31 January 2012

Babies and books

I've been wanting to share some really special photos with you and today I have a good reason for it - apart from the fact that they're just so darn cute. Shane and Sarndra had some professional photos taken recently - a day in their life, and they said I could share them with you. This first photo of Alexander is part of that series, taken by photographer Hsu-Yin. I think you'll agree with me that they're charming and beautiful and from one who knows my family well, they have captured their truth. I invite you to look through the entire album on Hsu-Yin's blog.

This little red donkey that Alex has above is a Steiff animal I bought for Shane when he was a baby in Germany.

This photo of our little cutie pie Alex was taken by Sarndra to show an outfit that Aunty Benita sent from England. Alex is almost seven months now and he has seven teeth. :- )

And here is the gorgeous Jamie, all dressed up on Christmas morning on his way to visit Santa at the Neighbourhood Centre.
Jamie again discovering our floor for the first time on Christmas Eve. No doubt this is territory he will walk for many years to come.

I had a lot of inquires yesterday about sending a signed copy of my book to all corners of the world. Thank you for your interest in it. Hanno spent quite a bit of time looking around as different options and gave me the rates when I came home last night. It's not good news - the book weighs over 1 kg (2.2lbs)  and the international postage is quite expensive, especially when you consider it is on top of the book price of $35.

New Zealand - $30.50
Asia-Pacific - $37.00
USA - Canada - Middle East - $43.25
The rest of the world - this takes in UK,  Europe and South Africa - $53.25

But there is some good news. If you go to the Fishpond au site, you'll find their postal rates. They're reasonable because they send out so many books and are much more attractive than the prices at our local PO. I am guessing that most of the online stores would have similar rates, but you'd have to check if you wanted to use a different store.

Of course, if you still want to go ahead with your international order, let me know and we'll add your name to our list, but I'm assuming that everyone of you will order online. One of the readers suggested I sign a name plate and I would be happy to do that. I'm sorry, I forget who mentioned it. If you buy a book online or in a book shop and you'd like me to write an inscription, just send me a letter with a stamped self-addressed, return envelope and I'll make up some name plates, inscribe one to you and send it back. Then you can paste it into your book. Our postal address is: Rhonda Hetzel, PO Box 249, Landsborough, 4550, Queensland, Australia.

So I'm keeping all the orders we got from Australian readers and over the next day, I'll be contacting all of you with our bank details.  I'm assuming all international orders are cancelled unless you contact me to tell me otherwise.

Please accept this as a response to your email - there are over a hundred emails just from yesterday and it would take me too long to reply personally to all of you. And if you did send an email, thank you so much for so many words of kindness. It was a real treat for me to read them all. I am very thankful I am part of this wonderfully supportive online community. I well and truly feel the love. Thank you.


30 January 2012

Three keys ways to save time and money

Thanks to everyone who sent an order or an inquiry about buying my book. I've answered some of you and will answer you all when Hanno gets more information from the post office. We're trying to get the best possible price for you all but so far, for overseas sales, it's looking pretty expensive. I'll have more information this afternoon and I'll try to answer all the emails from other countries when I come home tonight.


Last week someone asked me if it is possible for those who work for a living to live a simple life.  The answer was a resounding and positive "yes!". I write about this subject from my own perspective and as we're retired folk, we have time to give to a variety of activities. However, what happens if you have less time? I know of many younger people living this way and many of them go to work most days and have two days at home - just like we used to.

This simple way of living is like a piece of elastic. You can stretch it every which-way and it will fit around whatever you're doing at your particular stage of life. You can live simply in the city, the suburbs or the country. You can be a stay at home homemaker or go out to work. You can be a woman or a man, a couple, single, or with a brood of children. The thing that will distinguish you from your contemporaries if you live this way is that you'll make a commitment to conserve rather than splurge, you'll recycle and repair, you'll see the value in eating local and seasonal food, you'll take your own shopping bags or a basket to the shops instead of relying on plastic bags, you'll be paying off debt rather than adding to it. Basically, you'll be stepping back from the cult of convenience and trying to become more self-reliant. And along the way, you'll develop several strategies that help you save both time and money so you have that precious duo to use as you need to.

I thought it would be helpful for some of you who don't have a lot of time in the home and newcomers to this way of living, if I went over a few of the day-to-day tasks that will save you money and time. You may believe, like the person who asked the question did, that you don't have the time for these kinds of things, but I'm here to suggest three key points to you and to encourage you towards them.

Stockpiling groceries, especially if you're in a large family, or even a couple like Hanno and I, will give you the convenience of having a cupboard full of groceries available to you 24 hours a day, most of which have been bought on sale. I recommend you start a stockpile. I started mine by putting aside a certain amount of money each week to buy whatever we used or ate that was on sale that week. I guess it took about three or four months to have my stockpile cupboard at the stage it is kept at now. We have enough non-perisable food, groceries and toiletries here to last us about three months. It's a great insurance policy - if a family member loses a job or if someone is sick, you know that you can still put food on the table every night.

