30 June 2013

RIP Mr Yunupingu

A State funeral today for Mr Yunupingu. RIP Mr Yunupingu.

He was one of our great indigenous leaders and a fine musician.

Treaty, the song he co-wrote and sang, on You Tube

28 June 2013

Weekend reading

The end of another week and time to take it easy for a couple of days. I hope you have that opportunity too. We'll come back stronger for it next week. On Monday we'll continue with our series and start with an important subject, budgeting. Thank you for your comments this week, as usual, they add a lot to what I'm writing about. I hope you have a lovely weekend.  xx

These two photos were taken at the Beerwah CWA rooms when I had my recent talk there. The top photo shows the vintage tea cups waiting to be filled with morning tea and the table cloth is a hand embroidered cloth showing the branch members names. The pineapple embroidery depicts an important local crop - pineapples. So sweet.

Kate at Purple Pear gave me Cecelia Macauley's name as one who has been writing about applying permaculture principles to our homes. Here is her blog.
Our ash grove
Fig Jam and Lime Cordial
Oh Betty
Fields and Fire

Anderson Cottage
The Quiet Home
Dusty Country Road

27 June 2013

Location - claiming your ground

Before we move onto specific subjects such as budgeting, paying off debt, traditional skills, baking, cooking from scratch, organisation, routines, decluttering, recycling, vegetable gardening, chooks and whatever else we can think of, I'd like to talk about living where you are - claiming your ground.

I suppose simple living is often been seen as a rural pleasure. A way of life that makes sense in the country, or at least outside the city. I think there are arguments for and against most locations, the key here is to work out where you have to be at a particular stage of your life and then make it work for you. Bloom where you are planted.

I live in a semi-rural town about an hour's drive from our capital city and I'm very happy here. There is good rainfall, we've built up our soil so it now produces abundant harvests, the sun shines most days and nothing much happens. At this stage in my life, all those things are important to me. But public transport here isn't as reliable and frequent here as it is in the city, if we needed specialist medical services we'd probably have to drive into the city for them, and entertainment consists of beaches, cinemas and not much else.

Living in the city offers good public transport, a wide variety of shops from which to buy groceries, a better choice of many things such as art galleries, exhibitions and schools. The down side of city life is that in Australia, and probably in other countries too, rents and house prices are much higher.

Usually life tends to place us in certain locations depending on our stage of life. If you are living in an area that doesn't seem to support your wish to live more simply, you might just need to think outside the square and make the most of where you're at. Everything you do will prepare you for a move to another place later but don't waste this part of your life wanting to be where you can't be.

When we moved here we had a large block of land with an 1980s brick house on it. There were no fences, water tanks, solar panels, gardens, verandahs or garage. Over the years, when we could afford to add something, we did, and now we live in a home that easily supports our way of life. If we'd given up on being here, we never would have felt the warm familiarity we feel now. This is our true home now and I reckon we'll both die here.

If you're having trouble claiming your space now, look at the permaculture principles again here. If you can apply any, or several, or these principles to your current home, that will be a starting point for you. If that doesn't work, learn a traditional skill such as knitting, fermenting, baking bread or making wine and see how that fits into your life and if it makes you feel that your home is home (for now).

Whatever you do, don't waste time whining about where you want to be. Get on with your life and focus on the positives. Just do what you can do. It is possible to bloom where you are planted in almost any location. If you have the will to do it you can make a warm and comfortable home anywhere.


26 June 2013

Changing your mindset and living your values

At first, staying as motivated as you need to be to live this kind of life looks like it might be too much. I worried if I could stay on track but I had a shift in thinking and it became easier, immediately. Changing your mindset will help you stay on track too. Let's face it, when you're just starting out on this journey and your best friend invites you to go out for coffee or lunch, or to cruise around the shops together or go on a weekend away, it feels like it's just too good to turn down. You might not have a good reason to not go.

I changed my mindset - or how I looked at the common things in my life - by thinking about what I wanted out of life. Did I want to wander aimlessly though shops looking for things to buy? Did I want to remain disconnected and feeling empty? No, what I actually was to feel more alive than ever before. I wanted to be able to get up every morning knowing that the work ahead of me that day would help strengthen me. I wanted to feel more comfortable in my own home than in a shop. I wanted to find myself. I used to live in this body but I'd gone missing in action. I wanted to find my way back home.

I did a lot of thinking on my front verandah. I stared out into the eucalyptus trees and while wrens and willy-wagtails swooped through the trees, I wondered how I could reconnect with my home, how I could enable my family to live on a reduced income, how I could find happiness again. I used to be happy with the simple things in life. What happened?

