31 July 2013

Patterns of a simple life

One thing I really love about the simple life is that it encourages me to slow down and be mindful. I've stopped working on automatic plot and multi-tasking and now I concentrate on what I'm doing.  Focusing on my work has its own way of slowing me down. I don't think about what I'll do when I finish, I don't think about tonight or tomorrow, my mind slows right down and it's just me in a room with what I'm doing. I feel in control, enjoy the work and when it's finished, I have a feeling of satisfaction and achievement.

I can slot house work in with my paid work better, if I work to a routine. I find that if I set myself up with a couple of easy daily chores early in the morning, it seems to keep me going the entire day. If I don't do those two set things, I flounder, going from this to that and not quite doing anything well. What is working well for me at the moment it to have a pencil and paper next to the computer when I write my morning post. As I think of them, I create a list of tasks that I want or need to do that day. If I don't finish my list, it's fine, they just get added to the following day's list. But there is always one constant, I always start my day with those two easy tasks - I make the bed and I get bread on the rise. When those two things are complete, I know I've set my day up well and the flow of my list directs me throughout the day.

This was one of the many surprises that came my way when I left paid work behind and returned to my home; supposedly the place where I would be boring and bored. Instead of boredom, I found that many household tasks are easy and quick and often they just flow into each other.

I still work for money but it's at a much slower pace now. I work from home, writing books, blogging and organising talks and workshops when the need arrises. The rest of the time I tend my home, look after my husband, myself and occasionally our grandson, and home produce as much as I can. I cook too. I bake, cook from scratch every day, make drinks, ferments and preserves. I look for new horizons so my work remains interesting. My biggest challenge at the moment is to increase my knowledge about food storage and to cut down on food and water wastage. But that's a story for another time.

So all through the day, I wash up, cook, bake, sweep and wipe, set the table, look after who ever is here, take breaks, sit and knit, or read and think, and all that is done around my writing work. One thing flows into the other, I don't feel pressured, I get work done and at the end of the day, I have a few pages to edit and edit again. Working in this way, I've been able to continue working in a commercial sense as well as feel like a full-time homemaker.

I never tire of cooking. It seems like a unique gift that I give to others every day. When I cook for my family, when I introduce Jamie to a food he may not have had before, when I bake a celebration cake or create a simple soup using backyard produce, that all comes from the heart. Giving from the heart is always meaningful and significant, and the giving comes back to me too in many wonderful ways.

These small things I do each day, when I make the bed, mop a floor, boil an egg, plant seeds, peel vegetables, mend a shirt, write a blog post or a book page, the willingness to do them and to give them, all come easily when life is so rich. They are activities I take part in every day, fluffing up our nest, doing this and that, putting plain and simple ingredients together to create something special, and they are given willingly with the intention of creating cohesion, harmony and strength in our family. People rarely forget if you make them feel wanted, comfortable and loved. I'm sure there are many people who think that a hefty bank balance makes a family strong but I think a family who works for each other and who give freely of themselves form the strongest families and create the most permanent of ties.

Do you feel what I feel or do you struggle with your work?


30 July 2013

Support local food, both fresh and tinned

Sometimes plans just don't work out. Yesterday I wrote a post on Irish soda bread and fresh pea and herb soup. A couple of hours later I checked the forum and came across Tessa's thread about how SPC Ardmona was petitioning the Australian Productivity Commission to place tariffs on imported tinned fruit and tomatoes. Just this year, three fruit processors have closed their doors. The iconic Rosella, Mondella Farms and Windsor Farm Foods. SPC Ardmona is one of the last, if not the last, Australian companies to process Australian fruit and tomatoes in tins. 

I felt I had to do something, so I wrote an additional post.

I decided I'd set up a petition at change.org to support Australian fruit and tomato farmers and SPC Ardmona. I got the petition underway, then decided to email SCP Ardmona to let know what was happening. But something stopped me in my tracks. When I rang their head office to ask for their email address, I heard the woman say: "@ccamatil.com". SPC Ardmona is owned by Coco-Cola. That made me stop and think about what I was doing. Do I continue and ask my friends and readers to support a non-Australian company? I decided that without doubt, I would. It might be an American company but the factory is processing fruit grown in Australia by Australian farmers, the factory is employing Australians, the company is listed on the Australian stock exchange, it and its employees are paying taxes, it is keeping many Australian farmers going and keeping Australian fruit on the shelves of our supermarkets. We all need to support that. If we don't, it's all lost.

