31 January 2014

Weekend reading

The kids have gone back to school, the weather is cooling a little and time is marching on. 

I finished the final reading of my book yesterday so that's been sent back to Penguin; hopefully it will be published in late March.

I took the opportunity last week to make more lemon cordial and gave these two bottles to Cathy and Sunny. Hope you have a  wonderful weekend. Thank you for visiting over the past few days.

Chinese tinned peached - lead
Growing food can help you meet the neighbours
Is it possible to make a living on a small farm?
Regrow your herbs and vegetables
Cleaner hall of shame
Live to work or work to live? Nickie asks this important question at Meadow Orchard
Crafts calculator - work out how to price your hand-made goodies
Nest curtains - more than just curtains
Wooden dolls a visitor from the woods @ Fairie Moon
Just when you start to worry about where we are headed, this comes along.

Miranda at Her Resolution
Meredith at Simple Living in the Loo
Jenny @ Half Grown Somethings

30 January 2014

Sowing seeds in trays

Frugal vegetable gardening starts with seeds. If they're seeds you've collected yourself from last year's crop, that's even better. If you want to save seeds after every season to plant the following year, you'll need to start with heirloom or open pollinated seeds. F1 seeds will not reproduce true to type. Seed saving is an easy skill to learn and it's vegetable production at its most authentic.

Some vegetable seeds are planted directly into the ground, some are best grown to seedlings stage first, then planted in the ground. Be guided by the planting guidelines on the seed package. I am going to plant seeds in tubes soon that really should be sown straight into the ground. I'm doing that because I want to be ready with a seedling as soon as the time is right for planting out here. If I can get a month's worth of growth on a seed before planting time, I'll be gaining growing time because when the time is right, I'm not planting a seed, I'm planting a seedling. The time is not right here because it's still too hot but there will be a lot of places around the world where you plant seeds in trays or tubes because there is a chance of frost, there is still snow on the ground or the soil is still too cold. For whatever reason, if you can plant your seeds and nurture them to seedling level before planting out in the garden you'll have vegetables before someone who waits, then plants a seed instead of a seedling.

I use a drawer from a very old fridge to hold the seed raising mix. I can fill up my pots without wasting any mix.

If you find any large pieces of bark, like those above, just throw them away. Most seeds would struggle to grow with something like that on the top of them.

If you're using recycled trays like I am, they must be clean. Wipe the trays out thoroughly, or scrub with soap and water if that's what they need, then rinse them in a bucket of water to which a cup full of vinegar has been added. Dry in the sun.

When planting seeds in trays, use good quality seed raising mix, not potting mix or garden soil. You need a mix that is open and drains perfectly, with no lumps of bark or charcoal that will stop a tiny seedling from emerging. It's quite easy to make your own seed raising mix, but I prefer to buy mine already made. Fill the trays, poke your finger into each cell to flatten the soil slightly, then top up the cell with the mix again. If you find any large pieces of bark or stones, throw them out.  If you want to make your own seed raising mix, this is how to do it.

Plant the seeds according to the instructions on the packet. Generally, the rule of thumb is the larger the seed the deeper it's planted. So for a seed that is tiny, you'd only have to place them on the top of the soil and scatter seed raising mix, washed sand or vermiculite over the top to cover them, and pat down. For a larger seed, plant it at twice its size - so a seed that is ½ mm would be planted 1 mm deep and a 1 mm seed would be planted 2mm deep. Gently pat the soil down over the top so the seed stays where it is planted. Before you go on to the next seeds, label each set of seeds with its name and the date you planted. This is important. If you're a new gardener and don't know what the seeds look like as seedlings, label them so you can learn from day one.

When everything is labelled, gently water in. Water is what causes the seed to germinate so you'll have to soak the soil mix and be left with a nicely moist six. Don't let the seedlings dry out.

Adding one teaspoon of Epsom salt to a watering can of water, poured over the seedling tray, will stimulate the seeds to germinate.

You can water in one of two ways:
  1. Place the planted seed trays into a shallow tray of water, with one teasoon of Epsom salt added and mixed in. The water should come about half way up the side of the seed tray. Let the water slowly filter in to moisten the dry seed raising mix.  After a couple of hours, remove the trays and let them drain. 
  2. OR ... get yourself a plastic spray bottle and use that.  Add a good pinch of Epsom salt to the water and shake the bottle to mix it. It will take a while to completely wet the soil, but that's what it takes - gardening will help you slow down. The seed and all the soil in the seed tray needs to be saturated, and then the water should freely drain away, leaving a moist seed and soil. 
Then place them in a sheltered area away from wind, cold and animals.  Seed need warmth and water to germinate; as soon as the seed shoots, the seedling needs bright sunlight to survive. They don't need full sunshine in sub-tropical and tropical areas, they should be protected as they'll dry out too fast, but in cold climates, they need that intense light. If you have a cold frame, that would be ideal. Keeping seedlings in low light will result in tall, lanky plants that will be weaker than they should be. If you want to keep them in the house, you'll need a brow lamp or something similar. I keep my seed trays in the bush house with a shade cloth roof. When they grow a bit, I put them outside in the morning sun.

