30 April 2009

Position description: Homemaker. Remuneration: Nil.


No one would apply for our jobs. We work long hours, have no days off, we have to balance our budgets no matter what the circumstances, we are responsible for the mental and physical health of any number of children as we raise them to take on that responsibility for themselves. We act as role model, advisor, counsellor, guide and friend, we drive them to school, the library and the doctor, we explain boundaries. We support and encourage our partners, or if we're single parents, we take on a dual role. Whether we are single or attached, our job requires that we cook nutritious food that meet guidelines for good health, we clean toilets and faces and everything in between, we sew, mend and repair, we teach and nurture, administer discipline and model kindness and generosity, we are optimistic and brave, we are stewards of our homes, land and assets, guardian of our morals and privacy, and protector of the small and weak.

Position description: Homemaker. Remuneration: Nil.

And yet who would give up this most essential of jobs? There was a time when the job of homemaker, if it was thought about at all, was seen as insignificant and dreary. But as times change and the recession deepens, perceptions change. The homemakers of today are taking care of business. They are developing strategies to get their families through these hard times, they are showing, by example, that hard work, planning and optimism bring their own rewards.

Our jobs as homemakers are more important now than they were before because now we have the extra responsibility of guiding our family through these tough times. You may be in a family with one income, or none. Maybe there are two incomes but the hours have been cut back. Whatever the circumstances, even if there have been no changes yet, you have no way of knowing if you'll ride the recession through without losing some hours or a job, so prudence and planning are needed.

If you've never seen your role as a homemaker as a job before, now is the time to change. It is your job now to modify how you shop and cook so you can save as much money as possible. Whatever your household budget is, it is your job to not just get through the week on that money, but to cut corners and try to save some of that money. Having a little nest egg when the economy is like this is can be quite a comfort if there is a need for new shoes or clothes. It's a great time to teach yourself to sew, mend and knit. There are many blogs and videos on You Tube that will show you how. It is your job to explain what is happening to your children so they too can make a contribution to your family. They might have to do without for the time being, or at least cut back on what they are given or expect. It's a tough time for them as well as the rest of us but they will learn valuable lessons from hardship and you shouldn't try to shield them from this reality.

Many things change when the economy weakens and some of those things are difficult to deal with but it can also be a time of great personal growth. Your family is relying on you to get them through this. Not only will you have to keep food on the table, you'll also have to find entertainment that doesn't cost much, or anything. Now is the time to rediscover your library, garden, local museums and parks. Instead of waiting for life to throw things at you, develop a plan for your family so you're actively working together, learning new skills. If your children are old enough, ask them to help with the extra work you have to do and explain why that work is there - that cooking from scratch is cheaper and healthier, that a vegetable garden contributes fresh food to the family for a small cost, that now, more than ever, your home needs to be kept clean and in good repair. Work actively with your partner too. Set out a new budget, look at your spending together, plan what family outings, grocery shopping and home maintenance you'll do in the next month. If you live alone it's important that you do these things too. Your budget will have to stretch further and give value for every penny you spend.


When you take life by the collar and give it a good shake you tend to be more organised and ready for what's in store for you. Don't sit back, scared, waiting for what might come. Make a plan, write up a budget, keep your family close, explain what is happening, learn whatever you need to know to help you save money. These are not bad times, they are just different. We can make them as meaningful as our grandparents made the great depression. That certainly was a time of great hardship, but it also taught people to be self reliant, hard working, innovative and thrifty. And when things got better, those wonderful qualities stayed with them to help build their lives into what they wanted them to be.

As the homemaker in your family, it is your role now to gain the skills you need to save money and keep your family going. Your job is as important as your partner's job to earn money. Your partner earns the money, you stretch every dollar until it screams. Waste is a thing of the past. You make sure you get value for every cent you spend and then use what you buy in the most efficient and economical way. Every period in our history had lessons to teach us. The lessons you learn from this economic crisis have the potential to make your family into a strong, self-reliant unit. And when you come out the other end of this, the sky is the limit.

* From allposters.com

29 April 2009

Preparing for an emergency

I slept in this morning, on the morning when I have no thought of what to write, but here goes. Let's talk about one of my favourite topics, stockpiling. :- )

I was asked the other day in an email about what kind of food and groceries I thought it wise to have on hand for an emergency situation like the swine flu outbreak. I have to tell you that while our stockpile and backyard supplies (eggs, fruit and vegetables) would come in very handy in an emergency, I stockpile mainly for the purpose of saving money and time, and the convenience of having a little shop sitting in my home. I am really pleased my little shop is full of our favourite foods and has almost all been bought on sale or made here at home. But let me address the question of emergency preparedness here. None of us know what will happen in the future and I for one do not want to rely on anyone else to provide for me unless it's absolutely unavoidable. I am thankful to have been in only one cyclone (hurricane) and no other large scale emergency. I have seen and read reports of plenty of them over my many years and I know one thing to be true: in a large scale emergency until the government organises help on a large scale through the SES, police and army, everyone is on their own. In Australia, when help arrives, it usually comes in the form of shelter, food and medical assistance, but often the help maybe a few days coming, so in those first few days, you'll need to provide for yourself. You all know Hanno and I prefer to be self-reliant and being able to look after ourselves in an emergency is no exception. We want to do it ourselves and we want to offer our help to our family and friends if they need it. And to do that, we must have a stockpile of various goods.

The easy way to answer the question of what we should have on hand in an emergency is to ask yourself: what food do we eat? what do we drink? what is easy to cook and store? how do we cook? how do we stay clean? if there is no electricity or gas how do we provide light and heat? how do we keep the children occupied? I guess that some emergencies will be like the swine flu outbreak and will mean we don't want to go to the shops and risk picking up the virus, other emergencies will be more severe and will cut off water and electricity supplies. There are so many variables, so let's talk about generalities, but please ask yourself the questions above.

