30 September 2008

Sowing vegetable seeds

I spent a small amount of time sowing seeds yesterday. In the past, I used to have trays and trays of seeds but now that we have a continuous garden, I get by with a large planting in March and then just sowing small numbers of seeds to fill in spots that arise during the year. Yesterday I planted up four golden nugget pumpkin seeds, four lemon cucumber seeds and six Moneymaker tomato seeds. The pumpkins will be planted where the kipfler potatoes are now, in the front garden, the cucumber and tomatoes will go into the vegetable garden when the snow peas are removed. That should have happened by now but we're behind with some work because of the fence building and my writing. No matter, everything happens in its own time.

I thought it might help some of the new gardeners if I wrote a little about sowing seeds. It seems to be a mystery to some and I remember when I first started gardening, I was never sure of the right depth to place the seeds or if I was doing the right things when I sowed my seeds.

The best seeds to sow are open pollinated or heirloom seeds. If you plant them. not only will you get vegetables far superior to those you buy in the supermarkets, you get the old varieties that have better taste. And the bonus is you can save the seeds from one of your plants at the end of the season and use them for your next planting. Using seeds from your own garden will give you plants that are better suited to your own conditions and if you keep planting your own seeds, they will improve each year. In Australia you buy heirloom seeds at Green Harvest, Eden Seeds, Diggers, Phoenix and a number of other small places. For gardeners in other countries, do a Google search for "open pollinated seeds" or "heirloom seeds" and you should find something close to you. There are many heirloom seed companies and they have their entire seed catalogue online, so it's just a matter of selecting what you want, paying for it and waiting for the post to arrive.

The general rule for seed planting is to plant the seed twice as deep as its size. So if you have a seed that is 1mm, you plant it 2mm into the soil. If your seed measures ¼ inch, you plant it ½ inch deep. Some seeds (beans, peas,) benefit from soaking in warm water for 24 hours - this breaks the hard seed casing and speeds up germination. After you soak the seeds, plant them into moist soil or seed raising mix and then don't water until they germinate. Please note: it is only pea and bean seeds you have soaked that don't require watering - all other seeds you sow must be kept moist, not wet. Parsley seeds can be soaked in hot water for 24 hours, then sowed just like other seeds - into moist, not wet, soil.

Seed raising mix in a bag is quite expensive to buy. The potting soil you use doesn't need a lot of nutrients in it, so don't use your best mix. All the nutrients the seeds need are inside the seeds, you just need to supply moisture and a growing medium that will allow the tiny new shoots to emerge easily. I often use compost in the trays and just cover the seeds with seed raising mix or potting soil mixed with sharp sand. Whatever you cover the seeds with needs to be light to allow those little shoots through.

Above and below are Lazy Housewife Beans drying in the shade of the back verandah. We eat these beans green, they're as good as Blue Lake, but I also dry some of them to keep in the pantry. When they're dry, they're similar to haricot beans and can be used in soups and casseroles as well as a variety of Mexican and French dishes. I will save some of these seeds to be planted in the garden.

Once the seeds are in and covered, put a tag on them with the name and date then water them gently with a spray bottle. I use a mix of water with a little Epsom salts added to water in. The Epsom salts is magnesium and it helps germination. The ratio is one teaspoon to one litre (quart) of water. If you have any left over, water your vegetables or citrus trees with it.

So that's it! Then you just wait for the first little bits of green to poke through and plant them when they're ready to plant. Tomato seedlings need extra care before they're planted in the garden though and I've written about that here.

Before I go today I have a couple of extras I'd like to add. Yesterday when I was working on my book, I spent quite a bit of time going through the archives. I was really touched by so very many of the comments you've made over the months. I read every comment that's made each day but reading them in one block made me realise, yet again, how much you all add to this blog. A little green community has built up here that is knowledgeable, supportive and generous. I sincerely thank all of you who regularly comment.

I also want to thank Sharon who is a constant help to me both on the blog and behind the scenes in emails. Sharon organises all the swaps and also posts on weekends to give you wonderful links for projects and gifts. I have added Sharon's email to the side bar so if you have any questions about swaps or links, you can email her direct.

Now, some responses to yesterday's post. Thanks to simple quilter who gave me the information to identify those tiny blue flowers we have in our lawn as lobelia. :- )

Rose, what a wonderful man Paul Newman was. RIP Paul.

Cassie, good luck with your garden. Lucky you have such a great helper there.

Lindsay, it sounds like you're starting off on an incredible journey. I'm pleased I could help you on your way. Please stay in touch and let me know how it goes for you.

Amanda, congratulations on the new baby. I hope things have settled down for you now. (hugs)

Donna, our haystack sits there for a while so the seeds die off. You can definitely use your hay for mulch. Just take a handful of hay and put it in your garden, water it and see what happens. If it does grow weeds, often you can just pick them out when they're at the green shoot stage. Usually it will just be the seeds of the plant, be it lucerne, wheat, rye etc. In that case, again, you just weed it out. But if your little test of mulch doesn't grow anything after sitting in the garden for three weeks, you'll know there are no seeds in it.

Hi Quinne, I hope that little baby of yours is chubby and giggling. :- )

ADDITION: Many of you know that I'm a great fan of Path to Freedom, it is the one site I've continued to visit for many years. Here is a video of theirs, it's well worth the time it will take you to view it. Make sure you visit the blog Anais writes. It's really good.


29 September 2008

Please fence me in

We had quite a full weekend with Hanno finishing the new chook fence and me flitting between writing and household chores. Of course there were lots of breaks and tea on the verandah so it was a productive and relaxing time for us. I watched the neighbours go in and out all weekend, mostly for short trips and I wondered if they were picking up forgotten groceries or DVDs to watch. I was just happy to sit and watch their comings and goings while I knitted and thought about what to write.

