31 May 2007

Making the bed

There was a time when I really didn't like anything vaguely resembling housework. Not only didn't I like it, I didn't do it, I had "help". But that was in those days when I rushed through life looking, but not seeing, and wondering why I never felt like I had my own space. Now I have a much more relaxed life and I think about what I do. Now I see what we all think of as "housework" as something other than a chore that has to be done. Now I look on housework as that time I take to make my space comfortable and clean; it's like feathering my nest.
The ritual of bed making is something that sets my day up for all that follows. Sleep is very important to me. I LOVE sleeping and if I don't have enough sleep, I can't function properly. So it makes sense to me to make my bed as comfortable as it can be. I think of my bed as a nest - a great big comfy nest that has to be attended to every day.
So the pillows are fluffed up, the top sheet and quilts stripped off and each layer is replaced with precision and care. The end result is a comfortable bed that smells clean and feels warm in winter and cool in summer. When I change the sheets, the bedroom smells of sunshine. It's winter here now so I have flannel sheets on the bed and an extra patchwork quilt my sister made. It's nothing fancy, and I don't want it to be perfect, I just want it to feel nurturing and warm when we fall into it at night, and I want it to sustain us until we wake again the next day.

Personal responsibility

I believe that simple living is about reinventing yourself and making yourself happy. Being debt-free will help with your reinvention because controlling your spending will overflow into your life in many non-financial ways.

Personal responsibility plays a huge role in getting yourself back on track with your money. I cannot help you with that, except to say that it is up to you to make a decision to take control of your life and start to break that cycle of debt. You are the only one who can make that decision. You can read as much as you like about reducing debt but there comes a time when you have to stop reading and start doing it.

I can tell you that when you get your debt paid off it's the most liberating feeling you can imagine. I will encourage you to take control of your finances. I will help you in any way I can within the limitations of distance. I do hope you start working towards being debt-free, but the decision and the actions are yours alone.

I hope this post hasn't sounded too school marmish. It's my intention to help, not lecture and I hope this writing sounds as friendly as it is intended.

Step 5 - Writing up your budget

A budget is really a spending plan. Having a budget does not restrict you but instead it gives a feeling of freedom and relief. When you spend according to your budget, YOU make the decisions on where your money will go, YOU decide how much will be spent and YOU decide how much you will save.

I resisted having a budget for years because I thought it would be a restriction and I refused to be restricted in any way. Now I know having a budget gives you a kind of freedom that not having a budget doesn't come close to. Before my budgeting days I used to feel a mild guilt and unease when I spent money, now I know that what I spend has already been allocated for spending and I have no worries when I come to buying what I want. Having a budget is not being tight either. You will still enjoy your life, probably more so, but you'll do it within the controls that you have set for yourself. Having a budget doesn't mean you'll never spend. It means that you'll identify your needs and what you really want, and save money in areas that don't matter so you have money for things that do matter.

(Please note, these downloads are no longer available.)
I have two pdfs for you to download in my downloads section on the right side of your screen - Sample Budget and My Spending Plan. One is a sample budget, the other is a blank form, based on the sample budget, that you can use to write up your own spending plan. In the sample budget, you can see the proposed spending in the left column, in the right column is the actual money spent. As you can see in this budget, it was $82 under budget. That is $82 that was allocated but not spent. This money would go straight towards your debts. You would pay your normal monthly or fortnightly payment and add $82 extra to it. If you are debt-free, you would put this money toward something you're saving for - Christmas, a holiday, a new computer, aquaponics tank, whatever.

You have two types of spending - fixed bills and cash spending:
In MY SPENDING PLAN, you can write up your own budget. The figures at the top are all your fixed bills. Get out some old bills and calculate how much you pay for all your services, insurances, registrations, rent, rates etc over the course of a year, then divide by 12 to get your monthly amount. As you can see in the sample budget, my fixed bills come to $765 per month. That amount is transferred into a special bill paying account every month and is not touched. When each bill comes in, it is paid for out of this account, preferably by direct debit.

Under the fixed bills section, there is the cash spending. This amounts to $655 in my budget. I withdraw $655 from the bank every month. I have a set of ziplock bags on which I've written the amount and the category. For instance - IGA/Aldi and I put $250 in that bag. When I go grocery shopping, I take some of that money, do the shopping and if there's anything left over, put it back in the bag when I come home. I do that for every category I've written - Groceries, Transport, Health, General. You decide what your categories are and you decide how much goes in each one. Just try to make it the least amount possible without getting yourself into trouble. At the end of the month, the left over money - $82 this month, goes to pay off debt or to what is being saved for.

PLEASE NOTE: A month, or monthly plan, actually means every four weeks. Mark this on your calendar because it's important that you transfer your amounts to your bill paying account and withdraw your month's cash every four weeks, not every month.


Step 4 - The Plan

So how do we achieve this highly esteemed state of being financially sound and debt-free? Stop spending. That is the most important first step. When you’ve done that, when you have really decided that now is the time that you’ll grab hold of your life and direct it towards the path you want to take, then it is time to make a plan.

You need to plan for the best future you can imagine for yourself, but prepare for the worst. Your priorities now are to:
  • stop spending on non-essentials. The only thing you should continue to do is to make your loan repayments and pay for food and transport costs;
  • establish an honest record of your spending habits;
  • calculate how much debt you have and how much that debt is costing you each year;
  • work out how much you really earn. That means work out how much money you actually get in your hand each week, minus your work-related expenses. This is the real amount of money you have to live on and to pay bills;
  • save for an emergency fund to act as a buffer between you and hard times;
  • prepare a budget. If you already have a budget, prepare a new one with your frugal life in mind;
  • pay your debts as quickly as you can.
  • shop in a thoughtful and sustainable way;
  • stockpile food and provisions;
  • start to produce some of your own food;
  • work out a plan to conserve water, electricity, petrol and gas. Stop making unnecessary phone calls.

