31 July 2007

Learning how to say NO

When my sons were in primary school, there was an anti-drug message aimed specifically at kids to say no to drugs. It was on T shirts, on TV, on billboards. The message was everywhere. And although that message didn't save everyone, it did save a lot of kids from a life defined by crime and the horrors of drug use.

At work yesterday I talked to a young man who I see every so often when he needs help with a bit of food. When he came in yesterday he was nervous and looked sick. After a few questions, he told me he'd been with "friends" on the weekend and had "shot up speed". For those of you not used to the terminology, he'd been injected with amphetamines. He'd since been to the doctor, was on antibiotics for an infected arm that he couldn't bend and would need a lot more treatment to get back to normal. I asked him why he did such a stupid thing and he told me it that he was with friends and didn't want to say no when they suggested it. But in the cold light of Monday morning, saying no seemed like a much better option to him, he just wished he'd been strong enough to say it when he needed to.

I told him he has to learn how to say no, and if he can't learn it, he has to say no to going out with these people. Luckily, the entire episode scared him a lot. I'm not sure he's scared enough to stay away from these people but after our talk about saying no, he certainly knows now that it's ok to say no, and often it's important for our own safety and health that we do say it.

It was really busy at the Centre yesterday. When I thought it was about 11am, I looked at the clock and it was 1.20pm. I decided to say no to taking a call and yes to a cup of tea. I try to pack a lot into those two days. I work as the co-ordinator, so I have that work to do but I also have a lot of people who come in to talk to me or ring up, so that adds to the work load. Yesterday my day was longer than normal as there was a two hour committee meeting at the end of the day. At that meeting, I agreed to take on a couple of extra things that I can do on the two days I work. I was also asked to be on a panel of three who will administer a community fund for local children. This I said no to. It would require that I work outside my two days and I'm not prepare to do that. I also said no to another request for my time, but gave them a solution so it was not a problem.

One of the skills you must learn when living simply, and even when you're not, is to say NO. If you say yes to everything you lessen the time you have to live the way you want to live. Simplifying isn't just cutting down on the clutter in your cupboards, it's also cutting the clutter in your day to day life. Saying no to some requests for your time and energy helps you to cut this clutter.

You have to make judgements about what you give yourself to and stick to your decision, even when you're pressured. Just like the young man earlier in the day, saying no is sometimes the intelligent and sensible thing to do. You do need to think about it beforehand though. Think carefully about the amount of time you have available and make conscious judgements about what you're comfortable doing and what will make your life more difficult. If you've thought about it beforehand, saying no when the question arises - no matter what the question is or who it comes from - makes the no word come out more easily. If you're prepared to say no, and not try to please everyone with yes, then it makes it easier.

It's impossible to please everyone and your first responsibility is to yourself and your family. You have to have enough energy and time for the things you've decided are important to you. So think about how to say no, think about what you've got time for, what is good for you and your family, and say no to the rest of it. And if you can do this, if you can say no in a polite but definite way, it will allow you to say YES to all those things that are significant and valuable.


30 July 2007

Growing older

I've been thinking a lot about growing old lately. It's something that's never really bothered me before, but seeing H so sick and frail this past week focused my mind of some unthinkable thoughts.

Yesterday, as H was working slowly through his day, he kept coming inside to rest. He sat in a lounge chair and almost immediately, was asleep. He did that four times. I told him not to overdo it but he insisted he was ok and felt better doing something.

It made me think of how we both used to work hard when we were a bit younger and it never affected us. H used to be really strong and took pride in being able to work on most projects alone, but was always ready to help others along side him not as strong. We've both lost a lot of our strength in recent years and when I saw H so sick, I realised it's not just physical strength that's been lost.

It's a strange thing growing older when you get past about 55. Until then I still felt I was as strong and capable as I had ever been, and then in a really short time, I felt much weaker. H has also become weaker in the past few years. He has tried to keep going as he always did but he's given up trying now and asks for my help fairly frequently.

It is good that we're still happily married as I think it would be quite different, and maybe difficult, if we were alone. It seems we compliment each other now better than we ever have. What I can't do, H does, and what he can't do, I can. I hope it continues on like that because it feels very comfortable. Old shoes fit the best.

But I also know that our future will hold sad goodbyes to many friends, both human and animal, and that scares me a little. We've already been to the funeral of one friend this year and it was sad and very confronting. Who knows who the next funeral will be for. The Australian statistics tell us that if you're a man and you've reached the age of 60, you have, on average, another 22 years to live. An Australian woman, having reached 60, is likely to live another 25 years. So if the statistics prove to be accurate in our case, we still have a long way to go.

Having someone you love so sick makes you think though. Listening to breathing in the still of the night makes your mind wander to the unthinkable. I was glad to be up and showered this morning and glad that it's a new week with so many new possibilities.


29 July 2007

Back to normal

It's been a busy morning here with everyone up at 5.30 to get Kerry on the bus that will take him home. We all had toast and tea and I made the men up some scrambled eggs with herbs to get them through the morning. The remainder of Kerry's birthday cake was packed in a plastic bread box for the trip back; I hope he doesnt throw the bag around and end up with squashed cake.

Before he left I had a load of washing on, when he left I did another with his bed linen and towels. I had him warmly cocooned in a heavy blue flannelette and a doona (duvet) and quilt that he loves in Winter. I put out a couple of wheat bags for him and some extra throw rugs to keep him warm while he watched TV at night. I know my kids think I sooky them up when they stay here buy I love doing it and it teaches them, by example, how to nurture others. I hope that when they have their own babies, they'll pass on this heritage of cosiness and support that is but one of the ways parents express their love for their children.

