31 October 2011

Cleaning your home with laundry liquid

I like using one product for many different things. It saves time and money. It saves fiddling around with too many ingredients. It's simple. It's been a long time since I cleaned the modern way - using a different product for the various household cleaning jobs. I use my home made soap for showering and for washing my hair and hands. It's also a horticultural soap so if any garden potion requires soap to be added, my homemade soap fits the bill perfectly. Soon I'll be using it exclusively for washing up, but that's another story and I'll write about it at another time.

Another good all rounder, and a great base for other cleaners, is homemade laundry liquid. When I make up a new batch of laundry liquid, I always make up one smaller glass bottle that I use for various cleaning tasks around the home. But today I want to write about making up a cleaner that is perfect for cleaning metal - including stainless steel, porcelain baths and sinks, and spot cleaning on painted walls. It also does a good job on appliances - like white fridges and food processors and painted cupboards. The recipe for making laundry liquid is here.

Add about half a cup of homemade laundry liquid (soap, washing soda and borax) to a small container and add enough bicarb to make a thick paste. Stir until it's combined. Adding 6 - 10 drops of tea tree oil will make the mix an effective antiseptic cleaner. If you stir this mix with a tea-stained spoon, by the time you've finished stirring, the spoon will be shining like a star. Use the tea tree version in the bathroom and laundry and the tea tree-free version in the kitchen. You don't want to wipe out your normal kitchen flora.

I keep this little jar of cleaner on my sink and use it for my new sink and stove, as well as for spot cleaning in the kitchen.  It's gentle but effective and it doesn't scratch the surface of the metal. My guess is the jar would cost less than a dollar to make up and it will last at least a month of constant use. It's definitely a better option than buying Jif, Ajax powder or any of those cleaning gels.

I use laundry liquid straight on a rag to spot clean and sometimes, when the floor is particulary dirty, I add half a cup of laundry liquid and half a cup of white vinegar to my bucket and mop up. It works well.

Laundry liquid is also an excellent stain remover. Just take a tablespoon of liquid and rub it onto the stain. Rub it in well with your fingers, and leave for 30 minutes, then wash the item in with the normal wash. Most of the time, this treatment will remove the stain.

But now I'm really interested in finding other uses for laundry liquid. How do you use it? Do you use it only for laundry or have you tried it on other jobs in the home? What laundry liquid recipe do you use?


29 October 2011

Weekend reading

I only found Mooberry Farm blog this morning, but I wanted to share her homemade clabber with you. Mooberry Farmwife is the mother of eight children, she lives on the family farm with her husband and it looks like she's a very busy and content lady. I'm going to enjoy going back later this afternoon to read some more.

For an interesting peek into a young Australian family's farm life, you'll find that and more at Ivy Nest.

And here is another daughter-in-law - Cathy, who is married to my step son, Jens.  They live close by in the same town we live in. You would have seen Cathy in my photos over the years, now she's started her own blog. Cathy is a quilter and teaches patchwork and quilting in her studio so I'm sure all you quilting ladies will love a peek. 

I'm getting on with my sewing now. I hope you enjoy your weekend.

28 October 2011

On my mind ...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog.

I've done something a bit different for "On my mind" today. I asked Sunny to write a message (under photo) to her family for this lovely photo I took yesterday.

Hello to Sunny's mother, Sunja Cho, and her sisters Yeonhee Kim and Sungji Kim!  :- )

Click a couple of times on the photo to enlarge it.

Hi, family, mum and sisters!! How are my nephews and niece? I'm spending lovely time with Kerry, Jamie and his grandparents on the Sunshine Coast. Jamie is growing up well and really fast. Hope we get together here soon. Looking forward to seeing all of you soon.

Yesterday was the busiest day ever on this blog with almost 8000 visitors and 17,000 pages read. I'm guessing the influx was due to the combination of the new Women's Weekly coming out and my interview on Perth's ABC Radio. If you're new to my blog, welcome, I hope you find something of interest on the main page and in the archives. As we move towards another weekend, I hope you've done work you are proud of and that you can rest and relax over the next couple of days. We'll be doing that here too - I have sewing and knitting to help recharge my batteries and, no doubt, Hanno will be in the garden clipping and sowing. I'll see you all next week.


27 October 2011

Opa, Jamie and bikkies

We have Kerry, Sunny and Jamie staying with us. Shhhhh, everyone is still sound asleep.  It's so good to have them here, to see how much Jamie is growing and how healthy and strong he is. He's crawling, eating solids and drinking from a sippy cup now. Later in the morning, I'm going to take him on another trip into the backyard to see the chooks and the garden. It's a real adventure for him and I love being with him while he takes it all in and makes some kind of sense of it.
Jamie and Opa. Jamie is wearing the very cute tiger suit Sharon sent. Thanks Sharon and Claude! Below, Jamie is testing out his new wheels in the kitchen.

It's been another busy week here. I had Tuesday and Wednesday at the Neighbourhood Centre working on various things and preparing for our first committee meeting next Monday. There are so many exciting programs and activities we're working on or planning; I'm excited just thinking about the possibilities and opportunities ahead of us. It's a great place to work - I have a venue in which to share my skills and present workshops, I get to exercise my brain and I am surrounded by people who share a vision for our community that is equitable and just.

