31 August 2007

Disposing of disposables

My home made 100% cotton napkins. The ones in the fan are small, the larger ones are at the front.

I'm trying to do without as many "disposable" products as I can. These things have become so entrenched in the way we live our lives now that we see them as normal. They aren't. I looked up the meaning of the word "dispose" and it means: cast aside, chuck out, discard, fling, throw out, throw away, toss out" etc. The trouble with "disposables" is that when we cast them aside or chuck them out, most of the time that means they're in a landfill rubbish dump somewhere taking years to decompose. In the case of disposable nappies/diapers it is believed to take about 200 years. Of course, no one really knows as they haven't been around for 200 years for any to have decomposed completely. Maybe they don't decompose at all, maybe a future earth will be full of slowing rotting but ever present dirty nappies/diapers. Ugh!

There is a huge problem in Australia, and around the world, with marine life eating and being tangled in plastic ropes, bags and sheets. I have seen photos of turtles with plastic embedded in their shells and photos of dead dolphins, strangled with plastic. If you don't know there is a problem using plastic by now, you must be living in a world with no newspapers, TV or computers. Plastic kills.

Polystyrene is another catastrophe. "Each year in the United States (US), approximately “60 billion cups, 20 billion eating utensils and 25 billion plates”, all disposable, are used and sent to landfills and incinerators." Source

There is a big problem with the carbon emissions caused by the manufacture, transport and disposal of paper products.
Products like tissues, paper towels and plates, toilet paper and napkins. These products tend to decompose fairly rapidly, if they aren't coated with plastic, but they are still a concern because of the carbon emissions they cause and the forests that are cut down to create them.

So here at my little homestead, I'm trying to get rid of as many "disposables" as I can. I've already given up plastic shopping bags and have my own shopping totes, I've made little net bags for small items, we've given up paper towels and use old terry cloths and newspaper instead and I always try to buy products with the least amount of packaging. A couple of years ago we gave up paper napkins, but over that time we started using the convenient box of tissues sitting in the kitchen to wipe our mouths while eating. Now that's stopped. I've made a few simple cotton napkins that are suitable for everyday use and that's what we're using instead of tissues. I would love to give up tissues completely, but I can't bear to wash handkerchiefs, but if we can reduce our usage of tissues significantly, I'll be happy enough. We used too many of them as napkins, so I'm pleased we've stopped doing that.

This little basket of homemade napkins now sits on my kitchen bench.

We take drinks with us when we go out so we never have to buy plastic bottles of drink or tea in a polystyrene cup. We've given up buying "disposable" dishcloths as we have our wonderful handmade dishcloths, and I'd love to be able to give up toilet paper but when I spoke with H about this, he gave me THE look. I might leave that one for a while. LOL Strangely I have less of a problem with what comes out of a bottom than with what comes put of a nose. But maybe that's TMI. : - O

If I had babies now I would never put them in disposable nappies/diapers, and if I wasn't post-menopausal, I'd be using a Diva cup or home made pads. I'd like to present some information about reusable nappies/diapers and homemade pads, and I am hoping to get a friend to write about these things so I can post some good info for you.

Have you conducted "disposables" audit in your home?
Have you given up using "disposables"? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments box.

30 August 2007

Simple change

A good way of building an emergency fund, or to save for other things, is to have a change jar. “Change” can be coins or notes. I usually classify everything in the coin section of my purse as change, even if it’s folded notes. If I come home with change in my purse, it usually goes into my change jar.

When you keep a change jar, never take from it, don’t count it and keep it out of sight. Only count it when you are going to transfer the money into a bank account or to pay off debt. By not counting you give yourself a nice surprise when you do count it. It’s more of a moveable mystery if you don’t know how much you have. Life should have some secrets, let this be one of them.

You can also add to your jar by adding unexpected gifts or savings. For instance, if you have gift money given to you, add it, give up the coffee you buy on the way to work and add that extra $20 a week, give up smoking and add the money you would have spent on cigarettes. If cigarettes are around $14 and you smoke a packet a day, you'll save over $5000 in a year by giving up and saving that money.

Every time your change jar is full, sit down with a smile on your face and count the money. If you have lots of gold coins or notes, you might easily have $300. Whatever it is, take that money and add it to the bank account you use to pay your debts, be that your mortgage or your credit cards. If you are debt-free, add it to your savings account or use it for a holiday.

When H and I went on our holiday recently, the only spending money we took with us was the money from the change jar. It was just under $300 and we each had half. Both of us came home with $100. We did everything we wanted to do, we took Kathleen out to dinner and we enjoyed ourselves. We didn't buy junk, or anything we didn't need. That's the thing about saving, you have to have it firmly in your head that you are saving, and go for it.

For those of you earning a good weekly wage, you might think it's trivial to even talk about such small amounts. But living frugally, whether by choice or by need, is all about small steps. Most people can't save $1000 without starting with those first few dollars.

So think about starting a change jar. If you give up a few things and save all your change, you'll be able to pay off your mortgage faster or take the family on a holiday without it going on the credit card.

Free activites

Keeping the kids active and occupied doesn't have to cost a lot. There are plenty of activities and hobbies they can do at home that are low cost, fun and don't involve a screen. Taking the kids on an outing can also be a lot of fun, and doesn't have to cost much at all. Put on your frugal hat when it comes to entertainment for yourself and the children. Spending a lot on movies, eating out and travelling around will slowly drain your savings. There isn't much value in a day's outing that you have to work a full day to pay for. There are other ways around it.

Discover your local library, museum, science centre and the long coastline of beaches that Australia is understandably famous for. Look for local free concerts or events in the park. Sometimes local councils sponsor these events and will advertise them in the local paper. Some enlightened councils are now offering free gardening and backyard sustainability courses. Although not available all through the year, these wonderful things can be enjoyed and will not cost you anything except the cost of getting there. If you can't find information on free local activities in your newspaper, go online and google "free local activities [your town]", or phone your local council and ask what's available.

The local paper, magazines and books are available free at any library. They often have DVDs, CD, puzzles and audio cassettes. All you have to do to access this vast free resource is to become a member.