On those first few days of sitting and thinking, I thought about what I valued in life. I wrote it all down so I could add to it and wouldn't forget it. I used that list in my book, and here it is again, my constant reminder:

I want my life to provide me with:
  • A reason to get up every morning
  • Interesting and productive work
  • Contentment that explodes into happiness occasionally
  • A framework in which to live simply
  • The opportunity and continued ability to learn skills that facilitate our lifestyle
  • A strong and generous family circle that supports every member of our family – during the good times and especially when it’s tougher
  • Opportunities to express generosity, kindness and empathy
  • The strength to be a role model to the younger women in my family
  • The enthusiasm and perseverance to take charge of my home and make it a place of comfort, welcome and warmth
It's quite easy to write a list like that, it's much more difficult to write a list that truly reflects your wishes and then to live by it. I'm pleased to tell you that, so far, I'm living to that list and still feel very strongly about the values I listed.

So how did I go from a workaholic who shopped, to someone who was calmer, kinder and values-driven? I changed my definition of what success meant to me. I used to measure success by the amount of money I made and spent. I had shifted from my working class roots to someone who thought that buying too much for my children would make us all happy. It gives me no pleasure typing that out and I just realised I was frowning as I typed. But everyone is capable of change and over those first few weeks, my successes were good bread, how many eggs I collected each day, having my family notice the change in me and being a much nicer person to be around. I'd stopped being competitive and negative and tried to make improvements not only in my home but in my heart as well. It felt good!

Simple life isn't just about the practical things you do every day, it's also about how you feel about yourself and those around you. When I look back, I barely recognise that old me. I'm no push over now, I say what I think and I'll stand up for what I believe in but I'm not on a crusade to convince everyone that I'm right. I'm much more tolerant and accepting of everyone's view and changing my mindset, changing my view on what success was, that did it for me. I live in a softer place now.

So if you're at the beginning of this journey or if you're not feeling quite right about how you're living, I  encourage you to take some time out, sit and think about what you want out of life. Think about what you don't like about your life and yourself and then try to picture what you want. Write down that new life in short sentences to make up your list. And do it in pencil so you can edit it and make it the refined list you'll happily live with for many a long year. I am living proof that you can change your life with a pencil and a piece of paper. All you need is the quiet time and the will to do it.

Have you had a similar experience to mine or did your change happen in a different way? I would love to read about how your changes started and it may be just the thing someone else needs to read today.

25 June 2013

Working in your home - your system

Although during the previous 30 years we'd kept chickens, stockpiled, paid off debt, cooked from scratch, knitted and sewn, I felt all those things were just single activities that were useful in their own right, certainly, but not part of a useful or recognisable system. One day, soon after I came back to my home full time, I was thinking about how homemaking tasks related to the backyard and it all fell into place. It was all connected, I just didn't have a name for what I was hoping to do. The backyard provided fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs for the kitchen, the stockpile supplemented the backyard produce and the meat, fish and chicken I bought. Cooking from scratch improved our health. All of it impacted on our budget. It was the same for the laundry - making my own cleaners not only gave me better quality at a lower price, if I bought the raw materials in the form of borax, washing soda, soap, vinegar, bicarb, citric acid and salt, I could home produce all my cleaners within my system and leave the commercial cleaners in the supermarket. If I worked on it, I could see myself buying less and producing more of what we needed at home. I hadn't heard of the term 'simple living' then. Soon it would change me, change my life and make me happier than I could imagine.

I started to think about applying a permaculture-related concept to my home, where instead of focusing on each separate element in the home and backyard, I worked to strengthen the relationship between all my tasks so my system would be greater than the sum of its parts. It seemed clear to me that if permaculture could work so well outside in the backyard, then the design principles could also be applied in the home and to housework as well. I looked around on the internet for guidance but to my surprise no one else was writing about this. There were many websites about food production using permaculture principles, there were articles about permaculture and Waldolf and homeschooling, breastfeeding, dying with dignity and other seemingly unrelated elements of home life, but nothing about how to organise a home into zones and how the principles of permaculture also worked inside the home.

These are the commonly accepted permaculture principles:
  • Observe and interact.
  • Catch and store energy.
  • Obtain a yield.
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services.
  • Produce no waste.
  • Design from patterns to details.
  • Integrate rather than segregate.
  • Use small and slow solutions.
  • Use and value diversity.
  • Use edges and value the marginal.
  • Creatively use and respond to change.
If I divided my home according to the zone concept in permaculture. The goal then would be to apply the above principles to every zone to create a warm and productive home where every family member thrived.

Permaculture zones in an urban home
Zone 0
The house. Here babies are conceived and cuddled, toddlers turn into school children, then teenagers. The home is where families grow into strong units.
Zone 1
This is the zone were the most action happens and for me, that's the kitchen. Included in this zone are the freezer, pantry, stockpile cupboard and kitchen table.
Zone 2
This zone requires a little less attention but still it's busy. This is the laundry where we wash clothes, make cleaners, make and store soap and keep the ingredients for all our cleaners.
Zone 3
This is the living and relaxation area of our home - the lounge room, front and back verandahs.
Zone 4
This is our maintenance zone. It's is sewing and work room and the linen cupboard. In here I mend, sew, store fabrics, yarns, sewing machine, knitting needles, buttons and sewing tools.
Zone 4
Takes in the garage, the garden shed and Hanno's big shed. These areas are where we store broken furniture, bits and pieces waiting to be fixed, tools, hay and backyard equipment.
Zone 5 
Budgeting zone. Although this is not an actual place and doesn't require daily monitoring, it's an important part of the system because it relates to every zone.

