29 June 2012

Work in Progress - REVISITED

Carrying on from yesterday's post I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore the feelings connected with being at home and knowing that you make your own home what it becomes - be that good or not so good.

I've written before that housekeeping and homemaking were very low on my list of priorities when I first came home for good. I say 'came home' because up until that point, my home wasn't what it is now - it was just a place to sleep and invite people around to if we didn't go out. Pathetic. I'm wiser now, my home has taught me many things, including that if I didn't take the time to be at home, if I didn't fluff my nest and make it the warm and secure place I wanted it to be, no one else would and I would continue to search shopping malls for junk to make me feel better.

That split second when you suddenly realise that home is not the enemy and that looking after it is an act of love for all your family and a gift to yourself, is a powerful moment of absolute clarity and insight. You're aware that you make your home what it will be, no one else will do that but you, and whatever work you put into your home will be a reflection of you. It is an opportunity and a challenge. It will show what is important in your life, it will highlight those things you treasure, and, in turn, will reflect your tastes and interests to all who visit you.

When you realise that your home is your work in progress you are given the opportunity to make it the comfortable and protected place that all families need to relax, renew their energy, and grow closer to each other. The real challenge here is when you don't have a lot of money to spend but want a cosy, interesting and welcoming home. Most young couples fall into this area and the trick is not to fall for all the advertising hype and rush to charge up your credit card with the latest fashionable furniture. Smart couples search op shops, thrift stores and road side throw outs for bits and pieces that will suit their purpose. They build their homes on older furniture that is either free or very inexpensive and then modify it to suit themselves. The end result is a home unlike a million others who fell for the advertising. They have the satisfaction of working together to find what they need, and no credit card debt. My own son and his new wife are doing this right now. They have our old lounge suite and picked up a dining suite from a road side throw out. Their home is a delight to visit, it's comfortable, inviting and interesting. We are going there for lunch on Thursday and I'm looking forward to it very much. Working together through hard times is one of those things that draws couples together, it bonds them like nothing else.

But the furniture and bits and pieces you put in a home are not the full story. This story is completed by the work done by the homemaker and the feeling of contentment that comes from it. And whether you're a homemaker who does most of the work in the family home or if you're the delegator of chores and director of operations, the result is the same. A functional and secure home will nurture all who live there.

When I worked for a living and shopping was part of my recreation I used to be bored if I stayed at home. I wondered what on earth homemakers did all day. Now I know. I was lucky enough to wake up to myself, ditch the shopping and return to my home wholeheartedly. And anyone can do that - those who work outside the home and those who work in it. Accepting the power you have to make your home what is can be, to provide nutritious food, to shop according to your budget, to keep a clean home, to teach young children that everyone contributes to the welfare of the family by doing chores and helping, to look after what you own, to mend, recycle and reuse what you can, to live in an environmentally sound way and to express the love you feel for your family within the confines of a safe and peaceful home is the true gift of a homemaker.

You make your home what it becomes - it is your work in progress.

28 June 2012

Making the bed - REVISITED

This post is from March 2011

Can you remember back to when you had babies to care for and how careful you were with their bedding? You'd make sure the sheets were clean and straight, you'd make the little bed several times a day and as soon as there was a wet sheet, into the washing machine it would go. You did those things, and more, because you knew how important that bed was to your baby. Well, I might be reverting to babyhood because I tend my bed as carefully as I would a cot or crib and I do it because sleep is important. Now let me declare my bias here up front. I LOVE my bed, always have, always will. I am a good sleeper. I'm rarely in bed more than ten minutes before I'm sound asleep. But I also do a lot of my thinking in bed in the cool dark hours of the morning and being in an uncomfortable bed would not be conducive to my sleeping or thinking. If I want to get the most out of every day, I need to sleep well.

Yesterday - our bed in the late afternoon sun.

I can almost hear the sighs from readers who just want to leave their bed untouched until they get into it again at night, but having a clean wrinkle-free place to sleep is one of the things that will make a difference to your day and how well you get through your work. You are mindful of your diet and exercise, you shower every day - or most days, you clean your teeth, make sure you store your food properly so it remains safe and healthy; your bed, my friends, is in that category. It matters. If you're just going to pull up the sheets during the day, why not give yourself another two minutes and make the bed. 

You don't need expensive sheets, blankets or doonas/duvets. It doesn't matter if nothing matches, what matters is that your sheets are clean and fresh, are tucked in properly and that nothing in your bed makes you uncomfortable or causes you to wake up. Of course, the best bed is the one you sleep in the first night after your change the bedding. The smell of sunshine on those newly laundered sheets remind me every single time that a simple bed, well made every day, has a power beyond what you think is possible.

My sister Tricia made these red worked pouches. They are for holding a nightie or PJs during the day and sit on the bed like little pillows.

I change our bedding every week, wash the sheets in cold water using home made laundry liquid. Everything is hung in the sun to dry and brought in that evening. Nothing fancy, just very simple. That first night the sheets are pulled tight and tucked in and, depending on the season, covered with a doona/duvet and a quilt, or what we have now that we're moving to Autumn, cool cotton sheets, a blanket and a quilt. Soon we move further towards our winter bed - an electric blanket on Hanno's side, fluffy flannel sheets and a few thick and cosy layers to cover us.

Every morning after that first night, I strip the bed down to the bottom sheet, smooth out that sheet with my hands, then make the bed by tightening the bottom sheet, making sure the corners are anchored and the sheet won't slip during the night. The top sheet, pillows and blankets are removed and shaken, then replaced. The same applies to each top layer. During the day the windows are left open to allow fresh air to circulate. The windows are closed when it's very cold, late in the afternoon. Every so often I leave the pillows outside in the sun for the day, and hang the quilts and blankets on the line. It's also a good idea to use a mattress protector and to vacuum the bed every couple of months.

Never matching or fancy, but clean and simple. That's all you need.

