31 August 2010

Home cooking - what decadence!

I usually receive a few emails every week asking for more from scratch recipes. I cook every day, so there is no shortage of recipes. On this past weekend, I made beef curry, a very frugal beef mince (ground beef) and potato pie, lemon curd, lemon curd ice cream, apple pikelets, and more. I never use tins of soup or artificial additives in our food because one of the reasons we like eating home cooked food is we know what's in it and there are no preservatives. And to tell you the truth, this is how I learnt to cook, it's delicious and easy and I've never seen a reason to change. I never follow recipes. If I see a recipe I like, I always change it in someway to suit us. I see recipes as a starting point and if you're a good cook, you'll be able to change any recipe to better suit your family, or at those times when you don't have the exact ingredients to hand.

The only way you can change recipes is to understand what you're cooking. Don't just cook according to the book, experiment, think about your ingredients and methods and wonder about things like: What if I used double that amount? What would happen if I left that out? I don't have that, I'll use this. Will it work? Take it easy when you start, you don't want to waste any food. But cooking like that will help you develop your skills and will lead you to create you're own recipes. In the meantime, here are a couple of mine. Please feel free to modify them.

Beef mince and potato pie (with no pastry)
This will feed at least 6 people, or two old codgers for three days.

One night with peas.

1kg (2.2 lbs) good quality beef mince. I always buy the low fat or best quality one.
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons plain flour or corn flour/cornstarch
salt and pepper

for the topping
6 medium potatoes, or potato and pumpkin, or sweet potato, or any combination thereof boiled and mashed.

Another night with silverbeet.

Into a hot frying pan or cast iron pot (one you can put into the oven), place half the meat and brown it. When it has some good brown colour, remove it and do the next half. Don't skimp on this step. This is here you'll develop a lot of the flavour. All those dark brown bits on the bottom of the pan are your natural flavours. Remove the meat and add the vegetables, but not the garlic. Cook them until they develop a bit of brown colouring as well. When the vegetables are ready, add the meat back to the pan as well as the garlic.

Add the flour, paprika, salt and pepper and stir through thoroughly. Then add enough water so you can see water below the ingredients but it's not covering them. Allow that to come to the boil and stir so it thickens without catching and burning. When the mix has thickened, dollop on the mashed potato to completely cover the top. Place in the oven at 200C/395F and cook until the potato is golden brown.

This is a must have winter meal that both Hanno and I love.

Lemon curd ice cream

My recipe for lemon curd/butter is here. When you've made it, whip 300 mls/half a pint of cream to soft peak stage. Add a cup of lemon butter and stir through. Add to a bowl, cover tightly, and put it in the freezer for 24 hours. That's it! It's delicious. Hanno and I had one scoop each in martini glasses last night. What decadence. Sorry, I forgot to take a photo. Maybe tonight. ;- )


29 August 2010

Homemade laundry liquid revisited

I continue to receive emails asking how to cut down on spending and if there is one good way to do it. Well, no, there isn't, it's always small things, done consistently, and never thinking anything is too small be included in our savings plans. The trick to saving grocery money is to keep those small savings coming because over the course of a year, they add up to large amounts. Laundry liquid and laundry powder are good examples of this so I did a price comparison to illustrate that point. BTW, I know that many of you already make your own laundry and cleaning products but there are new comers here and those who are yet to be convinced.

Next week and the week after, I'm doing a soap making workshop at my local Centre. Yesterday, I started preparing for the workshop by making laundry liquid and writing some notes. I haven't made laundry liquid for a couple of years because I usually use laundry powder - it's easier and quicker to make but I know it doesn't work in everyone's washing machine, so I'll be showing everyone how to make both the liquid and the powder, as well as bar soap.

The recipe I used for this is the one that's freely available on the net.
  • 1 cup soap - grated or flaked (I used Lux Flakes),
  • ½ cup washing soda (the powder not the crystals)
  • ½ cup borax.
I bought my supplies from IGA but have checked that they're also available at Woolworths. If you're in another country and can't find washing soda or borax, try your supermarket, hardware store or brewing suppliers. If you have no luck, look on the web.

My products cost:
  • Lux Flakes 700 grams $6.65.
  • Washing Soda 1 kg $3.40
  • Borax 500 grams $3.48
I weighed everything on my electronic scale to get accurate costings.
  • 700 grams of Lux is 9.3 cups | 1 cup Lux 75 grams
  • 1kg of washing soda is 3.9 cups | 1 cup washing soda 255 grams
  • 500 grams of borax is 2.6 cups | 1 cup borax 190 grams
  • 1 cup Lux Flakes = 72 cents
  • ½ cup washing soda = 44 cents
  • ½ cup borax = 59 cents

To make a comparison, Dynamo, one of the leading laundry liquids here, costs (at Woolworths) $8.27 for a one litre refill pouch. So 10 litres of Dynamo would cost $82.70 Making your own saves you $80.95! I would imagine that 10 litre of laundry detergent would be enough for the average family for a year. So on this one product, over the course of a year, you'll save over $80 if you make it yourself. AND! you'll have enough of your ingredients to make it several times.

Some people notice their whites getting a little greyish after using the homemade powder or liquid for a while. I think that variation is the result of having either soft or hard water. I use a scoop of Napisan - an oxygen bleach - every so often and that fixes the greying problem. You can add Napisan (or the Aldi equivalent) to your liquid or powder if you want to. Even adding that won't alter the excellent value for money you get. The cheapest Napisan I found was $11.70 for 2 kg, you could add a scoop to any load you needed it for. Dynamo with Sard (an oxy bleach) costs $10.64 a litre. I use homemade laundry products in my front loader, have never had any problems with it and always get a good result.

If you use your grey water on your garden, leave the borax out. Borax is a whitener and deodoriser, so add the oxy-bleach instead. If borax builds up in your garden, it will damage your plants. If you can't use oxy-bleach either, make sure you hang your clothes in the sun to dry. That has a slight bleaching effect.

When you finish making the liquid and have mopped up with your rag, put the rag in the washing machine. It will probably contain a fair bit of liquid and you won't need to use as much laundry liquid in that next wash.