* Information about permaculture from permacultureprinciples.com

Over the years I've checked every now and then to see if anyone is using zones and permaculture principles in their homes but have haven't found it yet. If you know of such a site, please let me know.

It seems to me that applying permaculture principles to our homes would work well and I guess my home is run using permaculture principles and traditional old methods, but more in the way of my grandmother's home rather than my mother's. I use routines, plans, lists and a diary to help me organise my day-to-day tasks. I try to work mindfully, I respect my surrounding environment and support my community. I'm not going to say that my simple system of working here is permaculture but I do use the principles of permaculture in my daily work. 

How would you describe your style of working in your home?


24 June 2013

How to start your simple life

This is the first post in a series that will revisit the basic elements of simple life. It's about how we live here but also about the possibilities, now and in the future, for you to live simply. This is written as much for my own sake as for yours because I find it useful to refocus on what I'm doing quite frequently, to decide if changes are needed, and to improve what I do. Life is never static.

Let's start with the most basic - the name. Simple living isn't all that simple. In fact, when you give your whole life to it, it takes more time and effort because you tend to slow down, stop buying convenience and often home-produce a lot of the things you used to buy. So let's agree that the name doesn't mean much, it's just a way of us identifying a certain mindset and although we're all doing different things, we'll lump it all under the 'simple living' title for the sake of expedience and clarity.

The next thing to agree on is that what Hanno and I do here at our home isn't the only way to simplify. We are older than most of you and now we no longer work for a living, we have the gift of time to do whatever we like. Many of our contemporaries are off enjoying their retirement travelling in caravans around Australia in search of the good life, freedom, satisfaction and enjoyment. Hanno and I found that right here at home.

The two photos above are of my sister's kitchen and fuel stove.

We built a stockpile, grow organic food in our backyard, have stopped buying anything that is not necessary, cook from scratch every day, use our leftovers, preserve our excesses from the garden, bake bread, cake and biscuits, shop locally and support our community, have cut back on electricity and water, mend, repair and keep up our house maintenance. We firmly believe that everything we have here are our assets and we work to keep everything in working order for as long as possible. We recycle and reuse. We value the work we do alone, and together, and we value each other.

That is what WE do. It's not THE recipe for a simple life. There is no recipe and while there are a number of elements we all do, most of us pick and choose how we structure our simple lives according to age, children, work outside the home, income and ability. Simple life is always changing - there will be things you do now that you'll probably stop doing in the future; things that help you now that will become irrelevant. You'll change as your skill set grows, when the time you have in your home increases or decreases and when your passion and mindset start directing how you live.

Everyone who decides to simplify in some way will do it differently. Age plays a big part in this. You will do different things depending on how much time you have and at what stage you're currently at. The trick is to not take on unnecessary debt at any stage so that you have to work to pay back debt instead of living your life. We'll talk about money and it's role in life later but let's just say now that most of us will take on debt in the form of a mortgage and it's important to pay that off as quickly as you can. 

So if you're wondering how to start living more simply, take some time to work out what your values are. Write a list and then depending on what is on your list, start with the most important part or the part that you can do right now - today. The other day, a younger lady asked how she could live more simply, given that she had young children and was working outside the home. I told her to start on making laundry liquid. It only takes five minutes to make ten litres, saves so much money and she would be using a lot of laundry liquid with the young children. What I have found is that when you try one new thing, it tends to lead you to the next thing and the next. So for this woman, she may make laundry liquid when she has time and when she sees it works so well, she might look into making other green cleaners. So for her, cleaning would be her starting point. You can start anywhere - by writing up a budget, menu planning, thinking about how you shop, creating a vegetable garden, buying chooks, making soap, organising your kitchen to better suit how you work, installing solar panels or water tanks/barrels. It could be anything.

I started with grocery shopping. I needed to cut the cost of living in our home so I worked on that first. That lead me to stockpiling, baking, cooking from scratch everyday, preserving, freezing, chooks and the backyard. I started with one thing and it lead on to others. It will be different for all of us, we are a diverse group of differing ages, values, ambitions and capacities. So it doesn't matter what you do first, the important thing is to start.

Making chicken stock.

I'd love you to share how you started living a more simple life. What was the first thing you did and did that lead on to anything else?


22 June 2013

New workshops

I finished arranging dates for the last four workshops yesterday and want to tell you about them straight away. I'm really excited about meeting more people who read my blog and although it means long drives, it's so worth it. I'll remember the Blackheath weekend with Tricia and our wonderful groups for a long time. Hanno will be my helping hand at these workshops and we'll be joined at one of the venues by Chantel, who I met at Blackheath. We'll be at Lismore, Samford, Mudgee and Long Jetty.

I want to support the ladies at the CWA in the various towns we'll be visiting so all the workshops will be at a CWA hall or rooms. I've asked each of the branches to cater for our lunches on both days as well. The CWA are an important part of many rural towns in Australia and I will support them whenever I can. 