Simple clean cotton sheets and a homemade quilt can nurture the soul as well as aching bones and a stressed mind. Allow your bed to do what it's there for - to keep you warm, safe and secure until you wake. When you think about it, sleep is a strange concept. We go about our every day activities and once a day, we get tired, lay down flat and lose consciousness. Weird! No one knows why we do that, but all animals, birds and reptiles do. 

It is easy to believe it's too simple to be an important part of the day but those two or three minutes you spend smoothing, tucking and folding back, care for you during the eight hours you sleep. The time-expended-to-benefits-created ratio is in your favour. If you've never thought about this, or don't think it's worth while, make your bed every morning for a week and I think you'll quickly slip into the made bed camp. Beds are more important than we think. We're usually born in one and we will probably die in one. All that time in between that you spend in bed sets you up for your active life by allowing you to relax into sleep, to dream and to wake refreshed and ready for the busy day. Those three minutes are a sound investment.

27 June 2012

The first steps towards simplicity - REVISITED

Hanno's surgery went very well yesterday. We're going back for a checkup this morning but it all looks good and he's feeling fine. Thank you so much for the kind messages and prayers for him. He asked me to thank you all for him. He read everyone of them.

This post is from 2009.

Some of the lemons ready for juicing next week. Leaving them sit for a week makes them juicier.

I've had a few emails recently asking about how it's best to start living simply. I've written about this before but it's always an area of interest and often the first step is the most difficult.

This is a swarm of bees that settled in our orange tree.

Simple living is not about grand gestures - it's not moving to the country and it's not giving up work to become self sufficient. It's more about little things - small steps that make the way we live mirror our values. I believe that simple living is about being an individual - stepping away from the mainstream and living the life you want, even when that life is very different to those of your family and friends. Now I'd be the last one to tell you what sort of values you should live by. One of the best things about living in a free and open country is that we make those choices ourselves. So it would be wise to take some time out, sit by yourself, or with your partner, and write down the values that are important to you. For example, for me, it's important that:
  1. I live in an environmentally sound way;
  2. I want to limit the amount of chemicals in my home;
  3. I want to reduce waste;
  4. and make as much as I can for myself.
I have other values that I live by but these four will serve as a good illustration of what I'm getting at here. Now that I have those four things, I would then make each of them a category to work on. In a note book, give each category a page to itself - write the value at the top of the page and then, over the course of a week or so, bullet points ways you can change your life to reflect your values. Some of the ideas you come up with might be easily achieved, some will be difficult but the point is to identify what you want in your life and what you need to do to make that life.

Above all else, don't copy me or anyone else whose life looks good. This way of living means you evaluate your life and make the changes you want. If you copy someone else's life, you'll be faking it. Now having said that, let me also say that if you evaluate your life and it ends up being similar to my life or your best friend's, then that is fine, as long as you went through the process and identified that is is what you want.

Lemon and coconut cake - recipe below.

When I first started living this way, I was in contact with many other women on a forum who kept telling me that simple living was about slowing down, being mindful and taking time for oneself. They told me the practical things I did everyday - the bread baking, keeping a simple home, green cleaning, preserving/canning etc, were homesteading, not simple living. I never believed that - I think that a simple life is the whole kit and caboodle. It's the way I feel about myself, my home, and the way I live, it's slowing down and being mindful and it is the practical expression of all those things in the daily tasks I do each day. The philosophy of it and the expression of it are part of the whole. The values you live your life by are expressed by the practical tasks you do each day.

The last mandarin.

Another helpful way of thinking about a simple life is to just think about the things you do now, and try to make them more simple - focusing on less rather than more. Draw a line in the sand today and say to yourself: from now on I will stick to my budget; I will reduce waste and never have my rubbish bin more than half full; I'm going to stop buying so many disposable products; I'm going to cook 50 percent of our meals from scratch - then add another 10 per cent in a month, then another; I will shop for groceries only once a fortnight (month/ two months); I will teach myself to knit. Your list may not look anything like that because it will suit your life and family, but it will give you a focus to work on and bit by bit, you'll be simplifying.

In my simplified life today I'll be tidying up the bush house, starting off some vinegar with wine left over from the wedding, taking photos of the garden, having my eyes checked by the optometrist, and cleaning the front verandah, as well as a few other things. Thank you for all the wonderful comments and emails you've sent my way this part week. I don't always have the time to respond, but I read every word and appreciate you taking the time to make contact with me. Often I'm quite overwhelmed by your comments and every day I'm thankful that my blog makes it possible for me to connect with so many of you. I hope you have a beautiful week.


  • ¾ cup caster sugar
  • 125 grams butter (¼ lb), room temp
  • 3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs, room temp
  • 1 ½ cups self-raising flour, sifted OR 1 ½ cups plain (all purpose) flour with 3 teaspoons of baking powder added
  • 1 ½ cups desiccated (shredded unsweetened) coconut
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  1. Place the coconut, lemon juice and milk in a bowl and let it sit for an hour. This will sour the milk.
  2. Preheat oven to 175°C (350F).
  3. Place sugar, butter and lemon rind in a large bowl, and beat until light and creamy, this will take about 4 or 5 minutes.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each one.
  5. Fold flour and coconut mixture into the butter mix. When it's combined, place it in a round greased and lined cake pan.
  6. Cook for 50 minutes or until , when tested with a skewer, it comes out clean.

26 June 2012

Not the step-by-step guide to simple living - REVISITED

I'm having a short break from the blog for the rest of the week. In the meantime, I'll post some old posts that I think are still relevant and interesting. This one is from 2008   :- )

As I clicked away on the needles yesterday I tried to compose a blog post in my head that would help those much younger than me work towards their own version of a simple life. I would really like to visit each and every one of you and discuss various approaches to simplicity and help you all get started on this path. Needless to say I didn't compose that blog post and although I would love to give you all a step-by-step guide to simple living, there isn't a one size fits all approach to this.