If you live in a city, take advantage of all those taxpayer-funded facilities like the museum, art gallery, science centre and botanical gardens. They will provide hours of enlightening entertainment for yourself and your family. Take a picnic to the closest beach, find some shade and enjoy a day with the family. If you’re in the country and close to a river, you can enjoy a riverside picnic and swimming with the family. You might go for a bush walk and a bike ride. If you’re close to a national park or a naturally beautiful area, there will often be walking trails to follow.

Wherever you are, if you look
around your community you should find ways to entertain yourself without it costing too much. Be creative, team up with other people you know and go for it. Remember, not everything of value has an entry fee.

Here are some links to free activities:


United States
US cities and towns


29 August 2007

Dishcloths on parade - updated

Here are photos of some of the dishcloths swapped during our first swap. If you have a photo of your dishcloths you'd like to share, send it to me and I'll post it with these.

These little beauties are by Polly, and were sent to Jewels. Polly included some of her home made soap.

These cloths were made by Jewels and sent to Polly. Jewels also included a beautiful hand made card.

These lovely cloths were made by Robin and sent to Maggie in NZ. Love those autumn colours.

Now we have the cloth sent to Susan by Lenny. Lenny also sent some fudge. mmmm

And the following photo is the beautiful blue package of cloth and soap that Susan sent to Lenny.

Finally the swap between Carla and myself. Carla sent me these two cloths, plus another that's currently in the wash. I really love them, Carla.

And here is what I sent Carla. A cloth and a copy of last month's Grass Roots.


Catch up day

I live a very fortunate life. My husband and I have been hard workers all our lives and we are now enjoying the fruits of that hard work. We don’t have a lot of money, and don’t need a lot, but we live our days as we choose and generally squeeze as much as we can from each day. One of the things I really love about my life now is that I can give something back to the community. I choose to do voluntary work for two days at my local Neighbourhood Centre where we look after the needs of the homeless and disadvantaged. I love that job. It allows me contact with people I wouldn’t normally meet, it gives me real satisfaction to help the people who come in, I write, teach, organise, hug, make cups of tea, give tissues, answer the phone, attend meetings and talk. Yep, talking is one of the requirements of my job, and I make sure I do a lot of it. LOL

So when I come home after my two days work, I’m really tired. It’s physically and mentally challenging work. Monday and Tuesday nights I sleep like a log. But when I get up on Wednesday morning I feel joyous and re-energized by my time spent at that job. I don’t know why I’m lucky enough to have this life.

Today is my catch up day. On Wednesday I do the things not done on Monday and Tuesday so I’ve already done a bit of gardening, I’ve made some vegetable soup for our main meal today and I’ll bake some hot bread for us to eat with it. I also have to check my sauerkraut, tidy up the bedroom and make the bed, sweep the floors and the verandahs. Later I’ll do some sewing. It will be a good day, a day to enjoy time at home, play with the dogs, collect eggs, take photos, experience everything I can, maybe learn something and be thankful that H and I are healthy and breathing.

Oh, I also wanted to mention that I watched a small portion of a brilliant concert on ABC2 last evening. I was washing up and H called me to come watch something – it was Keith Richards and Willie Nelson singing together, after them was Merle Haggard and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was a wonderful thing to see. Did anyone else watch this? I’d like to know what the concert was.


Down to Earth readers' guide to saving electricity + added bonus

Turn off appliances at the wall. Reorganise your appliances to make this as easy as possible.
Turn off all chargers with a black box on them at the wall, every time you finish charging. Those things really suck up the power, even when they're not charging but still "on".
When buying new appliances, always buy the best energy rating you can afford.
Sweep the floor instead of vacuuming.
Wash up by hand instead of using the dishwasher.
Use a programmable thermostat for your furnace. Set the thermostat five degrees lower/higher (depending on the season) at night.
Use a table-top cooker, like a Nesco (not a crock pot).
Turn the monitor off when you leave the computer.
Exchange old electricity globes with compact fluoros.
Keep light usage to a minimum. Only do full loads of washing.
Don't let rice cooker sit on warm after rice is cooked.
Go to bed earlier – this saves on a lot of things like lights, computer, TV, stereo, extra cups of tea.
Use your mobile phone alarm rather than an electric alarm clock.
Ring your local electricity supply company and get all the information you can on your usage, tariffs and how you can save for your particular situation.
If you have a 3 in 1 light fitting in the bathroom that contains a light, exhaust fan and heater, take the heat globe out.
Watch less TV.
Use a solar camping lamp in the evenings when you don't need strong light.
Try to do without your small appliances like coffee maker, sandwich maker etc.
Do less ironing. Shake clothes when hanging them on the line, hang shirts and dresses on a hanger to dry, give up the idea that you have to be absolutely creaseless.
Use a wall clock instead of relying on your oven or microwave clock. Turn these ovens off when not in use.
“Snuggle up" instead of turning on the heater, get a rug and snuggle with your loved ones on the lounge.
Dress warmer in winter instead of turning on the heat.
In winter, keep lap quilts and rugs on the sofa to encourage the family to use them instead of the heater.
No clothes dryer – hang your clothes outside to dry. Turn on hot water heater for 1 hour a day. Key wind clocks in all rooms. No air-conditioner, no electric heater. Just a wood burning stove in the winter and fans in the summer.
If possible, put a timer on your hot water system.
Change to solar hot water.
Install skylights in dark rooms.
Close the door when you’re heating or cooling a room.
In very cold climates, install double glazed windows and insulated blinds.
If it’s cold outside, hang window quilts. Read about them here:
If you’re using a dishwasher, shut the dishwasher off and open the door after it's finished washing and let the items air dry.

Fact sheet on CF lights:

Info on mercury in CF lights:

When recycling your compact fluoro globes, to take them to the recycle station, just like you would your old batteries, mercury thermometer and old style fluoro tubes.