We had a new sink installed in our kitchen here this week. Our old sink had no drainboard, which is useless for someone with no dishwasher, and there was always water on the bench. Hanno did most of the work so we kept the costs down, we just needed our local plumber to connect the new tap and hook up water filter tap again. We have two equal size sinks with the drains at the back so we can stand things in the sink without them sitting on the plug. As usual, we bought the best quality we could afford and hope that it will be with us for as long as we live in this house.  I've already made friends with it and see us organising and cleaning up after many family celebrations and ordinary meals in the future.

An interesting and delicious parcel of goodies in the mail this week.
Guess who did the taste test?
And this was what I found in the biscuit jar when I came home from work yesterday.

On Tuesday, a parcel arrived from Buena Vista Farm Bikkies. The lovely Fiona from Inner Pickle blog sent a pack of her homemade ginger biscuits and a pack of biscotti with almonds. Both delicious, and I was really pleased to read that they were made from all natural ingredients with no preservatives - and with eggs from Fiona's chooks. Thanks Fiona. It was quite a treat for us. I picked up the parcel on the way home from work on Tuesday, around 4.30pm. By 4.31, I think, Hanno had sampled his first biscuit. He gave it the thumbs up.

When everyone else is awake this morning, I'm going to measure Jamie and talk to Sunny about summer shorts and singlets. I have fabric waiting here for pants for Alex, and have some ideas for Jamie too. It looks like I'll be spending time sewing over the weekend. That's just what I need to clear my head. I hope to do some knitting too and if I work at it, I'll finish off the cotton cardigan I'm knitting for Alexander.  I hope your week is going smoothly.


26 October 2011

Stuffed cabbage rolls

I have another recipe for you today - stuffed cabbage rolls. These rolls can be stuffed with any ingredient that takes your fancy. I used pork belly, quinoa and vegetables, it could just as easily have been beef mince (ground beef), brown rice and vegetables or a vegetarian version with rice and vegetables. You could use kale or silverbeet (chard) leaves instead of cabbage. Use what you have on hand and what you know your family will enjoy. This is one of those recipes that can be adapted easily and may just become a family favouite. If you get the stuffing right, you'll be making this meal for many years to come.

I used quinoa in these cabbage rolls, though I usually make it with brown rice. I have to tell you the quinoa was not as tasty as the rice, it was okay, but I won't use it again in this dish. The nutty taste of brown rice goes extremely well with the hearty flavours of the cabbage and vegetables. Also, I generally use minced pork that I buy at the butcher, however, I had some pork belly in the freezer that was pretty tough and I didn't want to roast it. I trimmed off the fat, put it through the food processor and got some nice lean mince. But as I say, use whatever your family likes or what you have on hand.

This is what I used:

  • About ¾ of a whole cabbage
  • Half kilo pork mince  (one pound ground pork)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 red capsicum (pepper), chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • tablespoon paprika
  • 1½ cups cooked quinoa or brown rice
  • handful of parsley, chopped
Take the core out of the cabbage and carefully remove the leaves without breaking them. You'll need about 12 full leaves. Fill up a frying pan with hot water, bring to the boil, place the cabbage leaves in the boiling water and leave for a few minutes. You want them to be wilted but still green. Remove the cabbage, place on a plate to drain and put to one side.

Brown the pork mince in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil. Make sure it takes on a lot of brown colour without burning, this is what adds flavour to the dish.

Add the vegetables and spices then add the quinoa to the meat and vegetables, mix and stir well.  Keep the pan on the stove, you'll use it again to cook the stuffed rolls.

Now it's time to fill the cabbage leaves. Take one of the cooled wilted leaves and place two heaped tablespoons of the stuffing on the leaf. Turn the sides in first, then roll it up fairly tightly. They won't need to be secured with toothpicks or string, they will stay firmly rolled as long as you're gentle with them.

When all the leaves are rolled, make a light gravy in the same frying pan the meat and vegetables were cooked in. To do this add 2 tablespoons plain flour, salt and pepper and brown this in the frying pan. If you need to add a little bit more olive oil, do it. The flour should not be dry, it should be like a thin paste.  When this is brown, add two cups of cold water and stir well. Bring to the boil, making sure you scrape all the brown bits off the pan - these add a lot of flavour.

Place all the rolls in this gravy, put the lid on the pan and simmer in the oven or on the stove top for 15 minutes.

Serve with steamed potatoes, carrots and pumpkin and the gravy.

There will probably be stuffing left over. If so, it's delicious the next day for lunch wrapped in a crisp lettuce leaf.

I hope you and your family enjoy this recipe; it's a good one for cold nights. The trick to this, and most recipes, is to modify it to suit your taste, what you have growing in the backyard and what you have in the fridge.


25 October 2011

Be careful with air fresheners and "fragrance"

I read a disturbing report the other day about how hazardous chemicals are being emitted when clothing and household linens are dried in dryers. This is from the University of Washington, it's important and I want you to read it by clicking on the link above.

I love the smell of pure soap and freshly laundered sheets and towels that have been washed in homemade laundry liquid and dried in the sun.

This is from MSN Today: "Fragrance may be the most common type of chemical in your house. Used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies and disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles, fragrances are a class of chemicals that may take you extra time and effort to avoid. But it’s worth it. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on personal care product labels can be a cover for hundreds of harmful chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels."

