31 December 2009

From the archives - Living Small (October 2007)

It never occurred to me when I was a spender that I was actually giving away my independence. I thought the opposite. I believed I was the queen of my realm and the more I had and the more dollars I spent, the more power, strength and independence I had. When I stopped spending I realised how pathetically wrong that was.

What I was doing was working in a job I didn't like so I had enough money to pay for a lifestyle I didn't want to live. I was shopping for clothes and shoes to make me look like everyone else, I was buying things for my home to make me feel comfortable in a place I didn't take the time to feel comfortable in, and I was buying foods to comfort and nurture because I didn't feel at ease in my life and I didn't have the time or energy to cook the foods I liked. And the strangest thing is that when I was doing that, I didn't think about the sadness I was feeling, I didn't realise I was unsatisfied and I didn't see the need for change.

I only realised that need when I took myself out of the shopping frenzy and sat alone on my verandah and thought about what I was doing and how far from my ideal life I really was. When I stopped shopping, I saw it in a brighter light and when I saw its ugly side, I didn't want to go back there.

I realised that I could do all those things I used to spend my money on. I could make clothes, I could cook well, I could do my own housework, but when I started doing those things I found that I'd lost many of the skills I grew up with. I'd forgotten how to sew and knit because I paid someone else to make my clothes, I'd forgotten how to cook well because I'd been buying all sorts of foods that didn't require me to exercise my mind and spend my energy on making my truly favourite dishes. When it came to housework, all I knew was to get the Chux and Mr Sheen from the cupboard and wipe. I was really pathetic - a grown woman who didn't know how to look after myself or my family properly; I'd forgotten the skills that all my great grandmothers had passed on to me - I, my friends, was a modern woman - I was dependent on others to help me live.

You don't have to be a genius to shop, you need limited skills to be good at it - all you need is money, or credit, and time. All that time to spend walking through shopping malls searching for something made (usually) in a foreign land by people who are probably underpaid, producing millions of products exactly the same as the previous million, and the million that will follow.

On the other hand, not shopping requires a multifaceted strategy. You need to know how to create, cook, clean and sew, you need to make do with what you have, to reuse, recycle and repair, you need to barter, grow food, preserve, and you need to love doing it. You have to discover for yourself the true beauty of being able to look after yourself, your family and your home with a minimum of outside help. The beauty of it is there if you look.

I am much richer now than I've ever been in my life. I know how to live now. I have the skills to survive a crisis, I have the strength and knowledge to produce my own food and to store it. I can clothe myself and others. All these are real life-engaging and self-empowering skills. But the real skill here is to do it and love doing it. Relearning those lost skills, and then loving the doing of them, is an act of subversion because you're not doing what women and men in our times are supposed to be doing. Nurturing your family and yourself with cooking, gardening, housekeeping, dress making, knitting, making soap, baskets, shawls and jam, and all the other things you learn to do in your post-consumerist life, not only enriches your spirit but it makes you an independent force. Ladies and gentlemen, may the force be with you.

29 December 2009

From the archives - Just do it (April 2009)

I'm having a short break but I noticed there are a lot of readers visiting this morning. I've decided to occasionally feature popular posts from the archives so you have something to read when you visit.


Anna S by Carl Larsson from here.

I really enjoyed reading a comment from Elizabeth yesterday. She said, in part, “I have been reading your blog for some time but until last week I just read and wished but did not action in anyway. That is, until this last weekend when I thought 'just do it!' So, I have started knitting a cardigan, knitted three squares for a throw for this winter, and made a chicken soup using up a chicken carcass for the very first time!" It is obvious to me that Elizabeth has been thinking about how she wants to change her life for some time, and now she's just dived right in. Living deliberately, there is nothing like it.

When Thoreau wrote his book, Walden, he had left his job and set up in a small cabin to live alone in the woods. He wrote: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience ..." I think that is one of the most profound pieces of writing I've ever read and since I discovered Walden, many years ago, I have tried to live to the spirit of what Thoreau wrote in that one passage.

So what exactly is living deliberately? I guess there may be several different interpretations but to me it means taking control of my life, thinking about what it is I want my life to be, knowing what I want to do every day, or what I have to do to achieve my goals, and then living that life. Very few people have their life planned out for them and handed over on a silver platter. But what many people do is to just react to life. They have no real plans, they live each day doing what is expected of them, then, when something out of the ordinary happens, they react to it. There is no real plan, no map to follow, just reactions to what life throws.

Deliberate living is deciding what you want your life to become, working out the steps you need to take to make that happen, then, as Elizabeth said, just do it. You will still get life throwing the unexpected at you, but when it happens, you work to solve the problem, then you get back on track.

Those three little words, just do it, are the best advice for anyone hovering on the edge of a simple life. You might be hovering because you don’t know what to do first, because you feel you can’t do it all so why bother with a little bit, or you’re waiting for just the right time – until you move, you get that pay rise, you retire, the kids move out – whatever the right time will be for you, let me tell you there will be no right time. The only right time is now.

The other thing Elizabeth said was that she feels renewed now when she wakes up. I feel that way too. Every day you continue along the path you’ve chosen, you feel you have purpose and you feel renewed.