So how do you do it?
Generally there are a few ways to cut back.
  • Ask yourself if you really need it.
  • Ask yourself how your life will be better with this product in it.
  • Separate your wants from your needs and be firm with this.
  • If you do need it, can you barter something for it instead of spending money. Bartering used to be quite a common way of obtaining goods in small communities. Ask around, you’ll probably find people who are keen to barter.
  • If you can’t do without it, can’t barter for it, can you make it yourself? One of the skills you’ll develop in your simple life will be to hand-make many things from food to clothes.
  • Above all else you need to cut back on what you’re spending. This will give you the money to create more choices for yourself by reducing your debt, and in the end it gives you freedom to live the life you want.

If you're on a low income or trying to get out of debt, it's a good idea to try to create a buffer between you and an emergency. For instance, our dogs were sick last year and the vet bill was $800, we paid it from our emergency fund.

Get yourself an old jar or tin and empty your purse or pockets when you come home. If you have change left over from groceries etc. that change goes back into your marked ziplocks, Whatever spare change you have, put it in the jar. NEVER TAKE FROM THE CHANGE JAR. Don't think of it as extra money, it's money that has a purpose in your life and you need to keep it for your emergency fund. Put every spare cent you have in your change jar.When the jar is full, deposit it into your bank account. Try to build your emergency fund to at least $500. It will help you when something unexpected happens and having it will help you feel less stressed about living on less. You will know you have that emergency money, just in case.

Step 3 - Knowing what you spend

So this is where you actually start doing something. This is an extremely important step on your road to budgeting, don't skip it.

Most people know how much money they earn each week but few know how much they spend. You must have a realistic understanding of where you money goes to be able to budget and stick to it. If you want to know how to stop your money disappearing, you need to know exactly where the problem starts. You can’t stop leaks unless you know where the leak is coming from.

Get yourself a small notebook and write down everything you spend. That means everything you spend, every day. This might include mortgage payments, groceries, newspapers, chewing gum, lunches, Lotto tickets, your kids’ pocket money, coffee, petrol, your pocket money, travel, birthday gifts, an apple, bottles of water and Coke. Every time you spend something you must record it, no matter how trivial it might be. Take the book with you every time you go out, even if you’re not going shopping. You might stop for petrol, a newspaper or buy a bargain bag of tomatoes at a road side stall. Write down your purchase right after you spend.

Often when we spend on small items we don’t notice how much it adds up to over a longer period of time. For instance, if you’re buying a cup of coffee on the way to work that costs about three dollars for each cup, you’re spending fifteen dollars a week and around seven hundred dollars a year. If you’re in the same job for five years and you buy that cup of coffee every morning, you’ll spend $3,500 on coffee over that five year period. That’s for just a cup of coffee. The same logic applies to buying the newspaper everyday. Our local state newspaper costs one dollar during the week now. If you buy that on your way to work each day, you’ll spend about $1,125 over five years just to have something to read on the train or in your lunch break. A bit of organisation would allow you to have your coffee and reading material for a fraction of that price. You will only know that, however, if you track what you spend and see for yourself.

Attach a paper clip to the cover of your notebook and when you go grocery shopping, attach your dockets to the book with the clip. Dockets are aids to help you map your current spending habits. When you go home, record everything you spent on your shopping trip. Above all else, be honest with yourself. Make sure you record every cent. You are the only person who will see your spending record so if you cheat, you cheat yourself. Write everything down and at the end of the week, make your total. You’ll be surprised how those small amounts add up when you calculate it all. This record of your spending will be a valuable resource when you’re doing up your budget.

Step 2 - Get organised and start saving

Make sure you know when all your bills are due. Forgetting or spending the money on something else is not an option. Store all your bills in a folder and mark on your calendar when they must be paid.

Almost everything you use will cost you money. Now that you’re trying to save you should be mindful of everything you do that will save you money. Try to cut back on the amount you will have to pay in utility bills and for transport. Saving a dollar is better than earning a dollar – you don’t pay tax on money you save.
Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
Install CF light bulbs.
Turn off the TV when no one is watching it.
Don’t leave electrical appliances on standby. This uses a lot of electricity.
Turn off appliances at the power point, not just at the appliance on/off button.
Fill the kettle with just enough water for your tea or coffee. Boiling water you won’t use, is an expensive waste.
Cook larger portions of food and freeze leftovers for use on other days. This will enable you to cook meals for more than one day and use only the electricity to warm the food again.
If you’re using your oven, cook more than one thing.
If you’re baking bread, do more than one loaf and freeze a couple of loaves for later.
Ask people to call you, resist the temptation to phone friends for a chat. While you’re saving, use the phone only when absolutely necessary.
While you’re waiting for the shower water to warm up, fill a bucket with the cold water and use it on your garden or in the washing machine.
Turn the tap off when brushing teeth.
When washing your hands, wet your hands, turn the tap off, apply soap and lather, turn the tap on again to rinse.
When it rains, collect water in buckets for your garden.
Have short showers.
Only flush the toilet when necessary.
Plan your trips – work out what you have to do and plan your trip to use the least amount of petrol.If you have to take the children to school – share that with other parents in your neighbourhood. Even if you share with your next door neighbour so that you take them and she picks them up, it will halve your school trips.
Start a walking bus. Parents take it in turns to take a group of children to school by walking with them.
Check http://www.motormouth.com.au for the cheapest petrol in your area.