And this is from Wikipedia: "Studies show that exposure to polycyclic musks may break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures, and these chemicals are linked to increased risk of breast cancer and hormone disruption. Many of these musks were used in large quantities to scent laundry detergents. Levels of these musks in human bodies appear to be associated with the frequency of use of fragranced products, meaning that the more individuals use fragrance, the higher the levels of chemicals like galaxolide and tonalide."

We have to make sure the air inside our homes is healthy and while that's difficult to do, not spraying anything in the air or using synthetic fragrance at home can be a step in the right direction. If you're working in your home most days, it's important that you look after your health and not expose yourself or your children to polluted air. Don't use those plug in air fresheners, or any air fresheners, keep windows open when possible, and if you have to use a dryer, make sure the laundry products you use contain no fragrances.

Fragrance adds nothing to the effectiveness of the products you use. If you want to have added fragrance, make or buy plain laundry products and soap and add essential oils to them. Essential oils are natural compounds. Fragrant oils are a different matter. If you're using fragrant oils, I encourage you to find out what's in the bottle.

Not all of these products contain hazardous chemicals, but many do. If you have of them in your home, please find out what's in them before you use them again. You may find what you're using is safe, you may find it isn't, either way, it is best to know.


24 October 2011

Three good reasons to cook from scratch

I've been cooking from scratch since I started cooking nearly fifty years ago. It makes sense to me because it's tastier, I know what is in my food and it's cheaper. Of course there are many other reasons but I reckon those three oblige me to do it. I went through phases of adding gravy powder to my gravy, buying pastry cases because it was easier, and making stock with stock cubes, but none of them lasted long. My gravy didn't taste as good, the pastry I bought was capable of sitting on a store shelf for weeks, and tasted like it, and I discovered that making stock with bones and herbs was much more satifiying than boiling water and stirring in a cube of who knows what. I am much more cautious of synthetic food preservatives than I am of the fungus and bacteria they prevent growing. If I want to provide my family with healthy and safe meals, I much prefer to use fresh clean food, add only natural seasonings and cook it from scratch. I want to eat real food.

Humans have survived all these years without eating artificially preserved and flavoured foods and now it is our turn to control the food chain and what do we do? We change it, just because we can. We add compounds that we don't know the long-term affects of and we eat things because we like the taste, or the advertising. We're eating food prepared by people we don't know and most of the time we have no idea what's in it, how it was cooked or how old it is. And it's not just food, it's drinks as well. The obvious ones we should avoid are soft drinks/sodas but many fruit juices contain a lot of sugar, preservatives and are made with reconstituted juice. Water is vital for good health so it's not just consuming these laden drinks that's the entire problem, they stop you drinking water too.

If you're still using a lot of processed and convenience foods a good place to start is your breakfast menu. Stop buying boxed cereals and replace them with rolled oats. Soaking the oats overnight in warm water not only softens the oats to make them cook faster, it makes them more digestible. Make sure you pour off the water and rinse them well before cooking. Here is a recipe for soaked oats. You could also eat poached or boiled eggs with wholemeal toast, fresh fruit juice or fruit, or buckwheat pancakes with yoghurt and fruit. Of course, the pancakes and yoghurt would be made from scratch. Maybe you could add a weekly yoghurt making session to your kitchen tasks and store it in the fridge for breakfasts and desserts.

I can't give you an arm load of scratch recipes right now, although I have a lot of them on my blog if you care to look, but will encourage you instead to learn the various ways you can cook from scratch. Once you understand and master the techniques, you can make your own recipes up, according to your family's tastes and the food you have on hand. The commonly used ways of cooking from scratch include:
  • roasting
  • steaming
  • boiling
  • shallow frying
  • stir frying
  • grilling/broiling/BBQing
  • braising - slow cooking in a closed pot on the stove top or in a slow cooker or in cast iron or Pyrex in the oven
Of course, you'd also include raw foods, even though they're not cooked, they still have to be cleaned, prepared and stored so they're served at their best.

If you're just starting out and want very basic instruction on how to cook, as well as some good recipes to try, I recommend the Women's Weekly cook books. They've been around for donkey's years, I still cook from the Chinese, French and children's birthday party cooks books I bought 30 years ago, but I've also bought the slow cooking and the preserves cook books in the past year. They're excellent - they encourage simple home cooking using ingredients most of us have in the pantry. You can see the range at Fishpond but most of the newer ones should be available at your newsagent if you're in Australia. BTW, I have no affiliation with these cook books. I recommend them because I use them, they feature real food and they offer good value for money for new cooks.

And if we were sitting together around my kitchen table and you asked me for some advice about cooking from scratch, I'd tell you to stop buying "food" and buy only ingredients, don't use canned or packaged soup to add flavour and don't add packet mixes to your food. That will put you in control of what you eat and you'll save money in the process. I'd also encourage you to get into the habit of cooking double amounts. I do that all the time. So generally I only cook three of four nights a week, yet we eat from scratch every night.

Cooking from scratch will stand you in good stead if you're wanting to simplify your life, eat real food and cut back on food additives. If you couple that with setting the table with cloth napkins, a water jug and glasses, and gathering the family around it to eat together, you'll be doing just what your grandma and her grandma did. And that's a wonderful example to follow.