Below is a list of energy saving hints from
this source There are lots of good tips here.
A typical home uses 600-1200 kiloWatt-hours per year for refrigeration and freezing. To become more energy efficient with refrigeration in your home, follow these tips:
Keep your refrigerator at 37°- 40° F (2° - 4° C) and your freezer at 5°F (-15° C).
Keep your refrigerator filled to capacity, but don't overcrowd to the point where doors cannot be closed or air cannot circulate.
Vacuum the condenser coils (underneath or behind the unit) every three months or so.
Check the condition of door gaskets by placing a paper sheet against the frame and closing the door. If the sheet can be pulled out with a very gentle tug, the door should be adjusted or the gasket replaced.
Do not put uncovered liquids in the refrigerator. The liquids give off vapors that add to the compressor workload.
Allow hot food to cool off before putting it in the refrigerator.
Plan ahead and remove all ingredients for each meal at one time.
Try switching off the power-saver switch, if your refrigerator has one. If only a small amount of condensation appears, save energy and leave the switch off.

A typical home uses 200-700 kiloWatt-hours per year with its range/oven. To become more energy efficient with your range/oven, follow these tips:
Only use pots and pans with flat bottoms on the stove.
Include more stews, stir-frys, and other single-dish meals in your menus.
Develop the habit of "lids-on" cooking to permit lower temperature settings.
Keep reflector pans beneath stovetop heating elements bright and clean.
Carefully measure water used for cooking to avoid having to heat more than is needed.
Begin cooking on highest heat until liquid begins to boil. Then lower the heat control settings and allow food to simmer until fully cooked.
Cook as much of the meal in the oven at one time as possible. Variations of 25°F still produce good results and save energy.
Rearrange oven shelves before turning your oven on - and don't peek at food in the oven! Every time you open the oven door, 25°-50°F (-3° - 10° C) is lost.
There is no need to preheat the oven for broiling or roasting.
When preheating an oven for baking, time the preheat period carefully. Five to eight minutes should be sufficient.
Use your microwave oven whenever possible, as it draws less than half the power of its conventional oven counterpart and cooks for a much shorter amount of time.
Use the self-cleaning cycle only for major cleaning jobs. Start the cycle right after cooking while the oven is still hot, or wait until late in the evening when electricity usage is low.

Wash only full loads of dishes - but do not overload dishwasher.
Scrape food off dishes and rinse them with cold water before placing them in the dishwasher.
Soak or pre-wash only in the cases of burned-on or dried-on foods.
Don't use the "rinse hold" feature on your dishwasher when you only have a few soiled dishes.
Clothes Washers
Follow detergent instructions carefully. Adding too much detergent actually hampers effective washing action and may require more energy in the form of extra rinses.
Set the washing machine temperature to cold or warm and the rinse temperature to cold as often as possible.
Wash only full loads of clothing- but do not overload machine.
Sort laundry and schedule washes so that a complete job can be done with a few cycles of the machine carrying its full capacity, rather than a greater number of cycles with light loads.

Clothes Dryers
A typical home uses 360-1400 kiloWatt-hours per year with the clothes dryer. To become more energy efficient with your laundry, follow these tips:
Hang your laundry outside when weather permits.
Clean the lint filter thoroughly after each use.
Dry towels and heavy cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight fabrics.
Avoid over-drying. This not only wastes energy, but harms the fabric as well.

Hot Water
One of the biggest energy users in your home, next to heating and cooling systems, is your hot water system. A typical home uses 1000-4000 kiloWatt-hours per year with its water heater, including dishwashing and laundry water. To become more energy efficient with your water heater, follow these tips:
Reduce your water heating bill by 10 percent by lowering the water heater temperature from 140°F to 120F° (60° - 40° C). (Keep the temperature at 140°F (60°C) if you use a dishwasher without a temperature booster.)
Once a year, drain a bucket of water of the bottom of the water heater tank. This gets rid of sediment, which can waste energy by "blocking" the water in the tank from the heating element.
Locate water heaters as close to the points of hot water usage as possible. The longer the supply pipe, the more heat is lost.
Insulate your hot water supply pipes to reduce heat loss. Hardware stores sell pipe insulation kits.
Consider buying a water heater insulation kit, which reduces the amount of heat lost through the walls of the tank.
Repair any leaky faucets promptly.
Use sink stoppers instead of letting water run while shaving and washing dishes.
Take showers instead of baths.
Set the washing machine temperature to cold or warm and the rinse temperature to cold as often as possible.
Wash only full loads of clothing and dishes - but do not overload machines.
Scrape food off dishes and rinse them with cold water before placing them in the dishwasher.

A typical home uses 400-1000 kiloWatt-hours per year in lighting. To become more energy efficient with lights throughout your home, follow these tips:
Clean your light fixtures regularly.
Turn off lights when leaving a room.
Provide task lighting over desks, tool benches, etc., so that activities can be carried on without illuminating entire rooms.
If possible, put lamps in corners of rooms, where they can reflect light from two wall surfaces instead of one.
Use compact fluorescent bulbs in fixtures that are on for more than two hours a day. Compact fluorescent bulbs will given an incandescent bulb's warm, soft light, while using up to 75 percent less electricity. They also last about 10 times longer. Typically, a 23-watt compact fluorescent bulb can replace a 90- or 100-watt incandescent bulb.
Use dimmable bulbs when possible.
Install photoelectric controls or timers to make sure that outdoor lighting is turned off during the day.

Set the thermostat as low as comfort permits. Each degree over 68°F (20° C) can add 3 percent to the amount of energy needed for heating.
In the heating season, water vapors from bathing and cooking are beneficial because they help humidify the home. Use kitchen and bath exhaust fans sparingly in the winter to keep as much heat as possible inside your house.
In the winter, the air is normally dry inside your house, which is a disadvantage because people typically require a higher temperature to be comfortable than they would in a humid environment. Therefore, efficient humidifiers are a good investment for energy conservation.
Locate the heating thermostat on an inside wall and away from windows and doors. Cold drafts will cause the thermostat to keep the system running even when the rest of the house is warm enough.
Lubricate pump and blower bearings regularly in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations to limit the amount of energy lost to friction and to extend equipment life as well.
Close heating vents and radiator valves in unused rooms. Make sure that drapes, plants, or furniture do not block registers for supply or return air.