Step 1 - Thrift

Thrift is the glue that holds simple living together. It allows you to live well on a lower income and it will help you to get out of debt and stay debt-free. Many people come to the fork in the road that directs towards simple living or continued consumerism when they are deeply in debt. We have filled our world with products and dug ourselves deeper into debt to get them. Why? Why would you want to work your entire life to pay for “stuff”.

Every dollar you spend has a certain amount of greenhouse gases attached to it. Generally what you buy has been produced and delivered to your waiting hands, using fossil fuels. Not spending saves not only your money but also the environment we all live in.

Every dollar you don’t spend and every person you encourage to live simply allows the planet to recover just a tiny bit more. It will take huge changes in spending patterns and attitude to heal the damage done, but true change starts in your own backyard. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Thrift plays a part in almost everything you’ll do in your simple life. You need to use less of almost everything you have. You’ll be thrifty with your money, the way you buy your groceries and how you use them. There are many ways to be thrifty with clothes and shoes. Shopping at thrift shops and making your own are two important strategies. You’ll develop ways to pay off your mortgage early or save for a deposit for a home – all by being thrifty. You’ll be thrifty with your consumption of electricity, petrol, gas and telephone calls.

We all know that money doesn’t buy happiness. A quick look at the newspapers will reveal the miserable lives many wealthy people live. Of course, happiness doesn’t automatically come with a low income either. That will take a change of attitude. It takes a commitment to your future and to your quality of life to make it happen. When you’re content with what you have, be that a lot or a little, and when you see that your future is full of possibilities, then happiness will not be not far away.

Contentment is not dependent on how much money you have, in part, it flows from the way you view money and how you deal with it, but it’s more to do with how well you use what you have. When you’ve got all your simple systems set up, you’ll feel in control of your life and what happens to you. If it’s the first time you’ve felt that control, it will be very liberating.

Our consumer culture has taken away our ability to provide for our own needs. It’s lured us in with promises of an easy life where everything you need is made for you. Let’s take back our power to make the things we need. What you make yourself will be better quality, healthier, safer and more suited to you and your family than almost anything you can buy at the store. When you start making your own things you’ll wonder why it took you so long to start.

30 May 2007

Get your stuff off my bed!

My sister, Tricia, made this for my birthday several years ago. The various symbols are things she and I have shared over the course of our lives. We two are symbolised beside the heart, which contains my name.

I love the look of this piece and the feeling of love it gives me when I look at it, but I see more in it. I see the time it took to make it, the care in planning to make it meaningful; I see the time she locked me in a big bird cage when I was ten and when she stood perfect in her pure white debutante's gown and long gloves on her way to her deb ball. I see all those years she looked after our mum while I was floating off around the world; I hear her nagging voice to "get your stuff off my bed"; I feel her taking my hand at her husband's funeral.

It's a significant part of my life's treasures.

29 May 2007

Ginger Beer

This is some ginger beer I made last summer.
I also put up some tomato relish on that same day.
In days gone by, before Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper and Sprite, women used to make their own soft drinks and cordials. We gave away buying soft drinks years ago as it's full of preservatives and who knows what else. We wanted to know what was in the food and drinks we consumed so we rediscovered a few old fashioned favourites.

This is my recipe for ginger beer, which is made in two stages - making a ginger beer plant, then making and bottling the drink.

In a glass jar - a fowlers or canning jar is perfect - place:
1 dessertspoon of raw (or white) sugar. Raw sugar gives it a better colour
1 dessertspoon ground ginger - you can use raw ginger if you have it
A small pinch of dry yeast - the yeast you use for your bread
300mls rainwater, or tap water that has stood for 24 hours
4 sultanas (golden raisins) - for the wild yeast on the skin (optional)

Stir this together and cover it with a cloth or milk jug cover. It needs air but you don't want dust or insects crawling in. Leave it to sit on the kitchen bench. After about 2 or 3 days, depending on the temperatures in your house, it will begin to bubble and ferment. That is good. Fermentation is a healthy process,
Every day for 7 days, feed the plant 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon sugar, and stir.

After 7 days take a clean piece of loosely woven cotton cloth, or a clean cotton tea towel and place it over a bowl. Pour the ginger plant into the fabric and twist the top of the cloth to make it into a ball. Squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can in to the bowl.

Dissolve 3 cups of sugar in 20 cups of water. Add juice of 2 lemons and the ginger mix. Stir and bottle in plastic bottles. Place the caps on the bottles but don't screw them on. Leave the ginger beer on the kitchen bench for a couple of days to ferment a little more, then tighten the caps and place the bottles in the fridge. Placing it in the fridge will slow the fermentation process to almost zero.

Ginger beer can explode. It's wise to bottle in plastic and not glass until you know what you're doing.
Don't be afraid of making this delicious drink. I have been making this for yonks and it's never exploded, although sometimes it does gush out when I open a new bottle. You really can't tell how fizzy it will be because you'll have different wild yeasts in your home at different times of the year. Some will help the fermentation along, some won't.
If you notice the bottles puffing out, slowly release the lid to let the pressure off.
Serve your ginger beer when it's cold. It will be fizzy, gingery and very refreshing.

28 May 2007

Being organised

It's nothing special, just a recycled ring binder and old plastic sleeves.