ADDITION: Melissa from Frugal and Thriving, a great Australian blog, sent me her ebook Plan, Cook, Save this morning. I've just gone through the recipes and read a few of the earlier pages and I have to tell you, I'm impressed. It goes into Scratch Cooking in depth and has quite a number of recipes for the home cook. I recommend it to you but you can read about it here and decide for yourself.


22 October 2011

Weekend reading

Stupid or lazy? I love Seth Godin, he always makes me think.

Nita at Throwback at Trapper Creek was writing about garlic as well. I am often surprised at the similarity between Nita and myself. On this visit to her blog I find we have exactly the same kind of unusual knife - the Old Timer. Mine is much more battered though.

Boys knitting! Great.

Soulepapa write on what he's lost and what he's found and includes a photo of my ideal blue gardening trolly.

There is no particular post at Purple Pear Organics, I like all of them. There are photos from their Permaculture Design Course and right down the bottom, on a walk around the farm, is a great photo of Kate dousing eggs hoping to find girls.

A new to me blog I'm enjoying very much - Tales of Ted and Agnes . I just love this kitchen.

Want to learn how to crochet? I'll let Tina lead the way. Have a look around her blog while you're there. There are some beautiful knitted dolls.

and listening ...
Here is a podcast from one of my favourite radio programs - Future Tense. It's about what we all do here, Public Thinking.

I hope you have a lovely weekend.

21 October 2011

On my mind ...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog.

A card came in the mail last week. It was from a family who sent a lovely message about our Airedale Terrier, Alice, who died recently. Hanno and I were really touched by the message and the card, made for us by 8 year old Alice. I've been meaning to write a thank you but didn't get around to it and because it's been on my mind all week, I thought I'd share it with you too.  Thank you Alice, you did a wonderful job on the card and we loved seeing our Alice's photo on it. 

And now, before I do anything else, I'm going straight to my email to write a proper thank you to Lynn, David and Alice.

20 October 2011

Growing garlic in the backyard

This is from the Angelica Organic Farm site "The bright white flawless looking Chinese garlic is bleached with chlorine. Most concerning is that Chinese garlic is still being grown using chemicals banned in Australia long ago and it is reported that raw human sewage has be used as fertiliser. To be able to allow it into our country, the quarantine department, AQIS, fumigates every single bulb with methyl bromide, one of the world's most dangerous chemicals for human and environmental health. It is kept in cold storage and is often too old by the time it reaches our shelves, which is why it’s sprouting or spongy when you get it."

I have been worried about the Chinese garlic sold in Australia for a few years now. The garlic we see on sale is pure white and very unnatural looking.  I'm not sure how Chinese garlic is grown,  processed and fumigated, but one look tells me I don't want to eat it. And yet Australian garlic is so expensive now. In my local IGA this week, Chinese garlic was $10 a kilo, Australian garlic was $49.95 a kilo. Who can afford to buy it at that price!  Garlic in the USA is between $12 and $13 a pound, that's about half the price of our locally grown garlic. Mind you, most of us usually buy it in small amounts so generally, we don't realise how expensive it is because we only buy one or two.

Just out of the ground, our garlic sat drying out for a few days (above), then I cleaned them up a bit, (below).
And below is my rather miserable attempt at a garlic braid. I think I'll undo it today and try again.

Garlic is slow growing but if you grow it in the backyard, in the soil or a container, it's quite an easy crop. We buy organic garlic cloves early in the year and put them in the fruit drawer of the fridge to fool it into thinking it's winter. After about four weeks, we plant it out. This is one of those once-a-year crops, if you get it right, and store it well, you'll have enough for the whole year. I'm not buying garlic again - Australian garlic is too expensive and Chinese garlic is too scary.

We harvested our garlic last week when the tops started going brown but still had some green in them. The bulbs were big, there were plenty of cloves on each of them and they had a lovely purple papery skin. We had one fresh straight away that night, roasted in the oven with some lamb. Delicious! The rest of them are now hanging outside on the back verandah drying out. I tried to braid them and while it looked good and tight when it was laying flat on the table, now that it's been hanging for a week, it's loosening and looking a bit untidy. Still, the main point is that we have good garlic, grown in our backyard - thrifty and local.

As you as concerned about garlic as I am? Where do you get yours from? Of course it's not earth shattering, we don't have to have garlic, but it is good for our health and good garlic tastes divine and makes other food really shine. I'd like to see all of us growing our own so I've searched for the information below to help us all do that. I wonder if you will.


19 October 2011

Radio interview and peach whey cake

Last week I was interviewed by the lovely Georgia at ABC Capricornia radio station; that interview was played on air on Monday. I've agreed to do a radio spot with them, once a month, from next Monday. I'll be on at 3.30pm. It goes state-wide in Queensland, but not the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane or the Gold Coast. I'm not sure if there are podcasts. It should be fun, I'm looking forward to it because as well as talking to Georgia on air, I'll be answering listeners questions if they call in. More people are interested in how you and I live now and I am really pleased I can help them with their own changes.

Earlier this week some readers asked for the recipe for peach whey cake. I generally make my recipes up as I go - this one is just a plain butter cake mixed with whatever fruit you have on hand. I say fruit but it could just as easily be nuts, cocoa, coconut, dates, sultanas or raisins.


