30 November 2010

Line drying your washing

I'm often intrigued by the questions asked in emails, particularly when they're about the most simple things. It always reinforces for me the need to learn new skills correctly and for that reason I never tire of explaining the most simple of tasks. The other day, Matthew asked how to hang washing on the line and if there are any tricks or ways of doing it well.

With many simple household tasks, knowing the right way to do something, and consistently doing it that way, results in jobs being carried out efficiently and before you know it, it becomes second nature to you. I remember when I first decided that making the bed every day was important to me. It seemed like a big thing to give that time every day to just making the bed. Now, after years of making sure the bed was just right every day, it seems like a tiny commitment to a very small task. Now it's just part of what I do.

One of the other small things we do here is to hang washing on the line to dry and as I often think about what I'm doing while I'm doing it, I have formed a few opinions about this simple task. It is common practice in Australia to line dry. It's been done that way since we Europeans arrived here and it's still the most frugal and effective way. Generally we have good weather, ideal for drying and a line of clothes set out early in the morning will be ready to bring in after lunch. Luckily, Hanno built me an all weather line too, so in addition to our Hill's hoist, that umbrella shaped Australian icon, I can quickly line dry clothes on our back verandah, even when it's raining.

When the washing machine finishes the cycle, take the clothes out immediately and head out to the line. If you leave the washing in the machine, or in your washing basket, for a period of time, you'll have more creases than is necessary. The thing that makes the most difference when hanging washing is to shake and snap. I mean by that to shake the item and give it a sharp hard whip snap before you peg it up. You'll remove some of the wrinkles in cotton and linen, and with terry towels, it will help fluff up the pile. When you remove towels from the line, shake them again to fluff up the pile. When you peg the item to the line, smooth it out with your hand and make sure the edges are straight. You don't want the hem of a skirt or a shirt sleeve to be crumpled up. Straighten and smooth collars, sleeves, facings, pockets and hems before going on to the next item.

Peg towels, tea towels, pillowcases and napkins by two opposite corners, shirts and blouses upside-down on the side seam, jeans (with the zipper undone) and skirts by the waist, and dresses on the shoulder seam. Hang sheets, tablecloths and doona|duvet covers by the two top corners in one layer, then make a U shape and peg the bottom corners to the line behind it. This will create better drying conditions for these large items and sometimes, the wind takes up the sheet like a sail and if you're using a circular line, it will spin the line around. If you have enough room and sturdy coat hangers, you could hang dresses, shirts and anything permanent press on a coathanger and peg it to stop it slipping along the line. Traditionally, socks and underwear are hung near the centre of the line and hidden by the larger items. I have to confess I still do this. If you're using a straight line, hang the heavy items first at the ends of the line, where there is more support, and fill in the middle with the smaller items.

If you have brightly coloured or black clothing, turn them inside out to help prevent fading but all your whites will benefit from drying in the sun because it will have a slightly bleaching effect.

Never hang woollens or any natural fibres like alpaca in the sun. They should be laid out flat on a large towel and dried in the shade.

I use plastic pegs but I like wooden pegs better. Here in our climate, the wooden pegs go mouldy and often end up marking the clothes. Plastic pegs will serve you better in humid or moist climates. And don't do what we do here and keep the pegs on the line. It's best to store plastic pegs out of sunlight, they'll last much longer if you take care of them.

If you intend to iron anything you have hanging on the line as soon as it's dry, remove it when it's still slightly damp. That will make ironing easier. For the rest of it, fold each item before it goes in the basket, or if you don't want to stand in the sun too long, as soon as you go inside the house.


29 November 2010

Books, biscuits and cricket

The end of November. This year has gone so fast, and soon we'll be faced with the new year and all it will bring. It doesn't feel like November because this year, although the temperature has risen, we haven't had much humidity. In the tropics and sub tropics, where we live, it's not the heat that affects you, it's the humidity. But we're still sleeping with a quilt and a blanket on our bed and usually, during November, we have just a sheet and the fan on. I wonder when it will change.

We had a wonderful weekend. It showered on and off but the first match of the test cricket started so I had to watch some of that. In years gone by it used to mark that last part of the school year just before Shane and Kerry had six to eight weeks off school, and sometimes we'd go away to visit family or friends. In those days I would use the end of November to relax and prepare for Christmas and the summer holidays, with one eye on the cricket, and I always sat down and watched the first few overs, if not the entire day's play. I couldn't do that this year because I've been concentrating on the book, but I did sit and watch the first few overs while I did a bit of knitting.

