29 November 2013

Weekend reading

Happy thanksgiving to all my American friends. May your day is full of family, friends and good food.

Quick Tip: If you need ice over the Christmas holidays and you have room in your deep freezer, start making ice now. Whether it be cubes or blocks of ice, you've got three weeks ahead to get it organised. I'm making two litre blocks using a tall 2 litre plastic container. The made blocks are stored in a plastic shopping bag.

I hope you all take the chance to slow down and rest over the weekend. I have a cold so I'll be doing what I need to feel better. See you next week.

- - - - - ♥ - - - - -

Fabulous Fashionistas - average age 80, Youtube 
Perfect lemon muffins
How to make baguettes at home - No-Knead method - YouTube
Wreath place cards
Elder flower marshmallows
Camping hacks that are borderline genius
14 famous internet cats who should never retire - if you need a little chuckle today, check this out. Number 11 is my favourite.

From comments here during the week
Levin loves to knit
It's all about perspective

28 November 2013

Leaving work - how do I decide?

I received an email from Amy last week asking about working outside the home. I'll contribute my two cents worth and with Amy's permission, I'm bringing this to the blog because I'm sure there will be many great ideas come in through the comments you will leave. This is what Amy wrote:

When did you know it was time to "retire" and come home? Have you ever thought that if you had known sooner how good it would have been, would you have left the work force sooner?
I have been in the workforce for only about 6 years after having stayed home with my children until they were all in school. I did this because I thought that it was what was expected of me from the "world". I have never thought of it as being long term. I work to only pay for my children's college tuition of which my last payment will be made next month for her last semester-yeah. We have done it with no debt. I still have a 9 yr. old boy at home and want to come home full time again BUT if I would work for 3 more years and use my paycheck to make double mortgage payments, our house would be paid off. I have a sometimes stressful job due to a boss with mental/emotional problems so I never know how the day will be.  I have to count on a babysitter for my son starting this summer because the college-daughter will be in the workforce starting in May. My heart is telling me to come home, but my practical side is saying to deal with it for 3 more years to knock out the mortgage. How do I decide?

Amy, I gave up work because I had no choice, I was burnt out. After a couple of weeks I decided to simplify my life and the day-to-day tasks of shopping, cooking, cleaning and gardening;  then I realised how full and productive life would be. I had been really ambitious during my working life and although I was burnt out at that stage, I still wanted to be challenged and satisfied by whatever I chose to spend my time on. I had to see housework for myself and make sure it wasn't what everyone was saying it was: the menial work no one wanted to do. 

I well remember the morning many years ago when I was working in my garden planting out seedings. I was alone. I'd just finished cleaning up inside, the bed was made, bread was baking and my plan was to sew napkins and a tablecloth later in the day. With my hands deep in the soil, it occurred to me that most of what I touched in my daily life was man-made. And here I was with dirt under my fingernails, looking for the worms that indicate fertility and growth and I was as happy as I could remember being in a very long time. I knew then that I'd hit the mother-lode, that I would continue working in my home and this was not just a short break from work. When I knew that and thought about it, I wished I'd discovered the significance and satisfaction of working for a life, instead of working for a living, long before I actually did.

I really admire what you've done in providing for your children's college tuition and wanting to continue to pay off the mortgage. I don't know how to answer your question other than to ask you: what do you want to do? What would satisfy you most? I think you know the answer to that.  Would it be possible for you to give up work now, and the stress of that boss, work at home with your son until he's a bit older, and then return to work to help with the mortgage? It's really up to you to write down and consider all your options. For instance, if your husband is not healthy or your marriage is a bit shaky, maybe it's prudent to pay off the mortgage fast. Does your son need you at home?  Will you benefit by being at home? Only you know all the circumstances that will impact your decision. I'm sure the readers will have wise words for you so I'll throw it open to comments now.


26 November 2013

Frugal food - savoury mince

Often when you have to save money on food one of the things that suffers is flavour.  This is a good dish that uses a small amount of meat but it's still very tasty. About 300 grams/10.5oz topside mince will feed four, including hungry meat eaters. Along with the meat, you'll use whatever vegetables you have on hand. I used two carrots, two sticks of celery, a quarter capsicum/pepper, a small amount of cabbage, garlic and two onions, plus frozen peas right at the end. It's also handy to keep in mind that frozen vegetables such as peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, spinach etc, are easy to store in the freezer and, depending on the season, can be cheaper than the fresh vegetables. Often, in our summer here, the frozen vegetables are cheaper than fresh. If you're cooking something like this dish, you really don't need fresh vegetables but you'll still get the nutrients you expect to because frozen vegetables are generally snap frozen very soon after it's harvested.

