31 May 2008

Swap News

Everyone has the greatest suggestions for our next swap. I am putting them in a list-we have so many great ideas it will take many swaps to do them all! I am in the process of uploading the photos I have received this week to our flickr photostream and I hope to get the tea cosies uploaded this weekend-I am still receiving those photos. If you don't see your photo up, please re-send it to me in jpeg format so I can get it in its proper place. The creativity of all the ladies just astounds me. Tomorrow I will announce the winner(s)of the swap tote contest that Rhonda put me in charge of. Rhonda will be in charge of the prizes! Until tomorrow, Sharon

30 May 2008

Vegetarian baked dinner

With the rain and cold weather yesterday I started thinking of a good old fashioned baked dinner. My fellow Australians would know this as a meal that featured either roast lamb, chicken or beef which an assortment of vegetables and gravy. My vegetarian version of a baked dinner is pictured here. This is what we ate last night.

I often get requests to write posts about frugal vegetarian meals so I thought this might be a good time to do one. Let me say first that I don't consider myself to be vegetarian. I take emu oil capsules every day that require the death of the bird to produce, I wear leather shoes and sit on a leather sofa. I have disqualified myself from using the vegetarian term, but having said that, I don't eat meat.

My version of a baked dinner cost about two dollars for two portions. The meal is made up of potato, pumpkin, and onion - all peeled and baked in the oven with a little olive oil; steamed silverbeet and a portion of cauliflower bake.

A cauliflower bake is simply cauliflower washed and cut into flower heads and placed in a dish - microwave on high to half cook the cauliflower. Drain the water from it. Make a cheese sauce from scratch, pour that over the cauliflower and bake in the oven at the same time you're baking the vegetables.

Place a tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of cornflour or plain (all purpose) flour and mix together. When the butter is melted and the flour combined, add about a cup of milk and mix. Make sure your heat is low now as you don't want it to come together too fast - that will create lumps. Add a cup of shredded cheese and mix in. Add salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of nutmeg. Keep stirring until the sauce is thickened and smooth.

I bought this cauliflower for $2 at my local market. The cheese sauce would cost about $1 to make. There is enough in this to last Hanno and I for three meals. Tonight it will be reheated to have with mashed potato with onion and parsley, carrots, cabbage and button squash. Tomorrow night I'll mash the last of it up to make bubble and squeak.

I always aim to make five different vegetables per evening meal. My version of the baked dinner gives you the baked vegetables that are crispy and caramelised, the protein part of the meal is the cheese sauce on the cauliflower. We followed this with simple fruit salad from the back yard of fresh oranges, bananas and passionfruit all cut up and combined. Oh, and we each had a bottle of Corona beer left over from my birthday party. ;- )

And just for good measure here is the bread baked yesterday. It's a corn and barley loaf with poppyseeds, made in a cake tin. I had mine hot with butter and vegemite and a cup of tea.


29 May 2008

Rain and relaxation

It's been a busy week. I've worked every day since Sunday, and have today off but there is a training day tomorrow. After Friday everything will settle down again. Thank goodness. I'm tired.

I slept really well last night with rain falling on the roof and filling the tanks. Today I'll get reacquainted with the chooks and check out the garden. I have silverbeet to freeze, rosella jam to make and a basket full of button squash sitting on the table waiting for me. I'm not sure yet what I'll do with it. There are a couple of loads of laundry to do that will have to hang under shelter because today, and the next few days, we have rain.

As well as all the catch up work here at home, I'm working on a project that I can't tell you about yet, but will soon. I hope to get to that later in the morning after my chores are done and I have time to sit and think.

Overall though, today will be a day when I can regain my strength here at home, get things in order and regroup. This is the only place I can truly relax and recover so I will squeeze every bit of life from this day at home to be ready for what follows with all the joys and challenges that might pose.

I haven't had the time to answer emails for a while so there are quite a few of you waiting. I'll try to square them all away on the weekend. Thank you for being patient and for making contact. I thank you all for your wonderful comments over the past week. I've had the best time reading them, smiling, agreeing and learning about what you're all doing out there. It is very heartwarming to read your stories and I'm thankful for the time you take to be a part of my blog community.

28 May 2008

Stop listening and grow up

I have often thought that modern society has divided into two camps – adults and children. This might seem quite obvious to you but I don’t mean it the way it sounds. I mean that governments, corporations, media and the advertising industry are the adults and all of us are children. They tell us, we listen. We are expected to be dependent and compliant, we are told constantly that we will be made happy with ‘stuff’, that part of modern life is to carry a large amount of debt and if we work hard, we’ll be able to pay off our life as we live it and retire at 65 to enjoy what we have. We have these messages coming at us every day about what’s right for us and how we should live, and we are encouraged to be dependent and work in the system so that big business remains healthy, the country prospers and we skill ourselves in how to earn a living rather than how to make a life.

Now let me be the first to say that I love being an Australian with all the advantages that offers. I’m grateful that our country has a sound financial base, a thriving business community and a compassionate welfare system. I don’t want that to change. I want us to. I want us to stop believing the messages that one size fits all, and to see for ourselves the value of stepping outside what is considered normal. I want us to grow up.

We need to stop listening to outside advice about what makes us happy and fulfilled and find out for ourselves. For me happiness was found in being at home and working everyday to give my family and myself a quieter, safer, healthier and more independent life. I grew up the day I discovered that work at home is satisfying and significant. That is when I stopped believing that more money and more possessions would make me happy. As I worked more in my home, I realised that for me, happiness was found in being independent of the shops, being able to make do from scratch and in leading my life away from buying convenience.

That is what worked for me. I want you to find your own happiness. I can’t tell you what will make you happy, only you know that. I can tell you that happiness isn’t one thing. It’s a whole lot of tiny fragments that you find every day that add up to a deep feeling of contentment and knowing you’re doing the right thing. And I know that you won’t find true and enduring happiness in any shopping mall, I can only encourage you to look in places unexpected, and to show you through my blog that it is easy to live well outside the modern perception of what makes a good life.

I’m not telling you to give up your job if you work outside the home, I’m not telling you to live as we do. I am saying that whatever you do, fashion it to suit yourself so that it gives you a life worth living. If you are working hard at an outside job make sure you give yourself time to enjoy what you’re working for. If you’re working at home, be mindful of happiness and what’s around you, not just getting the job done.

Many people are stressed in their day-to-day lives and worried about their future. I think that is sometimes because they don’t feel in control of their own lives. Prices are rising, the climate is changing and often it all seems too much. But don't let that stop you, don't be scared into standing still, because that is the very time you need to do something. If you can gain independence by changing in some way, do it. I felt a growing independence when I started learning how to look after myself and I realised I did not need to shop to provide all I needed to live. When I knew that I could step away from what I was expected to do and instead do what I wanted, I started to build my own unique life. I moved away from the life prescribed for me by outsiders, I took my life by the throat and gave it a good shaking. In a sense, I grew up. I stopped listening to what I was being told, I identified how I wanted to live and then worked towards it, and that, my friends, has made all the difference.

27 May 2008

Home production of simple needs

It's easy to get caught up in posts about producing food when we're trying to live a frugal and sustainable life but the truth of it is that there are other things we can be doing in our own homes that will help us move towards a simple life. Food and groceries are the easy ones because they are products we use everyday but other things can help up live well and remain green, and be doing it quietly in the background.