A typical home uses 250-1000 kiloWatt-hours per year for air conditioning in one room. To become more energy efficient with air conditioning throughout your home, follow these tips:
Set your thermostat to 78° F (24° C), or as high as comfort permits. When the weather is mild, turn off the AC and open the windows.
Close your blinds and curtains during the hottest part of the day.
Close cooling vents in unused rooms and keep doors to unused rooms closed.
Check and clean or replace air filters every month.
Clean the outside condenser coil once a year.
Reduce your usage by 10-20 percent by caulking and weather-stripping your doors and windows.
Insulate your house.
Schedule periodic maintenance of cooling equipment by a licensed service representative.
Attics must be ventilated to relieve heat buildup caused by the sun. If necessary, improve attic airflow by adding or enlarging vents.


28 August 2007

Saving electricity

I went back to work yesterday, and had a meeting following work, so I didn't get a chance to come back at all yesterday. It was a long day. I'm also in a rush this morning as I have a lot of things to do before I go back to work, and I overslept an hour. So I'm going to rely of you all to add to the comments here which will be part of the post on how to save electricity. I'd like to know how everyone does it. Please tell us your strategies as you might be doing something we haven't thought about that will save us energy and money. When all the comments are in, I'll compile a master list that will be posted during the week for us all to share.

We have done all the usual things here like:

  • Exchange all old electricity globes with compact fluros.
  • Turn off appliances at the wall. Reorganise your appliances to make this as easy as possible.
  • Turn off all those chargers with a black box on them at the wall, every time you finish charging. Those things really suck up the power, even when they're not charging but still "on".
  • When buying new appliances, always buy the best energy rating you can afford.
  • Sweep the floor instead of vacuuming, wash up by hand instead of using the dishwasher.
I found this excellent site about electricity in general, which has a lot of hints and explanations. It's an American site but much of the information relates to most of us.

As soon as you finish reading this, I want you all to turn your computers to standby mode. Read about it here: http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/computers.html

Don't forget to continue your monitoring of your meter until you get to understand how you are using your energy. Read it the same time each day, record your readings and what appliances you used on that day.

So now it's over to you. Please add your electricity saving tips. Please be generous and share what you know with us.

27 August 2007

Reading your electricity meter

Isn't it frustrating when you receive your electricity bill, you think it's too high but you can't really remember what you did to increase it. When I started cutting back and living on less, one of the things I did was to get a better understanding of our electricity consumption by reading the meter. Doing this helped us go from an average three monthly bill of around $400 to our current bill which is always under $200, and usually around $140.

Although there are a couple of different types of meters, most of them are the five dial ones like mine pictured here. Disregard the dial at the bottom with the red pointer.

The reading on my meter, when I took this photo last evening, was 16863 kiloWatt-hours (kWh).

When reading a meter and the pointer is between two figures, your reading is the lower number, as the pointer hasn't yet progressed passed the next figure. You can see this clearly on my first dial. The pointer is between the 1 and 2, but hasn't passed 2, so the reading on that dial is 1.

It gets trickier when the pointer is sitting ON a figure, like it is on my second dial. That pointer is sitting on 7. When this happens, look to your next dial - dial three in this case - and see where that pointer is, it will be somewhere between 8 and 0. Here my dial is coming up to 9, indicating it hasn't yet passed 0 and therefore the previous dial is still on 6, even though it looks like it's on 7, it hasn't passed it yet.

Okay, so far we've read my dial to be 16. Dial three hasn't yet moved onto 9, so that dial reads 8. Dial 4 is between 6 and 7, so that reading is 6. The last dial hasn't yet fully moved to 4, so that reading is 3. Write your reading down in a notebook.

You'll also notice a spinning flat wheel below your dials. That indicates how much electricity you're currently using. If it's spinning fast, you're using a lot, if it's slow, you're not using much at all.

I know it sounds complicated, but just remember your reading is always the lower of the two when the pointer is between two figures. When it's sitting on a figure, check the next dial and if it isn't yet on 0, then your reading on the previous dial is the lower number. You'll only have to read the meter a couple of times for it to become clear to you. It sounds complicated but in practise, it's not.

Remember, just reading the meter won't save you money. You have to act on the information you have to lower your bill. When you first start readings, write down what electrical appliances you're using that day. If you read your meter every day, you probably notice spikes in usage when you use the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, heater or air conditioner. Often seeing how much something spikes your meter, makes you think of ways to lower your usage.

If you have teenagers or younger children, encourage them to do the readings with you. It will make them think about electricity in a different way. Show them how much you pay for each kWh. We don't think much about our usage because a kiloWatt hour doesn't mean anything to us. That is, until you start your readings, then you can't fail to know.

Make sure you do your reading at the same time each day. After you get a good idea of your usage via daily readings and recording your figures, then monitor your usage weekly. If you see a spike over the week, reassess what you're doing in the home with electricity and see if you can bring it down again. Doing this will allow you to reduce your electricity consumption, and your bill, how much you get it down is in your hands.


26 August 2007

Making sauerkraut from scratch

Sauerkraut is made with just two ingredients - cabbage and salt, with a bit of time thrown in for good measure.

I used four small sugarloaf cabbages and four tablespoons of Olssons organic cooking salt. This is pure Australian salt. Do not use table salt, the salt must be pure, with none of the additives normally found in table salt. The process of fermentation should take about 3 - 4 weeks, but it will depend on the temperature here in the house during that time.

Ideally the temperature should be around 23 - 24 degrees C (75F), if it gets a bit hotter it will take less time but the sauerkraut won't taste as good. If it is colder, it will take longer.

I used a stone crock to make my sauerkraut, you could also use a new plastic bucket or similar large container. Wash the container thoroughly and pour boiling water over the interior. Dry with a clean tea towel.

Wash the cabbages thoroughly, removing all dirt, outer leaves and damaged pieces of cabbage.

Cut into quarters. Remove the core in each piece.

Place cabbage quarters on a clean tea towel, cut side down, to drain. Remove as much water as possible.

When the cabbage is fairly dry, start shredding it as finely as you can. I started using my mandolin but I almost cut my finger on it (again) so I used my Chinese chopper.

When you've shredded a small amount of cabbage, start adding it to your container.

When you have a layer of cabbage, sprinkle over some salt and rub it into the cabbage with your clean hands. This gets the salt into the cabbage and starts the process of osmosis that removes the water from the cabbage and forms the brine.

Keep shredding and adding your cabbage in layers, and for each layer, add salt, rub it in and push it firmly into the container.