It's a lovely time of year now, the spring flowers are blooming, birds are visiting from far off places and it's bare arms weather - ideal for sitting with a lemon cordial and letting the world pass by. I am happy here, I feel as much a part of this place as all the trees deeply rooted in dry soil. We all get our nourishment from being here and I can't imagine being anywhere else.

Hanno did a great job on the fence using mostly recycled materials. We did have to buy the fence posts though. Almost all of yesterday was taken up with him making a patchwork of wire for the bottom of the fence. The top of it is all one roll of wire but the bottom is many different pieces. Even though it took a longer time to complete, he's happy to have used the scrap wire that was already here.

The fence is too high for any of them to fly over now so hopefully they'll be safe and secure. The wire all along the bottom is a small gauge so when we raise chicks, they won't be able to sneak through the fence without the mother hen.

And here in the late afternoon, is the finished fence. You can see Hanno in the distance just putting the finishing touches to it. Seth and his ladies have been inspecting the new work and I think they all approve.

Further over, on the other side of the yard, the bananas have put on their first flower of the season. I hope to see many more of those as the weeks go by but, for now, I'm happy that there is one bunch of bananas forming.

And here inside the shed is our haystack. This should be enough to do us all through summer for the hens' nests, the worm farm and the garden. I always feel good about having a haystack. For some reason, I feel I've got it together if we have enough hay for the full season.

BUMS UP! I took this photo while I was standing talking to Hanno. All I could see were chook bottoms and tail feathers pointing upward. They must have found some choice food over there because none of them moved away for quite some time.

Does anyone know what plant this is. These blue flowers have just come up in our grass. You can see a round leaf of the plant at the bottom of the photo in between the two blades of grass. The leaves look a little like violet leaves, but they're runners, not single leaves. I'd appreciate any suggestions you might have.

It will be another busy week here and I'm ready for it. I still have another week to go on my break from work and I have a fully planned week. There will be a lot of writing, a phone call with my agent halfway through the week, more knitting, some sewing and another step towards my embrace of ironing. Many of you would know I hate ironing but I've made a new ironing space for myself and it's made all the difference. I'm not saying yet that I enjoy ironing, but I've got myself to the stage where I don't mind it. But more on that another day, now I'm off to feed the chooks and dogs and to get on with my day. How was your weekend?

BTW, I spent some time on the weekend browsing though some blogs and found this little link to the Rose Garden on Jenny Wren's blog. It's an utterly charming and delightful blog and I couldn't leave after reading the first page. I had to go back through the archives. It's a real gem.


28 September 2008

Ideas for Hand-made holidays

Hello ladies. I will be posting more of our swap photos tomorrow. Today I would like to give you links for more ideas for making holiday gifts for our friends and families. Making gifts is about putting a little of yourself into something that you give to your friends and family; it is one of the best things you can do for the holidays. You save money, maybe recycle fabrics or remake things, but still give great gifts all the while giving a piece of your heart to the recipient. I have a few more links with great ideas for gifts for everyone in the family. One site I love is Burda Style. You can download free patterns (over 128) for all ages and sexes, and they also have great how-to's- photo tutorials to walk you through step-by-step sewing techniques that can be difficult or confusing; http://www.burdastyle.com/patterns look through the patterns and click on the how tos for help. Recycling old doilies into useful bags is another idea that is fun with great results: http://scrumdillydilly.blogspot.com/2008/09/dilly-doily-bag-tutorial.html
Pink Penguin shows us how to make a pretty patchwork bag: http://ayumills.blogspot.com/2008/09/tutorial-reversible-patchwork-bag.html
Ricrac gives us a how to on recycling an old sweater into a softie for a child (not too young unless you are careful with the eyes!) http://vintagericrac.blogspot.com/2008/09/racing-snail-tutorial.html For the crocheters out there My Picot has free patterns to make all sorts of pretty things: http://www.mypicot.com/index.html including tutorials explaining techniques.
Oliver and S gives us a tutorial for simple skirts for the little ones: http://www.oliverands.com/patterns/Oliver+SLazyDaysSkirt.pdf and finally I will leave you with an embroidery post that shows you how you can change a design by stitching it in different ways: http://www.craftstylish.com/item/9811/how-to-use-one-pattern-three-ways
I will be posting photos on our flickr site tomorrow and will be back again with ideas for the holidays and the changing seasons next week-end.


26 September 2008

What will you do?

Shane and Sarndra just before they went home yesterday.

I was interested to read in the Why are you simplifying? post that several readers said they wanted to look after the planet, especially their own piece of it. While I believe we never really own the land we purchase, I do firmly agree with the idea of looking after the land we live on. The concept of looking after your land is firmly rooted in our psyche. When our ancestors went from the hunter gatherer phase into the domestication of animals and agriculture, their ability to produce food on the land they lived on meant the difference between life and death for them.

Maybe it's coming back to that.

Think of the difference it would make to our planet if we all cared for the piece of land we live on. I'm not just talking about producing food on that land, but I do include gardening. I mean instead that we get rid of weeds and chemicals from the land, we provide habitat and water for wildlife and instead of stripping our land for the house we build, we leave space for indigenous trees and plants and save some of the natural vegetation. We need to be encouraging reptiles, mammals and birds to our land and hope that they make it their home too. In my own country, our beautiful Koala is in trouble because the trees they favour as food are being cleared to make way for more housing. You can still see Koalas in the wild if you care to look for them, but they're becoming a rare sight these days. Imagine a world without Koalas! I hope I never see that day.