Some days it seems like all I do is write but I'm not complaining, I am very grateful for the opportunity I have to work with Penguin. Besides, who would complain when every time I look up, I see what is in the photo above. That is the view from the window where I sit most of the day typing my words. The greenery here envelopes and protects us from the hot sun and the little single vehicle lane way that leads to our door carries only our neighbours coming home or an occasional car that is lost. Our back boundary is an ever flowing creek so most days here are quiet and slow with bird song rather than traffic noise surrounding us. No, I have nothing to complain about.

I did do some baking on the weekend. Bread and biscuits|cookies were made and now we have two jars of biscuits to have with our tea that should last a couple of weeks. The biscuits were made using the cheap and easy biscuit recipe on the forum. One lot I turned into jam drops, the others have almonds.

Apart from some knitting, cooking and making the bed, the only other thing I did on the weekend was talk on the phone to my sister Tricia, my DIL Sandra and my friends Diane and Susan. Tricia sold her house and is in the process of buying a much smaller cute cottage higher up in the Blue Mountains. I can already see what she will do with her cottage and I'm really excited for her. It's a little two bedroom home, built a long time ago with many of the original features still there. I particularly love the old wood stove in the kitchen that looks like a little Aga and she even found the original wooden wire screen doors under the house. It will be a labour of love to do the small amount of renovating she'll be doing and I'm looking forward to many visits there sitting in the kitchen with that fire burning and the snow falling.

But far away from thoughts of snow is my last tale to tell you. I picked THE pineapple yesterday. Those of you who've been reading here for a while will know that we planted a pineapple top a couple of years ago. We harvested the first pineapple a year after we planted it, then had to transplant it to the front garden. Well, it grew another healthy looking pineapple - pineapples usually set fruit for two years - and tonight I'll be cutting it open so we can eat a couple of juicy chunks for dessert.

While I was out in the garden, I also picked some red and orange lilies and gardenias for the table. Our garden is full of flowers right now so how could I resist bringing the fragrance of gardenias into the house.

I hope your weekend was what you wanted it to be. I wish you well as we go into that busiest of seasons in the run up to Christmas. Enjoy your days.


25 November 2010

The division of work in the home

This is a tough one. How do you decide who will do what in the home. If you're a retired couple like we are, the division tends to take care of itself. Here we do what we enjoy doing - I work in the house and generally Hanno works outside. We are having a slight variation on this right now though because I'm writing most of the day and we don't have much of a garden to tend, so Hanno does various things like washing clothes and vacuuming. I am still baking bread and cooking the meals, making the bed and those sorts of things, but Hanno is helping out a lot by doing what he can during the day while I'm tapping away on the keyboard.

But what happens when you're a working couple, or one person works outside the home and the other works at home with the children? How do you then divide up the housework, house maintenance and yard work? I have no magic solution to this, but I know it's a problem for many people, so I'm hoping you will contribute to the discussion so we might all be a bit wiser about it.

It's complicated when time is an issue. If your time is consumed by paid work, children, the garden, pets or family, AND house and yard work, when do you get a break? If you tell your partner to take a break while you're still working, do you feel outright resentment, or feel it building up? It's great if this issue takes care of itself by you liking to do certain tasks and your partner liking the opposite tasks, but that is rarely the case; usually no one wants to change the cat litter or clean the toilet.

So what can you do when that happens? I think you need to sit down calmly and talk about it when you're both fresh and not tired after a day of work, or on the verge of an argument. And first thing on the list should be to agree not to argue about work. It's not worth it. You both want a clean and ordered home, you both want to relax in a place you feel comfortable in, so you both need to come up with the solution that will work for both of you.

One way that would work for some would be to list the various chores that need to be done during the coming week. Then, with each of you having your own coloured pen, take it in turns to tick one task at a time. Change who starts each week. When you get to the end, that's your work list for the week. Make sure you do the important tasks like laundry, cooking, shopping and cleaning first, the lesser tasks don't matter so much. And please, make sure you have time to be together as well and make sure you've got a mutual goal you're both working for and talk about. That can make the hard times easier to cope with. You don't want your life to be a drudgery but if you want to pay off your debt or are working towards building a life with your partner, there will be no way around it, you'll be working hard. But remember, this stage will not last forever. There will come a time when you sit back and enjoy the rewards this hard work will bring.

