30 December 2011

The summer backyard and chicken update

Things are very slow here. We're doing what we're supposed to do at this time of year. We're enjoying the sunshine in the backyard, watching cricket and relaxing. I hope you're able to do something similar. If you're north of the equator, I hope you're enjoying warm fires and brisk walks. I'll be back writing regularly soon but I thought you'd enjoy seeing what our backyard is like this morning.

 The smallest of the chooks outside for the second time - Annie, Lillian, Flora and Nora.
 Above and below - the lavender and white Aracaunas - Fiona and Margaret. 

Flora and Nora. Nora is a Welsummer, but I now have a suspicion that Flora (left) is our third New Hampshire.

 Martha and Kylie free ranging in the backyard.
Anne Shirley, one of the New Hampshires, with Lulubelle, our barred Plymouth Rock. They followed Hanno around while he pruned the pecan tree.
The garden is a shell of its former glory. We have parsley and a few herbs growing as well as silverbeet (chard) cucumbers, carrots, celery, beetroot, tomatoes and daikon radishes. We're still harvesting a few things - I picked a kilo of green tomatoes and some chillis, and carried them in my apron. The rest is the usual mess at this time of year. Gardens never stay the same. Ours will get worse before it gets better because we won't plant our new season crops till March. 
There are still some seeds to collect - namely the Easter egg radishes and leeks. 

And now I'm going to sew or knit. I don't know what it will be until I walk away from this computer. But that's the beauty of days like today - it's all flexible and slow. Anything might happen.

22 December 2011

Looking back and looking forward

It been a very big year at the Hetzel home. Our main excitement and joy was to welcome the first two members of our family's next generation - Jamie and Alexander. I love being a grandma. It's more than I expected and it has given me a new direction in my older years. There are so many good times ahead for us as grandparents to our little boys.

During the year, I finished writing my book, helped edit it and when it was sent off to the printer I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now it's back, ready to be sold - the publication date is 22 February. I am filled with joy and a bit of terror just thinking of it. In September, I started writing a monthly column for the Australian Women's Weekly. I'm now building my profile there in the hope of showing how good life can be when the conscious decision is made to simply. Earlier in the year I returned to work at the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre, after taking time off to finish the book, and have gone back as a volunteer presenting workshops on simple life and as a committee member.

Online, the Down to Earth Forum continued to grow and now has well over 6000 members. The Simple Green Frugal Co-op has an excellent and engaging group of 12 writers and has had 1.4 million visitors. I fill in when I can if someone is too busy to post. This blog attracted an overwhelming number of requests for advertising space during the year and I'm happy to tell you that I remained true to my values and rejected almost all of them. The ads you see on my sidebar are mostly barters, with a couple of paid buttons. That money coming in and the bartered goods help us live this way and we both appreciate the opportunity to earn a little money and use these top quality goods while we work here at home.

But now I'm taking a short break from the blog to rest and get ready for another big year in 2012. On Christmas morning we'll be going to the Neighbourhood Centre to help with the free community breakfast. Kerry, Sunny and Jamie will be with us and it will be a real pleasure to show Jamie, for the first time, what happens when a little rural community gets together to say hello and reestablish their connections. We expect well over 400 hundred people to attend. When we get home, Shane, Sarndra and Alexander should be here and after we settle in and open gifts, the eight of us will have a cold lunch and some drinks. I am looking forward to it very much. Jens and Cathy have gone north to spend Christmas with Cathy's family in Moranbah. Most Australians will know what we'll be doing on Boxing Day. Yes, the Boxing Day test cricket - I'll be there in front of the TV from the first ball. It's a cricket match that may last up to five days and this year we are playing against India. I want to knit, read and nod off in my chair all through the match. In the following days I will sew and knit and speak to flesh and blood people in my real life, although our gate will be closed to all but family in the coming couple of weeks. We need this time to ourselves.

I send thanks to Sharon who has been helping me behind the scenes here and at the co-op for a number of years, and to Claude who steps in occasionally. Also to all the mods and members at the forum and the writers and readers at the co-op, I send you all my love and appreciation for helping to build an incredibly wonderful and supportive community around my online endeavours. If you click on the link to the forum above you'll find links to the writers' blogs. If you look over on my side bar, you'll find links to the mods' blogs.

And to you dear readers, I thank you for your visits and interesting comments throughout the year. There have been well over 60,000 comments made here since I started the blog and I've read all of them, been inspired by some of them, and learned things about you and me as I went along that I hope helped me improve. I am always grateful for the opportunity to learn. I am ever thankful I have this blog to connect with so many people, all over the world, who strive to live as we do. Those mirror images you sometimes hold up for us to see have been vital and have helped us stay true over the years.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with your family and friends. I want to see you back here again next year after we've all had time to rest and relax. 

Happy holidays, Merry Christmas  and Happy Hanukkah from Hanno and me.  


21 December 2011

Make it yourself, do it yourself

My thanks to the men who commented yesterday. It was really great to hear your opinions and learn a little about how you work.


As I waited for a meeting to start on Monday, I browsed through some blogs I'd never seen before. It made me really happy and optimistic about the future to see so many people making gifts and food hampers from scratch. Hand made and home baking has become part of our lives again. After a history of doing things this way, and a brief fifty year glitch, we're coming back to it. It feels good to me.