If you've signed the petition, I thank you sincerely; there have been 739 signatories in under 24 hours. But signing the petition is one thing, we need to make every effort to help SPC Ardmona and our fruit farmers not only survive, but prosper. The next time you do your shopping, please search out SPC fruit and tomatoes and buy a couple of tins for your stockpile. That is what will really help our farmers - if we leave the imported tins on the shelves, showing the supermarkets where our loyalty lies and that we prefer to support our local people. Buy a couple of cans to stock up now and then in the future, only buy Australian; that will help us get back on track. If you're Australian, it will also help if you let your local federal MP know about your concerns and that you've signed the petition. Ask what they're doing to support Australian farmers and the local food industry.

If you're reading this in another country, you should support your local fruit and vegetable growers as well. But if you don't have the climate to grow things like peaches, pears and tomatoes, please consider the SPC Ardmona brand if you see it on your supermarket shelf. It's top quality Australian produce, and you can't get much better than that.

If you haven't yet signed the petition and you're Australian, please click here to sign. Ask your family, friends and work mates to sign too.

Additional reading


29 July 2013

SPC Ardmona petition at change.org - UPDATED

Tessa posted a very interesting article over at the forum this morning about SPC Ardmona petitioning the Australian Productivity Commission to place tariffs on imported tinned tomatoes and fruits. They need the next 200 days so they can regroup and have a breather. My heart breaks when I see orange trees being burnt down and grape vines left to rot. When I grew up, many homes grew their own fruit. Now this doesn't happen so much and up until now, we've brought fresh and tinned Australian fruits and tomatoes. Now they're hard to find, you have to check every label before you put it in your trolley and I'm sick of it. Our politicians should know how important it is for us to eat our locally grown fruit and vegetables, if they don't know, please tell them.

I've just started a petition at change.org to support SPC Ardmona in their petition, in the hope it will give them the breathing space they need to reorganise and for us, the Australian shoppers, to get them back into profit again. If you're an Australian, please help, they need your voice and your signature.


UPDATED: I wrote to SPC Ardmona telling them of our support for them and our fruit farmers and just received this reply.  Thanks to everyone who have signed the petition so far. I'm sure you join me in sending the best to the SPC Ardmona workers, and to the farmers who supply the fruit they process.

Dear Rhonda,
Thank you for getting in touch with us about your endorsement of our ‘Australian Grown and Made’ efforts.

You are absolutely right, we must continue to eat local food! So it’s always good to hear from our consumers (and influential bloggers) that we are on the right track with the products we are producing and the way we are marketing them.

SPC Ardmona is doing everything possible to ensure we make Australian made and grown products. Our policy and practice is to ensure that all our peaches, pears, apricots, plums, baked beans and tomatoes are 100% Australian grown and made.

We are going out of our way to make this happen. Aside from our fruit products, our SPC “Aussie Made” Baked Beans have seen us double our Navy Bean intake from Australia to make them 100% Australian grown and made (despite incurring a significant cost premium to do so).

We believe it is the right thing to do by Australian consumers and Australian growers.

Our focus is firmly on supporting our Australian farmers and industry and the endorsement and support of our consumers is what will see us succeed in these endeavours. It’s times like this that the combined voice, strength and actions of the community become more important than ever. The message to consumers is clear; buy Australian sourced, made and produced products wherever you can. You can make the difference.

I have shared your email with our employees who I know will appreciate the support.

Please keep up the great work in spreading our message far and wide.

Peter Kelly
Managing Director
SPC Ardmona 


Pea and herb soup with soda bread

The Irish folk who read here, and maybe those from the UK too, will know of Maura Laverty, but I have just discovered her. Sadly Maura died many years ago but her books live on. Currently I'm eagerly awaiting her book Full and Plenty, published in 1960, to arrive. She is my new inspiration.  This is from Full and Plenty:

Cooking is the poetry of housework. But it is satisfying in twenty other different ways as well. There is a grand warm companionable feeling to be got out of the thought that every time you baste a roast or beat an egg or do any other little ordinary kitchen job, you are making yourself one in the the Grand Order of Homemakers, past, present and to come.

Perfect. Lovely. True.

It was cold here yesterday, with an overcast sky, so I made soda bread to honour Maura. I followed her recipe, it's very similar to my own and although I didn't use her winter buttermilk recipe in this soda bread; I will make it and try it in a future loaf. I used commercial buttermilk. I think soda bread is absolutely delicious made on buttermilk, but if I didn't have any, I'd use whey instead. I always have a jar of whey in the fridge.  Using either of them will give your soda bread an extra lift that plain milk just doesn't give.

We had warm soda bread for lunch, along with fresh green pea and herb soup. Jamie was here with us and when we went out to pick the peas, we tried not to eat too many of them out in the garden. It's such a temptation. We're growing sugar snap peas and have an over abundance of them, so this was a good reason to thin them out. We used the peas and the pods in the soup to avoid waste.