I am acutely aware that many of you read my blog to find a way of starting, and some of you want to find the motivation to keep at it, but I can't give you a magic formula, I can't say how I would live if I had small children, I am what I am and this is all I offer. I hope that by reading here about my daily life, and all the joys and disappointments it holds, you will see me as all too human role model who shows that life is not always easy, but there is joy to be found in the simple tasks of daily life.

If you look for it, you will find beauty and joy lurking in the ordinary.

I believe there are many ways to live simply. I have lived in Europe, in the Australian bush and in the city, in houses, flats and caravans, and I know with no doubt, I could have lived simply in all those places. Whatever your circumstances are, you can fashion a life that will simplify your daily tasks, help you nurture yourself and your family and lead you to discover that a simple life is like a patchwork - it's pieced together slowly, unpicked sometimes, composed of a mish-mash of colours and textures and is different for everyone, depending on the fabric of your life. But when one stands back from a completed patchwork, it's complexity becomes apparent. It's no longer pieces of this and that, it builds into a functional piece that gives warmth, beauty and comfort. That's how your simple life will build too.

So here are some general suggestions, some things that I have done, that have helped me find this happiness. I encourage you to pick your pieces from this list, and discover fresh pieces from your own life and surroundings, and make them work for you in your circumstance. You might use only one thing here, or you might use all of them, there are no rules, except the one to live well.

This is in no particular order, it's just the order they fall into my brain:
  • Keep your family close and teach your children, by example, both the little and the adult, that happiness is not on sale at any store, it is a homemade commodity.
  • Reduce your spending, pay off your mortgage as fast as you can, but enjoy life as you do it.
  • Learn to cook from scratch.
  • Learn to garden- even if you live in a flat or an apartment you can do this with sprouting, window boxes or a mushroom farm. If you have some space in the backyard, your options are greatly increased.
  • Simplify your laundry routines with homemade laundry powder, soap and green cleaning.
  • Cut down on the time you spend in the supermarket with stockpiling, menu planning and mindful shopping.
  • Don't listen to the naysayers.
  • Teach yourself to knit and sew.
  • Make your own rules. Don't listen to me when you know your own way is better.
  • Find the everyday beauty that surrounds you.
  • Make your bed every day. Make your home the kind of comfortable you enjoy. Fluff up your nest everyday so that your home is a haven and the place you want to come home to.
  • Push the envelope. Your life will probably not be the same as those around you. Try to find a role model but if you don't, walk your own path with confidence and know that you're teaching those who come behind you.Learn to grow some of your food in your backyard. Eggs and fish are the obvious ones for me, but there are other options like meat chickens, milk cows, goats, quail and much more.
  • Develop simple values like generosity and kindness, then be amazed at how they will change you.
  • Look after your local environment. Get rid of all the poisons in your home. This must be done responsibility after contacting your local council or rubbish tip for guidance.
  • Save water, gas and electricity. Learn how to read your meters.
  • Slow down and learn how to appreciate the ordinary aspects of your life. About 90% of your life will be ordinary, the trick is to appreciate it.
  • Develop your independence. This will involve stepping away from the mainstream to reskill or learn how to look after yourself with a minimum of outside input.
  • Help others by volunteering some time to your community or school.
  • Be kind to yourself. Work out what it is that will make you happy, then do it.
This list is not nearly complete, nor could it ever be because all our lives as so different. If you have a tip that has worked for you, please add it to your comment as you may open a door for someone else by sharing it.

Thanks Viv, I think I've fixed it now.


25 June 2012

Ringing in a new era at Bell

We spent a delightful Saturday out at Bell, about 200km west of here, with a group of ladies, and two men - Hanno and one of the husbands. A while back I received an email from Karen asking if I'd do a workshop there. She and two friends, Kate and Annette, had bought the old local hall, set up a vintage themed cafe in the front and the back was given over as a space for community events such as workshops, playgroups and bartering sessions. I was happy to say yes - because saying yes to Bell meant I would be helping Karen, Kate and Annette with some much needed community development.

Here I am with (from left) Annette, Kate and Karen.  All photos by Hanno

I think 52 people booked for the session that ran from 9.30 am till 3pm. A few women from the Down to Earth forum came along to meet up, share and learn and I finally met Callecat and Sussan. I have "known" Sussan for about eight years, she lives fairly close and yet we'd never met till now. It was also great to meet the infamous Callecat who learnt to make soap from my instructions here and then didn't stop making it.  LOL

During the workshop, I talked about simple life, that it can be done any which way, I demonstrated how to make laundry liquid, and we made strawberry jam and tomato relish. We discussed water bath processing but true to the Australian way of preserving, we didn't do it for our jam and relish - we talked about putting sterile jam in sterile jars and then let it be. I didn't get to taste the relish, even though I told the women there to taste as you go along, but that strawberry jam was delicious. Everyone got to take home enough for at least a taste and as we made up 40 litres of laundry liquid, we had enough to send home about a litre each. That's plenty to try in quite a few washes.

The hall was set up beautifully. It is a great space for workshops - it's roomy, bright and has the special feature of coffee aroma wafting in from the cafe.

A break for morning tea -  the ladies are filling their containers with laundry liquid.

All of us need inspiration and motivation to carry on. You get that by talking to people who understand what you're doing, by reading about people living simply and by watching women and men at their work.  Simple life may be called simple but it involves work and commitment to succeed. Luckily for us, the work is meaningful and enriching and it allows us to remove ourselves further and further from the materialistic mindset of ever-shopping consumers. Here at Bell, I found a group of people who were striving, just like Hanno and I are, to live true to our values, to be respectful of the land we live on, to become increasingly self-reliant, and content because of it. We may all be living different lives in different parts of the State but we have something in common that binds us together. We all know that it is possible to move away from from conspicuous spending, we are saving money through our efforts and paying off debt, and we value home and family and the work that goes into maintaining them.