So what can we do? We should start where we are and work our way out.

Have a look in your back and front yards and see what's already there. Do some research, this is a great project for the children, to find out what used to live where you live. If those animals and birds aren't already extinct, find out how to make your land a place they would like to live and do that. Make sure your pets can't stalk the wildlife and keep your cat inside at night. Slowly, you may be able to attract your local wildlife back.

In Australia you can do surveys to find out what birds live locally, or migrate through your area. Hanno and I are currently taking part in a nation-wide bird bath survey. We are counting the number of birds that visit our bird baths, noting the amount of time they spend here and what birds they interact with. There are similar surveys you can sign up for at the Birds in Backyards site. Here is some information about making homes for Australian lizards. If you know of any wildlife surveys in your own country, please let me know about them and I'll add the links to this post.

We can also help by buying pure breed poultry instead of the common brown chooks bred for the caged poultry industry, or if you're on a farm, keeping the pure breeds of sheep, goats and cattle.

Once your own patch is as good as you can make it, move to the street you live in and maybe nearby parks. Pick up any rubbish you see and make sure you never add to the problems in your neighbourhood.

Never let anyone tell you there is nothing you can do. Start with your own home and work out from there. Be proactive and find out what you could do to help your own community. Even if it's picking up rubbish on the street, educating your children about local wildlife or making your own backyard a refuge for birds and smaller critters, it is significant and worthwhile work. No one else will come along and offer to do that work on the land you live on. It is up to you, my friend.


25 September 2008

Tea for two

Karen has asked me to write about the Australian tea tradition. I'm not sure that tradition continues today but this is my version of what it was like in the old days.

Tea used to be a part of most people's days. In Australia, we had a cup of tea with breakfast, often with toast, another cup was had between 10 and 11am for morning tea. Then another cup at lunchtime with a sandwich, another around 3pm, when the children came home from school. And there would always be a pot of tea sitting on the table to be enjoyed with dinner at night.

When I started drinking tea, and I suspect this was a similar scenario around the country, my mum made a little cup of tea for me that was about 20 percent tea and 80 percent milk. I grew up in a family that took their tea without milk so, of course, eventually I drank black tea with no milk. I still do today - I have my tea black with a teaspoon of honey.

Real tea is made from the plant of the camellia sinensis bush. It produces black, white, green and oolong tea. Herbal teas are not teas at all - they're herbal infusions and don't contain the amount of antioxidants that tea does. I make rosella tea from our rosella bushes, and that is more like a herbal tea than real tea.

I prefer loose leaf tea to teabags. Teabags are generally made with inferior tea and don't taste as good as a freshly brewed pot of tea. Tea bags are over packaged too. They are a one cup unit of a paper bag, string, a cardboard tag and, usually, a staple or glue. The box of tea bags is usually a cardboard box wrapped in plastic or cellophane. Loose tea is just a cardboard box with an internal paper bag. I have written about making tea in a previous post which is here.

One of the reasons I like tea is that there is a ritual that goes with it. Instead of just filling a glass and drinking it, you have to slow down, prepare your cups and pot, and wait. Waiting is part of tea making so it suits a simple life well. Hanno and I have incorporated tea drinking into our lives and we almost always stop whatever we are doing at around 10am and I make a pot of tea. When it's poured we take our tea to the front verandah where we sit and talk, while I knit. It's a lovely part of the day that I look forward to. Hanno does too, because if I'm late making morning tea, he comes in and says: "do you want me to make the tea?" :- ) It's like nothing can continue until tea is taken. Neither of us had the luxury of a regular morning tea when we worked so it's become a ritual that we look forward to, and through it, and our talking on the verandah, we have reconnected and grown together towards our older years.


24 September 2008


I have a catch-up day today. Although Hanno has told me to concentrate on my writing and he will do the laundry and most of the indoor work, there are some things I need to do and they will be looked after today. We also have two special visitors today - Shane and Sarndra will arrive late this morning. They aren't staying long but just seeing them is a joy that I'm looking forward to. I'll make a batch of walnut and cranberry biscuits soon so we have something for our morning tea. We also have two other visitors expected - Koda and Tessa - Jens and Cathy's Airedales. Jens and Cathy are in Europe at the moment and although Cathy's father has been staying at their place to look after the dogs, he has to leave for a week to go to a family wedding, so we will keep the dogs here for that time. There's is never a dull moment here.

There are always things happening outside. At the moment, Hanno's project is to fix the fence on the chook run and to add a taller gate. The chooks have been flying out to free range whenever they feel like it. Normally that wouldn't be a problem but as we have tomatoes and lettuce growing in that area now, if we don't keep an eye on them, they pick the lettuce back to their cores before we even know they're out of their run.

In the photo above you can see the newly installed gate, and my small additions of two wooden chooks. They will stand guard at the fence posts. ;- ) The fence itself, only made of chicken wire, will be higher as well. When Hanno and Jens took down that dead tree about six weeks ago, it landed on the fence and it's been wobbly and unstable ever since. Adding an extra height layer will make the enclosure much more secure. While he's at it, Hanno will also patch up any small holes that would allow little chicks to wander out. Now we have Seth, we have thoughts of his offspring wandering around, and they will need to be safe within the fence and not outside it. There are a lot of chick and egg eating snakes around, and right now is the time of year they're active. I saw my first snake of the season yesterday - a ribbon thin long green tree snake. It was crossing from the bush across the road into the house next door. It's always a thrill to see snakes moving around, and those tree snakes are elegant and beautiful. No one could be scared of a longstrip of green ribbon. ;- )

And speaking of Seth, he's started his teenage attempts at crowing. It's not loud yet but he keeps at it. We'll have to make a rooster box for him soon. That is a box that he will sleep in. Roosters need to stand and extend their heads to crow and if you put your rooster into a box that gives him space to move but not to entend his head, you get a silent rooster. When you let him about in the morning again, he will crow, but everyone is awake then so it's not a problem. Well, that's the theory. We all know things don't always go according the a theory, so we'll wait and watch.