I've never been an organised person, and never had a good reason to be until now. Living simply gives you a reason. It makes sense to me now to make lists, collect recipes, keep records, have up-to-date information and generally know what I'm doing around the house.
A few years ago I started a housekeeping journal that turned into a kind of all-purpose record of the practical things we do here. When I started making soap I collected recipes from the web, from people I know and from books - they all went in the journal. Bread was the same - I collected a lot of info about technique and ingredients and placed it in my journal. Launching the household into a more natural cleaning regime added yet more non-mainstream information to the journal. Then came vegetable garden plans and planting times, seed catalogues, harvests, egg numbers, the dates we bought new chooks, chook names, how to knit mittens, weather and rain records, telephone numbers and email addresses, well, you get the idea.
I love that journal. It's nothing fancy, just an old ring binder that I can easily add new pages to, but it's like a map of our journey into simplicity. It's not just random pieces of paper, it's the information we need to run our home and garden - it's like our simple key.
Do you have a journal like mine? I'd love to hear about how other record the changes in a simple home.

27 May 2007

Diving into simple living

These are some of our girls.

Generosity was one of the values I hoped to develop when I left full time work to live simply. I used to be a technical writer and journalist and ran a writing business for about 20 years. When my husband was retrenched, we left the mining town we'd lived in for 13 years and came to live in our present home. I opened an office in our little town here and continued to work as a technical writer. H decided to retire but was bored after a year so he bought a shop in Montville. We had that shop for almost seven years and when we closed the doors, just 18 months after I'd closed down my business, it was one of the best days of my life.

I was convinced we could live well on much less that we formerly spent. I was sick of waste, I'd stopped shopping and I ached to live a more sustainable life. We owned our own home, had no debts and long ago had stopped trying to impress anyone with what we owned. The time was right. H wasn't sure that we'd make it with no regular income but to his credit, he took the plunge anyway and things have worked out really well for us.

The key to this for me has been to try to grow and make as much for ourselves as we can, be that food, drinks, soap, shampoo, gifts, clothes or entertainment. Whatever we use, we try to make it ourselves. Grocery spending is always done at the cheapest place we can find, which is usually Aldi. If we have to buy anything of a non-grocery nature, we start local and work our way out.

I started this post writing about generosity, so what of it? One of the few things I do away from our home now is to work as a volunteer at the local neighbourhood centre. On Mondays and Tuesdays I work on reception, teach budgeting, organise free worshops, give out food relief, talk to people and try to help as many as I can. At the moment I'm standing in for the co-ordinator who has been off sick all year. Basically we all do whatever needs to be done and often I come home absolutely worn out - physically and mentally. But the time I spend there is the most satisfying and rewarding time for me. It renews my spirit, it teaches me to think in new ways and it makes me better than I really am. But that's the nature of generosity, it gives more than it takes.


Storing food

This is my main stockpile cupboard, just off the kitchen.
If you have a productive vegetable and fruit garden or if you stockpile for any reason, you would have had to think about how to store your food correctly. It is something I think about frequently and monitor from time to time. Recently I changed how I store some of our food. Our main food source is our backyard, supplemented by the stockpile cupboard. Generally we eat rice, pasta, lentils, beans or couscous with fresh vegies or eggs from the garden. I was having consistent problems with pantry moths. No matter what I did, every few months, they'd reappear. I froze new dried goods coming into the house, sealed them in airtight containers when packets were opened but somehow those moths kept reappearing.

But no more.
A couple of months ago I hit upon the idea of having a small cold room stockpile. I was regretting not being able to have a root cellar and thinking about how handy one would be. Then I thought about cold rooms, and voila! I realised I could have a small version if I bought a small chest freezer. We bought the freezer that had the highest energy we could find - 3.5 stars and bought it for just over $300. We eat no meat so it's only for the storage of dried goods. It's packed with big bags of flour, rice, pasta, all sorts of grains, nuts and everything that pantry moths love. I kept the freezer on medium for two days, now it's on it's lowest setting keeping those items just frozen.

This is the frozen stockpile.

So far it's been excellent, we've had no recent visits from the moth family and our food is safe and free of pests when we eat it. The good thing is that if the power goes off it won't matter as nothing in the frozen stockpile will deterioate, even if the power stays off for a week.


Homemade gifts

We try to live on a very small amount of money. This is a decision we made a few years ago and it's working well for us. One of the things we do to cut costs is to make gifts for friends and family. This is a peg bag I made recently. I did one for myself and put a couple of them in the gift cupboard. I'd love to hear from you if you have any suggestions for simple homemade gifts that people love to receive.

26 May 2007

Preserving the harvest

Preserving fruit and vegetables in jars is a thrifty way of carrying your garden harvest over several months, or even into the following year. Even if your vegetable garden doesn’t produce much you can buy and preserve seasonal fruit and vegies when they are at their peak in taste and quality, but at their lowest price. Basic home preserving is a simple process that requires sterilisation of jars and sealing apparatus and the elimination of anything in the food that will cause spoilage. This is done by either placing uncooked food in clean sealed jars and processing for a certain time or by pre-cooking food like sauces, jams and chutneys, and placing the cooked food into a jar or bottle. You can buy a Fowlers Vacola kit and jars from eBay or - http://www.bakeandbrew.com.au/category23_1.htm
Or use a large stockpot on top of the stove with recycled jars. You can buy new lids for your recycled jars so the jars may be reused many times. You can buy new lids here:http://www.greenlivingaustralia.com.au/jars.html
If you're in Australia you should be able to set yourself up for preserving for around $50, using second hand equipment and jars. If you're using FV jars, you might need to buy new lids and rubber seals at bake and brew.