After the washing was hung out to dry, I did the dishes, swept the floor, made the guest room up again - my sister is visiting soon, made our bed and did some ironing. I've just picked a cabbage for our dinner tonight and dug up some kipflers to have with pumpkin, carrots and herbs. I'll make a cheese sauce for the cabbage and bake it in the oven so it's golden and crispy.

It's taken H a full week to recover from the flu. It made him really sick and weak and the only time he looked ok was when he dosed himself up on flu medication to go out to dinner the other night. But now he's almost back to his healthy self and he's been catching up on chores in the backyard. He's cleaned out the chook coup, let the chooks out for some free ranging and done some gardening.

Soon I'll make a lunch of leftovers and a cup of tea for us both and we'll enjoy the afternoon doing whatever we want to do - nothing is planned and nothing needs to be done. H will probably have a nap and I'm going to do some sewing. I want to make a ironing pad for my sewing circle ladies. After that, I'll put my feet up and read about the Nearings. Everything back to normal after a week of celebrations, visitations and a time with children (albeit adult children) at home again. Another good week. : )

Location, location, location

This is our home.

I cannot stress enough that simple living is not about a particular geographical location, it is not something that happens only in the countryside, it is not confined to a certain city, nor to the suburbs. Simple living is more about a change in your attitude to your life and how you apply that change to the way you live. You could be living on the top of Mount Kosciusko, in a high rise apartment in Melbourne, in the suburbs of London or in the wild open spaces of Alaska; it is possible anywhere.

Natalie, in her Isabella in the 21st Century blog, wrote yesterday: "I used to think that to live a simple life I must up-sticks and head for a rural idyll; perhaps Dorset or Mid-Wales; there I would learn all about goats and pullets and clothe my children in hand spun woolly jumpers dyed with woad. I would also keep bees and make my own candles and balms out of their wax and mead out of the honey ... I've come to understand that simple living is not just for country folk, and it's definitely not just for the rich." Natalie knows.

The vision of packing up and leaving the city to live a simple life in the country is a common one, but it is not all that realistic. It’s often a romantic, idealised dream to live a life uncomplicated by traffic, pollution, crowds, violence and uncertainty. Sometimes people move to a location that looks perfect but when they get there, they can't find a job, the schools are too far away and the idyllic simple life they dreamed of is still out of reach. Their life is still complicated and difficult, but by different things.

This is part of our front garden.

One of my favourite aspects of simple living is that you make do with what you have. It's a really old fashioned thing, and the opposite of what's currently in favour - instant gratification and having what you want at any price. Simple living is not about buying a lifestyle, it's about making one. Instead of buying your simple life premade, you fashion it yourself from scratch. And just like a meal when you make it from basic ingredients, what you end up with is something that is suited exactly to you, it's not someone else's idea of what you should want. So if you're living in a flat in the city, or a small home in the suburbs, or even a larger place that you're not happy in, you can make it better by changing your attitude and by making the best of what you have.

Location is just a small part of a simple life. Along with location there is building a strong family; raising healthy, happy and decent children; reducing debt; not spending; reskilling yourself for the life you want to live by learning to bake, preserve, cook, mend, sew, knit and garden; building your community; getting to know your neighbours; slowing down and living with a peaceful mindset; cultivating generosity and kindness; decluttering unwanted and unnecessary possessions; being aware of your environmental responsibilities; reducing your use of water, power, petrol and gas; reusing, reducing and recycling; being grateful for what you have and making do. Maybe you can start on the many other aspects of a simple life and location might sort itself out while you concentrate on other things.

This is where I've done a lot of my thinking about the way I live and it's where we sit to enjoy our morning tea.

Make the best out of what you have right now - and that is if you're currently living your dream or if you are still far from it. That is simple living just as much as growing vegies, collecting eggs and making soap in the middle of an old growth forest. I can’t tell you what will give you a life of happiness, enjoyment and satisfaction, that is for you to decide. What I hope to do however, is to give you the courage to start moving towards simplicity, and to tell you as clearly as I can, that you can start living your simple life today.

28 July 2007

Organising your money

We are going on a short holiday soon. It will be a trip on the tilt train to visit good friends in Townsville, about 2000 kms north, in the dry tropics. We saved the money for the holiday from our meagre monthly allowance, by putting whatever was leftover in to our change jar.

Let me explain.

We spend $355 a week, or $1420 a month, on everything we need. Of that $1420, $765 is put in the bank for our fixed expenses like payments for rates, electricity, phone, car and dog registration, insurance - health, car and house. When the bills come in, the money is already there waiting, the bills are paid by direct debit. Any money left over in this account is transferred to a no-free interest bearing ING online account and goes towards our savings.
Out with the old and in with the new.
This is the leftover cash from last month to put into the change jar,
along with a new allocation of cash for this month.

We also withdraw $655 in cash and that is the money we live off for the month. That covers food, petrol, garden, dogs, cat and chook food and flea and tick meds, medical and chemist, postage and house maintenance. We also give each other $40 a month pocket money. Yep, ten dollars a week to be spent on whatever our hearts desire.

I have a number of ziplock bags and I put the allocated amount for all the above items into each bag. So I have a bag with $50 for chemist and medical, a bag with $250 for food, a bag with $50 for the animals etc. Organising my money this way has helped me a lot with budgeting and knowing when I've reached my limit. Actually seeing the money separated in the bags has been the one thing that's kept me on the straight and narrow. When nothing is left, well, nothing is left, so I can't spend anything. But I always have money left over. Usually it's about $60, this month it was $65 and that goes straight into the change jar.