More seedlings have been planted - you can see corn and one squash above. The beans have been pulled out, snow peas will be next and Hanno is preparing the old kale bed for another potato planting. Continuous planting - it just keeps rolling on. Let me see if I can remember what vegetables we have growing at the moment: three types of tomatoes (tropic, beefsteak and tommy toe), lettuce, silverbeet, Welsh onions, beetroot, leeks, bok choi, corn, squash, zuchinni, capsicums (peppers) chilli, kipfler potatoes, cucumbers, celery, pigeon peas and we are planting carrots, more potatoes, luffas and golden nugget pumpkin. Herbs - parsley, chives, thyme, yarrow, comfrey, rosemary, oregano, marjorum, bay and flowers - nastursiums and daisies. We also have a bit of fruit: lemons, oranges, pink grapefruit, mandarins, bananas, red pawpaw (papaya), rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, passionfruit, pineapple, peaches, nectarines, avocado, grapes and loquats. So much is such a small space. It's wonderful be be able to supply such variety from our own backyard.

I was overwhelmed at the response to yesterday's post. How generous of you all to share your lives with the rest of us. It made me smile to read so many of them and to know that we are all striving to live authenticity, having rejected the madness of this consumerist age. Reading how others have changed can be quite a powerful message to those who are still wondering about their own lives. Thank you for taking the time to add your story, it might be the one that helps convince someone else that a simple change is possible.


23 September 2008

Why are you simplifying?

These are just a few photos I've taken in the backyard in the past week that really don't relate to my post. I know many of you like looking at our vegetable garden, so I hope these photos will encourage you to comment today.

Many of you know that I'm writing a book proposal at the moment and I need your help with it. I am trying to formulate some thoughts on simple living and it would help me enormously if you would answer the following questions. I want everyone who reads this to not go away without answering, yes, even those who never comment. :- )

  1. Why are you simplifying?
  2. What convinced you that you should change how you live?
  3. What was the first thing major thing you changed?
  4. How do you see yourself changing in the future?

I am interested in everyone's answers, even those who are still thinking about change but haven't done much about it yet. Thanks for taking the time to help me. I really appreciate it.


22 September 2008

Working with the seasons

Well, here he is - Hanno admiring the view when I took him out to lunch on his birthday. We met up with Bernadette at an "English pub" in a town up in the mountains. The food was good and the view from the top of the mountains down to the ocean was superb, but the price of the lunch and drinks was what we would normally pay for a week's food. We both wondered later if it was worth it. My guess is it wasn't. Maybe next year we'll do something different.

Hanno asked me to pass on his thanks for all the thoughtful birthday wishes. It is still amazing to us both that there are unseen friends all over the world who know what we do most days. Ahhh, the wonders of the internet.

One of the many pleasures I have found in simplicity is a rediscovery of the seasons. I no longer try to block out or ignore seasonal weather, trying to make everyday the same with air conditioning, I embrace the seasons now and work according to them. Yesterday I spent the day writing but had short breaks to do the seasonal chores that couldn't wait. Our storm season started early and the past two nights we've had wild and loud thunder that sounded like bowling balls rumbling along then crashing into a wall of light. On those nights the heat builds up and then breaks with rain falling and cooler air. On that first stormy night, still warming wrapped in my winter bed, I knew the next day would bring a transition to a summer bed.

Sure enough, the next morning, I opened up the windows wide and stripped the bed completely. I removed Hanno's electric blanket and rolled it up around a pillow for safe storage during the summer, then took the bed protector off and washed it with the sheets. This is the season for cool pure cotton sheets. My flannel cotton sheets are now washed, line dried and folded in the linen cupboard until the seasons change again.

I also removed our wool doona (duvet) and replaced it with a fluffy lighter one that will do us over summer.

I went back to writing for a while until Hanno brought in a small basket of windfall lemons. The storms have started to pick the lemon tree for us, and when we have a lot of lemons, I make summer cordial.

About six or seven lemons gave enough juice for a flagon of cordial. It's a simple recipe of juice and a sugar syrup. The syrup is made with equal parts sugar and water, boiled till the sugar dissolves. Allow that to cool while you juice the lemons. I fill half the flagon with juice and fill it up with syrup. When you make the drink up, you pour enough cordial for your taste into a glass (about one part cordial to five parts water), and fill it up with icy water, and ice cubes if you have them. I didn't, so that was another seasonal chore - I got two ice cube trays, filled them with filtered water and have them now sitting in the freezer. In the next day or so I'll add a plastic container that will hold the ice cubes in the freezer while the trays make more cubes.

In the afternoon, I had another break from writing as Hanno was mowing the lawn in the front garden. I made up a lemon cordial for myself and a rosella cordial for Hanno and we sat in the cool shade of the front verandah to cool down and relax.

I am back to writing again today. I have taken two weeks off work to get my book proposal done, or at least almost done. So I'll be busy tapping away on the keys again but I have no doubt more seasonal tasks will pop up during the day and no doubt they'll be done - slowly and with the pleasure of the task.

Welcome to all the new readers who arrived over the past week or so. I hope this week is a good one for all of us. I hope you appreciate each day for what it gives you and you slow yourself enough to truly live your days.