This is my Fowlers Vacola unit, circa 1970s

When you buy your first jars, try to get sizes that use the same size lids. Size 14 (350mls), size 20 (600mls) and size 27 (1 litre) all use size 3 lids. Size 4 Lids fit jar sizes: 31 (1 litre), 36 (1100mls) and 65 (about 2kg).The Fowlers jars are made with tempered glass, last for many years and are often passed down from generation to generation. You can see the jar size in raised glass on the side of each jar near the base.

Fowlers Vacola lids come in stainless steel or tin plate. If you can afford it, get the stainless steel as they last a lot longer. You’ll also get clips for the lids but you don’t need as many of these as you’ll remove the clips when the jars are cool. Then you can reuse the clips for your next bottling session.
Recycled jars
Jars such as those you get commercial jam and chutney in, the ones with the metal lids with pop top button, are suitable for preserving. My favourites are the Bonne Maman French jam jars. They have a red and white gingham tin lid.
Mason jars
The mason jars that Bertolli spaghetti sauce comes in are suitable as are the made in Italy Quattro Stagioni jars you can buy from Kmart and Big W. Woolworths also sell suitable jars - the I Sottovettro jars.http://www.greenlivingaustralia.com.au/jars.html
Preserving food for eating later must be done properly, you must know the safety concerns. Never use old recipe books when you're preserving as all the guidelines were rewritten in the 1980 and 90s. Old recipe books will have inaccurate and possibly dangerous information. Please read the following safety information is from the CSIRO: http://www.foodscience.afisc.csiro.au/smallsca.htm


Make sure your kitchen is clean and organised before you start. Hygiene is important. You’ll need clean utensils, clean benches, clean tea towels and clean hands. Organise your jars first by checking for damaged tops and cracks and then washing them in warm soapy water. Rinse and place onto a clean tea towel. Check every lid for small holes, wash them in warm soapy water, rinse and place on a clean tea towel. Never use rusty, dented or damaged lids. If you are using new stainless steel Fowlers lids, there will be a coating on them. Wash the lids in warm soapy water and scrub with a brush to remove the coating, particularly on the inside. Rinse and place on the tea towel. Next check all your clips. They must be undamaged and not rusty. Wash them and rinse. Place on the tea towel.

So are you ready to preserve? I'll have some more info for you tomorrow.

23 May 2007

Self-saucing chocolate pudding

This delicious hot pudding is a real favourite in our home. It uses common pantry ingredients and it's very easy and quick. It's made in two parts, the pudding and the sauce. Although the sauce ends up under the pudding, it's actually added last.

1 cup self-raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa
60g (2 oz) butter
½ cup castor sugar
2 eggs
½ cup milk

¾ cup brown sugar
4 tbsp cocoa
1½ cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Sift the flour and cocoa. Cream the butter and castor sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Stir in flour, cocoa and milk. Pour into a pudding dish.
For the sauce, mix brown sugar, cocoa and water in a jug. Turn a large spoon upside down and pour this choco mixture onto the spoon that is placed just above the pudding mix. You want to pour it onto the pudding without disturbing it too much. Bake in preheated oven for 40 mins.
You can make this in coffee cups, little dishes or a large bowl. It's deliciously crispy on the top with a thick chocolate sauce inside.

THE look

What is it with cats? They can be so evil at times. This is Hettie, our 10 year old white cat. Time to back away.

Growing food

We put a lot of time into growing our own food. Our aim is to grow most of what we eat and although the amount varies, at the moment we'd grow or make from scratch about 75 percent of our food. Going into the garden and tending our small crops is an important part of our day. We both enjoy the time spent in the garden and I doubt I'd feel right if I didn't have food growing in the backyard.

Generally we grow regular fruit and vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, beans and spinach but we also grow a few permaculture plants like Madagascar beans and pigeon peas, We planted two Madagascar beans and they've grow in a huge wall of green tendrils. The beans themselves are pink and white and are a flat bean, good for adding to soups and casseroles. You harvest them as dry beans so they grow to maturity as a flat green pod, then you wait till they dry on the vine and then harvest. The pigeon peas are a dahl, similar to the split peas we use for pea soup. Our bushes have just started to flower so we are still a while away from harvest. Along with the Madagascar beans, the pigeon peas will be harvested dry and stored in the stockpile cupboard in jars until they're used.

Madagascar beans

Pigeon pea flowers
We try to operate a closed system in our garden. By that I mean that we prefer to bring in the least amount of seeds, manure, straw, mulch etc from outside. We want to make those things ourselves. All our seeds are open pollinated types, often heirloom seeds, that we can save our own seeds from each year. Every season we grow vegetables from the seeds we've collected from our garden the season before. This gives us better crops as the seeds modify themselves slightly to the conditions they grow in, and when they're planted in the same conditions, they perform better. If we need new seeds or wish to grow something a bit different, we rely on seed trading with others who also save their own seeds. We never buy hybrid seeds.

We also make our own fertiliser - either a comfrey tea made with the comfrey we grow that is ridiculously high in nitrogen, or chook poo from our chickens that we add to compost. We also have a worm farm so we have an large supply of worm castings which the plants absolutely love. The only fertiliser-type product I buy is sulphate of potash. It's an organic additive that help plants develop roots, flowers and general strength.

These chickens are Cocobelle and Cocochanel. Both excellent layers of around 18 months in age. We generally get about four or five eggs every day from our seven chooks.