So, how do you make it? Take 1 cup soap - either flakes or grated, ½ cup washing soda, ½ cup borax and add it to 1 ½ litres/quarts of water in a saucepan. Put the saucepan on the stove and heat the mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are completely dissolved and remove it from the heat. I do all that in the kitchen, then take the saucepan to the laundry.

Get a large container - a bucket or tub that holds at least 10 litres/quarts, and measure in about 8 litres/quarts of cold water. Add the hot soapy mixture and stir. That's it! As it cools, the mixture will turn to gel. You can add fragrance at this point if you want to but I prefer to keep things as free from additives as I can. Gather some containers and pour it in. Please note: the gel gets quite thick, so make sure you use a wide mouthed container or leave enough room in the container to allow you to shake it well before you use it.

Add about ¼ cup of this liquid to your machine for a good wash. It's fine in a cold water wash.

This is the mixture after it's been mixed with the water. Both here and in the following photo, you can see that it's starting to gel up.

You will notice that the container with the red top has plenty of room in it to shake the contents well before use.

I'm going to make a small test batch of washing liquid using my homemade liquid soap instead of Lux. I doubt there will be much of a difference, but I want to be sure. BTW, when I get the time, I'm going to make another batch of liquid soap that I want to be a bit thicker. The liquid soap I have now is as thin as water and when I use it in a soap dispenser, I waste a lot.

Making your own laundry liquid or powder at home is just one of the many ways you can save money. Add this to the savings from stockpiling, shopping for bargains, making your own green cleaners, jams, cordials and baked goods, cooking from scratch, and being as thrifty as possible with everything you use, and you'll see the savings come in. I am sure that once you've worked out ways to modify the way you shop and use your products, you'll notice the difference. And isn't it better to have those dollars in your pocket, or paying off your debt, than in the hands of big business? All it takes is a deisre to do it, some organisation on your part and the work to make the products. You've got the information, now it's over to you.

ADDIT: If anyone has accurate costings for laundry liquid in other countries, please send them to me so I can add them to the post. Thanks!

This is a costing for our Canadian friends from Melissa at empress of dirt blog. Thanks Melissa.

I have done the calculations for making laundry liquid in Ontario, Canada. Our prices here are pretty close to yours.

I use chopped up pure bar soap (6 bars/$7.00), washing soda (3kg/$8.99), and borax (2kg/$6.59).
Based on these prices in Canadian dollars,

1 cup soap = $1.16
1/2 cup soda = 38 cents
1/2 cup borax = 33 cents
Total = $1.87 for ten litres.



28 August 2010

Care to barter?

As most of you know, I will be a first time grandmother early next year. I want to help prepare for the birth and supply some of the many things a new baby needs. I'd like to hear from Australian producers of modern cloth nappies. I am hoping we may be able to barter nappies for advertising space on my blog.

If you produce baby needs, or work for someone who does, please contact me rhondahetzel@gmail.com

27 August 2010

Where to go from this day forward

We all seem to be on the same page when it comes to retirement and we all know that if your 20 or 70, simple living will help you live well all through your life. I'm guessing you've made a decision to be more proactive with your reskilling and debt payments, or you're already on that road, so what now? Well, I think you should examine your own home, and life, and work out what skills you need to do what you want to do. One of the wonderful things about living simply is that it suits everyone - those with money and those without it, younger and older, and those in the city or country. So taking that diverse range of people and circumstances it stands to reason that there is no formula that suits everyone. But this is about independence, we don't want to be fed formulas, we want to work out, for ourselves, what is needed in our own home. Some people will already know how to cook but not how to bake, some will sew, some will have to learn how, some will know how to farm their backyards, others will have to learn about container gardening, some will have water tanks rigged up, others will still be wondering if they need to harvest rain. The time has come for you to decide how you want your own home to function, what it is you need now and in the future, know to the last cent where your money is and how it is being used and when you have a list that will customise and simplify your life, work out what skills you need to develop so you can carry out your plan.

Too many beans - some need to be put aside for eating later. I always blanch the vegetables I freeze. It kills enzymes that sometimes lead to spoilage.

I did a series on simply life skills called the Biggest Kitchen Table that might help you with this. If you go to my blog archives, they start July 2, 2009. I hope some of the information there will help you identify what you need to do right now.

Six little packs of beans for two.

I hope you find, like I did, that even the normal tasks of the everyday will gently move you towards your goals. Washing up, sweeping the floor and baking bread sets the rhythm to my days that carries me through my tasks as if I have always lived like this and I was born to do it. Learning how to stockpile saved me time and money and that time was spent more effectively out in the garden, or sewing. The money saved helped pay for straw for mulch or canning jars or worms to be farmed. Simple living is an organic system in that all areas overflow to other areas, each task leads naturally on to other tasks, and most of the time it's like a domino effect - one small thing will lead on to many others. For instance, when I decided to start grocery stockpile, I had to find the space, which lead to decluttering an area, with lead to budgeting in a different way. Eventually, when the stockpile was set, I had to learn different recipes to utilise what was in the stockpile and marry that with our garden produce. Recipes were developed which lead to a Home Management Journal to keep them all. There are not many things in our lives now that aren't seamlessly connected to just about everything else here. It's simple and easy, and I hope that type of home develops for you too.

Now waiting in the freezer, next to the butter, to be used.

And just a tiny piece of friendly advice, don't compare what you're doing to what anyone else is doing. You and your family are unique and you'll set your own systems. Don't think that everything we do here in our home is something you should aspire to - we are two people just trying to do our best and make ourselves happy with what we have. You must do the same. We are all different and that difference is just one of the things to be celebrated in living this way. Be kind to yourself and to others. Forget perfection. It's over rated and it will burst your balloon every time. Treat everyone as you want to be treated yourself. Smile. Expect to make mistakes, you will learn more from a gigantic mistake than from anything else. And draw your family and friends close - that little circle of people will be your shelter in bad times and celebrate the good times with you. Honour and respect all of them and try to be a role model, even when no one is looking.

I'd love to know what your plans are now. If you have time, please share.

