31 May 2012

My speech at the university

I want to show you what Hanno and I were doing last night. We were invited to be guests at the Rotary and University of the Sunshine Coast Community Fund dinner. The function was to present three PhD students: Jennifer Castell, Cathryn Morriss and Corinna Burgin-Maunder, with a Rotary Scholarship. I had the honour and privilege of being the guest speaker.

Here is Hanno sitting at the dignitaries table. We both thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Giving my speech.

Meeting Rotarians giving donation cheques to Executive Officer of the University of the Sunshine Coast Foundation, Mr Andrew Pentland, (left) and Chairman of the Rotary and University of the Sunshine Coast Community Fund, Mr Win Fowles (right).

Of course, I took you with me, here is part of my speech. Naturally, spoke about my blog: 

So at 64, when I expected to be slowing down and becoming invisible, people I don’t know write to me from all over the world and locals say hello on the street. People want to know my opinion. Amazing things can happen when you focus on your goals and work towards them. Even here, in our corner of the world, writing in my little room in Landsborough, with only Hanno at my side, I have reached out and touched the world. And if I can do that, anything is possible. 

And to Jennifer, Cathryn and Corrina… 

Almost all my successes came because I stood on a firm foundation of sound education. I was not afraid of hard work and even when I was sitting alone in my work room, tapping away on my computer, I believed in myself. Success is not out there. It’s in here. (Point to head) 

The seeds for success are sown in childhood and are cultivated by reading books, by observation, by ambition, by hard work, by identifying the pathways to excellence and by having opportunities to succeed. We are the lucky ones. We have been mentored by our lecturers and nurtured by our Universities. It is up to all of us who have had that good fortune, to expand on it and make the investment in us pay off, not only for ourselves, but for our country as well. Despite what we hear constantly, it is intelligence and learning that will take us forward, but there needs to be a good dose of flexibility in there as well. 

Not much is stable in our world, even what appears stable has its own instabilities. By incorporating flexibility into your plan, you’ll give yourself the best chance of success. You can never know what you’ll discover or learn along the way but flexibility will help you adjust your plans and ideas to incorporate the unexpected. 

Never disregard surprises. They are often full of potential. 

For it is when the best ideas meet observation and team up with something unexpected and astonishing, that the extraordinary is realised...

After my speech, heading back to sit with Hanno again.

As I was sitting there last night, looking around the room full of local and not-so-local people, I was reminded, yet again, that the work of communities is carried out when each of us make the decision to step outside our homes and connect with others. Here it was our local Rotary Clubs banding together to raise much needed funds for the University, but it could have been any number of wonderful community organisations or individuals doing their best in their community. Important things happen in our communities, they support us and we must give back.

And I must say a word about the University itself because I was very impressed. I was seated next to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Greg Hill, a delightful man, who gave a presentation about the recent progress on campus. Among the highlights: tenders are now being sorted through for the $2 billion University Hospital, and USC was the only public university in Queensland to be awarded five stars for teaching quality in the 2012 Good Universities Guide. These are certainly fine achievements for any university but for such a young university, it is a testament to the leadership and commitment of the staff and to the students.


30 May 2012

Babies and books

I need your help. A lovely couple I know, good friends of mine who live in Melbourne, are about to have their first baby. They wholeheartedly share our values and are preparing for the baby's arrival and life thereafter with a frugal and eco mindset. Can you help us with the following questions?
  1. Where are the best places in Melbourne for new parents to shop for environmentally-friendly baby needs that suit a low budget?
  2. What are the best online eco-friendly baby shops for things like cot sheets, towels and washers? They would love organic but price is a factor.
  3. And these two from Jo herself: There’s so much people say you ‘must have’ for your baby, it’s overwhelming how much stuff I’ve already acquired (almost all of it second hand, thankfully). Surely it’s not all completely necessary? So I guess I’d like to know what people were told they needed but found they didn’t actually need.
  4.  I’d also like advice on the best nappies, slings, and any other hot tips that your readers want to share.
Thank you for taking the time to help. 
My DIL Sarndra has been making the most wonderful and unique baby clothes. She started off making these clothes for Alex and it's lead to her setting up a little business sewing for other babies as well.  You can see what she's doing on her Facebook page - Bluebell Alexander. If you like what Sarndra is doing, please "like" her page. And yes, that is my beautiful grandson Alex below modelling the outfit described under the photos.

I'll let Sarndra explain: This is my little set that will be in an auction held by Hraani Handmade to raise money for the Starlight foundation, from June 10th. I hope someone out there loves this set as much as I do and raises some money for a great cause!! 

Vintage cotton vest lined, with gorgeous cotton crochet back; and matching fine cord flares with flat front and elasticised back, size 0 - 1 (my bub is 11 months and fits him with room to grow). Flares have generous hem that can be let down when the little legs grow longer at around 1 yr old. Soft and slightly stretchy cord, which is easy to crawl in. This was made to be a girls set but I quite like it on my Alex too! (The long sleeve onesie is not included.)

If you don't have time to make clothes for a baby you love, do the next best thing and buy from someone who runs an at home business and who cares about the quality of their products.  