Grease and line a cake tin - I used a round one about 7.5cm or 3 inches deep.

3½ cups self raising flour
¾ cup sugar
250 grams/½ pound butter at room temperature
Approx. 1 cup of whey - or milk if you have none
3 eggs
a splash of vanilla 
peach jam
peaches - either fresh, from a tin or your home preserves. If the peaches are fresh, slice very thinly.

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix with an electric beater till combined. Then turn up the beater and beat for about two minutes until the batter is thick and creamy. If you need more liquid, add more whey or milk as needed. 

While the batter is still in the bowl, fold two tablespoons of jam through it. It doesn't have to be fully incorporated, just streaks of jam through the batter. 

Pour the batter into the cake tin and cover the top with the peaches (or whatever fruit you're using).  If you're using apples, you could use strawberry or raspberry jam in the mix. Customise the recipe according to what you have on hand. If you have no jam, no problem, just leave it out.

Bake in the oven for about 35 - 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. When it's cooked, you'll be able to smell it and it will be golden brown on the top.  Turn it out onto a rack to cool.

I'm doing another workshop today at the Neighbourhood Centre. This time it's fermenting. We'll be making yoghurt, vinegar, ginger beer and sourdough starters. It looks like being a good day. I hope you enjoy yours too, whatever you're doing. I'll see you again tomorrow.


18 October 2011

Homemaking - selling our brand

I'm preaching to the converted here when it comes to homemaking and the importance it holds in our lives. There are so many homemakers here, from the traditional to the not-so traditional. Some of us are stay at home mums with children to raise, some work in corporate, retail, health or education sectors but still very much retain the homemaker's focus and find that the time spent at home well and truly prepares us for the work we do to earn a living. We have female and male, single and married homemakers, we have gay and lesbian homemakers, we have feminist and traditional homemakers, we have homemakers with many children and some with none. Some live alone, some are part of large families. Some homemakers combine volunteering with their home duties, some are forced to stay at home due to illness or disability but take pride in being a homemaker, doing as much as they can for themselves. Along with all the ways we differ, come all sorts of variations on how we work, income levels that effect what we do and how much we do for ourselves, and personal circumstances that dictate where we live and how we work. 

We come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no one right way to do this.

One of the things that unites us though is the common feeling that generally we're undervalued as homemakers. We know the work we do at home is vital for ourselves and our families but it's also part of what builds good citizens and strong countries. Usually, if someone doesn't understand or disapproves of what I do, I shrug my shoulders. I really don't care. Not everyone can like me or what I do, I'm realistic, I respect their right to have their own opinion. However, this is different, this is a commonly held view that is just wrong on so many levels. I love what freefalling said in her comment on the last homemaking post: "I kinda feel like I have a wonderful secret that only the enlightened are able to share." I think that is spot on. But then Cityhippyfarmgirl writes: "This is a subject that is close to my heart as I've been a stay at home mum since I had my eldest. I know our choices are right for us, I know I save us a bucket load of money for everything I make from scratch, and source from different places. I know my kids are getting the best start in life that I can give them, and yet still those occasional outdated comments that will come from someone completely irrelevant (bank teller, person on the street etc) cut to the bone." When I read that, I feel it too.

Personally, I love it when I read of a homemaker who works in ways familiar to me. I like reading about people who have made a success out of working from home or working in a tough environment. But I also love to read that Richard has just bought the CWA cook book and he has cut back his outside working hours; that Liz wrote: "I was amused this week when my female housemate, my teenage daughter and me were out fencing the paddock for our new house cow, while my husband was inside cleaning and looking after the children."; and that Shannon and Mel are moving towards a formal commitment with their girlfriends. We are all different. Even those who appear to be very similar to us are different in many ways. Some of us work in our homes, some of us work outside them and some combine the two. And that is fine. How boring it would be if we were all dressed in grey, with blonde hair and freckles. It would be equally boring if we were all brown-eyed red heads, or all dark skinned, or all fair. Diversity is what makes the entire natural world so interesting and wonderful. I would love us to all be proud of whoever and whatever we are and to celebrate that diversity, not be threatened by it.

When I first started blogging about my version of a simple life most of the bloggers on this topic were writing about the politics of climate change, peak oil and group action. Very few wrote about home, family, house work or personal change; I think they were seen as mundane topics and too ordinary to be of any consequence. Well, I thrive on the mundane and ordinary, I dived in! I believed then and still do now, that any permanent change will only come when enough of us change ourselves first, then start working outwards. My change started when I returned to my home and started taking it seriously. When I realised that I could make myself happy by working at home, making this place as comfortable as possible for myself, my family and visitors, that was when I knew how profound and significant our homes could be. When I recognised that the work we do in our homes can enrich and empower, as well as being creative and satisfying, I knew that I had stumbled onto the mother lode. Our homes are our starting points - no matter what we do, home is where we start from and where we return to. Home is that important and it is the work done there that transforms the shell of four walls into a home that nurtures and protects.