Above is a photo of part of our roof. Further down, unseen in this photo, is an unused satellite dish that we used to use for our pay TV, but what I have photographed is far more exciting than that - in this photo are our solar hot water unit, some skylights and a whirlybird. Australia has been making solar hot water systems for at least 30 years that I can remember. We have had solar hot water for 25 of those years. It's fairly cheap to install and free to run. Ours can be plugged into an electrical socket in case of a few days of cloudy weather, we rarely use that. When we know bad weather is coming, Hanno and I are very conservative with our water usage until the sun shines again. That way we have enough water for showering and we don't have to rely on electrical or gas to heat it. I think we've plugged into the grid with our system maybe twice since this unit was installed, which was about five or six years ago. This unit and our previous ones have all been Solarharts and we have never had a problem with any of them.

There are two skylights in the photo but we have three installed, they are in the kitchen, the spare bathroom and laundry room. We installed them because we needed more light in the house and I didn't want to have lights on all the time. Shortly after we came to live in our home we built verandahs front and back. We needed sheltered areas for drying clothes, storing bits and pieces and an area for the dogs to sit out of the sun and rain. But our main reason for adding the verandahs was to create cool air around the house. In the style of the old colonial houses, we wanted to create cross ventilation of cool air through our home and for this reason, our house is comfortable in all but the hottest summer weather. The air is cooled just outside the windows and doors, and by opening the windows and doors the cool air flows in one side of the house and out the other. There is more information about passive design here.

There is a price that is paid for that cooled air, the rooms are darker because of the verandahs. No sunlight reaches the windows and while that is fine, it makes the rooms inside darker. Enter the skylights. They give us good natural light every day and have paid for themselves over the 11 years they've been providing that light.

Whirlybirds are a great idea in any hot climate. We have two and they've made a big difference to the heat retained in the house during summer. True, there are days when nothing like this helps, but there are many days when it's hot outside but okay inside because the hot air is constantly escaping from the roof.

I've blogged about our rain collection tanks before. We have two tanks that hold a total of 15000 litres and that is the water we use to keep our vegetable garden going. The tanks silently collect rain water, with no help from us, and that water is stored until it's needed on the garden. If you can harvest some of your rain water it will be a great help in maintaining a sustainable vegetable garden.

So that is some of the hardware we're using here but how could I leave a post about home production of simple needs without mentioning sewing and knitting. The ability to sew and knit will help you keep your family clothed. Mending will help you look after the clothes you have and will keep them wearable for a much longer period. I think of the days I used to throw away clothes that needed mending as the 'dark ages'. That was when I had more money than sense and before I realised that by teaching myself a few simple skills I would be a much better custodian of my belongings, and in doing that would cut down dramatically on what I need to buy.

Simple living isn't all about cooking from scratch and stockpiling, it's a holistic approach to life that relies as much on your silent partners working away in the background, and your ability to reskill, to look after what you have and to produce as much as you can at home. Sometimes there is a price to pay to have the hardware installed, but often our lives are made easier and greener by just learning how to do something we couldn't do before.

I would be really interested in hearing about what you have at your home that helps you live simply. Do you have water tanks, knitting needles, a sewing machine, solar panels or a solar oven? How have you reksilled yourself? What do you know now that you didn't know last year? If I walked down your street today, what would make me know that yours was that one house where people were getting back to basics and living a simple life?

26 May 2008

Saving money with a stockpile

According to our local news, grocery prices will continue to rise along with the fuel price in the coming months. Almost everything we consume is reliant on oil – either when it is made or when it is delivered, or both. With this in mind, Hanno and I decided to do two month's shopping instead of the normal one month when we went to Aldi last week. Our trip to Aldi takes us about 30 kms from our home so we squeezed every drop of value from the fuel we used by also buying bulk supplies of baker’s flour, nuts, seeds, yeast, dried fruit, lentils and beans, as well as biscuits for the dogs and grain for the chooks.

Apart from
buying milk, cream and cheese from the local dairy – where it is cheaper, and maybe potatoes, we won’t have to restock for at least two months. We will live off our stockpile, our garden and fresh eggs from the backyard. The stockpile is full now and we will be saving money, time and fuel because of it.

I have
written about setting up a stockpile here and here. If you're new to this concept, please read the previous entries before you carry on with this post.

Our shopping trip took about five hours and the last thing I wanted to do when we got home was to pack everything away. I was tired and all I wanted was a cuppa and a sit down but I soldiered on and before we knew it the stockpile cupboard was full, the fridge packed and the freezer filled to the top.

I have several places to store food and supplies – items that are currently being used go in the pantry, which is in the kitchen; extra (unopened) food items are stored in the stockpile cupboard at the side of the kitchen; cleaning goods and soap-making supplies are stored in the laundry; toilet paper and tissues in the spare bathroom.

We have a chest freezer to store all our flour
and dried goods like nuts, seeds, beans etc. We usually don’t eat meat but we have a stockpile of minced beef for the homemade dog food in the small freezer, when we buy fresh fish that is also stored in the small freezer on top of our fridge. There are a couple of large bags of bread flour and oats that were being stored in the freezer, we replaced them with the new supplies and the older bags are now being stored in the spare bathroom and will be used next.

The main thing to remember when you’re restocking is to rotate your stock. This is a simple matter of moving what is already there to the front and placing the newly bought goods behind. I make sure all my items are grouped with similar items so when I go looking for baked beans they’re all together, just like the canned tomatoes and the honey. However, having written that, I have not done it. I've rotated the stock but everything now needs to be grouped and I haven't had time to do it yet.

It’s a good idea to check your cupboards before restocking. If they need a clean out, do it before your new supplies arrive. Check for dust, pantry moths and bugs. If you're going to store food at home, your storage areas must be kept as clean as possible.

If you’re driving to the shops a few times a week to buy a few items, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re using more fuel than you need to. Now is a good time to rethink how you buy your food. If you would love to have a little shop close by, where you could find all those things you forgot to buy and where items are always on sale, create that store for yourself in your own home. Because, my friends, that is what a stockpile is - it's your own open-all-hours convenience store offering the best prices.

Now that we see
prices rising so frequently, don't just accept it as a sign of the times, do something positive. Start a stockpile, or stock up your stockpile as much as you can, because as sure as eggs, the more you can buy right now at a good price and store at home, the more money you'll save.

25 May 2008

Swap News Part Deux

Today I want to talk about some minor changes we are making to the swaps. We have decided that we want the swaps to better reflect our simple lives. We want each swap to use a skill that we now need and can enjoy learning or practising, such as sewing, knitting, stitchery and quilting, for example. We want to emphasize the reuse, re-purposing, and the recycling of items we have in our homes, as we did with the shopping tote swap. We also know all of us are being hit hard with the rise in prices for the basics that we all use and need, such as food and petrol (gasoline). We think that swapping 4 times a year-every 3 months- will allow us to have more time in the crafting of the swap and also allow us to use the cheapest means of shipping possible. We are going to try to match swap buddies within their own countries when possible, unless the swapper specifically asks to swap overseas or is the only swapper in that country. This will help us keep costs down, while still creating and "growing" a community or, rather, a large family. I would also ask everyone to take a photo of their project since there have been some broken cameras and other problems this time so that we will always have a photo available. I want everyone to feel free to "put their two cents" in with ideas for swaps-we have gotten so many great ones so far! We are thinking about our next swap already, so please leave a comment with an idea and I will add to the list!