21 September 2008

More of the Swap photos and a few links

I have posted more swap photos-don't worry if yours is not up yet I post them in batches so I will be posting more all this next week. If you haven't sent me your photo, please do try to send it soon! my e-mail is :cdetroyes at yahoo dot com I have also found some fun links for ideas for our hand-made holiday. For knitters, here is a fun edging to try: http://www.instructables.com/id/How_to_knit_a_quotPicotquot_Edge/
For ideas to give the little ones I have two links: http://blueyonder.typepad.com/photos/bandana_pants/ and http://paperdollygirl.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/baby-gift-burp-cloths/
For the cook here is a fun apron tutorial that you can use to make matching chef's apron: http://www.instructables.com/id/How_to_sew_an_adjustable_chefs_apron/
For those who like to read in bed here is an easy tutorial on an organizer: http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/?p=574 Sew Mama Sew http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/ is showing us a lot of ideas on making things for the home so be sure to check out the blog for ideas and tutorials.
Here is a lunch tote idea for those who ride bicycles to work or school: http://www.evilmadscientist.com/article.php/lunchbag
I will be back later in the week with more ideas for han made holiday gifts and to let you know when I have posted more photos. Hugs Sharon

20 September 2008

Swap Photos

Hello all. I hope everyone is having a relaxing week-end. I have posted 15 photos of our swap goodies on our flickr site with is listed on the side panel. I will be back tomorrow with more photos and a few links that show some fun ideas for hand-made holiday gifts. Hugs Sharon

19 September 2008

Shiver me timbers - it's Hanno's birthday!

It's Hanno's birthday today - 19 September, he is 68. It's also International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a fact I'll remind him of over lunch. LOL! We have made plans to have lunch at a restaurant up in the mountains, we'll meet a friend there and, no doubt, have a lovely time. I have to tell you, he is getting better with age. The days we spend together here now are the best days of our lives - we have the freedom to do whatever we want and each day is full of interest as, piece by piece, we work towards our plans. It's a wonderful thing to know you can completely trust someone and to have a deep mutual respect. I doubt there are a lot of things we can be sure of but I know, without a doubt, that we'll be together until we die. Hopefully that's a long way off for both of us.

One of the ladies who reads my blog has two cartons of size 27 Fowlers jars to give away. They have no clips or lids but are in good condition. If you live on the north side of Brisbane and can meet her somewhere local to collect them, send me an email: rhondahetzel at gmail dot com and I'll pass on her details. First email to arrive from Brisbane's northside will get them.

When my mother was alive she used to often send me letters written on fine air mail paper containing news of the family and carefully cut out articles from newspapers and magazines. They were all articles she thought I'd be interested in and it always made those letters fascinating because not only did I get to read interesting, funny, sad or bizarre articles, I also discovered what she thought I was interested in. She usually had me 100% right. Anyhow, now that mum has gone, my sister/friend Kathleen still regularly sends me letters full of the best articles that otherwise I would never see because I don't buy magazines. Yesterday's was a long complex letter with, naturally, a "Jean cutting" and a little card. The card says: "When I count my blessings, I count you twice." It's an old Irish proverb. I love that the card is of fish swimming upstream against the tide - something I have done all my life. Kathleen knows me well. (Thanks Kathleen Alice.) The Jean cutting was an article by Germaine Greer talking about her own aging. She is almost 70 now and is still in fine form. I sometimes see her on ABC TV now and having spent much of her recent life in the UK, I was surprised and delighted to fine that she now lives near me here in south east Queensland.

She writes: "If I eat too much in the evening I can't sleep, so I don't cook big dinners or eat them or go out for them or accept invitations to them. This means I've dropped out of the bottom of the chattering classes and cafe society. I'd rather be somewhere, anywhere else, on this most adorable of planets. I can be happy wherever there's a patch of waste ground with a few wild things on it. I'm happiest on my scrap of Queensland any time, but best of all in the indigo evening, as the sunlight on the rhyolite crags above the darkening green canopy turns gold, then rose, and fades altogether, and the microbats swing overhead, the stars rush out, and the forest comes to life." Nice. Welcome home, Germaine.

We are still getting a lot of food from the backyard. They are always simple meals, we are passed the days of extravagant food. Last week we dined on the most delicious Dutch cream potatoes, newly dug from the garden. I peeled and chopped them into chunks, fried a small onion in olive oil, then added one teaspoon of curry powder and one teaspoon of turmeric, salt and pepper and let them cook to develop that lovely golden colour. After about 10 minutes I added half a cup of water - that was allowed to evaporate off and they were ready. It was served with a garden salad, just picked and on the plate ten minutes later. Dessert was strawberry tarts with fresh strawberries (pictured above). I had some uncooked pastry leftover from the lemon tart I made when my cousin Suzie was here so I used that to make a few little tarts. I filled them with home made strawberry jam, the last of my September 2006 batch, and still as good as the day I made it. The cooled tarts were topped with fresh local strawberries bought for 99 cents.

Life's good.


18 September 2008

A homemade Christmas

Carl Larsen painting, Christmas Morning, from Carl Larsen gallery.

Christmas has the potential to undo all your frugal efforts throughout the year. You hear that "ho-ho-hoing", you see the advertisements with the warm and fuzzy family around the Christmas tree with stacks of gifts under it, you start thinking that maybe you should get your credit card out and buy gifts for the 30 people on your list.

Listen. Christmas isn't about the gifts, it's much more significant than that.