The ladies who own the Pips 'n' Cherries at Bell - Karen, Kate and Annette, put such effort into that event. Thank you ladies. Their welcoming attitude was inspiring, the hall was decorated beautifully, the morning tea and lunch were homemade and delicious. Apart from the fact that we all wore modern clothing, we could have stepped into a scene from the 1950s where the CWA had put on a demonstration afternoon tea for the town's women. The hall itself was immaculate, obviously a lot of tender loving care has gone into it. The organisation, welcoming atmosphere and attitude towards sharing and learning resulted in a wonderful event. I was so proud to be a part of it. And what of Hanno, you ask? Well, he had his own little table, close to my demonstration table, he took photos and talked to everyone who came over to introduce themselves and he was spoilt by the Bell ladies who set him up nicely with good coffee and plates of food. Yes, Hanno enjoyed it too. Very much. ;- ) 

There was a lot of talking, sharing, questioning and open minds eager to connect with one another and to go home having seen how easy it can be to move towards making more from scratch. We talked about ripples there. The ripples that tend to move out from such events towards new people. I hope the people who came to Bell and those from the town, keep those ripples going because it is all of us who will make this movement towards a simpler life happen. I am just one person, it needs all of us to talk about what we're doing, and to take the time to show what we know for change to happen. I hope those ripple are still moving and won't stop for a long time.

If you were there, drop me a comment. I'd love to know what you thought of the day.


Tomorrow I'll be going to hospital with Hanno while he has an eye operation. He's having a cataract removed. It's day surgery and we have to go back the following day for the doctor to check his eye. Because of that, and a few other things I have going on, I'll be taking a short break from the blog. I'll be back with you next week. In the meantime, I'll pick some posts from the past that I think you may enjoy reading - either again or for the first time.  Take care everyone. We'll see you soon.


22 June 2012

Weekend reading

Happiness is a glass half empty.

For all the new parents and grandparents. Some common sense about babies.

Self sufficient, off the grid living.

Curlew Country - a delightful UK blog.

Home vegetable gardening in Kentucky.


Tracey is having high tea at her blog.

Crafty and Frugal - Sharon

Life in the American mid-west - Prairie Harmony Lot of lovely photos and practical homemaking here.

This year is racing by. It's already the end of June! I hope you have a lovely weekend. See you again next week.

21 June 2012

Satisfying the meat eaters

A woman asked me the other day for a couple of tips to keep her husband and teenage son happy at the dinner table. She's been trying to cut down the amount of meat they eat, mainly to keep to her budget, but also because she thought they were eating too much meat and wanted them to cut back. Unfortunately, when she made up  spinach pie or vegetable soup, they complained, said they were still hungry and didn't feel full unless they had meat.

Bacon can be added to any quiche.

I think the trick to this is to put a small amount of meat in most meals. In a spinach pie you could add a small amount of bacon, either as a garnish or in the pie itself. A vegetable soup can be made with home made beef stock, this will give a wonderful richness and a meaty taste to the soup, but also add a small amount of diced beef - maybe 250 grams/½ pound, 250 grams/½ pound of minced steak/ground beef made into tiny meatballs or a small amount of sliced up chorizo sausage. All these could be added to the soup and cooked in it.

If you think they're not getting enough and are still hungry, make some dumplings for the soup or bread and salad to go with the spinach pie.

DUMPLINGS - these are very much like scones

  • 1½ cups self raising flour or plain flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder added
  • salt and pepper
  • 75 grams coldish butter
  • herbs - such as parsley, chives, thyme, or tarragon or sage of you're cooking with chicken
  • water
Place flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and add butter. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the flour looks like breadcrumbs.  Add the herbs then a small amount of water to make a fairly stiff dough and mix. Form small balls about the size of a walnut. Drop the dumplings into the soup to cook. They'll rise to the top and stay there. When they're cooked they'll look fairly light and if you break one in two, it will be like a herby scone. They take about five minutes to cook.

Another way to fill those tummies is to serve a pudding. I have found that many men (and women) will feel like they've had a good hearty meal if they're served a good old fashioned pudding. The one I regularly turn to is Jam Roly Poly but it could be apple pie, apple crumble, stewed fruit with baked home made custard, lemon tart or bread and butter pudding. If you add a pudding, it seems more like a treat, but you're also adding fibre, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

This is an old favourite from my childhood. My grandma made it using suet, I use butter instead. It's very similar to a scone dough or a rough pastry dough.
  • 2 cups self raising flour OR plain/all purpose flour with two teaspoons of baking powder sifted in
  • 4 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Enough milk to make a firm dough

Add all the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and using your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour. When it's combined, add the milk and mix in. When it's mixed, cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to firm up. About 30 minutes should do it.

Onto a lightly floured board or bench, roll out the dough into a rectangle. Cut off any bits that poke out too far so you have a neat shape. Cover the dough with raspberry jam (or any jam of your liking) and carefully roll the dough into a sausage shape. You might need the help of a pallet knife or egg lifter. Brush with egg wash and place into an oven proof baking dish. You can curl it around to fit the dish. You need a dish with sides because this will spread out if cooked on a flat tray.

Cook at 180C/350F for about 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve with warm custard.

What little tricks and add ons do you turn to when you hear "where's the meat?!!"?


20 June 2012

Opa and grandma's backyard

I had forgotten. Forgotten how full on it is to look after a newly walking toddler. We had a visit from Shane, Sarndra and Alex last week. They stayed for a couple of days so we had enough time to catch up and to see Alex busy himself discovering new places in our home. Shane has a new job in Gladstone and has already flown up there so after they put him on the plane on Saturday, Sarndra and Alex came back for another overnight stay.  Sarndra's friend had her second baby and Sarndra came up to see her and little Rosie. She took Alex on her first hospital visit, then went back the next morning and asked Hanno and I if we'd look after Alex so she could go alone. 