24 May 2008

Swap News

The link to our photostream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/down-to-earth_swap_photos/ from Annet to Julie (above) and from Glenda to Nancy (below)
Hello ladies. I hope everyone is having or preparing for a relaxing week-end. Here in the US, we are celebrating Memorial Day, a time we remember our fallen soldiers and the start of the summer holiday season. I would like to wish everyone here in the US a safe holiday. The Seed Swap is going quite well, and I hope everyone will receive their seeds in the next week (Mindy-yours will be posted Tuesday). The Shopping Tote Swap is finishing up, but I am missing quite a few photos to post on our flickr photostream . If you have received your tote and have not sent me a photo, please try to get one off to my e-mail as soon as you can so I can post it with the others (my e-mail is: cdetroyes at yahoo dot com). There are a couple of you who have sent me photos that I could not upload to flickr. If you notice that your photo is not there and you have sent it to me, please re-send it in jpeg format. I also would like to know if everyone has received their parcel, as I know of several problems, some with lost parcels in the mail and some with buddies who have sent their parcels late. If you have not received yours, please e-mail me and let me know your swap buddy's name. I will try to sort out all the problems in the next week. The Shopping Tote Swap was a large swap, and usually with that many swappers we have a few glitches that I need to fix. The photos are two of the last tote photos that I have received. Tomorrow I will talk about some changes we will be making to the next swap, to better fit into our simple lives.

23 May 2008

Strong communities, sharing knowledge

There is always something to do in the garden at the moment. I love the photo above, it is of Hanno planting tomatoes with the chooks watching him. (Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.) So the new tomatoes are in, most of the potatoes have come up and seem to be growing well, and the silverbeet seeds, planted directly in the garden, have sprouted.

Hanno used some old pavers to make an area in the garden for me to put my herb pots and a bird bath. We've always had the pots there but they were sitting on the ground and weeds were a big problem. This should make everything neater and easier to manage. You can see in the photo below that I've moved a few pots over, these are a curry plant and chillies, as well as the bird bath. I'll do the rest soon.

Things are looking good out there but like every garden, we have our problems. There are heliothis grubs in some tomatoes and powdery mildew has taken over the yellow button squash. This afternoon I'll harvest the squash on there and pull out the plants. Those plants won't be composted, the mildew would spread, I'll bin them.

Further over the silverbeet and cucumbers are growing like there is no tomorrow. We are packing as much as we can into our vegetable garden. With prices sky high and set to rise even more, we need to grow our own food to make sure we continue eating the freshest organic food possible. If we had to buy most of our vegetables, we wouldn't have this variety, and I doubt we could afford to buy all organic produce.

I wrote about pineapples yesterday and that brought about a lovely surprise. There was a phone call from a local lady, Sue, who reads my blog. She had some spare pineapples, her husband works on one of the farms, and she wanted to know if I wanted a few. She came over later in the morning with four lovely looking pines. Naturally I made one into a jug of pineapple crush later in the day, but these are left for more crush and some pineapple jam.

I met Sue a couple of months ago at a lunch for presenters of local budgeting courses. She helps run a back to basics group in my town and was invited along to the lunch to meet up and connect with us. I have invited her ladies to my Frugalistas morning tea that we will have at the Centre soon. I have started the Frugalistas because the last group in my budgeting course wanted the opportunity to meet on a regular basis to stay motivated and swap ideas and recipes. This is a good way for all of us to make the most of our collective knowledge and to pass what we know on to others.

Early on in my simple life I didn't understand the true significance of community. It's now clear to me that in these tough times, community is vital. We need to build strong communities, we need groups that have reskilled themselves for the coming changes and we need to support each other by sharing what we know and helping whomever we can. We will survive well with strong communities, without them, there will be problems.

I believe it is vitally important to learn whatever it is we need to know to keep our homes functioning well. We need to know the basics like how to garden, cook from scratch, preserve, make non-chemical cleaners, soap and bread, and whatever else is needed in our own homes. There are many ways to learn at home using books, blogs, the internet in general, or friendly neighbours. When we have our own homes in order, we should look to our communities to learn more, and to share what we know. It might be that you are the first person in your local area who knows this. If you are that person, or if you are one of many, I encourage you to step up to the task and lead rather than follow. If you have any local sustainability workshops, sign up and learn what you need to know. If you're already there and have skills others need, see what you can do to teach those in your community.

In my local community we have an important and informative weekend coming up:
Sunshine Coast World Environment Day Festival
Saturday May 31st 2008, 9am-4pm
University of the Sunshine Coast
Saturday 31 May 2008, 9am - 4pm
There is more information available here.

A few people asked about growing pineapples. The photo above was taken yesterday and is of the pineapple I'm currently growing in Hanno's kale patch. He's not amused. ;- ) I expect this pineapple to fruit this summer. There are some very good instructions for growing pineapples here. The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality so it makes a great summer drink to offer your guests. Good luck with your pine tops.

22 May 2008

Seed swap and pineapples

A wonderful parcel arrived a couple of days ago. It was from my swap partner Tracy. As well as sending some great seeds, she also sent a Down to Earth hessian tote bag (!!!) and an Organic magazine. The seeds are long black radish, evergreen bunching shallots, moon and stars watermelon, climbing princess beans, lemon cucumber, red iceberg lettuce, giant Russian sunflower and dragon carrots. I am going to have a lot of joy planting and growing those plants and I'll have thoughts of Tracy on her sheep stud while I go about it.

Thank you Tracy. :- )

Don't you just love the names of the old heirloom vegetables. The hybrids are named by scientists, and it shows. They have names like L9 smooth or Kandy Kwik. pffffffffffffft. I much prefer climbing princess beans, dragon carrots, pink Brandywines and Turks Turban pumpkin. You just know those names come from the people who grow food and who often name the vegetable because it looks like its name or for someone they know. Their is a rich heritage tied up with vegetable seeds. I hope we don't lose it.

I have another drink recipe for you today. It's a drink for summer or winter - in the summer it's very cooling, in the winter, because it's high in Vitamin C, it's a good drink for the flu season.

I live in an area that grows lots of pineapples and when it's pineapple season - now - I take advantage of it and buy a local pineapple every week; they cost between $1 and $2. Pineapple crush contains a lot of fibre and vitamin C and some vitamin A, iron and calcium.

You'll need a blender to make this drink.


Cut the skin off the pineapple and test a small piece of the fruit for sweetness. Cut the pineapple in quarters, length ways, and remove the core. Then cut the flesh into chunks.

I chose this particular pineapple because it had three growing tops. I've cut them into the three tops and when they dry out a little, I'll plant them. Pineapples usually fruit in their second year.

Place half the chunks into your blender, if the pineapple is not sweet enough, add sugar to your taste. Our pineapples are always sweet here so I never have to add sugar.

If you're going to drink it straight away and it's summer, add one cup of water and one cup of ice. Blend the pineapple until it's pouring consistency. Pour into a glass, add more iced water until it's right for you, top with a mint leaf and enjoy.