My stockpile cupboard is above. That holds all the groceries that I've not started using yet. Below is my pantry, it is where I store the items I'm using at that time. As soon as something is opened, it goes from the stockpile to the pantry.

Don't forget to include your preserves in your stockpile. When you make jam or relish, try to make enough for six months or so. And don't forget your freezer. If you have too much silverbeet/chard or beans or whatever - either harvested from your own garden or bought cheaply at the market, freeze it. Preserves and frozen vegetables make a valuable addition to your stockpile.

The thing that will support you cooking from scratch more than anything else is to have the ingredients you need at hand. If your children come home from school and hand you a note saying they need to have some cupcakes for the school fair the next day, no problem. If someone drops by out of the blue for dinner, you won't be frantic wondering what you'll feed them. And it is a great time saver too. When you have that cupboard to the capacity to want, you won't have to shop every week. You'll keep scanning the sales flyers and shop only when you see a bargain, or to pick up fresh milk, fruit and vegetables. Your weekly shop will be replaced by a top-up shop once a month. There is a post here about how to set up a stockpile.

Those of you who don't make your own cleaners will probably be surprised to know that laundry power takes about one minute to mix up; laundry liquid takes a bit longer but it's much more economical. It takes me 15 minutes from start to finish with the liquid. That makes up 10 litres and that will see us through at least four months. I'm sure you'll agree, 15 minutes every four months is not much when you consider what a saving it is. Depending on how large your family is, that four months of commercial laundry liquid would cost about $60 in Australia, homemade will cost you about six dollars and you'll have ingredients left over for another batch. But it's the time saving I'm highlighting here. If you have the ingredients on hand, you'd be able to make up enough for months in less than the time it would take you to go to the supermarket to buy the commercial stuff. And it works! The recipe is here.

Don't forget to stockpile the ingredients for your green cleaners. If you have them on hand, you're more likely to get into the habit of using them.

It will take you less that a minute to fill a spray bottle with vinegar, that can be used as an all purpose spray and wipe type cleaner. Adding bicarb to laundry liquid and stirring it will take about two minutes and you can use that to clean the bath or sink.  As you can see, green cleaners can save you a lot of money. What I hope you realise now is that even if you work outside the home, you can make all these cleaners up in less than 15 minutes, then it will be a long time before you have to go through the process again. Not only will they save you time and money, they're a much healthier option for you and your family.

It's a wonderful habit to get into to do some batch cooking on the weekends. If you have a couple of spare hours, you have a cooking session and then you've got three or fours meals in the freezer to feed the family during the week.  When you come home, you know the meal is there, all you have to do is warm it up while the kids set the table. Goodbye takeaways and convenience foods! But I know that many of you don't have that spare time on the weekends, and even if you do, you're so tired, cooking is the last thing you want to give two hours to. 

Using homemade chicken stock in my cooking. Every time I make meals that are suitable for freezing, I make enough for two meals and freeze half.

But there is another way to squirrel away a meal or two without going to too much extra effort. There are many meals that you can cook on a week night that can easily be doubled up. You eat half straight away, the other half is frozen for later. Meals like meat sauce for pasta can be used for tacos or turned into savoury mince a few night later. Chicken curry, beef stew, soups, pizza, stroganoff, can all be made in large batches and the second half frozen. Any roast meat or chicken can be eaten as a hot roast one night and turned into a quick curry or stir fry the following night. If one chicken is enough for your family for one meal, then cook two at a time and save the second in the fridge. It saves electricity, time and effort. If you can get into the habit of cooking double batches, and you seal them up and mark them correctly, you'll often have a meal waiting in the freezer on those nights when you run late or you're just too tired to cook everything from scratch.

Making chicken stock from scratch.

Another cooking method that will save you time is slow cooking. Just load the slow cooker in the morning before you go to work, turn it on low, make sure it's on a sturdy surface and the cord is safety tucked away and you can leave it all day to cook. If you have a large slow cooker, make a double batch and freeze half of it.

These three key steps will help you get closer to your goals. They don't take a lot of time but by doing them, you'll save time and money. There is no magic fairy who will come down and transform your life to a more simple one, but these steps will help you get there. Once you've got these three key things as part of your life, you can move on to another three. Good luck!


28 January 2012

Signed copies of my book

I'll be sending in an order to Penguin soon so I can sell signed copies of my book. If you'd like to order a signed copy, please send me an email (rhondahetzel@gmail.com) with this information:
  1. your name and address
  2. the number of books you would like to order
  3. the name you want me to write in the inscription
I don't want to over-order and be left with books here. If you read this at the forum as well, only order once.

We are trying to keep the costs low for you. In Australia, the book will cost $35, plus postage of $15, so Australian orders will be $50 each, or $85 for two signed copies.

If you live in another country and want to order a signed copy, send me your address and I'll get a quote for the postage. The book will be A$35.

When you send the email, I'll send back our banking details. 

The books will be posted 15 February and after your payment has cleared.