Now more than ever there is a need to cut back and save. Gone are the days of extravagant gestures for your best friend's brother, you don't need to give to everyone. A few years ago I stopped sending cards and giving a lot of gifts. Now I usually give only to my close family members. To the rest I give a warm and sincere wish for a wonderful Christmas, sometimes I invite friends over for a Christmas drink, sometimes there might be a small homemade gift. What we do give is our friendship, we share the events of the past year and we look forward together to what will come in the new year. There is a lot of good will, my friends know - really know - that I love them and they know that by my actions and words, not by the gifts I give.

It requires a bit of soul searching to cull your gifts list and you need to be kind to yourself and know that you aren't being selfish or mean. What you are doing is making your life better, you are sticking to your budget, living true to your values and you're not falling for the commercialism that is now so much a part of Christmas that we can't see the forest for the (Christmas) trees. It's probably a good idea to tell your relatives and friends that you'll be breaking with tradition and not giving as many gifts as you did in the past. If you really want gifts to be a part of the day, maybe you could have a secret santa with your family so the cost is reduced but gifts are still exchanged.

I think many of you will be surprised to find that some of your family members will be relieved that someone decided to stop buying gifts for everyone. It's not just making it easier for you because your actions will have a flow on effect by reducing the expense of Christmas for all of them. Besides, all gifts should be given in the spirit of love and not just because they are expected.

I love receiving homemade gifts. It shows me that someone has put time and effort into my gift. If you decide to give hand made gifts you should think carefully about what that person would like. There are certain gifts that many people like - such as the ever popular homemade soap, candles, chocolates and truffles, preserves, chutney and jams. If you're a knitter there are many small projects that could be created on the needles, and sewing is another pathway to many wonderful gifts. To help you along the way I've found some wonderful links to give you some ideas. I have absolutely no doubt that there will be many more ideas in the comments. So have a look at my list and add your ideas so we can all share what we know and help others towards a homemade Christmas.
I hope a few of you will be working towards a homemade Christmas this year. If you are, now is the time to start preparing. You'll need to make a plan now and start on your projects so there is no last minute rush to have gifts finished. And don't forget to add your suggestions in the comments. :- )


17 September 2008

Squirrels unite

Hi everyone. I'm fine, I've just had a couple of hectic days. :- )

We live in troubling times. If you've been reading the newspaper or watching the TV news you will know about the collapse of another American bank and the possible collapse of the American International Group, the world's largest insurance company. The problem with these financial troubles is that is affects investment, superannuation, pension schemes and 401(k) plans all around the world - in Australia the demise of Lehman's bank knocked millions of dollars off superannuation funds and the stock exchange.

Even though we may seem removed from the goings on of big business, it has the potential to really impact on our daily lives. We need to be cautious. While it's impossible to write a post that will cover everyone's situation, I think, in general, it would be very wise for all of us to think carefully before we spend on any non-essentials. It's time to go into squirrel mode - we need to be saving our money and conserving our resources. There are tips here for buying groceries and here for living on a budget. We've talked about these things before but it's often helpful to see a new perspective.

Overall, I think it's a really good thing for everyone with debt to get really serious about paying it off. Forget your credit card, now is not the time to add to your debt, you need to pay it off. If that seems like too big a task to make much difference to your everyday life, there is a smaller thing you can do while still paying off your debts. Start an emergency fund. Try to work out a saving strategy for yourself where you stop spending your "spare" money and instead, save it as a buffer. If you can save all that money you would have spent on gifts, magazines, new shoes and clothes, craft supplies, holidays and treats, you will soften the impact of future financial problems. If you have that cash to pay for all those unexpected thing that seem to crop up in everyone's life, you won't have to put more on your credit card and you can continue to pay off your debt. If you come into a windfall, or save extra money, pay it off your debt, it makes a big difference and in the long run will save you a lot of money in interest.

And what do you do if you have no debt, or a small amount of debt? You continue to do what you've been doing. We all need to be careful now. Continue to shop for groceries in the most frugal way possible, continue to save what you can, be aware of the unstable financial situation in the world right now and spend only on essentials.

Squirrels unite! We are all in the same unsteady boat. No one knows what the coming months will bring but if you make a few preparations now you'll be better able to withstand whatever does come along. If you've never been serious about saving before, now is your time. Step up and own any financial problems you have, start paying off your debt and move toward a more independent future.

The American site Dave Ramsey and the UK's moneysaving expert are both excellent resources that could help you create your own financial plan. I would also encourage you to read Your Money or your Life.

Tomorrow I'll write about cutting back on Christmas spending and handmade gifts.


15 September 2008

Improving with age

I am a working homemaker. I am proud of that title but it took me a while to realise it. I don't know how many times I've filled in a form that required me to describe what it is I do with my time. I've called myself "nurse", "journalist", "writer", and , no doubt, various other things. I don't think I've called myself "domestic engineer", if I ever did, I regret it. Homemaker suits me well now. It is what I am. I am proud of the name and what it represents.

As I worked in my home yesterday, with another season coming to an end, I busied myself with some of the changes that seasons bring. The quilt photographed above is the one my sister, Tricia, made for our mum as she lay dying in hospital many years ago. Tricia worked on the quilt as she sat by mum's bed, and mum loved it spread out over the hospital bed, hiding hospital sheets and a sick body. The quilt was being made for mum, but when she died, Tricia asked me if I wanted to have it.

It is one of my most treasured possessions.

I took the quilt from the bed yesterday. The warmer weather is here now and I will gradually take apart our winter nest bed and make one more appropriate to warmer weather. As I looked at the quilt still on the bed, I noticed that over the years it's developed lines of mellow wrinkles along the quilting stitches. It has the look of a well used, but cared for, quilt. The straight and crisp lines of a new quilt are gone, replaced by something more gentle and comfortable. Age and use bring another dimension to this quilt, it adds to the beauty of it. Function often reveals its own glow that you see when you slow down enough for it.