The most obvious thing to stockpile is food. Food is what will keep us going through storms, outbreaks of illness or when we lose our jobs. But we all eat different things, so what should we stockpile? Stockpile what your family eats but try not to clog your stockpile space with boxes of prepared food, buy the basics and cook from scratch what you need. You will save money doing that, it's healthier and your food will last longer. For instance, if you buy a box or packet of macaroni and cheese mix, that will feed one, maybe two people. If you buy a few kilograms (pounds) of dried pasta, a bag of milk powder, some cheese and seasonings, you could feed a family for several meals.

If you're building your stockpile from scratch, start with the basics like rice, pasta, beans, lentils, chickpeas, couscous, milk powder, flour, yeast, salt and sugar, then add more specialised foods like honey, tea, coffee, peanut butter, jam, dried fruit, seeds for sprouting, tins of tuna and salmon. Make sure you have a bunch of your favourite spices, as well as pepper, vinegar and oil. Add your homemade sauces, jams, cordials, and some tins of baked beans and soup to that stockpile and you'd be able to feed your family for quite some time without outside help. If you buy large amounts, which I consider to be 5 kg (11 lbs) but others might buy larger packs, you will need to think about containers to store your food in. I have several lidded, food grade 5 kg plastic buckets I got from the local baker and some smaller buckets with lids that hold 1 kilo (2.2lbs). These are wonderful containers as they keep out insects, rodents and moisture. So before you buy large quantities, think about where you'll store it and in what. Don't forget a can opener

Other products worth storing are our old standbys - baking soda (bicarb), washing soda, soap, cheap vinegar (for cleaning), as well as toothpaste, tissues, latex gloves, toothbrushes, deodorant and shampoo (if you're not just using baking soda), razors and razor blades, toilet paper, any medications you need and a well-stocked first aid kit. You'll need a large container of liquid chlorine bleach for sanitation purposes. Make sure you add a dozen knitted dishcloths, some food covers, Tupperware containers or plastic bags, rubbish bags, batteries, candles, kerosene or oil lamps and matches. You should have torches, a battery-driven radio, or a combined torch-radio-siren that can be fully charged by winding. We have one of them and they're very good.

Our little windup torch-radio.

You'll need water too. If you have no water tanks or rain barrels, start collecting plastic drink bottles and fill a number of them with water. You can improve the quality of drinking water by solarising it. Read here and here about the SODIS method of sanitising water.

Wind up torch radio with winder.

If you have a baby or young children you'll need to think carefully about what they need. There are obvious things like nappies (diapers), bottles, sippy cups and toys, but think also about how you'll prepare their food. If they are still on mushy food, you might need to add the means to make it, so add a masher or little food mill as well as their favourite spoon and bowl. Of course, a breastfed baby is prepared for anything if they have their mum. Put in books and games for the older children and they might all like their own torch. It will give them a feeling of security if they have control of their own means of light. The wind-up ones with a little radio are ideal for children (and 61 year old women).

Don't forget your pets. Add dog and cat food and if you have chooks, rabbits or ducks, make sure you have enough food on hand for them.

Talk about your emergency plan and depending on the impending emergency, work out how you'll cope with it. Some emergencies will mean you just stay at home, others will mean you need to leave. There is some additional reading here, it's a wise thing to read all of them and take what you need from each:

SES Australia and the PantryList Australia
Ready America
Emergency Preparedness Canada
UK Resilience

If it takes a potential emergency like swine flu to make you think about stockpiling, so be it, but don't think stockpiling is useful only in emergencies. I believe a stockpile is one of the best tools we have to help us live a more simple and mindful life. I have written about stockpiling here. I'd be very interested to know if you have a stockpile and how you prepare for emergencies. As always, I look forward to reading your shared wisdom.


28 April 2009

Tomato relish

While there are many elements in a simple life, one of the important and helpful parts of ours, is that Hanno and I have both taught ourselves how to make many of the things we once bought. This wasn't a big stretch for us because we were both brought up in the age before supermarkets and sliced bread, when food was commonly made from scratch and we all made the best of what we had. We tried to forget that heritage and the life skills our past had taught us but now we're back on track and those memories help us almost everyday with what we want to do now.

I think one of our successes is that we have learnt how to combine our garden with our stockpile, pantry and grocery shopping. Now, instead of buying our sauces, mayonnaise, dressings etc, I make them from scratch with our home grown produce and store them for use in the fridge and stockpile cupboard. This not only helps us save money, but it also gives us healthier food with no preservatives. Slowly, we are regaining our independence and becoming more self-reliant.

Last weekend I made enough tomato relish to see us through the next few months. When I say relish, I mean not only a condiment that is used to add flavour on the plate, but also a sauce to add to cooking, on pizza tops, as a quick pasta sauce or to make a very tasty sharp cheese and relish sandwich. There really isn't a recipe for this because I change it every time I make it to suit what is growing in the garden at that time. This time is was:
  • Enough chopped tomatoes to fill a large pot - maybe 3 - 4 kgs (6 - 7lbs)
  • 4 large onions - chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes or one medium chilli - this depends on whether you like a spicy relish. Leave it out if you don't.
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups good quality vinegar - I used red wine vinegar
You will have to taste this as you cook it to make sure you like the taste. Take a tablespoon of sauce out and let it rest in a saucer to cool, then taste it. Learn to rely on your own judgement, changing recipes is one of the true joys of cooking. You might need to add more salt and pepper, more vinegar or more sugar, depending on your taste. You could also add any number of herbs or spices you like. The important parts are the sugar and vinegar, don't change those too much because they help preserve the food.