You can pre-order unsigned copies of the book at any of the online book stores below. Some of the online stores don't charge postage if you're in Australia.
I will be signing books when Hanno and I travel around but I don't know exactly where we'll be yet. At the moment I know we will be in Sydney, Melbourne, Wollongong, Canberra and some places in between. I'll also be signing at a few places near where I live. I'll let you know when I do.

27 January 2012

Weekend reading

This is my regular Friday feature in which I share a few things I've read or watched recently and some blogs that have inspired me in some way. We all know the internet is an amazing place, with many nooks and crannies to explore. I hope these links reveal interest and beauty you might not otherwise have found.

Thank you for your visits this week. I've enjoyed our discussions. We have had over 400mm (15 inches) of rain since Monday. The forecast for the coming days is for continued rain. I hope your weather is a bit better than ours and that you have a beautiful weekend.  


26 January 2012

How far is too far?

Happy Australia Day to my fellow Australians! Whether you celebrate quietly with Vegemite on toast while watching the cricket, or at a BBQ with a lot of people, fireworks and wine, I hope you enjoy today. We have a lot to be thankful for.

Just after Christmas I had to go to town to buy a couple of things at the post-Christmas sales. I grabbed my trusty small brown leather bag that I can fit my wallet and keys in, and left. When I paid for my purchase, I was a bit embarrassed to see the shop assistant looking at the inside lining of my bag which was ripped and tatty looking. It had been like that for quite a while. On the way out of the department store, I went to the bag department and looked for another bag. This little brown bag of mine has been my sole leather handbag for at least 20 years. It's probably older than that, but let's say 20. I like it because it's very good soft leather, made in the UK and I can sling it over my chest and have my hands free to pick up things for a closer look.

So, there I was in the handbag department, thinking I'd pick up a good bag for $50 on sale. I almost dropped when I realised the bag I liked, something similar to my little brown number, was $225, reduced by $100. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE DOLLARS for a handbag? I think not. I put the bag down and went home.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in my workroom and looked at my handbag again. I decided to fix it. I carefully cut the old lining out and made up a rectangle of cotton. While I was sewing it on my machine, Hanno came in to ask me something and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him I was fixing my bag. He sort of rolled his eyes at that news, asked me his question, then left.  As I continued on my task, I wondered if I was being a bit too enthusiastic about recycling this bag.

I've thought about it for a while now and I know I did the right thing, for me. I fixed my wallet about a year ago. Same story - good soft leather (so I could stitch it on my machine), with the lining pulled away from the edge. Then I just tidied up the lining and restitched it. It's perfect and I've been using it for the past year with absolutely no problems. That wallet is probably 20 years old too. While I was doing my repairs I kept thinking that an animal had died to supply meat and the leather and that to throw it away without getting the full value of that sacrifice would be disrespectful and mean spirited.  Those two items demonstrate to me the wise economy of buying the best quality you can afford with the intention of making repairs as you go through the years to realise the full value. All it needs now is a good clean and reconditioning with some Dubbin and it'll be ready to go for another 20 years. : - )

But it got me thinking about how far we push ourselves when we recycle. I believe that if something is still serviceable and fixable, then you put the effort in. I don't care about fashion - in fact, it doesn't enter into my head at all when I'm thinking about recycling (or ever). But am I alone in this? How far do you go? If someone you know thought it was a bit extreme to recycle a handbag like this, would it stop you doing it? Would you even care? My answers are no and no, what are yours?


25 January 2012

Making ginger beer from scratch

We had a nice supply of ginger beer going over Christmas. It's a delicious soft drink for young and old, although there is an alcoholic version that can be made with a slight variation on the recipe. Ginger beer is a naturally fermented drink that is easy to make - with ginger beer you make a starter called a ginger beer plant and after it has fermented, you add that to sweet water and lemon juice. Like sourdough, it must ferment to give it that sharp fizz.

To make a ginger beer plant you'll need ginger - either the powdered dry variety or fresh ginger, sugar, rainwater or tap water that has stood for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate off. You'll also need clean plastic bottles that have been scrubbed with soap, hot water and a bottle brush and then rinsed with hot water. I never sterilise my bottles and I haven't had any problems. If you intend to keep the ginger beer for a long time, I'd suggest you sterilise your bottles.

In a wide-mouthed, sterilised jar, place 1½ cups rainwater and add one dessert or soup spoon of ginger and one of sugar. You don't have to be exact but be mindful that if you add a lot of ginger you'll have a strong tasting drink and if you add too much sugar it will be very sweet.  Every day for seven days add those amounts of ginger and sugar and mix it in well. Fermented foods and drinks thrive in aerobic conditions, so make sure you give it a good stir and mix in a lot of air.

Depending on how much natural yeast is floating around your kitchen, by about day three you'll notice small bubbles appearing in the ginger mix each day when you add the ginger and sugar (see photo above). That means the natural yeasts in the air you're breathing have colonised the ginger beer plant, they're eating the sugar and giving off carbon dioxide - the bubbles.