I was very pleased to be told a couple of days ago that I'm on this bestsellers' list. It's quite a surprise but I suppose all the good work put into publicity by Dianne at Penguin is paying off, and there also seems to be a strong element of 'word of mouth' advertising happening.

Can I ask a favour of you if you have the time for it. If you've read my book, could you go online and do an honest review? The link to do that is here or here, or wherever you bought it online  Thank you. :- )


29 May 2012

Wanted - skills for life

According to the media, it seems that young families and pensioners are the two main groups feeling the most pressure due to the current financial circumstances. Personally, I think it has hit most of us. In a HeraldSun article recently, it stated:

A St Vincent de Paul analysis of cost pressures on families, to be released at an Australian Council of Social Service conference this week, shows cash-strapped pensioners and young families are suffering. Actual costs of electricity, health and food have not only increased above inflation, but cost pressures have compounded over time. Pensioners and young families spend a higher proportion of their income on health, utilities and food.

I'm sure many of you would agree, times are tough for many people, and not only in those two categories. When I work at the neighbourhood centre, I see people coming in for food parcels. These people often fall into these two categories, and others, and although we have workshops discussing how to decrease the cost of living, very few of them come along. I think that governments need to play an active part in the re-education of the electorate so that many of the frugal things most of us here do - making cleaning products, cooking from scratch, budgeting etc, become commonplace again.

It will help not only people on low incomes, it will help the average single or family person survive the tough times much better than they do now. When you read about the Great Depression, its inspiring and amazing to read what they did to get by. My grandparents and parents lived through the Great Depression and they did it using the life skills they had that were commonplace then. Many of those skills can still save a substantial amount of money and they still have the potential to help people who take the time to learn them. Many don't know anything except what they know, they don't know there is another way or where to get help in equipping themselves for a more frugal life.

I would like to see Life Skills taught in secondary schools so young people move into their own independent lives better equipped for today's reality. I think tuition in how to write a budget and handle credit cards, compound interest, simple contracts, consumer rights, how to complain effectively, renters' rights and responsibilities, cooking from scratch and using leftovers, sewing, mending, green cleaning, how to wash and iron clothes, how to grow fruit and vegetables in a backyard and general home economics would stand our students in good stead, particularly in their teenage years and leading into young adult life. Ideally, these skills would routinely be handed down from parents to their children, but often parents now don't have these skills themselves. It would help young people to understand the legalities of life before anyone takes advantage of them and it would show them that life is tough but can be made better, and even wonderful, with work hard.

We all have to do our fair share. No one gets a free ride.

Our governments should be leading us. They should be watching duopolies and making sure grocery prices are not destabilised and remain within the reach of families, working people, retired folk and pensioners. They should be proposing innovative ways of teaching our children, not playing it safe. I wonder if we could interest the CWA or Women's Institute in teaching home economics classes. It needs real people with real skills to do the teaching. We want our young people to know how to look after themselves, not how to open a can of soup or cook a packet of cake mix. We need to get our communities involved. Hopefully, this would put us back on track and in 20 years, when parents would be well equipped again to teach their own children, we'd be able to stop the classroom teaching of life skills.

What is your government doing? Are their any bright lights where you live that can shine the way for us over here?  What can we all do to help our young people learn what we know?


28 May 2012

Building our communities

When we first decided to become home bodies and to make and mend as much as we could, I thought we'd be leading a quiet life and the longer we did it, the fewer opportunities we'd have to go out and connect with others. At the very beginning it seemed like a solitary life, just Hanno and I, working away on our various projects, with visits from family and friends to add interest on occasional days. But as the years have crawled along, that is not how it panned out. We now have more friends than we ever had, we are taken up with this and that, and we fully understand now, that most important of details - we are a part of our community.

I didn't get that part of simple life when I started on my journey. We all know that the products we choose to buy are not those that are commonly sought after and so we'll never see them advertised on TV or hear about them on the radio. No, the things we deal in, the natural products of the region, we find out about them from our community. Now I know that without my community I don't know where the heirloom chooks are being sold at auction, I have no idea where to buy heirloom seeds and seedlings, I don't have a clue where the raw milk and honey is and I have no community to fall back on when things aren't going as well as they might. Our community is the human element of the place we live; it's the knowledge bank for all things local, it's the connection to the history of here and it's part of way forward to the future.

Community is important, not only to find what we need in our homes and backyards but in the sense of belonging to a place. We're lucky here. We live in an area where people barter, there are co-ops and primary producers, and a feeling that the community exists for and because of its people, not just because a town happens to be there.

Of course, there are online communities, and I am proud to be part of our community here and at the Down to Earth Forum. My online friends are a constant reminder to me and Hanno and that we might be working here in our small patch but we're also connected to people doing a similar thing in cities and towns all over the world. Some of us are here because we haven't found a local community where we live, and there are towns that have not developed their own communities.

Communities are a bit like children, they need someone to take the lead. They need that person to step up, wave their hankie and shout: Woohoo, we're over here, we need you to be here with us!