Put all the above in a large pot and slowly bring to the boil with the lid on. Then take the lid off and let it slowly boil for about 3 -4 hours. You want the volume to reduce by about one quarter. The longer you cook it, the more liquid will evaporate off and the thicker the sauce will be.

When it's cooked down to the consistency you want, remove from the heat and bottle it into clean glass jars or bottles that have been pre-heated. Fill the containers right to the top allowing only a small amount of headspace (this is the space between the top of the sauce and the top of the container). Turn the hot jars upside down and leave to cool overnight, then store in the fridge. Wait for a week for the flavours to develop before eating.

OR ... if you want to store the sauce for a long time, process in a water bath according to the instructions on your unit.

The amount I made in the photo will do us (with two small jars to give away) for about two months and it's fine to store it in the fridge for that amount of time. The addition of the sugar and vinegar help preserve the food.

Lis asked a question last week about whether it is safe to bottle up tomatoes. Lis, the newer varieties of tomatoes tend to be low acid and this poses a problem for the home bottler because successful water bath preserving relies on high acid food. Generally the heirloom tomatoes contain enough acid but the addition of the vinegar in this recipe overcomes that problem anyway. Other tomato recipes you might like to try could be helped with the addition of either lemon juice or citric acid. If you're not sure, just do up enough to last for a couple of months and keep them in the fridge, instead of processing them in the water bath and storing in the cupboard.


27 April 2009

Making yoghurt (yogurt) and quark

I hope you had a lovely weekend. We are a home of four adults again. Shane and Sarndra asked if they can stay here till they get jobs and naturally we said yes. We all did our own thing during the day, each working on our projects, then Shane cooked us a delicious chick pea and vegetable stew last night for dinner. It's a real treat having someone prepare the evening meal, especially one of my sons.

I did some cooking - yoghurt, quark and tomato relish, and as Colleen asked for the quark recipe, I'm happy to share that with you again. Lucky I took photos, Colleen. ; - ) There are a few ways you can make quark, this is how I do it.

First, make the yoghurt. I made this last week. I bought a container of natural organic 'Barambah' yoghurt, the 'use by' date was one month away so I knew it was fresh. Make sure you use natural yoghurt, not vanilla or any other flavour, or anything with gelatin in it. To make yoghurt, I used a litre (quart) of full cream, non-homogensied local milk. This milk is pasturised.

  • Warm 1 litre (quart) of milk to 80C (180F) and remove from heat. Allow the milk to cool to 45C (110F). This is an important step that kills any bacteria present. You want bacteria to grow, but only the good stuff, this process pasturises the milk again.
  • When the milk has cooled to the right temperature, add half cup of yoghurt. Don't add the yoghurt before it has cooled or you will kill the beneficial bacteria.
  • Stir until the yoghurt has dissolved in the milk.
  • Set in an open wide casserole dish and place in a preheated oven. You want the temperature in the over to be no more than 45 - 50C (115 - 122F). Preheat the oven, then turn it off.
  • The yoghurt mix needs to stay warm for about 12 - 18 hours.
I make this in the early morning so I can monitor it during the day. When the oven temperature goes down, heat it up again, making sure it doesn't get too hot or too cold. If you over heat the yoghurt, you'll kill the beneficial bacteria. Leave the dish of yoghurt mix sit in the warm oven all day but don't stir it, just let it sit. At the end of the day, test it to see if it's thickened. If it has, you've made yoghurt. If it hasn't, reheat the oven and leave it longer. If you need to leave it in the oven overnight, that's fine but if you've used a good quality, fresh, natural yoghurt it will usually set in 12 hours.


You need to drain as much whey from the yoghurt as possible.
  • Take a large jug, that you can fit a strainer in. You'll need cheesecloth, if you don't have any, use open weave cotton. I used handkerchief cotton that I bought from Spotlight. Line the strainer with the cotton and pour the set yoghurt into the strainer.

  • Fold in the cotton over the top of the yoghurt and place a small plate on top. Then a tin of something to weigh the plate down.

  • Put the jug in the fridge so the whey can drain while the yoghurt stays cold.
  • This will take between 1 - 2 days.
  • Save the whey for a million other things, don't throw it away. You can see half the whey I collected in the jar above.

  • I divide the quark in two and make one sweet cheese and one savory. On the weekend I added a tablespoon of honey to one half the quark and stirred it in thoroughly. You could also use jam.
  • To make the savory quark, I added a sprinkling of chilli flakes, salt and pepper and sprinkled paprika on top. You could also add either tomato relish, finely chopped cucumber or herbs.

Place the quarks into bowls and store in the fridge. They will keep for at least a month but here they only last a week, if that.

The whey that drains from the quark contains live lactobacillus acidophilus which is very good for you and can be used in a variety of ways. It can be added to sauerkraut, relish, salsa or pickles. I also use whey in cakes and scones. The bacteria is killed during baking but the taste still comes through.

I hope you try this. It's an easy way to produce yoghurt and simple cheese.


26 April 2009

Oh no!

I have been updating the Co-op blog today and while doing it, removed a lot of the formatting on this blog. Grrrrr. I had just added new blogs to the blog roll! I hope I can remember what was there. I've restored some of the other material but the rest will have to wait.

Swap reminder

I just want to repost the swap reminder Sharon wrote last week. So for those of you in the swap, here is it:
Rose and I (Sharon) would like to remind all the ladies who are in the dishtowel and hot pad swap that the deadline is Saturday, April 25. I know that Saturdays are busy family days and that some of you may not get to the Post Office until early in the next week. That usually happens and so do not worry about it. Just let your swap buddy know that you are posting a bit late. I have heard already from some of you who have posted and some of you who will be a few days late and I would like to thank you for letting us know; when you touch base with either Rose or myself it really helps us to keep up-to-date with the swappers! I hope everyone has enjoyed this swap and would love to hear from you with ideas for our next swap.