Damping off is a plant disease caused by various fungi. It the seeds almost emerge, but don't, if they emerge and then collapse, that might be damping off. These seedlings have been attacked and won't grow. It's caused by over crowding seedlings, by them being too wet or by contamination from a pre-used tray that hasn't been prepared properly.  If you have problems, go to this thread at the forum to discuss any problems you may have.

Seeds are a fully self contained capsule of life. They only need warmth and water to start growing. When the seeds germinate and have put of some leaves, you can start watering with a weak seaweed concentrate - half the strength they recommend on the bottle. At this stage, they'll need even more light so move them to a suitable location.  When my seedlings are ready to plant out in the garden, I'll do post on that.

These are three excellent gardening sites in Australia:
General odds and ends
  • If you want to plant by the moon, here is a planting guide.
  • Toilet roll inner tubes are good for planting large seeds such as beans, peas, pumpkin, beetroot, melons etc. When they're planted up, keep them together with a piece of string or together in a small pot. Peas and beans don't like having their roots disturbed so a tube is ideal for them. When it's time to plant, you plant the entire tube with the seedling in it and the cardboard simple rots away in the ground in the first weeks.
  • You can also recycle your old one cup yoghurt containers. Poke holes in the bottom and plant you seeds. When it comes time to plant, if the seedling doesn't just slide out, it's best to cut the side open.
  • Water small seeds more frequently. They are sown close to the surface of the soil mix and dry out faster.
  • Soak pea and bean seeds for 12 hours before planting, then don't water them until the germinate.
Good luck and happy gardening!


28 January 2014

Sowing seeds for the vegetable garden

Food production in the backyard is a simple activity that takes in a few elements of the simple life philosophy. It helps with debt reduction and saving, it encourages sustainability, self-reliance, organisation and preparedness, it helps with food security and waste (compost) and it is one of the things that will help slow you down. I'm really excited about our new season kitchen garden. A couple of days ago I went through my seed box, identified what new seeds I needed and bought them on Saturday. With the price of fresh food going up all the time I want to make sure we produce as much as we can to eat fresh, and to preserve for later in the year. Apart from rising prices, I'm determined to serve local food on our table as much as I can and if that food comes from our backyard, that's even better. I'm planning to be as thrifty as I can be in the garden this year so I will plant seeds instead of seedlings.  We often buy seedlings from the markets and even though they're a good price, they aren't as thrifty as planting seeds. We resort to seedling because we're rarely ready to plant when we should be, but this year I'm primed up and ready. This year I want to do it right the entire season.

If you have a lot of seeds from previous years and you're unsure about the viability of some of them, you can test to see if they're okay. It will save you sowing the seeds and hoping the'll pop up. Simply take about 10 seeds from the pack you want to test, take three sheets of kitchen paper towel, wet it slightly and pour the seeds onto the wet towel. Wrap both ends in and then roll the towel into a cigar shape. Fold it in two, then put it inside a plastic bag. You don't want the seeds or the towel to dry out. If the seeds are still viable, they will shoot in a few days. Give them about 10 days before you throw them out but if you see little shoots coming out of the end of the seeds, you know the rest of the pack will produce vegetables and are fine to use.

Above are Portuguese cabbage seeds during their test for viability. Unfortunately, after growing the seeds for a few years, they're no longer fertile - they didn't sprout, despite the moist and warm conditions. I received the seeds from a gardener in Melbourne, Andrew (I think) and liked the cabbage a lot. If you're still out there, Andrew, I'd love some more seeds if you have any to spare.

This is our vegetable garden last Sunday morning. It's survived a hot summer, hungry pecking chickens and no attention for two months. It's time to get her ready for the season ahead.

Our precious elder tree has borers and the dry summer has made it drop most of its leaves on the sunny side.  Luckily, new shoots are appearing after the rain and a bit or organic fertiliser. This place is our favoured place to sit in the garden.

Sunday morning I sowed the seeds for our first Sugarloaf cabbage, cauliflower, daikon, curly kale and tomatoes. I also have a cutting from our elder tree in a pot because the elder has borers and we'll have to replace it in the next year or two. I plan on growing all the above as well as peas, beans, onion, lettuce, Japanese spinach, turnips, carrots, swedes, garlic, cucumbers, radish, zucchinis, chillies, strawberries, Welsh onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, herbs and flowers to bring in the bees. I hope to only buy fruit at the market, although we are growing oranges, mandarins (tiny ones in their second year), lemons, youngberries, blueberries, strawberries, loquats, bananas, passionfruit and grapes. I want to buy some thornless raspberries to plant along the front of the new section of the chook house. If we can grow all that consistently, I'll be a very happy woman and we shouldn't have to rely on buying vegetables for a long time.