Minced steak, topside mince, ground beef or whatever you call it where you live is a fairly cheap choice if you want to put meat on the table that everyone will eat. You can make it into meat balls or serve in a tomato sauce with pasta but bulking it up with vegetables and spices will allow you to get away with using less meat.  This meat cost $7.99 a kilo, so the 300gram portion I used here cost about $2.50.

I served this with mashed potato and the following day with rice. Both were delicious. You could also make up some flaky pastry or use a pre-made square of butter puff to make a large family meat pie. Just the thing for those colder nights my friends in the norther hemisphere are having.

Being frugal folk we always need to use all our leftovers as well. If you make up too much of this for one meal, the leftovers are very tasty the next day warmed up with toast, or in a toasted sandwich made in a sandwich press, or placed, warm, into lettuce cups and eaten as a loose lettuce roll. I haven't had it but I think a very spicy savoury mince would go well with a fried egg too. Let's face it, there are a lot of options with this kind of frugal food.

  • 300grams - 10.5oz of minced steak/ground beef
  • splash of cooking oil - I always use olive oil
  • vegetables of your choice
  • seasonings
  • curry powder or chilli flakes
  • cornflour and water
Heat the frying pan and when it's hot, add the broken up beef. Stir it around in the pan to break it up so you have no lumps of beef. Allow beef to cook and become brown - that develops the flavour, so don't bypass this step. While the beef is browning, prepare the vegetables.

Vegetables of your choice. Use what you have in the fridge, or use frozen from the freezer. I think the one vegetable you have to use is onion. It gives you a good foundation for the rest of the strong flavours.

When the beef is brown, add your chopped vegetables and continue cooking. Allow everything to brown slightly. If you use frozen vegetables this will take a little longer because of the ice. When the mix is nicely brown, add your seasonings.

The seasonings will include salt and pepper to your taste along with some curry powder or chilli flakes. I used two flat dessertspoons of curry powder in mine. Use a good a quality powder or a paste. Mix it all together and add one teaspoon of sugar. Add water to cover the mix, bring it to the boil then let it simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes. The spices need to cook for a while to develop their flavours. When the liquid has reduced by half, add a thickener.  I used two tablespoons of cornflour mixed with two tablespoons of water - mixed to a smooth paste and added to the mix. Stir it in and let it simmer for another two minutes. Then serve.

This meal will freeze really well so if you want something in the freezer, packed in portion sizes to suit your family, this is the one to go for. It will improve in flavour the longer it sits, but use it within four to six weeks to get the full measure of it.


25 November 2013

Household cleaning - bread boards and brushes

As the days move towards Christmas and the end of the year, it's a good time to do a few small cleaning jobs. Many of us will have visitors over the holidays and getting everything clean and tidy before they arrive will give us the opportunity to relax and enjoy the season just as much as the rest of the family and the visitors do.

This is one of my cleaning brushes but it was still clean so I didn't wash it this time.

The first task on my list was to clean my bread boards and then my cleaning brushes. Remember that if you have wooden boards, they're porous so you have to think about what you put on them. You don't want your bread board smelling of bleach or chemicals for the next month. That's where the brushes come come into their own. I use a camel hair brush for this job. It will create quite a lather as I give the board a good scrubbing.

You'll need to wait for a sunny day to do this but you'll get a much better result with scrubbing and sunshine than with any chemical that will leave residue on the board.


  1. First wet the board and apply a couple of drops of dish liquid to the brush.
  2. Scrub the board all over.
  3. Rinse off with hot water from the tap.  In summer our solar hot water is very hot. If your tap water isn't hot, boil the kettle and pour that over it.
  4. Take the board outside straight away and leave it in the full sun - make sure the dogs and chickens can't reach it. After a few hours, turn the board over. It needs to be solarised on both sides. Along with the scrubbing and scalding with hot water, leaving your boards in the sun will sanitise them 

I have a number of brushes that I use for cleaning. They're much better than anything else I've tried, including microfibre cloths.

To clean my brushes, I swish them around in a bowl of hot water to which I've added a squirt of laundry liquid.

  • I look at all the bristles up close and make sure there is no gunk caught up in the brush. 
  • Swish the brush through the water and rub the bristles with your hand.
  • When I'm sure they're all clean, I rinse and scald them with very hot water and take them outside to dry in the full sun.
  • Generally, I leave all these items out in the sun all day.
If you buy good quality brushes you can keep them in service for a long time by washing and solar drying them. It's much better to buy a product, even if it's slightly more expensive, that you know you can keep going for a long time with regular maintenance and cleaning.

This is a very old cane basket I found at an op stop recently for $3.