Sharon, who lives in USA, and Rose, who lives in Australia, help me with the swaps. We couldn't do it without them. I'm sure you all join with me to thank them for the work they do. Swaps take a lot of organising and hard work and the fact that they run so well is a fine testament to these wonderful ladies. So please add your thanks as well as suggestions for the next swap.


24 April 2009

What day is it?

There really is no reason for me to know what day it is, or the time of day for that matter, nevertheless, I do usually know the day. I didn't yesterday though and when I signed off thanking you for visiting this week, I thought it was Friday. Today I know it's Friday but I have no idea what I will write about because after I finished yesterday, I thought it would be another couple of days before I posted again. So bear with me, I do know what I'm doing, even if it doesn't look that way. LOL!

Shane and Sarndra are here! They arrived back from their holiday in New Zealand on Wednesday, had one night with Sarndra's mum in Brisbane and they are now sleeping soundly here, tucked up in bed. They were going to look for jobs in Brisbane but a little house Shane used to live in, set in trees on a lake just metres from the sea, is vacant. A friend of theirs is moving out and the lease will be current till September. The rent is quite low so they'll live there until after they get married. It's only about 20 minutes drive from here so it will be easier to help them organise all the ins and outs of the wedding. And I'm pleased they'll be closer to home for the time being.

Soon, I'll make breakfast for us all. No doubt we'll sit around talking for a while and then I have quite a bit of work to do. I cut out a new apron last weekend so I'll iron that and sew it up, I have tomatoes to make into relish and sauce. I made yoghurt yesterday and will make that into quark today. It will only take a short time because all I have to do is sit it in cheesecloth in a strainer for the whey to drip out. After a few days draining in the fridge, I'll add honey to half the batch, herbs to the other half, and we'll have another batch of delicious simple cheese.

I have laundry to do today and the bathroom needs cleaning but the majority of my time will be spent writing. I am trying to get the proposal back by next Monday. To all those lovely people who sent emails, I will reply later today and over the weekend.

I don't know what Earth Day is. Do we celebrate it in Australia? That is one of the downsides of not watching much TV or reading magazines or newspapers, these new things start and I have no idea. I visited some other blogs yesterday and noticed many of them writing about it so I gather it's a day when the focus is on the environment and how we live responsibly on our patch of land. I look forward to future times when such days will not be necessary because we live like that all the time. It was really wonderful to see all the photos of new seedlings started, little chickens and ducks and general feeling of optimism and renewal on those blogs. It is a great thing this internet. To see what you're doing in your own homes, to be a part of your planning and hopes for the new season connects us all in a way that was impossible in the past. It is a wonderful time to be alive.

Let me show you what the volunteers at my work gave me for my birthday. Twenty knitted squares! Isn't that fabulous. I was so pleased and surprised. Bernadette was behind it all, she had them all knitting when I wasn't there. They even made a card and all signed it with a personal message. They are such a great group of people, I'm proud to know them all.

So that has given my blanket project a big boost, it would have taken me weeks to knit 20 squares. Now I'm thinking about joining them, which I'll do by crocheting. I'm not finished with my knitting yet but I want to join them as I go. I will start on that next week, this week is fully booked.

Thank you for the wonderful comments you leave. They help me know that we are all connected and trying to live a life that matters. When you write about how a post effects you, that you're motivated by what I write, or a little story about what you're doing, it keeps me going. I am really heartened by this group of world-wide friends who choose to visit here. In a world where much is maligned, where money is king and we fail to talk to our neighbours, we have built a neighbourhood here that supports and nourishes. As an older woman I feel it is my duty, as well as a pleasure, to pass on what I know. I hope as you grow older, you find that same inclination and help others who are yet to know what you do. If we don't do that we are as guilty as all the others for letting old skills and neighbourliness die. You have a part in this just as much as I do, so let's all reignite the passion for helping our friends and neighbours. It used to be a common thing, and it should be like that now.

See you all next week. Take care.

23 April 2009

Housework - the never ending task

I am sure you all know that what I write about in my daily post is a small fraction of what Hanno and I get up to each day. If we continue to make a commitment to this way of living, we will be busy every day for the rest of our lives, and that's fine, as long as we enjoy it and pepper our days with rest and variety. I like the idea of us looking after ourselves and not surrendering ourselves to age and time, allowing others to cook and clean for us. While we are in good health, we are fine to do for ourselves.

However, I sometimes feel a bit fragile when I am particularly busy and have more things to do that I feel comfortable with. Sometimes, when I have a deadline to meet, house work to do, voluntary work, gardening, cooking, cleaning and my family to tend to, I feel a slight panic - how will I ever get it done! At those times I've taught myself to step back, think about my work and be mindful of the kind of life I am living. When I do that, when I take a step back and don't race headlong into it, I get a clearer picture of how I can carry out my work efficiently and plan for the day ahead. Above all else though, I have to tell myself that it has to be broken up into chunks and it doesn't all have to be done. That saves me every time.

This was the view from my writing room yesterday afternoon.

I have written before about how housework never ends and I always keep that in mind, especially when I'm very busy. The best way for me to work is to divide my work into time periods - this, for me, is usually morning and afternoon, but it could be any time that you're prepared to work. So in a typical day, if I had the following chores, this is how I would organise myself:
Bake bread, clean kitchen, make bed, tend garden, check worm farm, feed worms and chooks, pick and blanch vegetables, make tomato sauce and process it in water bath, laundry, sweep floor, wash up, make dinner, write, answer emails, mend and knit.