Later in the week, I'll wash the quilt and hang it out to dry, then it will be stored in a cupboard until it is needed again. That might be when someone falls asleep on the sofa, when visitors stay overnight or when winter's chill again calls for a much loved and aging quilt. It seems to me that like many people, quilts improve with age.

Hanno's birthday is on Friday. He will be 68 years old.


14 September 2008

Swap Update

Hello all. I hope everyone is enjoying their week-end and we send our prayers to those who are dealing with Hurricane Ike. I wish to remind everyone that the deadline for the swap was last week-end, September 6th. I did not remind everyone due to so much happening to Rhonda. I hope everyone has posted their parcels now. If each of you could please let me know:
1. Your name and your swap buddy's name
2. that you have posted your parcel
3. whether or not you have received your parcel and, of course,
4. please send me a photo of your parcel and the parcel you receive from your buddy (when you receive it)
I need to remind everyone that the only way I can manipulate the photos is by a jpeg attachment to the e-mail that you send me-my computer does not like embeded photos, or photos through Microsoft Network , etc. In order for me to upload them I need a jpeg attachment that I can download into my picture file, which is then annotated and uploaded to our flickr account (flickr can also be a bit testy with photos). I have about 10 photos right now and have replied to those (there are two of you who need to re-send your photos as a jpeg attachement). I will be uploading these photos on to our flickr page this week and will continue to add photos in batches of about 12, so keep checking for yours. The flickr page is listed in the side bar of Rhonda's blog : http://www.flickr.com/photos/down-to-earth_swap_photos/ . My e-mail (Sharon) is: cdetroyes at yahoo dot com
I hope everyone has enjoyed this swap! I will be back next week with some links that I have found for projects and tips for handmade holidays. As always, if there are questions or problems, please e-mail me!

13 September 2008

Swap and biscuit recipe

I've been up since 3.30am and have had a good session writing my book proposal. Exciting! It's Saturday morning here, the sun is shining and it's warm. Hanno is out walking with Alice and then he has to buy some cow manure. Oh, the glamour of the simple life! ;- )

I hope to do some sewing and knitting today in the breaks I take away from writing. Hopefully I'll get that summer night dress finished.

My pin cushion and needlebook sent by Danielle.

I received my swap package from Danielle on Friday. She sent a gorgeous needlebook and pin cushion, plus some great seeds from Eden - one of my favourite seed merchants. Thanks Danielle!

And this is what I sent Dani.

If you were part of the swap, please let Sharon know if you haven't yet sent your swap items. Hopefully we'll we able to get your photos sent in to make a swap parade. I'll email Sharon as soon as I finish here and she if she is able to do that.

This is the recipe for the biscuits I posted a photo of a couple of days ago.

Cranberry and Walnut Biscuits

¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup roughly crushed walnuts
1¼ cups self-raising flour (OR 1¼ cups all purpose flour+ 1 large teaspoon baking powder)
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
125 g (¼ lb) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 180 C (350F). Line two baking trays.

Combine all the dry ingredients and mix well. Whisk egg and water, add to melted butter and mix. Stir that into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Place 1½ tablespoons of mixture on prepared trays, squash down slightly with a fork. You should get about 20 biscuits. Bake until golden brown, about 15 - 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. Drizzle on lemon icing if wanted.

ICING: ½ cup icing sugar + enough lemon juice for the right consistency.

When I was reading Jewels blog this morning, she mentioned that she has a new widget, FEEDJIT. I have installed it too and have been watching with Hanno as people roll in from around the world. It's so interesting watching the live feed. You can check it out on my righthand side bar. Click on "watch in real time".

I hope you're spending your weekend doing what you love. Take care everyone, and for those of you in the path of the hurricanes in southern USA, we are thinking of you.


12 September 2008

Organic potatoes and a rooster

It's official. Meet Seth! Hanno said he saw him engaging in some hanky panky with the girls, so it looks like we've got ourselves a light Sussex rooster. Bec, when should I expect Seth to start crowing?

This is one of our young Australorp hens, Mary.

We have never bred chicks before so I'd better start reading something about it. As many of you know our attempts at trying to hatch fertile eggs last Christmas was a disaster. I hope Seth protects his girls well. He is a big strapping boy so I think he would be a capable lad. We have no light Sussex hens but we do have three silver Sussex - Pippa, Poppy and Mrs Rudd, and one buff Sussex - Margaret. I have no idea about the genetics of chooks and how the colours work out, but it will be interesting finding out and a pleasure to add another skill to those that help us live as independently as possible.

Here is my lovely hen Margaret, doing what chooks all round the world do.

And just one last chook photo. ;- ) This is Lulubelle, a barred Plymouth Rock.

More work was done in the garden yesterday. This is always a busy time of year for Hanno as he pulls out old crops, digs up potatoes and plans for the coming season. The weather is perfect at the moment so I know he will try to get as much of the heavy work done as he can before the onset of the hot and humid weather.

You can take a lot of the hard work out of vegetable gardening if you plan well. Getting all the plants in and the maintenance work like weeding and mulching finished before the hot weather, makes it a more pleasant activity. If Hanno can get all that digging, planting, weeding and mulching out of the way, all we need to do in the hotter months is to water, fertilise and harvest. Generally the mulch keeps the weeds at bay while it keeps the moisture in the soil and helps keep the soil temperature constant. You get much healthier root structure under mulch and your vegetables will be better for it.