Continue doing this until all the cabbage has been shredded and salted.
You will notice above how there is a lot of fluid in with the cabbage. This is the brine the cabbage and salt makes. No water has been added, that is all the water that has come from the cabbage. There should be enough brine to cover the cabbage completely as this helps the process of fermentation.

Place piece of clean cotton cloth over the cabbage and then a small plate on top of the cloth. Get a heavy plastic bag, or two freezer bags (one inside the other) fill the bag with water and push it into the container over the plate. This will weigh the cabbage down so it will remain in the brine. Then cover the opening of the container with plastic wrap and place a towel over it.

Store it in a coolish (23C) area for a few weeks.

The formation of gas bubbles indicates fermentation is taking place.

Every day you must check the sauerkraut. When scrum starts to form, remove the cotton cloth and plate and wash them thoroughly with soap and water. Rinse well and place in a small dish. Pour about a litre of boiling water on the cloth and plate to scald them. When cool enough to handle, wring out the cloth and replace it over the cabbage - along with the plate, the water filled plastic bag, the plastic wrap and the towel. If the water filled bag is covered with scum, either replace it with a clean bag or wash it thoroughly before replacing it.

After about 3 - 4 weeks of checking it every day or second day, the fermentation should be complete. You can tell this has happened when the cabbage stops bubbling. Then you can either place it in containers to be stored in the fridge or process it in a water bath (Fowlers Vacola or canner). If it's stored in the fridge, you'll need to eat it within a month.

To process in a water bath, for storing long term in the cupboard, heat the sauerkraut, place into your jars, leaving half an inch head space, bring up to 92C and boil for 15 minutes for small jars or 20 minutes for large jars.

It will be a busy place at this homestead today. I'm going back to my voluntary job tomorrow after having two weeks off and I still have a few things to do before my holiday is over. First job will be to make sauerkraut from the cabbages pictured above and two others, they all still have to be picked and will be pickled absolutely fresh from the garden. I'll write about making sauerkraut, with photos, tomorrow.

After the big cabbage session, we'll go to our local garden centre to get some fine netting for our peach and nectarine trees. It's fruit fly season here, so the netting and Eco-Naturalure bait will help us deal with this horrible pest.

This afternoon, H and I will be in the garden. We have things to plant and the garden needs a good clean up after all that rain. We ended up with 423mm (16.5 inches) H took a reading that he didn't tell me about, so it was more what I originally thought.

In addition to the above, I'm baking bread and an apple spice cake and ironing. I hope you all enjoy your weekend. Thank you for stopping by. Take a minute to make a comment, even if you've never done so before. : )


25 August 2007

The true cost of food - more added

A few years ago, when I started thinking about the true cost of food, I started to buy as much as I could in, and from, my own local area. It's very productive land here. We have local milk and cheese producers, lots of organic vegetable growers, honey men, organic beef and lamb growers and plenty of tropical and subtropical fruit. Some of my friends think it's strange that even though I live a frugal life, we spend more than we need to for milk and cheese. Often the local fruit and vegetables are cheaper than the non-local supermarket produce, but I don't mind paying more for local foods. It helps build my community.

When you think about it, a $2 lettuce doesn't really cost $2. It costs a lot more than that. If you calculate in the environmental cost of the transport that brings food hundreds or thousands of kilometres, add to that the damage done by pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers and top that off with eroded soils, the excess water used to grow that lettuce and the nutrient runoff into waterways, and you start to get an understanding of the true cost of that lettuce, and food in general. It's not just the item, it's the system of production and transport that needs to be calculated in.

When you go shopping, take a basket or cloth tote bags with you so you're not relying on plastic bags to bring your food home . Make some small net bags for bagging up smaller items like tomatoes, potatoes, apples and carrots so, again, you don't have to rely on plastic. Don't buy things that have a lot of packaging, and make sure the packaging you do buy, is suitable for recycling.

The best solution to this, if it's possible, is to grow as much of your own fresh food as possible. You can also keep your own chickens for eggs. Not only is this a lovely and simple thing to do, but you'll be rewarded with the best and healthiest eggs possible. If you can't grow some of your own food, then buy local, and ask your supplier where the produce comes from. Let them know you want to buy local food. Buy as little as possible from the supermarket, you'll get cheaper and fresher fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat from the green grocer and butcher. Often buying from the smaller local stores is cheaper, but if does cost a bit more, it's the true cost.

Further reading about shopping locally:
General tips
United States
San Francisco
UK and here

Graphic from allposters.com

And in addition, after Elizabeth's comment, here are the net bags I use. Just cut out some large and small bags of the size you think you'll use. My large bags are 30cm x 15 cm and the small bags about half that size. Double stitch the seams and openings so they don't rip apart when you're using them repeatedly. You can put a drawstring through - I used crossgrain ribbon here but you can use anything - string, cord or rubber bands. Often they don't need closing. I place all my bags in my cane basket and they usually don't spill out.

Using net allows the storekeeper to see what's in the bag without opening it - they like that, but you can use any strong and lightweight fabric.

We're with Telstra

I'm running out of time for another post today so here is an update on the photo dilemma. We've signed up with Telstra on their Homeline Plus account. Local calls 17.5 cents, capped STD calls and line rental is $29.95, but H gets an $11 per month discount because he's on the old age pension. So we're getting it for $18.95 a month. We're keeping our broadband with optus and the mobile with Virgin. We also get a bonus cordless Telstra phone.

I found a really good deal for Virgin wireless broadband + home phone for $60 and you can get rid of your landline. But when I checked to see if we had coverage, we didn't. : ( They say it will come within the year, so I'll change then. Check these links out:


Magazine article about virgin broadband.

Dishcloth swap

The following first list partners have received their swaps.
Robin and Maggie
Carla and RhondaJean
Polly and Jewels
Kirsty and Elizabeth
Briget and Rhonda (kimmysmum)
Michelle and Jenny
Susan and Lenny
Kim and Dot
Busywoman and Chris

Sue is waiting for Deborah's parcel to arrive, everyone else has now received their swap.

What a milestone!

Unbelievable! There have been over 20,000 visitors here since I started blogging in mid May. The counter now sits on 20,140. That's incredible.