I think the economic crisis will bring a lot more people to this way of living but living simply is much more than a financial strategy, it's more than your location, it's more than how you manage your home or plant your vegetables. It's about you, how you think about your life and how you express your values day by day. Anyone can learn to make yoghurt, budget, knit dishcloths and grow tomatoes, the real trick is for your actions to reflect how you think and how you want to live. What good is it to list the hundred things you've accomplished if you're not made happy by what you do, if you aren't renewed by it, and if you don't do it with grace, humility and generosity.

When you deliberately choose this way of life, you will be doing things that bypass the conveniences of your old life, there will be many things you'll do differently, but if you do it well, if you really throw yourself into your life, if you live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, not only will you be living deliberately, you will be changed by it. Just do it.


Combine the following dry ingredients in a bowl:
1 cup self raising flour OR one cup plain (all purpose) flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup walnuts
½ cup brown sugar

Melt 125 grams butter (1 stick/4 ozs)
Add 1 lightly beaten egg

Mix the dry ingredients with the wet and press the dough into a slice tin. Firm it down before baking on 180C (350F) for about 2o minutes. Don't leave it in too long or the outer sides will be very hard. When cooked, cut into slices. You could substitute the walnuts for a cup of sultanas (golden raisins) or choc chips or any nuts you have on hand.

28 December 2009

Christmas morning

We had a beautiful Christmas morning.  It wasn't too hot, there were clouds blocking the sun and when we left home at 6.15am, there was the promise of a wonderful day ahead.  Hanno and I drove to the Centre where, along with a few others, we packed our cars with tables, chairs, equipment and food, and headed off to the local park.

 Hanno and some of the volunteer chefs cooking up a feast for everyone.

The Centre where I work as a volunteer invites the town to share breakfast every Christmas morning.  For the past few weeks I've been organising this and I wanted it to be the best yet.  Santa had contacted me to let me know he'd be there, we had a lot of volunteers to help set up, cook and tidy up, all we needed was a crowd of people.

Well, they didn't let me down, I think we served about 700 breakfasts.  The toughest part of organising such an event is that you never know how many people will come along.  We ran out of bacon late in the morning, but had sausages and eggs left over.  We also served cooked tomatoes and mushrooms, bread and butter, fresh tropical fruit, organic muesli and yoghurt, cereals with local dairy milk, fruit juice, spring water, tea and coffee.  I've already bagged up the leftover sausages, they and the eggs and bread will be given out to people needing food assistance over the holidays.

It was a lovely morning.  Homeless people mixed with business leaders, children came along with new toys, people who might nod in the street during the year, sat down and ate breakfast together.  I feel blessed being part of it.  As usual, my faithful sidekick, Hanno, was with me to help.  He loves cooking the sausages so that is where he was for the first few hours, then he had a break and sat chatting with a paramedic under a tree, sipping coffee.

There were a couple of short downpours of rain but no one cared.  It's all part of living in the subtropics at Christmas time.  Many people came over to me to thank the Centre for hosting such an amazing event, we received lots of donations and Hanno and I came home happy people.  It really is the best part of Christmas for me.

I am taking a break for a short while to rest and get ready for a busy new year.  I have a few ideas for the blog in the coming months and I'm eager to share them with you.  Thank you for your visits here during the year.  It never fails to astound me that people keep coming!  Thank you for the warm friendships many of you have extended to me and for the many wise and wonderful comments.  A special thanks to Sharon who helps me here, the forum and at the simple, green, frugal co-op blog.   Warm hugs, Sharon, I appreciate you very much.

I hope you're squeezing every bit of joy out of the festivites and that your new year opens with optimism, hope and desire for continued change.  I know mine will and I want as many people as possible to be walking along this chosen road with me.

Take care, friends.  I'll see you soon.

ADDITION:   There is an online sale at American Yarns - 20% off everything in the store.  Starts 26 December and runs for five days.  Use the code 'bdaysale09' at the checkout to get your 20% saving.  Click here to go to the store.


27 December 2009

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today we have the last kitchen sink photo for the year.  We'll continue the series next year and soon I'll be calling for more photos, so get your cameras out, ladies and gentlemen.  I'd love to see a man's kitchen and kitchens from Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Japan and every other cosy corner of the world this blog is read.

Our photos today come from Deb at Homespun Living.  I'm sure many of my readers know Deb.  Her waffle weave dishcloth is my favourite and I've linked to it a number of times.  There is a lovely green dishcloth in one of these photos.  I also copied Deb's beautiful idea to hand stitch my kitchen curtains.  Mine are similar to Deb's but I have tea cups, not tea pots.

Deb writes:
" This end of the kitchen is where we eat every day. The round wooden table and the chairs were found at tag sales and refurbished – I painted the chairs, recovered the seats, and refinished the table. I think everything you see in the picture {except the light fixture} was found secondhand, previously loved by someone, and now put to new use in our home. The wall cabinet holds vintage bowls – most used day to day, and some used to hold wine corks, cookie cutters, etc. The long side table is another tag sale find and holds wire baskets with table linens, a black metal box where we stow snacks, an old bread box I painted, a plate rack, and a little curio cabinet my father-in-law built. The goal is to achieve a simple, functional space that is also warm and cozy.