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a woman out west who waved her hankie wrote to ask if I would consider doing a workshop in her town. She and her friends have bought the old local hall and are using part as a vintage themed cafe. They want to use the back for workshops and a space for community bartering. I phoned her, we talked about it and I said that I'd happily come out and do a day-long workshop. I hope it will give them a good start on their business and the workshops they hope to run. It might also be the start of a community of like-minded souls who get together and discover each other and the interests they share. That's all it takes - the initial connection and the determination to keep the group working together.

This workshop will be at Bell in south west Queensland on Saturday 23 June. It will cost $40 each, which will include morning tea and lunch. The red and white sign above is on the flyer advertising the event - it's handmade, to reflect all that will happen on that day. We'll be talking about simple life, making and water-bathing jam and relish and making laundry liquid. Everyone who comes along will take some home, so if you're coming, bring jars with you and some things to barter. The women who own the hall will serve a delicious home made morning tea and lunch and I'm sure we will all have a great day out. I know there will be friendships made and a lot of talking, and not just by me. Let me know (rhondahetzel@gmail.com) if you're interested and I'll get back to you with the details and booking information.

I'd love to know about your local community. If it's a strong part of your local life, what makes it so special? Or are you in one of those places that hasn't developed a sense of community yet?  


25 May 2012

Weekend reading

There are some delicious looking recipes on Roostblog, start with this one for cinnamon donuts.

Likewise, on Running with Tweezers, there are many wonderful modern recipes, excellent food photos and this - The Soothing of Shelling - it's slowing down, shelling peas and a magnificent pea salad.

I love this blog - Wayward Spark and this post what what lured me into it. It's about The Grange and the importance of community.

Meet The West ladies at Homestead Blessings.

One of the good things about going out is that there is no phone to answer, no emails coming in. Switch off your smartphone picks up on that.

The UK recession may be worse than expected.

Are you getting enough sleep? Podcast (40 minutes).

Wendy lives in South Africa and writes a very interesting blog - Urban Homestead South Africa.

Everything is here on Evi's blog, Sister Sun - from snow on Cradle Mountain to feeding a little possum, mothering, knitting and all things in between.

I've loved reading your comments this week. I'm so proud of our little community here. We have a group of supportive and interested women and men who share knowledge and encourage others and that is something I love being a part of. I'm speaking at the Maroochydore Library today so if you're coming along it will be great to meet you. Otherwise I'll 'see' you back here next week.

24 May 2012

Button necklace tutorial

I made a very simple button necklace recently. Just using bead thread and old buttons, the only other requirements were a safety pin and a needle. The buttons I used are nothing special. I think they were bought a few years ago as a bag of red, green, yellow and blue plain buttons. If you have special buttons that are just sitting in a tin, use them. Maybe you've inherited some buttons from your mother or grandmother. They would make up a very special necklace and have the added bonus of being useful again.

Start by deciding your colour or size pattern. If you want to make one like mine, just tip out the buttons and start threading.  You'll need some bead thread, cut to the size of your finished necklace. Thread it onto an ordinary sewing needle with the other end tied to a safety pin, so the buttons don't slip off the thread.

If you're only doing one colour, sort them out first. If you want differing sizes or a set sequence of colours,  work out your pattern on a flat surface first, then thread the buttons one at a time from the laid out pattern.

Thread through two holes only, even if there are four holes. The buttons will tend to fall in a certain way, let them do that and push them as tightly as possible up against the preceeding button. Push all the buttons you've threaded right to the end of the thread near the safety pin, allowing for some thread to either make a knot or to add a clasp. It's too difficult to move them along later then there are a lot of buttons on the thread.

When you have enough buttons on the thread to make the length you want, go along the thread and push the buttons together again to tighten the line. When they're all tucked up nicely, you can tie them off - which is what I did, or you can add a clasp. You'll need a clasp if you're making either a bracelet or a short necklace that won't fit over your head. If you're a sewer, you may have a hook and eye, similar to this. That will work perfectly. Otherwise, buy a small clasp from Spotlight or your local craft store.

And here is the finished product. Please disregard the model who looks like a deer caught in the headlights. She is the only one I can afford. : - )

23 May 2012

New Swap


Becci is running a potholder swap at the down to earth forum. You must sign up before June 4.

Doing what you can is enough

Today I'm commenting on Cat's recent comment. She asked me to talk about "green guilt". Add your thoughts on this as well. I'm sure she is not the only one feeling this way and pooling our thoughts on this will help some work their way through it. Here is Cat's comment:

I wonder if you might be able to talk about the whole idea of "green guilt".

I try very hard to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. I garden and compost - I even compost the kitty litter, I don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, I drive less than 1000 miles per year, I don't use shampoo, only use TP for "number 2", keep the house cold in the winter and hot in the summer, pay extra to get all my electricity from wind power, use cloth dish towels, napkins and handkerchiefs, rarely buy things - and when I do I opt for used as much as reasonably possible, bring reusable bags to the store, run most errands on my bike or on foot, I don't travel by air (actually - I don't really travel at all), I make the vast majority of my food from scratch, and a whole host of other things.

But even with all that, there are plenty of ways that I know I could do so much more. And constantly feeling like I "should" be so much "better", sends me into a terrible cycle of guilt for not doing more, and anger at those who do nothing - neither of which is very productive.