:- )

This was our first solo babysitting of Alex, who at 11 months is walking confidently and running sometimes, just like his father used to do at exactly the same age. It was a bright and warm morning so I got Alex's little shoes, put them on his feet and took him outside in the sunshine. He LOVED it, although he was unsteady and kept falling over on the grass, so I took off his shoes again and he was off like a rocket, much steadier this time with firm feet on solid ground. I put his hat on his head at least a 20 times and he took it off just as often.

It was really lovely to watch him busy himself in our backyard. He watched birds, he stared at the chooks through the fence, he chased our cat Hettie from her usual sitting post on the garden bench. We had no outside toys for him but he didn't need any, he kept busy with what he found. It was such a good start for us.

He found a couple of buckets and walked around with them, he carried around one of my Crocs, he stared at a leaf REALLY close, he pushed the broom, he put a pebble in the bucket and realised it made a noise. He discovered the laundry trolley and pushed that around with one hand on the trolley and one hand holding the bucket firmly. Of course, he found the water in the bird bath and splashed a while. He found every point of interest in that yard and I could almost feel him taking notice and remembering what he was seeing.

We picked an organic orange from the tree, peeled it and he grazed on that for a while. More running around, a nappy change, a sippy cup of water, more running, some homemade toast and Vegemite. Outside again. With the trolley and the bucket. Looking at him, I remembered that toddlers are easy and difficult at the same time. They're difficult in that you have to always watch what they're doing and sometimes rescue a cat from a vice-like grip, but they're easy in that every thing is interesting to them. Teenagers are easy and difficult too, but in a different way.

I love being a grandma and just like Alex and Jamie, I'm exploring this world through new eyes. There are so many things to be remembered and improved upon now that I'm older and wiser. Hanno is enjoying it too. He's talking about putting a sand pit in the backyard for the boys to play in. I can hardly wait until Jamie is back from Korea and is here with Alex. I can see days ahead when it will be the most natural thing in the world to play in opa and grandma's backyard. It's safe here, there is plenty of space to run and where better for little people to learn about chooks, worms and dirt, and how a seed can turn into a tomato.


19 June 2012

NOW! or patience and restraint

Afternoon winter sun in the bedroom.

This is part of a recent email I received from a young reader here called Stacey. She is asking about having what you want NOW:

The only thing I wrestle with is something I think may be a new trend in my generation - wanting something NOW and the feeling of urgency around it. My husband (mid-thirties) and I have envisioned that we would buy a house on an acre, add water tanks and chooks and solar etc. And currently we are saving a deposit for this imagined house. We would like to save a large chunk to ensure we have a smaller mortgage and change to be able to commence our ideas on the property. 
It is slow going with one income, but since leaving my job we are actually saving more money than we did when I was working (because we are mindful and respectful of our income now, rather than spending on frivolous things). I have one more year to go after this before I am a teacher and we are back to two incomes. 
However, I can't help feeling the sense of urgency all the time. Why can't we save faster? What if I deferred uni so we could have two incomes again? Why are my friends always ahead of me? So what if we have a higher mortgage, we can still afford it…. At times it honestly feels uncomfortable how much I want it to happen RIGHT THIS SECOND and I have laughed at myself many times thinking this is what a two year old feels when they want candy. 

I know I am not alone. I think the difference is that I do not act upon this impulse. 

Do you think this is a generation specific thing? Has my generation becomes a bunch of two year olds who want the candy NOW!?

I have many friends and family who seem to 'have it all' but I see on closer inspection that they are so far in debt, unable to take more than the paid maternity leave, can't afford things without a credit card etc. 
It is these moments that I realise how grateful I am to have no debt and be able to pay cash for everything. That impulse to "have" may be there, but I think it is the ability to say no to yourself that will end up leading to the reward in the end, right?

Thanks for your question, Stacey, I think it's something a lot of us struggle with.

The first thing I want to say, Stacey, is that your spending friends aren't ahead of you. They're behind. They might have more stuff, they might have a house and mortgage already, but you are ahead of them now, you'll be ahead of them when you get your mortgage and I have no doubt you'll be ahead of them when you pay off your mortgage. Being in debt to get what you want doesn't put you ahead of anyone.

I don't think it's generation specific. I think many of the younger generation certainly do seem want everything immediately, and maybe my generation fostered that in their children, wanting them to have the best of everything, but many of my generation want NOW too.  I think it comes from an attitude that is fostered by advertising, wanting us to be dependent on what we can buy. It is all about DE-skilling us so we're reliant on buying everything we need. It's a very childish attitude. Prudence and patience is something we learn as we grow up. Advertising is hoping to short circuit that tendency towards a more mature attitude, they want us to want everything now and they want us to have it now, even if we go into debt to have it.

I think it's also been helped along by mobile phones and the crazy ability to reach anyone at any time, regardless. People are slaves to their phones now, they can't wait. I've had a mobile phone for the past 22 years and I use it mainly to make contact if I'm going to be late or I want to check if there is anything needed at home before I come home. It is not a device for people to phone me while I'm out. In fact, that is one of the pleasures of being out. I don't have to answer the phone. Often I have the phone in my purse, not switched on, and if it is and it rings, I only answer it if it's my family. If I don't recognise a number or I don't feel like talking, I don't answer it. For most of us, most of the time there is no reason for anyone to be contactable every minute of the day. Wait. Wait for the person to call you. Wait until you get home to call. Wait until you feel like talking. Wait for tomorrow or the next day to call back. Your life doesn't have to be interrupted by someone who wants to chat.

Stacey, I think it's admirable that you and your husband have thought about your goals and are putting measures in place to achieve your dreams. One of the important aspects of simplifying is that part that encourages us to slow down, be more reflective and mindful. I find that very easy now but I know it's difficult to be slower and patient when all those around you aren't. It is a skill, it is something you learn, just like budgeting and gardening, so I can only suggest that you remain confident in your actions, remember you're on target and doing well, and understand that most things take their own time. Not everything needs to be fast and stress-filled. It's okay to be slower and to wait.

The beginnings of baked vegetables.