26 August 2010

Retirement - controlling our future lives

I'm not sure about other countries but in Australia now, if you're in paid work, you'll pay into a compulsory superannuation/retirement scheme. Your employer will pay nine percent into your superannuation account and over the course of your lifetime, it is estimated that money will be enough to see you through your old age when no government pensions are paid. That superannuation is put into managed investments that are usually reliant on healthy real estate, insurance and financial markets to slowly build funds. My late friend Bernadette lived on her superannuation but when the global economic crisis (GEC) hit, she lost a lot of money.

Cutting up a retired bed sheet for cleaning rags. We'll use the elastic from the fitted sheet as tomato ties.

Although Australia has gone through the GEC better than most countries there is still a lot of pain here, jobs and homes have been lost and businesses have closed down. Unfortunately, we are not out of the GEC woods yet. Just this morning I saw on the news that the American housing market crashed in last month to the lowest on record. And that is not the worst of the American problems, the current American debt is $13 trillion! This is from moneycnn.com: When anyone talks about U.S. debt, they typically refer to two numbers. The first is the debt held by the public. That's money owed to those who have bought U.S. Treasurys, most notably big bond mutual funds and foreign governments. Debt held by the public today is roughly $8 trillion and rising.
The second number is the money the federal government owes to government trust funds, such as those for Medicare and Social Security. The government has used revenue collected for those programs to cover other outlays. Currently, the debt to the trust funds is approaching $5 trillion.
I doubt I'll be the only person very worried by that second paragraph, but it's no good thanking your lucky stars you don't live in America because if America crashes, we all crash.

I remember the 1970s quite well and although it's only 30 years ago, that 1970s world is a completely different place to what we have now. Look 30 years into the future, you may be preparing to stop work, but what amount of money should you have? What will you need to support you through the rest of your life? How can you prepare now for a world you have no idea about? Is paying into a government backed investment fund the best idea? I don't know the answer to those questions, and I doubt anyone would, but I believe the answer, no matter what the retirement question, is to pay off debt and live simply. BTW, I do agree with a couple of commentators yesterday who advised not to invest extra money in retirement funds. Whatever investments you make that are not compulsory, should be in your control - buying land seems to be a good investment to me.

This is my knitting (and napping) chair. It's usually like this - surrounded by knitting, yarn and patterns.

The key to living on less is to change to a more frugal mindset. If you can't do that, you'll be miserable because you'll be wishing you could buy THE shoes or THE iPod that will make you "happy". You have to know, deep down to your bones, that being frugal and having less than you did before, does not make you miserable or cheap, it's the open road to a sustainable future. It will get you off the consumer merry go round, where working to buy "stuff", holidays and everything new will keep you strapped to the grindstone to pay for extras, on top of paying to live. Changing your expectations is crucial. Forget about having the "best" house in the street, aim instead for the most productive house.

I hope every single one of you will be able to retire when you feel like it and live as Hanno and I do. I loved working, I always had good jobs and I think I gave value for money, but as you age, you change and you want to give value to yourself rather than to your employer, no matter how much they pay you or how good your job is. You'll probably find, like I did, that you'll still be incredibly ambitious at 50 but by the time you're 55, you'll be questioning your role at work and wanting to slow down. By 60, I just wanted to be me, here now, with no paid deadlines to meet, and with hours to spend as I wished. I wanted to smell the roses before it was too late and I wanted to draw my family close, and even though they'd grown up and left home to make their own lives, I wanted them to know I was here, whenever they needed me, to support them. Now don't get me wrong, I still wanted to work, but I wanted the work that I did to mean something and to be primarily in my home for the benefit of my family. Most of us will work all our lives, but hopefully, part of that work will be for yourself, making a life that is slow, comfortable and meaningful.

Recently Deborah, a reader, kindly sent a large ball of Bendigo pure wool in a beautiful maize colour. Our new baby will be wearing this next year.

Apparently the amount recommended for a retired Australian couple of live on now is around $50,000 a year. Hanno and I live on half of that and we could further reduce that if we needed to. I firmly believe that work is an important part of life. It helps shape us, it can give us a sense of self confidence and pride and it keeps us active and alert. But work doesn't have to be paid work. Work can also be the daily activities that, when combined, produce the makings of a simple and less dependent existence. Let me say this loud and clear, we can cut out the middle man, buy only the raw ingredients, the needs of life and not the wants, and we can produce as much as we can at home. This cuts the cost of living to something that is manageable and gives you healthier products that don't need preservatives so they can sit on a shelf till sold.

There is no doubt that the most important things we need to do in our quest for an independent and sustainable old age is to buy a home, pay it off as quickly as possible, and to control our spending. If you can reach your ideal retirement age, whatever that is, with no mortgage or any other debt, you'll be in the driver's seat. If you've paid into a superannuation/retirement fund while you worked, if you've put extra money into additional investments such as land, if you've developed a frugal mindset, if you've skilled yourself in how to live simply you should be able to sail gently into your later life with few worries. But the key to all this, is NO debt, being skilled enough to look after yourself and to produce as much as you can at home.

Hanno planted tomatoes outside the garden this year. This photo was taken about 10 days ago, the bushes are full of flowers now.

We are all caught up in this grey tsunami. The time has come to step up and own our lives. We need to define what it is we intend to do, accurately assess how much debt we have, work out a plan to pay it off quickly, think about what skills we need to develop and then step off confidently in that direction. We are all in this together. We need each other to learn from and for support. We may not have an over the back fence relationship but we are all easily contactable via our computers and that, my friends, may be the making of us. WE hold the knowledge, the desire and the power to change. Let's put on our aprons and do it.


24 August 2010

The grey tsunami

I sat down with my knitting last Sunday afternoon and watched the second half of a TV program on SBS called The Grey Tsunami. I missed the first part (Baby Boom to Bust) of this two part documentary and the first half hour of the second part, nevertheless, it scared me to my bones and has started me thinking of a whole new range of possibilities. I feel like my charger has been turned on all week and my awareness is heightened. It made me stop and think about the implications of what I'd seen and it's made me rethink how we're living. We are not only threatened by global warming and peak oil, we are threatened by our aging population. I have always known that Hanno and I are incredibly lucky to live life as we do, but I didn't realise how lucky we are, and that living like this could save all of us.

