24 December 2013

Happy Holly-days

Thank you for your visit here on Christmas Eve, I think it's the best one of the holly-days. Hanno and I wish you love, happiness and peace and a very happy Christmas with those you love. We hope all your sweethearts, whether they be large or small, gather close to you this Christmas. Thank you for being a part of our world and this blog this year. Your comments have made me happy, smile, frown and go cross-eyed and they've shown me that all of us belong to a huge, world-wide simple living community. That motivates me to carry on sharing what we know and what we do here.

Enjoy what you do to its fullest. Forget your worries and make happy memories.

20 December 2013

Weekend reading

Take care of yourself over the holidays and stay safe. I want to see you back here next year. Merry Christmas everyone. I'll see you soon.  

Bella is a magazine for teenage girls. Here is a free sample of the online magazine. I think you'll agree that the images and ideas presented there are age-appropriate, endearing and very different to the sadly sexualised photographs and topics often in magazines for young girls. A subscription or one Bella mag would make an excellent Christmas gift for the young girls in your life. It's available in a print and online version so international readers can take advantage of the message and images of ordinary girls doing wonderful things. I'll be writing in Bella from the next edition.
Craftfoxes - I wanted to show you the little free fox hat pattern but there are so many gorgeous projects here I hope you check out the entire site.
This baby fox needs help, quickly. Watch what happens. - short video
Homemade honey and citrus syrups for colds and sore throats - thanks Evelyn
Vermiponics - YouTube

From comments here during the week
Our little piece of heaven - check out Anke's fantastic chicken feed bag projects

18 December 2013

Taking a break

Most of you know I'm writing for Penguin again and hope to have that series of six ebooks published from March next year. They'll be sold internationally this time. :- ) In the past few months we've undertaken the mammoth job of moving the forum to a bigger and more stable server and now we've upgraded the software to a new and improved version. The forum has grown a lot in the past year and it's my hope we can continue to meet new and older members who are simplifying and to provide a safe and friendly atmosphere there were you feel secure enough to share your lives with us. The forum has evolved into a wonderful information and friendship driven space where encouragement, support and congeniality are waiting for all who wish to visit.  I have big plans for next year at the forum. However, the upgrades have taken up a lot more of my time than I expected them to. I'm still fine tuning as we settle in.

 The Christmas cakes just need a hot jam glazing and they'll be ready for the kitchen table.

As a result I've been having problems getting everything done. Keeping up with my housework, helping Hanno, helping with Jamie, writing, the forum work and writing the blog are starting to take their toll. I was going to have a few weeks away from the blog starting next week, but I know I have to start that break now. This will be the second-last post for a few weeks, although I have a list of old posts I think might be helpful to many of you that will be resurrected. Weekend reading is almost completed for this week and that will be up as usual on Friday. And then I hope to finish off a book before Christmas, start another one after Christmas, enjoy the holidays with my family, take some time away from the computer and generally fulfil commitments and get my head in order for the coming year.

A huge thanks to all the forum volunteer admins and moderators - Sue, Rose, Lisa, Lynn, Sherri, Becci, Robyn, Amy, Alison, Meghan, Deanne, Sandy, Michele, Rhonda, Tessa and Allison. They are the driving force behind the forum and without them I would not be able to operate it. They are such a wonderful group of kind and loving souls.  Thank you ladies, for all you do. I appreciate you all very much.

I am continuing to fight against the consumerist mindset and have rejected proposals from many advertisers during the year. I am only willing to promote people whose products I use and love. So thanks to all my wonderful sponsors. Many of them have been with me for a few years now and I have a wonderful relationship with all of them. Merry Christmas to Eco Yarns, Eco Store, Maleny Dairies, Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores, Biome and Beautiful Chickens. Thank you for your kind and generous support during the year.

And last but not least, thanks to you dear readers for continuing to read what I write. This has been my sixth year of blogging and I'm still inspired by the people who read here and still love reading the stories of lives being changed for the better. A special thank you to the readers who usually lurk in the background but who commented for the first time this year. There were a few of you. I appreciated that gesture more than you know. I hope I can tickle another comment out of you as time goes on.

Hanno joins me in wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a productive new year. I hope you all spend the holidays doing what your love with family and friends. May peace and happiness be with you all, my friends.  