Next week, I'll be challenging you to thoroughly clean your oven and stove so they're ready for Christmas too. Don't go running into the hills. This is an easy job, even if your stove is very dirty.  All you need to have on hand is some oxy-bleach - Napisan or its generic equivalent. We won't be using any harsh chemicals.  Who is ready to sign up for that one?


22 November 2013

Weekend reading

Thank you for your visits this week and for your comments. The comments create a point of interest for me, help me build up a picture of you and they remind me that we're all in this together. Enjoy your weekend, friends. I'll see you on Monday.

If you're a new knitter, treat yourself to Fringe Association's Beginning to Knit series.
And, hot off the press, if you're already knitting and want to go to the next level - Pullovers for first-timers or, an Introduction to sweater construction. Also from Fringe Association.

From comments during the week

21 November 2013

Note to self: make the most of every day

Picture this. It's 5.00pm at the end of a busy day. I grab a cup of tea and prepare to sit down and watch the news on TV with Hanno. I sit down, the phone rings. On the phone is the Maroochydore Library asking for a favour. The person booked to do their talk on Creative Writing is sick and can't make it. Everyone booked via email, so they have no phone numbers to phone participants to cancel. Could I please come over and fill in. I love my local libraries, they give an excellent and worthwhile service to people in our region. I said yes, how could I not. I was just sitting around drinking tea.  In the background I could hear applause. LOL 

"What time is the talk?" I asked. "Erm, 6 o'clock."

I took off like a rocket. It's a 30 minute drive to get there. I got out of my scarecrow clothes and into something decent, combed my hair, applied lippy, and grabbed what I thought were my notes and bits and pieces from a talk I'd given previously on writing. I arrived at 5.55pm, with no real idea what I'd talk about. The notes I grabbed were a stack of my old Women's Weekly columns. Ahem.

I think it went fairly well. There were 40 eager writers there with some great questions and busy pens taking notes as I spoke. We finished at 7.30pm and I drove home. The next morning I received a couple of emails from people who were there saying how much they enjoyed it. But as I drove home I was thinking about how fragile life is and how quickly everything can change. It reminded me of the time last year when Hanno nearly cut off his hand with the chain saw. One minute everything was normal, the next I was dealing with spurting blood and trying to call an ambulance. Life can change in the flicker of an eye. Note to self: make the most of every day.

I hope there are no more quick changes before the end of the year because even though I'm writing for Penguin again, I'm also winding down for the end of the year.  We've started talking about the Christmas holidays and what they will bring. I'm hoping we have a slow Christmas. I want to take time away from writing and the computer and just sit back and relax with family and friends. I want face-to-face conversations, knitting while watching cricket on the TV (hello Sue), pineapple crush with ice cubes clinking and enough rest to fire me up for next year. Because next year is going to be my best year yet. I say that almost every year and every year I'm right.

Yesterday I discussed our Christmas lunch menu with Hanno. There'll be eight of us here and I'm looking forward to a day of family, good food and watching Jamie make sense of Christmas in his own unique way. There will certainly be a lot of beautiful memories to store away for later. Our food will be simple - roast chicken and maybe a small ham with salads, followed by a pavlova. Everything will be cooked the day before and assembled on the day. We need to keep the house cool, so definitely no cooking. Just after Christmas, we'll be travelling up to visit Shane, Sarndra and Alex. We're really looking forward to that. While we're there, some of the blog and forum readers who live up that way are meeting us to have a cup of tea. That's something extra to look forward to. There are so many exciting things coming up!

I think the trick to enjoying the holidays is to be well prepared and to delegate jobs and cooking. Know what you'll serve on your special days and make sure you have everything you need well before Christmas eve. Try to keep calm in the run up to the holidays. But we've all still got plenty of time to organise ourselves, even if you haven't started yet.  Just do a bit at a time and slowly it will all come together. Start with a budget, work out your menu, plan your shopping and do your cleaning a few days ahead. And when the excitement of Christmas day is over, I hope you do what I'm going to do - nothing.


19 November 2013

It is the journey that enriches us

This is the view from my work room window, taken yesterday morning.

I've had three emails in the past week from people who are a little confused about simple life. One said they're not doing everything Hanno and I are and asked if that's okay. The second said they've just started and were asking how long it will take them to set themselves up in this lifestyle. The third thought they had to be living on acreage and making bread every day, or off the grid and slaughtering chickens or at least living in the same way that Hanno and I live to be genuine and truly living this life. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I wrote back to all of them, reassuring them that their own choices were the right ones. Then I decided to write about it because I might have said something recently that gave them the wrong message.

As soon as you take that first step towards a simpler life, you're living it. Some of us will be doing more or less than you but there is no grade to pass, no percentage to aim for, no right location, no formula. When you make a conscious decision to spend less and then move towards simplifying your life, that's it, you're doing it.