Let me first explain what I saw in that life changing half hour. When the retirement age of 65 years was introduced, the average life expectancy was around 61 and there were 16 working people for every one person on the aged pension. That ratio is now three working people for every person on the pension and in the next year or so it will be two working people for every one person retired and living on a pension. But this next fact is absolutely staggering: in just 20 years time - 2030 - there will be more old people in the world than young people! Who will support us all? In a reaction to this, the retirement age in many countries, including Australia and the UK and US, is increasing. By 2027 the retirement age will be 67. Eventually there will be no pension.

Right now in Australia, the age expectancy is 84 if you're a woman and 79 if you're a man. There is a list here so you can check you're own country's life expectancy. Generally, we're now living 20 years past retirement age; twenty years that the people who came up with the retirement scheme never imagined would be there. And during those 20 extra years, we develop a wide range of illnesses and weaknesses that require we are sometimes cared for by others. Dementia now commonly plays a part in the lives of many older people. When dementia and serious physical illnesses present themselves in old age, those people not only need money to help sustain them, they need others to look after them, thus increasing the financial burden on each country.

I expect to live another 20 or 30 years and I hope that I am able to live as I am now without needing care from anyone, but I will expect my government to support me with an aged pension. Hanno is already receiving one, and we have no problems accepting a pension as we have both worked all our lives and paid taxes expecting to retire on a pension. For most of our working lives, there was no compulsory superannuation/retirement plan/pension scheme/401K and so those people of our age and some a bit younger, do not have sufficient funds to live on until we die. There was always that promise from our government to look after us by paying an aged pension.

It is predicted now that the aged pension will stop for most people in my life time. That is, that the people who are now on a pension will receive it until they die, but no new people will come on to a pension. It is expected that the compulsory superannuation/retirement plan/pension scheme/401K that most pay into while they're working now, will be the only financial support after retirement, and that retirement as we know it now will not exist. I was absolutely flabbergasted by that thought. That retirement, once seen as the golden gift at the end of a long working life, disappears and we work until we drop. Retirement will be optional.

Now I see living as we do, and relying on a simple life, as being vitally important for all of us. Simple living can save us. It can give us a life where we focus on home instead of the economy, and it will give us a retirement. So, my friends, this is what I've been thinking about these past few days. At first I was scared and in a bit of a panic, thinking that this precious baby we will welcome into our family soon will have a future of work with no retirement. Now I understand the significant role our way of life will play in the future. It is vitally important that we develop the skills of simple living and apply them to our lives, right here, right now.

Tomorrow I'll write about what I think that future might look like, and unlike today, when adding photos seemed deceptive, tomorrow I'll soften my message with pictures of our simple home. Today needs to stand hard and alone to reflect the bleak message. I hope you'll come back to be part of the discussion. We need your ideas.


This is where I work

Today we're travelling to South Africa to visit Wendy who is living simply on her urban homestead, homeschooling her four children.

We are a South Africa homeschooling family of 6 (mom, dad, 2 girls, 2 boys, 3 dogs, 5 chickens, 1 goldfish - oops that's more than 6!) living in Cape Town, South Africa. Nestled between the Two Oceans (Indian and Atlantic) and beautiful Table Mountain where we work from home, homeschool, home church and enjoy a simple life in this urban centre. I have sent this photo with my front door open as "Where I Work" encompasses our whole home and garden.

In 2008 we started on our urban homestead journey by exchanging rose bushes and lawn for growing vegetables. This second photo is of our first veggie garden. Two other sections were soon converted to grow more vegetable which means in summer and autumn we only eat vegetables from our garden. This simple step in growing our own food has spawned new interest in a simple lifestyle and other homesteading skills, like canning and preserving, cooking from scratch, sewing and knitting, keeping urban chickens and a move to a more organic lifestyle.

Wendy's blog is here.

Please note: I'm not taking any more submissions for this where I work series.


23 August 2010

Water management - what's your strategy?

Most of you know that we live in the sub tropics and one of the reasons we chose this area to live in was the annual rainfall. It wasn't the only factor in our choice of property when we bought our home, but it was one of the important ones. We knew when we came here that we'd grow vegetables and keep chickens, so we knew we'd need plenty of water. Our average rainfall here is 1800mm/70inches and that gives us good rain throughout the year, although most of it is in the summer storms we have. We have several dams near us and south of us that supply our state capital with drinking water. Happily, our dams have been almost full since be moved here 13 years ago, a product, no doubt, of our good rainfall. But now our State government has seen fit to build a pipeline that will take much of the water that falls here to supplement the rain that falls in the capital's catchment area. We are paying for that pipeline with our taxes, we are also now paying increased water and sewage charges.

Last week we received the first of these new water bills. Get this. Even though we consume less that half the average amount of household water (545 litres/143 gallons), our bill is still $388.80 for six months. An average water bill for this area mustbe about $600! According to our bill, we use 240 litres a day here, we're under the average because there are usually only two of us here and we are very frugal with our water consumption. One of the first things we installed when we moved in here was a 5000 litre water tank. We used that tank to establish our vegetable garden and to keep the vegetables growing during times of drought. When we could afford it, and with the help of a State government grant, we installed an additional, bigger tank which now gives us a 15,000 litre water holding capacity. That water is collected from the roof on the house and shed. We have pumps on both tanks so we can use hoses on them. The water in both tanks is used for everything that needs water outside. It waters the animals and chickens, the gardens, cleans the car and house and washes some of our clothes - Hanno hooked up our old front loader washing machine to one of the tanks and that does some of our washing out on the back verandah.

So why am I telling you all this? I think it's vitally important that we all have a water management plan for our homes. Even though you may think you've got the rainfall you need to manage your property, your government, like ours, may have other plans for it. Never believe that what you have now you will have next year - even something as vital or as seemingly predictable as water.