One of our blueberry bushes is producing well. The others are a different type and I hope they'll give us a good crop later in the year. I know now to cut the blueberries back so I hope that will increase yields in years to come.

The navel orange is full of fruit growing fat and juicy. It's started putting on a lot of new growth too.

The youngberries haven't had enough water over summer but are still producing a small amount of fruit. I'll have to fertilise them soon and provide a good covering of mulch.

Our loquat tree is full of flowers this year. It's the best year it's had for a long time.

This is a crazy mix of grape and passionfruit vines. The passionfruit is already putting on very big fruit this year.

I realised when I was watching Carol Klein's Grow your own Veg on You Tube recently that our growing season here - which is out of kilter with southern Australia's, that we're more in line here with UK and European gardeners. We start planting in March and continue right through until November, when we stop planting but keep harvesting until January or so. We leave the gardens for a couple of months to rest over the hottest months and then get ready to do it all over again. I wonder if there are some gardeners out there who will be starting their gardens up again in March. Would you like to garden along with us?  If so, send two photos in every month and if I can work out how to do it, I'll set up a Pinterest page to show all our gardens together. Are you interested in doing this? Don't send the photos yet. I'll set up the page first and let you know.

Above is our little orchard looking back towards the front of our house. This is Hanno's work shed and our second water tank.
Below: looking towards the chicken run, the picket fence is the side of the garden. Those large trees in the run are a native fig, a pecan and a lemon tree. We've planted a second lemon in the corner of the fence line.

Sowing seeds is the most cost effective forum of vegetable gardening. You'll also have a much bigger range of seeds to choose from.  You have to be more organised and have your seedlings ready to plant at certain times during the year but if you can do that, it's a worthy exercise. In my next post, I'll write about planting seeds and caring for them until they reach the stage when they're planted out in the garden.


27 January 2014

Creating your ideal world at home

We have been delighting in that wonderful, relaxed time before the real business of the year starts in ernest. We had enough food to keep us going, there were no deadlines looming - well, I had one, but it was under control, and our days have been our own to do what we please. I've been making lists of ideas and projects for the year, I think Hanno did the same, although his big project is still the chook house which he's making bigger. More on that when it's finished.

Time has been elastic - expanding and contracting to suit our purpose, some days it was completely irrelevant. But this week, school returns and the summer holidays are over. Real life is back. I have made a promise to myself to enjoy as much as I can this year and to make the most of every day. Overall, I'm optimistic and excited about the year ahead. I hope you are too because at this early stage it could be anything - I'm choosing for my year to be a good one. Of course that requires a lot of hard work but I'm used to that and if it gives me the life I want, I'm happy to do whatever it takes.

I would've loved to live on a small farm producing just enough for our own needs and those of our family. I've never had the opportunity to own a farm and I don't like yearning for what I can't have. I deal with what I've got - bloom where you are planted. I am happy here and I make the most of it. Maybe I can't have a farm but I can create the world I want here within the confines of these fences. We own our house and have no debt. It's very easy to write that but it took years of hard work to do it. Over those hard years we raised our sons, did our civic duty, helped build our communities and our nation, worked, voted and paid taxes. Now I'm happy to be at home, to work for what we need and to enjoy our days here. We know that both the house and the land will be here long after we're gone and we care-take so that whoever lives here after us can improve on what we've done and not start from scratch like we did.

When we came here there were no fences, no verandahs, no gardens, no water tanks, no solar panels, no shed, no chook house. It was a small slab house on a big block of land with a creek running behind it. We chose to live here because we could see the potential of this land. We chose to live in this area because we wanted to continue to grow food and keep chooks. This climate allows year-long gardening and apart from a few hot days in the middle of summer, the weather is good for chickens. The first things we installed here were a water tank and solar hot water system. The first things we worked on were the garden and the chook house. We must have know back then in 1997 what kind of life we wanted, even if it wasn't part of our conscious thoughts. When I left paid work behind and came to my senses, we changed a lot inside our home too. All our changes were made when we had the money to do them; it was slow and steady progress. We made our home the kind of place that welcomed family and friends, where we felt safe and relaxed and where we could live the unusual life we'd chosen.  Our home may not suit everyone's tastes and needs but it's ideal for us.

