30 July 2010

Bloom where you are planted

I received the following comment during the week from Monique who wrote:
... we want to sell our place and search for a new home we can make our home. We both know this is not our place to be. So Rhonda, would you recommend us to make our place a home right now or save our love for the next place?
We are afraid that if we are going to love this house, we never, ever could sell it. Do you know what I mean?The only thing what's in our heart is the great desire to sell this place. That's our dream, that's our greatest wish. Won't we stop this feeling if we are going to love this place?
By the way: our place right now is an building of ten floors in the middle of a city and many factories. Our dream is an old tiny, little farm or cottage in the middle of nowhere.

We have a tomato bush growing in the grass, next to the hard surface of our back verandah.  It came up out of no where, was not planned nor planted by either of us, it just arrived.  The bush is held up with sticks and a couple of pieces of metal from an old card rack.  It's huge and healthy and much bigger than our planned and carefully planted tomatoes; it's taller than I am.  Last night, along with whiting cooked with lemon and olive oil, home grown lettuce, raw, shredded beetroot and carrot and potato salad, we had some of those tomatoes.  They were delicious.

Bloom where you are planted.

I have written about this in a different way here but I wanted to address a certain issue with you, Monique. When you're older and look back on your life, although it will feel like one long, unbroken thread, you'll see it's fragmented with times when you were perfectly happy doing what you were doing and other times when you did something that might not have seemed right at the time but lead you on to something better.  ALL of it is your life.  ALL of it should be made the most of.

Do you know there are only 9,000 hours in a year and that if you live to 80, you'll only have 720,000 hours to live.  Life is short.

Everyone of those hours is precious so don't waste too many of them wishing you were somewhere else, doing something else.  Make the most of every hour.  You don't have to live in the country to live simply.  Right here, right now you can be preparing for your country life while you make your city life and your city home productive, comfortable and beautiful. So when you ask "would you recommend us to make our place a home right now or save our love for the next place?"  I recommend both to you.  It is possible to love where you live right now, to make it a safe and comfortable haven for you both, and still love where you will move to in the future.  I believe that if you decide to make the house you are living in now a warm and nourishing home, if you use that space to teach yourself all the life skills you need, both now and later, if you dive into your simple life right now, you will be living to your true potential and it will prepare you for the move to the country when you are ready for it.

No one knows how their life will unfold.  We can only deal with the times we live in and hope that our plans for the future work out the way we hope.  But I will tell you this, if you don't take your life by the throat this very day and live like it really matters, you will have wasted a lot of your hours.  What you're living now is not a wedge of life that doesn't matter.  It all matters. Try to love your whole life, not just the parts of it you yearn for.  You heart is capable of non-stop love, if you love you home now, you will still have the capacity to love your future home.  So talk to your husband, work out what you both want, now and in the future, and make your current circumstances part of your simple life.  And do it today.  You might not have a huge back garden where you are now, but you can still find a space to produce food and learn the ins and outs of it.  You can cut down on chemicals in your life, stop using plastics, learn to sew and knit, learn how to cook from scratch, produce your own bread, jams, sauces, learn how to make sauerkraut and herrings in brine.  It is up to you to make the life you want to live. There is so much to be done.  Your time starts NOW.


29 July 2010

This is where I work

Today we're travelling to a Canadian dairy farm.  Look at all those cute cow bottoms waiting patiently.  I love this workplace and I'm sure Marlyn, whose home we are visiting, enjoys her work very much.  

She writes:

"I wish to share with you my favourite work spaces. I would love to say I have just one, but rather I enjoy two.

There is nothing more joyful then to arrive in the barn at 5am to the sounds of sheep calling you by name "MaaaMaaa" and cattle waiting to be milked. Animals unlike humans know patience. The cows come in one at a time know exactly which stall is theirs and start to munch on their morning feed waiting to be milked. They also enjoy a human hand on their flank and kind words. Sheep are noisy critters in the morning. They seem to want your attention all at once. They can't go out of the barn yard to pasture until all dangers that lurk in  the dawn is gone. On 250 acres of Canadian farmland there are many dangers of coyotes and wolves. They too, even though in  hurry to get to the green grass, leave the barn one at a time with some of the little ones jumping all over the place once they are free to roam.