These above and below were made by my sister, Tricia. Above was going to be part of a quilt but ended up not wanted and left here after a visit. I use it all the time on my kitchen table.  Below is a linen cushion cover Tricia sent to me yesterday. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's a hand sewn portrait of the two of us. I am in the red striped stockings, she has my polka dot stockings on. I will have to talk to her about it.  ; - )

I came to hand making more from necessity than the beauty of it, although there is an abundance of that. I sometimes wonder what a shop assistant would say if I asked for a cloth for draining yoghurt or cheese, or a set of small to larger cotton circles or squares to cover my fermenting ginger beer and sour dough. But in the end nothing did better than the little open weave cloths I made. Table mats, runners and napkins were the same. Not only did they serve my purpose, they used up the scraps I had left over from larger projects. I think it's a bit quaint to use doilies alone to protect a precious wooden surface, but I'm much more open to sewing a doily into something more substantial that I've made from scraps. My doilies are sometimes from my mother so I'm also sewing memories into items I use on a daily basis. It's the best of both worlds and I smile when I see them.

This charming bird, in my favourite polka dots, was made by Sarndra. It guards our front door.

This make-it-yourself ideology comes into play in the garden too. Instead of buying stakes and fancy climbing trellises, Hanno makes do with what we have, recycling old pieces of steel and iron and using ancient timber stakes, bamboo canes and small raw branches for small climbing frames. I wanted a large stone vessel to place under the palm tree to hold clean water for the chooks when they were free ranging. I knew a stone vessel would be out of our price range if I bought one but when our old stone bird bath was too damaged to use in the front garden, it became that stone drinking vessel. The chooks use it every day.

Very early on in my simple life, I decided that instead of buying products all the time, I would be productive and make them myself, and that has stood me in good stead. I make aprons, napkins, small curtains, table runners, covering cloths, dish cloths, face cloths, rugs for our pets and many other household soft furnishings and woollie wearables like mittens, scarves and socks that allow me to use scrap fabric and wool while I'm producing something I need. Home production feels right and honest to me. I feel I'm doing what I should be doing and that I'm getting the full value of what we have here.

Do you know what this is? I found it inside something I bought at an antique shop about a year ago. It's hand stitched in red and green cottons and features a horse, church, Christmas tree, birds, a woman and several other things. It's made of open weave cotton and measures about 130 cm (50 inches).

When I need something new in my home, I don't think of getting it at the shop anymore, I start looking through my stash. Usually I have exactly what I need or something I can modify. It's a great feeling to be self-reliant and not to have to rely on what's in the shops to supply our needs. I think I've become a lot more confident since I've lived this way; I'm sure I'm better for it. So while I browse around the blog neighbourhood and see others doing what I'm doing here, but in different ways and often with much more ability and finesse, I smile and feel like I'm part of a soft and beautiful revolution. Those of us who make do with what we have are showing how simply made cotton, linen and woollen items are not only be utilitarian but also make a meaningful contribution to a unique home.


20 December 2011

Is homemaking different for men?

I received this email from a reader last week and I have to admit I'd not really given the topic much thought until then.

"I was recently introduced to your blog by my husband and his mate, who has been a big fan for a while (they made your laundry detergent on the weekend!). I was wondering if you could do a blog about husbands being the homemaker instead of the wife? My husband is about to leave his stressful job in the new year and is so excited about being at home with the chooks and veggies, but I am wondering how different it will be having a male do the job.
I doubt there are big differences in how house work is done by women and men. The homemaker is the one who makes most of the decisions about how tasks are carried out, what products are bought, what food is eaten, how the cleaning is done, what kind of garden is grown, how to deal with household waste, and how much daily work can be done. The person who will do the work must make those important decisions. I think the differences are less about gender and more about values and the willingness and ability to do the work. Choosing what elements will take you to another level, like whether to add livestock, whether solar panels and water harvesting play a part, how much is enough for the both of you, and taking daily steps towards prudent spending and careful saving and how quickly debt will be paid off - they are usually joint decisions. 

If you're aiming to live as we do, there will be a period of adjustment as he transitions from a stressful job to more relaxed, but never-ending, work at home. He will have to learn the skills he doesn't have now but as long as the motivation to live this way is there, generally that makes you spring out of bed each morning because every day is part of a plan that will make your life better. You have control of your life.

I have no idea how skilled your husband is in the tasks he'll need to carry out, or whether he can cook, clean or grow food. I would suggest if he's just starting out that he does a skills audit. You could help him with it. If he can't cook he needs some good  books - I suggest the Common Sense Cookbook for the very basics and The Thrifty Kitchen and The Real Food Guide for interesting recipes with an eye on creativity and frugality. Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting by Lyn Bagnall is an excellent vegetable gardening book, and for a good chook book - I recommend Backyard Poultry - Naturally by Alanna Moore, you can get that at Green Harvest (on my side bar). Once he gets the basics under his belt, he can explore food storage, cob ovens, fermenting, preserving, dehydrating and many other old skills. For that he'll need The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour, which is his original book you might be able to buy second-hand, or if you can't find that The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency, which is still on sale.