I would like us all to form a united approach on this. If people don't understand us, don't know what we're doing, or wondering if we're sitting around all day watching TV, let's tell them. When someone asks you what you do, tell them: "I'm a homemaker. I'm looking after my babies/elderly father/volunteering/working part-time" or whatever it is you're doing, and "I'm learning to knit, cooking from scratch, growing organic food in the backyard, I'm working on cleaning the house without harsh chemicals. I make soap. I'm saving money at home so we can pay off our mortgage faster."  or whatever your version of the way we live is. Tell them your "wonderful secret". If you just baked the best bread you've ever made, tell your friends and everyone else who will listen. If we have to listen to all the babble about "bling", smart phones, "I can't boil an egg", Jimmy Choo shoes and how they can't get by without their extra shot vanilla latte, then they can listen to us talk about how we finding meaning and satisfaction at home. Now that's fair trade! Let's tell everyone who will listen how we spend our time and do it with pride and a smile.

Let's be our own advertisement. 


17 October 2011

A mixed bag over the weekend

We had a quiet weekend after a busy week. Last Friday I went back on the committee of the Neighbourhood Centre as secretary so I spent a part of the weekend quietly organising myself to include that in my work schedule. Things have been busy since the Women's Weekly article was published and I spent some time doing and talking about radio interviews last week. Now I'm trying to decide if I'll do a monthly phone-in as part of a program on Queensland regional ABC radio. There seems to be a real need at the moment for information about how to move from spending and a reliance on convenience to a simpler way. Radio is a good way of reaching people so I might just do it.

Our vegetable garden, above and below, in the late afternoon sun.
Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Over the weekend, the usual chores were done - bread baked, the floors cleaned, washing, cooking and mending all done, but I also had time for a little bit of sewing and knitting which always relaxes me and clears my mind. I love working slowly when I have plenty of time to get things done. I don't rush anymore. I want time to wander and poke around while I work. Hanno worked in the garden, both front and back, so the hard work will be all finished before the hot weather starts. He went to the market on Sunday morning and although I wanted him to bring home a couple of new chooks, he said they were too expensive and came home with gerberas and seedlings instead. The vegetable garden is looking absolutely wonderful at the moment. We have so much fresh food there, it's a real credit to him.

This week is Anti-Poverty Week.  I'll be giving a talk today at our local Anti-Poverty Week function which will also feature speakers from Centrelink and Lifeline. I prefer to approach the problem from a different viewpoint and hope to encourage people to be proactive and to change the way they shop for food and to make a few things for themselves at home, so they don't get to the point of needing help from those agencies. I have print outs for laundry liquid and a few other things so I hope it helps some families. Later in the week, at the Neighbourhood Centre, we're having a Humble Jumble - which will be a swap event. I'm taking up some fresh vegetables that I'll pick just before I go to work, so I hope someone will enjoy eating fresh organic vegetables that evening.  Is anyone else doing anything for this cause?

Alexander's cardigan, made with the softest of organic cottons.

Closer to home my knitting is still bubbling along nicely. I'm totally in love with the organic, plant dyed cotton from Eco Yarns. I'm now knitting a banded cardigan for Alexander. It's a lovely earthy red colour with natural contrast on the bands. It will fit a six - nine month old, so it should suit him for a while. After that, I'll be doing a cotton singlet or two and some summer shorts for Jamie. I love being a grandma. It makes me feel like I'm doing my part in caring for them if I help provide for them.

We've enjoyed some delicious food over the past few days. Sunday was a lamb roast with vegetables and homemade mint sauce, and the peach whey cake above for snacks and dessert. A couple of nights ago I picked a fresh cabbage from the garden and made cabbage rolls stuffed with pork belly, vegetables and quinoa; Saturday we had egg noodles and vegetable stir fry. Yesterday we had some good mixed grain and rye bread. Knowing how to cook well pays off in so many wonderful ways.

Finally, I was going to tell you about our garlic and loofa harvest but that will have to wait for another day because it's getting late and I have a few things to do before this weeks starts to unfold. I hope you have a happy and interesting week and have the time to relax and enjoy it as it goes along.


14 October 2011

On my mind ...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog.

I'll be tidying up after a very busy week this morning and attending a meeting this afternoon. But tomorrow, I'll be tending to these loofas and that is what's on my mind today.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend doing what you love. Thank you for visiting me this week. I'll see you again soon.

13 October 2011

Chokos ready to plant

There is no sitting on the fence when it comes to chokos in Australia, you either love them or hate them. I love them, but not to eat; we use choko vines for the shade they provide the chook house over summer. For those of you in other countries, chokos are chayote, christophine or vegetable pear. I think they're native to Mexico. They grow on a vine and put out thick lush growth, idea for shading a corrugated iron shed in the heat of summer. Of course they are grown for their fruit as well although they do have a reputation here as being bland and dull. It's like any squash I suppose, it depends on how you cook it and what you cook it with - it carries the flavours of other sweet or savoury foods very well.

About a month ago, I bought two healthy looking chokos  at the market in the hope they would sprout. Sure enough, they have, and soon they'll be planted out in the vegetable garden at the base of the fence near the chook shed.  Slowly buy surely, they'll creep up the fence, up the side of the shed and cover it by January. In Australia, chook sheds and choko vines go hand in hand. It's a good cheap way to provide shade in summer, you pull it out in winter and let the sun hit the shed, then replant again in spring.