17 December 2013

Answering the questions

A week or so ago I said I'd answer any questions you had. I got two questions, both set out below. I hope both ladies are still reading.

Kate J  December 09, 2013 7:51 am

I wonder what you and hanno would do if the power went out for a long period of time. Just curious, as that seems to be the thing people plan for if they see storms or other large scale events coming. Would simple living make those times easier?

Kate, we have no real plans for living here for a long period without power although I did say the other morning as we shared morning tea that I wouldn't mind it at all. I think Hanno is more practical. : - ) The only thing that would bother me would be if we had a lot of meat and fish in our freezer. I guess we could take it over to Jens and Cathy's and ask if they'd put it in their freezer. They have a generator.

Generally though, it would be like a bit of an adventure for a while. We'd still have hot water, Hanno told me that we wouldn't have any mains power, even with our solar panels, but we'd have solar hot water, it uses a different system. So we'd still have showers and hot water for washing up.

If there was no power here for a long period of time, I think there would be problems with the water system which relies on electricity for testing and delivering safe water. There would also probably be problems with the general transport system, deliveries and the supermarkets would be short of supplies.

I guess the first thing I'd do would be to harvest all the ice in the freezers and use that in an Esky. Into the Esky I'd place a few eggs, cheese, butter and milk. With those four cold items and my stockpile we could easily live quite nicely for a month or so. Then I could stretch it out to four or five months, but I doubt I'd be seeing it as an adventure then. It would just be getting by. It would also depend on the time of year it happened. If we had a garden full of vegetables, that we do have from about late April till December or January, we'd be fine. We'd still have the fresh eggs from the chickens too and I'd still be able to collect milk from my local dairy. If the power was out in the whole region, after that first lot of ice, I'd have to store my dairy food and eggs at Jens and Cathy's. They live in the same town.

We'd eat food from the stockpile and garden.
I'd use what was in the fridge in those first few days and cook what I could outside.

Most of the cooking would be done on a camp fire. I'd bake using a cast iron camp oven.

There would be plenty of early nights for both of us. 
And a lot more time spent in the garden making sure we had a continuous supply of food. I think I'd continue writing using a notebook and a pencil.

We have a very old BBQ that we could use the grill off to cook on outside over an open fire. We have plenty of wood around here, we have water in the tanks and a creek flowing in the back yard. I know I'd miss my computer, the blog and the forum but I think I'd convince myself that missing such things would be good for me. I hope I'd gain strength from it rather than caving in and complaining about it.

To answer your question, I think I'd be more prepared for a time like that because we live a simple life and I'd also accept the hardship that came with it as just one of those things. And even it it did stretch on for a few months, while the first month would be exciting and new, the rest of it, I'm pretty sure, I'd just take in my stride - mainly because of my lifestyle.

simplyfree December 09, 2013 11:24 am
Hi Rhonda,
I have a question for you about adding more chickens to the flock. How did you introduce them into your flock. We are hoping to add a couple more chickens in the spring. We will be raising them as chicks separate, then when they are old enough we would add them to the flock. So at what age do you introduce them and how?
As for simple living we started with one thing then added another. We do what we can and your right simple living is different for each of us. Love your blog!

Hanno pruned the lemon tree yesterday and threw the branches into the chook run. Chickens love exploring and climbing and it wasn't long before our girls had sorted through those new branches.
And one of our newer blue Barnevelders found herself a new roost.
This isn't on subject but I can show you the difference in combs and wattles as a chicken ages. If you have a look at the next three photos, it will give you a good idea for what to look for when a chicken is maturing and getting ready to lay eggs.  The Barnevelder above has a small, pink comb and her wattles, below her beak, haven't grown at all. She not laying yet.
Madam above is a little older. Her comb is smallish, but bigger than the Barnevelder's and it's red. This blue Australorpe has just started laying.
And Lulubelle here is about four years old and has been a good layer for a few years. You can see her comb and wattles are fully developed and red. This photo isn't showing the accurate tone of red, it's quite a bright red. When a chicken starts getting sick, often her comb and wattles will be pink instead of red.

Simplefree, when you get new chickens you have to already have everything ready for them. Chooks bond to their territory so it's not wise to give them a temporary home and then move them again. Make sure their permanent home is ready, safe and secure. When you bring new chickens or chicks home they should be separated from the older girls to make sure they aren't bringing in any diseases. They should be placed in their new home for at least a week before they are allowed to roam or mix in with other yard animals or birds. That will allow them to bond with their new place and they'll learn where they come back to every night.

