22 July 2016

Weekend reading

Our visitors arrive today and we're looking forward to many happy days ahead. The weather here is ridiculously warm for this time of year, it will be 28 today.  I don't remember another winter like it.

I hope the weather isn't too extreme in your neck of the woods and that you can take some time out for yourself this weekend. Put your feet up, grab a good book, relax or take a nap. You deserve it. :- )


I met Pip in Melbourne when we were on the book tour. Just like her blog, Meet me at Mike's, she is a true original and an absolute delight. Here are Pip's instructions for making a harlequin blanket.
Looking for ways to save money? There are a lot of good tips on this forum thread, it's 47 pages long: What did you do today to save money?


20 July 2016

Me and my sister - 2

My sister Tricia is travelling up from the Blue Mountains to visit us. She arrives tomorrow. She is the one person I've known all my life, the personification of my past, the one who lived the same experiences I did, came from the same parents, were taught by the same nuns, ate the same foods, learned the same lessons, lived the same values and became a totally different woman, despite all that sharing.

We still share the excitement of every new day and look forward to whatever is coming up but our relationship is sustained by the shared experience of our past, the comforting memories of our childhood and parents and being a part of what made us. We are each other in a different form.

Tricia is visiting with her son Daniel and grand children Johnathan and Alana and during her visit we'll see my children and grandchildren. This, no doubt, will trigger conversations about our past as we continue to piece together what that is and make sense of what helped make us what we became. We both remember different parts of our childhood so when our recollections come up it helps us both because we have a different view of the same events. Just yesterday we were talking about the doctors our mother took us to when we very young children. We attended a family practice of two GPs and I don't recall us ever talking about these doctors before. Tricia had strong memories of one doctor, I had strong memories of the other. With both our memories, we have a better understanding of that part of our past.

I don't know why we remember what we remember. I only know it is important to do it and to think about it.  I guess it helps us understand ourselves as we prepare for a future that includes death. I don't shy away from that, I'm not scared of it and I know that with each passing day that future becomes more of a reality. It does for all of us but when you're old, you accept it and don't hide from it by believing it's far off in the future.

So while Tricia, Danny and the children are here, we'll sit around the table and enjoy being together. Our grandkids can spend time with their cousins, parents and grandparents and start to work out who we are and where they fit in to this family. We'll have lunch down at the coast where my son is working as head chef, we'll visit plant nurseries and talk about plants, we'll garden, knit, cook and talk and all that time will become become new memories.

Families are important and I think we need to spend time with them. You have to take time out to do it but it's a good investment in your wellbeing and mental health to be on good terms with your family. BTW, family can be your traditional family or the people you choose to love and associate with. Tricia is the only person I have left from the family I was born into so she's not only my sister, she's part of my identity. I'm looking forward to the visit.  :- )

Me and my sister - 1.


18 July 2016

Bathroom renovations

I thought it would take a couple of weeks and in the end it was five long, cold weeks of using our main toilet and bathroom instead of the ensuite. What a nightmare. All the way through I just hoped it would all be worth it. And guess what - it was!  We both love the new bathroom. It's very simple, easy to clean, we have our toiletries organised in the drawers and behind the mirrors and it's a real delight bathing in there. It feels contemporary without losing a warm and comforting feeling.

Not his and hers sinks, because we don't need them, but we each have our own side of the mirror cupboards and the drawers.  Hanno has his shaving and tooth gear on his side, I have deodorant, spare soap and shampoo, tooth brush and paste on my side.
And you can see here that the wonderful Mr Fox has moved in with us. We also have a bamboo chair for hanging clothes while we're in the shower and a seat on which to sit if needed. The little step is for me to dry my feet. I got into the habit of using the step on the side of the spa so this replaces that.
An overhead shower as well as a hand shower. I only use the overhead when I wash my hair but it feels like standing under a waterfall. There's no shower stall, just a shower screen on one side with a walk in shower. We thought this would grow old with us and will be suitable if one of us has to sit down in the shower or use a wheel chair.
I love this toilet because it has a really quiet flush. Great for old bladders when we have our middle of the night trips. ;- ) The drawers are for odds and ends on Hanno's side and makeup and a hair dryer on my side. Below in the deep drawers we have towels on my side and toilet rolls and cleaning gear on Hanno's.

When we moved into this house in 1997 we extended the house to include another large bedroom and ensuite. That is the bathroom we just renovated. Bathrooms are always costly, both when new and when they're renovated. This was no different. We had a budget of $6,000 and although that's much less than the average cost of a bathroom renovation, I was pleased that it came in on cost.