My change jar is an old Carl Larsen tin that hold all our spare coins and notes. If I have any coins in my purse after shopping, they go in; we sell our eggs, that goes in; money left over from our month's budget, that goes in. I now have $255.40 in my change jar. We haven't given up anything to save that money, it's just leftover cash, that we SAVED. It's easy enough to go out and spend it, but the trick is to not spend and SAVE instead. That $255.40 might not seem like much in the overall scheme of things, but when it's collected from a very tight budget, it's not just a big saving, it's a confirmation that it is possible to live well and be happy while spending very little.

The coins from the change jar - the notes are out of shot.

We do have our pocket money to spend during the month and although H always spends his, I hardly ever do. Not spending becomes a part of you after a while and spending on unnecessary things seems kind of wasteful. In the old days I would have thought nothing of spending $10 on a magazine, now I think it's pointless. So I usually save mine for the makings of small gifts - fabric or yarn and the like.
All the bags full for the month and my $40 pocket money for my purse.
I have two purses, one for my money, one for household money.

I have to say too, that organising your money like this takes the thought of it away from your everyday life. You don't have to think about money because you know it's all taken care of and waiting in your bags to pay bills and to live on. You stop worrying about money, you don't think about it all the time and it seems to just take care of itself.

If you're having trouble trying to manage your money, try the ziplock bags to see if they help. Just divide the cash you have to live on and put it in your bags. Be responsible with it - this is about personal responsibility and change - and after a couple of months you'll probably have settled into a new way of living with your cash. Good luck.

27 July 2007

Chocolate birthday cake

Just one last post today to show you the birthday cake I made for Kerry, they'll have a slice each for dessert tonight. It's a sour cherry chocolate cake, no butter it's made with olive oil so it should be moist. It's a chocolate ganache on top and 650 grams of cherries in the middle.

Thank you all for for visiting today, and other days, and thanks as well for all your generous comments. I do appreciate them and love having contact with everyone who reads here.

As per Lisa's request, here is the recipe for the cake.

Chocolate Celebration Cake
2½ cups plain flour (all purpose)
pinch salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarb)
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
1½ cups sugar
1 cup olive oil
1 cup hot coffee
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup milk
Sift together all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add oil, coffee and milk, mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, beat for anther 2 minutes. The batter will be thin. Pour into a greased cake tin and bake at 175C (320F) for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cherry Filling
Empty a jar of sour cherries into a saucepan and add a tablespoon of cornflour. Heat up while stirring, until the juice is clear and thick. Allow to cool.

Chocolate Ganache
Equal amounts of dark chocolate with cream. Break the chocolate up and heat in the microwave, on medium, for 3 minutes. Then stir the chocolate through the hot cream until it's all combined. Cool, then place in the fridge for about 15 minutes until it's starting to set but is still pliable.

Looking after your stockpile

One of the things that's allowed us to live well on little money is our stockpile. That, along with our backyard vegetables, fruit and chickens, and the abundance of eggs they produce, give us good healthy food year round. It's a wonderful thing to be able to pick your own food fresh from the backyard, or to crack open an egg that is gorgeously golden and tastes like eggs used to taste. I find that having a stockpile to supplement all our fresh food gives us a balanced diet without it costing too much.

Like everything in our simple life, the stockpile needs to be looked after. Generally the food in your stockpile will be what can be stored for a few weeks or months, but you can't store your food away and just leave it until you use it. It's a major investment and it needs to be checked and stored correctly.

Make sure you buy food with perfect packaging. You don't want dents in your cans, rips in paper or plastic bags or squashed boxes. Leave them behind and only buy undamaged stock. Check use by and best before dates while still in the shop. If you intend storing your purchase for a few months, make sure the use by date doesn't expire before that time. If you do a big stockpile shop, pack everything well for the trip home and go home as soon as you can so you can get frozen or fresh goods into their appropriate places and out of the hot car. When you bring home new food from the supermarket, pack your cold items away first, then go on to everything else.

If you have grains, seeds, flour, cereals etc., try to put them in the freezer for a couple of days to kill off any bugs that might be present. Even the best quality produce might contain these hidden additions, so putting them in the freezer will ensure that you don't have an outbreak of pantry moths and all the weevil eggs are killed before they hatch. It's amazing what we eat that we don't know about. LOL! = : - 0

When you pack your stockpile goods away, add everything to the back, so you take the oldest first. This will give you a constantly rotating stockpile. While you're packing your stockpile, take note of other things that are there. Check everything is in order, that lids aren't bulging, all packets are unbroken and you have no unwanted visitors, like rodents or cockroaches. If you do, you'll have to unpack everything, clean your shelves and check every packet for contamination. Remember, all the packets in your stockpile should be unopened. Whenever you open anything, store it in a sealable jar, and transfer it to your pantry cupboard.

I have a little cold room stockpile now. A few months ago we bought a medium sized 3.5 star chest freezer specifically for stockpile items for $300. I'd had a couple of outbreaks of pantry moths and I was determined to find a way to beat them. In this little cold room, I store my bulk flours, grains, cereals, nuts, rice etc., as well as home baked bread and cake and frozen lemon juice. There is no meat or anything else that can go off in this freezer. So if the electricity goes off, it doesn't matter. And as far as electricity goes to run it, it's been minimal. I have it set on its lowest setting (1) and it's barely rated on our electricity bill. It's been a really good solution for us in the warm and humid climate.