I put both chokos in my fruit basket and let them sit on the bench to sprout at room temperature in their own time. You can see them above almost covered by tomatoes.

Here is an old Australian recipe for choko pie. This recipe was hand written and given to me by Curly - my daughter-in-law Cathy's father. Curly's a real bushy, as * fair dinkum as they come, so although I haven't made this pie myself, I have no doubt it's a winner.

*Fair dinkum - genuine

(written in the pre-metric days)

Boil one large choko with no salt (till tender). Drain and mash.
Add ½ cup sugar, juice of one lemon and two tablespoons of custard powder.
Put into a cooked pastry case.


Mix 2oz (60 grams) melted butter together with 2 oz sugar, 4oz (115 grams) coconut. Sprinkle over choko mixture and bake in a moderate oven till cooked and brown - about 30 - 45 minutes.

I guess it would have been served in the old days with cream or ice cream.

Chokos sprout from the top of the vegetable and when you see the vine grow about 6 inches, it's ready to plant. Like any squash, it likes a rich well drained soil and plenty of organic fertiliser.

Do you eat chokos or do you use the vine like we do?  I wonder how people in other countries use this vegetable and if it's commonly grown. If you live outside Australia, I'd love to know how you use this vegetable.


12 October 2011

Homemaking - the power career, part 2

I'd like to clarify some things after reading a couple of yesterday's comments. I am sure my long term readers already know this and I feel it so deeply I don't spell it out in every post like this. I'm accepting of all types of relationships. In fact I wrote about this last week here. I don't expect to see only husbands and wives, or men working with women at home. I don't think every couple should have children. I think people should live to their own values (not mine) and do what makes them happy. I believe that is why I get so many emails about the stages of life - I don't judge and I don't expect anyone to live as I do. To me, a partnership is formed when two people commit to each other - those two people could be a man and a women, or the same sex, and they can be married or not. I have gay friends my age I have know most of my life, and they're all in relationships.  I wrote yesterday's post directed at the woman who emailed me. It was her experience and mine I was referring to, it didn't reflect any specific view on what makes a family.

One of the reasons I write about homemakers so much - both men and women, is that many of them suffer because of the stereotypes applied to them, just as I suffer from the stereotypes applied to me - of what a women in her mid-60s believes. It is not acceptable to discriminate against others, but it seems to be still okay for many people to look down on homemakers, and for them to be very vocal about it. We need to change that.

One important part of being a homemaker is looking after the family finances. When there is someone out earning money, it is the person who stays at home who is responsible for stretching those dollars as much as possible. A saved dollar is more than an earned dollar - your saved dollar is tax-free. So one of the ways in which homemakers can feel very much a part of the financial viability of the family is to shop for grocery bargains, cook from scratch, and work on conserving electricity, gas, fuel and water. If you use all the ways in which you can save money by making what you need at home, you will cut your old supermarket bill to the bone and be on your way to "earning" money at home.

The stay at home person can draw up a budget and have a plan to pay off debt. Once a year they can go through all their regular bills to see if they can be lowered. We review out bills every year, ring up the opposition, ask what their deal is for the same thing we're paying their competitor for. If it's lower than we're paying, or if we would get more for our dollars, we ring our supplier and tell them and ask them to match it. Usually they do. We check statements when they come in, we've found mistakes in the past. We try not to withdraw money from ATMs, we get cash out at the supermarket instead. I have to confess, Hanno is much better than I am at that. He hasn't used an ATM for two years and, of course, we've saved paying bank fees because of that.

The homemaker is also responsible for looking after the family's assets - by carefully laundering and mending clothes and household linens, by keeping appliances clean and working according to their specifications. Everything that can be kept going - every towel and sheet you keep using before you turn it over to the rag bag, will save you money. Many of the things you do to save money in the home will be environmentally sound too.

There is a common understanding now that a couple should work to make the most of their earning capacity. It's fine if that is what your priority is, or if your circumstances compel both of you to focus on earning money to set yourself up and pay off debt. However, some people value staying at home, being a homemaker, raising children, looking after parents in their old age or volunteering, and for them, that is more important than earning as much money as possible. There are many who have disabilities and who can't work for a living but who save money at home and get by on a pension. It is possible to live well both ways - either by earning as much as you can, or by saving as much as you can. I gave up my career a few years ago, so you all know what camp I'm in. We know that if we cut back on our wants and buy only what we need, we don't need as much money as we used to earn. I spend my time now working from home as a writer, working in my community and working at home. I know many homemakers who have set up a small business that they run successfully from home.

So there you have it in a nutshell. Homemaking can be a dynamic career choice. Whether you use your time at home to learn as much as you can so you home produce and cook from scratch, or you're busy in the child raising years, or if you combine both, you can be rewarded for your efforts. There are many small ways to save money at home, they all take time and consistency but all those small ways add up. If you use the time you spend in your home not only for cooking, cleaning, raising children, mending, recycling etc., but also actively engaged in saving money, you will help provide for the family and pay off debt just as much as the partner who works outside the home.

Be warned, I will be writing about homemaking again next week. It will be a post about what we can all do to help change the outdated common view of homemaking.