Your husband will have to consciously focus on jobs he doesn't like doing. Cleaning the toilets and mending clothes are as much a part of homemaking as the wonderful and enriching jobs like growing food and caring for chooks. There is an element of mental strength needed to be a full time homemaker. He will have the obvious questions from friends and family and he has to do most of the work, whether he wants to or not. From January on, his job is to shop for bargains, clean the home, cook, grow, preserve and whatever else you both decide you want in your lives. He will be in charge of driving your home life to where you both want it to be. That might be a simplified and mindful eco-home in the inner city or it could be a suburban home with a a little farm in the backyard, just like our place. Both are possible, many other types of homes are too. You will have to decide what you'll do in the home. Just like men who work full time away from the home need to take up a fair share of the work when they're home, you will have to do the same. You'll be the breadwinner, he'll be the homemaker. Both those jobs need to be done well but it doesn't mean he does all the work, it means you work together on your shared goals. You'll have to sort that out. Decide what you can do and are willing to do in the evenings and weekends and then do it consistently and in the knowledge that in addition to the money you bring in, you are making practical contributions to the life you're building together.

Deciding to live a more simple life is a big decision. It is for any couple. But it can work well and it's the best way to get some balance in your lives. Life should not mean accruing debt and then working till you drop to pay it off. If you work at it, it can be a beautiful balance of work, enjoyment and real living. It's not always easy, there are days when you wonder why you're shelling the fifth kilo of peas. There will also be days when you may want to be the homemaker or he wants to go back to work. That's normal - just work through those difficult days and the shared joy of a simple life will return.

I admire you both. There is a common view now that there must be a double income to support today's way of living. But there is a more unusual and enriching way to live. It involves hard work and the ability to step away from convenience and having many of the things that your friends might have. But if you can do it the rewards are significant and life changing. The daily work you do shapes the people you will become; you've already started that process simply by making the decision to start. So hang on to your hats, you are in for the ride of your lives.

And while I'm on the subject of men, I know there are many of you who read here. I get emails from some of you. I would love you to start commenting more. This is not a women's topic, it's a human topic - it's life. I am sure the women would love to read your point of view and it would help you connect with the other men here. We are all just sharing our own experiences, share yours too.


19 December 2011

Meet the peeps

Many of you would know we had a broody hen die a couple of weeks ago. She hatched one egg, that chick also died and the remaining five eggs didn't hatch. We're not sure what happened but think it may have been a spider bite that did her in. We were hatching those chicks to help supply us with eggs in the coming months and years. Our current flock has decreased to only six hens, and all of them are oldish. We're getting about six eggs a week.

Here is the beautiful and gentle Martha, our buff Orpington, on egg duty.

If you're living in a similar way to us, you'd know that it's difficult to find good suppliers you can reply on. Many of the things we buy aren't mainstream products, we have to search before we buy. We decided we'd buy pullets instead of trying another batch of eggs but we wanted to look for a new supplier of heritage chooks because when we introduced new chicks into our flock with our old supplier, they would sometimes bring in a disease. So I started searching for a decent breeder, one that looked like they were doing the right thing by the birds, treated them well and had quality, healthy stock.

It's important to Hanno and me to keep the old pure breeds. Like heirloom seeds, large businesses have taken over the poultry industry and have hybridised the stock. If we backyarders don't step up and keep these old breeds, many of them will die out. Many of them already have.

I found Julie at Anstead on the outskirts of Brisbane. I chose her over the others I found because she had good quality rare breeds and sounded like she loved them. The added bonus was that all the chicks where sexed and if one turned out to be a rooster, I could exchange him for a pullet. In addition, all Julie's chicks were vaccinated for Marek's Disease and Fowlpox. Staying true to my bartering values, I emailed Julie and asked if she was interested. She was.

This is Flora, a Welsummer with the two Barnevelders, Annie and Lillian, in the background
Fiona and Margaret checking out the premises. When they're fully grown, they'll develop fluffy heads and lay blue eggs.
Above and below, settling in and having their first feed and drinks with us.

Julie saying goodbye to Fiona.
Hanno saying hello to Nora.

Hanno and I travelled over to meet Julie last Thursday and brought home two Barnevelders, two Welsummers, two Aracaunas and two New Hampshires. We've had New Hampshires and Barnevelders before but never Welsummers or Aracaunas. I am completely charmed by all of them. Barnevelders and New Hampshires are always the same colours but Welsummers seem to have three - silver and gold lacewing and black red. I forgot to ask Julie about the colours but it looks like we have a gold lacewing and a black red. Our Aracaunas are lavender and they lay blue eggs. The girls have settled in really well and I have to tell you, I'm relieved they're vaccinated and in good health.

We were very impressed with Julie and her chicken business. The chook shed was nicely organised and clean, the birds looked healthy; they all had clean water and ample food. We're happy to recommend her to you if you're looking for good quality heritage chooks. Julie is located in the western suburbs of Brisbane and you can find out more about her chickens or arrange a viewing time by phoning or emailing her. She will send the chickens interstate and if you're interested, just email her to find out the details. She does not sell fertile eggs.