I want to thank you all for supporting my blog. I do try to share as much as I can because I believe it is my duty, as an older woman, to pass on what I know. That always happened in days gone by. It's one of the many things we've forgotten about.

I believe this blog has been successful because people want to know things that aren't common now. They also look for inspiration and the knowledge that kindred spirits share their values.

This blog is a joint effort. It is the collective wisdom of many people. You only have to read the comments to know that there is a lot of sharing going on here, sharing that is encouraged and celebrated.

So thank you everyone. Thank you for coming, thank you for reading and thank you for being a part of what is happening here. If I could, I would happily go around and hug each one of
you. Here's to the next 20,000 visits.

(I will be back soon with another post.)

24 August 2007

Warm hands

I've just spent a delightful 15 minutes washing up. My dishwasher, that I usually use every second day, is out of service as the hose came off the other night and flooded the kitchen. By the time I knew what had happened, H had already cleaned it all up. We phoned our insurance company and they sent around two "Disaster Recovery" experts. LOL They've left two air blowers for us to run over the weekend to dry out own floating timber floor and cupboards. Although H reckons we'll end up having to replace part of the floor and the kickboards on the cupboards. It's a big job.

In the meantime, I'm doing all washing up by hand. Polly, and a few of the other girls, know I love washing up. It slows me right down and focuses me in time and place. It has been pouring rain for the past three days - we had 35mm, then 45mm, then 67mm, this morning the rain gauge overflowed at 100mm and is already up to 50mm again. And it's cold. So I had a very comfortable and tender feeling standing there at my sink, up to my wrists in warm soapy water, looking out the window to a flooded backyard. The greyness of the rainy day made the lemons on our backyard tree stand out like golden candles on a dark and stormy night. But it's warm in here and I'm bundled up with a thick woollen jumper, long skirt and my lambswool slippers. I might look a bit strange, but I feel cosy.

I've washed a quilt and it is drying slowly on the back verandah. Hettie, our cat, is curled up in a padded basket, sound asleep. The dogs are asleep on their inside beds. But outside, it's flooding. Here is the creek in our back yard. It's gone from a trickle to this.

H found this little bird dead on our verandah. : (

All our spare containers are full of rain water and our two tanks are overflowing. I think we could have filled them both four times over, but it's nice to hear and see the rain after such a long and difficult drought. We just heard on the local news that people are being evacuated over at Noosa and the local dam is overflowing.

This is what I can see when I look out my kitchen window. The pigeon peas are bent almost to the ground and I'd be surprised if they survive this drenching. But here inside it's comfy, H is making coffee and I'm looking forward to washing up again after tea with my hands in the warm soapy water again.


Electricity audit

From next Monday I'll be auditing my own electricity meter to see what my usage is. I do this a few times during the year and it gives me a good idea what uses a lot of power and how I can cut back on the electricity I use.

I'd like everyone to do this along with me. Are you able to access your electricity meter to read it every day?

Phone bills

Let me say first that I do NOT like paying too much for anything I use. When it comes to bank fees and phone costs, that feeling is doubled.

Our Optus bill arrived yesterday. This is never a problem as the way we've set up our budget, we always have enough money in the bank to pay each bill as they arrive. I gave up just paying the bill without reading it a long time ago, but when I read through this bill, our line rental charges had been increased. Line rental used to cost us $34.54, now it is $50. and just for good measure: " from 1 October 2007, bill payments made with a credit, debit or charge card will incur a payment processing fee of 1% for residential and small and medium business customers." grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I started doing some research.

Just a few details, this optus bill of $106.74 was broken down like this:
Line rental 26 July - 18 Aug - $38.71
Line rental 19 Aug - 18 Sept - $50.00
Which came to: $88.71

National calls x 5 = $3.44
Calls to mobiles x 7 = $4.89
Local calls x 17 = $3.06
Calls to 1300 x 2 = 50 cents

Less discount = $3.56

Plus GST = $9.70

TOTAL $106.74

So for $11.89 in call costs, we had a bill for $106.74, in which the $34 line rental cost had been increased by roughly one third. One one of the charges was retrospective! This was the line rental increase which started on July 26, without our knowledge.

We are also paying Optus $39.95 for 12 GB of broadband usage. We have a Virgin mobile for which we are charged around $5 a month, but our last invoice was for 50 cents. LOL ! We have an account where we only pay for what we use. As you can see, we don't use our phones much anymore. When we started to simplify we cut it right back and use either Skype or emails instead. We thought of getting a VOIP phone but 10 minutes on that uses up approximately 1 Mb and the quality isn't always good, so we decided against it.

First up I phoned Optus to complain about the rising costs, the retrospective payment and told them we were thinking of leaving them and could we renegotiate a new deal. NO, they couldn't.

I looked into a few options but we've decided to go with Telstra. This is their deal:

Home phone - we'll probably go with their Homeline completed service which costs $26.95 a month, local calls are 20 cents each and STD calls are capped at $2 from 7pm - 12mn. We also get $25 worth of free calls to our own mobile. There is a bonus of a text message enabled cordless twin phone if we stay for 12 months on this plan. The phones comes when you sign up, if you leave before the 12 months, you have to repay the price of the phone - $150.

I'm not sure yet what we'll do with the broadband and mobile. If Telstra can offer a good enough deal, we'll transfer them over too.

I'd be interested to know from the Australian readers if you know of any good deals going and what the service is like on your own service. I have until 9 September to decide what to do and change over.

23 August 2007

Staying motivated

This is my stash of dishcloths that I usually have on my kitchen window sill. The one in use now, next to the container, and the two on top right are the cloths Carla sent me.

When I first started on this path towards a more simple life it was difficult to stay as motivated as I wanted, and needed, to be. There came a point though, when my own life provided the motivation because I could see the results of what I was doing. Somehow it all fell into place and instead of just undertaking new simple living projects, one thing lead to another and a genuine lifestyle was born. I’m not troubled by lack of motivation now but I do know that motivation is one of the most difficult things to maintain, not just in living this way but in many things.

So just how do you stay motivated?