In winter, leave out the ice but blend with two cups of water. Again, add more water to it before you drink.

This is a delicious and healthy drink that will add a lot of fibre and vitamin C to your diet. It's a great drink for children because there are no preservatives or colourings and if you don't add sugar to it, contains only natural sugars. It would probably also make a good icey pole treat for the children mixed with a little yoghurt, and frozen.

I'm at home all day today. :- ) I'm going to catch up on my cleaning, tidy the sewing room, do some laundry and check out the garden
and the chooks. I'm also looking forward to reading the magazine Tracy sent while I sip tea on the front verandah. I hope you enjoy your day too.

21 May 2008

Filling the void

After a few days writing about budgeting and money I want to balance the scale today on what really spins my world. I want to tell you about those things that make my life a total joy. I used to live my life creating what I then thought was happiness buying new things at the shop every week. That is a very hollow kind of happiness, if indeed it is happiness at all. It fills you up instantly, but quickly deflates, leaving behind a bigger space than there was before. I think that's why I kept spending. I was hoping to fill the void within me.

That emptiness has gone now. The space has been filled with optimism for the future, contentment with the present, and acceptance of the past.

In no particular order, here are the things that I'm really loving and grateful for this week.

As I drove home from work yesterday I felt a feeling of quite satisfaction after a very busy morning alone at the Centre dealing with people who needed help and someone to listen to them and an afternoon of paper work and a meeting with our volunteers. We have a fine bunch of people there and we meet to connect with each other, to talk about problems they may have had during the month and to do a bit of training on various procedures. It was a great meeting, I am ever grateful for the help the volunteers give and proud to be a part of their group.

My sister Tricia gave me a scented orchid a few years ago that is flowering now for the first time. When I come home, or when I wake in the morning and come into the kitchen where it is sitting, I can smell a subtle fragrance like the finest French perfume.

My sewing room is waiting for me.

Pippa, that is your namesake drinking from the bowl.

All those chickens in the backyard are a total delight. They have settled in well and are growing their gorgeous feathers and quirky personalities each day. Their favourite things now are sunshine and warm porridge. Which, when you think about it, is not a bad combination.

I am grateful to Tracy who sent me a wonderful parcel as part of the seed exchange. I will take a photo and show it tomorrow. Thank you Tracy. I will send you an email as soon as I finish this post.

I love the cool late Autumn weather and staying warm with nice clothes, lilac gloves and a good husband.

We have fresh eggs.

I love the thought of tonight's dinner, whatever it might be, because tonight I will look forward to the next few days here where I will garden, knit, sew, sit and think.

Our shed is holding a large haystack. :- )

I feel
loved. I am blessed to have my immediate family and my two sisters Tricia and Kathleen.

I am grateful I have buttons, knitting needles, pure cotton and wool to knit with.

I'm pleased I discovered how to live well, and happy I can share those discoveries with you.

I am happy being green and frugal, and grateful I know why being so is vital and significant.

I suppose I could keep tapping away on this subject all morning but I will leave space for your input because I just know there are one or two thing you'd like to add about your world.

20 May 2008

Last words on the budget

Hopefully this will be the last post about money for a while. Our budget is an important part of our simple life. It gives us a spending plan and organises us so that we don't overspend in one area at the expense of another. If you haven't written down your expenses yet, it's a very good thing to do. It's a bit scary being confronted with your real expenses but if you're to live an authentic life you need to know exactly what you're spending. I won't lie, it's boring doing it, and it takes a fair bit of time, because you have to go through all your receipts and bills from the previous year so you have a realistic basis on which to build your budget. But in the end you have your money map and that is just as important to you as your garden tools, your sewing machine, your transport and your recipe books.

I resisted making a budget for years, thinking it was a restriction, but it has proved instead to be a means of showing me what we're spending on necessities and how much of our money can be spent on wants - or put into a savings account. The good thing about making a budget is that you choose the categories. If your sewing, knitting, coffee, books are important to you, you have a category for it in your budget. You can then buy what you want when you know the money it there, without dipping into food or rent/mortgage money. Managing your money well will help you live simply.

There were a few comments on the 'vitamins' category in the last post. It's difficult to explain something with one or two words but the vitamins are in fact emu oil capsules and pure oil, Q10 capsules and a multivitamin. Both Hanno and I take emu oil and have done for years. I take it for arthritis in my ankle, Hanno takes it for the general aches and pains of old age and to lower his cholesterol. After he had his stroke, he came off Warfarin after a few weeks because his blood was being thinned by the emu oil. Emu oil is Omega 3, 6 and 9 oil so it does a lot of good for hearts, brains and skin as well and we will keep taking it, even though it's expensive. The Q10 was recommended by Hanno's cardiologist, it's almost $50 a bottle. I've been taking mutivitamins since my children where born. That was back in the day we used to buy fruit and vegetables from the supermarket which I believe have far less vitamins and minerals due to their long time in cold storage. I still take one a day for those times I don't eat properly and I still feel they do me good.

Renee, we have a general list of staple foods that we buy once a month. When we buy fresh fruit and vegetables, we buy what is in season. It's the freshest and the cheapest. We spend $250 a month.

The price of petrol in the UK is incredible! We filled up last week and it was $1.35 (.66 pounds) a litre. The taxes in the Netherlands are a good idea but I would hate to pay them. You seem to have very progressive laws over there. What does your government use that car money for? Is it an environmental tax?

I use an Excel spreadsheet for my budget but you can use any software you have or simply write it on a piece of paper.

I'll be returning to non-money subjects tomorrow and I'll breathe a sigh of relief doing it. ;- )

19 May 2008

Budget - good news

Hanno and I spent two hours on our budget yesterday. We checked old bills and we had our little (solar) calculator running hot. We put 2 and 2 together, checked our answers, then checked again. We are spending LESS than we used to. Call off the hounds, our financial throats haven't been cut, we are doing fine. I'm sorry to alarm everyone.

Let me explain.

Our petrol costs have risen, our food and grocery costs have risen, but almost everything else hasn't, in fact, many of our costs have fallen because we're wiser and more frugal than we used to be.

Our new budget is listed below. The way we organise our money is that we have a certain number of costs that we keep in the back. They are in the first section below. Our other costs are paid in cash, so that money is withdrawn every month and put into my trusty zip lock bags. Each section has its own bag, for instance, we have a bag containing $125 marked 'Aldi', a bag containing $125 marked 'IGA', a bag containing $30 marked 'Chemist' etc. During the month, money is taken from these bags when we do our shopping.

(Per month)
Each bill is paid by direct debit when it comes in or kept in the bank until we need it

House and water rates 95.00
Insurance - house, car, health 225.00
Phone - Landline & Mobile 40.00
Internet 40.00
Electricity 53.00
Gas 15.00
Rego, tyres and maintenance 84.00
Vitamins 80.00
Clothes and shoes 20.00
Optical 25.00
TOTAL 677.00

Money withdrawn from bank and put in ziplocks

Aldi 125.00
IGA and markets 125.00
Chook and Dogs Foods 50.00
Bulk food/ flour 40.00
TOTAL 340.00

Petrol 150.00
TOTAL 150.00

Dental 20.00
Medical 25.00
Chemist 30.00
TOTAL 75.00

Garden Supplies 30.00
Pocket Money - HH & RH 80.00
Postage 15.00
TOTAL 125.00

TOTAL MONTHLY SPENDING $1367.00 or $342 a week or $49 a day

In our old budget we were paying more for various services so that is were our current savings are. Here is the old budget, this is the first part of the budget that we keep in the bank:

House and water Rates 156.00
Insurance - house, health, car 295.00
Phone - Landline & Mobile 95.00
Internet 40.00
Electricity 67.00
Gas 25.00
Rego, Tyres and maintenance 87.00

TOTAL = $765.00

As you can see, we've added $125 to that section and we're still $88 under our previous budget. We are also saving $100 a month on this budget.