Two years ago we gave the kitchen a facelift on a tight budget. The farmhouse sink and faucet were both deals I found on Ebay, the new oak countertop was actually gymnasium flooring that was given to us, and we transformed our wood cabinets with cream-colored paint. The dishdrainer is from Ikea, and the dishcloth I hand knit. The curtains are vintage linen tea towels that I embroidered with tea pots and hung from clips. And, with each changing season, there is a wonderful view from the window over my farmhouse sink."

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

I'll do one more post tomorrow before I take my break.  I'll see you then.

26 December 2009

You, me and the kitchen sink

Our boxing day kitchen sink is situated in America.  This kitchen is Pam's from Life on a Southern Farm blog.   Pam writes:

"This is our recycled kitchen sink. When we were building the house about 15 years ago we came across 2 sinks like this one and 2 bathroom sinks at a salvage store. The sinks came out of an old hotel near Atlanta, Ga that was torn down. I think we paid maybe $10 for all 4 sinks.

One side is very deep and I just love it. It is just right for washing out large canning pots and pans. We put the other double sink in the downstairs bathroom and the 2 single sinks in the upstairs bathroom.

I know you said 2 pictures but the other picture is the kitchen floor. It is oak wood that my husband sawed on the sawmill from trees off our property"

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

25 December 2009

Christmas ~ Michael Leunig

Recently I conducted a comprehensive survey of Hanno and I and discovered that we have the warmest, friendliest and most loyal readers in the entire blogdom. Thank you for your visits and comments this year and for supporting the Down to Earth forum.  Thanks also to the wonderful group of ladies who help me on the forum, I couldn't do it without them.  You'll find their blogs on my blogroll.  It's been an absolute pleasure for me to discover more about you during the year and to have so many of you come out of hiding.  I look forward to next year when we'll all move together towards a simpler life.

We'll have two more kitchen sink posts and then I'll have a some time off.  

I found this Michael Leunig poem on Duckherder's blog last Christmas and have never found another Christmas poem I like more. So, for those who missed it the first time, and for those who love it as much as I do, here it is again.  Merry Christmas everyone, and Duckie.

I see a twinkle in your eye, so this shall be my Christmas star and I will travel to your heart: the manger where the real things are.
And I will find a mother there who holds you gently to her breast, a father to protect your peace, and by these things you shall be blessed.
And you will always be reborn and I will always see the star and make the journey to your heart: the manger where the real things are.

24 December 2009

You, me and the kitchen sink

I think today's kitchen comes from America.  Montanasmama doesn't say where she is from, but from the name and the measurement in inches, I'm guessing the USA.  Montanasmama, if you drop by today, please let us know what state you're in.

She writes:

"I know my sink looks huge in this little kitchen but it has the same foot print of a double bowl sink. I have found it SO much more user friendly then the double bowl in my old house. If you look you will see two water taps on the sink. One is for the city water, which is new to me and lovely to have when things get dry but I don't want to drink,cook, or ruin my tea with it. The other tap is for my gravity fed spring water system. I just re-routed the spring water from my old house to the new. If something happens to the city water I can switch the whole house over to the spring system. I chose the high curved taps to make it easy to fill and clean big pots. 

The door by the fridge is a pocket door leading into the walk in pantry. Having a hinged door here would have been very unhandy. Because the kitchen is small the "off the rack" kitchen islands were all too big for the space. To make my little island I took two 18" wide cabinets and attached them end to end giving me a small work area and 8 more drawers. I bought a slightly defective piece of corian counter top for it. I was going to use some kind of stone but just happened upon the corian stuff, it was the perfect size and cheap! How often will that happen? The other counters are laminate and I didn't fell comfortable with putting really hot stuff down on them so the little island takes care of where to put that right out of the oven or off the burner stuff."
Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.
The last two kitchens this year will appear this weekend - Pam's kitchen from Life on a Southern Farm will feature on Saturday and Deb's kitchen from Homespun Living will be our last kitchen for the year on Sunday.

23 December 2009

Baking wholewheat bread

Girl in the pink dress asked for a post on making wholewheat/wholemeal bread.  I made some yesterday so here are my thoughts.  The most important element in wheat bread is gluten, it gives bread its shape and fluffiness. There are 30 different proteins in wheat, glutenin and gliadin are the two that form gluten.  Gluten develops in the dough when moisture is added and the mixture is stirred and kneaded.  Bread must be kneaded for at least eight minutes, preferably 10 minutes, to develop the gluten so it's strong enough to hold the shape of the bread and all the air that gives us the lightness we want.  No one wants dense gluggy bread.

When you make white bread and knead the dough well, you'll get a light loaf.  When you make wholemeal bread, the added bran and fibre in the flour, makes it very important for you to knead the dough properly.  If you don't, the gluten won't be developed enough to hold the pockets of air and you'll get a small dense loaf.

Let me make this clear - it doesn't matter how you knead your bread dough.  If you want to use a bread maker that's fine!  If you want to knead by hand, that's fine!  The point of the exercise is to knead it sufficiently to make a decent loaf of bread.  Every loaf of bread you make at home will be better for you and cheaper than anything you buy.  If you want to produce most of your own bread and you need a breadmaker to do that, there is nothing wrong with that, despite what others might tell you.  You are your own boss, do what you know is right for you and your family.  If you love the feeling of hand making bread, do it.  If you don't have the time for kneading, can't seem to get it right or find it too difficult, use a breadmaker.  I have a breadmaker here and I often use it to knead my dough.  I never cook in the machine because I prefer bread baked in the oven.  But you do what is best for you and what is easiest.