I think the key to motivation is to find someone or something – like a book or a movie or a blog ; ), that inspires you. Seeing someone doing what you want to do, or reading about it, generally ignites a spark that keeps a flame burning for a while. If you keep that inspiration going your flame will burn longer each time. So find someone close to you that you can talk to about your lifestyle changes, if you have no one close, email me, I’ll talk to you about your changes. But keep at it, don’t give up if things get tough or you feel like it’s taking too long to achieve your dreams. Never, ever give up.

It’s also a good strategy to keep in mind why you want to change. What will you get out of it? How will it make your life better? Imagine yourself how you want to be in your simple life and keep that image in your mind, and answer those two questions for yourself. Having end results squarely in view will help keep you on track.

I want every person who comes here to read this blog to go away motivated and inspired enough to make the changes necessary to live a deliberate life. I want you to feel energised enough to believe you can do whatever you want to do. I want the collective experience here to seep into your brain so that it informs what you do and what you dream for yourself. Simple livings isn’t just about changing ourselves and making adjustments to our own lives, it’s also about helping our neighbours, and I hope I can do that from a distance.

Dishcloth swap

I received my swap parcel from Carla when I returned from our trip. In it were three beautiful cloths - one the same colour as our new yellow walls, some cloth patterns and a lovely homemade card with photos! The card was hand written, another bonus. I love hand writing and appreciate it when others take the time to hand write something they send me. Thank you Carla.

I used the first of the cloths last night and I have to say it's superior to the cloths I make. The cotton you used Carla, seems to be more absorbent than what we have here. You said in your email that you're a loose knitter. I like that, I think it makes a better cloth. My knitting is quite tight and I'm going to loosen it up a lot for my next cloth. I always seem to have one on the go lately. Carla, can you let me (and everyone else) know what brand of yarn you use? I'll look out for some on ebay.

The deadline for sending the cloths was last Friday so I hope they were all sent. If anyone hasn't been able to get theirs in the post yet, just drop me an email at rhondahetzel @ gmail . com <- take out the spaces. I should mention too that I'm in the process of changing my email from yahoo to gmail, so please send to gmail from now on. Thank you. : )

If you've received your cloth parcel, please let us all know by commenting. It might be a nice idea to photograph our cloths too. If you have a photo of what you received, please send it to me and when I have all the photos I'll put them all in a post for everyone to see.

I'll be back later with another post. : )

22 August 2007

Where have all the kind people gone?

This is a rant that I need to get off my chest. It not specifically to do with simple living, although I do think it's part of it. You could easily not read what is coming, if you're feeling a bit fragile, please close this window now and return tomorrow. I'll be back to normal by then as I'll feel like I've been heard. LOL

I believe one of the most important things I was taught, and in turn taught my own children, was good manners. It's made my life easier as I'm sure you are accepted by others when you respect them and their property and show courtesy and graciousness when you're with other people. Things have changed. I know this but I've failed to comment on it before - neither here nor in my own life.

When we were away, I noticed that people aren't as polite as they should be, and the lack of courtesy and good manners shone out like a beacon. On two occasions, H was the only person to help a very old lady with a walking stick to get down from the train onto the platform, and again help a man with a wheelchair who was walking on the stumps of two amputated legs. Both these people were standing on the other side of a queue to get off the train and the queue we were in just all filed on out - not one of them stopped and let these people go ahead, let alone offer any form of assistance. H stepped up, stopped the queue and brought the lady forward, took her walking stick and gave it to me as the lady asked for H to go before her and help her down with both hands. Naturally he complied with her wishes. The man with the wheelchair was in a similar situation - he was waiting for the queue on the other side to stop, so he could manoeuvre his wheel chair onto the platform and alight. H stopped the queue again and asked what help this man wanted. He asked H to put the wheelchair on the platform and he could do the rest.

What really made me angry was that not one person in the queue filing off the train thought to help - they all filed past without thinking they might need to offer help. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE! Where are the manners we were all taught? What happened to helping the old and frail? We do not have to be living simply to know that we must help others all through our lives but it seems that unless we've slowed down enough to notice, these people will be left, abandoned by the very people who should help them.

It's not good enough to say they didn't notice. I don't believe it. On my blog here there is a stitchery sampler I stitched a few years ago. I think a couple of the sayings on it should be tattooed to the foreheads of everyone on that train. GIVE MORE, EXPECT LESS, SHOW RESPECT. There are a lot of people saying that there is a lack of respect shown by children nowadays but how can children show respect when it isn't modeled for them by their parents. Children learn what they see - respect, generosity, kindness and willingness to help need to be part of our lives. Sadly it looks like these qualities are a thing of the past for many modern Australians.

We will soon return to our regularly scheduled program.

Get the most out of each day

It is is helpful to think about your week before it happens. I noticed that Jenny likes to organise herself on Monday mornings so that after she thinks about her week, she's ready for what is ahead. I organise myself on Tuesday afternoons because I work on Monday and Tuesday so by Tuesday afternoon I have a pretty good idea what needs doing in the coming five days. At work, I have a book and write everything I need to know in it. I put the date at the top of the page and all my important things are written there. In this book I also have personal page, so that while I'm at work and also when I'm at home, if I think of anything that needs to be done the following week, it's written on this page to be dealt with when I organise myself on Tuesday afternoons. Then, about an hour before I finish work, I write a report in our work book about what happened and what needs to happen later in the week. After that report, I write up my own list for the coming week from what I've written on my personal page. As I drive home I think about that list and how I'll spend the coming five days. It doesn't take much time but it helps prepare me for what's ahead.

I think having a list makes it a bit easier and it often stops doubling up on things as you can plan your trips out to include everything you need, instead of making several trips for just one thing. If you work outside the home most days then this sort of organisation would be even more important.

Once you have yourself organised with your list you'll have an idea of what you'll be doing each day. I get the most out of my days if I do my heavy chores in the morning when I'm fresh, and that leaves the afternoons for writing, sewing, gardening or relaxing. Don't be afraid to organise yourself however it suits you, even though others might think it's a bit odd. Simple living is all about customising your own life to suit you so that along with getting your work done, you also find as much pleasure and enjoyment as you can in your day. I'm currently changing our meal times so that we eat our main meal at lunchtime and have a sandwich or light snack in the evening. I don't care that this is uncommon in Australia, this suits us at this stage of our lives, so that's what we're doing.