The dates and times are:
10 and 11 August, from 9.30am - 3.30pm
CWA Rooms
Molesworth St
Lismore NSW

17 and 18 August, from 9.30am - 3.30pm
CWA Hall 
Main Street
Samford Qld

14 and 15 September, from 9.30am - 3.30pm
CWA Rooms
48 Market St
Mudgee NSW

12 and 13 October, from 9.30am - 3.30pm
CWA Rooms 
1 Pacific St 
Long Jetty NSW

I'll be able to take bookings from 15 people on each day. I want to keep the groups small so we all have a chance to get to know each other and to have decent discussions as we sit together around our table. Our topics will include simple life, budgeting, cleaning, housework and routines, home production of laundry liquid, soap, jams and sauces and there'll be a demonstration of how to make laundry liquid. We'll also have a knitting session for those who want to learn how to knit. There'll be continuous tea and coffee throughout the day and lunch will be served.  The cost is $195 each which includes everything.

If you're interested, please contact me at rhondahetzel@gmail.com  You can add a topic that interests you or find out more details about the workshops.

21 June 2013

Weekend reading

We had a lovely morning with the CWA ladies over at Beerwah yesterday. I took a couple of photos that I'll show next week. Although I've been taking it easy this week, I'm glad the weekend is coming up because I want to finish making a few things for my beautiful grand-nephew, Johnathan. My head is clearer now after that knock I gave it last weekend and I'm looking forward to finishing off a sleeping bag and a few pairs of mittens for him.

I've almost finished making arrangements for the next workshops. I'll talk to my final venue organiser this morning and have that information for you on Monday.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend with your loved ones, or if you're by yourself, that you do something you enjoy. Don't forget to take time for yourself, it's important to recharge the batteries so you remain strong and focused.  And thanks for the comments you left this week. They kept me going when I felt like such a dumb cluck for falling. xx

- - - ♥ - - - 

Australia's cost of living

How caffeine can cramp creativity

Dan Lepard's best bread

How to not raise a slob

Exhibition of British quilts - thanks to my friend Andrew Davies at Radio National for sending this link.

Colourful and interesting - Homebaked

Gardenmama isn't updated anymore but it's still full of wonderful posts.



20 June 2013

Blogging for beginners - 2

If you read yesterday's post you may well have your blog set up and ready to go. Let's take a look at content and how to customise your blog now. There are all sorts of strategies that will help you create an audience but I think it comes down to one thing - content. If you write well, write information that people need or find interesting, and if you write frequently, you'll build an audience. You can also build an audience by visiting other blogs and commenting. If you comment under your blog name, or under a name with your blog link, it will leave a little trail back to your blog. That link will stay on that blog and anyone who clicks on it will be transferred to your blog. You can leave another trail by adding your live blog link to your emails, in Facebook and if you belong to any forums, in your forum signature.

I think comments are like payment for a blog. I doesn't take long to leave a comment but it means so much to the blogger. Feedback and adding to the subject matter in comments adds to the value of a blog. Comments can make or break a blogger. I know of people who have given up blogging because of the comments - there either aren't any or they're nasty. Usually it's just one disagreeable person but when you get one of these nutters, they can make your blog life miserable. My advice is to always moderate your comments - the setting for that is in "settings", then "posts and comments". Set the "comment moderation" to "always". Moderating your comments means you read each comment and give your approval before it's published on your blog. That gives you control over what is seen on your blog. If you get a nasty comment, or one that is rude or offensive, delete it and no one will know anything about it. Delete it and don't think about it. These people have nothing better to do with their time. Always remember, it's not about you, they don't know you, it's their immature response, nothing more. So promise me you'll delete any nasty comments and just get on with your blog. Those people are not worth a second thought.

Gadgets: gadgets are a way of adding extra functions to your blog. You can install gadgets for a calendar, a link list, searching, followers, adding an image to your sidebar and many other things. You'll find the gadget function in the Layout section of Blogger. Once you've installed the gadget you need, you simply drag it to the place you want it to be. Please note, adding too many gadgets will slow down your blog.

Mobile Template: If you have readers who read your blog on a mobile phone or tablet, you can check to use the mobile version of the Blogger template you choose. BTW, I have chosen the Simple template and it's the one I keep going back to time and time again. It also has a version of mobile template attached to it.

Respect your readers: Write well and be careful. Make sure your spelling is correct, that you punctuate well and make your writing as clear as possible. Your writing is the only way you can communicate your message to your readers so if readers have problems understanding your writing, the'll leave and find other blogs to read. There is plenty of competition, you have to make people want to come back. 

Reduce size of photos: Photos add a lot of interest to our blogs and if you can, you should add a few photos that illustrate what you're writing about. But you need to reduce the size of your photos. I've been blogging for six years and I'm still under my storage quota. Google gives you a certain amount of space to store photos - the photos that are on your blog. Once you go over that limit, you pay for storage space. Reduce the size of every photo you add down to under 150kb. I use Apple's built in export photo facility and that reduces the size when I export. You can also use a free program called Gimp, I think you can reduce size in Paint and possibly Picasso.