And a not so frugal dinner

Here we all are out having dinner last night at the local German restaurant. The boys both ate four courses and it was very interesting listening to their expert discussion about what they were eating and the wording of the menu. Being chefs I guess they never really leave work behind as they have food in their lives every day.

I had one of these organic wheat beers and that filled me up, and then a plate of steamed vegies and a dumpling and could eat no more. The others all had pretzels, potato soup with frankfurts, various types of pork, sauerkraut, red cabbage, dumplings, potatoes, salad, sour cherry dessert, apple strudel, beers, (complimentary) schnapps and coffee. We were sitting next to an open fire, it was warm and comfy, the company was excellent, we had a few laughs, talked non-stop and generally had a wonderful time together. It wasn't a frugal meal but the memories are priceless.


26 July 2007

A frugal lunch

I've just returned from a very pleasant lunch with my fellow budgeting course presenters. There were about ten of us. Our parent organisation paid for us to meet and have lunch, so it was enjoyable and frugal.

I was the only one
there who didn't use the prescribed budgeting course, I wrote my own, but the other presenters really liked the frugal emphasis I gave my course and I've been asked to email it around to the others so they can use bits and pieces of it, or the full course if they so desire. The original course focused on budgeting and money, whereas I talked about that and showed them how to make a budget, then gave them strategies that would help them save. Those strategies are changing attitudes towards money, tracking spending, tips for saving electricity, water and petrol, maximising the potential of the money they had with careful grocery shopping and stockpiling, cooking from scratch and growing vegies etc. I also include a section on homemade recipes for laundry detergent, soap, bread etc.

Although I was very interested in what the other ladies where doing, it's a long time since I've spent time with people who aren't living simply and it amazed me that almost everything I said surprised them. After their initial shock though, they were all asking questions about how H and I live and get by. I forget that what we are doing is far from mainstream. Which is a pity.

I told the ladies about aussieslivingsimply and invited them to join up. All in all it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. We were sitting outside in the garden at the Mad Hatters Tea Rooms, about 3 minutes from my home.

The lunch menu was cream of mushroom
soup, sandwiches, tea and scones with jam and cream. I was just about to eat these sandwiches when one of the ladies mentioned how delicious the chicken was! I passed on these sandwiches and got a couple of salad ones instead.

Now I'm waiting for H to come home with Kerry. Tonight we eat out again. It's a long time since I've eaten out and I'm doing it for both lunch and dinner today. I'd better not get used to this. LOL

How to make cold process soap

I'm sure many of you are wondering: "Why make soap when I can buy it cheaply at the supermarket?" My cold process soap is made with vegetable oils and when it is made and cured, it contains no harsh chemicals or dyes. Often commercial soap is made with tallow (animal fat) and contains synthetic fragrance and dye and retains almost no glycerin. Glycerin is a natural emollient that helps with the lather and moisturises the skin. The makers of commercial soaps extract the glycerin and sell it as a separate product as it's more valuable than the soap. Then they add chemicals to make the soap lather. Crazy.

Making your own soap allows you to add whatever you want to add. If you want a plain and pure soap, as I do, you can have that, or you can start with the plain soap and add colour, herbs and fragrance. The choice is yours.

I want to add a little about animal and bird fat. I know Kirsty makes her soap with duck fat and I think that's great. I think that if you're living true to your simple living values, and you're a meat eater, then you should be using every part of that animal or bird. Soap making helps you to do that. So if you raise beef, pigs or ducks, I'm pretty sure there are a lot of good soap recipes for you to use your animal fats. I will, however, be concentrating my post on what I make - vegetable-based soap.

  • Stainless steel saucepan 
  • Wooden or plastic spoon 
  • Scales - most soap ingredients are measured by weight, not volume 
  • Jug - for holding oils 
  • Measuring jug - for measuring water. It's ok to measure the water by volume 
  • Thermometer - you can use either a milk or candy thermometer 
  • Stick blender (optional) 
  • Newspaper to cover your work area 

DON'T use any aluminium pots or spoons. You may use stainless steel or cast iron and your spoon may be of steel, wood or plastic.

RECIPE The recipe may change every time you make soap but the method of making it remains the same. This is the recipe I use now:
  1. 450 mls rain water, spring water or distilled water 
  2. 172 grams caustic soda/lye 
  3. 1000 grams olive oil 
  4. 250 grams copha or coconut oil

Temperature conversion calculator http://www.onlineconversion.com/temperature.htm

If you are new to soap making, be warned, it should never be attempted when children or animals are around. The lye (caustic soda) you will use, burns, and if you spill it on skin you need to wash it off immediately under running water or vinegar. If you drop it on the floor or bench top, wipe it up straight away as it will burn a hole. When you mix the lye with water, even though it's not on the stove, it will heat up considerably and burn if you drop any on yourself or splash it in your eyes. There are also fumes. When you mix the lye with the water, fumes will come off it. Make sure you mix your lye in a well ventilated room.

Many soap makers wear latex gloves, goggles and a mask. I don't as I know what I'm doing and I'm very careful. Please use these safeguards while you're learning to make soap. When you're experienced, you might be able to dispense with them. Are you still with me after that warning? Soap making is a simple process that is made difficult by using lye (caustic soda). There is absolutely NO WAY to make soap from scratch without using lye. If you make sure you're alone when making soap, if you have all your ingredients measured out and have a clean and clear work area, you shouldn't have any problems. The entire process should take about 30 minutes. BTW, the process of soapmaking - saponification - neutralises the lye and by the time the soap is cured, no lye remains in the soap. 

Lay out the newspaper over your work area.

Grease your moulds.