We've been teaching Jamie a few of our most simple chores lately. Saturday was his first day setting the lunch table - just knives and forks with a glass of water for everyone. It's simple and doable for him, and he really loved helping and working with his family. Pea picking is another simple chore for him. All it requires is for the pea pod to be picked from the vine without too much of the vine coming with it. I showed him how I run my thumb nail over the stem and although he can't do that, it loosened the pods enough for him to pick them and put them in the harvest basket.

I cook quite a few vegetable soups using this technique - I boil onion, the vegetable - this time peas but it could also be pumpkin, potato, asparagus, leeks, carrot, cauliflower etc., salt and pepper in plain water. You could use homemade chicken stock if you had it but I think it's a waste of the stock as it masks the flavour of the vegetables you're using. So my recipe today is:
  • about 2 litres/quarts water
  • fresh peas, including the pods, topped and tailed
  • one large onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cream to finish it off, optional
Place all the above in a saucepan and bring to the boil. With the lid on, simmer for about five minutes or until the peas have turn bright green. Take off the heat, add mint and parsley, blitz in a food processor or with a stick blender, taste to adjust seasonings. After adding the soup to a bowl, drizzle in a circle of cream or a blob of sour cream.

Delicious, and I'm sure Maura would approve of it alongside her soda bread. And another good thing about soda bread is that later in the day, around about afternoon tea time, you can make up a couple of slices with homemade jam and cream. Along with a cup of tea, there is nothing better on a cool Sunday afternoon. No dinner required, thank you.


27 July 2013

Country mouse visits the Brisbane Writers Festival

I'm really happy to tell you that I'll be at the Brisbane Writers Festival this year. It's on at several venues, mainly at the State Library, from 4 - 8 September. I'll be there on Friday 6 September and Sunday, 8 September.

On the Friday, I'll be doing a three hour masterclass on simple living. I'll be creating a special presentation for this to condense what we did at the workshops into a three hour format. I'm really looking forward to doing it because it will make me focus on the most important points as well as strategies to get people started and keep them going.

I'll be back again on Sunday to do an hour long discussion with Antonia Kidman on The Simple Life. We'll be talking about changes we can all make to live richer and fuller lives.

The Brisbane Writers Festival is always a fun event in our capital city that draws in many authors and interesting people from all walks of life. I'd love to see you there and if you do come along, please come over and introduce yourself to us; Hanno will be with me.

26 July 2013

Weekend reading

It's been busy here all week with Hanno's health issues, two talks out in the community and starting work on my new writing projects. It will probably get busier next week. I won't have a lot of time for relaxing this weekend, we'll have Jamie here and I'll be writing, but I'll take plenty of breaks as I go along. I hope you have the chance to slow down and relax over the weekend. See you again next week!

Cheap food era is over
The face of modern poverty - thanks to Nickie for sending in the link
Diary of an 1892 farmer's wife
Eek, what's in organic sausages?
Sourdough starter from scratch
Classic play
Which password manager is the most secure?
Crocheted rose clock

From my comments
Sunny corner farm
Roots and Seeds
Wendy at Musings

25 July 2013

Cleaning the silver

I spent some time sorting out my silver cutlery recently. It was all over the place. When we're here alone, Hanno and I use few knives and forks but we often have visitors and then we need quite a few. I don't have to have everything matching but it's nice to achieve it every so often. I didn't have one full set in the drawer we use every day. We had some in there and the rest all thrown into a bottom drawer. So I sorted out both drawers, divided up the daily use and the occasional use items and then started cleaning it all.

I hand-washed the stainless steel utensils, the silver plated ones went into the kitchen sink with a sheet of aluminium foil, water, bicarb and salt. It sat in there for about an hour and most of the silver came out bright and shiny. I had to hand clean about a dozen forks and spoons but the rest of them were fine without any extra treatment. Some of the really old utensils will never shine again but I've kept them anyway. Now I have a set to serve six people in the daily use drawer and the rest is divided into sets and wrapped in zip lock bags in the bottom drawer. If we need more, they're clean and ready for use.

How do you organise the tasks you only have to do once a year or six months? Are they entered on your calendar, do you do them at the same time every year?  Please share your secrets with us.

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I'm talking about writing for publication at the Reality Bites Literary Festival today. It's booked out but if you've already made a booking, please come over and introduce yourself. Tomorrow I'll be at the Kawana Library giving a talk about simple living. Again, if you will be at the library, please introduce yourself. I love meeting the people who read here. 


24 July 2013

The case of the changing chicken

It seems we're continuing our run of bad luck with health issues. Yesterday I drove Hanno to the hospital at 6am because he'd been up all night with a bleeding mouth. He had a tooth out in the afternoon and the tooth socket kept bleeding all night. Hanno's on warfarin and I don't think the dentist took that into consideration when he performed such a drastic extraction.  We were in emergency all morning and after the doctor injected adrenalin into the socket, finally, it stopped the bleeding. The doctor, Cheyne, and medical student, Zoe, took very good care of Hanno. Both were thoughtful and gentle and Zoe did a lot of fussing around to make him comfortable. It makes such a difference when hospital staff take their time with you.