I have found the periods of difficulty and working hard the most challenging and the most rewarding. I look back now and realise those times of working through challenges have strengthened my relationship with Hanno. Tough times can make or break marriages. If you're one of the lucky ones, some day you'll look back on a long marriage and recognise that you grew together as a couple, not just because you loved each other, but because of the tough times you shared.

So tell me, how do you divide the work load? I, and I'm sure a lot of others, are hoping for some innovative and workable ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. I hope you have a wonderful day full of family, friends and feasting.


24 November 2010

Homemade baked beans

I made baked beans and pork last week. It was delicious and very filling. Recipes for baked beans are similar but you can change the recipe to suit your own tastes. If you like hot beans, add fresh chilli, or chilli flakes; if you like a mustard taste, increase the mustard. This is a great frugal family recipe that can be frozen or served again the following day and it will taste even better than the first day's serving. Do it from scratch, don't substitute canned beans because you'll be robbing yourself of the real experience. Everyone should taste real baked beans at some time during their life.

You'll need navy|haricot beans because they'll take on the flavours you add while keeping their shape, more or less, over the long cooking period. Wash the beans and discard the water, then soak the beans in water overnight. Don't add salt to the water because you'll harden the beans; you'll be adding all your delicious flavourings and seasonings later.

2 cups uncooked navy beans that have been soaked overnight
2 litres|quarts water
1 large onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon mustard powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses or treacle
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
pork of some kind - this can be leftover from another meal, or bacon, ribs, pork chops or shoulder. Use whatever is a cheap cut that week at the butchers or whatever you have as leftovers. If the pork is uncooked, cook it in a frying pan first, then put to one side.

After the beans have been soaked, discard the water, add the beans to a large pot and add the water, bay leaves and the quartered onion. No seasonings at this point. Bring the beans to the boil, then simmer for about an hour. If you cooked the pork in a frying pan, use that in the next step. Add the diced onion and saute for a couple of minutes, add the mustard and stir it in, cook for one minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for two minutes, while stirring. This will increase the flavour and get rid of that sharp tomato taste. Then add the rest of the flavourings - the brown sugar, molasses, sauce, salt and pepper, stir it all until well combined and add one cup of water to bring it all together.

Now you have to transfer everything to either a slow cooker, cast iron pot or casserole dish with a lid. Drain the beans and place them in the pot, mix in the flavourings, then cut the pork and add it. Mix well to combine. Have a test taste to make sure you have your seasonings exactly right. Adjust to suit, then either turn on the slow cooker (low setting) or put the pot in the oven on a low setting. Cook very slowly for at least six hours. It is the slow cooking of this dish that makes the difference. It allows all the flavours to fully develop. During the cooking process, stir the beans occasionally.

This very homely meal can be served with salad but we like it with crusty homemade bread. Perfect! It's one of the best winter meals, but it's also a winner at other times, so don't only serve it when you're cold.


23 November 2010

In defence of grass

The beginning of summer always means the start of that most mundane of garden chores - mowing the lawn, or as we think of it, harvesting the grass. We have quite a bit of open grass to harvest here and it does take time but despite what many others think of lawn or grass or turf or whatever you call it, we would not get rid of it. Here it's a vital resource that gives more than it takes.

Now let me say first that we never water our grass. We have more than enough natural rainfall to keep it growing. However, in times of drought here, our grass, even in the middle of summer, has stopped growing, and turned brown and crunchy. Grass is such a hardy plant, even when it looks dead and it hasn't been watered for months, it will come back to life when it receives water. We never fertilise it either, even with organic fertilisers. It gets enough nourishment from the pecked or cut remnants of grass that fall and decompose within the blades.