My sewing & craft room is my love of heart. I have only had my own room for a year now, as we are slowly becoming empty nesters. My sewingroom is my Eldest daughters old bedroom, which I now on occasion need to share with grandbabies. I have always had a passion for sewing, mostly heirloom and smocking. Lately I have taken to stitching cards instead of purchasing them. These cards have become an encouragement for friends needing a smile. I also love knitting, making socks, and sweaters. And quilting of which there is always one in a frame. I was taught to sew, knit and quilt from my mother. A typical Memnnonite mom, she can do everything that needs doing ,at just the right time. She has been an huge encoragement to me as she taught me all the wonderful skills of homemaking. My sewingroom has a lovely large closet in it. I can actually fit the crib in it, but rather have wooden shelves in there to hold sewing projects and stamping/card making supplies, my ironing board. It also has a clothes rack to hang working on projects like quilt tops. I have a large cutting table and a small childs table for my grandchild to work on their artwork and sewing while Oma works on her projects.

Come visit us at Sweet Locus Lane Farm as sweetlocuslane.blogspot.com. You are always Welcomed."

28 July 2010

The never-ending feast

It's been a while since I wrote about our garden so that's where we are today.  Most of you know that Hanno and I have been gardening for many years but I have to tell you there is always something new to learn.  It's a never ending feast - both in culinary and intellectual terms.  It keeps us on our toes, it gives us delicious organic food fresher than anything we could buy and it's part of the mosaic that makes up the work we do in our home.

Above are just some of the many passionfruit we've had this year.  These are a black variety that I think are Misty Gem.  At the moment we have about 20 ripe passionfruit sitting on the kitchen bench.  I hope to use them to make curd this coming weekend.  It's the same recipe as the lemon curd I make, just with different fruit.  It's delicious on toast or scones, in little tart cases, or a couple of cups in a pie shell under a blanket of meringue makes a terrific alternative to lemon meringue pie.
Newly planted lettuce and bok choy.  You can see snow peas and kale in the background.

The last of the first crop of cabbages.  A new batch was planted two weeks ago.

This is the lettuce and bok choy again but here you can also see the garlics planted a couple of months back and the last of the potatoes.  They are flopped over and waiting to be dug up, there are still a lot of them inside waiting to be eaten.

We used to grow blueberries here but they never really did very well so we dig them up and planted tomatoes.  Tomatoes are something we eat almost every day.  We need a lot of them.  Whatever excess we have I turn into tomato chutney and sauce. 

This sorry sight is what is left of a crop of tomatoes planted about four months ago.  You can see the brown leaves - that's tomato wilt.  It doesn't affect the tomatoes at all but it weakens the plant a lot.  We aim to get about four kilos (9lbs) from each bush and then we pull them out.  Tomatoes are always a difficult crop for us to find new space for.  Once we've grown a crop we like to leave that spot for a few years before planting tomatoes - or potatoes, capsicum (peppers) or eggplant - there again.

And this is what we did with our blueberries.  They are planted up in my antique baby bath and bread bin.  :- )  I've just noticed that Hanno's planted a couple of marigolds in there too.  We'll watch them in this space and if they fail to thrive, we'll find a better home for them.

I suppose many of my northern hemisphere friends will be up to their necks in vegetables and fruits right now.  I hope you're enjoying your gardens and learning the things that will help you next year and 30 years from now.  Once gardening gets you, you're in it for life.


27 July 2010

Answering some comments and a gentle warning

I am often overwhelmed by the generous nature of the comments left behind like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs in the woods. Those breadcrumbs can be followed and at times  they lead to the most wonderful places.  Sometimes, someone picks up on a tiny thing and that makes me smile, knowing they know what I know. Stephanie and notesfromthefrugaltrenches both noted my reference to Doc Martin.  For those of you who don't know, this is a UK TV program about a disagreeable and socially unaware doctor in a small village and, I guess, about village life.  I don't watch a lot of television and I rarely watch anything as it goes to air, I prefer to record and watch when I feel like it.  That has the added benefit of me being able to whiz through the advertisements.  Stephanie, what is Hulu?  I think there are Doc Martin DVDs, you might find the full series somewhere, or might be able to hire them.  Notes, my sister and I were talking about this the other day.  Where is it filmed?

Monique, I will think about your comment and answer later in the week.

French Knots, Hanno is safely home, thank you.  I struggle with some repetitive tasks but I have found that by accepting them as being part of this life I have chosen, and knowing that if I was working in a boring  paid job the repetition would be absolutely mind-numbing.  At least at home you can mix jobs around and do things according to your own timetable. You have control. I think we've been lead to believe we should never be bored when the reality is that most of our lives are filled with mundane tasks that fill up very ordinary days.  It is up to you to accept that, look at it in another way and mix the tasks you love doing with those you don't. You are at the time of life when these things you do for your family are part of it.  It won't be like that forever.  I wrote a blog about this a couple of years ago that might help you: The Familiar Rhythm of the Unremarkable.