I opened a new pack of yeast yesterday so I made sure I proved it.  To prove yeast, half fill a cup with warm water.  Don't have it too hot because hot water will kill the yeast. Add the amount  of yeast you need and a teaspoon of sugar and stir it until it's mixed properly with the water.  Leave it for five to ten minutes. 

With the water and sugar to feed on, the yeast will activate and start frothing.  You can see this in the photo above.

When you're sure the yeast is alive and active you can add everything to your bowl or bread machine bucket.  My recipe for yesterday's bread was:
  • 3½ cups flour - I used half white and half stoneground wholemeal. Using some white flour will give a lighter loaf, using all wholemeal will give a heavier loaf.  You'll need 3½ cups, you decide how much white or wholemeal, if any, you'll use.  Buy bread flour, baker's flour, strong flour or high protein flour for your bread.
  • 1½ teaspoons yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 
  • about 2 cups of water You'll use more water with wholemeal flour but all flours are different.  Add almost all of the two cups, mix the dough and look to see if it needs more.

This is the dough in my breadmaker after I added two cups of water.  You can see in the photo that the dough is too dry, so I added another ¼ cup, then another ¼ cup.  Don't add the extra water all at once because it might be too much.  You need to look at it and judge if you have enough water or not.  This really does change from flour to flour and also on how humid it is.  You'll need less water in humid weather because there will be more water (from the air) already in the flour.
Now the water is in and I see that the dough is moist but not wet and sloppy.  I can still see a bit of dry flour at the bottom so I know it's fine now to walk away and do something else while the machine kneads the dough.
When I hear the machine's alarm, I go back to remove the dough.  Lightly flour your clean bench.  If you don't want to use your bench and prefer a board, put a moist tea towel/kitchen towel under the baord so it doens't slip around. 

Knead the dough by hand for a minute so it's nice and round and all the uneven bits are underneath.  

At this stage you can either just shape it and put it in greased a bread loaf tin or chop it into pieces to make bread rolls.  I did both and used my small loaf tin.
Wet the tops of the dough and sprinkle on anything your heart desires. I used polenta yesterday but I often use rolled oats, sesame or poppy seeds or a mixture of all of them.
Leave the dough in a warm spot to rise.  My kitchen was warm yestrday (28C) so I left the dough, uncovered, on the bench. Half an hour later it was ready to bake.  Make sure you don't let the dough rise too much because it will puff right up then collapse.  Also, handle the dough gently after it has risen because if you drop it or tap the side of the tin hard, it will lose all the air that's just caused it to rise.  If you do that, you'll have to let it rise again.

There are two kinds of rise when making bread.  One is the rise caused by the yeast and the gluten trapping the air given off by the yeast.  The other rise is oven lift and it happens when dough is placed in a hot oven.  A hot oven will make the dough puff up and then cook.  Make sure your oven is hot before you put the dough in.

About half an hour later you'll have a house smelling of hot bread and your lunch sitting on the bench cooling slightly before you cut into it.

Bread making is not just following a recipe.  It involves looking, touching and judgement.  Get in there and touch the dough, learn how a good dough feels, learn how to spot problems and how to fix them.  If you can bake a good loaf of bread and are the chief provider of bread for your family, you're doing your job of homemaker well.  Bread is a staple and it's well worth your time and effort to get it right.   You'll save money and provide your family with healthy food with no preservatives, and that is a fine thing.   Happy baking everyone!

22 December 2009

My planning day

I see living simply as a series of adjustments.  Much of what I'm doing now, I did before but in a different way, or with a different attitude.  Shopping, housework, cooking, baking, gardening, knitting, and keeping chickens were all in my life before I started living more deliberately but now they're carried out with a more generous and caring heart and not just because I have to. Now my days have a rhythm of their own, I have no watch, I rarely look at the wall clock, the day and the season tell me whatever time I want to know about.  I've adjusted to a gentler way where mostly, time doesn't mean much.

But every so often, like today, the summer solstice in Australia, I stop and actively think about time; the time I have, how I'll use it today and in the coming year. This year coming will be a busy.  I have many things planned and the challenge for me is not to come up with fresh ideas and to change what I'm doing, but to balance work with recreation, and to slow myself enough to enjoy every hour of every day.  If I don't do that, what's the point?

I have found I need to be much more organised living as I do.  If we haven't thought to buy all the supplies we need, we have to rush out to get them at inconvenient times and those extra trips use more time and fuel.  If we're not organised when sowing our seeds, there will be no fresh salads, no potatoes, no good juicy tomatoes, we'll have to buy what we need, and I see that as a step backwards.  So today I'll take the time to organise my new diary.  I'll write up all those things that will make the coming year easier for me because I'm organised and prepared.  I'll write in dates I need to remember, important days when I should be at particular places, sowing days and sewing days, reminders to slow down, days out with Hanno and all my work enagements and deadlines.   There is a lot to put into that diary.