Hanno installed a rain gauge on the weekend. We use to have one but it died of old age and when it did, we didn't replace it. Getting this water bill has galvanised me into action again. We have to be even more cautious with our water now, not only because every drop of it costs us money but because, environmentally, it's a wise strategy. Our ecosystems need water to function properly so taking as little as we can for our own use helps provide a sustainable future for our wildlife and flora and our wider community.

You can see here that Hanno has rigged up a very simple water catchment system on the chook house roof. The roof is only small, but when it rains, it often fills or half fills that 200 litre black bin the pipe is emptying into. We fill the buckets and watering can from that bin when there's water in it, and get it from the water tanks when it's empty. That 200 litre bin, when full, will keep the garden going for at least a week.

Having a rain gauge helps me stay in touch with our rainfall. It makes me conscious of what we have falling as rain and how much we have stored. I used to keep a daily spreadsheet when we had our old rain gauge, but this new one has a nifty daily meter on the top and you take your monthly record from that. Most homes have their own water meter and it's sound environmental practice to measure your water usage and try to reduce it. You can do that by collecting rainfall and using that on your garden or to clean outside.

There are many other strategies to help you reduce the water you're using. Here is a chart showing average water consumption in Australia. Simple things like turning off the tap while you clean you teeth, not pre-rinsing your plates when you use a dishwasher, and for those, like me, who wash up by hand, don't use running water. Don't fill the kettle for just one cup of tea, have shorter showers and use a front loader for your clothes. All these actions save small amounts, but that's the key to this - it's small amounts that add up over the course of your six month water bill.

Water conservation is something we should all be focusing on. It's not just for countries like Australia. I'm sure many of you are already wisely using the water that falls or is piped to your homes. Please tell me how you manage your water. I am hoping to drop our consumption to 200 litres per day by Christmas.

20 August 2010

Slow cooking and slow living

I woke, as usual, just before 4, showered, dressed and crept out to the kitchen. There is baking to be done - some cakes for a fundraiser this morning. I'm making the whole orange cake as little bundt cakes and muffins. Alice is sleeping, nothing else is happening. I am alone in the world. I get the cakes in the oven and turn on the computer. Outside, rain is falling. It's the beginning of another day, different to all the yesterdays, yet similar.

I like to get a lot of my tasks finished by 9am. I never hurry what I'm doing; I'm not in a hurry. If I'm not finished by 9, it will be soon after; I rarely know what the time is anyway. I write my blog before anything else - except today when I baked first. If I write first, it helps me think about what I'll do during the day, it focuses me on my simple life and it connects me with you. Although I work alone, I prefer the Amish ideal of collective work - that many hands make it light, and although I don't have your hands to help with my work, nor do mine help with yours, the mere idea of you being there draws me into my tasks and reassures me that we are part of something bigger. Once the blog is done, my apron is on and work begins.

Pre-9am work is feeding the animals, letting the chooks out, checking the garden, breakfast, deciding on what we'll eat for dinner and defrosting, if necessary. After breakfast I make bread and get it on to rise, wash up by hand, clean down the benchtops and sweep the floors. I make the bed, if the bed linen needs changing, it's washed and hung outside to dry. Luckily I can do that if it's dry or raining because Hanno made me a very nifty sheltered clothes line last year. Sometimes the bathroom needs cleaning, or soap or cleansers need to be made, or the verandahs need sweeping, sometimes I dust, vacuum or wash the floors. I have no strict routine to work to. I do things when the need arises and when I feel like doing it. It all gets done eventually with no stress, and no guilt if I leave it for another day. I am my own boss here and I'm very good to the staff.

When you bring a celery head in from the garden, or buy one, wash it, take of the top (to use in soups and stews) and wrap it in aluminium foil. If you wrap it when it's moist, with no holes in the foil, you will have crisp celery for at least 6-8 weeks.

After 9ish, I write, breaking for lunch around noon and sometimes a nap in my big soft chair. What a luxury that is, to sit and relax enough to feel sleepy, then to drift off to sleep. I had never liked sleeping during the day but but now it's deliciously self indulgent and although I don't nap every day, I feel refreshed and that I'm taking care of myself when I do. I write again in the afternoon, or at least work on the computer answering emails, visiting the forum and checking out the co-op.

Sometimes, like yesterday, I have food slow cooking throughout the day and the aroma of that fills the house with the promise of a table laden with delicious food later in the day. There will usually only be the two of us eating simple food here at dinner time, but we feel like we have feasted. Yesterday's feast was a low fat and high fibre vegetable, beef and barley soup, made better because many of the vegetables and herbs came from our backyard. All of the rest of it was in the freezer and stockpile, so there was no trip to the shops for ingredients. If I didn't have something, like parsnips, I substituted something else, like home grown turnips. I used onions, a potato, celery, carrots, dried green peas (because I noticed half a cup full in the fridge), silverbeet, turnips, parsley and thyme. The stock was made from scratch, using beef bones, in the morning - giving me the slow cooking all day, and I added ½ kilo/1 pound of gravy beef when I added the barley. Just before serving, I made little herb dumplings. It was delicious. I made about five litres/quarts of soup for less than ten dollars and I have enough to serve for dinner over the weekend as well as some for the freezer for next week or the week after.

Dessert, after our bowl of soup, was homemade egg custard with stewed apples. I peeled two granny smith apples and sliced them finely, sprinkled them with a little butter, sugar and cinnamon and microwaved them for four minutes. In the meantime I made a custard using four eggs from our chooks - the yolks are a deep golden colour so the custard looks like a golden sun sitting in the bowl. Custards are simple - just whisk the eggs with one tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of good vanilla. In another container, heat 2 cups of milk to just under boiling point. Pour the hot milk into the eggs and whisk together. Place this mixture in a bowl, sitting in a container of boiling water in the oven. Slow cook on 160C/320F for about 25-30 minutes. Take it out of the oven when it is firm but still wobbly in the middle. If it overcooks and hardens, it changes consistency. It's still edible but won't be as lovely as a softer custard.