One of the many wonderful things about living this way is that there is no single goal that everyone is aiming for. We all decide for ourselves what our goals are. And there is no prize. No ending. We are all after different outcomes depending on our stage of life. When we reach one goal, there are others to pursue. The real prize is the unusual and beautiful journey we take to live this way. It is for all of us to create the life we want for our selves and our families and that life is different for all of us, as it should be. Don't let anyone tell you that you're not living simply or sustainably if you're not doing this or that. That is just not true. I think that if you've made the change to live a more simple life, if you're slowing down, more mindful, becoming less of a consumer and you continue along that path, adding as you go, then you're in the club. You're in the process of simplifying and it is a process that lasts a life time.

There is no prescription for this and no set of rules. We all decide for ourselves what our lives will be and then work to make that life happen. Some days you will be able to do a lot, somedays you won't, that's okay. Remember, some of us will be balancing paid work with house work, some will be raising babies and homeschooling, some of us are retired and on a lower income, therefore trying to trim our needs to suit our budgets. We have men at home looking after babies while their partner works and brings in the money, people who are looking after loved ones who are ill or frail, we have young couples just starting out and divorcing couples who are going their separate ways. This is an unusual life choice, we are not doing what our friends and neighbours are doing, we're going against the tide of popular opinion. No matter where you fit in, live your life your way and if you're moving away from your old consumerist habits and living on less than you earn, then that is the marker. How we do that is different for all of us and there is no right or wrong way.

If you're trying to move away from the materialist trap modern life has become, if you're trying to live according to your values, if you want to step lightly on your part of the planet and you know that you can do all that by being frugal and living simply, then I applaud you and I encourage you to keep moving in that direction. Because that is what I'm trying to do too. Some days it's easy, some aren't but I always remember the place I started from and I don't want to go back there. This is much better, but it's not a neat package, it's a long flowing ribbon.

18 November 2013

Lazy Sunday afternoon

There is something about Sunday afternoons. I'm not sure what it is but I know they feel different to every other afternoon. I'm writing Monday's blog now, Sunday afternoon, and feeling very relaxed and calm. The three of us - Hanno, Jamie and me, have finished lunch and now Hanno and Jamie are having a snooze, while I am her with you.   :- ) Lunch was delicious, by the way, we had buttermilk fried chicken, green beans straight from the garden and Dutch cream potatoes. Jamie played at the table with his animals while Hanno helped me prepare the lunch.

I've been trying to get around to making a new apron and I haven't found the time for it yet. Maybe when I finish here I'll have a few hours. Who knows, when there is a toddler in the house, anything can happen.  I did finish off my pin cushion-sewing kit and I'm very pleased with it. It's only a little preserving jar with a two-piece lid. It's a very easy project and it makes a lovely small gift for the sewers and quilters in your life.

A mouth full of milk.
Playing with opa.

Out in the backyard, the garden has almost given up. We haven't planted anything new for about a month and while I intend to plant eight self-sown pumpkin seedling vines in the compost heap to grow over summer, nothing else will go in until next March. I picked three good cucumbers yesterday and there is one small one still on the vine. I'm not sure if it will continue producing, if it does, I'll continue picking. The beans we had for lunch today were from a few bush bean plants that still look reasonably healthy, there is a lot of parsley, as well as onions and a few tomatoes. The corn is on its last legs and we picked three, although Jamie found one small cob on the dying stalks this morning and immediately started eating it. It's one of the lovely side benefits of having a toddler in a garden. When they see vegetables and fruit growing, they want to eat it. Apart from that, we have a few capsicums/peppers still producing and I picked a bag of small chillies yesterday. As soon as I washed them, I put them in a plastic bag to freeze. They'll be fine for cooking later this year and into next.

It is one of life's true pleasures to be able to slow down, do your housework in your own time and to produce real food for the table with close family there to appreciate it. And now we have Jamie with us two weekends out of four, he's growing up knowing that food is picked in the backyard and put into the harvest basket to take inside with the eggs. And if no one is looking, and even if they are, it's okay to eat what you pick straight away and get the benefit of that kind of freshness.

I wonder what you did on your Sunday afternoon. :- )


15 November 2013

Weekend reading

Are you getting yourself organised for the end of year holidays? I made up three bottles of ginger beer yesterday and today, I'll make a Christmas cake if I have the time. I hope you enjoy your weekend, take some time out for yourself to relax.