When I look back on a long life with Hanno, I realise that most of the things I cherish now are those that took their own time - having babies, paying off our debt, waiting for just-sown seeds to mature and start producing food for our table and being a grandma. One of the things I love doing now is to start a new knitting project. I take my time finding a pattern, sorting through my wool and cotton, thinking about what I'm making and then when colours and ply have been chosen, sitting down to start that long process of knitting. One stitch by one stitch, I sit and click. It's put down, picked up, put in on old flour bag to take with me to knit when I'm out, and it seems at the beginning that it will be too much for Australia's most impatient grandma to endure the endless thousands of stitches knitted one . by . one ... But it isn't. It is actually the process that taught that same queen of impatience how to wait.

You'll be okay Stacey. I know that because you're mature enough to ask this question, you know it is a weakness and therefore you can do something about it. All intelligent people do that. They recognise their vulnerabilities and they work on them. I'm not sure what your strategy will be to strengthen your resolve towards patience and restraint, but I do know that you and your husband will be rewarded for waiting, and you know that too.

This question will resonate with many readers so expect to read some great comments. So now readers, it's over to you - what advice do you have for Stacey?


18 June 2012

Quiet contentment

We've just finished our first decade of living in a more simple and mindful way and have come through that time much more self reliant than we were to begin with. To me, self reliance is the key to all of this. If we can make what we need, if we can mend and sew, if we recycle, reuse and repair, and if we produce fresh food in the backyard then we're relying more on our own skills and common sense than we do on shops and the system that upholds the current way of living. Anything you can do to move away from that system towards a simpler one will lead you to a more sustainable and mindful life. That system tells us to forget what we know, don't worry about learning anything, everything you need or want, and more, is in the shops. All you need to do is to work until you drop to pay for it.

Pfffft, not this little black duck. And not you either. You wouldn't be reading here if that was your mindset. We're in this together even though our methods and goals may be different - we are different ages and our daily circumstances are worlds apart; we're all living more simply and mindfully than we were. We are all traversing the same path.

I prefer walking on the grass in the backyard than on the marbleised floors of shopping malls. I prefer picking peas off the vine and crunching into them in the garden instead of ordering a garden salad at a restaurant and being horribly disappointed at the poor quality of their produce. I prefer to mend a favourite skirt that feels like a second skin that buy a new one. I don't want to add more land fill waste than I absolutely have to so I recycle and compost and yes, that takes more effort, but it feels much better to do it. I feel like I'm doing my bit.

Mind you it hasn't been all sunshine and laughter. Like everyone else, we've had our share of defeats and failures but we're more inclined to step up again immediately and get on with it instead of complaining and thinking someone will be along soon to fix it all for us. That has been the main lesson learned here over those ten years - that we own the failures as well as the successes, that we're responsible for both and we learn from both. Most of the time we linger between an attitude of calmness and quiet acceptance. Sometimes excitement creeps into our days and occasionally happiness lurks close by but they are spikes, not our normal life curve. I guess you could call our general state quiet contentment.  It's a good place to reside.

So as the years went by, while we've been learning about our soil and vegetables, as we've worried over sick chooks and cried over dying old dogs, as we've watched our children move away to find their own partners and show us their newborn babies, we've always had in the back of our minds that here in our home is where we belong. We feel connected to this patch of land and we feel that we're giving to it as well as taking from it. I have no doubt the old ways of doing things are the best and if you can use those old ways in your modern life, you can have the best of both worlds. Much of what is new is redundant here. We don't follow fashion, we're not slaves to our phones, and while we keep up with technology, we have no problems turning it all off to retain a balance that is not only important to us, it plays a big role in keeping us on this simple path. We need time with our hands in the soil, sensing the changes in the wind and watching the way the clouds change. We are more in tune with the seasons and the weather than ever before.

I know that if we accept that we are part of the natural world, if we know, really know, that for every roast dinner or chicken sandwich we eat, an animal has died, if we know as much as we can about the food we eat, including where it comes from, if we live within our means, if we keep mending, repairing, reusing, recycling and composting and if we keep living true to our values, then we'll continue to reside in that general state of quiet contentment. It makes me smile just at the thought of it.

15 June 2012

Weekend reading

THIS IS AN URGENT NOTE for readers who are taking part in the current swap at the Down to Earth Forum.

Becci is organising the swap and she has asked for anyone who has signed up for the swap, but has not contacted their swap partner, to go to the forum today, get their partners email address and make contact now. If you have any problems with your swap, please contact Becci -  beccisdomesticbliss(at)yahoo(dot)come(dot)au  If you've been in contact with your partner, this message is not for you.


pod and three peas is one of the best food blogs I've ever read.  I'm going to make her quesadillas on the weekend and hope they are as delicious as they look on the blog. The lime and custard slice may become a family favourite here. I think it's an Australian blog but now that google is adding "au" to a lot of my urls, I'm not completely sure. I hope she is. :- )

This is Evie's blog -  Handmade Romance. I think you'll enjoy it.

There is a lovely shawl  on this blog - if you're a knitter, take a peek.  It's down the page a bit.

Cheesemaking for beginners - this is my go-to cheese page. It will give you a good general understanding of making your own dairy foods.

I have been reading The Rose Garden for quite some time, but today I want to point you towards Olivia's Party.   While you're there, look through the other posts as well. They're a very sweet family.


Mrs Rabe

Don't Unplug your Hub

Monarch Place

Bubz Rugz - I think I met Fiona in Toowoomba. :- )

Thank you for your visits during the week. It's a pleasure to read the comments and to build up a picture of you in my head. We have an amazing group of people reading here - it never fails to make me smile at the thought of all of you all over the world. I don't have a lot of time to respond to comments but when I can, I do. Hanno often clicks on links back to your blogs and points out those he thinks I'll like. Enjoy the weekend. See you next week. :- )

14 June 2012

Speaking out in the communities

I'm late today. We slept in. We're still in Toowoomba after spending the time here yesterday speaking at a couple of events at the Toowoomba Library. Both events were booked out with 60 people. It was really wonderful for Hanno and I to meet so many like-minded people and to, hopefully, give them some encouragement towards this simpler way of life.