One of the things I can tell you about now is that will be taking next week off.  We have our Christmas morning breakfast and then the start of the Boxing Day test cricket match when I'll be sitting with my knitting and watching the entire day's play.  The following day is the last You, me and the kitchen sink for the year and then we'll have a few days rest here when I won't post but give all my attention to Hanno and my home.  When I come back I'm starting a simple living series when, for about a month, I'll write about the elements of a simple life as I see them, both practical and intellectual.  Many of these topics have already been written about but there are so many new readers now I thought I'd write a brand new condensed series, day after day, and with fresh eyes.  I hope new and older readers alike will find something in it. I expect it will serve me well to freshen my attitudes to what I do, to rethink how I work here, and to think about what is important and what isn't. 

I hope you enjoy this solstice day.  Do you use this as a planning day?  If not, how do you mark the solstice?


21 December 2009

Days like yesterday

We had a wonderful time yesterday.  We celebrated Christmas early because our family is full of chefs, and chefs work on Christmas day.  Our visitors arrived just as loud thunder cracked right over our house and the rain started to fall.  The front and back doors were open to let the breeze through and while we exchanged gifts, ate lunch, talked and laughed, the rain continued as a pleasant backdrop to the day. It was fairly dark outside, even though it was early afternoon, but the fairy lights surrounding us twinkled and the candles on the table glowed and we all had a lovely time.  There is a lot to be said for a simple Christmas.  We had very few decorations and a tiny tree but lots of love made it a very special time for Hanno and I, and I hope for everyone else too.  Thank you to all those who sent special thoughts to us for our Christmas day.

I took a quick photo of the table while everyone was serving themselves from the kitchen bench and Hanno sat beside me watching the scene.  Our menu was nibbles of St Agur blue and Mersey Valley vintage cheese with crackers,  cold roast chicken and beef - organic and local, a garden salad and potato salad mainly from our dwindling garden supplies, pickled beetroot and cucumbers bottled up from the abundant harvests a few weeks ago.  Dessert was a hazelnut roche and chocolate truffle ice cream cake - made locally.

Everyone was hungry, they hardly ever eat breakfast (grrr), so it wasn't long before we were all sitting around the table enjoying our feast.  The rain continued to fall all afternoon, there was great conversation, and at one point we all went outside to visit the chooks and to see our new chook feeder. Ha! Homesteading, rainfall, chickens, soap, bread and cordial recipes always creep into the conversation when people live simply.  I don't think it's odd any more, it's normal for us and our kids.

I have never been the type of woman who, when young, hoped for a particular type of girl to marry my sons.  In fact, I don't recall thinking of them being grown up and married.  I guess the only thing I remember is that I always hoped they'd be happy in life and pleased with the choices they made.  Now I can tell you that I cannot think of two finer and more suitable women for them.   Both couples are happy - I can tell by their words as well as the body language and that makes me one happy and proud mother.  These two girls have slipped quietly into our lives and have made our future brighter.  I rarely think I'm a lucky woman but when I see Shane and Sarndra and Kerry and Sunny together, I often think it.

I doubt there is a more difficult task in adult life than to raise children to be happy, productive and ambitious adults.  I remember all those days of nappies/diapers, sleepless nights, combining work and parenting with varying levels of success,  the years of teen angst, first girlfriends, the discovery of alcohol and drugs and the hard work of consistently living the values we wanted to instil deep within our boys.  Days like yesterday are the payoff. 

20 December 2009

You, me and the kitchen sink

We are back in America again today, I am featuring the photos exactly in the order in which they arrived.  This is Tara's kitchen.

"I am a full time 33 year-old working mom in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. These pictures were actually taken in September here, when everything was still green.

I have a very small kitchen! My house is 1971 and as you will see in the first picture, I still have the original kitchen sink in "Harvest Gold". Some interesting things to point out in this picture are mung beans sprouting, my compost crock (where I put our kitchen scraps before taking them outside to the big compost bin), and my pump parts drying (breast pump). I love my big kitchen window and I leave the blinds up all year round. Out the window you can see our dog kennel. We have two large dogs.

In the second picture, you will see our dining room table and storage space (across from the very small kitchen sink area). This is where we keep fruits and veggies, pots and pans, bibs, cookbooks and many other things that will not fit on the kitchen counters. The okra, squash, and some of the tomatoes shown are from our garden.

My blogs are www.thekristofs.blogspot.com  and www.journeybacktoveg.wordpress.com "

The next kitchen will be featured on Thursday. It is montanasmama's.

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

19 December 2009

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today's kitchen sink is in Flowerlady's home in Florida.  She writes:

"What a neat subject! Since the kitchen is where so much activity goes on in our homes this will be great. I look forward to being inspired by each kitchen. This space we call the 'scullery' since it is off our small kitchen. This area used to be our utility room, and we took down a wall to open the space up. Now I can look into the secret garden while washing dishes, seeing butterflies, birds, sky, clouds, and our outdoor kitty. I love this room. Quite a few pieces were salvaged.

The 'scullery' was a dream for many years, now it's a reality. I love the way the morning sun shines into it. I am thankful to my DH for all the work in creating it.

Here is a picture of the way the kitchen looked before."

You can visit Flowerlady at her blog here. 