The bare garden bed in the background is the old potato bed. Now it will be planted with all sorts of summer vegetables.

The most important thing in a vegetable garden though is to build up your soil. Mulch helps with that as well because it breaks down over time and adds organic matter to the soil. That will bring in the worms too. Forget about all those expensive chemical fertilisers. You will get by well enough with straw or hay, a compost heap or a worm farm and a big clump of comfrey. If you have chooks too, that's the icing on the cake because their old nests and the spent straw on the floor, enriched with their poo, will help you make the best compost. If you have an indoor fire where you burn only hardwood, those ashes can also be added to your compost. If you can add lots of compost to your garden every year, in between each planting season, over time you will build up a rich organic soil that will give you fresh wholesome vegetables year upon year. Don't expect great results the first year you garden but if you add to your soil, your garden and the vegetables it produces will improve every year.

Potatoes are one of the easiest of all crops to grow. They need a deep rich soil and a moderate amount of water. The photo above shows some of the dutch creams / nicola potatoes Hanno dug up yesterday. From that small garden bed he harvested over 19 kilos - 42 pounds of very good quality, large organic potatoes. There were a few smaller ones that did not have time to grow to full size, they will be used as our seed potatoes for the crop we will plant next week. Start off with good quality certified seed potatoes, but if you can't get them buy organic potatoes from your green grocer. We use new organic seeds when we can find them, but also organic potatoes from the store and our own small potatoes as seeds and we've never had a problem doing that.

These are the next seeds to be planted. I'll plant these luffas along the lattice, the nasturtiums will be popped in with the vegetables and the giant Russian sunflowers will be grown for the chooks and the wild parrots. I always plant flowers in the vegetable patch. Not only does it bring in the bees to pollinate the vegetable and fruit flowers, it adds beauty to the garden.

And lastly, here is a photo of newly born rats from our compost heap. If you live in an area where there is a lot of wildlife, you need to monitor your compost. It's warm in there and there is food for all sorts of critters. Make sure you don't have any small surprises like these, because they will bring snakes and all sorts of hygiene problems.

Happy gardening to all of you starting your Spring gardens.

ADDIT: For all those backyarders in the UK, Pebbledash has told me about her 18 year old nephew, Ben, who is making these absolutely beautiful chook tractors/hen houses. You can check out his site here.


11 September 2008

Vegetable gardening - another season starts

I've been resting these past couple of days and, impatient as I am to be well again, I think I'm almost there. The pain is gone from the back of my leg, moved to my hip and has now settled in my knee. It's very strange. I've never had anything like this before but the worst of it seems to be over and that makes me very happy. I am not one to rush off to a doctor as I tend to think my body will heal itself. Let's see if that proves to be true. Thank you all, friends, for the sweet get well cards, emails and all those lovely comments.

Activity has been at a minimum here but I have done a few things around the house. Cranberry and walnut biscuits were made for morning teas and I've also been tending the worm farm, knitting and writing. Now that the warmer weather is here the worm numbers have started to explode. I put some food in the farm yesterday afternoon and noticed a wriggling mass of baby worms. I'll take a photo of them later today so you too can see their squirming loveliness.

This is what awaited me when I walked outside yesterday afternoon. Hanno was sitting on the stump of a tree, with Alice, watching the chooks. We have to watch them when they free range now because we're growing lettuces and tomatoes in the yard unprotected from their scratching feet and ever hungry beaks.

I'm beginning to think that Big Bertha (above) is a rooster. Yesterday I think I saw the beginnings of spurs on those long, long legs. I'm not sure how I feel about that yet. One part of me loves the idea of being able to raise our own chicks, the other half knows that as soon as the crowing starts, so will the neighbours complaints. We'll just have to wait and see what happens - whatever will be, will be.

This rest of the chooks are happy to wander about each day, looking for grubs and the occasional stray grasshopper. About half of them are laying now so we're selling eggs and putting that money towards their food and general care.

Just out of sight in the above photo is our, still uncovered, peach tree. The nectarines stood up well to the heavy rain we had a week ago but it looks untidy and ugly and I really don't like having the entire tree wrapped.

Hanno works every day in the garden and it really pays off. Above is a variety of vegies like leeks, beetroot, lettuce and tomatoes. Further over, just out of view is the potato patch we're half way through harvesting. If you've never eaten a fresh potato, let me tell you that is a treat you won't forget in a hurry. This crop is dutch creams, aka Nicola; we have Kiplfers growing out in the front garden. We are almost ready to do another planting for summer and as the prediction is for another hot one this year, we're thinking of putting up one shade tunnel for the green leafy vegetables. That will be behind the garden bed you see above. Beside it, where we are now growing potatoes, there will be mixed vegetables like capsicums, carrots, radishes and lettuce. The new potato crop will go in the old kale bed and we'll plant luffas on the new lattice. You can see it below with a few tomatoes growing well up against the lattice wall.

It is truly a wonderful time of year here. The nights are cool, the days warm and there is a feeling of expectation and reward in the air. It looks to be another good season of backyard growing coming up and I am thankful that we are able to get the best from the small parcel of land we have. We see complete life cycles here, one season comes to and end while a new one begins. Winter vegetables start flowering and seeding while summers vegetables grow quickly to their full potential. The hens start laying every day and the finer details of their feathers develop as the season progresses. The complexity and genuine beauty of the natural world always amazes me, I will never get tired of seeing bees flying from flower to flower or watching the day-by-day unfolding of a sunflower head.

Life is good in a productive backyard. Nature's gifts to us for our table are abundant and sweet. We never say to each other that we are living the good life, but we both know it deep down to our bones.

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