So what do we use our lawn for?
  • It gives our chooks a wonderful place to graze and therefore gives the eggs we eat a much appreciated boost of Omega three and six oils. If were to eat our chooks, their meat would also be rich in these oils. Grass is rich in Omega 3 and 6 and chickens will consume up to 30 percent of their daily food as grass if given a good area to range over.
  • When harvested by the lawn mower, grass gives us most of the green component in our compost heap. If we didn't have grass, we'd struggle to find enough bulk to keep the compost going.
  • It provides cooler air around the house than we would have with hard landscaping. All those pavers, bricks and cement that surround some houses make them hot in summer.
  • It reduces noise and dust around the house.
  • It absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen, just the same as trees do.
  • It filters water runoff before it reaches waterways.
Grass is not the enemy. Over zealous care of grass and wanting grass to look like perfect lawn is not sustainable. But if you have small children, pets or chickens I'm sure you'll already be aware of the benefits of having grassed areas around the home. It doesn't have to be manicured perfection to be beneficial. Just let it grow with natural rainfall and I'm sure you'll be surprised how hardy it it. Then change your attitude towards grass. Even though it needs to be mown (or harvested) it is a productive crop that you can use for chook feed or as a soft place to fall.


22 November 2010

Potatoes and carrots

It always surprises me just how much you can generate with something simple and a bit of work and know how. Hanno called me outside the other day and proudly handed me a large baker's basket full of potatoes he'd just dug from the garden. We think there are over 10 kg/22 lbs. All those potatoes from just a few sprouting supermarket potatoes planted in two square metres, or about one third of one of our garden beds, incredible.

Of all the vegetables we grow here, fresh potatoes and tomatoes are my favourites and just so different to what you buy in the shops. Nothing I have ever bought at a market or a supermarket comes close to the absolute gorgeousness of freshly dug potatoes, boiled and served with the addition of butter, parsley, salt and pepper. I used to wonder why there was such a difference because they are all grown in a similar manner, but now I'm sure it's the freshness that makes the difference. You never know how long anything you buy has been sitting in a cold room or warehouse and even in those shops that advertise fresh produce, often it's far from it.

Yet another reason to grow your own. You know.

We're at the beginning of our slow period in the garden. As gardeners down south are tending their main crops for the year, here it's slim pickings as summer brings bugs, torrential rain and temperatures too high for things like tomatoes to set fruit properly. We'll be growing a small salad garden and some wild and rambling pumpkins to shade the soil, and, of course, more potatoes, but that will be it until early March when we'll start gearing up for our main annual plantings. To tell you the truth, I'm pleased we cut back a bit in summer because it gives Hanno a rest from the garden and it keeps him out of that blazing sun. During this period of less home grown, we'll buy what we need from our fairly local market that's open over Sunday.

We had a quiet weekend here. Many of you will remember that Hanno came home from his holiday with a bad cold, which, of course, I got too. Well, my cold is well and truly over and done with, but Hanno now has a bacterial infection and is coughing like there is no tomorrow. He needs to go to the doctor for some antibiotics because it's been hanging on for too long.

I'm back at the Centre today where our new co-ordinator will start her job. She doesn't know yet that we'll have a morning tea to welcome her. She doesn't know yet how all embracing this job will be for her. And she doesn't know yet that it will be the best job she'll ever have. I am excited for her because she is such a wonderful person and I know that she will be enriched by this work, the people she meets and works with and the amazing capacity she will have to make the work she does significant and life changing. I made my sour cream carrot cake yesterday - a big one for the welcome party, and a small one for Hanno. He just loves cake. So now I'm off to add some cream cheese frosting to the cakes and to get ready for this day of transition.

I hope you have a great week. Thank you for taking the time to visit here.


18 November 2010

Washing the dishes - the continuing story

What is it they say about hindsight? I thought we'd be perfectly happy with our sink when we had it redone a couple of years ago. We had a flood in the kitchen, when the dishwasher sprung a leak, and the insurance company paid for the replacement of the floor and the cupboard bottoms. Taking the cupboards out meant they had to remove the bench tops and therefore we had new bench tops fitted as well. We took advantage of this and replaced the old sink. Unfortunately we replaced the sink and drain with just two sinks, and no drainage area. When we got rid of the dishwasher, we had nowhere on which to drain the dishes. I've tried the dish rack sitting on a draining board but it leaks everywhere. Now I have the rack sitting in a tray on top of a tea towel that I keep replacing. The situation need to change. We need a sink with a drainage area.