Blue lake beans, telephone peas and siberian kale.

I've recently been sent some old traditional oats and barley so when we have some space, I'll try my hand at growing those grains for chook feed and mulch.
We grow a variety of fruit as well, but in small amounts. Currently we have oranges, lemons, rhubarb, pink grapefruit, mandarin, passionfruit, bananas, loquat, grapes, pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, peaches and nectarines. We often buy fruit though, as none of our own fruit grows fast enough. Hopefully our future will bring us better and bigger fruit crops.


22 May 2007

Bread routine

I used to hate being organised, I saw it as rigid and oppressive. Now I realise that being organised actually helps me live the life I want to live. It gives me more time in my day because I’m not looking for things or wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. You only waste time on purpose when you're organised. Now I like having a routine.

Bread is baked at our home almost every day. My husband and I eat it fresh for lunch, the chooks have some soaked in powdered milk and warm water on a cold morning to warm their tiny bellies and the dogs gulp it down when we give them the chance. I don’t rely on clocks or watches any more, I never wear a watch now, and rarely look at the clocks in the house. I just do things when it’s their time, and I know that time by the light and by my routine.

Baking fresh bread is a focal point in my day – it’s how I measure the end of the early hours and the beginning of the morning. I suppose it happens around 9am but in my “time” it comes after making the bed and washing up and before going to the garden. I wonder sometimes if it’s common to bake bread. I know a lot of people have bread makers and make bread by hand, but is it common place or do most of us buy bread? If you buy bread, you may like to try this easy recipe. It works with hand kneading or in a machine, it contains no preservatives, it’s easily modified with different flours and it tastes divine.

1½ teaspoons dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
65 mls warm water

3¾ cups baker's flour (plain flour)
3 teaspoons gluten flour
1 tablespoon butter/margarine (softened)
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon milk powder
250 mls warm water + more if necessary

Just a word about flour. Bread mix, which is commonly used in bread machines, is flour with bread improver and flavour enhancers added. We are NOT using bread mix. By adding the ingredients above, we're adding natural flavour to the bread as well as giving it a lift, that as an inexperienced baker, you won't get without the gluten flour.

Another thing you need to know about flour is that it's different all over the country. When baking with the various flours, they take different amounts of water, because of the differing amount of humidity in the air. And even if you use the same bag of flour at different times of the year, you'll probably use slightly more or less water, according to the weather conditions. This is not a problem, it just means you have to know what your dough should look and feel like before going to the next step. Bread making is very tactile, even when making the dough in a bread machine, I feel it to make sure I have enough moisture in the dough. This recipe generally uses 315mls of water, but when I made this loaf yesterday I used about 40mls more. Sometimes the difference will be one spoon full, sometimes it will be almost a cup.

A drop in the ocean

Everyday we try to cut back on our use of electricity and water. I used to read our meters every day to help us understand what areas we could cut back in. I stopped doing that for a while but I've started again so I can log our meter readings here. One of the things I’ve changed in recent weeks is my washing up routine. I used to only use the dishwasher, then I went to hand washing, but I found washing up three times a day used the same amount of water as one load in the dishwasher. Now I’m changing again. As of last week, I’m using the dishwasher again, but only once every two days. When this dishwasher dies, I won’t replace it.

I pack all the plates, cutlery, cups etc. in the dishwasher after each meal. If there are any pots, pans or large serving dishes, I wash them by hand straight away. I do this by running a small amount of hot water in the sink, I wash the pots, then rinse them with a small amount of water. Doing this allows me to run the dishwasher every two days. I have my meter readings for the daily dishwasher, as well as hand washing, so it will be interesting to see how those meter readings compare when using the dishwasher every two days - both in electricity and water usage. I think it's working very well, but I’ll check the meters for a week before I declare success.

We are also having two minute showers, and I’m pleased to say that we are clean and comfortable doing it. I remember back to days when we would spend five minutes or more in the shower. Or worst still, when I used to luxuriate in a huge spa bath we have in our bathroom. It’s still there but is never used. I think I might be the only woman who dusts her bath instead of cleaning it.

We have a large organic vegetable garden but we installed rainwater tanks so we only use water we harvest from the roof in our garden. It's the most sustainable way to go with water. Our storage capacity at the moment is 15,000 litres, in two tanks.

You might have noticed my post on aquaponics - which is sustainable backyard fish and vegetable production. We use rainwater entirely for that. I'll write more about it tomorrow.

This link has some good hints: http://www.savewater.com.au/index.php?sectionid=12

The following table is very interesting, but also a bit depressing. It shows the amount of water - in thousands of litres - that one person uses per year in various countries. How does your country stack up? I can't get the figures to line up well for easy reading but I hope you can decipher it. Australia's consumption is shocking for a country that's got a long history of droughts.
Thousands of litres per person per year
Country * Domestic * Agriculture * Industry * Total

Australia * 341 * 777 * 275 * 1393
Bangladesh * 16 * 875 * 6 * 896
Canada * 279 * 1238 * 532 * 2049
China * 26 * 605 * 71 * 702
Britain * 38 * 810 * 398 * 1245
US * 217 * 1459 * 806 * 2483
Global average * 57 * 1067 * 119 * 1243


20 May 2007

I love knitting

I love knitting.

If I could curl up in a big lounge chair in front of an open fire and knit while it was cold and raining outside, I’d be in my version of heaven. I’ve collected a few vintage plastic needles over the years and they’re a real pleasure to work with. Not only because they are fine tools but also because I feel connected to the knitters who used them before me.