There is no escaping it - slow cooked food nourishes you throughout the day simply by the thought and smell of it, and then does its real magic when you place it on the table. This is not fancy, it's simple food that is fresh and wholesome and will do you more good than any pre-prepared food you'll buy. Food from your own hands, there is nothing like it. When you invite Hanno and I to dinner at your home, we'd be more than happy to sit down to a meal of homemade soup and a simple dessert or fruit. This is our kind of food - simple, economical, homegrown, or at least fresh, and straight from the heart.

I am slowly getting through the long list of emails waiting for replies, don't give up on me. Thank you for your visits this week and for voting for me at Kidspot. I will be doing some grandma knitting over the weekend :- ). I hope your weekend is gentle and stress-free.

19 August 2010

Two green bottles for recycling

I wandered out to Hanno's big shed yesterday afternoon looking for Alice's old trampoline bed.  I rarely go out there, it's Hanno's territory and while there are very precious things in there - like my ancient school case full of old report cards and photos, there are also some things I don't want to know about - like jars of screws, too many hammers and a vintage fan I should sell.  No sooner had I walked in there when Hanno called out: "What are you looking for?"  LOL  I told him and he came in and showed me that the bed was high up near the roof on a ledge he'd built to hold a couple of old beds and mattresses.  Okay, so I wasn't going to get Alice's old bed but I was in the shed so decided to look around.  I knew I was there for a reason, just as I walked behind the hay stack, there were two little beauties just waiting for me - two old green bottles - one is 1½ litres/quarts, the other is 2 litres/quarts.  I swooped them up and took them inside.

I love recycling containers of all sorts but glass containers are my main prize.  And these, both large bottles with good seals, will help me provide cold water and lemon and fruit cup cordial over the coming summer months.  The cork on the wine bottle has been jammed in the top for who knows how many years and is now easy to take out and replace, while it still seals well. I also recycle stoneware mustard jars, as well as glass jam jars to use for my own homemade jam. There are some authorities who say you should never reuse lids when preserving/canning, I do it all the time and have never had a problem.  I make sure the lid is in good condition, the little rubber seal on the underside of the lid is not perished and there is no rust nor dents.  After boiling in the waterbath, if that little seal is indented, that is a good indication that I can store that jam in my cupboard for the next year.  Most lids last about six batches of jam, and for me, that's about six years of good use before I have to think about binning the jar. But if I find a replacement lid, that jar can go on indefinitely.  Uses for old jam jars.

And just a little tip, when you store biscuits in a jar, use the jars with the flip down metal catch - they're often French or Italian jars that can be bought fairly cheaply, or recycled if you buy the right product.  You can see that type of jar about, just to the left of the Thomas flask. I've found over the years if you use a screw cap, often the screw cap won't be secured properly and you won't know it until you go to get a biscuit for your morning tea and the lid isn't screwed on tightly.  The biscuits are stale.  Having the flip down catch, makes it perfectly clear that the lid is on or off, and you will save your biscuits every time.

I'm sure many of you are already recycling as much as you can but for those who are new to this, maximise your chances of success.  It's no use recycling anything if you don't use it.  Set up a cupboard to put all your recycled materials; clean everything properly, let them dry and add it all to your cupboard.  That cupboard will be your reminder to use a recycled container rather than buying something new.  When I got rid of my dishwasher, Hanno put in two shelves and that is where I hold most of my storage jars and bottles.

I know that recycling plastic is a great thing to do but I don't like recycling plastic that we'll use for food or drinks - even if it's food quality.  I have used recycled food quality plastic in the past, and still use a limited amount, but there is so much conflicting information regarding the leeching of toxins from plastics, I've decided to stay away from it until the scientists have a more definitive answer.  You can check what the symbols on plastics mean here.

This is from environment-green.com
  • By recycling1 plastic bottle not only saves anywhere from 100 to 1000 years in the landfill but also saves the environment from the emissions in producing new bottles as well as the oil used to produce that bottle.
  • For every1 ton of plastic that is recycled we save the equivalent of 2 people’s energy use for 1 year, the amount of water used by 1 person in 2 month’s time and almost 2000 pounds of oil.
 That is powerful stuff, but again, be very careful recycling plastic for food or drinks.

There are many different things you can recycle and by doing that you're helping with a huge international problem.  We've all heard about the floating rubbish in our oceans and we should all make a conscious decision to do what we can, and then follow up that decision with positive action.  I would love you to tell me how and what you recycle.  I am always looking for ways to improve what I'm doing and am interested in learning as much as I can.


18 August 2010


I have been nominated as one of Australia's top 50 women bloggers by Kidspot.com. I'll let them explain their list, this is from their email:


Kidspot editors have been poring over all the fantastic blogs created by Australian women and nominated yours as one of Kidspot's Top 50. This wasn't an easy job! We wanted to select what we thought were the very best blogs for our readers, based on the quality of content, ability to connect with readers, knowledge of subject area and dedication to regular posting. It's been really tough whittling down the quality blogs to just 50 and we know how many others are out there doing a great job.

Why did Kidspot compile the Top 50 Bloggers?

Kidspot wants our readers to discover the very best the online world has to offer. As avid consumers of digital media, we know how much great material is out there, but busy mums and mums-to-be may not have had the time to stumble around the worldwide web - so we did it for them, offering them an edited choice of the best 50 blogs written by Australian women! Kidspot believes the more time women spend reading great blogs online, the more chance they will dedicate more time to consuming their media needs on the internet. What's more, blogs are a powerful platform for women - not just mothers - to have a voice, and the louder that voice is, the more we can all rejoice.

If you get anything from my blog I hope you'll take the time to vote for me. You can cast your vote by clicking here or on the Kidspot button in the side bar. One vote per IP and you don't have to sign up for anything to vote. While you're there, check out some of the other blogs on the list. There should be some good ones.

Thanks everyone.

The home revolution

Let's continue on the theme of career Homemakers today because there is work to be done.  We need to form a strategy.  The common problem that seems to crop up with many is when friends and family criticise our choice to work at home.  I really don't get this. I think some of it stems from not understanding the work of a homemaker and part of it from a conformist mentality.  When everyone conforms to the group dynamic, it validates their choices.  When someone doesn't conform, it creates doubt and suspicion.  And although homemaking might sound like the most harmless of careers, it's a radical choice now and not everyone will be comfortable with this home revolution. We need to work together to help change these outdated attitudes so that not only do we work at home with the support of family and friends but we also open up the option of a homemaking career for younger people who, right now, might not even know it's an intelligent and important option.