Leave the mix sitting out on the kitchen counter during the entire seven day process and cover it with a loose weave cloth or net to allow the yeasts to enter but keep out insects. This is an entirely natural and very healthy process. Fermentation needs a warm environment to flourish so any Australian or New Zealand kitchen in summer, or any northern hemisphere heated kitchen in winter would provide the right temperature.

On the seventh day, feed the plant, and using a wire strainer and some muslin, cheese cloth or loose weave cotton, strain the ginger mix through the cloth into a large bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as possible into the bowl. This is what flavours  the drink and continues to ferment it in the bottles. If it hasn't started fermenting, give it another week - keep feeding it and see what happens.

When all the ginger starter is in the bowl, add four litres of water, 2 - 3 cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. Mix well until the sugar has dissolved.

Bottle this using plastic bottles and let them sit on the kitchen counter for a couple of days to continue fermenting and develop the fizz again. Then add the tops and put the bottles in the fridge.

When it's cold and you can see bubbles on the side of the bottle (see above), it's ready to drink.

If you want to make an alcoholic version of this, add ¼ teaspoon of brewers yeast that you can buy at the local brewing shop. The instructions and recipe for the River Cottage alcoholic ginger beer is here.

Once you have made the starter and strained the mix into your bowl, the remains of the starter can be used again to start off another batch. Throughly clean and sterilise the jar again, drop the old starter into the jar and repeat the above process. This time the mix will ferment quickly, probably on day two.

I know there a lot of germaphobes out there who are probably cringing while reading this post, but I encourage you all to try this. It's a similar thing to sourdough and yoghurt, using beneficial yeasts and bacterias to start the fermentation. This is better for you than a lot of the other soft drinks/sodas and it's a great drink to have over Christmas or at social events when you want to offer a non-alcoholic refreshing drink to both adults and children.


24 January 2012

Simple, hands-on living

I live a charmed life. We live here, on this fertile land with a creek running by it, at the end of a one-lane street, surrounded by a few neighbours and bushland. We use our land; it is one of our assets and to not use it productively would shame us. We grow food and keep chickens and that allows us to eat fresh organic produce that we would not be able to afford if we had to buy it all the time. But I'm aware that this kind of living is not within everyone's reach. It wasn't within our reach for a long time either, but both Hanno and I worked hard, made sacrifices and eventually bought and paid for our home for about a quarter the price of what we'd pay for it now. I know a fair amount of luck helped us along the way - we had no major illnesses, we had great kids, we both had good jobs, but work was the main contributor; we knuckled down and made the most of our opportunities. We've been here 15 years now and I'm pretty sure this is where we'll die.

Twilight in the hen house. Broody hen Kylie is still on the nest and joining her are friends Nora, Lillian, Flora and Annie. Soon they'll be too big to share a room.

Today I thought I'd write about building a wonderful lifestyle from nothing, or turning plain life into something exceptional, because that is what I think we have done. When we arrived at this doorstep all those years ago we had a very basic brick slab house in a historic town that very few people found attractive enough to put down roots in. Most of the new people moving to this area went further down to the more fashionable part of the coast where there is a lot of traffic, the houses are built right up to the fence line and were more likely to have a swimming pool in the backyard than a vegetable garden and chooks. We chose here because the house blocks were big, the houses were old and on our patch, our house was surrounded by virgin land and a permanent creek made up the back boundary. When we bought this place, there were no fences, no gardens, no water tanks, no out buildings, no verandahs, no solar panels. 

It was a big leap to get here but we made what we have now in small steps. The first thing we did was put in a water tank and then Hanno built a chook house. While he was doing that, Shane and I started work on the gardens, enriching the clay in the back yard with homemade compost, lawn clippings, old paper, manures and just about anything else we could lay our hands on. I knew we could grow vegetables here but I also knew they wouldn't thrive in the soil as it was then. For successful and abundant harvests we needed to put work into the soil. We needed to add life. We did that and with work and time, we turned clay into dark, rich soil.

And that is what we've tried to do with everything along the line. The main ingredient was work, and when we did that, it brought in new life. From those very humble beginnings, slowly,  when we worked enough to afford it, we added skylights to dark rooms, whirly birds to extract hot air from the roof space, we added a bedroom, put up fences, put in an organic vegetable garden and many fruit trees. We bought a large shed to house our straw and for Hanno to use as a workshop. Almost ten years after we added that first water tank, we added another. We invested in solar energy - in the first few years we bought a solar hot water unit, last year we bought solar panels. It's the smallest unit but it's a huge help to us in managing our electricity bills. We don't use much electricity but even with this tiny unit, we are now in credit. Hanno built our chook house and the bush house from mostly recycled materials. It's been a lot of work, and it's been slow, but now we have a productive and comfortable little homestead here that suits us perfectly.