Plan of action
First I would decide which I would do in the morning and which in the afternoon. So, morning chores are:
Make bed
Feed chooks
Load the washing machine
Make bread and set to rise
Make tomato sauce and process - leave jars to cool
Bake bread
Clean kitchen
Wash up
Hang out washing
Collect eggs
Sweep floor
Write until lunch - this last one is restricted by the amount of time I have


Feed worms
Tend garden and pick vegetables
Blanche vegetables, set to cool, then freeze
Two hours writing
Knit for 30 minutes or so
Bring laundry in and fold
Make dinner, while it's cooking, answer emails
Eat dinner, clean up kitchen and wash up

If I felt like it, I could mend after dinner, but usually by then I'm pooped, so it can wait till tomorrow. If I was falling behind, or feeling tired, I could leave the tomato sauce or blanching until tomorrow as well. I could spend more time writing and not knit. As you can see, I do a fair bit of juggling and I think that gives me a bit of leeway. The important thing is to do the work in chunks. Don't toil for hours on the one thing. Do a bit, do something else, then come back to your long job. It does make it easier.
  • I can move chores around
  • I can put things off till tomorrow
  • I don't have to finish everything.
  • It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be the best I can do on that day.
  • I'm not living in a showroom, this is my home.
And you know what, sometimes I don't do any work at all. I give myself the day off. That day off is a powerful thing. If I've had a really busy time at work and here at home, I give myself time to recover. I want to look after myself and I want to enjoy my work. I'm in this for the long haul, I don't want my housework to become a burden. I'm sure many of you think it's an absolute luxury to have a day off but I am at the stage of life when it is possible. If you can't give an entire day, make sure you take some time for yourself - it's important.

I know there are many of you who struggle getting everything done. I know there are some who don't do much at all, feel guilt for it, but can't seem to find the motivation to do what they feel they should. I hope that by sharing how I work, and my insecurities about it, that it may help you with your work. Try to work with an open heart. You are your own boss in your home, be kind to yourself and take the pressure off to be perfect. If you work towards how you want your home to be, you will get there.

We all need to work, and it is good for us to work. It gives us a sense of achievement, we make our homes the way we want them to be, we look after our assets and when we go to bed at night, we feel proud that we worked so well that day. We made a significant investment in our family and our future.

All through the day I think about my work, how and why I do it in that particular way and why I value the experience of it. Building my home into the comfortable place I want it to be makes it all worthwhile, even if I don't enjoy every job I carry out. The work is made better when I think of the reasons why I do it. And imagine the alternative - imagine if you had no work to do, nothing to plan, nothing to invest your time in. I think many of us would love that for a day or two, then I know for sure I'd go a bit wonky if I had nothing to do.

We are workers, we are built to work. We may not get it all done in one go, it may need to finished off tomorrow, or the day after, but we are doing it. So to all you homemakers out there, to all the mothers who are trying to get the dinner on and tend to a crying baby, to all the career women who work away all day then go home to a family waiting hungrily for a good meal, to the dads who come home from work and help get dinner on or bath the children, to all those older women and men who have lost their spouse and struggle getting work done when strength is fading, to the newly weds who are learning how to keep house and to live with each other, to those of you who are not well and yet you get through the chores you set for yourself, to all the students who are learning for the first time to take care of themselves and their home, to all those workers who read this, I say, well done! It's not always easy but the work you are doing is valuable and important. If you didn't do that work, your family would be poorer for it.

Thank you for visiting me this week and taking the time to connect through comments. Welcome to all the new readers; still they come. Amazing! I hope you are all able to enjoy some time off after a week of work. Take care of yourself.


22 April 2009

Swap Reminder

Rose and I (Sharon) would like to remind all the ladies who are in the dishtowel and hot pad swap that the deadline is Saturday, April 25. I know that Saturdays are busy family days and that some of you may not get to the Post Office until early in the next week. That usually happens and so do not worry about it. Just let your swap buddy know that you are posting a bit late. I have heard already from some of you who have posted and some of you who will be a few days late and I would like to thank you for letting us know; when you touch base with either Rose or myself it really helps us to keep up-to-date with the swappers! I hope everyone has enjoyed this swap and would love to hear from you with ideas for our next swap.

The beauty of a simple bag

I've been thinking about bags lately. Cotton storage bags to be precise. I was given a bread bag for my birthday. It's a cotton bag that has been lined with thin rubber to keep the bread fresh. I have written about covering food and food bags before here but the bags I'm thinking about now can hold food, soap, toys, buttons, knitting or any number of fine things.

These recycled bags are perfect carriers when I buy my bulk foods.

I use cotton bags here for storing various things, but the bags I use are recycled calico flour bags. I intend to make some purpose-made bags. I would like to have a drawstring bag to take my knitting to work. At the moment I just put it in my basket and usually have to search for the loose needle. I think I'll make a little cheese bag too so I can store my cheddar cheese in the fridge, sitting on a plate, covered by the bag.

I'd love to have an embroidered cotton bag as a gift wrap. I want to give a couple of luffas and soap as gifts this year. They're always difficult to wrap, but a little cotton bag containing a luffa and homemade soap would be ideal. If I embroidered a shower of rain over some flowers on the bag, that would be perfect.

Another lovely gift would be a long tube bag containing knitting needles and a couple of balls of pure wool or cotton, all contained in a linen bag with a stitched ball of wool and needles on the front. Imagine giving a new sewer an embroidered bag full of buttons. Bliss!

I use a little drawstring bag to carry my pencils, pens, eraser, pencil sharpener and calculator to work with me. I love using it and people often remark on how sweet it is. I'm going to make a new bag for my digital camera. It will be a little padded drawstring bag that will protect my camera, especially when I take it out with me.