I'm pleased to report that he's had a good night's sleep and I hope he'll be feeling much better today.

I'm running late and a bit behind today. I've started on my next writing project and I don't want to fall behind on that today, especially now I'm in the important mapping out and organisation stage. So today's post will be a short one but I hope you find it interesting.


Our chooks are all different ages but one of our old girls is about 7. She's an old cross breed, mainly Australorp with a touch of Leghorn (I think). She's always been a strange one. I don't think she's ever laid an egg, I've certainly never seen her on the nest, and she thinks of herself, even though the others don't, as the top chook. She sleeps on the top roost and she tries to boss the other girls around, but they rarely listen.

Here (above and below) she is with her one white feather.

And here she is, white feather gone but with a red feather necklace and the beginnings of her rooster tail.

About 18 months ago, she grew one white feather on her side. When it first appeared, I thought that if she grew a few more she'd look like a magpie. But it was only ever the one feather. Strange.  The white feather lasted for a bit over a year and then it disappeared and red feathers grew around her neck. Very odd. Now her tail is turning into a rooster tail!

What next?

Have you ever had this happen to one of your chickens?  Or do your chooks do other weird things. I'd love to know.

23 July 2013

Let's talk about the new homemaker

While most of the comments posted here make great reading, I am very interested in the number that commented on the family, friends and community reaction to us as homemakers. It seems there is quite a bit of negative reaction.  I'm not sure why, but I never have anyone say similar things to me now. Possibly my family and friends don't because, even if they felt it, they'd not want to hurt my feelings. And from those I don't know so well? Who knows. Generally the reaction I get is that people love what I'm doing and they're trying to do the same. But I am a bit of a hermit so maybe I'm not meeting enough people.

No matter what the reason, I'm told that homemakers are looked down on and thought of as a bit lazy; they're at home all day not contributing much to family or community. The comments here confirm it. At best it seems we're seen as quaint and old fashioned, but who wants that. Most of you know how I feel about it. I think homemakers are the backbone of the nation. We are the ones who soothe shattered nerves when our workers and students come home. We make life more comfortable with warm food to fill bellies and clean sheets on the beds. We are the ones who stretch grocery dollars to make sure we get value for money and keep healthy food on the table. We balance the books, make do on little, mend, recycle and work away quietly to create a happy home. But we do a lot more than that. You all know what that is and I'm not going to re-write the sentiments of last week's post.

Maybe we cop this criticism because we don't speak up and let others know what we do in the home.  The type of homemaking we do is not the same as it was in the past; our work is not piecemeal, we have a full and holistic program for our homes. We work to routines and plans, just like a business does. Let your friends and family know there is a new form of homemaking now and it involves not only housekeeping but also choosing healthy food for the family, stretching the dollars, making sustainable choices for our family such as green cleaning, recycling and reducing waste. Explain home production to them. I'd like everyone who hears criticism of their role to defend it and their right to do whatever they want to do.

I am here to proudly say that as an intelligent, educated woman with many choices to do what I want to do, I choose to call myself a homemaker and author. I think I'm fortunate and privileged to do both. But whether you work solely in the home, or you combine outside work and home work, I think we can all stand proud. We stabilise and strengthen home and community life. Who else does that? We help run school P & Cs, we fundraise, we volunteer, we look after parents and children, and each other. And yes, we do the housework so that our husbands, wives, partners and children come home to warmth and comfort. We create safe havens.

When you talk about your role in the home, do it with grace. None of us want to listen to some arrogant so-and-so standing in judgement on us. Don't do that to anyone else either, don't criticise anyone's work. Work is work and whether you work at home or outside the home, no one should criticise how and where you choose to work.

Knowing we have our critics, you have to have a good measure of self-belief to do this but I want us to stand up and be proud of what we do, despite what others think. I want us to publicly talk about our role in the home, what we do, and that what we give to our family and our communities strengthens and sustains them. Make sure you tell your children why you've chosen your role as homemaker and explain to them how you see your work in the home as your job.

Let's start talking out loud. Let's explain to those who don't know, that homemaking has changed significantly. Explain what you love about your work. Explain the satisfaction and the happiness. Tell them you pick fresh greens in your backyard and collect eggs. Tell them about your cooking, sewing and knitting. Tell them you make green cleaners and offer to share your recipes. We might pick up a few converts. Hopefully most of those you talk to will understand what you're doing, and why. But if they still criticise, just walk away. There is no telling some people. Change is often slow but I think a new understanding is coming. It's up to us to help it along.

Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, thats all who ever have.
Margaret Mead.

22 July 2013

How do you choose the food you buy?

Hello everyone! We've had a couple of special visitors staying with us these past few days, my nephew Daniel and his son Johnathan. Johnathan is just 9 months old so it was lovely to welcome a new family member to our home and to give Danny a much needed break.

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There seems to have been a sharp rise in the number of products labelled "organic" on supermarket shelves in the past couple of years. Often I am asked if the weekly shopping should include organic fruit, vegetables, meat and chicken, as well as the newer products we're seeing now - butter, cheese, wine and tinned goods. I don't want to advise anyone as to what they should buy. We're all so different, we have different meeds, tastes and incomes and we all know that "organic" comes at a price.

I know I'm lucky to live in Australia and to pinpoint it more closely, in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Not only do we have a beautiful climate and adequate rainfall here to grow a wide variety of backyard food, year-long, we also have a lot of producers' markets and small local markets. Within a short distance from where I live there is an organic supermarket and butcher and a food co-op with a lot of organic produce such as milk, cheese, grains, flour, dried fruit, chocolate, tea and coffee. Just up the road we have a dairy and whenever I drive past on that back road, I see those healthy goats and Guernsey cows roaming freely over rolling hills. It's not organic but it's local and fresh.

So for me, it's not a question of where do I find it? - it's easy to find. The question here is do I buy it?

Like most of us, I didn't really question "organic"when I first came to this way of living. To me then, it was premium and what I wanted to buy. But in the years since, I've thought a lot about what "organic" means and if I should tweak my budget, and go without other things, to buy mainly organic food.

The answer for me now, is no. When I have a choice, I prefer to buy fresh and local.

The term "organic" means different things in different places. Here in Australia, producers apply for organic certification and then have to undergo a series of inspections and, all things going well, they get their certification and operate according to those standards. There are also producers who say they're organic, and might very well be, but are not certified. I think there is a diverse understanding of the term as well. Some people think that organic produce has been grown without the use of fertilisers and insecticides. But there are a number of "natural" fertilisers and a short list of acceptable insecticides used to grow organic produce. We use pyrethrum spray here - it's made from daisies and it's an acceptable insecticide for organic growers. We think of the fruit and vegetables we grow here as being organic but we use homemade fertilisers, Dipel and pyrethrum. They're all seen as acceptable but we don't have to follow any standards, we are simply making what we believe are the right choices to produce our own healthy food.

Now when I think of organic food I think not only of the synthetic chemical means of production but also elements that include social factors and logistics as well. Now it's not a question of whether my tomatoes have been sprayed, it's much more than that. Is food organic if the people producing it are paid next to nothing? Is food still organic is it's been flown from one side of the world - from place of production to place of sale? Shouldn't food miles play a part in what is seen as "organic"? Can I still consider my food organic if my apples, potatoes, onions, or whatever, have been stored for months in a cold room? I have had a shift in thinking and now I don't just rely on a label to tell me something is organic, I also include my own questions about origin, transportation, means of production and the workers who produced it.

When we buy our food, I think we should not only look at the health component, which takes in whether is was grown organically or not, we should also consider how far it's travelled from point of production to your door, how it's packaged, and where that packaging came from. We should consider the means of production and the workers who produced it. "Organic" means more than chemicals and price. It also means social justice and sustainability.

We need to think about animals slaughtered for our food. I want the eggs and meat I eat to come from creatures that have lived a decent life. I'd rather never eat those products again if it meant I was supporting and helping to perpetuate cruelty in the form of caged poultry, gestation pens or whatever else.

Crikey, it sounds like I'm trying to complicate buying a bag of potatoes and a pork chop but what I'm hoping to do is to start a conversation about how we choose the food we buy. For me, genuine "free range", fresh and local is premium now and it outweighs organic from another country, or even another state. I know I'm lucky to live where there is a wide variety of healthy food, in addition to our backyard produce, but that variety and choice brings important decision-making with it. I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Do you question how healthy and ecologically-sound organic produce is? Do you buy it if it's from another country? Have you, like me, replaced "organic" with fresh and local? Do you factor in the problem of animal cruelty or transport and food miles?  I look forward to reading your comments.

19 July 2013

Weekend reading

If you've been wondering where I am, I'm still here, busy with visiting relatives. I'll be back with you next week. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your weekend and can sit back and take it easy. Thanks for your visits and comments this week.

The contrary farmer
The daily spud - this week's must-read
Is life too exciting? Jump on a train I love this. In a time when attention spans have reduced to the flicker of a fairy's wing, along comes something like this.