Put on your safety gear.

Measure and weigh all your ingredients.

Weigh all your oils and place them in a saucepan.

Measure out the water and leave it in your measuring jug.

Measure out the lye into a small bowl.

Clip the thermometer onto the side of the saucepan and place on low heat on the stove. Slowly heat the oils to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F).

With the water already in the jug, carefully pour in the lye and stir gently until fully dissolved. Stand back a bit as there will be fumes coming up from this mix and it will heat up.

Now you need to have the oil at 50C and the lye at 50C (122F). When they're the same temperature, carefully pour the lye water into the oils and avoid splashing it.

Start mixing. You can either use a spoon and stir for about 20 minutes or use a stick blender and mix for about 5 - 10 minutes, making sure your blender doesn't overheat. I use an old Mixmaster (KitchenAid) as it has a very low setting that doesn't splatter. It gently stirs and reaches trace within 5 or 6 minutes. Don't use a hand beater and it splashes too much and the soap is still caustic at this stage.

Trace is the sign you look for that the soap has become stable and is ready to be poured into a mould. Before you reach trace, the surface of the mixture will be smooth. When you reach trace, slight ripples will form on the surface and remain there. The mix should be thick, but pourable.

This is what the mix looks like when you've reached trace. Notice how there are ripple staying on the surface.
If you're going to add fragrance, add it when you reach trace and give it a good mix. Then pour the mixture into the greased mould. I use a resin cake form that I bought for $2 at the dollar shop. You can also use plastic ice block trays, milk cartons or any plastic shape. Make sure you grease it - I use cooking spray, and if you're using a milk carton, make sure it's absolutely clean.

If you want to colour your soap you should research this yourself as I've never coloured my soap. Food colouring is unstable and not considered suitable, you'll need to buy soap dye or use natural powders like turmeric, cinnamon or cocoa.

Once the soap is in the mould, cover it with a towel so it cools down slowly.

The next morning, or about 15 hours later, release the soap from the mould and cut it into whatever shape you desire.

I add nothing to my soaps, but I do stamp them with a plain old rubber stamp. And I don't fiddle with the shape, I just cut them into blocks with a sharp knife. I like my soap to look handmade, but many soap makers fashion their soaps to look very professional and store bought. You do what you want to do.

Place the cakes of soap on a drying rack in an area they can stay in for a couple of weeks. Turn the soap over every day to allow it to dry out evenly. I cure my soaps for about six weeks before using them. The drier they are when you use them, the longer they last. You could use your soap after a week or so, but when it gets wet it will go soft and won't last long. It's better to cure them for a few weeks. This batch made 12 hefty blocks of soap.

You can also use your soap to pour into loofahs that have been cut into disks. Just wrap the bottom of the loofah in a small piece of plastic wrap so the hot soap doesn't run through.
The next morning, or when it's set, just tidy up the top with a sharp knife and allow the loofah soaps to cure for a few weeks.

ADDITION: I forgot to add something about soap calculators. When you want to try a new recipe with different oils, you'll need to run the recipe through a soap calculator to give you the correct ratios of oils, water and lye. This is the one I use: http://www.snowdriftfarm.com/soapcalculator.htm Just fill in the weight of the oil you'll use and it will calculate your lye and water for you (for the recipe above we used 1.5 litres). This will give you the exact amount of lye and water you need to add. Then make the soap as above.


25 July 2007

Family time

I'm looking forward to tomorrow because my son Kerry will be here. He lives on the Gold Coast now, where he works as a chef de partie. It's always a good time when he comes home but as tomorrow will be his 26th birthday, it will be a very special few days. He doesnt want us to buy him a birthday gift but he does want to go to one of his favourite restaurants around here - King Ludwigs, so our little family of four will head up into the mountains for his birthday dinner.

When he comes home he says it's like booking into a resort. He can sleep late, he has his meals made for him and he goes out to visit his friends. I'll get him to check out my iPod while he's here. He and I have the same type - a nano, and I can't work out how to direct my podcasts to the podcast directory. It's good to have a techno-savvy boy around again.

Later today I'll go to the organic butcher and buy a leg of lamb. Kerry loves a roast dinner so I'll make him his favourite as well as a mocha chocolate birthday cake. When I'm out I'll drive by the fabric store and pick up my curtain material. I'm going for a dark red and white cotton gingham, which should go well with the yellow.

H has just gone to buy some panadol for his sore head. I told him to take it easy when he comes home. No work today for him. I'll set him up on the front verandah, where it is warmish and sunny, and he can read and drink hot tea all morning.

I'm hoping to get some time for soap making this afternoon and if I do, I'll have the photos and tutorial online tomorrow. I'm making this soap for gifts and to give to my boys. They love using my soap. Kerry, who has a tendency to slight eczema, says it's the only soap he can use without breaking out or being itchy, so it's good to know they are appreciated.

For all the ladies in the swap. I hope to have everyone connected very soon. A few people have asked what, exactly, the swap is. It is for ONE handmade dish or wash cloth. If you want to include anything else, that is up to you. I just want everyone to be open to a new experience, to make new friends and to have fun with it. : )

Swap partners

Ladies, I'm trying to organise all our swap partners today. I have not yet received postal or email addresses from Briget, Busywoman, Kirsty, Kim and Robin. Could you all send word today please. Thanks everyone. : )


After two very busy days at work, I'm at home again today to catch up on what needs to be done and to fiddle with the newly painted walls. I have artwork to hang and I have to buy fabric for curtains and then make them.