What we have here now is here because we chose to add it and were prepared to do the work to make the modifications we wanted. We thought about how we wanted to live and made a set of choices. You can do the same; you don't have to live like everyone else. You can step back from the excesses you see around you. You don't have to make the same choices we made but you can create the kind of world you want to live in inside your home and in your yard. Of course you'll be limited by the space, time and ability but if you identify your goals and work towards them using small steps, you' will create the life you want.

There will be many changes taking place here over the coming 12 months but most of them will be planned changes that we've had a conscious role in choosing. If you don't plan, you leave your life open to chance, and then you just take what you get.  I'd rather do some planning and move my life in the direction I want it to go. What about you? Do you choose what you'll live with in your home? Are you a planner or do you just accept what comes along?

24 January 2014

Weekend reading - UPDATED

The long summer school holiday in Australia ends next week and everything will be back to "normal" again. It's been a hot summer here, especially in the west and down south and I think most of us are looking forward to autumn. I hope all my friends in colder climates are staying warm and safe. Enjoy your weekend, and to all my Australian readers - Happy Australia Day for Sunday. We'll be having a BBQ at Jens and Cathy's with the family. They're cooking roast lamb on the barby. Good times!

My book is on sale at Bookworld with free delivery in Australia. Click here.

Lazy Daisy's mum - will you help?

What are we afraid to be alone?
Lunchbox sandwich tips
Raising backyard chickens - YouTube
The private life of chickens - You Tube
Collecting a wild honey bee swarm - You Tube
Outsourcing our carbon emissions to China
Time travel kitchen blog - great photos of old kitchens and plenty of old recipes
Off grid Oregon farm - You Tube
Hugh Fernly Whittingstall's TED talk about sustainable food

little green village
Shelley's House 

23 January 2014

Kevin's happiness project

I'm late to my blog today, but I thought it was better late than not at all. I've been doing the final reading of my next book and ebook, making bread and cleaning. I hope you enjoy your day.


I have been watching Kevin's Hand-made Home on TV and enjoying it a lot. It's like a bloke's over the top version of what we're doing here, and what a lot of you do. He is seeing what he can make himself, from the cabin that he lives in, to soap, flint razors, a BBQ made from a WW2 mine and many other "comforts of home" to see if he is made happy by doing it.  It's a happiness and contentment experiment. Good news, he is happier.

Just like the Amish, he asked many friends to help him erect his "barn" Using recycled and hand-made, rather than bought, he built a cabin, then moved it to the seaside and is now adding to it. His project is to explore happiness. And when he says "By doing, making, sharing and collaborating you can be made happier." he is talking about the value of work and the many rewards that come from it.

He makes a patchwork roof with copper tiles made from old copper cylinders that are cut to shape. It is the same process that many of us use in our quilts. Kevin stands back and admires his handicraft - just like we do with ours. What we all make and do creates beauty and it is worthwhile looking at it and thinking about it. "I think happiness is a lot of things. There is a great feeling of well-being here," he says.

The paraphernalia of life is important too so he tries to make toothpaste, soap and other small things. Many of us do this but in a more ordered way in our homes. I'm glad I'm not making my toothpaste with urine and ground cuttlefish bone, like he did. But it's the work and self-reliance - the making and doing that gives him, and us, that feeling of contentment. 

While he is making what seems to be a practical seaside cabin with accoutrement, he really is demonstrating an over the top version of a simple life. I think he's doing many outrageous things to make people stop, look and wonder. If it were an ordinary run of the mill program about recycling and reclaiming, and how that makes you feel, how many of us would watch? But we watch this because it's outrageous and so crazy. I guess that's what some people feel when they see how Hanno and I live. Anything outside the mainstream seems crazy to many people.

Right at the end, he talks about sharing, how doing and making is made better when you share the results of your labour. How many of us can relate to that when we knit a cardigan and give it to someone, when we gift some home made soap and knitted washcloths, when we sit down to a shared meal that we've work on during the day? It's all made better in the sharing because sharing brings the remarkable rewards of acceptance, joy, affection, generosity, kindness and the feeling of abundance. And all this is within the reach of all of us. Working for what you have, making what you need, doing what you must, that, my friends, will enrich your soul and make you happier in the process.


21 January 2014

A recipe for slow

I have been getting a few emails over the past couple of months asking about slowing down and taking time out in the day to relax. It seems to be a mystery to some people. I have written back saying to just do it - leave your work behind and put your feet up, knit, sew, walk, paint, garden - do what your life allows you to do. I'm aware many of you have young children and I'd never tell you to walk away from them, but you could take them outside and walk or garden. When we look after Jamie, who will be three years old at the end of March, he loves to be outside in the garden with us. He likes helping, so we create small tasks for him so he feels a part of us and our garden. We both feel relaxed in the garden and we show him how to work slowly, sit and talk and generally to be part of that natural setting without impacting on it too much with noise and busyness. If you're snow bound inside you could knit or sew while your child plays. If these measures won't work for you, ask your partner, best friend, mother or sister to look after your child for an hour and do what you want to do. And do it regularly, giving something back in return.