Julie sells:
  • Anconas 
  • Araucanas 
  • Barnevelders 
  • Australorps 
  • Silkies 
  • Pekins 
  • Rhode Island Reds 
  • New Hampshire 
  • Plymouth Rocks 
  • Light sussex 
  • Welsummers 
Her prices are:
  • Day olds to one week old - $15
  • Week olds to one month old -  $20
  • One to two month old -  $25
  • Two months to three months - $30
  • Over three months old - $40
And as I said, they're sexed so you know what you're getting, they're vaccinated and very healthy.

You can contact Julie via email juliethompson@tpg.com.au or call 0422 856 085 for further information.

We named our new girls: New Hampshires - Dorothy (Parker) and Anne Shirley, Barnevelders - Annie (Proulx) Lillian (Hellman), Aracaunas - Fiona and Margaret (Olley), Welsummers - Nora (Barnacle) and Flora (McDonald). All will be known by their first name. They're climbing, running and exploring and being very cute doing it; they're such a joy to watch. I feel that all is right in my world again now we have a full hen house.

ADDITION: A couple of readers have asked if all the chickens are in together. Dorothy and Anne Shirley, the New Hampshires, are the only ones to have contact with the older girls yet. They're only a few weeks off laying and are much larger than the others.  The smaller girls are behind a fence in the coop, they can all see each other but the smaller ones will stay separate for a few weeks yet. Fiona and Margaret, the Aracaunas, will be the next out, then Nora, Flora, Annie and Lillian when they grow a bit bigger. We are still putting the little girls in a box to sleep at night. It's cool here and we don't want them to get too cold.


16 December 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.

This is what I'm thinking about today - how this beautiful community of souls scattered all over the world came together yesterday to comfort and support a family in distress. I send my sincere thanks for doing exactly what I knew you would do.

"Amy" sent her thanks too and instead of giving you my interpretation of what she said, I'll lay it out here.

"And also your dear, dear readers, the ladies...I am humbled to my knees...all these ladies sending us love and prayers and comfort and condolences and their advice and helping us through their experiences. I have read them through twice and will print it out for us all to carry with us. So much love...this has been far, far better than the grief counsellor whom I don't need any more. This has been just what we have needed, this has touched my heart. And I do think that maybe, in time, maybe the shards will soften. I will take your advice to the nth degree Rhonda, I will keep doing the practical things...I will give my days structure...I will rest on those days that I need to...that's what my boy saw me do all his life, I always tried to show all the children how to 'be'and 'do' in a good way, a positive way, now I will honour my words to them...for my precious boy.

Is there any way I can thank your readers? I appreciate every single one. 

And Rhonda from the bottom of my heart I send you my love and thanks, you can not begin to know how much you have helped us all. And Hanno...if only I could give you a hug...thank you...you will always be my role model, I will try very hard. It makes me happy alone to know that you and Rhonda are together, somewhere in this crazy world there are two people shining their light for us all."

Thank you for you visits and comments this week. Take care of yourself, I'll see you again on Monday.

15 December 2011

The death of a reader's son

There will be some readers who'll prefer not to read today's post. You can see by the title what it's about. But I am writing for a reader who needs our help at this time. The fact that it's Christmas and everyone is full of joy is irrelevant. We are real people living real lives and when a world collapses, it is healthy to reach out and connect. If you only want to read about simplifying, please stop reading now and come back tomorrow.

This is part of an email I received a few days ago from "Amy", a regular reader:

" ... We have only 5 weeks ago lost our amazing, precious and most darling 26 year old son...Rhonda if I told you he was an angel who walked this earth I would not be exaggerating one bit. If at some time could you please just mention your thoughts on children who leave before their parents...I know it's not in line with your blog....but I would dearly love to hear just a few words from you....as you ALWAYS make sense, your life is about compassion and I just know that everything you say is true. With Christmas upon us it is probably not the time anyway to be anything but full of joy. I have been going to grief counselling only so that I can show my girls who are 15 and 16 and another who is 27 and married with a darling little 2 year old how to grieve in a healthy way. Through my torment and agony I have to show the girls that we will get through this. But, oh Rhonda, the pain... "

I have no idea what this would feel like. Can you help someone if you don't understand the depth of their pain? I know I would cope with almost everything that might happen to me but the one thing that would wipe me out would be if anything happened to my children, or my grandchildren. I would not get over that. The first thing I did when I read this email was to read it to Hanno and to ask his advice. I don't tell you everything about us, but Hanno said it's okay to share his story if it's going to help someone. Two children from Hanno's first marriage died. A son at age two and a daughter at age six, both died from unusual and unrelated diseases. Hanno said you never get over it, you just learn to live with it. "Sometimes, when you've been making progress, a memory or a smell will take you back, you remember and you're back to zero again. That never stops."

I have a big problems with that word "closure". It seems to me that all of a sudden people started saying it in relation to death and grief. I thought it was a made up "Oprah" word but I just looked up my Webster's American Dictionary and it's in there. I'm sure their meaning is closure as in a door or window but it's there none the less. I don't think there is closure and it's absurd to think there would be. How can you close off that part of your life when it is the one thing you think of every day, the one thing you want to remember every second of, even though it causes you more pain than any thing you could imagine. Why would you want closure? It beats me. 