I woke a few times through the night with H coughing and sneezing. He was feeling poorly when I went to bed so I think he has either a cold or the flu. I'll take him some lemon and honey tea in soon and see how he's feeling.

Kerry is coming to stay on Thursday - his 26th birthday. We are all going out to his favourite restaurant up in the mountains - King Ludwigs. It's a German restaurant so H and Shane love it too and although they cook up lots of pork and sausage, we know the owners there who also make a delicious vegetarian meal for me. So it's something we're all looking forward to. I hope to make up a birthday cake tomorrow, when I also have to go to a meeting and pick my boy up from the bus station. As usual, we will be busy.

I'll be back shortly to make my real post and to add to your wonderful comments.

24 July 2007

Happiness is lurking

I was talking to a woman who came in to work yesterday. She is one of our regulars and although she usually presents as sad, lonely and broken, yesterday she was as happy as I've ever seen her. She had discovered happiness. She didn't know it but it was lurking in her life, waiting for her to come looking.

I talked to her a couple of months ago when she was complaining that her nails were broken and her hands were dirty because she had been "made" to work. Apparently she had found a place to live with her children and her rent was reduced significantly if she did some gardening and cleaning for the woman who owned the house. She hadn't really done any physical work before and found it difficult and "embarrassing" - her word, not mine. I advised her to think about why she was doing this work and what she was getting out of it, and to also allow herself to experience the satisfaction of her work at the end of each day. She said she did that and was amazed that along with the relief she felt when she finished working, she also felt satisfaction and pride in a job well done. Her self esteem began to increase, she started feeling good about herself and what she was doing, and she felt happy, for the first time in years. Now she feels hopeful and positive and wants get a "real" job so she can give her children "a good life", again her words.

I believe w
e find our own happiness. No one has it delivered on a silver platter. I also know you don't find it by sitting watching TV all day, or by shopping for it. And it's not those big milestone events which, although they give you a real rush of joy and are high points in your life, are only fleeting moments. Happiness is usually small, so sometimes it's hard to find and recognise, and it usually isn't one thing, it's an accumulation of small things. It helps too to acknowledge happiness. To actually say, or think - THIS makes me happy. I think this acknowledgement helps you remember the small fragments of happiness as you add them to your basket.

A long time ago I decided I would appreciate and be mindful of everything that happened to me on a particular morning. I had a shower, and instead of just getting wet and washing myself, I felt the warm water running over me, I could smell the lemon soap I was using, I massaged and stretched. When I got out of the shower, I wrapped myself in a big towel and dried myself off. I felt really good - that ordinary shower had changed. I had really experienced it. I went on that morning to truly enjoy the taste of my tea, to appreciate that I was sitting in a lovely spot, the weather was warm and I felt good. I thought about it so I really experienced it. Each task I completed was appreciated, not just for adding to the feeling of warmth in my home but also for the feeling of satisfaction it gave me. Well, you get the picture. At the end of the morning my shower, breakfast and chores had given me a lot, rather than taken from me. That made me happy. I continued on. I thought about what I was doing and each task made me feel worthy, satisfied and content. At the end of the day I thought back on what I'd done and along with the sense of satisfaction, I felt strengthened and happy that I'd been so productive. It also made me sleep well that night and when I woke the next morning, I felt calm and restored.

What I had done was to find worth and happiness in my day. I appreciated it for what it was and realised that everything has meaning. When you start living like that, when you truly appreciate what you experience, be that those things you love doing as well as those you don't, you get the full measure of the day. That starts building up your self respect because you know you've done what needed doing - you stepped up and did it. And when you look back and add up all those pieces of satisfaction, the little achievements, the hard work, the bits of appreciation, smiles from your family, the thank yous, the full bellies, the washing clean and folded, a friend's hug, that warm shower, feeling safe, the knowledge that you did your best, that, my friends, adds up to happiness. Seek, and you will find.
Graphic from allposters.com

23 July 2007

The painting is progressing slowly

As some of you know, H and I are painting the inside of our house. We're going from a cool and pale mint green to a creamy yellow called Milk Maiden. We've, or more accurately, H, has finished the ceilings and yesterday started on the yellow walls. I can't tell you what a difference it makes to the look and feel of our home. The kitchen is finished and H hopes to finish off the remaining yellow walls today, while I'm at work. Then he'll start on the trims and doors, which will be a greyish blue called Smoke Ring. If you're wondering what my part in all this is, I've been cleaning down walls, picking up paint cloths, covering furniture, checking the coverage of the paint ; ) and making cups of tea.

Once the first yellow wall was finished - the one opposite the kitchen and behind our small round dining table - I realise we'd have to paint some furniture too, as what we have now - a greyish green - doesn't look so good with yellow. So I'll be painting a couple of pieces on Wednesday if H hasn't had time to do them beforehand. Along with my mostly Irish heritage, I have one Swedish grandmother, so the idea of painting furniture fits in well with my Swedish sensibilities and I'm looking forward to it. We're not buying anymore paint, having reached the limits of our dedcorating budget, so the furniture will have to be white, as that's the only paint we have available. Hopefully I'll be able to find a tint of black or blue in the shed to soften the stark whiteness, as I could quite happily live with a very light grey or blue. I'll be posting some photos when we're finished so you can all let me know what you think of our efforts.

As we've been cl
eaning, moving things around and painting the last few days, I haven't had a chance to make my soap, and take photos for a tutorial on it. I have not forgotten and will certainly get to it next week. I think that soap making is a valuable skill to have when living a simple life. A rich moisturising soap does wonders for the skin, as well as keep us clean, and it's nice to have a soap you know you can trust to nourish your skin without relying on overpriced skin creams. If I need extra moisturing during Winter, I just use a little olive oil. It's a wonder to me why anyone would need to buy anything more.