I think these bags would be a very good way of carrying toys and books in the car. When my boys were little, they had a Lego sack that they would open out to a circle playmat on the floor and when you pulled the drawstrings, the Legos would be scooped up and put away again. I just did a google search for them but it seems Lego no longer make them, this is something similar and would be really easy to make. Picking up Legos is a real pain. This will help you reduce the number of Legos to be picked up, the kids will only have to pick up those that spill outside the circle.

Here are some links with more ideas. Please check out the first two especially for some fine inspiration. They show that a simple drawstring bag can be beautiful and delicate as well as practical.

Deb @ Homespun Living - drawstring pouches
SouleMama's bread bags.
Fabric bucket tutorial.
How to make a drawstring bag. 1
How to make a drawstring bag. 2
Organic cotton bags with see through windows from Etsy.
Calico fruit and vegie bags.

When you think about it, cotton bags have been around since Adam was a boy and they still provide a very sound, practical and often beautiful way of storage and carrying things. It proves once again that the simple ways are often the best.

21 April 2009

Knitalong and woollen mittens

Despite my gentle reminder about slowing down, I've been very busy of late and today will be no exception. I have a few other things I should be doing, but I have made a commitment to you and to this blog, and it's incredibly enriching for me to write for you, so here I am again, albeit with a shorter post.

There are two plants here. The climber is a Richmond green cucumber, which is an old Australian variety that I grew up with; the larger leaves in the foreground belong to an unidentified squash.

I have some good news about our lovely chooks. Lulubelle, who is the barred Plymouth Rock chook on the sidebar has recovered and Margaret Olley, our buff Sussex, is not yet better, but is on the road back to good health. Hanno is doing a really good job looking after them. He lifts Margaret onto the nest to sleep instead of having her on the roost with the others. Margaret has an ear infection which is slowly getting better. BTW, in chook talk, barred is a colour - it's a black and white stripe, and buff is a dark blonde colour.

I have been meaning to write more about knitting and when someone asked about the knitalong rug, I knew I had to make a knitting post. The rug is still going well, in fact, it's a good project to do because the knitting can be done at any time. I'm just doing plain knit now so I can be knitting while I talk to people as I don't have to look at what I'm doing. For those of you who missed the original posts about the knitalong, you can find a link to them in the right sidebar. It's a knitted blanket - Shaker style. The blanket is made up of knitted squares so it's perfect for a beginning knitter and even though the knitalong has been going a few weeks now, I've still only done a small number of squares, so joining in at this point is no problem. I have made a Flickr page for the knitalong photos if you'd like to show what you're doing, you can load some of your own photos. That's also in the right side bar. I have done three more squares since I last posted about my rug and I'll update my photos next week after I do a few more squares.

I haven't put a lot of time into my squares lately because I've been working on a sewing project and then started this pair of mittens for one of my sons. There is something about the coming of the cooler weather that draws me back to winter knitting. It must be something to do with either the mothering instinct or the nesting instinct, both very strong impulses that reside deep within me.

This pattern for fingerless mittens is so easy, even I can do it. I am not a great knitter. I hope to be one day and that is why I keep going with my knitting. All these little projects help build my skills while I become more proficient with the needles.

I have used UK size 8 metal needles - a vintage pair an older lady gave me that I find are really easy to knit with.
3 balls of the yarn pictured above - Panda machine washable 8 ply crepe. Probably about 2½ balls. It's pure Australian wool. I bought this at Spotlight for around $3.50 a ball. Any worsted weight yarn would do but try to use pure wool, or another natural fibre like alpaca or cashmere. Natural fibres are much better at keeping the warmth in than acrylic yarn.

Cast on 52 stitches, leave a tail of yarn a few inches long for sewing up later. This is for a man's hand, you would do 40 or 44 for a woman's.
Make the wrist band by knitting a rib - two plain and two purl for the entire row and continue that until you have the length of wrist band you like. Try to find a spare hand to measure on as you're knitting.
Then knit plain for most of the mitten. Keep building it up until you come to half way between the base of the index finger and the first joint.
Go back to the rib knit to finish off - two plain, two purl, until you knit up to the first joint on the middle finger, then cast off.

Sew the mitten along the side seam with the strands of yarn at both ends of your mitten, leaving a hole for the thumb to poke through.

Depending on how much time you have it will only take a day or two to complete. If you're knitting for a woman, you might like to add some buttons or wool embroidery to the finished mittens.

Are there any men who are knitting at the moment? The last time I wrote about men knitters, two men emailed saying they were keen knitters. I wonder if they're still reading.

So, how are you going with your knitting? Please let me know what you're up to, it inspires me to keep going. Also, if you'd like to join in on the knitalong, do so. The instructions are in the knitting link in the right sidebar. Add your name to the comments so I know who is in the knitalong, I'll make a list of the knitters' names and add it to the sidebar. I'd also love to know if you're knitting other projects. If you have your current project pictured on your blog, please give me the link so we can all have a look.

HA! So much for a shorter post. Happy knitting everyone!

20 April 2009

Simple living - getting started

New readers often send emails asking about how to start a simple life. This question is almost impossible to answer because we are all so different - different ages, countries, family situations, expectations, assets, desires etc., so I think the best way to help is to tell you how I started and go on from there.

Simple living surprised me. I didn't know there was such a thing but when I looked back I realised how far from "normal" I'd drifted. When I closed down my business to 'retire', I wanted to return to my home in the most complete and pure way. I went looking for ways to lessen the impact that me not working would have on my family. I wanted to save money by being a more economical shopper and I wanted to go back to cooking from scratch. Years before this transformation we had put in a water tank, a solar hot water system, had an organic vegetable garden and chickens, but now I wanted more. However, I didn't want just the material things that helped us live this way, I wanted to reinvent myself as well.