Legals and ethics: Never post copyrighted information, it is illegal to do so. Never write anything that might defame someone, that you know to be untrue or will invade someone’s privacy. Here are the Australian guidelines for blogging copyright. Please search for a similar guide for your own country: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/19714/1/Australian_Copyright_Blog_Guide.pdf 

How often should you blog: In the beginning, to establish an audience, if you can, blog every day or every weekday. That might go on for six months, then you can ease off a little. You do that to get readers into the habit of checking your blog, putting you on their reader list and hopefully visiting you every day or two. Readers love knowing there will be new material waiting when they visit. If they visit a few times and nothing has changed, they’ll drop you. There are so many other blogs, you have to be up there, reliable, interesting and delivering to make a mark. If you're not concerned with building an audience, then blog whenever you feel like it.

We added a new blogging forum to the Down to Earth forums yesterday. It's here.  In that forum you can either ask for help from our experienced bloggers or you can list your blog link in our blog list.

Blogging is such a big subject but I hope I've covered the topic enough in this limited space for you to give it a go. If you have a specific question, go to the forum and post your question there.

Next week we're going back to basics and going over some of our key simple living elements. We all need to revisit subjects like budgeting, paying off debt, cleaning, gardening, food storage, grocery shopping etc. Well, I know I do. It helps me stay on track and look at ways of improving what I'm doing. If there is a certain subject you want covered, let me know.


19 June 2013

Blogging for beginners - 1

Yesterday I wrote about blogging and said then: "now we've all got our own printing press sitting inside our computers and we can all publish whatever we like." I've been thinking about that and it's not completely true. Yes, we've got the ability to print what we want now but we also have to have a belief in ourselves to make it happen. So it's what's inside our computers as well as what's inside our heads that counts. I believe we all need to start with the truth. Nothing will lose readers faster than lack of credibility and while the truth may not always be pretty, you can create beauty with words and by writing with integrity. 

Like many of you, I blog about the ordinary domestic life I live. I see beauty in that and I hope my words and photographs portray what I see, as well as the truth of it, to you. But blogs can be about anything, the subject matter is crucial, so choose your subject carefully because you'll spend a lot of time thinking and writing about it. And remember, blogging is not compulsory. There will be many people who prefer to read blogs but not write them.

Before you start you'll have to decide a few things, the most important being who is your audience. Of course your family and friends will be your audience, but who else? If you don't want an audience, if your blog really is for your own family and circle of friends, you can change your settings so that only those people can access it. However, if you are hoping to develop a wider audience, then you'll need to decide who you're writing for and then keep your audience in mind when you write. That doesn't mean you must write about that topic every day but it does mean that most of your writing will focus on that topic. I write about families, ageing, retirement, the value of work and other things in addition to my main topic, simple living. I also try to mix practical posts with more philosophical ones. Writing my blog that way gives me a lot of satisfaction and I hope it shows that I'm not just a work horse; I take time for myself too.

You'll need to choose a blog name. Pick a name that relates to your topic but also means something to you. You won't be able to choose a name that's already in use and Google will check the names before registering a unique one for you. When you're setting up your blog remember the blog only becomes public and available for reading when you have your readers (in basic settings) set to "anybody" (so that anybody can read it) and then you press the "publish" button. All your changes of templates, column width, colour and font can be changed over and over until you hit on the right mix for you, but none of it becomes public until you press "publish". So experiment, change things around and be bold. Remember though that the background should never overshadow your writing and photographs. Aim for clarity and subtlety rather than flamboyance if you're hoping to attract an audience. Dazzle your readers with your words and thoughts rather than your background or template.

The other thing you'll need in the set-up phase is a header. My header is the photo at the top of my blog with Down to Earth and the chicken on it.  Actually, there is the option to have either a header or just the blog name. If you choose just the name, you don't have to worry about a header but if you want one, then you'll need a program like Photoshop, Coreldraw or a free program I use is called Inkscape - available for Mac and Windows. You start off with a photo, crop it, add your blog name and save it as either a jpg or png file. Then you can load it to your blog in the "Layout" section.

Some experienced bloggers advise newcomers to have a number of posts prewritten before starting. I very rarely pre-write posts because I want my blog to be about daily life so I have to wait until I do it to write about it and take my photos. When I started, it took me about a day to look through all the options and find a template and style I was happy with. Then I wrote a couple of blog posts but didn't publish them. I came back the following day, fine tuned a couple of things, re-read the posts and was happy with them, then I pressed "publish". Remember, you can change your template, colours, font etc at any time. I regularly change mine, mainly to keep things fresh and to add interest.

Books are written about building an audience and many bloggers have differing ideas about how to do it effectively. I never expected success when I started I just tried to write well and give my readers information they may not find elsewhere. I guess what I'm saying here is not to worry about numbers of visitors when you start. While it's definitely not a build it and they will come-type situation, you do need to actively build your readership if that's important to you. But we can talk about that later.