Christa, thank you so much for your warm and generous comment.  The fact is that I am a very ordinary woman who makes mistakes, is forgetful and impatient.  The good part is that I make a good cup of tea and I can hold my own in most decent conversations.  Ironically, I don't mix well with others and prefer to be alone or with people I know, except when I'm at my voluntary job. Then I turn into everyone's mother.  ;- )


And finally, when I looked up the definition of "house-proud" the other day I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald that I want to bring to your attention.  This is an extract: "Scientists found significant links between the disease [breast cancer] and women's use of cleaning products, air fresheners and mould removers. General use of cleaners doubled the risk of breast cancer in women who used them the most, experts found."  It confirms my suspicions about air fresheners and breathing in chemicals we spray around our homes.  If you're still buying commercially made cleansers and sprays, you might find some cleaners you can make at home here. They're healthier and a lot cheaper. I've never used air fresheners. I believe the smell of a clean home is the best scent possible.

I feel strongly about the health risks some cleaning chemicals pose to us homemakers.  We need to stop using products we don't know about and get back to basics to discover that the old methods of cleaning with moist rags, vinegar, homemade soap and bicarb really do work.  Supermarkets and manufacturers will only disclose the information they're legally obliged to.  It is up to us to alert other homemakers and support them in the transition to gentler ways of cleaning.  Let's all get back to the tried and true ways and turn our backs on products that might compromise our health.


26 July 2010


I had a wonderful weekend pottering around doing this and that, and I even had a sleep in my chair, wrapped in a blanket, after watching Doc Martin that I'd recorded the night before.  Hanno has been away this past week and will fly home today.  He went back to Sydney to help my sister, Tricia, deal with the realities and the real estate agents as she put her house on the market to sell it.  It's a big step for her.  A huge move, both physically and emotionally, to sell after the death of her husband a few years ago and her children making lives for themselves.  It was good that Hanno could be with her and help her through some of it.

So back at the ranch here, it's been just me and the animals and yesterday I thought I'd stop reading for a while and get stuck into some housework.  I vacuumed and washed the floors, did some laundry, cleaned benches, changed table and bed linen and made a big pot of food for Alice.  When I finished, I stood back to appreciate my hard work and a really old fashioned term popped into my head for the first time in years.  House-proud.   That was the term used in the 40s and 50s to describe a housewife who kept a tidy house.

I do feel it you know - proud, although it's not at all arrogant, it's more restrained and unpretentious.   House-proud doesn't quite get to the real essence of it either. I'm not so much proud of my house but proud of the way my home works its magic way on me, my family and others who visit us.  The work I do in my home changed  my unrealistic perception of the spray and wipe advertised version of housework and instead of trying to make everything easier, I tried to make it safer and more satisfying.  Speed is overrated. Satisfaction and comfort are more enduring and meaningful.  

I discovered, once I dived right into this way of living, that making my way through housework helped me make my way through life. Working away slowly at home calmed me down and showed me a different way of living.  It prepared me, in many ways, for what I needed to do when I went to my voluntary job and I'm sure that if I took on full-time work again, it would also help me with that as well.  You require an extraordinary number of skills to run a home, raise children, grow a garden and look after pets and chooks.  So it is not surprising that when I was out, doing all those things we all do in our daily lives, that thinking of home, and the fact that I would be going home soon, returned a calmness to me that helped me complete my tasks.

If you really do become what you do, then I am a plain and simple woman who tries to make as much at home as possible.  My home has become a centre point that has helped me live true to my values, to open up to a creative energy that provides exciting possibilities every day and to be sure that here at home is where I really want to be.  Right here is where I help feed and clothes us, I write here, I create, think and learn and I find a steadfast inspiration every day to keep doing those things. This is where I reclaim my independence and discover the contentment of living well and to my true potential.  It may not be everyone's choice to work at home doing household chores but I have been enriched by it and I doubt I would be as happy as I am without meaningful work to do every day.  I don't want to live a life where I don't have to do any work at home, and I don't want to be dragged down by it either.  I have found a good balance that requires of me that I plan, work and put in the time and in return I get this feeling of satisfaction and contentment. And yes, I guess I am house-proud.  I am proud and thankful for what looking after my home has helped me do and become.  And I am pretty sure many of you feel the same way.