But if you can't get away outside or have someone help, make tea in a pot. Tea will slow you down. You can do this alone or with a child. When Jamie is here, he drinks "special tea" which is just our tea from the pot, with a lot of milk and a small amount of honey. He loves it.

Above and below are photos of my favourite tea pot of all time. I got it from my sponsor's shop Odgers and McClellend just before Christmas.  It's had a workout since then. :- ) It's got an excellent no-drip spout and it's just the right size for Hanno and me, plus Jamie when he's here. It's enamel so I'll have to make a tea cosy for it in winter, but I'm looking forward to doing that. I've got a few tea pots and it's possibly the cheapest of all of them, but it will be my daily pot for many a long year to come. I feel very comfortable with it on my tea tray.

The challenge here is to make a pot of tea. Don't use tea bags, or if you're making coffee, make a pot of coffee, not instant coffee. Anyone can make a cup of tea with a tea bag and even though I've had my fair share of them, it's not the same as drinking good loose leaf tea, made in a pot. I stopped using tea bags a few years ago and I've never regretted it. My tea is better now, I love the ritual of it, it slows me in a gentle and practical way, and then I get to sit and drink it. Fast and instant may be good in certain circumstances but if you want to relax, they won't come close to helping you do that.

When you make tea, you have to wait. Waiting is good for us. It means we're doing nothing and in that nothing time you can stand there thinking, or look out the window, or slowly set a tray with the pot, tea strainer, spoons, tea pot, cups and whatever else you're serving. You can breathe deeply.

So, you've waited for the kettle to boil. Pour a small amount of boiling water into the clean pot, swish it around to make the pot hot, then pour the water into the sink. Add your tea leaves - one for each person and if, like us, you like strong tea, one of the pot as well. Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves, give it a quick stir with tea spoon, and put the lid on the pot. And now? Now you have to wait for it to brew. While you're waiting, take the tray to where you'll sit. After a couple of minutes, pour the tea.

Now you can do whatever you want to do - just sit there with your cup in hand, talk, watch the birds coming and going, if you're alone and you're not used to that, listen to the radio (very quietly and not music), or you can knit, embroider, hand stitch, write or do nothing but relax. Think about what you're doing - you're consciously taking a break because you need it and deserve it. Breathe deeply and take it all in.

While you're there thinking, think about your own happiness or contentment. You are responsible for that - no one else will walk up to you at any point in your life and serve you happiness and contentment on a silver platter. You're in charge of it. I'm not saying you selfishly squander your days giving yourself rest breaks and gifts and think that everyone else should care for you. We're adults, we're self-reliant, we do as much for ourselves as we can, including cultivating happiness and contentment.

Tea making in a pot is a small and gentle way of giving yourself time to relax. It's the tea ceremony as much as the tea that does it. This ritual that will have you waiting when no one waits nowadays. It will help slow you - first when you wait for the water to boil, then when you wait for the tea to brew, and then in the drinking of it and the feelings of relaxation that come from that. When you finish, feel thankful that you had time to look after yourself and promise that you'll do it again tomorrow. Soon it will become a habit and who knows what could happen if you're relaxed and happy!

Will you try?


20 January 2014

Save money on your accounts

We take the time every year to review our accounts because sometimes there are savings to be made. January is a good time to do it because we all feel fired up at the beginning of the year and often we've got more time because of the holidays. We wanted to increase our internet download capacity from 50GB to 100GB. We've been on 50 for a few years now and while we don't go over, we sail pretty close to the wind most months. The problem is that while we wanted to get more for our money, we didn't want to increase the amount we were already paying.  I started doing some research to see what our supplier's competition was offering. One of them had a plan that gave us what we wanted and it was cheaper than what we've been playing.

When you do this sort of research, you have to make sure you're comparing apples with apples. We want to keep some of our products bundled but that ruled out Optusnet, they don't offer broadband in our area. We also want the best service, uninterrupted service delivery and good technical support. Our current supplier, Telstra, delivers that most of the time.

So armed with information about a couple of their competitors having the product we want at a cheaper rate, I phoned Telstra and told them what I wanted. And that was to double my internet download capacity and not pay anymore for it. Cheeky, yes. I told the operator that while I was happy with the service I was currently receiving, I had to stick to my budget and would change providers if I had to. 

Straight away she transferred me to the "loyalty department". :- )

I repeated my request to the new operator, and was asked a few questions about how we used our home phone. We don't use it at all very much now because we use the mobile phone instead. She came back and told me that if I signed a contract for 24 months, she would change our home phone to a more expensive rate but we would have 100GB at ten dollar less than we pay now. Of course I took up the offer.