I use the Blogger software to connect to you. There are other more complex programs with more features such as Wordpress, Tumblr and Typepad but Blogger does everything I want it to do, it's easy to use, free, and those of us who blog using Blogger have Google looking after our security. On some other programs you have to take care of that yourself. I've been using Blogger for six years and I can count on one hand the number of times I've had problems with it. You may want to move to another program when you're well established, but whatever you do, Blogger is a good starting point.

Here is a very good video on how to set up a Blogger blog. How to set up a blog video. You'll need a gmail account to start, then log in to Blogger and start setting up your blog following the video as your guide. To do that, open two tabs on your computer - one with the video open and one on your Blogger page. Just switch over from one to the other while you go through the process.

Take your time, make notes as you go and enjoy the process. Blogging is a wonderful pastime and one that will give you a lot of pleasure. I had no idea I had so much to say about blogging. This post is getting quite long and I haven't written half of what I want to share with you so I'll stop here. You have the information here to allow you to get a Blogger account and set up a basic blog so go ahead and do that if you want to. Tomorrow I'll have a list of more specific things that will help you on your way to press that "publish" button for the first time.


18 June 2013

Blogs give us a voice

Thanks to everyone who sent a message about my bruised face. I'm fine and feeling even better today. I think I have the sweetest readers on the internet.

xxx ♥ xxx 

Although I didn't know what a blog was ten years ago, now blogging is part of my daily life. The internet has given us all the freedom to roam internationally and what we write now has the potential to be read world-wide. I love that because when I grew up, children, particularly girls, where expected to be seen and not heard. Those old ways changed drastically in the early 1960s when, among other things, The Beatles arrived and music started giving teenagers a voice. I don't think I've stopped talking since.

Still, no matter how much we had to say, the media - TV, radio, newspapers, magazines etc. acted as filters for our thoughts. If someone wanted to do an article or program on a certain kind of home or way of living, first you'd have a reporter giving her or his interpretation of it, the editing process would further refine it and the way it was eventually portrayed might be quite different to how things really were. Until blogs came along, we had to be chosen to be written about, now we've all got our own printing press sitting inside our computers and we all can publish whatever we like.

Blogs have given all of us the ability to be heard, so we can advocate on behalf of our local school, we can criticise or praise our politicians, we can write words no magazine would publish, or we can write about and photograph our domestic lives, our families and how to knit dishcloths until the cows come home and no one with an agenda or the opposite viewpoint can to stop us. Yes, blogs have given us the power to communicate to an audience. That is a good thing.

I love the authenticity of blogs. Instead of the old way of viewing everything through someone else's filter, now women and men are writing their own stories, taking their own photographs and telling us how it really is. There is good and bad in that because now we have all those blogs writing their own authentic stories but it brings with it a lot of writing that would benefit from an editor's pencil. It's not always authentic either. We all have our own ways of selecting favourite blogs. I tend to go back to the blogs that are well written and have non-staged photographs. I want to see how things really are. I don't want a staged version of it.

So now here we are with the means to write what we want to write and for that to be available for reading all over the world. It's a powerful thing. I'd like to encourage more people to blog because there is always room for more interesting blogs and for writers with fresh ideas. Blogging gives a lot to the writer too. It provides the best kind of life record for you and your family and you never know, you might write exactly what's needed and build a popular blog. Tomorrow I'll blog about setting up a Blogger blog in the hope of motivating those of you who don't blog.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your blogging experiences or why you don't blog now.

17 June 2013

Family day with a twist and a plain shawl

Saturday started out well although it was cold and very windy. We invited some of the family over for lunch so I spent the morning tidying up and preparing for that. When Jens and Cathy arrived they told us a tree had come down in the front yard and it was perched, swaying, on the electrical lines on the road.  Energex was called to deal with it, Kerry and Jamie arrived, we closed the doors to keep the wind out, then settled down to enjoy our lunch. We spent a few very pleasant hours with them and when they left at 3.30pm, we cleaned up and settled in for an evening in with the wind still blowing outside.

In the evening I went into the bedroom to turn on the electrical blanket. Unfortunately for me, my foot caught up in the blanket's electrical cord and when I went to walk away, I tripped and fell in the dark room, smashing my face against the floor and crushing my glasses into my nose. Luckily it was carpeted. Now I have a gash between my eyes, a bruised nose and knees and two black eyes. That's me below yesterday.
Not a pretty sight.

I'm feeling a bit silly about it but I'm a tough old bird and although I look like I've gone three rounds with Mike Tyson, I'm fine although I am a bit sore. I'm giving a talk at the Beerwah CWA on Thursday so I hope I don't scare the ladies.

A few emails arrived after the last post on knitting dishcloths asking for another project for beginners. I also had a few ladies ask about my shawl at the Blackheath workshop so I thought it was a great second project for all those beginner knitters. I know it looks complicated but it isn't and if you know how to cast on and knit garter stitch, you'll only have to learn how to increase and decrease. Simple! 

I have several links below to either patterns or blogs of people who have knitted their own version of this shawl. I love mine and I'm really pleased I knitted it. I used organic cotton and made it in one piece, not using the I-cord that some patterns mention. I used circular needles, size 5, but used as you would normally use two needles. This allowed me to keep a lot of stitches on my needles.