We've decided to keep our food budget the same and try to stay within in for the time being. We'll review it again in six months time.

There is a lot to be said for small steps each day. They really do add up. All those small savings in electricity when we turn off lights and appliances at the wall - that's where some of these savings have been made. More savings were made by baking a few things at the same time, by cutting back on water, and being mindful of our phone usage - using emails more and the phone less. All small, almost insignificant savings, but when added up, have made the difference for us between make and break.

So yes, our fuel and food prices have risen but we can cover those rises with savings from other areas. I have to tell you, it was a surprise to both of us how much we'd cut back. The proof for us was in all those bills we looked at from the past year - they were all less than the previous years, even though the costs of utilities is rising as well. We are not living a lesser life because of those cut backs. We don't feel deprived. Quite the contrary, we feel enriched, satisfied and confident, knowing we can change for the better and stay within the meagre boundaries we imposed on ourselves.

I will go ahead with the Etsy shop and the extra writing and see if we can make a bit of money for our holiday and maybe some to be put aside for a new computer that we'll probably need in the next year or two.

To answer a couple of questions raised earlier:
  • The trip to where I work is up a steep mountain road, a motorised bike would not be an option.

  • I belong to no church but I like the idea of tithing. As someone else suggested, I give to my community with the work I do at the Centre.

  • RachaelC, the hen and chicks are from Brazil. They were a gift.

Again I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments on our situation. We really have built a great little community here.


18 May 2008

Re-evaluating and moving forward

There have been many emails and very thoughtful and helpful comments to my previous post. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Every comment made me think. We are doing a number of the suggestions already so I thought it might be helpful for you, and a good summary and reminder for me, to go through what we are doing here. I have got a reasonable idea of where we're headed so I'll get to that at the end of the post.

Hanno and I will write out our new budget later today so I'm not much wiser with my figures yet but I do know that insurance is our biggest expense. We were paying just under $2000 a year for private health insurance but few months ago we reduced that by $500 a year by agreeing to pay an excess when we use it. Hanno had a small stroke a few years ago and also goes to a cardiac specialist occasionally so keeping the health insurance is important. I'm confident we've got the best value for money with our car, house and contents insurance, so they're not being touched now.

We gave up pay TV a few years ago, we have one mobile phone that costs us about $10 every three months to run (yes, $10), our landline is one of the Telstra pensioner budget accounts. We get around nine kilometres a litre from our car. My job is in the next town so that's currently a 30 kilometre (19 miles) round trip three days a week. I'm cutting that back to two days soon but at the moment it's costing me $54 a month in fuel for my voluntary job. Yikes! Obviously the fuel bill will need to be talked about but I'm not going to give up my job which supports my simple living philosophy and has come to be an important part of my life.

Our vegetable garden, which includes potatoes and fruit, supplies most of our fresh food at the moment. It costs very little to keep it going, except the work to maintain it. We make our own fertiliser with comfrey, compost and worm castings, we buy seaweed extract and sulphate of potash a few times a year. We have two water tanks to store harvested rain water. They hold 15000 litres (4000 gallons) and we have enough rain fall to keep them going. They have very rarely been empty.

Our chooks keep us in eggs and soon, when they're all laying, we'll sell the excess eggs to pay for our dog and cat food as well as the chook food. We make our own dog food at a cost of about $5 a week for two Airedale Terriers (fairly big dogs). We buy tinned cat food at Aldi.

We don't eat meat, although Hanno does buy smoked meat about four times a year for his winter German grunkohl and sausage fest. If we buy fresh fish, we buy that from the fishermen's co-op down on the coast. The last time I bought fish it was about $20 a kilo for snapper/barramundi/coral trout. A kilo does us for about three meals. We buy fresh fish about once every six weeks. The rest of the time we eat vegetarian-type meals but this is something we did before we started living as we do now.

We have solar panels for our hot water so all our hot water is free. I wash up by hand, except when we have visitors here, I sweep the floor and only use the vacuum cleaner a couple of times a month. I make all our cleaning products, including soap. We still use toothpaste but we also use bicarb and salt. We've disposed of all paper disposables except tissues and toilet paper. I knit dishcloths, I've cut down dramatically on the amount of plastic wrap I use and probably now use about a fifth of what we used to use. I found a French pyrex glass container for cheese, I cover leftovers with upturned bowls. We have compact fluros light bulbs in every light socket in the house. I use a slow cooker. I am monitoring our electricity and water usage again by checking the metres every day but I already know we use a fraction of what is considered normal nowadays.

We spend about $250 a month on all groceries and food, including fruit, vegetables, milk and cheese, which I buy locally. I am not going to increase that as prices rise, we'll change and adapt as we go. Most of our food and grocery shopping is done at Aldi, what we can't buy there we buy at the local IGA. When we need fruit or vegetables we buy them at local markets. I buy all our flour, bicarb, nuts, seeds, spices, yeast etc from a bulk food shop. I bake our bread and always cook from scratch. I never buy pre-cooked or convenience foods. I always cook with the lid on the saucepan to retain heat, I cook with powdered milk, I use loose tea, not teabags, I always use leftovers. We preserve our excess and always make our own jams, preserves and sauces. Nevertheless, if there is one place I could cut back on costs, it would be in the kitchen. I used to fill a Thermos flask with boiling water but stopped doing that for some unknown reason, I'll start that again today. The kitchen and cooking is always a work in progress, because I am constantly looking for ways to simplify and cut back.

We gave up buying books and magazines. Hanno buys the weekend newspaper sometimes. We belong to our local LETS but rarely use it because most of the people listed now are offering products and services we don't need.

I will think about doing some sustainability workshops here at home - maybe a day long course that is hands on making bread, soap and laundry powder, lunch with the bread and salad from the garden, followed by an afternoon outside showing how to develop and maintain a vegetable garden as well as keeping chooks and worms.

I'm already writing regularly for Warm Earth magazine, I'll ask them if they'd like two articles instead of just one. I might also approach other magazines like Grass Roots and Organic. I'll think about the e-books again. My concern initially was that they'd be too expensive with the various exchange rates to make them worthwhile.

The biggest change is that I've decided to start an Etsy shop. It will take a while to make enough products to open, but I started working on it yesterday. I'll sell stitcheries, new patterns, soap, the e-books and a few small sewn things for the home. When I have loofahs, I'll sell soap and loofah gift packs. I think it will be fun but it will also take a lot of time. I might have to rearrange my days in small ways to accommodate the extra needlework.

I won't have advertising on my blog. I am hoping to encourage thrift, not spending. I will however, use my Amazon box again when I get around to it so I can get some new books for myself and Hanno.

