is such excellent content there. Let me know what you think of it.  PLEASE NOTE: I am only one of the writers on the other blog, there are about 15 other writers. It was my intention to encourage other writers who didn't get the traffic I have.

93 year old Bill Bevan's passionfruit sponge cake
Old fashioned frame raising
50 or older? Bring on the power naps
Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals
Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic
Top 10 tips for feeding a crowd on a budget without skimping on flavour

Taking time for tea

I was pleased to read a post about teabags on nannachel's blog yesterday as a follow up to my link to how tea bags are made.  Chel wrote to Neranda, the maker of the tea she buys. You can read here what they wrote back. This tied in well with my planned post today because a few readers wrote and asked what's the best way to make tea using loose eat instead of tea bags.  They've all been tea baggers in the past, have never made loose tea, and want to change.  So here goes.  

If you make frequent cups of tea or coffee, it's a good idea to set up a tea station. Organise this close to where you keep your cups and electric kettle, or next to the stove where you boil water. In addition to the tea, store your sugar, honey, tea spoons, tea strainers and tea pot there. 

There are many different tea balls and baskets of varying shapes and sizes, the ones I have here are just a few of the vast variety.  Buy what you think will work best for you. I can't tell you which shops have these things but you'll probably find them in Kmart and Target as well as the kitchen shops.  You'll also need some loose leaf tea.  Like Chel, I buy Neranda tea.  I buy the 250 gram pack for $3. It's always cheaper to buy loose leaf tea and it's usually better quality tea.  This pack will last us 4-6 weeks. How much you use will depend on how strong or weak you like your tea, how big your cups or mugs are and how many people you're making tea for. Don't buy too much at a time. A 250gram pack is good for a single person or a couple, 500 grams for a larger number. 

The tea basket over the side of the cup and the tea basket in the cup will help you make a good cup of tea for one using loose tea.

Of course you could always pay much more for organic black loose leaf tea - it's at least double the price but I'm happy with Neranda. It's grown and processed in Australia, it's insecticide-free, it's very tasty and I can get it locally at a very good price. I'm also fond of Earl Grey tea, which is just black tea with the essential oil bergamot added. However, a 125 gram pack of Twinings Earl Grey loose tea costs $7, so it's an occasional buy, not a frequent one, here. I used to buy King tea but I haven't seen it in any store lately.  Another one bites the dust.

A tea pot and a tea strainer will have you making tea the same way your great grandma made it.

The traditional way to make tea is in a tea pot.  I have a large tea ball (above) in which I put three teaspoons of tea and cover with boiling water. I let it brew with the lid on for about three minutes.  Large tea balls are very handy because they'll retain the tea leaves and you won't have to strain them through a tea strainer when you pour the tea.  However, you can easily just throw the loose tea into the tea pot, cover with boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes to brew.  If you make tea this way, you can either use a tea strainer or carefully pour the tea into the cup. If the tea is brewed properly and you don't shake the pot, most of the tea leaves will remain at the bottom of the pot and you won't need a strainer.

Above and below, these tea balls are like tea bags. They float in the boiling water and slowly the tea is brewed. When you remove the ball, it sits in the little cup to drain. They can be used repeatedly for years and are easily cleaned in the dish washer or can be washed by hand.

A pot of tea is ideal for a group of two or three, or more.  If the tea is for you alone, use one of the little tea balls, or a tea basket hooked over the side of the cup or a basket inside the cup.  One teaspoon of tea, pour over boiling water and let it sit for three minutes. The crucial element here is time.  Tea needs time to brew. The boiling water will soften the tea leaves and leaving them to steep for a few minutes will give you a full flavoured cuppa. You can then add milk, honey, sugar or lemon, depending on your taste.

Tea can be reused a few times before all the flavour goes. If you've got a few people to make tea for, make up a pot, pour the tea into all the cups you need, then add more boiling water to the pot. Allow it to steep for four minutes, remove the tea ball from the tea pot and put a tea cosy on the pot to keep it hot for a second cuppa for everyone.  And when the tea leaves are discarded, throw them into the compost where they'll decompose with the organic matter already there. The leaves will break down just like fruit and vegetable peelings do.  You can also use tea leaves on your blueberry bushes. They add a bit of acidity to the soil which the bushes love.

Good tea can't be rushed. Making tea like this and taking the time to slow yourself down enough to do it helps build slowness into your days. The urge to move through the day going as fast as possible is challenged by the process of making a cup of tea, especially if you make a pot and you go through the ritual of pouring tea from a pot. The ritual slows you down before you sit down to enjoy the tea. Surely in these days of multitasking and doing as much as you can in a day, the time you take to make a good cup of tea is an investment in your own mental health. 

Simple life isn't a product

It can be a struggle adjusting to a simpler life. Some people think that the way I live is THE way and that is just not true. I live as I do because it makes me happy, it makes sense to me, I've got time to do a lot of things in my home, I want to live in a productive home and I want to stay interested and engaged as I move into older age.  If I were 40 years younger my priorities would be different and the way I lived my simple life would reflect that.