If you're bringing small chicks home, you'll need to provide warmth for them if you're in a cold climate. If you're in a warm area, a small coup out of the weather and wind, and away from the other chickens, will be fine. During the day they'll need enough space to walk around and see the other chooks (through wire) and they'll need a roost at night. They must have clean water and food every day but won't need a nest for a few months. If you want them to eat greens and kitchen scraps, introduce them during that early period and they'll be good eaters all their lives.

You can introduce the chicks to their older sisters when they big enough to cope with the bigger birds - maybe around two or three months of age, depending on their breed. If they're small birds, wait longer. On the day you introduce them to the same living quarters, wait until almost nightfall and in the twilight bring the new girls in. Generally at that time of night, the priority will be to settle for the night and with the fading light they probably won't take much notice. The next morning, be out there early to make sure the little ones have been accepted. There will be a period of establishing the pecking order, there always is, it's natural chook behaviour. You have to allow that to happen and only remove the chicks if there is a blood injury. If that happens, take at least two of them out because chicks need other chicks. If you only have three new chicks, take all of them out. If there are four, take out two and leave two if the remaining two have no injuries and seem to be coping. Keep the chicks separate until the injury has healed and try again. Good luck.


16 December 2013

A labour of love

I was hoping to have Johnathan's cotton cardigan finished for Christmas but it is not to be. I foolishly mis-read the pattern twice! and I had to unpick a sleeve when it was almost finished, twice. So now I'm doing a bit of cardigan knitting most days and since the cricket started, it's been what I pick up when I sit down to watch. What a pleasure it is to watch cricket, knit and snooze. Yesterday, when we were looking after Jamie, he and I had a sleep after lunch and at one point, I looked over at Hanno, who was also watching the cricket, and he was sleeping too. Life is slow and gentle here and it doesn't matter if we doze off. There was a time when I couldn't sleep in the day time, even if I wanted to, but now all I have to do is to sit down for a few minutes.

When I first started knitting I only knit during winter. Now it's an all-year pleasure. I particularly enjoy summer knitting because of the cricket and it allows me to plan what we need for the colder months to come. But no matter when I knit, it's a labour of love to sit quietly and wind cotton or wool around sticks and to create something unique for those I love.

I am lucky to have Eco Yarns as one of my sponsors and Vivian's organic cotton is the yarn I love to knit with the most. I'm using it for Johnathan's cardigan and finished a Miss Marple scarf for my friend Kathleen in late October. She travelled to the US to visit her family in November and said the scarf was ideal to wear with almost all her outfits. It's not hot or scratchy like some wools can be. A free pattern for the Miss Marple scarf is available on Ravelry. If you visit Eco Yarns, be sure to check out Vivian's blog, she often writes about the project she is working on.

Some people wonder about the logic and reason of knitting. They say it's slow, expensive and wonder why anyone would spend time on something you can buy in the shops. I guess people knit for different reasons, I knit because I love the slow progress of one stitch at a time. It's almost like a meditation. It slows me down and shows me, unreservedly, that beauty and value can be created slowly and mindfully. I also love giving things away and there is nothing better than giving a beautiful baby something warm, soft and organic.

This was my photography assistant yesterday.

I know it can be expensive to knit up a jacket or shawl and if you look at an acrylic jacket in the department store, you might wonder why you'd choose home knitting. Well, what you'll create will be from your heart, it will be unique and the quality will be far superior to the cheap imports. When you touch hand-knitted jumpers or socks, it's not line after line of rigid perfect knitting, it's a celebration of home production and individuality. If you can't afford to buy new wool, look around your thrift shops and see if there are any pure wool jumpers or cardigans there. If you can get hold of one that is bigger than the size you want, you'll be able to unravel it and use that wool. Wool is very long lasting and forgiving. It can be unravelled and re-knit many times - each time producing a one of a kind garment. You can do that with the wool you buy too. If you decide you don't like something you've knitted, undo it, wind it up into balls and rework the yarn in a pattern you love.