When I first read Cat's comment, it surprised me a bit, reading it again now, it makes me sad that trying to do her best is making her miserable. I think this might be similar to wanting to have everything perfect at home and beating yourself up because you want "perfect". I doubt there is such a thing as "perfect" and I also doubt that anyone would have the time or energy to do all the green things they could do, or think they should do. I have friends who are environmental scientists and who work to provide green solutions as part of their jobs. They also live according to those values in their own homes. Even they find things they just don't do because of lack of time, energy or because they have a life to live and there is more to a well rounded life than fixing problems.

When I first started blogging there were few simple living blogs around and those that did write about this beautiful lifestyle wrote mainly about political themes, greenhouse gasses etc. I found very few writing in a positive way  about their own homes and none that reflected how I was living - making the most of home production and trying to live from scratch. I decided that I would just write about what I was doing - that was my special subject, it was what I knew best. I didn't care that no one else was writing this stuff, I hoped that by focusing my blog on my home and the way I worked here, that my ripples would work their way out and help others. I knew then as I know now, that getting angry, being holier and better than the others and TELLING everyone would get me no where. No, for me, the only way was gentle and to show, by example, that living this way is beautiful, satisfying and significant. It worked. 

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Cat, please remember that by doing all we do, we're all trying to make our lives better, and in doing so, we'll make the world better too. There is nothing in the contract that says we have to do more than we can, there is no requirement for misery or guilt. If people watch you and see you being made happy and content by how you live your life, they'll be more inclined to follow your example. Don't try to do it all. Focus on what you need to do for your own well being and be content with that.

Simply doing what you can do is enough. 


22 May 2012

Starting your simple life

There are many people reading here who know exactly what simple life is all about. There are those who live in a very similar way to me and Hanno and those who live their simple life in a completely different way. There is no right or wrong way to do this - you will know you've got it right if you're spending less, feeling you have control of your life, if you're less stressed than you used to be and despite what is happening in the world with the financial ups and downs, rising prices and unemployment, you know you'll be okay. Maybe you're happy too, or at least content most of the time.

However, I still get a lot of emails from readers asking about "how to start living simply". There would probably be thousands of answers to that question and I know the people who ask it want specifics - they want a starting point. So let's say: start with what you're doing now or what troubles you most. For instance, if living within your means has given you a few problems, start with that. Or if you're currently looking for new recipes, start cooking from scratch and ensure that all your new recipes are from scratch. You'll find that once you've started on one project, that will lead to another. If you start on budgeting, that will probably lead you on to stockpiling, menu planning, recycling, mending, mindful shopping or anything that will help you save money and still live well. If you start with scratch cooking and you gather a lot of recipes, that will lead you to organising yourself, possible with a home management journal, and maybe stockpiling. Take your lead from what you're already doing. Trust yourself. There are no simple living police who will tap you on the shoulder and tell you you've got it all wrong.

The truth is that anything you do to simplify your life is a start. That could be gathering the family at the kitchen table for dinner each night, it could be walking to work, it could be reducing the amount of rubbish you put in your bins each week. When you make a start, follow on with whatever comes up next. For instance, if you start with the family at the dinner table at night, that might lead on to washing up by hand and them drying up. My sister and I grew up doing that - although she tells me now that I made excuses to get out of it. Funny, I don't remember that.   ;- ). If you start walking to work, that might lead you on to taking a water bottle from home instead of buying it; or walking the kids to school too. If you start with the rubbish bins, that might lead you to composting or worm farming. Whatever you are lead to, continue on.

There are no grand gestures in this way of life. All of it - every single part of it - is made up of small steps. Starting with one step, will lead to the next, it is up to you to keep walking. Think about your life and what direction you want to go in and be consistent. Own your life, be a good example to your children and talk about what you're doing. This may be different to what your friends or neighbours are doing but it is nothing to be ashamed of, it's just different. Who knows, you explaining what you're doing to someone else, may well be the encouragement they need to join you. We all start with ourselves and those ripples slowly move outwards. It all starts with a single action.

I guess I started as I was growing up with an intelligent and resourceful mother who had very little money, yet she always managed to give us what we needed. I didn't know it then but I was watching her and remembering. I forgot her lessons for a while, but when I needed them again, it all came flooding back. When I gave up work we were already growing vegetables and keeping chooks, so I started organising myself properly and shopping for groceries with intention. For me, that lead on to stockpiling, menu planning, learning about food storage and many more things, all focused on our home. But I guess the thing that gave me the biggest incentive to keep going was to see how I could support my family while we spent considerably less than we did before, and then the contentment that turned into happiness that flowed from it.

How did you start your simple living journey?


21 May 2012

We all make a difference

There have been many claims about how our future will be shaped by the end of cheap fuel and increasing prices that will result from that. Of course, no one knows for sure what will happen in the future but anyone who takes any notice will know that for the past few years, fuel prices have been increasing and along with it the cost of living.This is bad news for those who rely on their cars to get around but as prices rise, fewer kilometres will be driven and it will help reduce the amount of pollutants coming from these emissions. Increasing fuel prices also impacts substantially on the price of food and clothing and almost everything we buy. All those products are delivered via a system that runs on fuel and often use fuel and/or electricity at some point during manufacture as well. 