16 July 2013

Homemaking, the radical choice

There is something quite magnificent about taking on the role of homemaker. Whether you're older or younger, male or female, there because you choose it or just filling in time until an outside job comes along, homemaking has the potential to change you in profound ways. When I first came back to my home, I hadn't thought much about housekeeping. I guess I looked on it in the same way our society views it - mundane, monotonous and menial. I eventually dived into my housework with open arms and since that day I've felt honoured and fortunate to be able to call myself a homemaker.

So what is it that deeply divides opinion? How can one group see it as a beautiful and significant way to live and others view it with absolute dread. Why do some see it as a great help to the family finances and others as not contributing to the family at all?

When I first started housekeeping here in my own home, I realised that I'd never really understood the role of the homemaker. I'd seen my mother working in our family home, stretching every dollar to make ends meet. She cooked and did the housework, my father went to work at two jobs and eventually mum got an outside job as well. A lot of people my age saw their mothers go off to work for the first time and I suppose it devalued the work the mothers did at home. Instead of seeing my own mother's move into the paid workforce for what it was - a financial move towards a better life, as a teenager, I thought she wanted to work outside the home because it was more exciting.

No one ever told me about the feeling of control you get when you work in your home as if it's your own small business. We're told that housekeepers don't do much, that they have no power, but in my opinion, the opposite is true. Working full time at home I have the time to make the most of what we have. I can shop for grocery bargains and stockpile them, I can grow food in the backyard, make my own cleaners, sew, mend and recycle. I know that I have to balance my budget, keep the utilities connected, the fridge full and the vegetable garden productive. Homemakers have to be multi-skilled. Healthy food, clean clothes and a comfortable home enable those living there to make the most of the time they are away from home, working or studying. A good home sets workers and students up for success, and that is good for the nation. There is no doubt about it, choosing homemaking as a career is a radical choice.

When I rise early in the morning I feel that I have the freedom to do a wide variety of things. I'm often invited to take part in various things around the place but I feel at my best if I stay and work here on this land. I write my blog, let the chickens out, feed the cat, look at the sky to check the weather, have breakfast, make bread or bake cakes, organise our main meal which we eat at midday, clean up, wash up and make the bed. I do those things almost every day. Sometimes, I make cleaning products, knit, sew, mend, garden, work in the community, preserve food in jars or freeze it for later. And although it might look as though my days just repeat what happened the day before, it feels fresh every day. I get to decide when I sit down and rest. I decide if I want to sit in the garden or work in it. I will work all day or takes frequent breaks, it all depends on how I feel and how much work I will do on that particular day. And all these decisions are mine. I'm not told by a boss when to have morning tea or lunch. I can wear whatever I like, and that pleases me no end because most days I'm here at home I look like a moving scarecrow. Home is the best place to wear out those old clothes.

Homemaking seems to fit simple life like a glove. It doesn't matter if you're a full time homemaker like me or if you do it in tandem with a paid job. Homemaking supports the role of the breadwinner because it allows them to come home to good food, a clean home and happy children.  Sometimes the breadwinner is the homemaker and in that case the skills of homemaking come into their own. Following routines, meal planning, stockpiling, freezing food for later and budgeting help the part-time homemaker like nothing else can. And when it all comes together, when I hear someone say they enjoyed the meal I cooked, or the cake was delicious, or "grandma, biscuit peas", well then I know I'm where I should be. When I go outside and sit watching the garden, seeing what birds are flying in to visit, or watch the antics of the chooks, I don't want to be anywhere else.

Ours is simple work but that doesn't mean it's less important than paid work. It all has its place and it's all important in its own way.  Recently, I've heard a couple of women say that they want my life but the truth is it's all here for the taking, my life is in every home. Everyone can do what I'm doing, all it takes is the will to do it, the mindset to stick to it and the skills to make it happen. And remember, it's all small steps - the will, the mindset and the skills. This is here to fill a lifetime, it's not the 100 metre sprint.

15 July 2013

Finding happiness

“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.” 
Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness

I often wonder what we're here for. I'm sure you do too. What is the purpose of life? We're all born into a variety of situations, grow up, become educated along the way, develop friendships and learn what we think we need to know. Then we reach an age when we're independent and we go out into the world. When we start our adult lives, what is it we hope for?  Well, for me, I wanted to be happy. I didn't know how I would find happiness, or how long it would last, but it was what I hoped for. I didn't realise then how difficult happiness would be to find. Or how easy.

One of the stumbling blocks along the way seems to be, and was for me, thinking that "stuff" makes us  happy. I guess that is quite common in a society that has been made wealthy on the back of commerce. I must be a slow learner, or was it that I was distracted by the difficult stages of life - motherhood and raising children, establishing a career and trying to balance it all with some alone time for reading and self development. I wish I'd known then that I was able to cultivate happiness while I was doing all that, but I still believed that happiness was bought and I just had to buy the 'right' things, and I'd be set. Just one more dress, just the right pair of shoes, or maybe it was a new car. Who knew. I just knew that when I bought the right thing or when I moved to my ideal house, it would make me happy. I kept thinking that happiness was outside myself and that it was made up of "things".