There is no doubt that a simple life is hands-on living. There is no standing back from this. There is no buying into it, you can't pay someone else to do the daily work. If you want to live this way, you dive in head first and expect that work will be part of it. Never be afraid of work, it can be a great teacher over time and I know for sure, that I would be a different person now if I had not done the work. But how do you decide what work needs to be done when you find yourself at your own front door for the first time, or if you want to stay where you are, but change how you live? Decide what you want - is it to work for a living and pay off your mortgage as fast as possible? If so, add few things to your home, concentrate on saving money and cutting back as much as you can. Recycle, make a budget, and when time allows cook from scratch, bake and make green cleaners. All those things will save you money. When you've paid off your debt you can work with a different focus. What if you want to live like Hanno and I? Well, identify what you can do in your own backyard, what livestock you can realistically keep, put up fences, water tanks and out buildings when you can afford them, and start off ordering heirloom seeds and keeping pure breed chooks and go from there. And what if you're aiming for a mix of both those options? If you're part of a couple, each take the part you would do best. Talk to each other - this way of living can be tough, you need to have a faithful shoulder to lean on. If you're alone, or with children, it will be slower and tougher but still doable. As the children grow, teach them what you need them to do that is appropriate for their age. Learn new skills so you can do the tasks you want to do. You might want to make cheese or soap, or sew. Learn how. It's all part of it. Try to find people in your community who live this way and befriend them. If you can't find anyone, join an online forum that will support and encourage you - they are out there. Be part of your commuunity. You will get more from that than you expect to.

We've just spent a couple of very relaxed weeks when we didn't do anything much outside except to care for the chooks. We read, watched the cricket, I knitted, Hanno spent time on the computer and we had a fine time recuperating from the past year. But you know, even though I loved those two weeks, if I lived like that all the time I would grow to hate it. I think we set our value by the work we do and for me, the work we do not only gives us some of what we need here, it also gives me my sense of worth. During our time off I had trouble sleeping and have only the past week got back into my normal sleeping pattern. That tells me that our work makes us tired enough to trigger our bodies to sleep. Work is part of our natural 24 cycle and without it, our patterns are out of sync.

There is a lot to be said for a good days work, carried along with a certain rhythm, and dotted with restful periods.  It allows you to notice what's happening around you, it helps you get through tasks without being stressed, and as you tick off items from your list, you develop an appreciation for your ability to carry out the work needed in your home and the satisfaction of doing it. Self reliance is a wonderful thing.

If you're at the very beginning of this beautiful journey we call simple life, don't be impatient for everything to be there right now. Building most things from scratch, and using what you already have, is part of it. The slow steps of work tasks will help you develop an understanding for the life you're building and it will allow you to really live each day and not wish it all away. There was a time when instead of slowing piecing together my daily tasks I avoided housework; now I know it was the work that made me what I am today. So if you are at the beginning of your own journey, or stuck along the way somewhere unsure of what your next move is, just decide on something, then work slowly towards it. There are no prizes for speed here and it doesn't matter if you can't afford everything you want or even need to have. Slow down, disengage from the rat race and work slowly towards the life you want. There will be no end point, there is always something to do next, but you will get to a stage when you can see your own progress and the real difference it makes to your life, and that, my friends, is a fine prize.

23 January 2012

Pre-ordering the book

With less than a month to go until the book is released, there has been a lot going on here behind the scenes.  Hanno and I are planning our trip down south and the publicity and promotion have step up a notch. Penguin have added a "look inside" feature to my section of their website. If you go there, you'll be able to see the table of contents and a couple of pages of the book. And  for international readers who want to buy the book, or any of my Australian friends who want to buy it online, you can pre-order now at the following online book shops. All the shops in this list will send the book out around Australia and internationally:
They're all well know businesses in Australia, so don't worry about placing an online order.

When I go to these places, or if I catch sight of the book sitting in my bookshelf, it still surprises me to see my name there. A lot of water has run under the bridge since I first thought of writing this book. I originally wrote a couple of chapters and sent them off to three Australian publishers. They were rejected. I was disappointed, but to tell you the truth, I wasn't surprised. But I thought I had some good ideas and that if I could get them out so that others could read them, they'd be able to work towards the same kind of day-to-day happiness that Hanno and I had discovered. Well, to cut a long story short, I started this blog with the beginnings of that first book and it was the blog that led, first my agent, then Penguin, to me and this book.

And now, here we are planning a road trip to promote the book and to meet as many of you as we can. I'll have more details next week about where we'll be but I do hope that if we are close by you'll come out and say hello. You'll recognise us, we'll be the ones with the Thermos of tea. ; - )

My other news is that I'll be on ABC radio in NSW, state-wide except Sydney, on Tuesday 31 January. They're starting a new segment on simple living and I have the honour of being the first guest.  Also, during the first week of February, Channel 7 will be here filming for a segment on Sunrise. For our international readers, Sunrise is one of our national TV morning programs. I'll let you know when that will be on air.

As you can see there is some excitement coming up but in the meantime, we still have life skills workshops at the Neighbourhood Centre to present, there are many blog posts yet to be written and a lot of day-to-day living to be done. I don't want to get ahead of myself, still, it is exciting to think about it.