I tell you this, not because I think I'm anything special for getting a better deal, but to encourage you to look at your accounts and see if you can do the same.  If I had not done this we would have paid ten dollars more every month for the next 24 months and maybe some months we would have gone over our limit. Taking that ten minutes to enquire gave me a better deal for less money; I saved $240 over those two years. It's not a lot, these types of savings never are, but it's worthwhile doing because when you add that $240 to other savings we make, it's quite something.

You can do this sort of thing for insurances as well as your phone and internet charges. Just do some research first so you can show the person you talk to that you know what the opposition is offering and that you are prepared to change service providers if you need to. Be polite. I told the woman I spoke to that I would change if I had to but didn't tell her that I didn't want to change providers, I would hate to have to change my email address, I would rather miss the rest of this year's cricket than inform everyone I would need to inform that our email was different. I kept that to myself and used it as a bargaining tactic instead. We have to use whatever we can when we bargain. Service providers hate to lose existing good customers. So if you've been a good customer, use that to your advantage, do you research and make the call. You might just be surprised.

Have you made a saving like this recently? What did you do? What tips about saving on utility, insurance and service account can you share?


17 January 2014

Weekend reading

If you have a little time up your sleeve I hope you'll have a look at my DIL's facebook page, Bluebell Alexander. When we visited them after Christmas, Sarndra was having a little break from sewing but I saw her work room all set up nicely, ready to spring back into action. That time has come. Sarndra works from home and also at the local fabric shop. She's got a good eye for design and is a very good seamstress. If you're looking for well made clothes for boys or girls, from baby size to older, Bluebell Alexander is for you. If you're not looking for clothes, I would love it if you would help me get her to 1000 likes on Facebook. She's at 611 now, will you help? I wonder if we can do it. :- ) 

How much for a slice of toast?
The burbs
Six traits that help children succeed
Meadow Orchard
Toilet Roll seed starter
Ten great lentil recipes
Just a few of the many articles about why we're sweltering or freezing right now:
Australian heatwaves hotter and longer
Canada's carbon emissions projected to soar by 2030
Climate change likely to turn UK's weather more extreme
USA hotter, drier and more disaster-prone
Polar vortex across US puts millions at risk
Typhoon Haiyan and climate change
Ock Du Spock
Davids Cottage Down the Hill
B'more Bungalow


16 January 2014

Simple life is its own reward

Most of you know there was a time when I didn't like being at home. I went to work, out shopping, socialising with friends and if there was nothing else, I'd go home. Things changed for me when I gave up work in my early 50s and although I didn't know it at the time I would never go back. I was about to turn my life on its head and to make the discovery of a lifetime. I was about to find a new world, right behind my front gate.

When I was here in my home in those early days, my kids were out at uni or working and Hanno was having fun in the shop he bought after he retired. I waved them goodbye in the morning and wondered what I would do. Well, to make a very long story short, we all know I ended up reskilling myself here. Domestic work and gardening changed me. I remembered how my mother and grandmother kept house and I modelled myself and my work on what they did. I already knew how to cook, grow vegetables, stockpile, sew and make various things but I'd buried the knowledge of those essential skills under too many Saturday morning shopping sprees and the increasing unhappiness and dissatisfaction I was feeling. I thought there was no cure for how I felt. I thought that was how life was.

 Partially sprouted beans and legumes for the bean and ham soup with bean sprouts, below.

But when I put on my apron and started making bread, and cooking wholesome food for dinner every night, I realised the benefits of not only cooking your own food but producing it as well. We already had a vegetable garden and chickens but I wanted to make the garden bigger and get more chooks. Instead of just having these things because we could, I wanted to make our backyard productive and supply our own food.  I wanted to see what was possible here, if we could move away from supermarkets and manufactured food and produce real food with our own hands. Over the following months that happened. New garden beds were added, fruit trees and vines planted and more chickens introduced into our little coop, and much more.

After a few weeks, I went to bed each night exhausted from the work I'd done but impatient for the new morning to break so I could do it all again. I had control over what I was doing and my self confidence was increasing daily. I was also feeling happy and content. What was going on!  People were supposed to be excited about going out and spending money, being out in the wide world and part of the hustle and bustle, and here I was being made whole again by planting saved seeds, washing up by hand and sitting in the shade of an elder tree.

My home mended my broken spirit.

Within the boundaries of this land we live on, I felt more alive than I'd felt in years. I made up for my lost income by working smarter and towards different goals, redefining what I wanted from life and what I believed success to be. To add to the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and eggs coming from our backyard, I shopped for groceries in a different way, stockpiled and learning to not waste food - not just once, but always.