If you don't want the back a triangular shape, don't increase as much.

You'll find the start edge will be straight and the knit front and back edge will be slanted. From the third row you'll increase one stitch in each increase row and every second row is just plain stitching to get back to the straight edge start. If this slant is too much, instead of increasing every second row, increase every fourth row and plain knit three rows. In addition to the cast on and knit stitches you already know, you'll have to learn knit one front and back (K1 f&b), and knit two together (K2tog).  Look at this link to see how to do those two stitches. I didn't want a triangle back so when I got to the back, I stopped increasing so much and only increased about every eighth or twelfth row. If you do this, write down what you do because you'll have to do the exact reverse on the other side when you're decreasing.
This is the start of the shawl.

TOP TIP: Write down your pattern as you knit because when you get to the half way point, you have to mirror what you did on the other side. By writing it all down, you can accurately mirror the decrease side to the increase side.

This is how I did mine, it is all in plain/knit stitch with the increase stitch:
  1. Cast on two stitches.
  2. Knit two stitches - you're now back at the start.
  3. Knit the first stitch, then knit front and back (K1 f&b), knit to the end.
  4. Knit the row back to the start.
Keep knitting in this way until it looks like it might be about half way. Measure the shawl on yourself and when the pointed end hangs down low enough and the back feels comfy, you're half way finished and need to start decreasing.

To do that, at the half-way point:
  1. Knit your next row till you have three stitches left on your left needle. Knit two together (K2tog), then knit the final stitch.
  2. Knit the row back to the start.
Continue those two rows until you're back to your pointy end, then cast off and bind in your loose ends.

I hope you'll try this or one of the other patterns. It's quite a big project but it's easy and fast and doing something like this will build up your knitting skills. Remember, as in everything in life, it doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to be as good as you can do it. My shawl has a couple of uneven edges but it just serves to show me that I should improve on my next project.

As usual, if you have any problems with this, come to the forum and I, or one of the other members, will help you. Click here to go to the knitting forum.


14 June 2013

Weekend reading

Thanks to everyone who commented on the community workshops I'm doing. Hanno and I will be work out what we can do and I'll post about that on Sunday.  I hope you have a beautiful weekend.

- - - ♥ - - - 

"Cooking is a politician act." - Michael Pollan on his new book Cooked - A Natural History of Transformation

A conversation with David Holmgren on Radio National - audio file

Samuel Alexander from the Simplicity Institute has written a book of fiction about the catastrophic collapse of society and the rebuilding of it using a simple sustainable model. Titled Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation, it's available in print and Kindle versions. More info here.


Cassandra @ stitchandsewcreates

Jusmom1 @ UggaBear Cottage

Margo @ Thrift at Home

13 June 2013

Maintaining your home over the years

Thanks to everyone who commented on the workshops. I'm sorry, but Melbourne is too far for us to come. I no longer fly and the drive to Melbourne would take us four days there and back. I'm still looking into it in various towns and I'll let you know where we'll be soon.

- - - ♥ - - - 

Every so often Hanno and I look at our home to see if there are changes we need to make. I was 50 when we moved here so most of the changes then were to accommodate our family and make our home a productive workspace. Now 15 years have passed by and while we've kept up a maintenance program to keep our home functioning and productive, now it's time to think about our ages and prepare for the future.

We both want to live here for as long as possible. We do not want to go into an aged persons' facility or live with our family (as much as we love them), we want to continue to work here at home, safely, and we hope to die here - Hanno in the garden and me at the computer, writing one last book. (The unfinished masterpiece.) To do that we need to stay healthy, make sure there are no safety hazards and do only what we can do now, not what we could do 10 years ago. We're not quite at the safety rails in the shower stage but with Hanno turning 73 this year, I'm guessing it won't be too long. We both have brief periods of dizziness occasionally.

We've decided we have to do something about our front and back verandahs. In the past, the front verandah was for morning teas and pot plants, and the back verandah was for the pets and garden equipment. We both want a more secure screen door on the front of the house - a steel one that can remain open in the hot months while still giving some protection from who knows what. While we were looking into that, Hanno noticed there are some cracks appearing in the front door, so we've decided to replace that too.

Before we do anything, we'll have to rainproof both front and back verandah roofs. We get torrential downpours here and often have water leaking through the roof, both front and back. So the roofs needs fixing and that creates a problem because Hanno can't climb up on there anymore. Yesterday we had a local handyman come around to give us a quote to have some of this work done. We'll probably have him do the roof work and hang the new doors, the other work we can do together.

We've decided that now we no longer have dogs, we want to make the back verandah much more comfortable with some outdoor furniture and maybe a cane lounge. We'll buy all that secondhand. We did get a quote to have the floors tiled but it would have cost a few thousand dollars and we didn't see the value in that. Painted concrete will be fine. We can add a bit of sand to the paint to make it non-slip. When it's finished we'll have an alternative to the kitchen table for people to sit and chat.