Some of my favourite needles were given to me by an 86 year old lady who couldn’t knit anymore. She wanted them to go to someone who would used them. Well, I use them alright, I’m not nearly as expert with them as she was, but I certainly love knitting as much.

19 May 2007

Today was that day

This is my husband and one of my Airedales, Alice.

There is always one perfect day in Autumn. It is that day when absolute equilibrium is reached, when the air is neither warm nor cold, when movement seems superfluous and flamboyant.

Today was that day.

I moved a chair into the backyard under a tree that I never sit under. I wanted to see my space from a new perspective so I would remember every part of why this day was THE day. The chooks gently clucked to the side of me, a dog sat at my feet, my husband washed the car nearby, I could hear the sounds of a neighbourhood. Everything looked normal, nothing was out of place, all was how it should be.

The mere ordinariness of the day added to its perfection. I think that we’ve been conned into thinking that perfect days call for celebration, or ritual, or at least a new pair of shoes. But in this simple life we live, I reckon perfect days can just be silently added to the memory bank along with all the other wonderful things we enjoy and are grateful for.

Making cheese

The photo above is my quark cheese - one is a savoury cheese with salt, pepper and chives, the other is sweetened with a little honey and topped with my home made strawberry jam.

We love cheese so what better reason is there to learn how to make it. I've been making simple quark cheese for a while now but wanted to progress to something that challenged me.

Camembert did just that.

I went to the local cheese maker who produces a number of award winning cheeses ( http://www.malenycheese.com.au/ ) and asked to buy milk and cultures. The wonderful cheese maker there stocked me up with fresh local milk, rennet, cultures and spores, as well as some glass rennet measuring straws.

The entire process took all day and half way through it I realised that cheese making is not "my thing". I'm too impatient for it. But I persevered and produced a decent enough Camembert. I've told everyone who would listen to me that I won't make cheese again but I doubt that's true. I just have to put space between myself and the event and just like childbirth, I'll be back for seconds.

18 May 2007

Living on the edge

I’ve always lived on the edge. It used to be quite obvious but as I’ve aged, I’ve hidden under a CWA exterior so now people think I’m just one of the gang. But that exterior lies. I’m still pushing that envelope, still seeing what I can get away with.

I planted asparagus. How can this be the act of a rebel, you ask? I planted it in the aquaponics garden. Asparagus lives for about 20 years, it has a huge root system and generally needs a garden bed divided from the rest of the tamer vegetables. It doesn’t play well with others. So I guess I identify with the humble asparagus and planted it right next to the parsley and silverbeet, expecting it to be accepted, despite its differences.

I asked at the aquaponics site how to grow it that way but no one could tell me as it hasn’t been done before. LOL! I don’t know how well it will go. I hope it gives me something to brag about but even if it doesn’t, it made me smile when I was planting it, because I realised that deep down I haven’t changed one little bit. And that in itself is worth its weigh in asparagus tips.

17 May 2007

Make your own laundry detergent

The equivalent amount of laundry liquid (10 litres) from a supermarket would cost around $43. To buy all these ingredients will cost you around $6.70, less if you buy generic laundry soap. This will give you enough materials to make this recipe twice, and you'll have some ingredients left over. Give it a try. It really does work.

4 cups grated laundry soap or soap flakes (Lux)
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and store in a plastic container with a lid. Use 2 tablespoons per wash. This powder will not make suds and this is perfectly okay.

Makes 10 litres
You may add any essential oil of your choice to these homemade cleaners. Oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender or rose are ideal. They are not necessary to the recipe but do not detract from the effectiveness by adding them. Use essential oil and not a fragrant oil.

1½ litres water
1 bar Sunlight or generic laundry soap or any similar pure laundry soap, grated on a cheese grater OR 1 cup of Lux flakes
½ cup washing soda – NOT baking or bicarb soda
½ cup borax

10 litre bucket
Slotted spoon or wooden spoon for mixing

Into a medium sized saucepan add 1½ litres of water and the soap. Over a medium heat, stir this until it is completely dissolved. Make sure the soap dissolves properly or the mixture will separate when cold.Add the washing soda and borax. Stir until thickened, and remove from heat. Pour this mixture into your 9-10 litre bucket then fill the bucket with hot water from the tap. Stir to combine all the ingredients.

The laundry liquid will thicken up more as it cools. When cool, store in a plastic container. I use one of those 10 litre flat plastic box containers with a lid. Use 1/4 cup of mixture per load or monitor to see what works well for you. I keep a quarter cup measuring scoop in the box to measure the mixture into the washing machine.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are going to use your washing water on the garden, don't add the borax to these recipes.

16 May 2007

Living Simply

There is something special about people who decide to live simply. They share a determination to step away from the mainstream to pursue a life where they are content with what they have, they reconnect with family and environment, they reduce spending, conserve resources, slow down and live each day with a purpose. They see beyond the crass consumerism that supports much of modern life, to a richer way of being that is sustained primarily by family, friends, happiness and a solid day’s work.

A simple life is a life of deliberate choices. It involves personal responsibility for how you interact with your community and your environment. It allows you to take control of your life and how you live within your neighbourhood. When you live a simplified life you won’t be an indifferent observer; you’ll make deliberate choices about the way you live and you’ll reap the benefit of those life choices.