If you've never thought about knitting, maybe it's time to give it a go. You can learn how to knit by watching the many beginners videos on You Tube. You'll start off with "casting on", then learn plain, purl and cast off. Most knitting is a combination of those four processes. You'll probably start off feeling a bit clumsy but it gets easier the more you knit. Start with something easy like a scarf or fingerless mittens but be prepared to love the slowness of it as well as the things you make.

What's on your needles right now? What's your next project?

I think I can see myself knitting this for one of the babies in my life

13 December 2013

Weekend reading

I've been seeing the heavy snow falls and storm footage from north America and the UK on our news here. It's such a tragedy that people are dying because of the weather. I've never told you this before but quite frequently when we have bad weather here, and especially when we're in drought, it's hot and it seems like the rains will never come again, I go searching your blogs to find photos of rivers or snow. When I find something I like, I use it as my computer wallpaper to remind me that seasons change and soon the brown will turn to green.

I remembered that when I saw that snow storm footage and the next morning I went out the front and took these photos. They are for anyone to use as their wallpaper as a reminder of what is to come. There will be a time soon when gentle sunlight will fall on your front step and the day ahead will be warm and beautiful. Stay warm, friends.

New life in the hanging baskets. 

Fork to Fork - tomatoes and onions (Monty Don) Youtube
Fork to Fork - squashes (Monty Don) Youtube
Project Wild Thing
Stop buying gifts you can't afford
Peppermint candy cane cake
10 easy kitchen extract to make at home
Mason jar lighting projects
The romance of the homemade candle
Pumpkin dog biscuits
Helping chickens survive the heat

From comments here during the week
Terry Corum
Elastic Mom

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. See you next week.  

11 December 2013

Going low-tech, soaking clothes and dishes

I'm often on the lookout for ways to do my day-to-day chores without using any, or very few, cleaning products.  There are two clear ways of doing this - for clothes and for dishes.  I remember way back in the day when my mum used to soak clothes before washing them. Sometimes she used to put them into a big copper boiler and boil them while moving them around with a wooden stick. The washing took hours to do and often she did it on a Friday night after she finished her outside job. I soak cotton, linen and poly-blend clothes too although I don't do it the way my mum did. If I have something that is badly stained, I fill a large container up with very hot water from the tap, add Disan, an oxy-bleach, dissolve the Disan with my laundry stick and drop the clothes in. BTW, my laundry stick is a spurtle - a scottish stick for stirring porridge. Don't ask why. Almost any fairly new stain can be removed using this method. You can also whiten your greying whites this way as well.

I have two containers I use for soaking. This pink one is about large bucket size - 10 litres/quarts and it easily holds a blouse and a white nightie.

Another way to remove a stain is to wet the fabric and then rub laundry bar soap or laundry liquid on the stain, roll it up and leave it for an hour or so. You roll it up so it doesn't dry out. Then pop it in with the normal wash and the stain will probably go. If you have a top loading washing machine, fill it for your normal wash, apply soap or laundry liquid to any stains you notice, put the stained clothing in the filled washing machine and let it soak, overnight if possible. The following morning, do your normal wash. Generally all stains will be removed by the soaking.

This is my larger 15 litre bucket for towels, sheets and hanno's shirts.

I also soak dishes. We gave away our dishwasher years ago. Quite often I don't wash up our breakfast dishes until after we have lunch. If we've had eggs or baked beans for breakfast, it's the devil's job to remove the egg or tomato sauce from those dishes. Now I'm in the habit of half filling the sink with hot water, with a squirt of dish liquid and letting the dishes soak while I make the lunch. When I empty a pot or frying pan, I pour water in it straight away and let it soak that way. Eventually, when I get to the dishes after lunch, all they need is a quick wipe over and they're clean. A sharp contrast to standing their scrubbing with a brush if I don't pre-soak.

Soaking is one of those gentle, old-fashioned methods you very rarely hear about now because it doesn't use a product that someone is trying to push. This type of clothes care is particularly good for perspiration stains under arms, collar grime, whitening whites and general stains. Soaking works really well and often, if you have a very fresh stain, you can soak without adding any soap or oxy-bleach and it works! 

10 December 2013

Getting to know my supermarket, again

Hanno did the grocery shopping yesterday; he does it almost every week because I don't like going to the shops. I was preparing lunch when he came home and he said it was difficult finding what I had written on the list. I do put things on there such as: "with real juice", "only Australian" or "free range only". Today he had to ask the shop assistant to help him find Granita biscuits. I need a packet for the Christmas cheesecake. They searched and finally found them on the top shelf. That tells me that soon we won't be able to buy Granitas from Woolworths any more. They will be gone from the shelves like so many other old Australian brands. I wonder if you have found a similar scenario in your local supermarket.