I hoped to leave behind the commercial world and immerse myself in being a housewife again. I knew my happiness was lurking here in my home somewhere, I just had to find it. I had an inkling that providing as much as we could with my own hands would make me happy and I thought that collecting eggs and picking fresh produce every day would calm me and help readjust my life. But I didn't realise then that I'd become a proud homemaker, and that I would define my success by the size and colour of tomatoes, the taste of a well made loaf, how happy simple things would make me or how well I slept at night. I didn't know I'd be proud of what I do here, and I didn't know, until I did it, how important the everyday work of a homemaker is.

So I guess the short answer to part of the question is to say that living a more simple life is all those things you want to include in your day to day activities, but it is also readjusting the way you think. Simplicity is a mindset as well as the everyday actions of the common home.

The first major thing I did was to shop in a different way and to build a stockpile. This was important for me because I believed if I could save money on my groceries, because I was buying them every week, that would be a considerable, ongoing saving. It took me about four or five months to build my stockpile, then I wanted to do some preserving (canning) to add my home grown produce to the stockpile cupboard. I had done some preserving in the past but had to relearn it. Then I thought it might be a good idea to get rid of the preservatives in our food, so one of the first things I did then was to learn to make a good loaf of bread. This lead me to buying flour and other dry goods in bulk, and I had to learn more about food storage.

Getting rid of the preservatives in our food made me think about getting rid of them in our home too, so I stopped buying household cleaners and started making soap, laundry powder and the other cleaners I needed. When we started making soap, we added luffas to the garden. Homemade olive oil soap and an organic luffa is a gift you can give to woman, man or child alike and they will appreciate it. Christmases and birthdays came and went and I had to think a lot about gift giving. I started knitting and sewing again, this helped me with our own clothes too, as well as those soft furnishings I wanted in our home. I found that when I did anything new, it always opened up other areas I needed to work on and think about.

I started to slow down, to concentrate on what I was doing and I tried to do everything to the best of my ability. Slowing down was enough to let me see a number of things that I didn't notice when I skipped over my housework and tried to do it as fast as possible. I realised I liked doing a lot of the tasks when they were carried out in a mindful manner, and slowly, over time, I reorganised myself and my home to reflect this new way of being. That change showed me that being at home had the potential to nourish my soul and if I could make my home a place of comfort for everyone who lived here, and for those who visited, that would be a significant and valuable gift. It's not easy, in fact there is more work to be done, but the next day always brings it's own challenges and joys and, by taking one small step at a time, I got to where I am now. This journey is never over. Simple living is not a destination or a reward that you move toward, the journey itself is the prize.

But I must remind you that living simply isn't just a series of tasks and actions that are completed over the course of the day. I believe you need to slow down, be mindful, develop generosity, be kind, give more, expect less and live your life as an example to those around that happiness and fulfilment can be found almost anywhere, in a city skyscraper, a suburban house, a farm or anywhere in between. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need to be living in a serene rural location to live this way. It can be done anywhere.

One word of caution, you do need to be organised to live simply. Get yourself an old journal or binder and write down your new recipes, your meters readings, rainfall totals, your wish list for your garden, seed catalogues, your stockpile list - both what you have on hand and what you need to buy, any patterns you may find. Add to it the simple cleaners I've written about here, and you will have made your first step towards simplicity.

And finally, there is no one size fits all prescription for simple living. Each person does their own version of it. So be guided by me and all the other blogs you read but make the way you do it reflect you. This is about authenticity, not conformity. Do it your way and do one small thing today and another new thing tomorrow. Don't let anyone tell you you're not doing the right things. And if you find new pleasures in how you carry out your work, it is okay to feel pride in that. Open up yourself to new experiences and push your envelope. Be the person you always wanted to be, show your children, by example, how wonderful life is. These things, as well as making your home a place of warmth and security, are part of your simple life.


17 April 2009

Just do it

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.


16 April 2009

Water harvesting - self reliance, preparedness and common sense

This is our 10,000 litre poly tank. It collects water from the shed that it sits next to and also from the house. The photo below shows how it's connected to the house.

I love rain. I love knowing it's watering the vegetables, being harvested from the roof and stored in our water tanks. Storing water is the same as storing an abundance of vegetables or fruit. You collect it when there is too much and store it to use when there is none. I have written about harvesting rain water before here, here and here, but I want to revisit the topic to encourage all the new gardeners out there towards some sort of water harvesting system. It can be as simple or sophisticated as you like, but if you're growing a garden, you should think about storing water. Water is precious and if there is no rain, your efforts at harvesting water will allow you to keep your plants going for a while longer before you have to rely on town water.

Hanno hooked up the house to the poly tank by running this downpipe underground and over to the collection tank.

Harvested water fits well within a preparedness strategy as well. If you have stockpile cupboards inside that will see you and your family through a crisis, then water barrels containing harvested water will fit right in with that way of thinking. Just like your stockpile, you can be using your rainwater throughout the year, but if there is a need for it, that water will be there to use more sparingly throughout the crisis.

We installed our first water tank as soon as we moved into this house about 11 years ago. That one was a steel tank that holds 5000 litres. A couple of years ago, when the rebates came in, we got ourselves a 10000 litre poly tank and those two tanks have not been empty at the same time since we installed the second one. We only use the water in our tanks for the garden, the animals and outside cleaning.

It will cost some money to buy the materials but over time you'll recoup that cost because you won't use as much tap water. It's also an environmentally sound practice. Instead of wasting that water that would go down the storm water drainage system, or into a creek or river, you'll capture that amount and use it when there is no rain.

Water tanks come in all shapes and sizes. There are poly tanks and steel tanks, all with food grade lining, that can fit into just about any space. They're usually round but some are oval, and some are like a wine cask bladder that will sit, out of sight, under decks. You'd be well advised to buy the largest tank you can afford, depending on the rainfall in your area.