The passion of parenting
Guide to food forest planting in temperate zones
Spice angel tutorial
I am loving the Eda Shawl at Tread and Ladle
Gen Y have the best saving habits

13 November 2013

Apple and cinnamon pikelets - in 20 minutes

I love to have a homemade treat to serve when people come to visit and stay for a cup of tea and I usually make a cake or biscuits during the week so I'm not often caught unprepared. At the moment there is a moist banana and walnut cake sitting on our kitchen bench. It's such a small thing to offer homemade cakes, they only take five minutes to mix, then 30 minutes or so in the oven. But what happens when there is no homemade cake or biscuits and someone rings to tell us they're on their way and will be here in 20 minutes.

I'm sure this will be different for everyone but my main two standbys are scones or pikelets. Both can be mixed, cooked and on the plate in 20 minutes. If you don't know how to cook pikelets, here is my quick recipe. They're similar to the flapjacks or hotcakes that some people have for breakfast, although these are apple and cinnamon pikelets. And they are delicious.

Into a mixing bowl add:
  • 50 grams melted or very soft butter
  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • splash vanilla
  • 1 grated and peeled apple
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pour half the wet ingredients into the dry and mix
  • 1 egg beaten slightly and added to:
  • ¾ cup milk, whey or buttermilk
Add the rest of the milk mixture and finish mixing. The batter should be a thick pouring consistency.

Into a hot frying pan, add a little butter to stop sticking, turn the heat down to about medium and pour in small circles of batter. You should be able to fit four into a regular size frying pan. Allow to brown on one side and when you see small holes appearing in the uncooked side, flip them over. Brown the second size and remove.

I used the new Sundowner apples for this recipe. A daughter of Pink Lady, they're a very good eating and cooking apple - crisp and sweet. I'd never tried them before but I'll be buying more of them.

Serve with a knob of butter if they're still warm, or buttered if they cold.  These make a good treat in the lunch boxes as well.

What is your go-to fast homemade treat?


12 November 2013

Sustainable transport

I don't think I've written about travel and transport before and I'm not sure why because I do think about it a lot.  When I gave up paid work, we sold our second car and I voluntarily gave up air travel. That was well over ten years ago and since then, on long trips, I've used the car or train. Plane and car travel cause a lot of greenhouse gas emissions we should all be looking at what we're doing and improving what we can.  Of course, there are times when no matter how much you want it, you can't get rid of your car and you can't change it. You have to made do with what you have.  Here are some eco driving tips to get more kilometres or miles from the fuel you use. From an environmental and financial perspective, we should all be concerned about our own usage.

This is our car - a second-hand 2010 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Back in the 70 and 80, before we'd heard of global warming, we used to drive six cylinder Fords or Holdens. We usually had a station  wagon so we had enough room to get our boys to where they needed to go and enough room for our dogs. When we knew we had to be more careful with fuel, we moved to four cylinder cars.  A couple of years ago we bought our first hybrid car - a Camry Hybrid. We got a great deal from our local dealer on the car they were using as their hybrid demonstration car. We paid cash, drove it away and I was hooked. Our fuel usage dropped by 30 percent. It is, by far, the best car we've ever owned. It's easy to drive, four cylinder, spacious and comfortable. It's not a plug-in car, it's electric and petrol combined. When we turn it on, there is no sound, we can only hear the motor when the petrol motor starts. It incorporates technology that harvests the energy from using the brakes and forward motion. It's far outside my limited understanding of such things, but the bottom line is we're using 30 percent less fuel than we used to. It still has all the mod cons you expect in a new car but the technology makes the most of the fuel we put in it. 

There are also the options of public transport, walking and bicycling. We are within walking distance of our local shops but we rarely shop there. Occasionally, when we have to go into Brisbane, we'll go on the train rather than the car and I have used the train often when visiting Tricia. I love train travel and see it as a bit of an adventure.  Hanno has a bike and will cycle over to the local shops sometimes but mostly the bike sits in the garage. Of course we all know of Greg and Sophie's bike trip from Melbourne, via Tasmania, to North Queensland. They stayed with us here on the long trip up the coast and reported in their book Changing Gears, how that trip changed them. And here are some tips on travel, transport and sustainable living.

Many local authorities in Australia now have a sustainable transport plan. Ours, on the Sunshine Coast, is here. We do make sure we do as much as we can on each trip out and we are conscious of the amount of travel we do by car. I guess if we were a little younger we might look at other, more sustainable forms of transport.  But now, I'll stick with our hybrid, with occasional long trips by train.

What's your main form of transport?


11 November 2013

The work of a homemaker

As I wander around the web, I sometimes find homemakers who aren't really at peace with their role. From what I can see, these are all kinds of homemakers. I don't think that homemaking is only a women's role. I know of women and men who call themselves homemakers, I know career women and men who are part-time homemakers, and I know of girls and boys who help care for disabled parents and that places them in the role of the homemaker.