 It occurred to me that although I go shopping on the odd occasion, I haven't been shopping on a regular basis for years, maybe five or six years. I've decided I should go again to reacquaint myself with the shelf placement and the brands. My guess is that I'll find a wasteland littered with made in China/India/Thailand generics and non-food, it will make me angry and I wont want to go back. Nevertheless, I need to do it so I know the true state of the supermarkets and not my old version of them. We don't always do what we want to do.

Not shopping is my preference and if I could live without shopping at all, I'd be happy. Here at home I revel in the almost-solitude, I enjoy having the sun on my arms, I love getting my hands dirty, I love the rhythm of my day and the work I do. Being so immersed in the work here, which is an equal mix of physical and intellectual work, has made me a different person. There was time when I searched for meaning and happiness in shopping malls and crowds, now I know where I can reliably find it. It's always right here under my nose, at home.

I'm watching a TV program called "The Abbey" at the moment and although I am by no means a religious person, I feel that life in that Abbey somehow reflects my life here. The Benedictine nuns in the abbey are living a cloistered life of gardening, craft, preparing meals and regular prayer. Here in our home we live according to our values while maintaining simplicity in our lives. I live by sunrise and sundown rather than an alarm clock or watch. We eat at the same time every day, taking a main meal at midday, we tend our chores, and each day runs to a gentle routine that makes the work satisfying and enriching. I do not pray but I am mindful and have periods of quiet reflection. The work I do here defines my character as much as it defines my days. Some would believe that being at home most of the time would be a burden but I find much of the world outside my own community superficial and loud. It's easier to stay at home but from next week on, and possibly for the next few weeks, I'll do the shopping at the supermarket and try to make sense of it.

I wonder what changes you've noticed in your local supermarket in the past few years. Have you seen a big move towards foreign products and generics? Are the old brands disappearing?

9 December 2013

Starting your simple life

I've written about this subject in the past but I'm doing it again because I've had a few requests for it. Let me start by saying, there is not just one true way to live a simple life. It will all depend on how old you are, what your ambitions are, whether you have children, if you go out to work for a living, and possibly a hundred other things. This way of life is possible for every one and it's not limited by location or income. 

My preferred method of watering along the front verandah.

You do not buy a simple life, it is created and added to minute by minute, one day at a time. You can't tell if a person is living simply by the look of them. I know people who live on farms and grow their own food who do not living simply. I know people who live in the city and work in large corporations who do. Simple life is not so much about where you live but more about your mindset, your commitment and your values.

I picked some of these blueberries yesterday morning along with a few late strawberries. 

If you're at a crossroad in your life and you're not sure of your direction, I encourage you to take some time and think about what you value in your life. Write it down and create a long or short list that you can think about. If you're married or living in a partnership, you should share your list with your partner. They may or may not agree with your list, they may have a list of their own. Share your ideas about your future and try to come up with a combined plan for the next few years. Be prepared to go it alone too. Your partner may not agree with any of your plans. If that is the case, depending on what your plan is, you can probably do it anyway. That's what happened here. Hanno wasn't interested at first, I continued on and didn't say anything about what I was doing. A few months down the track, we spoke again and he was coming around to my way of thinking. Eventually he agreed fully and we're been on this journey together since then.

Taken yesterday morning, our native hibiscus is in full flower.

We are retired folk and have time to produce a lot of what we use at home. Home production gives us healthier products and food, saves us money and gives structure and meaning to our days. I decided very early on that I'd like to simplify my shopping, cleaning and cooking and starting with baking bread most days. I found that one simple task lead me to 20 others. The simple act of doing one thing opened up the possibility of so many things. The same happened with growing food in the back yard. Although I'd been a gardener for many years and didn't have to learn about that, I did have to learn about when to harvest, preserving, freezing, blanching and stockpiling. I think you'll find the same, that taking that first step will drive you forward to what waits beyond.

Fresh herby breadcrumbed chicken tender loin.