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.


18 December 2009

This family of us

Today will be a busy one for me. I'm collecting organic chickens and a grass-fed, local beef roast from the butcher, ice cream cake from the ice creamery, and salad leaves from the green grocer. There will be a quick visit to see Bernadette and Miss Flora and then I'll be off home again.  Everything will be packed away safely into cold storage and I'll be free to put up fairy lights in the kitchen and decorate our little bunya pine Christmas tree.

All graphics are Carl Larsson paintings circa 1890-1905.
We don't have a formal dining room. We did when we moved into this house but I soon used that space for other more practical activities.  We dine in the kitchen - it suits us, we're a plain and practical, all in together family.  So the stage for our Christmas lunch on Sunday will be the table in the kitchen, just like it always has been and just like it always will be in our home.

I am drawn to the beauty of simple things - white cotton tablecloths and napkins, fresh flowers in  jars, and candles.  That, as ever, will be our Christmas table this year. But this year is special, this is the first year my boys will have their special girls here.  This is Shane and Sarndra's first Christmas as Mr and Mrs, and Kerry will be here with his beloved Sunny.  It's one of those days when I'll slow myself down to remember all that is special about it.  I want to see happy faces, listen to interesting conversations, provide enough simple home cooked food to fill their bellies,  delight them with a luscious hazelnut and chocolate truffle ice cream cake, hug everyone, and join our little family together so we never come unstuck.  It is an important part of my job as a mother to provide the tender hugs and hospitality, as well as a warm and comfortable space where we can all relax and start building this growing group into a strong united family.  It's not just Hanno and I getting to know Sarndra and Sunny, it's all of us defining new relationships and understanding how those relationships work within our family.  That doesn't always happen automatically. It often needs a friendly shepherd to gently move things along so that everyone is included and they all truly know they're a significant part of this family of US.

So there under the white fairy lights we'll sit around the table and I will silently celebrate this union of our new family.   While food is being enjoyed and conversations flow, I want to take it all in to remember later.  This year is important in that it is the first of many such family gatherings.  I know they won't all take place here at our home, and that over the years they'll be spread far and wide, but I hope this Christmas lunch and the enjoyment we take from it will set the scene for those to follow.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and come up to Monday relaxed and ready for the busy Christmas week.  Thank you for your kind and generous comments this week, they mean a lot to me and are really a great encouragement to keep writing.  Take care.

17 December 2009

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today's photos are from Vicky and Abby in Melbourne.   

My daughter and I live in Melbourne with my sister and her daughter, so we’re a household of little women! When we first started living together, there was a common idea of recycling, reusing containers, growing produce and buying produce from local farmers and generally living more environmentally and economically conscious. It wasn’t until we stumbled upon your blog that we could finally put a name to the type of lifestyle we’ve grown into. We are now proud to say we live frugally as best we can and we really enjoy discovering new ways to do this, via your blog. You really are an inspiration to us.
Anyway, I’ve sent you two photos; the first is of our kitchen dresser. This dresser is quite dear to us because for as long as I can remember it has been in our family. I assume our parents bought it sometime when we were children but I have fond memories of it, and when we were sourcing furniture for our new house, our parents offered to let us have it! This dresser sits next to our fridge, on the opposite side of the kitchen to the sink. This dresser houses most of our everyday kitchen needs, including bread, muffin and cake tins, plastic wear, drinking glasses and mugs and our everyday crockery. There’s all our organic fruit, the peaches from our garden. There’s also jars waiting to be sterilized, and what’s left of the loaf of bread I cooked this morning. There is also all our teas, which are houses in recycled jars, and a few other bits a bobs. This dresser gets used everyday and survives a lot of wear and tear from my daughter!

The second photo is of our kitchen sink area. Here is where most of my craft work is put to good use as I am thoroughly enjoying making dish cloths lately, There is one homemade dishcloth and one homemade scrubby in this photo, although there are many more. You can also a see a snap lock bag on the drain board drying out. This is one of our more daggy habits, but we just can’t justify throwing out a plastic bag that’s only had cheese, or vegetables in it for a few days. On the windowsill above the sink you can see our Earth dishwashing liquid, some hand wash (because we haven’t had time to try making your liquid soap yet), the eucalyptus and tea tree oils and our spray bottle of tea tree oil solution for general cleaning. There is also a new addition to the windowsill, a jar of pineapple vinegar, well the beginnings of it anyway. You can also see a spice rack which hold a few odd herbs as well as a couple of bits of things from the garden drying out, like lavender and a sprig of bay leaves which I found drying naturally on the bay tree. 

I hope you enjoyed finding out a little bit more about one of your readers, it’s more than pleasure to share this with you who have been such a guiding inspiration in most of the things you see in these photos.

16 December 2009

Are we too clean?

We are back to a practical subject again today because I've been thinking about the word "germaphobe" and it scares me a little. I've come across this word a few times recently and I want to comment on it.  We all know it makes good sense to keep a clean house, to raise children to wash their hands before they eat and, in general, to maintain good levels of cleanliness in the home.  But you can be too clean.

Hang your dirty cloths and rags over the side of the laundry bin to dry while they're waiting to be washed.