Who would think the simple act of washing dishes would be so complicated. First there was the hand versus machine washing that was resolved quickly. Once I started to think about it I realised I couldn't continue to pour all that caustic detergent out into the drains and waterways. Then the problem of what washing aid to replace it with. Instead of using a detergent I wanted to use soap, and I wanted it to be castile soap. I chose to go against detergents because they're made using a variety of chemicals like Sodium Laurel Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate. Even the Australian Earth detergent contains this chemical which is why I don't use it now. I find when I use anything that contains SLS, my skin is red and itchy.

This is what is working for me. I have worked my way through a few "biodegradable", "eco", "safe" detergents. I've discarded Earth because of the SLS and I'm now working my way through Eco Store's Dishwash Liquid and Ecologic's Lemon and Lime Dishwashing Liquid. I am happy with both of them but especially like and admire Ecologic's openess in revealing their ingredient list - it's mostly organic botanicals and organic olive oil and it's made in Australia. Eco Store's Dishwash Liquid lists what it does NOT have in it but apart from listing "plant based non-ionic and anionic surfactants, mineral hydroxide and natural citrus oil" I don't know what IS in it. And it's a New Zealand product which I think is fine for New Zealanders but is not for me. BTW, for anyone looking for an biodegradable and relatively safe dishwashing liquid for a machine, Ecologic's Lemon and Lime can be safely used in a dishwasher - one teaspoon per wash.

I no longer use this dish rank on a daily basis. A couple of readers have pointed out that it should be turned towards the sink for the water to drain off. I did try that but the water always dripped under the drainer and pooled. I turned it this way after all the water had drained away, then put the towel there. Now I use a larger rack that sits on a tray but it's not much better.

So I've decided to continue on with my homemade liquid soap and will have to make another batch soon before these two bottles run out. I will make a thicker version of the liquid soap and use it with a foam dispenser that I found in my cupboard. Originally it held organic hair mousse and what looks like clear liquid in the bottle, comes out as a foam. It's working really well, so thanks to those readers who suggested I try the foam dispenser. Here is my post, and a recipe, on liquid soap.

Liquid soap in the making - this is at the paste stage.

My other requirements for safe and hygienic washing up are hot water - as hot as I can stand it, a little dish mop so I can use the hottest water (I make sure I sanitise this every week and fluff it up after every use so it dries out), rinse water, cotton dishcloths, scrubbing brushes, and a stainless steel scrubber. Pre-soaking, even for a few minutes, makes washing the dishes much easier and rinsing milk glasses as soon as they're used is a great help. I've found that egg and milk are the hardest to remove if they're allow to sit and dry on a plate or cup. Rinsing or soaking helps with those problems.

I don't have neighbours who live as we do so I can't sit down with a cuppa and discuss this mundane but relevant subject with anyone but you. So what are you doing, what have you tried and what is working for you?


17 November 2010

One chapter ends, another starts

Yesterday ended a very important chapter in my life. It was my last day as co-ordinator of our neighbourhood centre. True to form, it was a busy day with a frugal home workshop in the morning, a combined BBQ lunch with us at the neighbouhood centre and the staff and students of our Flexischool to mark their end of year, talking to a homeless man new to us and telling him we will help him hang on even though he wants to give up, and a final flurry of paper work and emails. I will go in for a short time to help the new co-ordinator familiarise herself and then I'll concentrate more on the book.

Four and a half years ago I wandered in there and asked if I could help in some way. I did not know then that being there, spending my time with people I otherwise would never have met, giving of myself with an open heart, when it made me feel enriched and optimistic and when it made me sad and defeated, through all those high points, and the lows, and the many days of sheer hard work, that just being there would make me a different person. Whatever I gave to that place, I got back much more. I will miss it.

When I came home and removed my centre coordinator badge for the last time there was no time to be sad or reflective because Kerry and Sunny arrived. It was the first time we'd seen Sunny since she had her holiday back home in Korea visiting her family. She is now 22 weeks pregnant, she is looking absolutely splendid and it was wonderful to see them both very happy and excited about becoming parents for the first time. Sunny gave me some Korean cook books that she bought while she was home, happily they're all in English. I'm absolutely thrilled to have them and I'm looking forward to learning more about her culture. My first dish, naturally, will be kimchee which is spicy fermented cabbage eaten daily by most Koreans. Thanks Sunny, I love the books! Next time you come here, we'll have kimchee together.

I'll be revisiting the topic of washing dishes by hand tomorrow. I was surprised at how many of you are washing by hand so I thought you might be interested if we delved more deeply into the soap versus detergent debate.