25 July 2010

Dumb clucks saved from themselves

It's cold (for here) and raining.  I just filled a bowl with old bread, a sprinkling of milk powder and warm water and took this most prized of all treats to the chook house.  I'm not letting them free-range today.  It's too wet, they walk around in the coldness like dumb clucks and I worry they might catch cold.  Of course, they never do, but that doesn't stop me.

I brought my crocs out and transferred my feet from the warm toastiness of my woolen slippers to the harsh reality of cold hard plastic and walked into the backyard.  In the coop, it's sheltered and dry, I emptied the bread into their bowl and watched them devoured it all in record time.  Then realised they had no feed in their hopper.  So back to the verandah for a bucket full of their feed; while I walked away I could hear the hopper lid open and close several times.  They knew I'd checked the hopper and that it should be full and couldn't work out why standing on the step at the front didn't bring them food.  It didn't take me long to fill it for them and for a line to form.
This is Anne Shirley, our New Hampshire chook, standing on the step that opens the hopper.  When there is no one on the step, the hopper remains closed.

Two of our little ladies - Germaine and Mary - are broody and have been sitting on imaginary eggs for about a week. When I collect the eggs each day I pick them up and make them go to over to have something to eat and drink.  Germaine really hates this and fluffs herself up trying to scare me off.  But I'm a mean old bird myself and don't get put off.  ;- )

I put in some extra hay for them to sit on during this cold and wet day.  They're all warm and dry and their bellies are full.  That's the best I can do for them today.

I hope you are having a good weekend and that you're warm and dry and have a full belly.

23 July 2010

This is where I work

From last week's postal room in outback Australia to a music room on the Isle of Skye.  This blog covers all areas.  I really liked reading this because it reminded me of my own mother who studied classical piano at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney when she was young.  Today's work place is Ann's. I'm sure you'll enjoy her story.

Ann writes:
"This is my Music Room here in the small village of Scullamus on the Isle of Skye, a western isle off Scotland UK.
I teach here for three days every week, and enjoy the peace and quiet and slow pace of life.  I also travel away to judge singing competitions and give masterclasses, but I can never wait to get back to my own piano and home.  I  was a voice professor at the Junior Royal Academy of Music in London for 18 years and the fast life almost killed me off!
You can see the bird tables hanging just outside the window, and it is amazing how they sit there and cock their heads and listen to the singing - I always wonder what they think! I have a daughter who is also a singing teacher and two beautiful grandchildren of 7 and 3. We are a musical family, but being professionals the children never get 'pushed' - we know how hard the life of a musician is!

I have over 36 pupils here on Skye, from 6 years old to 70 years old, and we give concerts, do full show productions and we even toured giving concerts in Vienna in 2006 and 2008. In the photo you can see the racks of music, and the table for the dreaded theory! Mostly I love watching the confidence growing in them as they become better and better.  I have even persuaded my ladies of a certain age to take exams!!  I have a beautiful old garden with plum trees and lilac bushes, and two raised beds with a few salads and veggies, but I do not have the time for much more.  You can find me at http://singinginparadise.blogspot.com/, but I realize that reading about a classical singing teacher may not interest everyone! I love Rhonda's blog and have followed for a number of years - Oh that I could retire - or at least slow down enough to bake and garden.  Maybe when I am 70!"

22 July 2010

Flexible simplicity

This is a continuation of yesterday post on living within a "simple life" framework.  The areas we're focusing on today are:
  • being green
  • housework
  • the work we do
This can be quite challenging for many of us.  It requires that we change our habits and often they are habits of a lifetime.  When you live a greener life you can get rid of as many chemicals in your home, which include chemicals you clean with, it may include giving up smoking, it will include disposing of disposables, for some it will mean growing their own fruit and vegetables, for all of us it means consciously moving towards reducing the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill, and if you have a garden, maybe starting composting or worm farming.