Thinking about how you live, getting the best from yourself, organising each day, finding pleasure in the ordinary things you do, being open to whatever your day brings, is all part of living simply. It is being mindful of how you spend your hours so they are truly lived and not lost through multitasking, boredom or being too busy to be aware of what you're doing. Try to make a conscious effort to slow down, even when you're at work. When you can, take time for yourself, even if that's just making a good cup of coffee, or sitting outside to enjoy the fresh air. Those breaks allow you recover a bit and help you remain focused for what's ahead. Do whatever you do to the best of your ability so that at the end of each day instead of being thankful you got through it, you feel pleased with what you achieved.

Now I have a challenge for you.
I challenge you to organise your day tomorrow, no matter what you are doing, to be as productive and pleasurable as you can make it. I wish you the best and hope you enjoy your day. If you have time, let me know what you did. You can either leave a comment or send and email to rhondahetzel @ gmail . com - take out the spaces in that address.

This is my plan for today.
  • We have storm force winds and rain forecast today so I'm going to reorganise my undercover clothes line. It's a bit too high for me at the moment, so I'll ask H to help me lower it. I want to make it a permanent feature on the back verandah where I have plenty of room to hang clothes when it's raining, so I never have to use the dryer. I'm going to tidy up out there as I go and make the area as work friendly and inviting as I can.
  • Make bread and a cake.
  • Do several loads of washing. I might do two today and two tomorrow.
  • Rearrange my pot plants and move some to my washing line area.
  • Wash up and tidy the kitchen - pick some flowers for my window sill.
  • After lunch, I'll be writing.

21 August 2007

The grass looks greener

It's so good to be back home again and now that I've slept, I'm feeling refreshed and motivated. Although I took my iPod, knitting and a book, those long hours on the train afforded me time to reflect on my life and how we live. I have come home with the certainty that living as we do has real meaning and is important, not just for H and I, but also for our sons, our friends and the people we know. I want to continue to simplify as much as we can, to grow our own food and to show as many people as we can that this lifestyle is worthwhile and meaningful.

I'm going to rearrange my routines in the house so that I can still do what I need to do here, but also have ample time for the blog, the website and my ebook. I hope that via these media I'll be able to reach enough people with relevant information for them to change their lives too. I'll continue to offer community education and help at the neighbourhood centre I volunteer at, and hope that I might help influence people there to stop spending and start simplifying. I feel like the first stone that's been thrown in the pond and I want the circles of influence and restraint to stretch as far as possible.

A simple life is one that is worth living and it's worth the sacrifices made in the living of it. When I looked at H and I out there in the great unknown, we happily took it all in without the need to spend cash or to flex our credit card muscles. We looked around without the need to buy, we remained true to our simple values and we enjoyed each day as it came. We found happiness and fulfillment away from the commercial world and we came home, both of us, feeling we've got the full measure of our time away.

And now that we're back, the grass looks greener, the air seems sweeter and the garden feels more fertile than before. We are where we are meant to be. Let's all move forward together towards a simple life. Let's help each other however we can, let's motivate and facilitate and walk this path less travelled to share the abundance of the future together.

20 August 2007

Coming home

This is H (on the left) on the Mackay railway station where we stopped for 30 minutes on the way through.

The view from my window at Bowen, where I was thinking of Deborah and enjoying the wonderful variety of mangoes, tomatoes and small crops.

It was good to get out, really. I loved the train which mostly whooshed us past backyards and little towns, but also left us in the night sitting like ducks in a line ready to be picked off by any unseen fool with a grudge and a rifle. We slept fairly well on the train when you consider we were locked in a compartment with 38 other people we didn't know and the only thing we had in common was that we all bought a ticket to ride. My feet were swollen from sitting too long on the trip back. HAHA! I sound like a demented paranoid who thinks only the worst possible thing will happen. We did enjoy ourselves.

We had a lovely time with Kathleen. I loved seeing her really happy and proudly showing us her home. I loved that although K's home is new and modern, it's slap bang in the middle of a really old suburb and her next door neighbours have lived there for over 50 years. The old man neighbour sits for long periods stripping copper wire to sell, and we could hear the trains rolling by just like you can here. There are old trees there and a brilliant 50 year old Bowen mango tree in full blossom right in K's backyard. Even in all that newness, Kathleen's home sits comfortably alongside the old homes in an old suburb.

We went out a couple of times to eat, so we saw people who answer their mobile phones and use credit cards, unlike me. There were lots of tourists wandering around in the warm tropical weather with bare arms and wispy dresses and when we sat at the restaurant pictured in my previous post, we loved seeing a fat smiling baby draped in a bright red pashmina that flew out in the breeze like a happiness beacon. That baby will be remembered for a long time, not only for her jolly smile and silly giggle but also for the brightness of her shawl that seemed so unusual, yet perfect.

I had morning tea with a really special friend - Susan. Susan and I used to be neighbours in a tiny isolated town; she also used to work for me when I was editing our town paper. Over the years, and over too many glasses of wine and cups of good coffee, we've mined the depths of a profound friendship and discovered by doing that just what is was we really wanted from our own lives. Friends are the best sounding boards. About 15 years ago, Susan was the first person I discussed simple living with, and although neither of us knew it by that name then, I know those feeble first sentences ended with me being where I am now. We both talked about that too, about me saying way back then, how you could change the way you felt about taking a shower. That, my friends, was my first simple living discussion - ever. So I was very happy to see her and to know that although we live a vast distance apart, our friendship remains strong and significant. It was a pleasure to sit with her once again, overlooking her rainforest garden, drinking tea and having a truly meaningful conversation.

So now we are home and I feel right again. When I'm out there with all of you I feel a bit out of place and strange. Coming home feels right and I'm where I should be. I've cuddled the dogs, I've eaten a dozen snow peas straight from the bush and fed the chooks. I looked at the washing, but didn't do any, I've wandered around the garden and had a little sleep - IN MY OWN BED. Boy, does that feel good. I doubt you have to go away to appreciate what you have but it always accentuates the importance of my home to me. Going away was a wonderful thing and we enjoyed our friends and the travelling, but coming back home is the real joy. And to have all of you waiting for us, and all those emails, well, I am one lucky woman.
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