Every simple life is a series of challenges - which begin with everyone telling you you're crazy when you start. I see this as just another challenge, a problem that can be solved with a bit of thought and change. I love being challenged, I love doing the best I can with what I have and I love taking charge of my life and doing things my way. This will be a time of change for Hanno and I but we look to it with enthusiasm and, as usual, we'll walk this path together, writing about what we find as we go. Thank you for your support, comments, emails and kind wishes, our lives are better for them.

17 May 2008

We are cutting back ... again

We have come to the sad realisation that we are not makings ends meet. In the past month our fuel costs have risen from $120 a month to $150, and we are spending more on food. We have lived on our current budget for three years but in the past six months we have watched as prices rose, however, with a bit of juggling have been able to absorb those increases. But not any more. In the past, we spent less than our meager income and we had money left over at the end of most months. That money went to our emergency fund or our savings. We have been hoping for an increase in the pension but last week when our new Labor government handled down their first budget, that didn't happen. They increased the baby bonus to $5000, increased the day care allowance, gave tax cuts to families with young children, and taxed the rich, and for all those things I'm grateful, but we pensioners got nothing. We are a group who must live on a fixed income with ever rising prices.

Hanno and I will go through our budget tomorrow and work out how we can shuffle things around and what we can cut out. We're voluntarily living fairly close to the bone as it is. I guess I can now cut the "voluntarily" out of my simple living sentences. One thing is clear, we can't take anymore little trips out like our trip to the chook lady last week. We'll have to be more prudent with our car usage. I will also cut back on postage. I've budgeted $15 a month for that so when I get my current lot of postings in the mail, I might have to pull my head in for a while. We will need to concentrate more of producing food here, I will make sure we don't run short with our continuous planting and we'll be ever vigilant about what we can store for use later.

I'm going to set myself up again today for reading my electricity and water metres. I need to keep an eye on our usage and pull it back if possible. I'll read both metres this morning and check the metres every day - noting what we've done during that day like washing clothes and baking bread. I'll also have to cost out what we're spending on feed for our chooks, dogs and cat. There may be savings to be made there. There are a few things I can do in the kitchen to scale back our costs, I'll write about those in the coming weeks after I make sure all the changes actually work well.

I am so grateful to be debt-free and already living small. I am also grateful for our garden and that we have already reskilled ourselves for a situation like this. We will have to do without things we like, we'll not be able to go on the little driving holiday we planned for later in the year, but overall, unlike many others, we will be okay. We have some money in the bank and are definitely not about to be carted off to the poor house. My thoughts are with the many pensioners who are really struggling - paying rent or paying off a mortgage.

I'm going to see if I can earn some money from writing again. I did that for over 20 years so I hope I haven't lost my touch. If anyone has any contacts or ideas for me, I'd appreciate them.

Of course the real test in all of this is to cut back while still living life to its fullest. Now, more than ever, we'll find our joy with each other and in our home. There are many trials in life, and this is certainly not the most difficult one, so I don't want anyone feeling sorry for us. What I would like is your help with any new ideas about saving in these tough times. What have you done? Or what would you do if in a similar position?

16 May 2008

Taking up the thread - UPDATED

I'm really pleased so many of you are interested in starting to stitch. It's a wonderful way to make beautiful gifts and it will help you create a 'uniquely you' home. These little stitcheries can decorate cushions, tote bags, quilts, aprons, dresses and cardigans as well as be made into wall hangings. They can be personalised by adding someone's name and you can add your favourite sayings by printing the text out at the right size from your computer and transferring that text to your fabric.

Stitchery is just a drawing on fabric that you colour by stitching the lines with coloured thread. If you're a good drawer, go ahead and freehand your pattern straight on to your fabric. If you need some help with design, there are some of my free patterns below that you can trace. Please modify them to suit your tastes too, I don't mind at all.

I have written about starting stitchery before, so please read this and be guided by the links for transferring designs onto fabric and how to do back stitch.

A fully equipped thread box will take a while to build up, but start with your favourite colours and slowly take it from there, adding new colours or different shades when you can afford them. Try to buy pure cotton or pure linen fabric. They are lovely to work with, sit nicely on other fabrics and will last a long time. If you're in Australia, I've recently found "handkerchief linen" at Spotlight. It's a very nice fabric and a half metre will do you nicely for a few projects. You will also need a backing for the fabric which helps anchor your stitches and gives a better finished result. If your local fabric shop doesn't stock this, you'll find it at your craft store.

When you choose your first piece of thread you'll notice the thread has six strands. You will only work with two strands at a time so you have to divide the thread, taking two strands for your work. You do this by cutting the required length of thread, don't make it too long, and then carefully pulling two threads away. Untwirl the main thread as you go.

The one stitch you'll use more than others is back stitch. Practise a few lines of back stitch before you start on your pattern. It's personal choice whether you use a hoop or not. I use one sometimes for smaller patterns, otherwise I just hold the fabric. Like everything else, this is about developing your own style and seeing how you work best with it. Learn the basics and then modify it to suit yourself.

Stitchery is a wonderful thing to do in summer or winter and it's very portable so you can take it with you when you go out. I hope you enjoy this very likeable past time. Like everything else in our lives, start slowly, buy the best quality fabric you can afford and be mindful of your work. People have been stitching for hundreds of years so with your stitchery you are joining the long tradition of handmade craft.

My patterns are here, here and here.

ADDITION: I've just found this wonderful embroidery tutorial on Purlbee.

If you know of any good free pattern sites, please share them with us.


15 May 2008

Thanks everyone

I want to thank everyone who took the time to leave a comment on by anniversary post. I was quite amazed at all the comments and read each one with a broad smile. I am truly humbled by some of the comments, particularly the ones who wrote that they have changed their life in some way. They mean a lot to me, thank you.

I can't reply to all of you but please know I appreciate every comment, particularly those who have delurked to say hello and those who said hello for the first time. :- )

Cameron Elizabeth Stearns, I'll have a post tomorrow that will give you some stitches to practise. Good on you for having a go.

Gee Rachel L, I don't know what to say. I hope I don't let you down.

Gayze, next stop chickens! That's great. Enjoy your journey and let me know how you go with the chooks.
Cindi check out my next post - it's all about starting your stitchery.

Hi Paula! I'm glad you enjoyed this area. Don't give up on the tomatoes. You learn so much when they fail. I love the confidence for this season. Good luck!

Thank you Pippa. I'll have a photo of my Pippa for you soon. :- )

Hi Rhonda, my love to you and Simon!

Virginia, if you plant the cherry tomatoes, and some Roma types, they are not bothered by the fruit fly. I buy exclusion bags for my peaches, you might try those. You might have something similar to this over there.

Chookasmum, thanks for the help you've given with the swaps, Lorraine. You've been a true blessing to me and have helped the swaps continue.

Julia, I haven't forgotten you, I think of you most days and wonder how you're getting on. There will be more emails in the future but at the moment I'm busy in the garden and with family. Take care love.

Sharon, thank you so much for being a dear friend and for all the help you've given me with the swaps, they would have stopped if you and Lorraine weren't here.

Hi Myra, thank you for your support and your comments.

Hello catsister, good luck with those eggs. Let me know when they hatch please.