I think that counselling is good; talking to friends is good but often friends are trepidacious and don't want to bring up the subject thinking it might make things worse. I think when that happens, when the talking stops, when the person who died is not mentioned for fear of upsetting someone, those who are grieving the most feel their loved one is being forgotten. Talking makes a difference. Even this post will play a small part. It's recognising that a wonderful son, a young man who died young, is not here now and his life's promise was played out far too soon. His family and particularly his mother and father are devastated but all of us lose when this happens. We need good people.

There is another woman here who has gone through this pain herself with her daughter about the same age as this young man and I wonder if she would email me so I can connect her to Amy. There is some good in sharing grief but the sharing is best done with someone who has experienced it. Raw pain needs to meet raw pain - there is no half way mark with this kind of grief.

Hanno is right, I am sure of that. You never get over the death of a child. Parents aren't supposed to outlive their children and when it happens, you have to question if anything can be right again. My mum died 18 years ago but it seems like it was yesterday. I miss her so much and if someone were to offer me a million dollars or five minutes with my mother, I'd take that five minutes in an instant. I will never get over her death but I now know how to live with it. I do it by honouring the person she was, and wanted me to be, I do it by emulating her example. She was a very generous and open hearted women. I try to follow in her footsteps. Sometimes I step in them, sometimes I fail but the doing of this has helped me live without her.

I started writing this post yesterday afternoon and sent Amy an email asking if it was okay to share her story in the post. At this point in my post I received this reply from her: "Today has been the same, I need to really pull something out of my being to keep on, to make the bed, to wash the floors, to do a little cooking, but I say often to myself that I have to stay the person that my son knew and loved, I can't let that person slip away...in his honour." Amy, that is exactly what you need to do. Keep doing the practical things that gave structure to your days in the past. If there are days when you can't manage it, that's fine; rest on those days, or go out somewhere with the family, or alone. That is how I am dealing with my mother's death. It is the only way that makes sense to me.

If anyone tells you you need closure, don't listen to them. This is your son! You have to feel the pain. there is no closure. There is only you honouring the memory of him, being the mother he knew and staying true to that. There will be days when that will be easier than others. We live in a society that fears death and many people don't like talking about it. But it's the one true thing we all share. Don't let anyone sanitise your son's death, feel the pain, remember him, honour him by living well and true. One day there will come a time when the pain isn't as sharp. One day there will be the beginnings of acceptance. One day you'll be surprised by peace. I doubt there will ever be a time when you remember him without sadness and yearning but there is life to be lived. You have to do that for your daughters, and for him. He would want it. You need it.

Hanno and I send our sincere condolences to you and your family. I have no doubt there will be many readers who will do the same. There may be some who will share how they have coped with the death of a son or daughter. I hope this has given you some sort of comfort. I will be thinking of you in the days ahead and will stay in touch.


14 December 2011

Washing up - again!

I was asked at a recent workshop what liquid I use to wash up. This is such a painful question for me because I've been chopping and changing, searching for something that feels right. Older readers here would remember that we gave away our dishwasher a couple of years ago and had a new sink unit installed recently. Well, I love the new sink. It gives me the room I need for large pots to be soaked totally covered with water. In my old sink I could only fit large pots in on an angle. The new sink helps me clean and makes washing up a pleasure, and now I have finally decided on a washing up liquid I'm happy to use long term.

Honestly, I feel like I've split the atom. Of all the simple things to come undone over, this has been it for me. I just couldn't get it right. There are so many detergents containing harsh chemicals and, quite frankly, I prefer to use soap. I've been using my liquid soap but it takes so long to make up, I can't imagine doing it for all the years I have ahead of me. I tried using my bar soap and it is good on some things, not good on others. Yellow laundry soap was similar. The search was on. Over the past month or so I've been experimenting - looking for something I'm happy with and would be prepared to stay with for a long time. We are a frugal family and I have to feel confident about recommending what I use, so price is a consideration too. In the end, Ecostore dishwash liquid won because it's plant-based, it contains no Sodium Laurel Sulphate or any other nasties and it washes well. It's in the medium price range.  There are home brand detergents at 11 cents per 100ml up to Morning Fresh detergent at $1.07 per 100mls.  This is listed at 88 cents per 100mls on the Woolworths site, and I'm happy with that, knowing I'm getting a safe, effective cleaner that is plant-based. Although if Woolworths are going to sell it in the store at $3.99 by my calculations, that would be 79 cents per 100mls, not 88 cents.

Now let me absolutely open with you here. Ecostore contacted me a few months ago and asked me to review some of their products. I have used a few Ecostore products in the past and while I thought they did an excellent job and had good green credentials, they were too expensive, especially for products we buy a lot of, such as dish liquid. So I told them that. I said I couldn't recommend something that I thought was too expensive. Case closed.

About a month ago I was doing some shopping for the Centre at the local Woolworths. They had Ecostore dish liquid for $2.99 a 500 ml bottle. I bought one for home. I've been using it for a couple of weeks and have had absolutely no problems with it. It cleans everything well, there is a pleasant lemon fragrance, nothing over-powering, and the skin on my hands hasn't dried out or become itchy. Best of all, as it's plant based, I feel very confident using it. So I emailed them and asked if they'd changed their pricing policy.They told me Woolworths has a special price and they expect the price of their dish wash liquid to be $3.99. I just checked online and it's listed there for $4.29, but maybe the online price is higher than the store price. Does anyone know?