I'm really pleased we have our dishcloth swap underway. It will be a lovely way to connect with each other and get to know our online neighbours. I think I might get some time to come online when I'm at work later today so I'll start sending email addresses or postal addresses to swappers. If you haven't sent your postal or email address for me to pass on to your swap buddy, can you please do it soon. Thank you. Remember, the swap deadline is August 17, so if you all start your knitting soon, we'll have enough time to finish our projects without the need to hurry. And we do have a place for one more swapper, as I ended up with two swap partners, so if you'd like to join this swap, let me know today.

I want to also mention how much I enjoy getting your emails. I've received quite a few from readers who have never commented so it was delightful to get to know them in an email. I also enjoy contact from those lovely people who do comment. There is a greater opportunity to connect via email and to talk openly about what we're doing. Sometimes it takes me a couple of days to reply, I forget to check my email sometimes and at other times I'm busy, but I will get back to all of you, I promise. It's been a blessing to receive emails from all over the world, as well as those from the many Australians who read my blog. So to all of your who have taken the time to write, I thank you most sincerely.

This is Alice, in her curly Airedale winter coat, sitting with her good friend Hettie, our old white cat, in the warmth of yesterday's afternoon sun. They make sure they sit close to the back door every afternoon so they are ready when their dinner comes out.


22 July 2007

Swap buddies

H and I just did the draw for the dishcloth swap. The swap buddies are:
  • Michelle and Jenny
  • Susan and Lenny
  • Briget and Rhonda (kimmysmum)
  • Polly and Jewels
  • Busywoman and Chris
  • Kirsty and Elizabeth
  • Kim and Dot
  • Grandma Carla and RhondaJean
  • Sue and RhondaJean
  • Robin and Maggie
You should have your dishcloths in the mail no later than August 17, that gives us all four weeks. I'm not sure what is the best way to give and receive the postal addresses. Maybe everyone should email their email address to my yahoo address (in my profile) and I can pass them on. If anyone has a better way to do this, let me know.

kay ladies, start your knitting. : )

Home Comforts

I am reading, yet again, Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson. I found this book about five years ago and it cemented my ideas about the importance of living in a home that I'd made comfortable and welcoming. One of the hurdles I had to overcome when I left the corporate world and came home, was the voice in my head that told me housework was menial and unimportant. Luckily for me, Cheryl explained that: "Our homes are the center of our lives, and we should allow time and resources to make the most of them that we can, and to care for them in a way that consolidates and elaborates their meaning for each of us. At a minimum, we should avoid thinking that time spent on our homes is wasted time, or that our goal should always be to reduce the time and effort we spend on them."

Cheryl is no Martha, who although I love many of the things she does, often confuses perfection and pretense with the hearty substance of a good home. She misses the essence. Cheryl gets right to the core though and intelligently examines meaning right along with stain removal, dusting and how to fold.

After reading Home Comforts, I started thinking more about the importance of my home, that I felt relaxed and comfortable there, and that if I could make my home exactly what I wanted it to be as well as safe, beautiful, open and welcoming, then I would be creating for myself and my family the best kind of home. Reading this book showed me that housework is actually the opposite of menial - it creates meaning, warmth and feeling of being cared for.

She wrote: "I first learned that housework has meaning by observing my grandmothers. The reason they made a fuss when they saw a granddaughter doing things in a 'foreign' way is that they knew - in their bones if not in words - that the way you experience life in your home is determined by how you do your housekeeping. Just as you read a culture in the way its people fold a shirt (or do not), the little domestic habits are what gives everybody's home the special qualities that make it their own and let them feel at home there. Understandably, each of my grandmothers wanted me to make a home in which she could feel at home.

"This sense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor and courage will decrease. It is a complex thing, an amalgam. In part it is a sense of having special rights, dignities and entitlements and these are legal realities, not just emotional states. It includes familiarity, warmth, affection, and a conviction of security. Being at home feels safe...

"These formidably good things, which you cannot get merely by finding true love or getting married or having children or landing the best job in the world, or even by moving into the house of your dreams. Nor is there much that interior decorating can do to provide them. Making a home attractive helps you feel at home, but not nearly so much as most of seem to think, if you gauge by the amounts of money we spend on home furnishing. In fact, too much attention to the look of a home can backfire of it creates a stage-set feeling instead of the authenticity of a genuinely homely place. And going in for nostalgic pastimes - canning, potting sewing, making Christmas wreaths, painting china, decorating cookies - will not work either. I count myself among those who find these things fun to do, but I know from experience that you cannot make a home by imitating the household chores and crafts of a past era. Ironically, people are led into the error of playing house instead of keeping house by a genuine desire for a home and its comforts. ... What really does work to increase the feeling of having a home and its comforts, is housekeeping."

Cheryl Mendelson is a Harvard graduated lawyer and has a Ph.D in philosophy, so the book is not shy of discussing the significance of the home and our place within it. But it's value to me was in explaining why we do certain things and why they make a difference. It's over 850 pages long so there are plenty of words on technique and methodology as well, so it's an excellent all round book on the whys and hows of homekeeping. If you're struggling with why you should be spending time on your housework, this book might open some doors for you.
Home Comforts details.


21 July 2007

Frugal Subversive Award

There is something about going against the mainstream that gets my heart pumping. Everyone knows that we're expected to be good consumers and go out and spend, spend, spend. Advertisements tell us we can be more, do more and have more, and buying exactly what we want will make us as happy as we can be. The trouble is, that's a lie, spending doesn't make us happy. Happiness is much more complex. It comes from the heart and rarely has a price tag attached.