I'm very sad to report that Australia is the seventh-worst polluter on Earth

We often focus on ways to reduce the cost of our grocery bills but what else can we do to help reduce greenhouse gasses.
  1. Stop buying water in plastic bottles.
  2. Refuse to accept plastic shopping bags. Make cotton tote bags and net fruit and vegetable bags, and use them.
  3. Replace as many of the disposable products you use in the home with alternatives, such as handmade dishcloths.
  4. Stop buying over-packaged products and tell the manager of the shop why you're not buying it. We have to start talking and complaining about this because it won't change unless we do.
  5. Buy in bulk when you can. Ask family and friends if they want to buy with you so you can all save money (and gasses).
  6. Reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible. 
  7. Learn to sew and mend.
  8. Recycle mobile phones, ink cartridges and any of your old computer equipment that can be recycled.
  9. If you have appliances that use batteries, use rechargeable batteries.
  10. Shop at second-hand shops and garage sales.
  11. Use public transport, car pool, ride a bike or walk.
  12. Cook from scratch - buy ingredients that can be used for several meals, not just one. This will cut down on the packaging you bring into your home and you'll know what's in your food.
  13. Stop buying convenience foods and processed foods. 
  14. Buy fruit and vegetables that you prepare at home - not pre-washed salads and pre-cut fruit.
  15. Eat less meat.
  16. If you have land, use it - plant vegetables, nuts and fruit.
  17. Focus on buying seasonally and what is local.
  18. Make compost with your vegetable and yard waste. Start a worm farm or use a bokashi.
  19. Before you turn on the air-conditioner or heater, put on or take off, layers of clothes.
  20. Wash your clothes with cold water. 
  21. Hang your clothes outside to dry. 
  22. Stop buying cleaning products and make your own. Use vinegar, bicarb and soap.
  23. Produce more of what you use at home.

I am firmly convinced that we do make a difference by changing our own behaviour. That ripple effect can be quite powerful. Don't take the easy way out and think it's not worth doing anything because you're only one person. Every "one person" got us to this point, it will take an equal effort from every one person to turn the tide again.

And don't forget, be satisfied with what you can do. If you can't do some of the things on the list above, or your own list, be grateful for the things you can do. Everything you do makes a contribution to the problem. Of course the good news is that if we carry out a focused and prolonged personal campaign in our own homes to do our bit towards reducing green house gasses, we'll also be living a healthier and thriftier life - these things go hand in hand.

The schools in Australia seem to have a good understanding on how to teach children the ins and outs of a healthier planet. The young children I talk to certainly know a lot more about these problems than their parents do, and they know the simple ways we can all work towards a solution. Is that the same in your country as well? If you work for a living, does your workplace have some sort of sustainability policy? What are you doing in your home and backyard?


19 May 2012

Knitting and my next talk

Just popping in for two reminders.

Vivian at EcoYarns is having a Camelid Yarn sale from the 21st to 27th May. There will be alpaca, llama, pacovicuna and bison yarns on sale. Vivian's blog is here, there is a lot of information and knitting tips there and at the moment, she's just started a sock knitting tutorial. Well worth a visit.

My next talk will be at the Maroochydore Library next Friday, 25 May from 10 - 11.30am. Its free but you have to book. More details are here on the Sunshine Coast Council's website.

18 May 2012

Weekend reading

Small Measure - It's all here, a life lived with an open heart.

There is some beautiful writing at Mount Custard, particularly Steven Again. Do yourself a favour, visit and read.

I made David Leboitz's Blue Cheese Dressing for a roasted root vegetable salad. It's divine.

I have a few vegetarian cook books but the one I'd like to have is the River Cottage Veg Everyday. It's listed here with several other recommended vegetarian food books.


Homespun Fields is a lovely blog full of baking days, recipes, projects, chooks and wondering about life. But it's had no comments! Let's all go over there and say hello to Mrs Homespun. :- )

There are lots of chooks here on Life At Arbordale Farm and you can also see inside a fairy egg.

Thank you for visiting me this week and for leaving comments here for all of us to read. I'm looking forward to the weekend - my plan is for a gentle mix of rest and work. Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy it.


17 May 2012

Working with the seasons

As you can see, I've changed the template again. My apologies to those of you who visited yesterday while I was working on it. There were all sorts of strange things on the blog while I sampled different templates. I wanted one with a post date and a footer and while the one I eventually chose doesn't have everything I want, it's close enough for the time being. I still have some work to do on it - such as removing that grey band, working out how to swap the time for the date, moving the navigation bar and a few other tweaks, but at the moment I've given as much time to it as I have and now it has to wait for a day or so until I have the time to finish it.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience it causes but I love change and do change the look of my blog every few months. It's slow because I have to teach myself the coding as I go. Still, I look on it as a learning exercise and I am grateful for everyone of those.

Hanno asked me to thank everyone for their kind thoughts and messages. We will go back to the doctor and physiotherapist today and see what progress has been made. He is still in a lot of pain but he said yesterday that he thinks it is easing slightly. When I get Hanno back home again and settled, I have a couple of meetings to attend this afternoon, then I'll go into Brisbane for the talk and book signing at Avid Reader. I'm really looking forward to it because I've been told so many good things about that wonderful book shop.