As you age, confidence fills every atom of your being.  Well, it has for me. I've always been a confident person but now I'm older I just expect many people to have differing opinions and beliefs and when I'm made aware of how different I am to many of my contempories, I just shrug and get on with it - I expect it.  And that might be the key to this - expect that people won't understand and when they tell you that, it's not a shock and you can talk to them about your choice in a rational way.  Don't be hurt by what others say to you on this topic.  For some reason, some people who would never think of insulting or hurting you with a comment about how they don't like your new hair style, think it's perfectly okay to tell you they don't like the way you've chosen to spend your days.  They just don't think it will offend or upset you, and if they do, you don't want them as friends.  Walk away.

I think it would be helpful to think carefully about your reasons for wanting to be a homemaker  and then write it all down.  Include all the positive benefits like debt reduction, healthy food, family support, being greener and reducing stress in your life so that you're clear in your mind about your own particular reasons.  When this topic comes up, say that you know this way of living is the best for you and your family and explain your list in a positive and self confident way.  Be prepared to talk about your decision but don't go on about it too much.  If someone won't accept your choice, then just end the conversation with something like: "You might not understand why I need to do this but I'd appreciate your support."  During the course of your conversations with friends, tell them about something that you're enjoying at the moment, talk about your normal everyday activities - particularly those that might seem quaint or outdated.  Tell them about your bread and soap making and how everyone appreciates your skills.  Show them your knitting and sewing.  Demonstrate your life in gentle ways.  Be your own best advertisement.

Homemaking has been looked down upon for decades.  This is not going to change overnight.  But if we all develop a strategy to talk about our work in a way they highlights the significance of it, if we show, by example, that being a homemaker makes us content, if we reskill ourselves for a productive future, if we guide our families with grace and confidence and if we share our experiences in a thoughtful way then we'll gain some of the support we all hope for and validate our choice to be what we are.


16 August 2010

Homemaking - the power career

I have just finished reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, which was kindly lent to me by my friend and fellow radical homemaker, Sonya, from Permaculture Pathways. I enjoyed the book, and although I was radicalised many years ago and am already doing much of what the book is about, I did get a strong message from it - we need to stand up, be proud of our lives and talk to others about how we live and why we live this way. We need to develop small communities of like minded souls so that what we are doing becomes a common way of being. If we all do that, hopefully those small communities become bigger and young people will learn that having one partner stay at home to keep house, raise children, shop wisely and manage the income, is a valid, significant and acceptable way of living. And not to leave anyone out of this revolutionary equation, those single people, the divorced, widowed and never married out there who work a paid job and who live as simply as they can while they do it, they need to spread their message too. We all need to be role models and show that living a simpler life brings much more than a clean home, connected children, nutritious food and no debt; it brings contentment and enrichment with it, and it is a career.

I have had three careers - I was a nurse, a writer and now I'm a homemaker/housewife. Writing that sentence has highlighted to me just one of the hurdles we face - that of language. When I was a nurse and a writer, everyone knew what those terms meant; with homemaker or housewife they don't. Homemaker is more an American term than an Australian one, and housewife is old fashioned and implies that everyone is married. We need to coin a term that accurately describes this work we do and we need to realise that even though work at home is unpaid work, it has value and it contributes to our countries wealth. I really dislike those terms that make light of our work - domestic goddess, home engineer etc, we need something substantial that describes, in general terms, what we actually do. I do like the term homemaker because it could mean just about anything that is done at home, but I also like home worker.

We all need to help change the perception that happiness is gained by buying it, that economies should grow at the expense of their people and that stepping back from the mainstream idea of buying more than we need, with money we don't have, is a hippy fantasy. And on the more positive side, we need to show our younger people that living this way is empowering, engaging and revolutionary. At the moment young people see staying at home as a drudgery. They have to clean and cook, look after children, and sometimes frail parents, and when the only knowledge you have of those tasks is what is seen on TV or advertising, you start to understand what a negative perception there is in the community about working at home.

We have to show that working at home gives us freedoms that paid work rarely offers. Imagine your first day at a paid job. You're given a range of tasks to do, a time limit in which to do them and standards to meet. All the time someone is watching you, making sure you do everything according to their plan. Now imagine your first day in your new home. You have already talked about your values and needs with your partner, so you set about setting up routines and learning new skills that will support your visions. The sky is the limit. You may do your work to your own rhythm and to whatever standard you set yourself.

You start taking control of your home - this is not a place where you just spend time waiting for your partner to return home. This, my friends, is a work in progress, a place that you want to spend time in, you want to make beautiful, safe and comfortable. You want to create a home that will nurture those who live there and that provides a warm and welcoming feeling to those who visit. You decide on a plan that will see you use your home and the land it sits on to help you live. You decide to grow organic vegetables and fruit in the backyard, get a few chickens, make a worm farm, or keep bees. You want to live an environmentally sound life, to eat organic food, or at the very least, the freshest food you can. You decide to learn as much as possible to cut the cost of living in this healthier and organic way so you set about learning how to make soap, laundry powder, bread, jams, relishes, sauces, and pasta. You start mending torn clothes and household linens, then progress to making gifts and simple clothes for the children, you start knitting and crocheting with natural fibres. In short, you take your new life as the positive empowering career it is and run with it. You make the most of what you have and you reduce your impact on your environment while doing it.

Sure, I agree, no one wants to clean toilets or dirty nappies/diapers, but look at the alternative. Do you want to use a dirty toilet or have your baby unhappy and uncomfortable? Every job has parts that we don't like doing, life is not always about what we want to do. We need to step up to all our tasks - enjoyable and not so enjoyable, just do them and then get back to the rest of it.