Since television advertising started blabbing about the benefits of whiter than white and how we can rid our homes of germs, we've been brainwashed to believe that every germ is harmful, every germ must be killed and if we don't do that, we're not as good as our next door neighbours.  What hogwash!

There are many medical studies around now that assure us that exposing children to pets and normal household dirt is good for them.  It builds up the immune system and allows the body to naturally develop antibodies that fight those germs.  Back a few years, when I was growing up, and even when my boys were young in the 1980s it was common for children to play out side.  Out there, among the dirt, bugs and grass stains, not only were they having fun swinging on ropes and riding bikes,  they were building bone strength, muscle tissue and healthy immune systems.  Nowadays there is a tendency for children to play inside on computers and playstations, and inside is becoming increasingly clean.  We have gone from the common family home with a dirt floor in the 1800s to stainless steel and the war against germs now.

We are surrounded by millions of bacteria and viruses but only a small number actually cause us any harm, the rest we live with, have evolved with, and being exposed to them has probably helped build tolerance to many of them.  When we do our daily chores it's not necessary to rid the home of germs - it's impossible, and it's not a healthy option.  Now, I'm not advocating that we leave our sink dirty and not sweep the floor.  Of course we continue to do those things.  We also need to wipe handles, cupboard doors, remote controls, light switches etc, but we shouldn't be using antibacterial wipes.  Soap and water, vinegar or bicarb will do the trick.  Using bleach, peroxide or disinfectant every day is overkill.

Wash you dishcloths once or twice a week, depending on how dirty they are.  In between times, thoroughly rinse the cloth, wring it out and hang it over the tap or sink to dry.  Few bacteria can survive dry conditions, they need moisture to propagate and thrive.  Hang your dirty dishcloths and cleaning rags over the side of the laundry bin/basket so if they're wet they can dry out and not sit in the pile of dirty laundry, wet, waiting for a few days to be washed.

Take the pressure off yourself to kill germs, your aim should be to have a clean home.  You'll never eliminate germs completely.  So relax, put the bleach bottle away, stop buying the antibacterial wipes and allow the short sharp exposure to pathogens in the normal home to build your immune system.  If you do that, your immune system will not only protect you from colds and flu but also from more sinister ailments.

Can you be too clean? 

PS:  I'm officially on holidays for three weeks! I'm really looking forward to the extra time at home and all that will hold for Hanno and I.  We have our big family gathering on Sunday, we're really looking forward to that.  I'll be writing my blog over the holidays and I thought it might be a good time to ask you to suggest topics.  I'll be doing a new bread baking tutorial soon but I'm open to other suggestions too.


15 December 2009

Living a deliberate life

I enjoyed your post. I'm wondering, though, how much your slower more deliberate life is possible because your children are grown and gone? I have tried to be more deliberate in my life, but I have children and I teach them at home. It's certainly a challenge to take from your posts and apply them to my busy life, but I have learned from you and the others. What's really working for me is to take one change at a time. That was great advice. ~ Anonymous

This is a comment from those made yesterday.  I'm sorry I can't name the person who wrote as she is only know to me as anonymous.  Anonymous, I wanted to address your comment today because I think "living deliberately" can confuse some of us.  My interpretation of deliberate living is that I have intentionally taken my life in the direction of my values.  I needed to sit and think, and  I needed to work out for myself what was important to me.  I knew how I didn't want to live, but what exactly did I want?   When I changed, I knew I didn't want to keep spending and rushing around like a loon but I had to replace that with something, and that required me to decide on what my core values were and how I could live by those values.

Essentially, I deliberately focused on my values - generosity, kindness,  independence, self reliance, self respect and respect for others - and I made my everyday life reflect those values.  That, to me, is living deliberately.  You make a deliberate decision to live a certain way and every day make sure your life stays true to that.  It sounds like a huge commitment, and it is, but it is done in small steps, every day, without fail, deliberately following that path.

I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau about 15 years ago, well before I made my changes towards simplicity.  I have no doubt that book, and in particular this quote below, influenced me more than anything else; although I didn't know it at the time and only made that discovery in retrospect.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience ... 

It still takes my breath away to read those words.  I am trying to live deep and to suck all the marrow out of life; I want to know if life is mean or sublime, and I want to know it by experience.  I do not want to read about it in a magazine or a blog, I want to truly experience my life every day, and every day it is deliberately focused on the values I want to live by.

Now to answer your question: I'm wondering, though, how much your slower more deliberate life is possible because your children are grown and gone?  Living deliberately isn't reliant on who is living in your house. It is the decision to discover your real values and live them, on purpose, everyday. That is important when you're raising children. You want them to reflect and live to your values until they have grown and are capable of making a sound decision for themselves on how they want to live. Hopefully, by that stage, your life and the way they were raised will influence them towards the kind of life you want for them. So for instance, deliberate living would be to decide you want to pay off your debt: you want to homeschool your children: you want to instil in them the values of care for others, kindness and generosity; you want to be healthy and connect with nature. Once those decisions on values (whatever they are) are made, everyday from then on, you would make sure your every day life reinforced those ideals, and deliberately move your family towards them. Every day you would deliberately work towards the outcomes you want by the way you homeschool, the behaviour you model for your children and the example your life sets for those young eyes.  You would make sacrifices to pay off debt, even when it's difficult, you would continue to homeschool, you would plan into your homeschooling a few nature days and read books about the natural world.  You would do all that deliberately - even when it's difficult to do.