Most of the elements in this category will impact on all the others because greening your life will give you fresher local food, will change the way you eat and shop and it will save you money.  Don't fall into the trap of buying your way to a greener future.  Many of the "green" products at the shops are very expensive, but most of them can be made at home for a fraction of the cost.  Learn how to make your own cleaners, my recipes are here; reduce, reuse and recycle as much as you can; stop buying over packaged products and complain at the store about the packaging.  It is only when manufacturers realise that we won't buy their otherwise good product because it's not packaged in a thoughtful way that they'll change it.  Never forget the power of your shopping dollar.  If you can, make your own yoghurt, soft cheese, bread and any other product you use frequently.  Not only will it be tastier and cheaper, you'll stop bringing home all that packaging.  Ask the family to help you cut back on electricity usage by switching off lights, computers, iPod and phone chargers and appliances.  Try to adjust the temperature you will turn on your air conditioning or heating.  Even a couple of degrees makes a big difference over the course of a year.   Take shorter showers, use a broom instead of the hose for cleaning up outside.  And don't look at any of these points in isolation.  Add up the savings over a year.  That is when the difference will be noticed.

If you haven't already discovered the power of your own home, you are in for a delightful and beautiful shock.  Come closer and let me whisper this in your ear, because if everyone knows this, it will cause a revolution.  The work you do in your own home by creating a warm and secure place for yourself and your family to live in will enrich you and make you a different person. It saved me from a life of ridiculous spending and mindless acquisition, it slowed me down enough to allow me to see that there is beauty here, if I care to nurture and encourage it.  When I took the time to change my attitude towards my home, it not only gave me the energy to do housework and the strength to make the physical changes so our home better suited our family, it changed me in the process.  And it has been a beautiful change that I am grateful for every day.

Housework can slow you down and it helps if you concentrate on the job you're doing.  Don't think about what you'll be cooking for dinner, or what you'll be doing on the weekend.  Slowing down and being mindfull actually helps you get through the day.  And whether you're a first time mum or a retireee, take time out for yourself.  It may be a quick nap while the baby is asleep, a cup of tea and a book or a walk around the block.  It's important that you take the break.  Put YOU in the daily work equation, you need to nurture yourself and make sure that you are well enough to be the tower of strength that everyone expects you to be.

And remember, housework never ends, so don't try to finish it.  It will be there for you again tomorrow, so take your time, make changes that please you and try to develop a rhythm to your days.  Do the hard work in the morning and the easier things in the afternoon.  I see this work I do here in my home now as my job.  Some of it is outside and some inside, some of it difficult and some not so, some of it is repetitive and some new and exciting but all of it gives us the one place in this world that we are our true selves.  We feel secure here, we have made our home and our home has remade us.

Unless we're born into a wealthy family, all of us have to work at some stage to earn the money to buy what we need - be that a home, a car or our weekly groceries.  I hope you're not in a soul destroying job.  I hope that even if you don't like your job, you can find good bits in it, apart from the take home pay.  It's probably not the best time to be changing jobs with the economy the way it is, but when things improve, if you do really hate your job, look for something you like better.  Sometimes, even if you're doing the same type of work, the company will have less rigid policies, the workforce will be friendlier or the working environment will be healthier. You spend so much time at work, you should get as much of value out of it as you can.

Don't forget that your work can also help you live your chosen life.  You can take your lunch to work each day, take a bottle of water or a Thermos of good coffee, a book or knitting and make the most of your breaks.  And when you're doing the work you're being paid for, do your best, be respectful of your fellow workers and come home each day knowing that you used your skills in the most beneficial way and earned your money.  Trying to be your best and do your best will build self respect, and that is a powerful agent that will help you in other areas of your life.  The work you do outside your home is not a wedge you slice out of your life as if it doesn't matter.  It all matters, it's all part of your simple life and if it's not good, try to make it better.

As I wrote at the beginning of yesterday's post, this is a loose frame work of what many simple lives might look like.  The framework is flexible to accommodate all comers.  Shape your life to suit yourself, and don't expect it all to happen immediately.  Buying the organic or green products you can afford is fine, you don't have to be fully organic or green if you can't afford to be.  Try to make as much as you can at home, but if you can only make one thing, that's good too.  It all helps.  Doing what you can do at home is fabulous, you don't have to make every change possible right now - add things slowly, get used to them then add something else.  Don't get caught up with the name "simple".  It doesn't matter.  Just know what you want and go for it.  Don't be influenced by what others do.  Make your own way in your own time and you'll create a  simple life like no other, and when you do that, nothing else will be good enough for you.

21 July 2010

"Getting" the simple life

I continue to have a sprinkling of emails every week asking for tips on how to start living a simpler life or how to continue once the first step has been taken. I thought it might be a helpful exercise to list some tasks and skills that might help you move towards simplicity or to remain on the path. But it's not that simple. We all live in different ways. Age, or the stage of life you're at, will determine more than anything else how you're living your life right now. For instance, those of you in your teens and early twenties will probably be living differently than those in their late twenties and early thirties who have young children. People in their late thirties and into their forties, whose children who have grown, will be different again. Those my age, will have different priorities and goals.