This is a big change for us. Having to rely on others to do work we normally would have done ourselves doesn't quite feel right yet but it will enable us to get on with the work we can do. We've always we proudly self-reliant but I guess we all reach a stage when we have to leave some things behind and not feel too much regret. I'm looking forward to the changes and hope we can successfully create an area that's aesthetically pleasing while remaining productive and functional.

How are you managing the stages in your life at home? Are you undergoing the age changes we're starting now, are you modifying for small children or are you still at the regular maintenance stage?

I just found that Kate at Purple Pear Organics blogged about maintenance and repairs this past Monday. Check out her blog as well.


12 June 2013

Workshops fire up passion for this solitary life

I've been thinking a lot about the recent workshops I've presented along with Hanno and Tricia and if I had to come up with one word to describe my feelings about the workshops, it's motivating. After both the Lockyer Valley workshop and the Blackheath workshop, I came away motivated and sure that what we're doing here it right for us, right for our community and a small step in the right direction towards repairing some of the environmental damage we've done in the past. I doubt we'll ever make up for our share of the damage our indiscriminate shopping has done but I swear I'll never stop trying to. I also felt a recommitment to the way we live after both workshops because of the people I spoke with and knowing that we'll all working in a similar way towards shared goals.

The two workshops were very different. Lockyer Valley was organised by a strong community group, originally formed to help oppose a gas pipeline snaking through the small communities in their valley. I'm very pleased to report that the pipeline didn't go ahead. The Lockyer Valley is a beautiful area just west of Brisbane that has a strong tradition of fresh food production. But now many of the primary producers are going out of business or moving to other work when it's available. Often it isn't. The workshop brought those people together to share ideas that may be beneficial for all of them and encouraged talks about a way forward. The group applied to the local council for a grant to pay for the workshops.

We held a community forum at the end of the workshop to create a list of actions to take into the future. There is a possibility they'll form a small simple living group and share ideas and skills. Carol Stephens, who leads the group, told me that many farmers are frugal by necessity rather than choice and they're in that situation when the general cost of living is rising. It makes life difficult. Carol said the pressures of falling commodity prices despite the rising cost of food in the supermarkets, rising production costs and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns all contribute to make primary production dangerously unsustainable. Farmers and family farms have always been the backbone of Australia and now that network of farmers is fragile.

One thing we can all do to help our farmers is to insist on buying Australian fruit, vegetables and meat. If you can travel out into these small rural communities on a weekend, stay, buy fresh produce there and that money will stay in the community. It's a small gesture but our farmers need our support and it is worth doing. We should also be asking our local members of parliament to address the problem of unclear food labelling in Australia. I want to see food labels that clearly indicate what has been produced in Australia and what is Australian owned. What is so difficult about that? A label that tells me a product has been processed in Australia from imported ingredients doesn't tell me anything. The government must do something about labelling now that benefits our farmers and the consumer, not the multi-national corporations that are filling more and more of our food shelves.

The more recent Blackheath workshop was full of people who were committed to living simply and who wanted to meet like-minded people. I organised that one and participants paid a fee to attend. I talked about various aspects of simple living, how Hanno and I work to save water, electricity and money, how we pay our bills and try to cut down on what we can. All of us want to live well on less and this little hall was a good place to talk about how we all try to do that. There was a calm and friendly atmosphere at Blackheath - similar to friends at a picnic. When I sat with those knitters, there was no other place I would have preferred to be. We shared recipes, stories and our hopes and, I think, we all thoroughly enjoyed the contact with others who share a similar outlook on life. I know I certainly did.

So when I drove back home from those workshops - both of them a long way from home, I had a chance to think about that time I spent out in those communities. And I have to tell you I came home feeling really motivated and inspired to keep going, keep blogging about what we're doing and keep writing about what this simple life is all about. Because it's different for each of us, there is no must-use recipe, there is no right way. These workshops are important and I must try to do more of them. They show me, as well as everyone who comes along to them, just how diverse, empowering and enriching simple life can be. And when we're all working alone in our homes far away from anyone who understands what we're doing and why we're doing it, the fond memory of those connections we made with like-minded people will see us through.

I'm going to start writing a new book soon and so I'm hoping to fit a few workshops in before that. There has been interest in Lismore and Brisbane so they may be possibilities. I also think Orange, Wagga, Canberra or Mudgee, as well as Dalby and Warwick in south-west Queensland might also be possible. If you're interested in attending a workshop, and you think others in your region may be interested, please let me know.

Below is the program of talks I'll be giving at the Sunshine Coast Libraries soon. The talks are free but you have to book. You can do that here.

End Time
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Coolum Library
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Nambour Library
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Maleny Library
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Cooroy Library
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Kawana Library
Living simply
living smart
2:00 PM
3:30 PM
Beerwah Library
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Maroochydore Library
Living simply
living smart
10:00 AM
11:30 AM
Caloundra Library
Living simply
living smart
1:00 PM
2:30 PM
Noosa Library

Additional Reading
Report on food labelling law and policy (Australia).

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