I have already seen changes happening. More people are cooking and gardening now than in the past. There has been a revival in home crafts, sewing and knitting. More people are understanding that debt is a life sapping burden and working actively to paid of their debts. Many beneficial things are happening, but we need to drive this along and we need to talk about our lives in a positive way to show others that working in our homes helps build good lives. That might be evident to us but to the general population, it isn't. Let's start talking about the happiness that lies waiting when we live this way and let's show, by example, that housework rewards us with homes we want to spend time in. Stop talking about housework as if it's the last thing you'd want to spend your time on, discover the good in what you do and highlight it. Let's start supporting other women and men in the work they do, no matter what it is, unpaid or paid. We can change things if we start with our own front door and work our way out. Gentle reminders about our way of life, speaking up when we heard someone complaining about housework, writing about this on our blogs, all these things will help make a difference. All it takes is that a lot of us start doing it.

I am doing a soap making class at my neighbourhood centre next month and I'm continuing with my frugal home workshops but I'm also going to think about how I can engage with the young people at our Flexischool and talk with them about this. What will you do? Do you have any great ideas that we could all use to help show that housework is not only radical, empowering and enjoyable, it is also a career? If so, please share.


15 August 2010

Sharon is recovering

It's been over a month now with Sharon first admitted to acute intensive care, then long term intensive care, much of it spent intubated with a  machine breathing for her, but now she is recovering.  She is spending some time out of bed and has written me a couple of emails.  She was really touched by the outpouring of love and good wishes here and I'm sure that helped her recovery a tiny bit.

We have to make sure she is completely well before she can even think of returning here, but I knew you'd all want to know that she is getting better every day and her family is smiling again.

14 August 2010

A couple of little things

I have a couple of little things for you this morning.  First is a new (to me) blog that I think is very charming and interesting.  I'm on the look out for baby related sewing and I hit the jackpot here.  I really like her work.  So when you have a bit of time, visit Amanda @ Amanda Brooke and have a look around.  It's a delightful read.

I found this video and lyrics last week and have watched and read it every day since then.  I hope you enjoy it too.  I've included the lyrics below incase your computer is too slow for videos.  

How to be alone © Tanya Davis

If you are at first lonely, be patient.
If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.
We can start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library, where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books; you’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there.
There is also the gym, if you’re shy, you can hang out with yourself and mirrors, you can put headphones in.
Then there’s public transportation, because we all gotta go places.
And there’s prayer and mediation, no one will think less if your hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple. Things you may have previously avoided based on your avoid being alone principles.
The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by “chow downers”, employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town, and they, like you, will be alone.
Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.
When you are comfortable with “eat lunch and run”, take yourself out for dinner; a restaurant with linen and Silverware. You’re no less an intriguing a person when you are eating solo desert and cleaning the whip cream from the dish with your finger. In fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it’s dark and soothing, alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.
And then take yourself out dancing, to a club where no one knows you, stand on the outside of the floor until the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one’s watching because they’re probably not. And if they are, assume it is with best human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats, is after-all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you’re sweating. And beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things. Down your back, like a book of blessings.

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you. Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, they are always statues to talk to, and benches made for sitting gives strangers a shared existence if only for a minute, and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversation you get in by sitting alone on benches, might of never happened had you not been there by yourself.
Society is afraid of alone though. Like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements. Like people must have problems if after awhile nobody is dating them.
But lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless, and lonely is healing if you make it.
You can stand swathed by groups and mobs or hands with your partner, look both further and farther in the endless quest for company.
But no one is in your head. And by the time you translate your thoughts an essence of them maybe lost or perhaps it is just kept. Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those “sappy slogans” from pre-school over to high school groaning, we’re tokens for holding the lonely at bay.
Cause if you’re happy in your head, then solitude is blessed, and alone is okay.

It’s okay if no one believes like you, all experiences unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you, for this be relived, keeps things interesting, life’s magic brings much, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t connected, and the community is not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it.
Take silence and respect it.

If you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it, if your family doesn’t get you or a religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.
You could be in an instant surrounded if you need it.
If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it.
There is heat in freezing, be a testament.


I hope you have a wonderful weekend doing something you love that will refresh you for the week to come.  Thank you for your visits this week, I'll see you again next week.  Take care of yourself.

13 August 2010

Sourdough - stay tuned, but don't hold your breath

I rarely give up on anything.  I like to think that when a difficult household task presents itself,  I step up and work out ways around the problem.  Eventually I get things done.  Nothing should be too difficult.  Enter the sour dough loaf.  Grrrrrrr.  Over the years I have tried to make good sourdough.  I've made sourdough, but none of it is what I would call good.  If I get the taste right, the texture is not good.  If the texture is great, the loaf looks like a science project.  When I bought the artisan bread in five minutes book and used that recipe and method, I didn't like the taste at all.

I am fortunate to be part of my blog neighbourhood.  Recently one of my blog neighbours sent me a sourdough starter.  His name is Henry.  Henry has been producing good bread and developing in flavour for a number of years.  I renamed Henry, Martha, daughter of Henry, and have been carefully tending her since she arrived. 

Henry arrived safe and sound after a long trip from Victoria.

I read the note that came with him and followed the instructions.  This is Martha, daughter of Henry, after her first feed and in her new container.

Yesterday I made my first loaf using some of Martha - I was aiming for a sandwich loaf similar to the one produced in a bakery near here. I'll let the pictures tell the story.

As soon as I saw the texture of the bread, I knew I hadn't left it rise long enough.  I'll fix that today.  I also cut it the wrong way, again, I'll fix that.  And to be honest, we did eat the bread; the taste was good but the texture was a bit rubbery and dense.  So I'm guessing the starter is giving me the taste we want, I just have to work on my times, and I need to start the loaf earlier than my regular bread.  I also need to read more about hydration rates and I must be more accurate with weights. It's definitely given me a lot to think about, and that's not a bad thing.

I would like to make a loaf like this.  We are having Hanno's 70th birthday next month and I'd like to have a few of these loaves sitting on the table for everyone to enjoy.  I think I'll go back to making the sourdough in my cast iron pot, instead of the regular bread tin for now.  I WILL master this.  Stay tuned, but don't hold your breath.

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