And finally, I'd like to welcome my good friend Sharon back to the blog and to the Down to Earth forum. She had us worried there on a few occasions but she is one tough cookie and she managed to pull through no matter what was thrown her way. Welcome back, Sharon, and my thanks to your lovely husband Claude who stood in your stead and helped me behind the scenes while you were so ill.


An ocean full of hugs and thanks from Sharon

Hello all, this is Sharon, finally back in the fold and recovering from the illness that just about kicked me down this summer. I would like to thank you all and hug you all for the thoughts and prayers offered up for me, for I believe that is what helped me beat the infections that nearly killed me (on more than one occasion). I also feel a swap coming on after the holidays are over. My dear friend Rhonda's post about aprons reminded me of the fun and joy of swaps so our next swap will be an apron and a recipe. I will begin taking names just after the Christmas holidays are over and then we will all be having fun in our kitchens and at our sewing machines!! I thank you all again for thinking of me and praying for me.

LOVE and HUGS, Sharon

16 November 2010

Life after the dishwasher

I've had a dishwasher most of my adult life. One of the first household tasks I taught my sons was to unpack the dishwasher - a job they both hated. About a year ago, I looked at my latest machine and asked myself why I had it. I couldn't come up with a good answer, so we gave it away. That was a great decision.

Now I wash up twice a day. Breakfast, morning tea, bread making and lunch items are washed after lunch, then I wash up again after dinner, although often it's just two plates and glasses because I try to wash as I go when preparing the meal. I'm still not happy with my soap/detergent and am still testing various products. So far I've gone from my homemade soap, to my liquid soap, to phosphate-free detergent, to an eco detergent. I think I may settle on my homemade liquid - it cuts through tea stains in a cup like nothing else, but it's the consistency of water and I waste too much of it. I'd rather use soap than detergent, mainly because most detergents are petro-chemical based, many contain sodium lauryl sulfate and are often packed with questionable ingredients. The eco detergents I've used are too expensive. Look here for the ingredients in Palmolive dish detergent. I could go on about the hidden ingredients in detergents for hours but I'm sure you get the picture. I'll continue my search but I'm pretty sure I'll end up back with the homemade liquid soap.

I know many of you will cite the studies done on hand washing versus machine washing, but I discount those because the major studies were sponsored or carried out by dishwasher detergent or dishwasher companies, so I believe they're biased. Certainly the most frequently cited study done in Germany reported that handwashing uses more water than dishwashers - mainly because in their study the people washing by hand left the hot water tap running. I don't know of anyone who does that. Anyhow, I'm not trying to convince you to do as I do, I'm just recording what I do and hope to get a discussion going about dish washing soaps and detergents. I wonder what you use.

My home made liquid soap.

We have solar hot water here so apart from the pump that delivers the water to the sink, there is no electricity or gas involved in our hot water. Nevertheless, I fill one sink with hot water for washing, and one with warm water for rinsing and I'm sure the way I wash up would use less water than a dishwasher. My main concern with dishwashers is the extremely caustic detergents used in them. I shudder when I think what happens when it all goes into our waterways and I don't want to be a part of it.

Besides, plunging my hands into warm water is theraputic and soothing. I enjoy life after the dishwasher, I use the space it used to stand in to house my ever increasing supply of recycled jars and bottles. They stand in there with a couple of extra dish drainers for when we have visitors. Are you washing by hand? If so, tell me what you use - are you in the soap or detergent camp?

Interesting info about soap and detergents


15 November 2010

Aprons - the secret handshake

I don't know what it is about aprons but when I put mine on every morning, it turns me into someone else. I feel more of a homemaker when I'm wearing an apron and just like an actor getting into a costume and into character, when my apron is on, I'm ready for my show to start. Often I put my digital camera in my pocket and if I see something that would make a good photo during the day, I just have to reach into my handy apron pocket to grab the camera.

But the apron has many more uses than that. I wear an apron for the plain and simple reason of practicality - it protects my clothes, I wipe wet hands on it and use it as a sling to collect eggs and vegetables. When I was growing up most women wore aprons when they did their housework. Now few do. I don't know anyone, apart from my friend Susan, who wears an apron on a daily basis. I'm probably preaching to the choir here but hands up who doesn't have an apron. I'm really intrigued, why don't you?