If you are new to this lifestyle, you will need to take some time to decide just what it is you want your life to be. Simple living comes in many forms and although the basics are the same for almost everyone, the overall structure of simple lives change for each person. That’s one of its benefits too. Your life feels right; it fits you perfectly. You’ll probably be giving up some things that support and comfort you to replace them with more practical requirements. We’ve all been encouraged to nurture ourselves with products like clothes, shoes, furniture and every type of electrical appliance imaginable. This not only causes stress by having to pay for it all and adding more clutter to our homes, but it also stops us having a clear view of ourselves. We become defined by our possessions instead of who we are. Decluttering our minds and our homes is a part of this simple change.

Learning to live a simple life will give you the skills to unburden yourself of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Freeing your mind and slowing down allows you to develop positive patterns to replace negative ones. You will develop a new awareness of who you are and see how your life fits into your family, your community and your place in the world. Instead of doing what you’ve always done because that’s “what most people do”, you will make new decisions to meet your needs and stop living on autopilot. This is what I mean when I say you will live deliberately. You will decide what you want your life to become and make the decisions to make that life happen.

Simple living relies more on people, nature, learning, generosity and an open heart than it does on products and the relentless quest for them. You don’t need to live according to the grandiose dreams of some advertising copywriter or your teenage fantasies. You can pare back your desires and simplify your ambitions, leave the rat race to the rats and dessert ship. I believe that a successful life is one that’s lived with the people you love surrounding you, few financial worries, a clear direction and the ability to gain satisfaction from the work you do - be that a vegetable garden, raising your children, projects in your local community or a paid job.

A simple life is a mixture of being thrifty and working towards living debt-free, saving resources, being content with what you have, slowing down, reinventing yourself by working towards identified goals, rediscovering your family and your environment, cooking from scratch, shopping wisely and less often, looking after what you have and caring about your environment. It is changing how you see your place in the world. Instead of identifying as someone who deserves everything a modern Australian should have, it changes those desires to focus more on family, community, generosity and sustainability.

Living this way is not easy but it beats being in debt and living a self-indulgent life hands down. If you simplify you’ll probably shed some of the possessions you’ve worked and paid for that are superfluous to your needs. You’ll do more cooking and less eating out. Initially you’ll work harder because you’ll need to create an organised, less cluttered home but this will allow you to reap the benefits of that organisation. You’ll see the wisdom of shopping wisely and less often and you’ll be encouraged to pay off your debt faster than you would in your old life. But as the months and years roll by, you’ll see the value of those strategies and you’ll look at your non-simplified friends and neighbours and be glad you left that all behind.

Pickled cucumbers

5 medium cucumbers cut into 5 mm slices
350g onions, sliced very thinly
green capsicum and red chilli are optional
50g salt
350 ml cider or white wine vinegar
350g sugar
2 level tablespoons mustard seed
2 level tablespoons celery seed
½ level teaspoon turmeric
¼ level teaspoon cayenne pepper

Slice the cucumbers, onions, capsicums and chilli and place in a bowl, and salt and let stand for 3 hours. Drain, rinse under the cold tap and drain thoroughly. Bring the remaining ingredients to the boil in a stainless steel saucepan and then add the vegetables. Reduce the heat, bring just to the simmer and cook 2 minutes. Pour hot into sterilized jars, making sure the liquid covers the cucumbers and seal.

And here is the finished product. Three jars of cucumber pickles for the fridge. They last for months.


15 May 2007

Hook, line and sinker...

I knew about aquaponics for about two years before I dived and got hooked on it. It's a wonderful addition to our productive backyard. If you haven't come across the concept before, aquaponics is like organic hydroponics - but you grow vegetables and fish in the same system. We have a 3000 litre fish tank and two grow beds planted up with tomatoes, peppers, silverbeet, kale, cabbages, parsley and celery. The waste from the fish in the water is pumped up to the grow beds where it's used as fertiliser for the plants. The plants, and the gravel they're sitting in, clean the water and it falls back as clean water into the fish tank. And so the cycle continues. Beneficial bacteria build up on the surface of the gravel and that bacteria help clean the water. A bio-film builds up in the fish tank and this also helps. It's a simple system, but like most simple things, there are layers of complexity.

Above is the system last week, below is the system when we set it up in late march.

And here are the fish that make it possible - our silver perch. They're native fish to Australia and are found in the Murray/Darling Rivers.

We want to be as self-sufficient in our food production as we can be and this system helps enormously with that. After the initial setup it's so easy to garden! There is no watering, weeding or fertilising like there is in our soil garden - it really is a lazy garden. I just wish we'd done it sooner.


14 May 2007

Brandywine tomatoes

The Brandywines are growing fast. It's incredible to think that this pair has been in for just eight weeks and the small, firm, green tomatoes are already the size of golf balls, and there are many flowers. If you don't know Brandywine tomatoes, they're an old heirloom variety, supposedly cultivated by the Amish in the 1800s. They have a superb taste, just like those old tomatoes we grew up with, before supermarkets encouraged the growth of tomatoes with cardboard skin and no taste. I am hoping to get about 25 kilos off each of these bushes, enough for a million salads and for some tomato sauce and paste preserved in jars with my trusty old Fowlers Vacola preserving unit.

Over in the earth garden we have crops of lettuce, silverbeet, cucumbers, spinach, turnips, carrots, potatoes, beans, peppers, radishes, onions, garlic, kale, peas and green beans. We've been growing vegetables for about 25 years but in the past few years we've relied on our backyard produce to keep us healthy and alive. It's a totally organic garden which is a real pleasure to work in, and when I'm gathering vegetables and fruit in the late afternoon, there isn't another place on earth I'd rather be.

That gate at the back leads to the chook house. I'll tell you about my girls one day soon.
Blogger Template by pipdig