It will be a quick post today to answer a question asked yesterday:

Hello, I've been reading back through some old posts and also the details of your book. I wondered if you've found that the success of your book now detracts from your ideal of simple living. I don't mean in monetary ways (although I'm sure this has made an impact too) but by doing book tours, being interviewed, all the trappings that come with some degree of fame. Do you feel that in a way you've returned to some of the things you originally yearned to get away from?

Joyce, one of the few things that I don't like about what has been happening since the book was published is that people know me. I am the most ordinary person you might ever meet and I like to go about my life quietly. But having this higher profile helps me with one of my goals. I made a commitment to myself many years ago that I would carry on the tradition  of older women passing on what they know to younger people. I think that is one of the reasons we haven't held on to many of the old ways of living that still work for us in the 21st century. I could easily have given up the blog after the book came out and let the book speak for me, but I still enjoy writing the blog and it gives me a great platform from which to connect to so many people. The book is another way of doing that, so is the Down to Earth forum.

Every time I go to a community to speak, I am there because someone contacted me and asked me to visit them to speak about simple living. When I go to these places, there are many people eager to be encouraged in their new life and supported by someone who has done a similar thing. Often the questions are really simple things like "do you think it's okay to grow a garden for one person?", or "can I let the chickens in the vegetable garden?". People just want to speak to others about things that aren't spoken about much in general life any more. They want to know they're on the right track. If I can encourage one person to continue in their version of a simple life, or to start it, I'm happy to be there.

And yes, it does take away from the time Hanno and I have in our own home but if I could have had an Australian book to read on simple life or someone to talk to who knew the ins and outs of it when I first changed, I would have been so grateful. I cannot be selfish with what I know, Hanno can't be either. I don't want to sound too above myself but if we can make a difference, and if we are capable of making the trip, we'll be there. This phase won't last, so while the interest is there, we'll respond to it. And, I have to tell you this, we are enjoying meeting all these people and when I was working for a living, the word enjoyment didn't come anywhere near me.

13 June 2012

What they do to food - UPDATED

When you read this, Hanno and I will probably be making our way over to Toowoomba, or we'll be there. I don't have time to write this morning, so here are three recent newspaper articles about food that I thought were very interesting and want to share with you. These are all about Australia, but I'm sure the situation is similar in most Western countries.

What they do to food
Food from somewhere
Coles and Woollies killing the competition

I'll see you soon. Now I have to find my gloves. They're telling me it's cold in Toowoomba.

Have just completed the first talk and I was reminded that I need to put up the details of the Bell workshop. This workshop will run from 9.30am - 3pm on Saturday 23 June at Bell. There'll be lots of talking, a couple of demonstrations, bartering (so bring something along) and lots of good will and the potential to make new friends. The cost is $40 and the ladies will be providing morning tea and lunch - all home cooked. 

For catering purposes, bookings are essential on 4663 1184.

12 June 2012

Our rock and our cushion

There are certain things that make me think of my mother. I looked at a new blog on the weekend with fresh poppies in the banner and I shot back to being about eight years old watching my mother burn the bottom of poppy stems on the gas fire "because they'll last longer." She knew so much. She knew all those quirky things that other people's mothers didn't know. I didn't know it at the time, but I was storing all that information away to be brought out too many years later.

Jean St Claire McGrath  1919 - 1993

I think I am the person I am today because of my mother. We look alike and we share a similar personality. When I was younger, she always encouraged me to do my best and she praised both my sister and I whenever we did anything well. She taught us both the love of reading and books, of generosity, kindness and courage, and she taught us how to sew and knit; Tricia made use of those skills long before I ever did. I was a risk taker and tried as much as I could that was new to me, but those things my mother taught, well, I thought they were too soft for me. I had to grow up a lot before I knew their true value. And hers.

I wish I'd been a better daughter.

But I take strength in knowing that I clearly remember my mother and her daily life and I do many things she taught me and modelled for me her entire life. Now that I'm a mother and a grandmother, I am closer to the person I wish I'd been all those years ago. I am more like her. I guess there is no way of being other than what you are, all things come in their own time, and if she were to read this, I am sure she would be the first to remind me of that. I am fortunate to have had such a good role model.

Our families make us in more than one way. We are born from them but they're also our way of seeing the world and others during all those formative years. We do that for our own children too and I think that being a mindful and attentive role model is one of the most important parts of parenting, and grand parenting. We have to not only take the time to be a part of our extended family, we have to show our children how they fit into their family. That will be one of the great gifts you give them, because family has the capacity to be a safe harbour and to guide and protect. And learning how we fit in there, along with the brothers, sisters, cousins, grandmas, grandpappies, mums and dads, shows us what family really is - that it is our rock and our cushion.


11 June 2012

Back to my list

Over the past few weeks, I've moved away from my old habit of writing down what I hope to do during the day. I have been quite busy lately so didn't really notice my change until I could see things not done, or half done. And we've been buying bread at the bakery. I used to have all this down pat - after breakfast I'd put bread on to rise, wash up, clean the kitchen and make the bed and those few tasks would get me in the right mind for doing the rest of my work. Sometimes that was writing most of the day, sometimes it was housework, sewing and mending.  Somehow I moved from breakfast to writing and only remembered to make the bed or wash up when I went to those rooms. I'm not sure if it's because I'm busy or if I'm losing my marbles.

Whatever the reason, I know I need my list.

I know that a list written in the morning is the best way to organise myself. I write it when I know what I feel capable of that day. If I'm feeling energetic, I can add tasks and ideas to my core task group. If I'm not so sprightly, I can just keep the core group, knowing that will keep us going well - we'll be fed and watered and most things will be clean and tidy. When I get back on track again, I can add a chore each day to catch up.

I don't like writing down a week's worth of work. It's too overwhelming. Not writing it down at all, well, then I forget to do it. This morning list does work for me and if you're looking for a good daily guide, this may work for you too.