So long story short(ish), I bartered some dish wash liquid for this review and a sponsor button on my blog. They will be supplying me with dish liquid for the coming year. I want to reassure you that I will write the truth as I find it. I will keep an eye on the ingredients list and the amount in those bottles and if they change, I'll write about it. Liz, the woman I've been emailing with said she'd been making her own laundry liquid and power but when she went back to work she had no time to make it. She asked me if I would do a review on some laundry products. I've agreed to do that early in the new year. I've asked for the recommended retail prices to be sent too and I'll compare it to what I make here at home. If it compares well, I'll tell you that, if it doesn't, I'll tell you that too. I'm not about to sell my soul for the cost of a few cleaning products.

So there it is. I'm settled and happy with my choice. Now I can just get on with it and enjoy the washing up again - staring out the window at the fading vegetable garden, watching the birds fly in and out and thinking about all of life that is there to enjoy.


13 December 2011

Fruit slices - a quick and easy sweet treat

Sweet slices used to be very popular in Australia. A sandwich or base of pastry with a filling, sometimes fruit or custard, sometimes something more exotic. There was a time when many Australian social gatherings featured a variety of slices and cakes and everyone had their favourite recipe. But over the years slices have gone out of fashion. You still see them at some local and many country bakeries and bakers still pride themselves on their slices. Recently I was pleased to see Fiona at Inner Pickle blog feature a slice every Wednesday. She even wrote about my favourite slice - the coconut. It's a mixture of coconut topping with raspberry jam on a pastry base. Mmmmm. If you're looking for slice recipes go no further than Inner Pickle for fine recipes and excellent photos.

I make slices here occasionally and one of the reasons I'm writing about them today is that they're so easy to make and are a good way of using stockpile items - such as canned fruit. Hanno's favourite slice is my canned pineapple slice. These slices are great to have on hand over the holiday season because they're quick and easy to make and everyone loves them. If you're having relatives or friends visiting over the Christmas holidays, bake one of these slices and watch people line up for more.

The basic pastry for a slice is so easy to make and even if you're not a great pastry cook, this one will soon be added to your favourites. It's also a good base for cheesecake if you don't want to buy biscuits for a biscuit base.

SLICE PASTRY - enough for two slabs of pastry. If you're making a slice with no top, use half these quantities.
  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 155 grams (1 stick + 1 tablespoon) cold butter
  • 1 large egg
  • small amount cold water
Place flour, sugar and butter in a food processor and blitz until the butter is incorporated into the flour and sugar (20 seconds). Add the egg and process for 10 seconds. You want the flour mixture to look dry but when you take some in your hand, it presses together and doesn't fall apart. If it's too dry to do that, add a teaspoon of cold water and try again. When the pastry stays together in a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and sit it in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Press the pastry down with your fingers. You can go over it with the base of a glass if you want to even it out. I never do, this side of the base will be covered with filling.
Use enough flour on your bench and rolling pin so the pastry doesn't stick, but don't overdo the flour. Too much at this stage will make the pastry tough.
 I cut this pastry top in two so it was easier to place. The join was smoothed over with a sharp knife. Cut the edges off the pastry if it's too big for the baking tin.
I used last year's preserved peaches for this slice. I wanted to use them before we started buying this season's fruit. I didn't add cornflour to this filling and it's just a bit too moist. It tasted good though.
 The baked slice. You can just see where I joined the two pastry pieces together.

When you're ready to cook the slice, divide the pastry in two and put half in the base of a greased slice tin (35cm long x 20 cm wide x 4 cm deep) that is lined with baking paper. Press the pastry in with your fingers and make sure it's firm. Add the filling, then roll out the remaining pastry dough and carefully place it on the top of the filling. I often cut the top in two, it's easier to handle. This party is short so it has a tendency to crumble. The trick is to roll it out then gently roll it around the rolling pin to place it on the slice.

Here are two quick and easy fillings that do well in slices and pies. If you're looking for more filling recipes, just click on the Inner Pickle link above.

Pineapple slice
Large tin of pineapple pieces, including the juice
2 level tablespoons of cornflour

Place the pineapple pieces with juice into a saucepan. Remove about ¼ cup of the juice and mix it with the cornflour in a cup. Turn on the heat, mix the cornflour into the pineapples pieces and stir until the mixture thickens, then take off the heat and cool down a little.  

You could use any canned fruit you had on hand and just as with the pineapple filling, use the juice to mix in with the cornflour. Heat the fruit, add the cornflour and thicken, then cool.

QUICK CHEESECAKE FILLING - doesn't need cooking, will set in the fridge
375g soft cream cheese (13 oz)
1 tin condensed milk - my recipe for homemade is here
juice of 2 lemons

Mix the cream cheese with a hand beater until it's smooth. Add the condensed milk and lemon juice and mix until thoroughly combined.  Pour over an already cooked base.  Add some berry fruit for garnish - sliced strawberries or whole blueberries, and put in the fridge for about four hours,  or overnight, to set.