When I was working for a living, I hated house work. I saw it as a burden and I did it as quickly as I could. When I gave up paid work and started full time housework, I had to think about my place in our home and how I could work there and make it a place I was happy to spend time in. I didn't just want to be there because I had to; I wanted to love it. That was the key for me. If I could work at home and feel comfortable there, then that was my gift … to me, and to everyone who lives here or visits. 

My mission was to create a place where we all felt protected, relaxed and comfortable. I wanted to learn as much as I could about traditional homemaking and to make that fit into my modern life. I identified the work I needed to do and along with the work I added time in for relaxation, learning, knitting, research and self-improvement. I thought that if I was to work in my home and be fulfilled doing that, I needed to give myself points of interest and rest throughout the day so that I would enjoy what I was doing. There were a number of chores I did love. I love baking, cooking, gardening, mending, recycling, knitting, sewing and some cleaning, although not all of it.

In those early years, I structured my day so that I always did my heavy work in the morning. When I came to something I didn't like doing, I would follow it up with either something I loved doing, or a rest break. I was always rewarding myself with tiny things. I know it's much more difficult doing that when you have children to look after but when we're looking after Jamie now, I've found it works well but it takes more time.

I get a lot of emails from people who ask me what the secret is - how can they enjoy being at home when it means doing housework? Like me, you have to first change your attitude about what housework is. If you see it as something you must do for everyone else, stop and think about what you get out of it. Do you feel good about inviting family and friends over? Do you like extending hospitality to guests? Do you factor YOU into your day? Doing that is not selfish, if you're struggling with housework, it's a survival technique.

Include yourself in the housework-homemaking mix. Nurture your family and friends, but nurture yourself too. Ask for help when you need it. Nothing needs to be perfect. Remember to teach your children how to do age appropriate chores such as cleaning their room, taking dirty clothes to the laundry, putting away clean clothes, picking up toys. Everyone will be happier in a warm and calm home where the house work is not perfect. It's better than being in a perfect home that is tense and sterile.

Homemaking isn't just about the home - it's about the homemaker too. Take the pressure off yourself to deliver perfection. It's an over-rated and out-dated concept. Create a warm and nurturing home for your family but make it something you want as well. Do it in your own time and never expect it to all be done in one day. We are here working at home full time and I've never been able to finish everything in one day. Housework never ends, it's a continuing ribbon. Think about that because when you understand it, it makes taking breaks easier.

Be kind to yourself and recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to housework. How you work is your choice, do your work so you get things done without feeling miserable. And above all, stop thinking that house work as a form of punishment. I'm sure you love it when everything is clean and tidy and how you want it to be. Take responsibility for your home, the work you do there, the time in which it is done and factor in those all important breaks. When you create a relaxed and safe place, your home will be the solid foundation on which to build your life.


8 November 2013

Weekend reading

My beautiful mother, Jean St Claire McGrath, died 20 years ago today. If she were alive now, she would be 94 years old. Even now, there are very few days she doesn't tip-toe into my consciousness. She was a truly remarkable woman. RIP mum. I miss you.

= = = ♥ = = = 
One of my heroes, Paul Keating and I grew up in adjoining working class Sydney suburbs. Both born in the 1940s, he eventually became Prime Minister of Australia and I believe, an outstanding Australian. This is an article about the upcoming series of Paul Keating - Kerry O'Brien ABC interviews. I love what he says about the asbestos suit of motherly and grandmotherly love.
Ruler boxes - a wonderful gift idea
Home maintenance tips - there is everything here from how to repair a screen door to fixing a leaking toilet.
Exchange Stores at Nundle I was searching for a Falconware 1.5 litre teapot at a reasonable price ($35ish) when I came upon this gorgeous store out in the bush, near Tamworth. What a treasure trove it appears to be. It's like shops used to be in the old days BC (before computers). Check out their history as well as their stock.
Orange self-saucing pudding I can't stop obsessing about food made using oranges. I had some of the most delicious blood oranges in winter and it tipped me over the edge.
The wartime kitchen and garden - youtube
The Noble Knitter

From the comments here during the week
Simply Free
Meadow Orchard
Sweet Journey Home

I hope you enjoy your weekend and use part of it to relax and recuperate. If you're lucky enough to have your parents near by or far away, take the time to say hello to them over the weekend. There will come a time when, no matter how much you want to do that, you can't.

See you next week. :- )


6 November 2013

Bees and butterflies

I am inclined towards a solitary life. Even though I have my family and friends around me, they know that this is my preference and therefore let me get on with it. I know they're all there if I need them and when my mind turns to more social occasions, they're there to help me with that as well. Sometimes I go for long periods without seeing some of the people I love and when we catch up, I silently swear to not allow such a time apart to happen again. It always does because I'm a solitary bee. I am what I am.