Although there is no set menu for this, the one thing many people do is to live on less than they earn, and pay off debt. The liberation from debt is life-changing and living simply can help you get there a long time before mainstream life will. In fact, mainstream life will take you in the opposite direction because there will always be the temptation and encouragement to buy, whether you can afford it or not.

Maybe it will be helpful to list a few things that are common in simple life, maybe that will give you a framework, and you can go on from there. I have written about all these things in the past so follow the links to find out more.
Paying off debt and tracking your spending
Living on less than you earn
Cooking from scratch
Keeping a stockpile
Green cleaning and Making your own laundry liquid
Making soap
Bread in the bread maching and Five minute bread
Lists and Routines
Finding happiness

You'll start your simple life immediately just by starting any of these things, and hopefully they'll lead you to the next step and the next. But please don't limit yourself to this list because as you mature and your circumstances change, so will your values and your aspirations. Simple life is a changeable feast, it might start as one thing and be totally another in a few years time. That's good. Life is dynamic and should be full of energetic and gentle change.

Four bags of strawberry jam about to go into the freezer.

I hope that by thinking carefully about your own life, deciding what you want to do with your ordinary days and being prepared to change, you'll find the same sort of peace and happiness I have in my ordinary days. It's not easy, change never is, but the rewards are there if you move closer to a more engaged and self-reliant life.

If there is a question you want to ask, or something you want me to write about, please ask and I'll try to do it this week.


6 December 2013

Weekend reading

I hope all those ovens are being cleaned along with all the other pre-Christmas tasks. Try to stay calm and focused. In less than three weeks, Christmas will be over and we'll be in the seasonal doldrums waiting for the cricket to start. Thank goodness for the cricket.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend. See you next week, friends.

- - - ♥ - - -

Congratulations Katie and Reuben at House of Humble, they won the 2013 Kidspot blogger comp! Pay them a visit to read about the excitement.
Recycle your old mobile phone in Australia - Mobile Muster
PomPom Quarterly UK knitting mag
Another free Ravelry pattern - a super cute baby vest

From the comments here during the week

4 December 2013

Green cleaning the oven and stove top

I use my oven a lot, probably five times a week on average. Everything goes in there - bread, scones, cakes, biscuits, pies, quiches, roast chicken, leg of lamb, pork shoulder, meatloaf - all cooked from scratch and all baked in my trusty, and sometimes crusty, oven.  I cleaned it out about two months ago when it was very dirty after a winter of casseroles and roasts. This time it wasn't so bad but it still needed a good clean. Now we're set for Christmas and if anyone wants to quickly heat up something they bring over, I can tell them to go for it instead of grabbing the plate, saying: "I'll do that, you sit down." LOL

Oven door, pre-cleaning.

I'm sure you know there is nothing magical about cleaning an oven or stove, but the feeling you get after you do it is probably 25 percent better than the clean fridge feeling. ;- ) But with any job, particularly those you don't really want to do, your attitude makes a big difference. Forget about whether you want to do it or not, think about it as one of your necessary maintenance routines and know when it's finished the feeling of satisfaction you'll feel will last much longer than the time it takes to do the job.

To do the job safely, leave the high toxic chemicals on the supermarket shelf and arm yourself with an oxy-bleach powder similar to Napisan, I use the Aldi generic Di-san and it works perfectly. You'll also need bicarb/baking soda, cleaning vinegar, four or five old rags - not your knitted cleaning cloths, and an old towel. If you have cleaning brushes, that's great, if not, use an old nail brush. If you have no brushes, use a pot scrubber or steel wool, but be careful with it.

The stove top was very dirty - boiled over rice water and the results of frying onions and making breakfast. If you've got a stainless steel top, like mine, a brush will do the job better than a cloth, or an abrasive.
 Finished job.
 The paste is bicarb/baking soda mixed with vinegar, and some dish liquid if the oven is really dirty.

 Apply the paste the night before and leave overnight.

In a sink where you can completely submerge the oven racks and trays, add a cap full of  oxy-bleach and hot water, then add the racks and trays.  Leave overnight.

The next morning, you may have some brown spots left on your racks. These can usually be wiped off with a rag. If it's not coming off, get out your brush or steel wool and scrub.

 All done!  We celebrated with a cottage pie cooked in the clean oven.