12 December 2011

Real life

Newcomers to the blog have sent a few emails recently asking how to start living more simply. I wish there was a clear answer to that but the truth is that simplifying is a rubbery customer that moulds around one's life to fit it like a glove; there is no one size fits all approach.  Some of you will be coming to this like we did - you want to live well while spending little money. The fact that it's a healthier way to live, it slows you down and connects you to your family is one of its many beauties and advantages. Others will be more overtly political and want to reduce, recycle, rethink and will probably join community action groups. Others will solely see the green options a simple life affords. Some will want to declutter and be more mindful. No matter what your reasons, there will be a way of living more simply that will suit you.

I am a very practical person and when I made my change it made sense to me to not only try to be thrifty but to do that by making as much as I could at home. Not having to buy commercial products saved us a lot of money and, more importantly, gave us the opportunity to reskill ourselves so we could do everything we wanted to do. Most of us have moved so far away from the old ways of doing things that it seems at first we'll never get back to basics. But for us it's been a wonderful and enriching experience. We are just normal people so if we can do this, everyone can - in their own way and time. Remembering what our mums and grandmas did when we were growing up, Hanno and I have been able to get back to those old ways and have discovered ourselves and a rewarding life while doing it. We started by shopping in a different way, that lead to learning about food storage, enlarging the garden, adding more chooks, adding more water tanks, worm farms, composting enough to feed the garden, making soap, preserving and freezing food, sewing, mending, recycling, reusing and many other things that used to be commonly done by all our families.

There is a big difference though. We have modern equipment now and while some of these tasks are time intensive, it doesn't take as long as you would think to make a lot of the things that are commonly bought. For us, bread making is now part of our day. We make soap and cleaners far less but even making a batch of soap that will clean us for three months, only takes 30 minutes. We know exactly what we're eating and putting on our skin and that has made us healthier than we used to be. Living this way has made us happier too. There is a connection made when you work alongside someone who is concentrating on tasks that help in day-to-day living. That connection isn't there in the same way by just picking up groceries at the shop, it's the tasks themselves that make the difference. That connection has made us happier, we are both focused on daily tasks that help us live this chosen life and while we do a lot of work in our home, we have a lot of rest time too.

So what should your first steps be? Well, think carefully about your reasons for change. What do you hope to get out of this? If it's for health, start with food and cleaning products. If it's for the sake of frugality, start with shopping and cooking from scratch. If you're a crafty type or are good with your hands, stop thinking of your crafts as a hobby; they're part of the work you do in your home. In most simplified homes there is a lot of modification to be done. If you're a great seamstress, painter, carpenter, or handyman, that will add more value to you as a skilled person. Whatever you start with, learn as much as you can about what you're doing, be mindful, stop multi-tasking, and slow down. If you're working full time and want to start simplifying, start by changing things you're already doing - like the way you shop, you might start a stockpile - that will save you money and time and when it's complete, you'll wonder how you ever got by without it. You could also start cooking from scratch more, maybe do some batch cooking on the weekends, learn how to take full advantage of your slow cooker, start cleaning with vinegar and bicarb and pack lunches for everyone who goes to work and school. Start tracking your money so you know what you're spending. Stop recreational shopping. You'll find that whatever you start with will lead you on to the next thing; just starting opens up all sorts of options and possibilities.

I didn't know what was waiting for me when I changed how I live. Back then there were very few blogs and no Australian books about the kind of simple life I wanted. I made it up as I went, you can too and there is nothing stopping you making a unique life unlike all others. So read as much as you can, then take control of your own life and do it your way. Don't let anyone tell you you're not doing it right. Don't be put off by family and friends who don't understand what you're trying to do - show them. It's tough at the start, but exciting too because this lifestyle will take you from being a passive onlooker to being in the driving seat. But as your life slowly changes and you become more satisfied and focused, your own life will provide the motivation to continue.

Way back then, I didn't know I'd be more confident and content than before. I didn't know how imporant my way of life would become and that it would change me completely. I thought I was just changing how I shopped and cleaned; but it is more, so much more. Had I know what I know now, I would have changed sooner. But if you're new to this, if you're yet to take those first steps, dive right in. This is significant change you're about to embark on, it may be simple but it's also meaningful, fulfilling and heart warming. This is real life.


9 December 2011

On my mind ... SAD UPDATE

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.

Two photos today to show you the two main characters on my mind. Mary's eggs are hatching, the first was already out and dry when we let the chooks out yesterday morning. We got Mary out to eat then she went straight back to sitting on the eggs. I'm hoping that when I go out this morning, there will be many more little fluff balls. This first one is a Barred Plymouth Rock.  Nicky, who sent us the eggs, said you can tell if they're male or female by the markings on the Rocks' heads. I am thinking this is a boy but I'm far from expert on this and I'll have to compare this little chick with the others, hopefully today. We have three Rock eggs and three buff Orpington.