11 October 2011

Homemaking - the power career

I received an email from a young married woman in her late 20s the other day. She is trying to decide whether to give up a career in teaching to have children and be a stay at home wife. She said her main problem is that she has doubts about being at home, thinks she'll become bored and she won't be as fulfilled as she is now. I told her to stay in her job until she's sure she wants to have children; being a stay-at-home mum is sometimes a difficult and challenging job but if approached with the right mindset, can be enriching and would probably change her in many significant ways. I also told her to read today's post.

I think the traditional view of homemaking is that it is a fairly menial job, one that doesn't take much thought and comes with no power and few opportunities. From where I stand now, I think that view is rather dated, if it ever was true to begin with; from where I stand now, homemaking is a power career. As the homemaker, you are responsible for the health and well being of your family. It's the homemaker's job to look after the family assets, to set up a household budget and use the family income to pay for everything they need. If that is done well, the savings can be used for the betterment of the family - in paying off debt, or for education, travel or hobbies.

If I were coming to homemaking at this moment for the first time, I would see it as a great opportunity to create a decent, warm, comfortable home for myself and my family. I'd take advantage of every spare moment to skill myself in the areas in which I was lacking and I'd welcome the opportunity to organise my home in a way that would help me work and facilitate the home production of many of the products I used to buy.

If I were moving into a new home, I'd want a larder or pantry, a separate laundry room, a sewing and craft room that also held the ironing station as well as plenty of outdoor space for a vegetable garden, fruit orchard, chickens and maybe some bees. Mind you, I pretty much just described what I have here in my own home, so I'm on a pretty good thing and I'm happy to say I'm making the most of it. Men have their sheds where they store their tools, fix the lawn mower and the kids bikes; it's where they can work with their tools close by, have suitable work benches that help them carry out the jobs they tackle. Women's sheds are their homes - we have to see our homes as not only a place to relax and nurture our families, but also our work place, where we use the time we have to produce the needs of the family. I make bread, soap, laundry liquid, snacks like crackers, cakes and biscuits, wholesome food, jams and marmalades, I make cordial in summer from the fruits we grow in the backyard, I freeze and bottle excess vegetables and fruits. For all those tasks, I need various spaces that help me do my best work and where I can set up for some jobs that may take longer than a day. I sew, mend, knit and write and for those activities, I need a working space; a place where I can think, work creatively and where I can piece together bits of fabric that become larger and useful items, or words and phrases that become blog posts, articles and books. My workspace is in one of the old bedrooms. Our house was not set up like this when we moved in, we changed it to suit how we live and work. And it's changed more than once, it changes to suit our interests and the work being done.

One of the first important tasks for any new homemaker is to organise their working space. Take control of your home and your time, don't be afraid to change things that don't suit the way you work or the type of work you do. If you're living in a newly built home, you might find their won't be enough storage space, so you might need to find some old cupboards for your stockpile and your cleaning ingredients. If you're living in an older home, you may need to open up spaces and let in more light. If there is nothing stopping you modifying your home to better suit your family and your work, get to it, make the spaces inside your home the places where you work to your potential.

Most of us do a large portion of our work in the kitchen - so organising that space to best suit the type of cooking we do will make working in the kitchen easier. We also do laundry, so clear the decks and organise the laundry with your homemade laundry liquids and the ingredients for making it, your soaps and ingredients, a rag bag to hold your recycled cleaning rags as well as an area where you can soak stained clothing and store the ironing board.

Many of the older readers here would know that I don't consider craft to be a hobby. For me it's part of my housework. I sew, mend and knit so we have good quality and long wearing scarves, cardigans, jumpers, hats, dishcloths, tablecloths and napkins. I see that as part of my homemaker's work, not a hobby. Back in my great grandmothers' day, making clothing and woollens for the family was part of almost every women's home tasks. Somehow those tasks where either moved to become separate hobbies or were not done at all. They still hold an important place here, I still do all of them, still enjoy them, and they're a part of my work.  

I see homemaking as a dynamic, vital, engaging, interesting, powerful and creative career. It's a career that offers you the freedom to organise your own hours and do your tasks at your own rate. Of course there is no pay, but if you do it well, you'll be paid back in satisfaction and the knowledge that your family thrives because of the work and effort you put into them and home.  Never be afraid of work. Yes, it's wonderful to be able to take time out to sit and relax, but rest is appreciated so much more when it's balanced by tasks completed. Sitting around all day is overrated. Work is where we find ourselves and the reward for that hard work is a strong character, a wonderful family and a comfortable home.

If you're a full-time homemaker by choice or circumstance, never let anyone tell you that working in your home, cooking for your family, sewing and knitting, cleaning your nest and organising the lives of your family is not important work. Sure it can be tiring at times, all jobs are, but from where I stand, in my grandmothering years, I know that I have done my best work here at home. I'm just an ordinary woman and I don't know much, but this I know, with certainty, when you actively take control of your life and your home, when you plan and make decisions and don't leave things to chance, you will be paid back in ways you never expected. Take control, plan your work spaces, organise your family and your work and then sit back to enjoy the fruits of all that with the people you love. But don't expect it to be perfect, learn from your mistakes and celebrate your successes.  It's that simple.

This is a big topic and I've already taken up too much of your time today, so I'll continue tomorrow to talk about the financial side of homemaking. I hope you have a lovely day - enjoy your work whether it be in the home or somewhere else.

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