NOTE: Oxy-bleach is a powdered form of hydrogen peroxide, it's not related to chorine bleach, it won't damage the environment and it cleans by releasing oxygen. Used on fabric, it will remove stains without  stripping the colour and used on metal, such as oven racks and slides, it loosens grease so it can be wiped off.

The evening before, take all the oven racks and trays out of the oven and place them in a sink where they'll be completely submerged. I used our laundry sink. Turn on the hot water tap and start filling the sink to just cover the racks, then add a cap full of the oxy-bleach. Get a large spoon to stir it around to help dissolve all the powder. Make sure all the racks and trays are under water. If you're cleaning your stove top too, put those racks in too, plus anything else that needs a good clean. Leave it overnight to soak. 

The evening before, get yourself a bowl and mix up about 1½ cups bicarb/baking soda with enough white vinegar to make a paste. The mixture will fizz and bubble when you pour in the vinegar, that's normal. Wipe this paste over the inside of the oven, particularly over the dirty spots. Do the door as well, you can use the paste on the glass. If your oven is greasy or very dirty, add a squirt of dish liquid. Not too much because you don't want it to bubble.  Leave overnight.

The next morning, using your rags, wipe all the paste out of the oven. It's a really messy job but it should only take 5 - 10 minutes to do it thoroughly. Use a small bucket of water so you can wipe off the gunk frequently with a clean rag. When it looks clean, wipe over with a clean wet rag and wipe dry with your old towel.  Then have a good look inside to make sure you got all the dirty areas. If there are some dirty spots, apply the paste again to those areas only, wait 30 minutes and wipe off. If you think it needs brushing or rubbing with the steel wool, do it. Always finish off by wiping out with a clean wet rag and dry with an old towel.  Clean the outside of the oven as well by wiping over with vinegar on a cloth. Make sure you get in under the door - or remove the door completely and clean around it. Remove the knobs and clean around them too, replace the knobs. Wipe over with a clean towel.

The next morning, using your rags, wipe the stove top over with the paste and leave for 15 minutes. Then wipe off using the same technique used on the oven. Remove all the white paste, finish off with a clean wet rag and dry with an old towel. Replace all the top pieces and knobs.

We celebrated our clean oven with a cottage pie baked till the top was golden and crisp. Just knowing you've done this often put-off chore will help you breeze through the rest of the day. And don't forget to tick off another pre-Christmas task.


3 December 2013

Changes and ongoing maintenance

One of the many things we do here is to keep an eye on our house, car and garden maintenance. We don't want things to get out of hand and then not be able to do the repairs ourselves. In the past, Hanno and I could do almost everything we needed to do here but in the past year we've started to slow down a bit and sometimes we need help with some tasks. Kerry cleaned the gutters and the solar panels for us just last month because is not safe for Hanno to be up there now.  We're still as enthusiastic as ever about living our lives here, doing everything we can to keep our slow routines going, but there are changes taking place.

This is where Hanno is building the extension to the chook house.

We often discuss what's coming up for us as we have morning tea on the front verandah; recently the topic of chickens came up. We're getting more chickens from Kate at Beautiful Chickens soon so we decided to enlarge the chicken coop to give the hens more room to shelter from the rain and provide a bigger isolation area for new and sick chooks. Sounds straight forward but there was only one way for us to make the extension and that was to build into the vegetable garden. We'll lose one garden bed. We talked about it for a while and agreed that we'll be doing less gardening in a few years time so the garden reduction will just speed that up a tiny bit. We also agreed that even when we don't do as much gardening as we do now, and when we stop altogether, we'll still keep chooks.

Over the past week, Hanno has been collecting recycled materials from his own work shed and around the district so we can keep our costs right down. We got a quote to have a small cement slab poured and it was over $900! We bought enough 400x400x40 cement pavers (seconds) to cover the same area for $150. The outside wall will still be the outside wall when it's moved back and the dividing wall inside the coop will be wire netting. The girls will see each other but still be separated and they'll eat and drink from different containers. It's quite a big change, and we've had to give up some garden bed, but it will be much better in the future.

Out in the front garden, Hanno has brought in pine mulch and applied that to a few beds. He also attached the old shutters (above) we had in the shop to the lattice work on the front verandah so we can close them off for more protection when it's raining or windy. The shutters had just been sitting around in the shed so it's good to have them in use again.