I believe the apron is our symbol and it might be out of fashion now, but that is just the time to start wearing one. Fashion pffft. There is a lot to be said for not blindly following the crowd. We are individuals and leaders, not followers. A few years ago we had an apron swap here - it was so much fun and 70 ladies joined up to make an apron from scratch and then swap it. You can see photos of some of the aprons here and here. If you have a photo of you wearing an apron on your blog add a link in the comments so we can all see. I love seeing people wearing aprons. It's like driving around in a car and seeing someone else in the same one - same make, model and colour, and you look and silently nod in quiet appreciation and recognition of a fellow traveller. The secret handshake.

I usually have breakfast and then put on a clean apron, ready for whatever the day holds . Even when I sit at the computer writing my book, I'm wearing an apron. You don't have one? Well, correct that error of judgment and make one, then two, then enough for every day of the week. There are some apron tutorials down below. You don't need fancy fabric, you can use recycled fabric from an old dress, or flour sacks, or a tea towel, the important thing is to make one and wear it with pride. It will turn you into another person.

Ruffle apron
Plain apron with pouch pocket
Child's apron
Dish towel apron

Vintage aprons

Vintage aprons

All paintings of aprons are by the wonderful Swedish painter Carl Larrson. You can see his official home page here.

11 November 2010

We'll burn them out

I send my sincere thanks to everyone who wrote a comment over the past two days. There were some very helpful suggestions there and I'm sure many people would have been helped by them.

Lets take a leisurely stroll around our place. This all happened yesterday afternoon when I saw Hanno building a straw bonfire in the chook yard. We've had an infestation of lice in the chook house and he wanted to clean everything out and make sure the lice were gone for good. So he collected all the straw that was in the coop and set it on fire.

While I was out there with my camera in the late afternoon sun, I took a stroll around to see what the chooks were doing. The black girls always stay together and wander around like innocent young things, but I know they're cooking up something.

This is Lulubelle, our barred Plymouth Rock hen, she's quiet and shy and is generally by herself.

This is where we grow most of our fruit. That's our large water tank - it holds 10,000 litres. Just in front of it is a grape vine just starting to grow again in the warmer weather. In front of it are bananas, a loquat and an orange tree and just out of sight are pink grapefruit and mandarin. Over the fence I see mangoes growing.

If I look to the left I can see towards the front of the house. They're grape and passionfruit vines on the lattice in front of the house and another Washington navel orange along the fence line.

Hanno put our last three bales of straw out in the sun in case the lice are in there too. The chooks discovered them and had to check them out.

This is Mary, our little chook that is usually broody and sitting on the nest. It's good to see her out walking with her sisters.

And here is Lucy, Mary's mother. Lucy is an Old English Game hen, a strange blend of mentalness, cunning and motherly love. Lucy came to us with her brood of miss-matched chickens she'd hatched out on the farm where Shane and Sarndra live. All the chicks have grown now but she still gives them a bit of a hurry up when she feels like it. She always looks like she's doing something important.

Further over, under the palm trees, Anne Shirley, a New Hampshire hen, is resting in the afternoon sun.

And now, after my stroll around, I see the fire has turned to smoke and the attendant is still at his post.

He will start putting everything back into the coop soon so I'd best get back inside and continue with the preparations for our tea. Before I went outside I'd started soaking old bread in milk to make the most delicious and moist meatballs to be cooked in homemade tomato sauce and served with pasta.

I still haven't unpacked my harvest basket of cucumbers and capsicums/peppers that I collected this morning. There are a few overgrown Lebanese cucumbers in there, the golden ones are lemon cucumbers - a delicious, crisp one, easily grown and very prolific.

And last, we have the egg custard I made earlier. I used 4 eggs from our girls, local Jersey milk, some sugar and vanilla. Into the oven for a short time and it comes out still wobbly and utterly delicious. We had it warm last night and will finish it off tonight, cold, with pears.

After all these years, I still find it pleasing and a bit surprising that we can make so much from our backyard. There is nothing special out there, it's just an ordinary productive backyard, but with a bit of work and care, we eat like kings and live the life of Reilly. I enjoyed this stroll around, and showing you an afternoon at our home. I finished off a day of writing with that short stroll and cooking dinner. I feel satisfied with what I've achieved, so I'll let yesterday go and let tomorrow be what it may.
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