Hi shyperson, thank you for going to all that trouble to comment. I appreciate it. I hope you keep reading for a long time.

Stacey wall, thank you for your kind words. It warms my heart to know I'm helping people move towards a better life. Our humid climate brings a lot of powdery mildew with it. It's better to grow upwards in thsoe conditions becasue the humidity can dry off the leaves if they're exposed to the sun. That diary is for my work. I write down my appointments and meetings as well as lists of things I have to do during the day

Good luck with your retirement, Lizzie.

Thanks Annikka!

Simple fancies, it did take ages to write them all down - 3½ pages! I did it in between doing other things. Thanks for the suggestion for Renee.

Thanks River!

Yabusame, I love it when you comment. Thanks for holding the banner high for the men. You remind me a little bit of my son who is just starting to build his own simple life. I think it's great you make that tote bag for your girlfriend. I think she's a lucky girl.

Craftcherry, we buy grain mash - it's a combo of all sorts of cracked grains like corn, wheat, millet, sunflower seeds etc. We also give them greens from the garden, bread soaked in powdered milk and porridge. If you're Australian I wrote an article in the current Warm Earth magazine about how to feed chickens.

Rachel G, your kids have a great mum. Please tell your ten year old I said hello to him today.

Teresa (ladyfromthewoods) thank you, I'm really pleased you found what you needed in the blog. I will come back to those comments when I'm wondering why I should continue. I get in that space sometimes and I know reading all that loveliness will boost me up again.

Fifi, I'm pretty sure I sent all the photos of bags etc on to Sharon to post. Have you checked on the flickr page? If it's not there, resend it and I'll forward it on.

Sharron in UK, I don't know where the name of bread and butter cucumbers came from. It is a strange name, isn't it. Glad to hear you're using some of the recipes. The book is The Self-sufficient Life and How to Live It. I read his Complete Book a long time ago and found it very helpful. I think he was a great man whose life was a great example to go by.

Hi Patricia, I hope you use one of the dishcloths on dishes soon. ;- )

Hi bobbykins. I think a few people came from that great site. Say hello to all over there for me. I still go there when I have time.

Hi Tansy, thank you for your kindness. I hope you can start a small stitchery from today's post.

Lacy and Carla, thank you, you are both dear friends.

Liberty Star Farm Family, thank you. What a lovely sight that conjurs up for me of all you working in your garden ... love, the chicken lady.

Hi Nikki (ivoryfrog) keep up the good work, darling. Let me know how the girls go in the garden and how you find the square foot gardening.

HI Anna Marie of the bread. LOL!

Hi Stephb, thank you. :- )

HI Robbyn, thank you for you kind comment. Say hello to your DH for me.

Thanks Cheryl. :- )

Phew! I wish I could repond to every comment. Soon I will start visiting unfamiliar (to me) blogs from the links left.

Now I'll write today's post.


And the winner is ...

Thank you to everyone who entered this draw. I'm quite humbled by the number of you who would like to own the stitchery. There can be only one winner though. Shane drew the slip of paper from my hat with the name - Marilyn on it! Marilyn wrote her comment at 14 May 2008 09:08. Marilyn, would you please email me - rhondahetzelatgmaildotcom with your posting details.

Please excuse my floury finger. I'd just kneaded the bread and put it on to rise. : - )

I will try to get back again this afternoon to answer some of the comments. Shane is here now and the three of us will be having lunch soon.

I wish I had the money to send everyone a special homemade gift. If you're interested in stitchery, tomorrow I'll do a post to get you started.


A catching up day

Year 2 Day 1 ;- )

I am absolutely overwhelmed at the messages of friendship sent in the previous post. Thank you, everyone. I'll come back later today, write all your names out and get Hanno to draw one name out of a hat for me. When I return to tell you whose name was chosen, I'll also respond to some of the comments made.

I'll be at home today after my three days at work. They were good days this week with progress made with a young man who I thought we might lose. Gardening did the trick. It brought him back to us each day and it helped him talk and regain his strength. There is much to be said for dirt, seeds and the promise of new life.

Today I'm going to pick the last of the rosellas and make jam. I'll also make bread and a tuna and vegetable loaf for our dinner. There are chickens to get reacquainted with - I've just been helping Hanno put them to bed at night when I come home from work and I really want to be picking them up, feeding them green leaves and watching them interact with each other.

There was a short burst of heavy rain overnight so I'll check the vegetable garden for damage, do some tidying up around the plants and see what's ready for picking. I have an idea for a small area of potted plants within the vegetable garden so I'll ask Hanno to lay some old bricks we have so the pots don't sit directly on the ground. I'm looking forward to spending time in the garden again. It often seems like such a long time when I'm away for those few days.

Later this afternoon I hope to do some sewing. And Shane will be here again; he is travelling over to see his girl and to have his ute serviced.

It's cold (13C 55F) here this morning, and although many of my friends in colder climates would probably think of it as balmy, I have my lambswool slippers and two jumpers on. And now I'm about to make some hot tea and oat porridge to warm my innards. I am such a sook in cold weather. :- ) See you again soon.

Graphic from Allposters.com

14 May 2008

One year ago today ...

One year ago today I pressed the Blogger "publish" button for the first time and entered blog world. It seems like just yesterday but also a lifetime ago. I had been fiddling with various formats and names for about a week but suddenly it felt right and the button was clicked. I have never regretted that click.

I had two reasons to blog - one was to create a record for myself and my family of what Hanno and I were doing, the other was the hope of sharing what I knew and encouraging others to simplify. I have definitely created the record of a year's living that I wanted, it is up to others to judge whether encouragement fell where it was needed.

So this is my 565th post. It didn't occur to me to connect a counter until my second month of blogging but in the first month I had the counter attached there were 1705 visitors, last month that number was 44,473. Incredible!

I've had a lot of emails asking what makes a successful blog and I still don't know. Some days I write something I think is good and I'm quite happy with, but it will get few reactions. Another day a bit of flimsy that falls easily from my brain will create a lot of comments. Who knows what the formula is. I try to write honestly to give an accurate account of our days here, and those personal accounts are sprinkled with more formal (for want of a better word) posts that I hope will encourage and support readers in their own simple journey.

I have resisted the many people who've asked to advertise here and those who asked me to "review" their books and products. I have used an Amazon box though when I was writing about my favourite books and to my surprise I scored enough points from that to get two free books. To all those people who supported that, I am truly grateful. I would really like John Seymour's last book so I might try the Amazon box for a short time again in the future.

Reading blogs has changed me. When I discovered the blog world I was absolutely amazed at all the bloggers who were using this technology to bypass mainstream media to get their message out. This is people power at it's best - uncensored by governments, unfiltered by advertising and real. Sure, there are blogs that come no where near that definition, but you can easily steer clear of those and stay within the millions that are clever, insightful and inspiring. It has been a great encouragement to me to read about the ordinary days of other women and men who wish to live to their true potential and who show, by example, their own particular way of doing that. And in this age of overindulgence and keeping up with the Joneses, I needed to know all of you like-minded people were there, happily working away on your own lives, and that Hanno and I were not alone. I know it sounds cliched and silly but I really believe we have built a little community here. I have made real friends too and even if I stopped blogging tomorrow, I know those friendships would endure.