Now that I look back on that time, I realise that I did have periods of pure happiness after my sons were born and I remember quite a few days when I was happy. But it was mostly on celebration days, or holidays, or something out of the ordinary. Domestic life was a struggle for me. It was like I couldn't focus on the two main areas of my life at the same time - my paid work and my home life. I knew both were important but I could never seem to get the balance right.

I think it's odd to have found enduring happiness when I least expected it; in the place I thought it would never be - in my home. Happiness was here all along. I just didn't recognise it. Or maybe I was too busy to take notice.  I have an ember of contentment within me all the time now and it takes very little for it to ignite. I realise now that happiness was never "out there" it was inside. Inside my home and inside my heart. I didn't go out and buy it, it found me. When I knew that, and felt it, I never looked back.

I know now that to be happy, one must look for the good parts of life, but not in a pollyanna-ish way. Happiness is part of a positive mindset and if you don't have that, you won't see the potential for happiness. I know too that happiness is not one thing, and that it is rarely anything big. Pure happiness comes in fragments that we collect throughout the day and when we take the time to look back, we realise that what we have is happiness, or at least the makings of it.

I think we give ourselves the best chance of happiness and contentment by slowing down and living simply and according to our values; by examining what it is that we think is important and then fashioning a life that reflects it. By doing that we often have to teach ourselves how to do various tasks and to home produce items we used to buy. That, in turn, builds confidence and when we know we're much more capable of looking after ourselves and our family, we take on new projects and become more connected with our domestic tasks. Self belief is a powerful thing.

I am made happy now by knowing I can work here in my home doing meaningful work. I love the mundane work of ordinary life and I love writing my blog and books. But it is a careful balancing act. I want to live my life, not just write about it, so I get away from the computer as often as I can and I work at all the things that I want in my life - family, friends, good food, gardening, knitting, sewing, reading and, of course, thinking, with a cup in my hand and gazing out into the greenish-grey of an Australian backyard. Yep, you could say I'm one happy gal.  What about you?


13 July 2013

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

Unfortunately I've just cancelled the workshops in Samford, Long Jetty, Mudgee and Lismore. There were not enough bookings to go ahead in any of the locations. I had a few emails from people saying they'd love to come but couldn't afford it, and others complaining they were too expensive, so I'll do a breakdown for you. We have to cover the event with public liability insurance (not cheap), we pay for the venue, catering for lunch, morning tea, continued refreshments during the day, accommodation, travel and the ingredients to make laundry liquid and natural soap, which participants take home with them. We also want to earn a small amount for the time and effort we put in. With the travel involved, most of the workshops take four days of our time, as well as the time it takes to organise them. While I think $195 is a lot of money, I think it gave value for money. Certainly, the Blackheath workshops were a great success and I had no complaints from the ladies who attended them.

I am passionate about spreading the word about simple living to as many people as I can. We have lost so many life skills and some of us need to put the time in to help others learn, or re-learn, them. When I have a chance, I'll sit down and work out a new model. If we cut out the catering we'll lower the price. If you have any ideas about this, please email me.

That was the bad news, now for the good news.

I'm about to start writing more books for Penguin. I haven't signed the contract yet but I know what I'm doing now. There will be a series of six, low-priced ebooks, for sale internationally, about simple living and the main activities we all deal with on a daily basis. I'm working on them now. When the ebooks are finished, I'll start work on another print book. It's a topic close to my heart and something all of us will go through, unless we die first. Ageing. This will be a book for everyone who wants to live to their full potential, who wants to prepare for older life on a low budget and who wants to remain as independent and active as possible, long into older age.

There is such a celebration of youth in our culture, and while there is nothing wrong with that, youth doesn't last long. If we live a full life, we're only young for a short time. As life unfolds, there are so many things to interest us. Instead of trying to look and act younger, it's much better to embrace the person you are, to accept the passage of time and realise that age is only one small part of what defines us. I feel happy to be still here and privileged to have a voice that some listen to. It is up to those of us who are in that position to lead the way, wrinkles and all.

I hope you're enjoying your weekend.

12 July 2013

Weekend reading

Another weekend ahead for us to enjoy. I hope your week has been a productive one and you're ready for some rest and relaxation. Thanks for all the wonderful comments this week. I often want to reply as they come in but lack of time and not wanting to be on the internet too long prevents me. But please know they frequently make me nod my head and smile.

I've had a big week here too, doing three talks about simple life at our local libraries where I met quite a few readers. It's great to be able to put faces and personalities to the names I see here. The talks continue in the following weeks; I have nine altogether.