Reducing our consumption of products and returning to local, homemade and reused things is something that will benefit all of us and our planet. Endeavouring to be more frugal is one of the most important steps we can all make to help redress our environmental problems. It is a small but important step towards sustainability.

This is the start of a new meme - the Frugal Subversive Award. I am giving my award to three bloggers who consistently turn their backs on consumerism to live frugally in a creative and authentic way. These bloggers have made me think in innovative ways about my own life and how I can make a difference making, reusing, and just saying "no" to mindless spending.

The first bloggers to be presented with the Frugal Subversive Award are:
Julie at Towards Sustainability
Eilleen at Consumption Rebellion
Simply Authentic at emcglass
Please check these blogs out and see for yourself how valuable and interesting they are.

If you are given an award and want to take part in this meme, you can in turn select three other bloggers who have inspired you to be a frugal subversive. Passing the rules on with the award will make it easier for everyone to participate. Congratulations on the award. I hope it helps you spread awareness near and far.
1. When you are tagged, write a post with links to three blogs who have inspired you with their frugal creativity or innovation.
2. In your post, please link back to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme and save the award graphic.
3. Leave a comment or message for the bloggers you’re tagging, so they they know they're received the award.
4. Display the Frugal Subversive Award badge to identify your blog as part of the movement that is turning its back on consumerism at any cost.

The shared lunch

One of the traditions I'm bringing back to my home is Sunday lunch with family and friends. When I was growing up, this was the big meal of the week; the meal everyone looked forward to. Anticipation played a big part in this tradition too. The preparations and the smell of food roasting in the oven made us all think about the lunch long before we sat down to eat it.

was quite common in the 1950 for everyone to sit down to a family meal at lunchtime on Sunday and if you had walked out into our neighbourhood at 11am any Sunday morning, you would have been able to smell the roasting meat and vegetables cooking away slowly in all those old ovens.

My parents shared the cooking of Sunday lunch. It was usually a leg of lamb or pork served with baked potatoes, pumpkin, onions, carrots and sweet baby peas. The thickish brown gravy that was poured over the meat was Dad's speciality. He also carved the meat, but he had to fend off my sister and I who would stand close hoping to get a small piece of meat before it went onto the plates. Mum peeled the vegetables and started the meat cooking and then would sit back for the rest to be done. Dad would check on the meat as it cooked and added the vegetables to the roasting pan when the time was right. My sister and I were eager servers, taking all the plates to the table that we'd set beforehand. That table was yellow and black Formica with metal sides. We always set the table with an embroidered cloth and mum's best pearl handled cutlery - which I now have. I don't remember what we had to drink with our meal, but I'd guess it would have been water. Dad might have had a glass of beer and Mum would have had the thick black coffee she always enjoyed.

Our dessert was usually fruit based. It might have been a peach cobbler, apple crumble or stewed pears, or sometimes baked apples stuffed with dates, but all these would have been served with a real egg custard, hot and steaming and running down the sides.

Later that evening, just as the family was sitting around the open fire in the lounge room and Mum was testing our spelling by conducting her own spelling bee with my sister and I, Dad would walk in with a tray piled high with bread, butter, sliced roasted meat, and a little salad. We would all toast our bread over the fire and make our own sandwiches. 

When I grew up and had my own family, I lived a long way from my parents' home but we started serving those Sunday lunches again. I'd cook a leg of lamb while listening to Radio National's Science Show with Robin Williams. Sometimes we'd invite friends to join us, but often we enjoyed our meal with just our small family. Then we stopped. I started working and was too tired for the big extravaganza on Sunday. We had lonely sandwiches instead.

Our Sundays have changed a lot over the years but we've started those lunches again. We don't eat meat now so we don't roast a leg of lamb, but I do bake bread and make pizzas. Often we've had visitors who have been delighted with a salad and soft boiled eggs with everything freshly picked in our backyard, and served with hot wholemeal or rye bread. In winter we have hot vegetable and barley soup with herb or spinach dumplings, or a warm frittata made with our home grown kipfler potatoes, spinach, capsicum and garlic.

The style of food has changed a lot over the years but the anticipation and
the enjoyment of sharing the abundance of our backyard with friends and family is ever present. This, my friends, is another simple joy that cannot be bought and a family tradition worth keeping.

20 July 2007

Homemade tomato paste

This will make about 9 x 250ml jars of tomato paste.

50 large tomatoes
3 chopped red capsicums (sweet peppers)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 whole garlic, crushed

Combine the tomatoes, capsicums, bay leaves and salt in a large pot, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Remove the bay leaves and press the mixture through a fine sieve. Return the mix to the pot, add the bay leaves again and the whole garlic. Cook this slowly for about 2½ hours, stirring frequently. When it's ready, it's a sticky paste that won't drip from the spoon. Remove bay leaves and pour the hot paste into hot clean jars, leaving 7mm head space. Check for air bubbles and remove them with a spatula. Wipe the jar rims, secure lids and process in a water bath (fowlers vacola or large stockpot) for 45 minutes.

graphic from: http://www.picturestore.com.au/

Homemade condensed milk

To make the equivalent of a tin of condensed milk:

1/3 cup hot water
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup powdered milk - this can be full cream or skim milk
3 tablespoons butter

Melt the sugar in the hot water, then put all your ingredients into a food processor or blender. Mix slowly at first until everything is combined, then use high speed until everything is smooth.

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