The bunnies are warming themselves on the flannel sheets.

Today I want to talk about the seasonal work we all do. We live in the sub-tropics so we don't experience the full wonder of four seasons. I would say we get a very brief autumn and spring and a long winter and summer. Nevertheless, as soon as the cool weather arrives, I feel like I'm deep in the heart of  New England or Manitoba, and I start my autumn tasks. We have no fire wood to gather here but I have on my lambswool slippers and extra layers of clothing but my most important ritual is to take the flannel sheets from the linen cupboard and make the bed warm and cosy.

Just doing that one thing takes me instantly from thoughts of a cool salad for dinner with ice cubes in water to going into the kitchen to get out the slow cooker. When those flannel sheets are on the bed and wool slippers are on my feet, everything changes.

When you do most of your own cooking at home, you notice how much the weather effects what you do. Bread takes longer to rise, yoghurt needs an extra covering overnight and you need to find a warmer spot for your sourdough starter and fermenting. But here it is also a good time for cheesemaking. We're about to eat two very good looking camembert cheese I made a while back, soon I'll have a hard cheese on the go too, with the option to leave it to ripen on a cool shelf instead of in the fridge.

So while a beef casserole and herb dumplings bubbles away slowly in the kitchen, we also have our garden to look after and that takes on a different feel in the cooler months. In summer it's all heat, humidity and bugs here. In autumn and winter it's perfect growing weather and there's a slight feel of urgency in March as we sow seeds and Hanno prepares the soil for yet another year's planting. Watering the garden takes on a different feel too. Instead of the playful and cooling exercise it becomes later in the year, in winter, I rug up and wear gloves when I water the garden.

I love working to the seasons. It gives a new feel to the work we do. In the cooler months I feel I'm providing protection from the cold and warming food to those I love and in the hotter months, it's all shade trees, ice cubes and salads. One day I would love to build a fire in the fading light of day and sit near a wood stove to warm up and knit at night but in the meantime, tell me how you stay warm in winter and how you go about your seasonal work.


16 May 2012

Useful flowers and the promise of things to come

If you are gardening organically, there is a lot more to it than planting seeds and fertilising. Organic gardening is a holistic method, a complexity of intertwined links between the gardener, the plants, soil, humus, microbes, minerals, water, compost, mulch and visiting insects. One of the ladies asked for a post about beneficial flowers in the garden. They are a great example of that holistic complexity because planting flowers in with the vegetables will attract beneficial insects that will not only help with pollination but also kill parasitic bugs or the sap suckers like aphids. 

Any flower that attracts bees is a good addition in the vegetable patch but there are certain flowers that attract the right sort of insects:
  • Cosmos
  • Daisies, including echinacea, feverfew, chrysanthemums, gerberas and chamomile 
  • Red clover
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • Carrot flowers
  • Dill flowers
  • Marigolds
  • Alyssum
  • Nasturtiums
  • Yarrow
  • Borage
When I choose flowers for the vegetable garden, I choose those that will attract bees, predatory wasps, beetles, lady beetles, spiders and centipedes, and I also choose those that help me in the home as well. For instance, planting calendulas will attract bees and predatory wasps, and I can use the petals to make calendula salve. Having a few lavender plants will give me lavender for my cleaning products whether it's flowering or not. I love growing yarrow because, like comfrey, it helps stimulate decomposition in the compost heap and looks delightful in an arrangement of flowers on the kitchen table. When the nasturtiums grow wild and threaten to take over the garden, use them as extra green waste for the compost heap - they are the easiest plants to pull out.

When you decide to follow this path with beneficial plants and flowers, it's a good idea to look in your local library to see if they have a book on your local varieties. While that should be your guide, the flowers I've listed above should serve you well if you can't find a local resource.

Another elements you can add to this mix is a bowl of fresh water for the visiting insects. Make sure you place some pebbles or an upturned pot in the water for the insects to land on and to drink from. If they fall into the water, often, they drown. So providing a safe landing and drinking spot for them will see them return day after day to work in your garden.

Don't forget the fragrant flowers as well. Fragrance will help attract bees - such as the orange blossoms above. Walking into a garden full of healthy vegetables, or with shoots showing the promise of what will come, is complemented by fragrance as you walk through it. Out in the garden there is no plastic, steel or aluminium; this is the natural world in all its glory. Enjoy it, get your hands dirty, and silently thank all those visiting helpers who visit your garden every day.

If you plant certain flowers in your garden, please tell us about them and tell us your location too so we know what works in certain areas.

Frances has written an excellent guide to beneficial bugs and flowers at Green Harvest.


15 May 2012

Simple life and homemaking

I get many emails asking my opinion on this and that. I'm sure you all know I'm not a counsellor or any sort and I not familiar with any of the specific problems people are faced with, however, I hope to help by replying and by giving our readers the chance to as well. For all I know, these problems may well have been already tackled successfully by someone reading here who might have the solution. Below are emails from two readers - "Kate" and "Emma". If you think you have something helpful to offer, please leave your comment.