This shows me just how easy it is to go back to old habits. It's important to stay focused and to monitor what I am doing occasionally. None of us are perfect; it's easy to slip off track, and it's easy to stay off track. I'm pleased to tell you I re-started my list yesterday morning and I got everything done that I needed to get through. I've also started using my computer more for reminders. I already had a "take vitamins" reminder in iCal, now I have a morning tasks reminder too. I'm not going to type the list into the computer because I know I need to think about the list every morning, but a reminder to do the list should be just what I need to get back to this helpful habit.  How do you organise your day to day tasks?

I want to thank those of you who bought my book. It's still on the bestsellers list at Angus and Robinson, Borders and Dymocks, and on the Health and Well Being books bestsellers list at Fishpond. I hoped it would do well but I didn't think it would still be going strong after three months in the shops. My thanks also to those who wrote reviews online for the book. Some have said it's their favourite book and when I read that, well, I was truly humbled.

It's a public holiday here but I have a couple of meetings to attend this morning that I can't do any other time. But when I come home again, Shane, Sarndra and Alex will be here! I am looking forward to watching Alex walk in his new shoes. They'll stay overnight so we'll be able to catch up with their news and spend some time with them. I hope you enjoy your day too and that the week ahead will be a good one for all of us.


8 June 2012

Weekend reading

A report from the Simplicity Institute - The Simpler Way.

This is a fabulous Australia food blog - Ledelicieux

From Cornell University - What was home economics?

Free patterns gallery - Wee Folk art


This is a beautiful and interesting blog - Little Eco Footprints.

Frugal and Thriving - that blog name says it all.

To everyone who will stay busy over the weekend, please take some time to sit with a cup of tea or a cool drink and relax for ten minutes. To those of you who can sit back and relax, enjoy your down time. I hope to see you all back here next week. Take care.


7 June 2012

The whole world in the backyard

Maya, I didn't answer your question because I just found your post in the spam folder. It sounds like the chooks aren't getting anough high protein food. They should be laying well at 18 months of age, although very cold or very hot weather will put them off the lay as will them getting new feathers. Give them some porridge made with milk or bread soaked in milk, some meat scraps or cooked brown rice with milk. Give that every day for a week to boost their protein levels and that may make them lay again. With new chooks, it's best to keep them separate for a while until you know the new girls aren't bringing in any disease. But leave them now they've been introduced and they should get to know each other over the coming days. Expect the older chooks to peck at the younger ones, this is natural behaviour and you should only step in if there is blood, then separate them until the wound heals. Within a couple of weeks they'll become friends and it will be as if they've lived together all their lives.


I've had a lot of emails lately thanking me for various things so I want to remind you all that I am a normal woman and despite what some of you think, I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I think that some of you think I'm better than I am.  I would like to do more than I do, I would like to be better than I am, but I'm just me and I have to settle for that. I think my saving grace is that I'm easy on myself now. I don't expect perfection in myself or anything else, or anything close to it.

I think I'm like an organic backyard orange. I look old and motley on the outside, if you had to pay for me you'd offer 5 cents at a stretch, but when you open me up, the inside is sweet, juicy and healthy. It's a surprise. I think most of us are like that. Very few of us are like supermarket oranges that look perfect, cost a lot, but rarely live up to their promise. Most of us do our best but we are all flawed. We all think we should do more and be more, but now that I've got a few more years on me, I know that being flawed is not a crime, it's just a part of life. If I had not made all the mistakes I have made in my life, I wouldn't be the person I am now. When I fail, I learn from it. Not much happens when life goes smoothly and you succeed all the time. I'd much rather push myself and fail than to sit back and never try because I was too scared. Life is made interesting by uncertainty and the need to improve. 

If you look closely at the photo above you'll see what looks like a little black V shape - it's right in the middle at the top. That is the little male willy wagtail bird that lives here in the trees. He always joins the chooks and wanders around with them pecking at the grass and the crumbs they leave behind. I've noticed he's in nearly every photo I take of the chooks now.

It has been a beautiful winter day here today (written yesterday afternoon). I've got three layers on (one cotton and two woollen), the sky is bright blue, the air is crisp and the wind blows right through you. I've done some weeding, I've researched recipes, written, read and knitted. I sat for a while on the back garden bench and took it all in. I could live my whole life right here and not feel I'd missed one thing. So much is happening now that autumn has turned into winter - the pecan tree is still full of leaves that will soon turn brown and drop, the wisteria is golden and almost bare but the orange tree is growing and putting on new leaves already.

The tomatoes are going gangbusters, there are plenty of crisp young peas for afternoon snacking in the garden, the lettuces are crisp and delicious, the potatoes are up and we have all sorts of cabbages, brocolli and kale growing slowly and delevoping their unique flavours. The lemon tree is full of ripe fruit and it makes me think of one of the CWA recipes I saw today for Lemon Delicious pudding. As I breathe in the cold air and watch the chooks and a willywag tail who thinks he's a chook, I know that this is close to as good as it gets. There is a small leg of pork and vegetables in the oven roasting for dinner, and I can smell that the red cabbage is almost ready. I should go inside but I'll linger here a little longer. I want to get colder. I want to see more.

We have some great outings coming up where I'm hoping to meet many of you. Toowoomba Library next Wednesday for two sessions: 10.30am and 5.30pm. We'll stay in Toowoomba overnight, thanks to the hospitality of the lovely staff and friends of the Toowoomba Library. The following week we have the big day out at Bell where the old hall will be chockers with all us girls and a few men; then in the last week of June, I'm speaking at the Landcare conference in Brisbane. But that last week is also the week Hanno goes into hospital to have cataracts removed, so, as usual, it's the good with the bad. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But I know that while I'm at home with interesting and productive work each day and with a few outings thrown in for interest, I'm happy and fulfilled. Life's good. I hope that when you weigh it all up, yours is too.

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