However, there is a a loose framework we can be guided by and that involves looking at:
  • the way we eat
  • shopping
  • living well on less
  • housework
  • being green
  • the work we do
You will find that when you look at all of these areas, as they relate directly to your own life, that each of them is linked to the others and the way you do one of them will impact on all the other areas.

If you're not growing your own food, the best way to go is to eat seasonally. Eating what is in season will give you the freshest and possibly the cheapest food. It is really difficult to know what is in season when you're shopping at a mainstream supermarket because most of the fruit and vegetables will look fresh, even when they're not. Often their apples will be months old and just out of storage, tomatoes and eggs might be weeks old and if you're not a gardener yourself it's difficult to tell the signs to look for. If you can, shop at local markets and ask the seller when the produce was picked. If you can't do that, and supermarkets are your only option, do some research on what is in season in your area, and also be guided by price. When it's tomato season, they're cheaper. When berries or bananas are in season, they're cheaper. In winter, when cabbages and kale thrive, they're cheaper.

If you can, buy organic produce. If you can't buy all organic, buy what you can and be happy with that.

Cook from scratch. This will cut out all sorts of preservatives, artificial colourings and flavourings. If you don't cook at all, start with two simple recipes that you know will fit well into your lifestyle. When you're comfortable with them, add two more. You don't have to do all or nothing. Small steps towards your goal will work well.

If you're still out there wandering through shops looking for things to buy, stop. Having more will not make you happier, more fulfilled or the envy of your friends. It will just use up the money you work hard for. You'd be wiser to use that money on paying off your debts.

Take control of your shopping, cut down on the times you go to the shops; if you shop weekly for groceries, go fortnightly instead. The more you're in the shops, the more you'll spend. Plan your menus, stockpile groceries and don't waste food. Cook from scratch - it is cheaper. Use your leftovers. Get rid of disposable products. Make a conscious decision not to use plastic bags or bottles. Instead of buying the numerous expensive commercial products in the cleaning aisle, buy white vinegar in bulk (at least two litres/quarts at a time), bicarb, laundry soap, borax, washing soda - also known as soda crystals, soda ash or calcium carbonate, and learn more about green cleaning. (I'll have more on this tomorrow.)

Make up a budget and stick to it. Reading a sentence like that when I was a shopper would have made me cringe. I know better now. Now I know it's just a tool that helped me get my life back. I have some posts on budgeting and using the envelope system to help me organise myself. It's really liberating to get this part of your life under control and to be able to ignore advertising, turn your back on fashionable flim flam and be your true self.

When the penny drops and you realise that everything you buy will cost the hours of your life you spent earning that money, you will be ready go to the next level and work out a plan to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Being debt free means you're not beholding to any one or any bank. When you walk away from mindless consumerism and pay that last payment on your mortgage or credit cards, it will be one of the most memorable times of your life. On that day you will become a genuine independent and you'll live better and breathe easier because of it. Being debt free means that you don't have to make life decisions based on money. You can cut down your working hours if that is what you wish to do or you can continue working to save for travel or those things that are really important to you.

This post is getting to be quite long so I'll finish the rest of the list tomorrow.

What I hope I've demonstrated here is that moving to a simpler life means you take control of your own life and move into the driver's seat. Simple living is not passive. It requires that you make decisions and act on them. You will no longer be driven by what others have but by what you want and need instead. It usually involves more work but it is work that brings many rewards and is life affirming and enriching. But if you "get" it, if you can open up the elements of your life and really examine them, if you develop routines and a daily rhythm to this life work, if you can turn you back on what you're constantly told you want and want only what you need, then you will build a life like no other.


20 July 2010

Making rye bread

I think one of the most important, and certainly one of my most frequently used home skills, is bread making.  It is important in that it allows us to have a good wholesome lunch most days that, with the addition of our backyard salads, or some local cheese or even a scrape of Vegemite, is food fit for the most queenly of queens.  I have had the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes book for a few months now but I've been under-whelmed by it.  It gives what look to be good recipes but it doesn't inspire me to rush out and make them.  I will get back to sour doughs soon, I do believe they have an important place in my kitchen, but until this batch of yeast runs out and I perfect a good starter, I'm sticking to my yeasted recipe.