"Ever since I saw "The Good Life" series as a kid I wanted to live sustainably and simply. I am now mother of two small boys and stepmother of four. I work part-time because I found a job I like. My husband has a busy job out of choice as well as to pay maintenance, and with six kids life can get pretty crazy.I'd love to simplfy my life but I am struggling to do so with so much on. Other people suggest 'just plant some vegies with the kids, they'll love it', but the answer isn't as simple as that.Does one need to put these plans on hold while small children are so time-consuming? Is it possible to simplify amidst a busy life?"

There are many ways to live simply. You don't have to live the way Tom and Barbara did; you don't have to change very much at all. My suggestion is to simplify what you're already doing and to put a bit of time and thought into how you organise your family and home. For instance, you could make laundry liquid - that would reduce the cost of your grocery bill and get rid of a few of the chemicals in your lives. Stop buying commercial cleaners from the supermarket and use bicarb and vinegar instead - this is another way to reduce costs and chemicals. You could cook from scratch one or two days a week. Buy your meat in bulk, menu plan, take time out for some alone time, start recycling and get the kids to help.

It will be a great thing to send everyone off to school and work with a lunchbox full of homemade food, not packaged snacks. Could you have a baking session on the weekend to help with that? About 30 minutes and you'd have a couple of cakes or batches of biscuits made for the week ahead. Children love baking, teach them as you go and they might take on that task every week. Organising everyone to clean their own rooms and take their own dirty clothes, sheets and towels to the laundry will help you today and them tomorrow (although they won't know that yet). Expect them to make their own beds and put their clean clothes away.

The children could set the table every evening and then get everyone around the table for dinner and talking about what happened today and what will happen tomorrow. And don't forget to just stop and enjoy it all. Spending time with the children, reading to them, playing games and just talking, shows them that you love them just as much as saying it does. There are many more things you could do that will enable you to live a simpler life and I am sure they'll flow on when you start doing some of these things. It might not be a quiet life with six children, but there will be a lot of helpers.

"I really enjoyed your last 2 posts on "Finding your value at home". I have also noticed that in a lot of your posts you talk about how homemakers seem to be judged or undervalued in today's society. My question is "What should I do if my partner is the one that does not value me being a homemaker?" I am a stay at home mum to my 5 year old son and I study full time at University, I now feel pressured to work part time just to be able to financially contribute to the household. However I know that in doing this I will lose valuable time with my little boy. Because of study I don't have a lot of time leftover to cook, clean, etc. but I still feel like I'm contributing in some way by furthering my education and being there for my son before and after school. I have also offered to manage the finances (I consider myself quite the good saver!) but he still sees his income as "his" money that he should manage by himself. How can I get my partner to see the value in what I do? (We are unmarried and my son is not his, so I'm not sure if that might be contributing to his feelings on the matter)."

Maybe I have got this wrong but if you're using your time to study and "don't have a lot of time leftover to cook and clean etc." then you're more a student than a homemaker. You say that you feel like you're contributing in some way by furthering your education and being there for your son before and after school. Both those things are very worthwhile and important but to be a homemaker, you need to be working in the home as well. I may come across as being too harsh here, and I don't mean to be, I hope by writing this, you'll benefit. I fully understand what you're going through because when I was much younger I studied part-time for a degree while I worked and cared for my family. It's tough, you never have enough time but if you can do it, it gives you a tremendous feeling of achievement and satisfaction.

People usually value those things that give them something they need or want. You say your partner doesn't value what you do and that what you're doing is looking after your son and studying. You say you're not married and that your son is not his son - so that leads me to think you've not be together for a long time. Maybe that connection with your son will develop over time. Will he value the work you put into the home? I know when I was trying to convince Hanno that we could live like this, I decided that I would just get on with it and show him what was possible. I stopped trying to convince him and just worked to make a comfortable home that suited both of us, I shopped for bargains, reduced our grocery bill and saved us a lot of money, I started recycling, mending and gardening. When he saw what was possible with his own eyes, there was no argument. He dived in.

You have to have your priorities clearly in your mind. They are probably, your son, your partner, your life together and your study. But it seems like you want to be a homemaker too, if so, take care of them and yourself well and if you don't have time for full-time study, go part-time instead. Sure it will take longer to get your degree, but you won't be putting your life on hold while you're studying. You can be  a part-time student and a homemaker, and that includes cooking, shopping and cleaning, it will just take more time. But you'll be giving your son, your partner and yourself a great gift and you'll be living in a home that supports and nurtures all of you.

But let me be very clear here. You don't have to do part-time work outside the home to make a financial contribution it. You will make a significant contribution simply by being an organised and efficient homemaker. When your partner sees you contributing to the partnership and the home he will probably value your contribution more because it will be impossible not to see it. You'll be able to provide home cooked meals and reduce the costs of running the home because you'll make a lot of what you use and you'll create a warm and welcoming home in the process of doing that. And what a bonus that will be for your son as well. I'm not saying to give up study. I firmly believe we need many more educated women, not less. But if you can study part-time and be a part-time homemaker as well, I think you'll get the life you're looking for and you'll still be working towards your degree, and the chance of a satisfying paid job is still in your future.