Today I'm going to Maleny. I have a few errands but importantly, I'm having lunch with my friend Patrick. I haven't seen him for more than six months, although we have spoken on the phone a few times. When he lived in Sydney, Patrick worked as a dress designer, then, after moving to Queensland with his partner, he retrained as a chef. Now he's well known for his raw and vegan food. When I worked at the Neighbourhood Centre, Patrick came in to the embroidery classes and wowed us all with his sewing skills. There's not much he can't do but I'll be content to be the recipient of his food later today and I'm sure we'll sit together for a couple of hours, looking out over the rolling hills, talking about all sorts of craziness.

Everything is good here at home. I'm on the fifth day of my new ginger beer plant. It started fermenting on the second day and is going strong. I'll probably make it up on the weekend. The fruit for the Christmas cake is soaking in good German brandy. I'll have to add more as I go along because the fruit is soaking it all up nicely. I'm still cruising along on the cardigan I'm knitting for Jonathan. I've finished the back and one front so I should have it done by Christmas.  Fingers crossed. It's been slow because it's only a few rows at a time, but slow is good, I can work with that.

Later this morning I'm going to the Maleny Dairies, where I'll take some photos and pick up some of their delicious milk and cream. Then on to Rosetta's, my local book store, to buy a book I want to give as a Christmas gift. After that, lunch with Patrick, then back home to Hanno who is still hobbling around on a swollen foot. Thank you for all the suggestions for treating gout. Unfortunately, Hanno is on Warfarin, so he has to be very careful with pills and potions, and even the vegetables he eats. We appreciate your thoughts though and Hanno asked me to thank you for thinking of him.

What are you doing today or tonight? Are we all social butterflies today or are there some solitary bees staying at home with the honey?

5 November 2013

Extending the seasons - how to make a poly or shade tunnel

All of us who grow food, keep chickens or bees, milk a house cow or a goat, or keep pigs have to know a thing or two about the seasons. Here in the sub-tropics, although we recognise four seasons exist, we usually have two real seasons - hot and cold. I can't tell you how much I usually complain about the hot season. I am a cool woman, what can I say. But I've decided to enjoy every day from now on. All the sweaty days, all the clinking icy drinks, all the bugs, as well as the silent stillness of the early morning and that feeling of calm just before a tropical storm hits, I'm embracing it all. I realised that no amount of complaining will change any of what I'm complaining about and it just highlights it for myself and anyone within ear shot. Enough. I'm over it. Hot weather is the reason I notice cold weather. If it were cold all the time, I'd complain even more about that. No, from now on, I'm embracing the seasons - all two of them. Okay, I got that off my chest. :- )

If you're a gardener, you might already know that you can extend your seasons by creating microclimates. It's the backyard equivalent of dressing in a cool summer dress or pulling on a jumper and boots.

If you're in a cool climate, you can extend your season by trying to create warmth where you're trying to grow vegetables. There are a few strategies you can try. Some of them might not work but if you can get one to work, you might get an extra crop of tomatoes that might never have been. 
Some of these methods include:
  • Often growing up against a brick or stone wall will help a lot. The wall will absorb the warmth during the day and provide some protection against the cold overnight as the warmth is being released. 
  • Mulching the ground with a couple of inches of straw, hay or sugar cane will help regulate the temperature of the ground, and keep the roots warm and the soil temperature constant. 
  • If you're in a frosty area, think about growing a small hedge around the outside of your garden to stop frost rolling in. 
  • Several stakes and some hessian or heavy black plastic will provide wind protection for plants. 
  • Poly tunnels are easy to make and they'll extend your seasons like nothing else. I've drawn a diagram below that will suit shade cloth or plastic tunnels. If you're trying to keep your vegetables going, these tunnels are very portable, they can be put away at the end of the season and can be made using recycled materials. If you're using the plastic tunnel in cold weather, get extra pieces of plastic so you can cover the ends as well. 

In a warm climate, it's not heat you're wanting, it's shade and the cool air it provides.
  • If you're growing taller plants such as tomatoes, beans or cucumbers on a trellis, they love full sun, but if you look at where the shade falls on the other side of the trellis, that is where you can plant things like lettuce, spinach, Asian greens, in the shade provided by the trellis.
  • Look for afternoon shade. Many plants love it. You might find a tree or fence provides afternoon shade.
  • Make sure you mulch well - you'll need a thick layer to keep the moisture in and the soil temperature constant. It's a good idea in the hotter climates to lay wet newspaper down on the soil before adding your mulch.
  • Water your plants thoroughly and deeply, depending on how hot it is, two or three times a week.
  • If you've got good mulch down, water in the morning because the moisture will be protected and retained by the mulch. If you don't have mulch down, water in the late afternoon or evening. This will give the water a good chance to soak down to the roots and hydrate the plants overnight.
  • Plants will slowly acclimatise to heat but if your plants suffer from an unexpected very hot day, give them a good drink in the late afternoon and follow it up with a watering of seaweed tea. That will help your vegetables get over the heat shock.
  • If you're in an area that gets torrential downpours, wind and hail, a tunnel will help protect the foliage and the vegetables in your garden.
  • Tunnels to protect your plants can play an important part in your garden and extend your growing season. In a warm climate, you'll use shade cloth instead of plastic and even though it might not seem like much, the plants grow well when they're not sitting in the full sun all day.