I can't give general guidelines about water tanks or barrels because climate differences really do effect how and where you install your system. For instance, where we live, in summer there are torrential downpours which means we must have our overflow going to an area where it runs directly into our creek. We don't have to empty our barrels in winter to avoid the water freezing and cracking the barrels. Climate plays a big part in the size of the tanks but also in how you hook up your system. If you buy a larger tank, the store you buy it from will have instructions for that particular type of tank ans you should be guided by that. But overall, you must make sure your tank or barrel cannot be accessed by children or animals.

This diagram is from the Rapid Plas Sales catalogue - 2006. Click on the image to enlarge it.

To find water tanks in your area, simply google "water tank xxxx" xxxx=your area.
There is a lot of information on these websites.
Bluescope water tanks USA
Water tanks California
Water tanks North Carolina
UK Tank Shop
UK Water butts
Information about tank foundations
Rainwater harvesting
How to install a rain barrel
Rain barrel system - with photos
What size tank? Where do I position the tank?
Installation guide
How rain barrels work

Click on this guide to enlarge it. It is from the Rapid Plas Sales catalogue - 2006.

If you choose a large water tank it must sit on a stable well compacted base free of rocks, sharp objects or stones. Hanno put our last tank on a compacted base of crusher dust, with retaining walls, and it's withstood torrential rain unharmed for the past couple of years.

Traditionally in Australia, the old timers sited their tanks high on tank stands which assisted in the gravity feed of water. We have our large tanks on solid ground and use a pump on each tank to deliver water to the gardens. However, our newest tank, a small 500 litre barrel, sits on a stand, just off the front verandah, that is high enough for us to place watering cans or buckets under the tap.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to harvest rain water. If you can find suitable second hand containers they will do very nicely as your tanks/barrels and all you'll have to do then is connect it to the downpipe with some plumbing pipes - you might already have these on hand. Don't think that it's not worth doing unless you can have a brand new state of the art system. Water harvesting is a big part of any self-reliance strategy and as such, made from scratch with second hand materials will do just fine.

If you have any problems with your tank or barrels, or are unsure about installation or purchase, ask your question in the comments and I am sure Hanno will be happy to answer your queries.

Patricia: This is Hanno's advice. To get water into the large tank you have to make sure the inlet on the tank is lower than the gutter on your house. You can easily check this by taking a garden hose full of water to the tank's inlet and get someone to hold it at that level. Take the other end over to the building and mark the height where it overflows. When the water pipe from the roof to the tank is low enough, it will empty into the tank. Regardless of how deep you bury the pipe, it will be full all the time and the water will flow whenever it rains. Make sure all the underground pipes are glued properly so no water leaks into the ground. This is explained in the installation guide link above.

Australians paying more for water but using less


15 April 2009

Queen for the day

I've come full circle again, back to April 15, the day of my birth. I know of some people my age who don't celebrate their birthday. How sad. I grew up with a mother who made our birthdays special and although there was never a lot of money for gifts, my sister and I always knew it was a day when we would be queens for the day and our friends and family would be there to celebrate. Hanno wants to take me out to lunch today and later in the day, Kerry and his friend Sunny will be here for dinner and to stay the night. More celebrations. It looks like my mother was right (yet again), birthday are not days to forget, they are days to remember.

I have a few things to be done today, although I will make it my duty to sit and relax and have tea brought to me. I went to work yesterday so there is a bit of tidying up to be done and I have dinner to prepare later but overall, it will be a day of subdued, but ongoing, celebration.

Our vegetable garden is giving us grief this season. We've had so much rain, much of it falling as sudden bursts of hard rain, then on Easter Monday, we had heavy rain for 24 hours. I don't know how much we had because our rain gauge overflowed, but it was a lot. I just looked at our official readings and we've had 324.2mm (12.7 inches) this month alone.

The back creek through the trees. Late Monday afternoon, it was really flooding but it's quickly flowing away now.

I looked at the vegetable garden when I came home from work yesterday afternoon and it's not looking good. One of the loofahs has to be thrown out because it's rotting, so today I'll collect all of them, even the green and unripe ones, and allow them all to dry out on the back verandah. Then I'll pull out the vines add compost and plant some vanilla vines.

Bok choi and new beefsteak tomatoes. These are seedlings bought at the market but luckily I still have seeds to grow more brandywines and moneymakers, and will sow them today.

Our three types of tomatoes - brandywines, Amish paste and moneymakers, will all be pulled out as they've developed what looks like mosaic virus. I'm not sure if it is mosaic because that is usually spread by people who smoke or touch tobacco, but it might also be spread by insects. Whatever it is, the tomatoes have had it, so we'll pull them out, put them in a plastic bag to sweat and die for a couple of weeks, then send them to the rubbish tip. I have my doubts about the corn too. It looks wonderful now, but with all the rain it might go mouldy. So with that, we'll just have to stand back and wait. We are lucky that all this happened so early in our growing season and although it has put us back a few weeks, it's not a total disaster.

Kylie Black, Mary Black and Cocobelle Black. Cocobelle is the matriarch of the tribe, she is about five years old now.

Some of the chooks are sick too and it wouldn't surprise me if Margaret Olley, Lulubelle and Martha die. We'll have to clean out their coop and keep an eye on the flock, but the signs are not good for some of them.

It's very sad seeing birds fall ill that we've cared for and who have been a productive part of our backyard. We will take care of them and hope they survive this but if they don't they'll be kept comfortable till the end.

From tomorrow on, it will be full steam ahead with writing again. I'll be working on my book again, it's due back tomorrow after a reading, so there will be changes made and suggestions to think about. But today all that will be put aside. Today I have a lunch to eat, visitors to prepare for and celebrations to revel in, for today I am queen. :- )
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