14 May 2012

Here at home

I've had a very busy weekend writing various things, re-working the blog and looking after Hanno. He injured his back last week and is in a lot of pain. He can't lift anything, even cleaning his teeth and dressing brings the pain on so I've been bringing him cups of tea and making sure he keeps up with the medication. He's like a cat on a hot tin roof when he's sick. He watched the Hamburg Harbour 823rd birthday celebrations on his computer for a couple of hours but he looked very uncomfortable sitting there trying to support his back. If he's not showing some signs of improvement today, I think we'll be off to the doctor. 

With the weather getting cooler, I've had a chance to keep my feet warm with the Ugg boots I bought when I was at Tricia's. They're so cosy! Another cold weather treat was a delicious lamb roast on Sunday night. The leg will see us through a few meals and sandwiches so, although it was fairly expensive, with careful handling and planning, it works out to be quite reasonable. I made enough roast vegetables to do us for two nights and on the third night, I'll make a lamb curry with herb rice.

We've been going quite well with our 50 percent meat reduction. Last Wednesday night we had mushroom omelette, Thursday night we had mixed vegetables in a cheese sauce; Friday night a chicken schnitzel  (one breast sliced in half), homemade potato wedges, raw vegetables in the form of homemade coleslaw and a garden salad and Saturday night it was tuna, boiled eggs, the rest of the coleslaw and garden salad. The chooks are laying a lot of eggs at the moment and the garden is starting to produce well, so there is no shortage of fresh food coming from the backyard. It's a great way to cut costs. I hope you're harvesting plenty of fresh food from your garden too.

The grocery challenge is going very well. I did some shopping on Friday afternoon and apart from milk and some fresh vegies late next week, I doubt we'll need anything for another 10 days or so. One of the good parts of late afternoon shopping is that you sometimes find some unexpected bargains. On Friday I picked up a couple of packs of premium mince (ground beef) that had been marked right down. One interesting thing I have discovered is that doing the shopping myself has given me the motivation to completely eliminate food waste. Food is so expensive now and it's a good reminder of that sad fact when you go to the supermarket and stretch your dollars as far as you can. When I come home, I make sure everything is stored properly and all leftovers are eaten for lunch the next day or made into another meal. How are you going with your meat reduction and grocery challenge?

Although it was a busy weekend, I still had time to do a tiny bit of knitting and to make a button necklace. I'll write about it soon. We'll be making button necklaces at our craft afternoons soon as part of our recycling theme. They're a simple idea and easy to make but they look wonderful.

The week ahead looks like it will be another busy and exciting one. Every day it gets a little cooler, the flannel sheets are on the bed, extra blankets and quilts are out and we're all set for winter.


12 May 2012

An invitation

This is the invitation from Avid Reader to my talk and signing there next Thursday. I have been told by a couple of friends the Avid Reader is THE bookshop in Brisbane, so I hope you come along and we'll find out together if that is true. If you're coming in, please introduce yourself to me and to Hanno, who'll be there too. Don't forget to book.


Meet Rhonda Hetzel author of Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living

A beautiful guide to simple living by the inspirational award-winning blogger, Rhonda Hetzel.

When: Thursday 17th May
Where: Avid Reader Bookshop, 193 Boundary St. West End.
Time: 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $5.00 or free to readers of Rhonda Hetzel's blog.
RSVP: essential events@avidreader.com.au or 07 3846 3422

As an antidote to our out-of-control consumerist culture, Down to Earth provides practical advice and gentle encouragement on everything from reducing your spending, learning traditional skills, safer and simple cleaning, decluttering and organising your belongings, to growing vegetables from seeds, harvesting your rainwater, preserving food and baking.

Down to Earth shows how to find pleasure and meaning in a simpler lifestyle and how to go about it whether you are renting, a land owner or retired.

11 May 2012

Weekend reading

The Australian Association for Environmental Education has a very good enewsletter for members. This month, my book is listed in their resources section. :- ) The newsletter is full of news, what's on in each state, jobs and courses and resources.

Pigeon Pair is a delightful blog full of productivity and life at home.

There are some fine photos on Christine Chitnis' blog, as well as interesting and delightful accounts of daily family life.

Wholesome baby food recipes. Open wide!

Embroidery hoop jewellery hanger is featured on this delightful blog - Happiness comes in little bits.

Rhythm of the Home is a thoughtful and beautiful online magazine. Their article on Frugal Cloth Diapering Made Simple, may be just the information you need if you're a soon to be parent. If you're past the diapering/nappy stage, click on their archives, but make sure you have a cup of tea and plenty of time.

Airbnb is similar to lastminute.com but much less commercial.

LINKS TO OUR PEOPLE - a selection from this week's comments.
Jeanette's Patch

Sarina's Allsorts

I had an email from Vivian at Ecoyarns this morning saying there is a sellout fabric sale and end of line yarns sale at Ecoyarns until the end of May.

Thanks for your visits, emails and comments this week. I do try to answer questions in the comments and emails but sometimes I just don't have the time. I'll try to answer a few in one of next week's posts. Take care of yourself, enjoy the weekend, I'll see you again tomorrow. I'll be doing a talk and book signing at Avid Reader in West End, Brisbane next week. Full details tomorrow.
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