Some of the things that helped us keep the costs down were:
  • We used the existing plumbing outlets, so the toilet, vanity and shower are all in the same place. 
  • We removed an 18 year old spa bath and didn't replace the bath.
  • We sourced all our own building materials, fixtures and fittings. We bought the tiles from a place called cheap tiles online and if you're in Brisbane, or close to it, it's worth a visit to the website to see their stock. Many of their tiles are current stock in places like Harvey Norman and are half their price.
  • Look for non-slip tiles.
  • The vanity, vanity taps, mirror, bamboo chair and step are from Ikea, the shower, shower screen and toilet are from Bunnings. Mr Fox towels from Bed, Bath and Beyond; they have a July sale on now.  All the towel rails, the shower mixer, toilet roll holder and venetian blind were recycled from the old bathroom. 
  • We are passed the stage when we can do the work ourselves so we got a quote from the man who has been doing our general home maintenance and repairs. He did the work with his son. If you can do some of the work yourself, it will save a lot of money. At the very least you can carefully remove the old bathroom.
  • Ask for quotes from all the people who will do work - the builder, plumber, electrician, waterproofer, and ask for an itemised list of what work they'll carry out. The cheapest quote may not be the best value for money.
  • After work is done for the day, clean up and make sure the workers always come in to a clean space. Having to clean up before they start or when they finish, adds to the cost.
  • Make sure you know how long you have to wait before stepping on the tiles, grouting, waterproofing etc. If you stand on anything before it's set, it might have to be done again.
  • Be absolutely sure of your design and colours before starting. Making changes during the work will increase the cost of the project and the time it takes to complete it.
This bathroom renovation is the last major project we'll do here. We've been working our way through our upgrades for the past few years as energy and funds allow and we're very happy to have all the major work done.  That will help us live well in our own home in the years ahead and when we die, our home will be in reasonable shape for the kids to sell.

I love how our homes can evolve slowly with us as we age. It takes forethought and a realistic plan but it does help with the ageing process if you make slight and not so slight adjustments when or before they're needed. Do you have a plan for your home to reflect the changes you go through as you grow older?


15 July 2016

Weekend reading

We've been luxuriating in the new bathroom all week and watching bears (again ... and again). I feel grateful that the technology we have today allows me to sit in my work room and watch life unfold in the Alaskan wilderness. I doubt a day goes by when I don't go there to watch and I'm amazed every time that such a thing is possible.  Here are some photos I took during the week.

I hope you have a great weekend. I'll see you again on Monday. :- )

From field to fork: the six stages of wasting food

8 July 2016

Weekend reading

Winter in the chicken coop.
I thought the bathroom would be finished today but it's still rambling on. Life is pretty busy with trades people coming and going and the house is a mess with a lot of dust around. I'm looking forward to it all being finished, clean and back to normal. I hope things are going to plan in your world.

Thanks for your visits during the week and for the emails you send. I can't answer all of them but do what I have time for.  I hope you have a lovely weekend. I'll see you again next week.

♥︎ = ♥︎ = ♥︎

How to make a Swedish flame  
Years ago I use to visit Little Jenny Wren's blog almost every day. Then I got really busy and many of my favourite blogs dropped off my list.  I was drawn back to Jenny's blog during the week because I have a Jenny doll and I'm thinking about giving her to my grand daughter. When I visited, I was delighted to see Jenny's blog still going strong and that she's now offering doll making classes. There is one coming up in Melbourne later in the year so if you want a place, check out her blog for the details.
If you love good yarn/wool and animals, you'll love this: Woolful
How to make a sandwich for a crowd

6 July 2016

Gravy mix from scratch

I don't tend to make up many dry mixes in the kitchen, you know those concoctions that are supposed to be "time saving". I don't make up cake, scone or muffin mixes because I like gathering my baking ingredients; it's a comforting part of the process for me. I don't make up biscuit mix, hot chocolate mix or any toppings because it's too much of a temptation when they're sitting on the pantry shelf. Overall, I don't think they save much time at all.

There's one exception to this though - I like to have gravy mix pre-made so I don't have to gather ingredients in that short window of time between the roast vegetables and meat being ready and me serving up a hot meal. My gravy mix makes an excellent dark, flavoursome gravy when made with pan juices and it cuts the making time in half. I make it up in one cup lots and that generally sees me through two to three weeks.

My main mix is for plain gravy that I serve with roast pork but I also make one with homegrown rosemary for roast lamb and another with homegrown sage for roast chicken.  These mixes really depend on your taste and what you have growing in the herb patch.  I grow all my herbs and dry some of them. When I have dry rosemary and sage, I pulverise them in the mortar then add my other ingredients.

This plain gravy mix recipe will do any number of other dishes such as sausages, meatballs, steak, chops or casserole. The added bonus is that if you're trying to cut back on salt, you just reduce the amount or don't add it at all.

To make one cup of plain gravy mix:
  • 1 cup of plain/all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon paprika - or more or less depending on your taste
  • Salt and pepper to your taste
Mix ingredients together and store in a clean, dry jar.

To make a herb mix, simply make up the plain mix above and add your ground, dried herbs to the mix. About 2 teaspoons of the chosen herb will be enough, but taste it in your cooking and adjust it to your taste when you make your next batch.  You could also add any spices you like such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, chilli, onion or celery salt. Experiment and see what suits you.