20 January 2012

Weekend reading

This is my regular Friday feature in which I share a few things I've read or watched recently and some blogs that have inspired me in some way. We all know the internet is an amazing place, with many nooks and crannies to explore. I hope these links reveal interest and beauty you might not otherwise have found.

Life is starting to get busy here again so I'm looking forward to a quieter weekend. I hope you can relax at home too. See you again next week!

19 January 2012

Summer knitting

Of all the things I do during the course of a normal day, the one thing that is guaranteed to help me relax is knitting.  Who would have thought that winding a long piece of wool or cotton around a couple of bamboo sticks would clear the mind and produce such wonders. And it's such an old craft, unchanged over all our years, and more. I always have some form of knitting on the go. The repetitive nature of it helps me relax, it also helps me think, it's a movable feast so I can easily take it with me when I go out and after all that winding, we have something useful.

If you're new to knitting or you're struggling with a project, we have a group of experienced knitters at the forum who are always willing to help. To start knitting without someone at your side to guide you, simply go to Youtube and search for "how to knit". That is what I do when I want to learn a new stitch. You can stop the recording and go back, many times if you need to. To start knitting, all you need to learn is cast on, cast off, knit and purl. Start by knitting a square dishcloth - cast on 30 - 40 stitches, using knitting or crochet cotton. You'll be able to practise your stitches, work out the tension and still come out at the end of it with something you can use.

Alexander's cotton cardigan.

Late last year, I finally finished the organic cotton cardigan I made for Alexander. I chose cotton because it allows air circulation and in our climate, it can be worn almost all year. The yarn I used is from EcoYarns. It's a really soft on the skin and I feel happy giving it to my grandsons knowing no harmful chemicals are lurking.

I confess, I now have two knitting baskets.

I recently received the beautiful Jo Sharp cotton you see in the photo above from Rachael. She has been reading my blog for a long time and wrote asking if I would like her to send the cotton. She was too busy to use it - she has three children and had just given birth to twin boys!  She had started on a couple of face cloths - and included them as well (beautiful knitting, Rachael!) so I'm going to continue as Rachael started and use this cotton for face cloths. It's Australian cotton and it's really soft and luxurious. I'd never heard of Jo Sharp before - it's frightening how much I don't know - but I'm very pleased I have this here now and I'm looking forward to knitting with it. Thank you Rachael.

I'll be starting on this little hat soon - one for Alexander, one for Jamie.

Summer is knitting time for me. It's usually the time of year when I slow down and sit in front of the TV watching cricket. When you get to slow down after a year of hard work, life is very sweet and about as good as it gets. But even though I take it easy then, I like to stay productive, so I start up a couple of new projects and I try to finish off those I started earlier in the year. The one I still need to finish is Hanno's jumper that I started too long ago to remember and said I would have ready by winter. Gulp. Having finished the front and the back, I only have the two sleeves to go. It should have been within my limited powers to do that over the Christmas-New Year period, but I didn't.

I did finish the little cotton teddy bear though. This is for one of the babies. It's made using Japanese organic cotton which isn't as soft as the Peruvian cotton but it knits up beautifully and I'm sure will last for many years, every with constant machine washing.

The beginnings of a cowl scarf for me using organic cotton. I love knitting with this - it feels beautiful as it slips through my fingers and it knits up wonderfully. I can't wait for winter when I have this wrapped warmly around my neck.

Tricia's work mittens made with organic baby Alpaca - two strands. They're really warm and very light.

I started two new projects over Christmas - a pair of wrist warmers for my sister whose is celebrating her birthday today. Happy birthday Tricia!. Tricia lives in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, where it's very cold, even in summer. So I thought she'd like some wrist warmers that she can wear around the house while she's doing her housework or gardening.  My other project is a cowl scarf for me in winter. The pattern is on the wonderful Pickles site.

And finally, I just had to show you this little teaser - it's a page from my book with the blue Japanese cotton I used for the teddy bear, and some of my needles. I had to include a tiny bit of knitting in the book. Any book about our lives here would not ring true without some reference to knitting. The book will be publish on 22 February. When I know about overseas sales I'll let you know.

I have no doubt that my northern hemisphere friends are knitting away by the fire, but we down under can continue our knitting on throughout summer too. If you're working on one project or three (or more) like me, I'd love to know what you're knitting.


18 January 2012

Rising child care costs

There is no doubt about it, the cost of living continues to rise and unless we take stock of what we can do in our own lives, we'll be swept along with those rising costs. I watched a TV report on child care costs last week. Apparently, in Australia, those costs are about to rise. When I looked into it further online, Australia isn't the only country this is happening in. I found information about rising child care costs in Canada, the UK and USA, I have no doubt that other smaller countries like Australia are feeling the pinch too.

I guess this is a good time to mention the quality of child care. I hope you're not in the position of having to take the cheapest care you can get, regardless. Whoever you choose has to be trustworthy, experienced and reliable. When you have those three necessities confirmed in your own mind, then ask about the cost. But if what you're paying now is at the upper limit of your spending range? There may be possibilities that don't involve child care centres or child care workers you don't know.