This recipe is really just an adjustment of my white bread one - it's four cups of flour, bubbling yeast, warm water, sugar and salt.  You could even leave out the sugar and salt if you wished, but they do add flavour.  Rye flour contains a small amount of gluten, therefore the bread doesn't rise as much as a white loaf does.  To help with the rising, I add half a cup of unbleached white baker's flour.  It gives the loaf a bit of a spring.

  • 2 teaspoons yeast - dissolve in a cup of warm water to which the brown sugar is added.  Let it froth up.
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar.
  • about 2 cups of warm water.  This amount is approximate.  The amount of water to flour will change according to the humidity in the aim and the flour you use.  Add 1¾ cups first, mix, then add the last ¼ slowly.  You may even need more than this amount.  Just add it slowly.  When rye dough is too wet it becomes very sticky.
  • 3½ cups rye flour and ½ cup unbleached white baker's flour (strong flour)
  • 1 teaspoon salt.  Don't add the salt to the yeast water because the salt could kill the yeast.  Add it in with the flour.

Into your breadmaker, place 3½ cups rye flour, ½ cup unbleached white baker's flour and the salt.  When the yeast cup is frothy, add that and the rest of the water, slowly.  Turn on the machine and let it mix.  Feel the dough.  You always have to do this and you should learn what a good dough feels like.  If the dough feels too dry, or if there is still some dry flour in the bucket that hasn't mixed in, add a very small amount of water to help it mix in.  If the dough is too sticky you may need a small amount of additional flour. Feel it again and watch it mix.  The flour and water should come together well and not be sticking to the sides of the bucket.  You will notice as it kneads, the smoother the dough becomes.  What you want at the end is a smooth and elastic dough that springs back when you poke your finger in it.  BTW, this recipe is fine when made by hand as well.

When the timer tells you the dough cycle is finished, take the dough out and put it on a lightly floured clean bench. Knead it for a minute to put yourself into it and form it into the shape you like.  Rye dough is very easy to shape and it should hold itself free-form, so you don't have to use a bread tin, but you can if you want to.

 For every grain there is a seed that complements and enhances its flavour.  For rye, that seed is the caraway.  If you intend making rye bread, do yourself a favour and find some caraway seeds.  Brush the top of the dough with water and sprinkle on your seeds.  Place in a warm position to rise.  When the dough is the size you want, place it into your preheated very hot oven (as hot as your oven will go), then turn it down to about 190 - 200C / 375 - 390F.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until you smell the bread and it looks cooked.

I experimented with this flour for a week or so, starting of with half white and half rye.  The recipe above is the one we thought was the best.  However, like every recipe, I hope you experiment with it and suit it exactly to your taste.  I think recipes are just a starting point, they're there to show you how, and if you know what to look for, particularly when you're making bread, it should be quite easy for  you to adjust the recipe to suit yourself.

Happy baking everyone.

19 July 2010

Photos - old and new

I am in a bit of a rush this morning so I'll just share some photos I took on the weekend as well as some I have taken recently but have not yet shown.  As you know we celebrated Shane's birthday at Shane and Sarndra's home on Sunday.

Sarndra is smiling brightly for me while the others are more interested in the delicious lunch they made for us.

When we finished our steak and salads, there was rich chocolate cake and lemon meringue pie to have with coffee and tea. Lemon pie recipe is here.  It was a wonderful afternoon.  The flat that Shane and Sarndra share in Brisbane reminds me of flats I shared with Hanno in our early marriage. There is furniture passed on by family members, as well as pieces from thrift shops, and not enough bench space for food preparation in the kitchen. But it's clean and tidy and there is a feeling of contentment there; they know small steps and sustainability are important and haven't gone into debt to get everything they want immediately.  They have each other, they're working hard on the rest, and they're very happy.  It makes me happy to be a part of it.

When we were ready to go home I took this photo of Shane and Kerry in the flat's cark park.  Right at the back, Shane has built a little vegetable and herb garden.  He's growing tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and an assortment of herbs.  Naturally, the chefs have to check out the fresh produce.

Now I have some older photos taken in the past month.

First we have these two old boys who just happened to wander by late one afternoon.  I was sitting at my laptop, writing, I looked up to see two peacocks!  I think they two young brothers.  They hadn't yet grown their spectacular tail feathers, but they very beautiful nonetheless.

And this cute kookaburra was sitting on our back fence last week.  He looks young too.  That light patch on his wing is blue. He is one of the famous laughing kookaburras that sound like mad laughter when they call.  Kookaburras are in the kingfisher family.