To make the gravy: 
  1. Add 2 tablespoons of the mix to pan juices in a frying or roasting pan.
  2. Stir the dry mix into the juices over a medium heat and allow to brown.
  3. Add 2 - 2½ cups  cold water, or more for a thinner gravy.  Mix the water in to the mix immediately to avoid lumps forming. Stir until the gravy is the right thickness, add more water to thin it down or allow to evaporate if it's too thin.

I like these simple mixes because they don't have the preservatives or artificial additives that the commercial mixes have, they cost a fraction of the price you'll pay in the supermarket and they're easy to make and store.  Do you regularly make any totally from scratch sauce or gravy mixes?


4 July 2016

Don't confuse what you need with what you want

There are many aspects of simple life that come easy to most people but one or two that seem to be more difficult.  The difficult ones tend to be the non-practical things that often have to do with acceptance and knowing what enough is. In an email that came last week, a reader told me that she feels a bit cheated at times by the simple life she and her husband are living. She said she enjoys the budgeting, organising, homemaking and cooking, she loves her children, but when she looks around her home, she's not proud of what she has and she never invites friends around because she feels her home is not good enough. The implication is that she feels her home is not good enough for her friends, that they won't feel comfortable there. But it sounds like she feels her home is not good enough for her. She wrote asking for decorating advice - it seems that her attitude is fixed and it's easier for her to decorate her way out of this rather than adjust her eye to appreciate what's around her.

A clean and tidy house has a beauty all its own. It may not be to everyone's taste, it may not be fashionable, expensive or something that you feel you can show off. But everyone's living circumstances are a matter of perspective. I think acceptance and appreciation come from being grateful you have anything. Many people do not. 

Not all of us live in show homes, many of us have humble homes that have the kind of appeal and character that weaves its own magic. We use ordinary domestic objects to decorate in an unpretentious way that is charming and authentic. Often there is the aroma of hot soup simmering on the stove or cakes and bread baking. These genuine things, the side benefits of home production, are what adds to the appeal of a home and gives it a true beauty that can't be bought - it has to be created and then nurtured. Nurturing your home will help you appreciate what you have. It generally means fluffing the nest by re-arranging and with sewing, painting and recycling, which soften the hard edges of homes, and people.  When you look around a simple home, it's not so much about what you've bought but in how you've spent your time.

Accept the realities of life, don't confuse what you need with what you want. Simple living isn't just about simplifying your physical surroundings, it's about simplifying your mind too. If you can't love your own life you're putting unnecessary expectations and limitations on yourself. Break free of mainstream ideas of acquisition and accept what is in front of you. By slowing down and being more aware, you'll see what's there in a clearer light. And in the end it's not about being surrounded by beauty but in your ability to see the beauty in whatever is there.  That could be a kitchen table surrounded by family and friends but some days the sight of steam rising from a cup of tea is enough.


1 July 2016

Weekend reading

This is Hanno and two other travellers buying pumpkins and avocados at a lonely roadside stall on the road to Toowoomba.

We're going into week four of the bathroom renovation. Sigh. Most of the tiles are up, they still need to be grouted and then the fittings installed. I'm sick of the mess, the dust, covering and uncovering the bed with plastic sheeting everyday and having to use the main bathroom and toilet. Hanno tells me it will be finished soon but I'm not so sure now. But I'm hanging in there, I'm hanging in. :- ) It's good to have the bears to watch.

It's mating season now and while you don't see bears mating, you do see mating behaviour. This is an example above - male bear 856 (looking at the camera) guarding female 410 as she fishes. 856 is the largest male at the river and 410 is the oldest female.
And this is the beautiful habitat. This track runs alongside the river and is walked by bears, rangers and people who fish for salmon at the park.

If you've not yet discovered the wonder of the bears at Katmai National Park, you're in for a delightful discovery. I spend probably an hour a day watching them. The bears have just woken up from their hibernation, they're hungry and the largest sockeye salmon run in the world is close by at Brooks River, Alaska.  Mothers with spring cubs are wandering around, dominance is being established, newly emancipated older cubs are trying to survive and it's all absolutely natural, unscripted and happening right before our eyes. 

I took both the photos above this week as I sipped tea at my computer. This is a really wonderful opportunity to see nature up close and to see and understand how bears live their wild lives.

Take a walk through Morag's wonderful permaculture garden
Don't throw it out - repair cafes 
Milk and Other Surprising Ways to Stay Hydrated
A Small, Solar-Powered House in the Blue Ridge Mountains
$8 Billion Waste: Australia Throws Away One In Five Bags Of Food
What’s the best way to organise and store my digital photos?
People Might Call Me Cheap, But I Live a Rich Life. Here’s How I Do It
How to do the most work in the shortest time

Thank you all for your visits and wonderful comments this week. I have the most loyal readers on the WWW. Have a joyful weekend. I'll see you again next week. xx

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