Work from home
When I had my babies, I stayed at home to look after them. It wasn't common then but Hanno was earning a good wage, so we had that option. When my boys went to school I was in the fortunate position of being able to work from home and although it was bedlam some days, most of my work fitted in when Shane and Kerry were at school or before they woke in the morning. If you're in a job where you could work from home, and it's becoming much more common now, think about how it would work in your particular circumstances and if you think you could do it, ask about it.

Home business
The internet has provided a means by which many people earn money at home. If you have an idea for a business, want to make money from a hobby or have a friend or two that could pool resources, ideas and effort, you might set up a business and work from home. If you have the business set up in one of your homes and have three or four working partners, maybe it would be wise for one parent to take it in turns to look after all the children while taking the day away from the business. One of the advantage of this is that babies can still be breastfed and see a parent during the day.

Stagger your shifts
Depending on your jobs, you may be able to stagger your shifts - having one parent at home with the children while the other is at work. This might add pressure because everything would have to run like clockwork, every day, but if it did work, you'd still have the double income and be able to care for your children in your own home.

Relatives or friends
Another option is to ask a relative or friend who is at home all day if they would care for your child/ren. Expect to pay for this too, even though it may not be accepted, you should offer. Hanno and I would take care of our grandsons at the drop of a hat if we lived closer and were asked. I would feel privileged to do it, I'm pretty sure Hanno would too. But if the person you ask says no, there should be no hard feelings. Many people who are at home every day have hobbies, clubs and friends that fill their days and sometimes grandparents think they've already been through their child rearing years and don't want to go back. If they say no, accept it with grace and move on to Plan B.

But what happens if you can't do any of the above or simply choose to stay at home with your baby/children? I believe that's the exciting option. I am aware that for many, it is a big emotional and financial commitment to give up paid work and stay home to raise children, but many people do it, and do it happily. In my own family, Sarndra and Sunny both gave up work to look after their babies while Shane and Kerry continued working to bring home a wage. Both couples are renting accommodation and they're getting by just fine. Of course, it doesn't have to be the woman who stays at home with the children, many men find this a satisfying and enriching experience too. If you've been forced into giving up work, see it as a way of taking control of your home and running it cost-effectively while at the same time, improving the quality of your home and your home life. Babies and small children thrive in a warm and nurturing home, and the housework can stop and start according to their needs.

If you're trying to decide whether to go with child care or stay at home, make sure you make your decision with realistic understanding of your own financial situation and how much you actually benefit from working. You have to take into account things like the costs of transport, work clothes and shoes, grooming, lunches, drinks and the convenience foods or takeaways you buy when you're too tired or too late to cook something. Add all those expenses up and deduct them from the amount of money you bring in every week or month. You need to make your decision based on your net wage, not your gross wage. If you're not earning a large amount, when you have to add the cost of child care into your weekly expenses, it may mean it doesn't make good financial sense to work. Or if you're getting by when you have one child, adding a second child care cost might tip the scale. Whatever you do, make sure you do it knowing exactly what you gain and lose with the decision.

And also consider what you'll  be able to save at home when you actively work at cutting costs, shop for bargains, grow some food, cook from scratch, make your own cleaners and laundry products. You'll also be able to monitor your use of water and electricity, make a good work lunch for your partner, recycle, mend, sew for the baby and your home. You might even get into knitting, baking or soap making. All these activities are possible in the average home and are becoming more popular. They're seen now as not only a way of saving money but also eco-friendly and healthy.

So if you're faced with rising costs, start keeping track of the money you spend so you know exactly what your real expenses are, then sit down with your partner and work out how you can go forward. Life is rarely black or white, there are usually options in between that, with a bit of tweaking, will work well for you. When you decide on the way forward, work hard at it so it gives the entire family the best chance of living well. And if you decide that you'll take that giant leap from paid work to staying at home - you, my friend, have a wonderful opportunity ahead of you. Dive in.

Rising child care costs:
Info about childcare rebates in Australia
United Kingdom
United States


17 January 2012

Routines and how to build them

By the look of the comments yesterday, there is a need for another bread tutorial. I didn't have time yesterday to answer the bulk of your comments and I'm flat out busy today but later in the week I'll do a tutorial at the forum and you can ask questions as we go along. If you have a photo of your problem bread, you can post it and I'll see if I can work out how you can change your method and improve your bread. Mostly though, it will most likely be a problem with kneading or dead yeast, but let's go at it methodically later in the week and hopefully we can get your bread lighter and many more cheese rolls on the kitchen table.


If we want to continue to live as we do, Hanno and I must be organised. Living simply often requires us to hand-make what we use here at home and it means we don't buy convenience food. Among other things, we cook from scratch, make our own cleansers and grow food in the backyard. All that home production and scratching takes time but the one thing that helps me do what I want to do is to be organised. I'm not talking about the perfect well run precision of a ship, or even Fly Lady-type routines. I get through my work well using a loose system of lists, time limits, mindful housework and a routine that builds out of that every day. I think about tasks in groups, make a list every morning and that allows me to get everything done while allowing a certain level of spontaneous additions.