Slowing down is another aspect of a simple life.  It's concentrating on the task at hand and being mindful.  It doing and knowing and experiencing what you're doing, and not thinking about what you'll do later in the day.  I've written about slowing down before so I won't repeat that again now.  I hope I've answer your question.

Walden, and in particular the quote above did more for my resolve to live as I do than anything else I've read.  As I said I read it many years ago, but reread it when I started to live a slower and more deliberate life.  That second reading made me certain of the truth of Thoreau's words and I have tried to live true to them ever since.  Walden is available free online here.   I have it quietly tucked away on my computer and frequently revisit it.  It is fine inspiration.  It's not an easy read because it is written in the vernacular of the 19th century, but if you decide to take it on, I'm sure you be rewarded for the effort.  It would be a great holiday project to read a little bit of Walden every day and if you do that, I hope you gain as much as I did from it.

14 December 2009

The true gauge of authenticity

Around our neck of the woods a typical day goes something like this. I rise at 4 and write until the dogs want to go outside, I let them out, feed them and the cat,  then go into the garden to let the chickens out to free range for the day. I count them all, check they have water, and encourage them to have a wonderful egg-filled day. "I will still love you if you don't give me an egg, but don't push your luck too far," I say.

Inside again, I finish off my writing and when Hanno gets up, I make breakfast. After we eat, I clean up the kitchen, put bread on to rise, make the bed, sweep the floor and get ready for whatever the day may hold. Hanno will work in the yard most of the day. He has his projects and the garden and he'll talk to the chooks, the dogs and our neighbours, and generally keep the place neat, tidy and in good working order. I will write, check the forum, and in between times, I'll do bits of housework, sewing, mending, knitting, baking or making soap or cleansers. It depends on what is needed in our home as to what I actually do.

Lunch comes along and usually it's fresh bread with salad from the garden or boiled eggs with soft golden yolks. After lunch we sometimes have a little nap and then I write again, or sew, or make household goods. Hanno will sometimes read the online newspaper or check out some of his German or news sites. It's an easy way to spend each day - our days are filled with our necessities but the pace is relaxed and gentle. Friends and family phone or call in, we have breaks when we want them. This is living how it should be - we are not stressed and we are productive.  One thing is for sure, it is never boring. It just gets better with each passing day, we are more settled, more grateful and closer to each other because of the time spent working towards our common goal - self reliance.

We are fortunate in that we have no debt. Hanno is on an old age pension and I still get paid for my writing. We are both pleased that I am able to earn that money from home. Of course, no simple life can be truly simple without making the decision to dramatically reduce the amount of money spent. The less we spend, the less we have to work and the more time we have for real living. There is an incredible sense of freedom that comes with not having to work. I still do my volunteering, that feeds my soul and I'd be a lessor person without it. The pay off for me is in feeling useful, being able to use my brain in interesting and innovative ways and meeting the wonderful people who walk through the door. I am enriched by the work I do there and I can say with certainty that it is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I can do that work because I'm not tied down to a job.

Even though there are many things to be done in each day, the practical day to day things are not the whole story of simplicity. Practicality and the work that goes with it is just one piece of the puzzle. You have to look inside yourself for the other pieces. Ask yourself if you're really living the life that will make you happy and fulfilled. Everyone's idea of happiness is different but if you're not even close to what you hoped for yourself and your family, you should start thinking about changes.

Most of us have made a real effort of get off the consumerism roller coaster, if you don't you're just playing at this. Spending is the one true gauge of authenticity. If you're still spending on non-essentials while you're paying off debt, you're not going to reach those simple life goals anytime soon.

You have to slow down too. This was the hardest thing for me. I was a chronic multi-tasker, I always had plenty of things on the go at the one time and often I felt overworked and unappreciated. Now that I've slowed myself, I can be busy without feeling like I'll never get it all done. I take my time with each part of what I'm doing and I concentrate on my job at hand and not on what will come later. It's made all the difference and eliminated those feelings of being rushed all the time.

One thing is for sure, simplifying will always give you more work to do, it is never the other way around. But this is a different kind of work. It's work that will fulfil you and make your life richer because what you're doing is building self-reliance into your life. Instead of relying on others to make what you need, instead of going to the store to buy your food, you will be able to do a lot of that yourself. That builds self-confidence which makes you believe you're capable of doing more and more.

You will never be in the ideal place to start living simply. Often the move towards it comes when things are really chaotic in your life, you might have lost your job, had a baby, become ill or maybe you're just fed up with life on the roller coaster. You don't have to move to another location, everyone can start simplifying right where they are now. All it requires is for you to stop spending, to re-evaluate your life and to clarify what it is you want from life. The only thing that will be handed to you on a silver platter will be the one size fits all notion that you can spend your way to success and that being is debt is "normal". Everything else requires thought and planning. I'm here to tell you it's confronting, difficult and challenging. But if you can change, if you decide to focus on quality of life rather than the quantity of stuff you own, if you can break out of the mould that mainstream society has encased you in, then you'll have the chance to live a life like no other. Is the time right for you?

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