I haven't done a give away for a while and this seems to be a good time to remedy that. To celebrate this milestone, I will draw names from a hat to see who I'll post this little fabric picture to. It is one of my designs and is made up of applique, stitchery and patchwork. If you'd like to be in the draw, please leave your name with a comment.

Thank you for your visits here.


13 May 2008

Dare to be different

I want to encourage every one of you who choose to live simply to do it on your own terms. There is no rule book for simple living, we all do it differently. I think that once you’ve got it in your mind to change from being a consumer to a conserver, many of the practical day-to-day things will come from your change in mindset. If they don’t, and you’re unsure about what to do next, just be guided by how you live your life now. Examine the things you do – your work practices, your chores, your transport, your recipes, your cleaning, how you cook, how you do your shopping – and one by one, make each and every task simpler, greener and more sustainable. Now that might be 100% simple, green and sustainable, but if it’s not, that’s okay! You do what you can do, you add to it later. It’s fine, no matter what anyone tells you.

I stockpile and shop monthly, with a quick trip to the local supermarket for local milk and cheese each week. But that is how I find it works best for me, there is no rule that says everyone shops that way. Try several different ways, then stick with the one that works best with your way of living.

I see so many other homemakers apologise for using a breadmaker. Why! If you want to use a breadmaker and it makes baking fresh bread for your family easier, use it. There is no rule that states the bread is less if it’s made in a breadmaker. The point is to make bread so you know what’s in it, you make it to your exact requirements and it's cheaper. Yes, your bread maker costs money to buy and run, but it pays for itself in less than a year and if you stop buying bread because of it – the bread that contains preservatives, colourings and artificial flavours, AND comes packaged to the hilt in plastic, then the breadmaker option wins, hands down.

It’s okay to say ‘no’ to others and ‘yes’ to yourself. Stop living to the expectations of others, slowly build a life that is unique to you. Make things easy for yourself. For instance, if you want to compost your kitchen scraps, put a little bin in your kitchen to hold the scraps and empty it every afternoon. If you want to go completely green with your cleaning routines, start with one thing first – like homemade laundry powder, then when you’re working well with that first choice, add others. Think about all these little things you want to bring into your life and make them as easy for yourself as you can. That way they’ll become an easy part of your routine and not a struggle.

Be mindful, make your own decisions, work out what will work for you and don’t feel guilty if you're reading your favourite blogs and you’re not doing what others are doing. I know a lot of you a guided by some of the things I say but if I do something that doesn’t fit well with you, don’t do it. Make sure that everything you do is right for you, not just being done because someone else does it.

Imagine your own life, and how you want it to be, then work to make that vision a reality. Don’t be put off, don’t listen to the naysayers, go with your heart and do what is right for you. I’m a non-conformist and I don’t fit in the 60 year old woman pigeonhole. I have always walked to the beat of my own drum and I have never looked to those around me for validation. That has helped me build this life I live. If I’d listened to all the advice I got when I wanted to change, I’d still be running a red hot credit card and wondering “is this all there is?”.

One of the great wonders of this world to me is that we’re all the same but all so different. Celebrate your difference and custom-make a life that fits you perfectly. Forget the blathering of women’s magazines, don’t do what your next door neighbour is doing, don’t copy your friends – or me – unless it is exactly what you want and need for yourself. Make your own version of this simple life. Life is never a one-size-fits-all condition, pick and choose the portions of other people's lives that suit you and custom make the rest of it so that your life fits you perfectly. If you try something that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to get rid of it, or modify it to suit yourself. Do it all slowly, take small steps. You will never build a simple life quickly – it’s a slowly evolving process that never ends, but one thing is for sure, if you dare to be different, if you are mindful of your choices, if you downsize, declutter and get back to basics, the rewards are there for the taking.

12 May 2008

Let your garden work with you

Here we are, just a couple of crazy kids, about to set off to pick up our chooks on Saturday.

I didn’t want to garden yesterday. I was tired, I could see everything growing well, what was the point! Well, the point was that if we want to eat food from our backyard everyday, we need to put the work in to make it happen. So I employed one of my many mind tactics to get myself to the place I needed to be. I told myself it wasn’t work, I was securing our future food. That did it, I was back in action. I really love gardening, but there are days, I’m sure you all have them, when I can’t be bothered. However, if we want food from our garden, we need to give it constant care. Oh, it will produce vegetables with a minimum of work, but it won’t fulfil its potential. Prime quality vegetables need work.

If you’re not prepared, or unable, to give it the time it needs, your garden will probably be a disappointment to you. If you're just starting out, small steps are essential. Make sure you've got the time and energy to look after the garden you plant. Start small and add to it each year. And make sure you build up your soil with organic matter each year as well. Adding compost and worm castings, or allowing straw mulch to break down into the garden each year, will add to your garden's fertility. It's much easier to get good results from fertile soil.

Menu plan and work out what you enjoy eating and then plant according to your tastes, not what’s currently in fashion. Make sure that you, or someone in your family, will eat every single thing that is planted in the vegetable garden. A productive vegetable garden can be a very beautiful thing but if you plant for anything other than eating what you grow, you might as well be growing flowers. And on that note, grow flowers - things like nasturtiums, yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace will not only look beautiful but will also attract beneficial insects to your garden. Bees, world-wide, are in trouble and need all the help we can give them. A healthy and productive vegetable garden in their foraging area might be just the help they need in your area.

You need to be thinking about how to manage your crops to get the best from them. Check what is ready to pick right now and plan for what should be picked soon. This is a constant juggling act. What to eat fresh and what to preserve for later? We had some freshly picked silverbeet last night for dinner but there is still a lot out there. Hanno will pick some of it today to go into the freezer. That will keep some in the garden for picking later in the week and allow the plants to put on new growth after the leaves have been picked. We'll have a continuing supply of fresh young leaves instead of allowing the leaves to grow old, and then pick them. If you have a long growing season, don't forget to sow your follow up seeds so you have a non-stop supply of veggies.

Plant heirloom seeds, not the general type of every-day seeds that you can buy in the supermarket. If you’re going to the trouble of planting, watering, fertilising and weeding, you need to get something special out of it. If you plant the same tomatoes that you buy at the supermarket, you just get fresh supermarket tomatoes. If you plant something like a Brandywine, a German Johnson or a Oxheart, you get a tomato you’ll remember for a long time.

Supplement what is in your stockpile with what is fresh in the garden. That way you end up with excellent nutritious food at the lowest price. Stir fried vegetables with rice, spicy pumpkin soup with hot bread, vegetable and barley soup with herb dumplings, semi-dried tomato and spinach tart, roast pumpkin risotto and colcannon and salmon rissoles are all favourites in our home.

Above all else, enjoy your time in the garden. Enjoy being the provider of food and nourishment for your family and yourself. Enjoy being an independent spirit. Don't let others dictate what you eat. If you have a liking for Darwin lettuce, Turk's Turban pumpkin, Lazy Housewife beans, black tomatoes, organic oranges or whatever else, grow them yourself instead of hoping you'll see them in a shop. Most of the things commonly grown in a backyard would never be sold in a shop and if they were, they'd be very expensive. Being independent will mean you will grow what you like to eat, when you want to eat it and you'll put it on your plate for a fraction of the cost that top quality organic produce would cost you at the supermarket or farmers market.

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