When I talk about tasks in groups, I mean that if I'm in the kitchen, I will group a list of kitchen tasks together. If I'm outside, I'll do the outside chores. I can go back to a certain area, and I often have kitchen tasks in the morning and afternoon, but once I'm in a certain spot, I'll do more than one activity.

I work out of our home and in it and have a family and other engagements to consider, I rely heavily on my calendar. I have two - a written diary-type book and my computer calendar. As soon as I make an appointment, have a deadline, need to be somewhere, call someone on the phone, I enter it in my computer calendar. I set the calendar alarm to automatically send me an email the day before and set an audio alarm for 15 minutes before the event as well.

The other part of my plan is to make a list in the morning. I don't make weekly lists and I don't use a regular daily list because things change a lot and most things we do here are done when they're needed, not to a timetable. I rise at 4am, write my blog, answer emails, check the forum and then I make my daily list. I have usually jotted down some dot points the day before as I go along and the list starts from that.

A daily list might look something like this, it usually starts with what we're having for dinner. If I need to get anything out of the freezer, I do it first thing. On the days I go to the neighbourhood centre, Hanno cooks dinner, so on work days, the list doesn't start with dinner, Hanno chooses what we eat. The blog and forum don't feature on the list because I do the blog before I write it and I check the forum when I have the time for it. I also don't write that we sit down for meals or tea, have showers, clean our teeth; they are a natural part of our day and the other things wrap around them. I want my  daily list to build into a routine so it contains my "compass points", things that change most days and what I must remember.
  • Salmon rissoles and salad for dinner
  • Make bed
  • Make bread + cake or biscuits
  • Take photos
  • Defrost butter and beans
  • Dry and blitz bread for crumbs, freeze
  • Make ice cubes
  • Sweep and wash kitchen floor
  • Go to hairdresser for hair cut
  • Water bush house plants
  • Check worm farm, feed
  • Phone calls and emails - Tricia, Jo, Aunty Bev
  • Finish writing column
  • Make one dishcloth, finish scarf
  • Late afternoon: download photos and start tomorrow's blog
  • Make dinner
  • Tidy up
The following day will be the same, but different:
  • Chicken and salad - defrost chicken, pick herbs and cucumbers
  • Make bed
  • Make bread
  • Make yoghurt
  • Make ice cubes
  • Sweep floor
  • Ironing - 15 minutes
  • Phone calls and emails - order meat, check library catalogue for that book
  • Writing - 2 hours
  • Check and water fruit, pick loofahs
  • Chickens, look for plant hooks
  • Mend ripped sheet
  • Late afternoon: download photos and start tomorrow's blog
  • Make dinner
  • Tidy up
A work day will look like this:
  • Make lunch 
  • Pack basket
  • Make bed
  • Phone calls and emails - email to Abby
  • Late afternoon: download photos and start tomorrow's blog
  • Check bush house and worms
Hanno does all the grocery shopping now, mainly because he likes it and I don't. I make up a list that he shops from but he knows what we need and if I forget something he usually remembers and gets it even if it's not on the list. We don't do the laundry on a certain day, it is done when there is enough to fill the machine and then it is added to the daily list. I change the sheets on the bed when I feel like it during the week, the towels are washed then too. The bathroom is done when it needs it and the sinks and bench tops wiped over when I have the time and they need it. I don't have a special day for baking or making specialties like jam or preserves - when I know we need something or when any of these things need to be done, it will be put on the list for the following day, or the day after.

If there are jobs I really don't like doing, I put a time limit on them - hence "Ironing - 15 minutes".  I have found that I can do anything for 15 minutes, even if I hate doing it. This works really well for me so if you've been putting off a certain chore, put it on your list but set a time limit for it, then stop. You can go back to it later if you feel like it.

I find this kind of loose organisation works really well. I get everything done that needs doing but I don't feel pressured or stressed. I only put times on my list when I'm limiting the time I spend on that task, the rest of  the tasks will take the time they take. I do make the list in the order I'll do the work, but I change it around too. If something is not done, I don't worry about it, it's simply added to the list for the following day. I reckon we make lists to make things easier for ourselves, not to add pressure. I think this works so well because it gives a loose structure to my day. I know what I'll be doing next and I don't get to the end of the day wondering if I've done everything I should have done.

We are all at different stages of life and will have different priorities and ways of working. There also needs to be days when there are no lists, just relaxation and pure joy. My method of organisation wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but it works well for me. It's organic and flexible and that suits my personality and juggling the different things I do - both in the home and out in the community. I don't know how or when I first started this way of listing, I just know that if I want to remain organised and on top of my work, this is how I do it. It works. I do know this though, we all need some sort of structure and routine. We need it at home and in the workplace. I don't work well within a strict structure, I do my best work when I feel in control and free. How do you organise yourself?

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