It didn't take any extra cash, in fact it took less. I worked more but the work didn't feel like work - it was what I needed to do to live a better life and I was happy to do it. The house and yard work that both of us do now is fulfilling and enriching and it gives a flexible structure to our days. While initially being reluctant to join me, when he saw the difference in my attitude and that we didn't need the large amounts of money we used to spend, Hanno joined me and over the years he's simplified what he does too. I know I'm making it sound easy and quick, and it wasn't, but it wasn't difficult either.

The chickens exploring their yard after a tree was felled.

You can do what we did in your own way and in your own time. We can all define our borders and decide exactly what we'll have within them. We can create the world as we want it to be in our homes. We can walk around in 19th century dresses like Tasha Tudor if we wish to, or scarecrow clothes like I do; your version of simple living can look exactly how you want it to look. And we can provide ourselves with fresh organic vegetables from our own gardens or buy them from markets, we can keep bees for honey and hens for eggs, or barter for them; the choice is yours. We can bake, cook, sew, clean, read and work keeping our homes safe and comfortable. We can choose all that and mix it with as much of the outside world as we need to or want to. We can all do this, influenced only by the pattern of our own thoughts and values, oblivious to what goes on outside. And I have found that the more you make those decisions without that influence, the more self-reliant and independent you become. Think about that the next time you drive in your driveway or walk in your front door. It is your decision what happens in your home.

I don't think there are degrees of simple life - it's like being pregnant. You either are or you aren't.  It's the mindset of simplicity that makes the difference and when you have that, even in the very early stages, you're living simply. No one will ever be at the end point of it either. There is no glittering prize to collect when you have lived slow and simply for many years; there are always reassessments and adjustments to make and new ideas to explore. Your simple life is its own reward.


14 January 2014

Managing my time - lists and routines

Thank you for so many beautiful comments yesterday. I truly appreciate you taking the time to connect with me both by coming here to read and then, the icing on the cake, your comments. I must have the best readers in the blogging queendom.

- - - ♥♥♥ - - - 

As I said yesterday, I had to think a lot about whether I could continue blogging. When I looked at what I have to, and want to do, I realised there was nothing in the mix that I was willing to give up. I wanted to continue living simply with no convenience foods or short cuts, I wanted to keep blogging and writing in various forms, I've been asked to continue my library talks this year, I have two beautiful grandsons I want to have a good relationship with, I have a family that I need and who need me, I want to continue gardening, baking and green cleaning. I love it all, I'm enriched doing these things on a daily basis. If I want to continue ambling along my simple path while doing all this writing, I have to work to a routine. I have to manage my time.

I write a list of tasks every morning that must be done during the day. Sometimes I allocate a time or a time limit to the task, sometimes it's left to do when I can manage it. But the aim of the exercise is to write most of the day - on the book, blog, forum and articles, and when I have a break, I go straight to the list and see what's there. I don't waste time then wondering what I should be doing. It might sound like enforced labour but writing takes a lot of intellectual planning and doing, and not much physical energy. I need to get up and move every hour or so and my list gives me tasks that get me moving while doing necessary jobs in the home.

So for instance, yesterday's list was this:
  • write shopping list
  • clean your room
  • vacuum
  • make a slice
  • knitt!!  I must have been serious with those exclamation marks. :- )
  • water plants on verandah
Chores such as cooking, feed animals, bread, general cleaning, bed making and a few other things don't go on my list because they're done automatically, often before I start writing, and I don't need a reminder. The list is for tasks that need to be done that day and change all the time. The list is made up in about five minutes each morning and later in the day, when I stop writing, I just go straight to the list. It saves time, it reduces the stress of wondering what needs to be done and I feel like I'm in control of my work, not the other way around. I think that's the key.

I keep my list on my computer or on a post-it note stuck to my computer. Put your list where you can see it. If you're busy in the kitchen, stick it to the fridge door, if you're going to be cleaning or doing the laundry, stick your list on the laundry bench.  If you don't think you'll be busy, or you feel a bit lazy, stick your list on the computer monitor or TV screen. Then when you sit down, you'll see your list and hopefully get up and do some work before you relax.

Today's list is:
  • make slice - this wasn't done yesterday so it's been transferred
  • talk to Tricia and Jo
  • make soup
  • repot two pot plants
  • make pineapple ice blocks for Jamie
  • water pumpkins and bush house
I don't put the list in order because sometimes my priorities change during the day but if I'm running short of time, I leave the least important thing - such as the slice. Another important part of list management is to define quantities or times, when necessary. In the list above I've noted "repot two pot plants". I know I don't have time for a gardening morning but I can manage to report two pots. These need to be done in summer, I can't put it off, so doing a few a week gets through that chore nicely. I could also put a time limit on it if I wanted to instead of a number. "Repotting for 30 minutes" would serve a similar purpose.