At every stage of life, from very young to very old, there will be a way to configure your life and home to help you live well within the framework of your values. Each stage is different and you will change and grow through those changes.  I am a retired woman, almost 70, no debt, with the luxury of time. I freely choose to live without holidays, we buy the best quality we can afford so that it lasts longer, we gave up magazines and pay TV, don't have Netflix and most of the time, we make do with what we have. But I didn't start living this life that way. 

We live on a pension now but we worked hard to set ourselves up before we received it so we would be able to manage well into our old age on what we have. I know that is not the case for a lot of people. Many people have far more than we do and many have less and struggle from week to week. I am grateful I had the opportunity make the choice to simplify. We don't have a lot of money but we have enough and that is all we need.

There was a comment from a new (to me) reader a couple of days ago. I followed the link to her blog to read that she is dealing with this very thing. She is struggling to fit modern life in with simple life. This was never a problem for me because I chose to live a slow simple life in a modern context and didn't want to return to the old times. In my opinion, anyone who yearns for the 1950s wasn't there to experience the sexism that was commonplace then. Our society is better now than it was then. It was slower back then, we knew our neighbours and spent time with family and friends, but there is more freedom and opportunity now, especially for woman and girls. The advances we've made since the 50s make me grateful to live now but I cherry pick some good parts of the old days - mainly living debt-free, cooking from scratch and homemade cleaners - and incorporate them into my daily life.

When I moved away from paid work I had the time to become more productive. I'd always been a gardener so we grew fruit and vegetables, and kept chickens because I wanted to produce as much as I could in the backyard. I wanted to use the land we owned and not just the house. I wanted to reduce the number of chemicals we lived with so I started making my own cleaning products and laundry liquid.  I shopped in a different way and stockpiled because we had less money coming in and needed to save every penny we could.  I still do all those things because I enjoy that lifestyle, it keeps me busy and interested in daily life. There is always something to do and I don't want to be a 70 year old who is bored and thinks there is nothing to do.

We have the trappings of modern life here and it makes what we do easier, but we would never have gone into debt to buy what we have. If we can't pay cash, we don't buy it. We both have phones because it's easier to keep track when one of us is away from home; they help keep us safe as well as being our phones. I communicate to you via a computer, I've used a computer every day since 1988. We have solar panels and a solar hot water system - both vast improvements in the old electrical and gas technology. We have a poly tank that holds 10,000 litres of water which is an improvement on the old 5,000 litre corrugated iron tank we installed 20 years ago when we first arrived here. I have a self cleaning oven, dishwasher, bread machine, stick vacuum cleaner, an ironing press and iron - all modern appliances that help us live the way we choose.

But if I were 40 years younger with two small children, many of my choices would be different.  I'd still be supporting my simple life values but my choices would be appropriate for the life I was living then. I'd have less time to do many of the productive things I do now but I'd have a firm base of simple chores I'd carry out. I'd make laundry liquid because it does an excellent job, it contains fewer chemicals than modern washing products and it's cheaper. I'd take food and drinks with me when I went out, I'd pay off any debt I had. I'd cook from scratch, cooking double portions when I could so I had a supply of home cooked meals in the freezer for those times when I just didn't have the time or energy to cook after work.

Life isn't always about practicalities. We can also use our homes as a safe and stable base where we build relationships and teach our children how to be decent people. That home base provides a secure space in which we all can be the people we are, interact with those around us and while we do that we learn (and teach) kindness, generosity, courage, strength, respect, loyalty, honesty, self-control and individuality as well as how to be part of a family and a community.

Simple life isn't a product, it's a creation that we all make in different ways. Many of us have the chance to choose how we live and what we do each day. That will be different at 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80, and it's always changing to reflect how we earn a living, the amount of debt we have, our children and parents, how much time, strength and energy we have, and a hundred other considerations. Don't expect life to be one thing that remains the same. It's okay to be different. It's okay to do things your friends and neighbours don't do. If it's working for you, keep at it. Change helps you shed your old ways and replace them with values that support you in your chosen life. It also gives you the opportunity to improve and grow. In the end we become who we are and settle into life with who and what we love. It's only when you look back you notice just how much you changed over the years and how you reacted to different stages.

A Blue Sky organic cotton scarf

I've been waiting for the new organic cotton to arrive at Ecoyarns. Last week it came in and Salihan sent me two skeins of Blue Sky organic cotton in a very pretty soft pink Shell colour.  I was going to knit up a quick cotton shawl for my granddaughter but Gracie chewed up my most of my circular needles 🙄 so I ended up making a cowl scarf. The cotton is beautifully soft and as this scarf will be near Eve's face, I know she'll be happy to wear it.

The cotton is 10ply so it was quick and easy to knit with. I've decided to do make this as my Christmas knit so it will be ready for Eve to wear next winter.  That should use up the remaining Blue Sky Shell cotton and give me enough time to start a vest for myself using the Allhemp 8ply I have here. It's a lovely soft grey which will go well with some of my clothes.

My plan was to embroider some rose buds on the scarf but the knit rows were too bulky and they got lost, so I went with buttons instead.  I haven't decided which ones to use yet but I'm probably going to go with the three red buttons in the top photo or the teddy faces in this one.

The Blue Sky cotton comes in a range of beautiful colours which you can see here at Ecoyarns.

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