I took this photo when my sister Tricia was staying with us last month.  She was making a beautiful quilt that, in this photo, she is piecing together - backing and wadding to the front.

And finally, we have Hanno making sandwiches with last week's rye bread.  Avocado and tomato on rye with a cup of black tea - a plain and honest lunch, but very tasty and available because of the work we both do.  I will be writing a post on making rye bread tomorrow.  I hope to see you again then.

I am looking forward to a bright and productive week for all of us.


18 July 2010

This is where I work

Today we're in the Australian bush to see where Carole works.  With changing scenery like this most days, and mail coming in from all over the place, who could complain about going to work.

Carole writes:
"My job is as a country mail contractor for Australia Post,which means I deliver mail to the remote farmers. I think I may be one of a few people who wake up everyday and feel happy at the prospect of going to work,the only downside is the colour of the uniform,very flattering NOT!! 
This is the sorting room in our little post office.All the parcels are for me to sort into streets and which side of town they are to go to, I deliver these when I get back from the bush. The little pigeon holes are waiting to be filled with mail from the row of letters that await.Some days it is "where do I start"!! but of course there is a routine and rhythm otherwise it just does not work.The bundles of catalogues you can see are also delivered to the country households the towns people get theirs in the local paper.

The second picture is of why it is pure joy to go to work, while the roads are shocking,full of potholes and corrugations, the scenery is to die for. I go past this little waterfall each day, on my blog it shows it flooded. The road you can see is one of the better ones I drive on and yes my car is 4 wheel drive or I would not get to the farms. Lambing time and foaling time is the most joyful as we watch the little ones born and grow until we can't tell the mums from bubs anymore. The best part of my job is I can take my 89 year old Mum with me and she thrives on it all.The bumps at times make an interesting ooh and ahh time but all worth it.I am back home at lunch time and still have time to do other things."

Click here for Carole's blog.

16 July 2010

Strengthening family ties

I clearly remember that split second I became a mother.  Lying in a labour ward in Germany, in a hospital far, far away from my home, this tiny baby came into my life and changed me forever.  It is true to say that I was reborn on that day.  So now here we all are, with an ocean of water having flowed under a hundred bridges, celebrating Shane's thirtieth birthday.  I don't think I looked ahead much when I was younger but now as I look back I see a young woman who didn't have much of a clue, who stumbled along and learned from her mistakes and who hoped that everything would work out fine. It did.  I can say now with razor sharp conviction, that I couldn't be prouder of my sons.  I look at them and wonder, with the potential for so much to go wrong, how did they come to be so right.  Of course, that is a mothers love and pride talking but I'm sure all the parents here understand.

We will gather in Brisbane to celebrate with Shane and Sarndra on Sunday.  A simple lunch of homemade fresh food, with most people bringing something to contribute, lots of it gathered from backyard gardens, including Shane and Sarndra's, with all of us siting together around that symbol of hospitality and family, the kitchen table.  It's such an age old scene - a family gathered to celebrate an important milestone - sitting together, eating, drinking, talking, reconnecting and strengthening family ties.

Rituals such as this make families stronger.  They take time and thought but they are worth every ounce of effort you put into them.  Just as having a family sitting around a table for evening meals leads to a closeness that facilitates family love and communication, when children are older, the ties that bind are upheld and preserved by celebrating family rituals like birthdays, weddings, new babies and anniversaries.  Everyone can become as involved as they want to be.  They either come along and enjoy the get-together or they bring food or wine, or help set up and clean up.  All of it brings a family together for a common purpose.

Never let yourself be convinced that family celebrations don't matter.  It's easy to say we'll do something next year or we're too busy but when you do that you miss the chance to express love and caring and to show that of all the things you could be doing, this is THE most important.  That expression of love has real meaning - the face to face contact, the hugs and kisses, the helping, listening to family stories as the washing up is done and all the small things you can do in person, they are remembered and each year are built upon. 

Our celebrations are even more special now that we have two amazing women who have come into our family as our sons' partners.  We are learning their stories too, getting to know their families and are carefully piecing our families together.  This is important work, it is building a secure framework in which children will be born and will grow to continue these family traditions.  Strong family ties don't always happen naturally.  They need to be helped along and nurtured because without them we just become a group of people who happen to share the same name.  That's not good enough for me.  I want all the Mrs Hetzels and all the Mr Hetzels, and everyone we care for and love, to be seated around that big kitchen table celebrating all the good times together, because if we do that, we will be strong enough to withstand the bad times together.
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