I've looked through my photos to find the shade tunnels Hanno built here but I lost a few years of my photos and I think they may have been in that batch. I know I have a couple of photos of our tunnels on the blog somewhere, but I don't know exactly where they are. Anyhow, I've drawn a diagram (no laughing) to show what I mean. They're simple, easy and cheap to make. You'll need:
  • star peg or steel pickets - 6 for each tunnel, or 8 if they're longer.
  • three pieces of bendable poly pipe that will fit snuggly over the pegs/pickets.
  • a long piece of shade cloth or heavy duty clear plastic that covers the area you want covered.
  • enough zip ties to attach the covering to the pipe.
To make the tunnel:
  1. Attach both ends of the covering to the poly pipe using plastic zip ties. If you're using a middle bracing section, attach that with zip ties too.
  2. Lay the shade cloth out on the ground and mark where your peg will need to go in.
  3. Hammer the star pegs into the ground.
  4. Fit the ends of the plastic pipes over the pegs/pickets.
  5. Straighten it all up and if you have a flap at one end, secure it down with a couple of stones or bricks.
Make sure you make it tall enough to move around in. Getting taller star pegs should give you the right height.  Don't forget to plant what you harvest frequently near the opening, and the trellised plants along the walls.

Most of the information online if for buying tunnel kits, this is a DIY poly tunnel and here is a DIY shade tunnel, both very much like the tunnels we use here.

At the end of the season, dismantle and store the tunnels until next season. I think you'll find they make a difference to the number of months you are able to produce food.


4 November 2013

Hello world!

The older I get, the more often I'm reminded of my own mortality. Hanno has very painful gout again. It came up out of the blue and has laid him low for the last couple of days. He has been prone to gout for many years and takes medication to lessen the chance of getting it but something triggered it again and the only thing to do is to keep weight off the foot, drink plenty of water and take the medication he's been given. He's got a walking stick, and that helps when he has to hobble in to go to the bathroom, but the main activity is rest. He doesn't like it at all. Luckily we had a visit from Kerry and Jamie and we all sat on the front verandah for a while to talk.

 Jamie with his many animals. When I ask how many animals he has, he always replies: "many".
Our meals were simple - this became coleslaw which we had with buttered herb pasta and sausages.
We had this on Saturday, chicken curry yesterday, with enough left for two more days.
This is how I do my ironing. I take my computer into the bedroom, where the ironing board is, and watch You Tube while I iron. On the weekend I watched 'Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner', a three part BBC series on the origin of mealtimes.

On this slow weekend, I've been watering the garden, cooking our meals, baking, getting glasses of water and cups of tea, ironing, reading, writing and knitting. As you know, I love resting but enforced rest is not as good and Hanno is an impatient patient. He needs scolding and reminding that's he's not 18, or 25, or 40, or 60 anymore. There are some wonderful things I love about getting older - I've developed a deeper understanding of myself and others. I see interesting linkages I never noticed before, or if I did, I didn't understand their importance. I am more tolerant and accepting. Nothing much phases me. If I see a problem, I fix it straight away. I always give a second chance, but never a third. I'm relaxed knowing that Jamie and Alex are my grandchildren and that they will carry on our genes. I'm settled and satisfied. I don't scare easily. My common sense has evolved and is thriving. I know I'm loved.

But on the other hand, when I look at Hanno and his swollen foot I am reminded that we are both wearing out. Our joints are not what they used to be, our bodies don't make the quick repairs of youth. Slowly we're approaching our 'best before' date. When you think about it, it doesn't matter how you live, what you do, how much money you have or who you know, every single one of us will grow old and die. If we're lucky. If we're not lucky we'll die earlier than we should and people will say, 'that's so sad'. I am hoping I've got another 20 or 30 years and that when I die they'll say 'she had a good innings'. But the truth is that even if I died tomorrow, I would feel satisfied and thankful that my life has brought me so much joy, that I've been surrounded by the most wonderful family and friends, and that for a little while I got to write to the world.

And now, it's Monday morning, another week of living ahead for all of us. Let's get on with it.  

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