UPDATED: I went out at 5.20am to let the girls out and looked into the nest. I was upset to find Mary sitting beside the eggs, not on them. I didn't see the chick, I thought it was under her wing. Mary looked at me then looked away. I just went out with Hanno, Mary and the chick are both dead. The eggs are stone cold.  :- (  We don't know what happened or what has killed Mary. She seemed okay yesterday. We have had sudden deaths like this before, I guess most people with chooks do, but this is very upsetting because she was sitting on eggs and had one chick hatch. I think she must have squashed the chick when she died. I guess we'll have to look for some pullets now.


8 December 2011

Cleaning up after making soap

I made soap again yesterday and it has given me a chance to reply to an email inquiry I had about a month ago. Jenine asked: "I was just wondering if maybe you could post or even just advise me on clean up after making the soap. I was a bit paranoid of making some chemical reaction from putting the bowl that had the lye in it, in the washing up water, or if there will be any reaction from washing the mixing bowl that I mixed the solution in with any other crockery or cutlery. I just washed everything in hot soapy water? I would appreciate any advise you could give me."

Firstly, as you're making the soap, when you pour the caustic/lye water into the oils, take 30 seconds to rinse out the measuring jug. You don't want to leave a jug that has traces of caustic soda/lye in it. Just a quick rinse will fix that. Also, before you start making soap, pour some cleaning vinegar onto a rag and leave it handy. If you spill or splash any caustic soda/lye, or any raw soap, just wipe it up with the vinegar rag.

When you're filling the soap moulds, make sure you use a spatula and scrape all the soap out of your mixing pot or bowl. Scrape off the mixer, spoons and jugs too. In fact anything that has been used in the soap making process should be scraped or wiped clean before washing so not too much raw soap goes down the drain.

Clean up straight away before the soap goes hard. If you need to use a cloth to clean up, such as around the blades of the mixer, use a rag. Let the rag sit for 24 hours to make sure the soap on it has cured a bit, and add it to the washing machine in your normal wash. When it's clean and dry, it can be used again just like any other rag.

I wash up by hand, so I scrape off everything I can, then fill the sink with hot water and add a good squirt of dishwashing liquid. The raw soap is fairly greasy at this point so you'll need to use a bit more than your usual amount of dishwashing liquid to cut through the grease. Add ½ cup of cleaning vinegar to the water to help neutralise the caustic soda/lye in the raw soap. There won't be much if you've been careful along the way but the vinegar will also help the water drain away well through the drain pipes. Clean everything thoroughly, carefully removing all traces of soap and rinse well. Then let it all dry on the dish drainer.

If you use a dishwasher, scrape and wipe off all the bowls, jugs and utensils, and place them in the dishwasher on a normal cycle.

One of the ways in which we can simplify our lives is to refuse to be sucked into buying new bits and pieces. Soap making is no exception. There is no need to buy a set of mixing bowls or a new mixer just for soap making. If you thoroughly clean every thing afterwards, whatever you use in your kitchen can be used for soap making too. You're cleaning raw soap off the bowls and mixer, not anything more sinister. Stainless steel and glass don't absorb anything. A good clean is all it needs and if you're unsure about the caustic soda/lye, add vinegar to your cleaning routine to neutralise it.

The baby chicks are due to hatch today! I didn't candle the eggs half way through so I'm not sure what to expect. I will be waiting with camera ready.


7 December 2011

Simple skin care - calendula salve

I made some calendula salve to apply to some rashes we both have. Calendula is easy to grow in most gardens and gives you a beautiful sun coloured cream that will soothe and nourish damaged and inflamed skin. Calendula salve can be made in different ways, this is how I do it.

You'll need:
  • A cup of fresh or dried calendula petals that haven't been sprayed with anything and have been organically grown.
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup melted beeswax
  • Emu oil or vitamin E oil are optional.
  • Pick petals when they're dry and add them to a white bowl - you can see any bugs better on a white background. 
  • Strip the petals from the flower heads and when you have a cup full, dry them out for a day.

  • The next day add them to a jar that you can seal with a lid.
  • Pour in a cup of olive oil.
  • Put the jar out in the sunshine for about two weeks. This solarises the mix and gently extracts healing properties from the calendula as the oil gently heats up every day.

  • When the oil has been sitting in the sun for two weeks, take the jar inside and strain the oil, removing the petals. You can use either cheesecloth or a fine wire strainer. 
  • Press the petals with the back of a spoon to release all the oil. Stand the jar in a container of hot water to heat the oil slightly so it will mix well with the hot wax.
  • In a double saucepan, melt the beeswax, allow it to cool down a little then add it to the oil. If you want to add vitamin E or emu oil, do it now. I add a small amount of emu oil because unlike most other oils, it helps the salve penetrate into the lower layers of skin.
  • I like to emulsify my salve. It lightens the colour and completely mixes the oils with the wax. Use a stick blender to do this - just 5 seconds should do the job well.
  • Pour into a sterilised jar and seal. I store this in the fridge. It will keep for at least a year.
Calendula salve is useful for rashes, nappy/diaper rash, inflamed skin, mild eczema, sunburn, burns, insect bites and probably many other things I haven't tried it on. I rub it into my hands when I've been using it elsewhere and my hands are lovely and soft at the moment. Making these simple salves helps provide good quality skin care that you can safely use on the family. You know exactly what's in them and they cost a tiny fraction of what you'd pay to buy something similar.

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