Enjoy your weekend. I'll see you again next week.

"Change, he says, is going to come from “people at the bottom” doing things differently." from Wendell Berry, American Hero
How long can we live in the woods
HRH making do and mending
Common sense preparedness
The beautiful Wise Craft blog

Myrtle and May
Blue Skies, Green Days
Corn in my Coffee Pot

11 July 2013

How to start your simple life

It's perfectly clear that we're not all the same. We're different ages, with children and without, married, single, straight and gay. And within all those differences, there are the personal preferences we all have. So given all that, why would there be only one way to live a simple life. The truth is there is probably a version of it for everyone who wants to live it.

Seville orange marmalade.

This is the question I'm asked more often that any other. How do I start to live a simple life? I can't tell you that, no one can. This way of life doesn't follow a formula, that's one of the beauties of it. But even if I can't tell you how to start, I can help you get started. Take some time out by yourself and:
  • look at your own life
  • work out what is important to you
  • identify what you don't want to change as well as those things you're longing to change
  • identify what you're having trouble with now 
  • identify what you think you can do now
What you're trying to do is to find happiness in your daily life by modifying the simple and ordinary things you do everyday. Some of the things that will help you do that is to: cut back on your spending and identify what you need as opposed to what you want; pay off debt; cut harmful chemicals from your food and from whatever you bring into your home; home produce what you can; respect the land you live on; try to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses you're responsible for; become a part of your neighbourhood and community. There will be other things that are important to you, but those I listed are often a part of everyone's list.

Always remember that there is not one big thing that will make a huge difference in your life - it's an accumulation of small changes that will make the difference. I think the most effective way to start is to focus on what you're doing in your life now or what you want to do. Those first two categories will help you decide what you want out of life now and maybe what you should focus on. So are you a mother? Are you working outside the home? Are you a carer? Are there other people you have to consider? Your personal circumstances will dictate to a certain extent how and what you can do.

What don't you want to change and what are you hoping to change?

Are you currently having trouble paying off your debt? If so, start there. Get a notebook and track your spending for a month, then set a budget. Refer to last week's posts on how to do it.

Are you wasting too much food? Start menu planning, set up a stockpile, stop shopping so often, clean out your fridge and pantry and start from scratch.

Do you want to buy organic food and can't afford it? If you have a back yard, start setting up a vegetable garden. Ask your friends to see if you can share an order from an organic supplier. If you still can't afford it, or can't grow your own, you'll have to settle for fresh and local. Don't regret that, just get on with it. When your circumstances change you may be able to change that too.

Are you suffering with allergies or health problems? Start green cleaning, get rid of all the chemicals in your home and clean with the basics - soap, borax, washing soda, citric acid, bicarb and vinegar. There are recipes for green cleaners on my blog and those ingredients are all you need to make them.  Start cooking from scratch too. Try to eliminate all the preservatives, colourings and additives possible from your life, particularly in your food, drink and what you use to clean yourself and your home.

If there is nothing that you're having trouble with and you can find no real way into simple life, start with food. We all eat everyday, so that's a good place to start. Work out how much you're spending on food, identify how much you should be spending, do you know how to cook from scratch?  If you haven't tried simple cooking, start with a couple of dishes you know your family will enjoy and when you know how to cook them well, add a couple more. Get everyone in the habit of taking their own lunch and drinks to school and work or when you go out as a family. Make sure you have lunch boxes and drink bottles for everyone. If you want to bake your own bread, work on that. Find suppliers of good flour. Make sure you've got a good bread tin for baking. Start practising. It took me a couple of months before I was happy with the bread I made. Now I can almost do it with my eyes closed. Don't give up.

So it all boils down to this: if you have a particular problem, start with that, if not, start with one of the things we all deal with - money, food or cleaning. Like me, you'll probably find that when you start learning one thing, it opens up an interest in something related. Follow that path. Follow where your own particular journey leads you. Add what you can when you can. Don't rush it. Just go with the flow.

Fresh lemon juice for the freezer. Lemon butter below.

And please, if you can't do something that you really want to do, get over it, you'll make yourself miserable by dwelling on what you can't do. Move on to something else and maybe you will get back to what you want to do at a later time. There are times when it's easy to do certain things, wait for that time. It will come. Always remember, that nothing lasts forever. If you're stuck in a job or a house you don't like, it will change at some point. Right now, bloom where you are planted. Make the very best of today. You won't get it back. Don't try to be perfect, just do your best. And if you can say that you did your best every day, you're on the right track.  Nothing will change quickly, but keep going and when you look back, you'll notice changes, you'll realise you've been changed and you can prepare to go into the future, continuing to take these small, but significant, steps.

Next week we'll talk about the happiness factor and homemaking.
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