In the back garden, Hanno moved some of our taps. I always like to have a connected, working hose close to the house in case of fire. The one near the back door was attached to a very old and badly rotted piece of timber. Hanno attached it to a very solid post and rolled the hose up so it can hang neatly out of the way but close enough for us to use in an emergency. He used an old hose hanger we'd been using over on the other side of the yard, attached to one of the tanks. We've both almost tripped over the hose when it was laying on the ground so he bought a hose winder to eliminate the tripping hazard. This thing is really easy to use. It recoils just like a cord on a vacuum cleaner, winds itself up and stays protected from the sun in a plastic case. He had to lower the tap so the hose case can swing around freely but now there's nothing for us to trip over. 

I'm getting on with my maintenance work inside the house too. My latest project is to clean the oven before Christmas, and I'll be doing that today and writing about it tomorrow. I'm hoping to get some others to join me. Are you up for the challenge? All you need is a pack of oxy-bleach - Napisan or the generic form of it. I'm using Di-san, from Aldi.  You'll also need bicarb/baking soda and vinegar. These products are environmentally sound so you won't need the rubber gloves and mask that many of the commercial oven cleaners call for, and if you're asthmatic, like me, you won't be gasping for air.

We enjoy our maintenance work. We see it as part of the daily work we do to enable us to live productive and useful lives in our own home. We hope to be able to do that for many more years to come.  Do you keep on top of your maintenance tasks?

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Dear friends, I've changed the commenting guidelines. There have been a lot of links left in the comments lately, including commercial links. I check everything that comes out of my blog because I don't want to link to commercial sites or non-family friendly sites. I no longer have the time to do that so I'm not allowing any links in the comments from now on. Someone emailed a couple of days ago and asked if she could link to her ebay page in her comment! Every time you leave a comment, it automatically links to your blog or Google page through your name at the top of the comment. Readers will find their way to you via that link. I thank you sincerely for your understanding.


2 December 2013

Getting ready for Christmas

We're coming into the danger zone, a time when we all have to watch what we do, stop listening to the incessant Christmas advertising about buying the biggest and the best, and commit, again, to living true to our values. Of all the times of the year for falling off our frugal wagons, this is the worst. Those Christmas advertisements portray loving families, happy children and attentive parents but they're using those images to pull the money right out of your pocket; and they have no shame, they know it works. Christmas has stopped being about religion or family for many people and has become a free for all, with a lot of showing off afterwards. I think it stinks.

Last year's Christmas cake.

Christmas is about family for me and this year we'll have two Christmasses. We'll have a family lunch on Christmas day with Kerry, Sunny, Jamie, Jens, Cathy and her mother Kathleen, then visit Shane, Sarndra and Alex a few days after to enjoy it all over again. Now we have grandchildren the fun has come back to Christmas because we see it all through their eyes. We don't go to church, we gather together and enjoy each others' company. We always have a family lunch, usually with the foods we all love and have grown up with - ham, chicken, roast pork, potato salad, garden salad and home preserves. Along with the beer and wine we'll also have homemade cordial. Dessert will be a tropical fruit pavlova and there is always Christmas cake, heavy with fruit and nuts. I'm hoping to make that in the next day or two; I've had the fruit soaking in brandy for three weeks.

The day after Christmas we have another tradition to enjoy - the Boxing Day Cricket Test Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground; we watch it on TV. The test goes for five days and it's one of the highlights of the sporting year in Australia. Boxing Day is also the day the sales begin. It's many, many years since I took part in the post-Christmas sales. I always keep an eye on whether we will need towels, sheets or pillows during the coming year and if we do, I'll buy them at the Christmas sales, but I'll go sometime in January and I'm usually in and out of the shop in under an hour. I don't go looking for things to buy.

For us, Christmas is the time we celebrate our own family, we share good food, add some spectator sport, I take note of the sales but I'm not obsessed by them and our focus is on family rather than on commerce. We'll put up our tree and lights in the next week and start wrapping presents. It's a little bit early for us but I want Jamie to enjoy not just Christmas day but the season as well. He's been learning about Santa at kindy and this is the first year he's felt the excitement and wonder of it all. I think Alex will be the same and I'm looking forward to him telling me about Santa when we visit. I doubt I'll be here to see Jamie and Alex with their own children so I intend to take pleasure in every bit of the lead up to Christmas, the day itself and our Christmas visiting.  What are your plans?

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