The other important part of this is that I take time for myself. It's not all about work. We work to have the lifestyle we have so we need to take time to enjoy each other, our home and the natural environment around us. I almost always have morning tea with Hanno on the front verandah and I usually have a rest after lunch. I have to look after me because I'm not as young as I used to be and I get tired easily. I want to go to bed every night tired because I've done a reasonable amount of work and I don't want to feel tired during the day.

In a few weeks my list might change from potting plants for 30 minutes to sewing for 30 minutes, or making soap. The things that make it on the list are those tasks that need doing that week. It takes a bit of thought and list making to keep my daily list relevant. I feel like I'm doing what I need to do and I'm not feeling stressed. Life's good and I hope that being lead by my list helps keeps it that way. How do you manage your time?


13 January 2014

Hello again, my friends

I have struggled with coming back to you this year. As you know I'm writing books again so the ease of just blogging about my days is not there for me now because I'm not working in my home as I usually do. I'm writing instead, while trying to carry on with as many of the simple things that I can manage. I'm also trying to put more time into the forum because that one-on-one contact, the daily posts and getting to know other women and (too infrequently) men really does inspire me to carry on and to write interesting and, I hope, inspiring books to help you along.

At one point I decided to have a break for a few months but I was uneasy with that. I really enjoy writing here and I'm not comfortable with cutting myself off. After thinking about it for a week or so, I decided to come back because I enjoy writing my blog and so many of you say you love reading it and that it's an important part of your day. It's an important part of my day too, so I'm here and will be here as much as I can be while I work on the books. Sometimes I'll blog frequently, at other times I'll miss days; just remember I'm still here and I'll be back as soon as I can be. I'm taking the email down too because I don't have time to reply and I feel guilty that so many unanswered emails are still sitting in my in-tray.

We enjoyed the holidays but all the anticipation of Christmas and the preparations that go along with it left both of us feeling tired and worn out. New Year's Eve came and went with me sound asleep, only just conscious enough when the neighbourhood fireworks started, to curse them and go straight back to sleep. All that energy that goes into the end of the year. Is it worth it? I believe that what really matters, then and now, is this minute, this hour and this day. And the worth of it? Well, it's worth it for me as I have many beautiful memories stored away that will make me smile and appreciate my family for many years to come.

 Having lunch with Shane, Sarndra and Alex at the Gladstone Yacht Club. 

Soon after Christmas we drove up to see Shane, Sarndra and Alex. We had the best time! They haven't furnished their guest room yet so we happily stayed in a hotel during our stay. We spent the days with them, had a morning when we met with some of the forum ladies (hi Vikki, Chris, Fiona, Rosie and Jenni) and the rest of the time, we slept. Both of us! We rarely do that. We slept in, we went to bed early, we slept in the afternoon. It was so relaxing. And it was so good to see Shane, Sarndra and Alex thriving in their new home. It did my heart good to be there, to talk face to face with Alex and it gave me more tender memories to dwell upon during the year.

I've spent a bit of time smartening up the blog and forum, thinking about new posts to come and making a Pinterest page. I have an idea that includes Pinterest soon so I hope you follow me by clicking the badge on the side bar. I'll be adding to Pinterest as often as I can. I haven't worked Pinterest out yet. Is it really just a collection of photos?  What do you think of it?

All the new chooks are laying now so we're getting an abundance of eggs.

I would dearly like to buy another camera this year too. I use a Sony Cybershot now and when it dies, I'd like to improve the quality of my photos. I'm interested in knowing what camera you use if you think it's a good one, but remember, I'm living on a budget so no suggestions that are just out of my range please.  I'd consider a good second hand camera too.

Hanno let the two young Barnevelders into the now almost dead vegetable garden. 

Just to bring you up to date, Hanno has been busy building an extension to our chook house. I'll do a post about it when it's finished and explain then why we made these changes. We're also waiting on some new chickens, we'll pick them up when the renovations are complete so there'll be a lot of chicken news on the way. If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that we start our vegetable growing in March every year, so I'll take you along with us as we do that. We're both excited about getting it growing again. Even though we enjoy having the time off over summer, we do miss those fresh vegetables a lot.

I defrosted the crushed pineapple I froze a couple of months back for cold summer drinks and to make a few ice blocks for Jamie.

Along with the rest of you, Hanno and I are changing and that results in changes here in our home. I'll be writing about those changes during the year, how we're preparing for a time we have less energy but still want to live our simplified lives. I also want to revisit the central concepts, as I see them, of simple life so I'll be revisiting baking, soap-making, paying off debt, living on a budget and preserving. As we change, so too do those things we do to support our simple life. No life is always the same so I think it will be helpful to talk about how we change and how those changes effect what we do.

Okay, first post finished, it feels good being back with you, so let's get on with it. I hope it's a great year for all of us. ♥♥♥

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