Sewing bee - recycling fabric

Hello sewers. I've started a sewing bee involving recycling old fabric. You can recycle unused old fabric from your stash, an old dress, sheets, towels, coats or whatever you have enough of to make something you'll use.  I'm making pillow cases from an old white cotton bed skirt.  Would you like to join in? There are no fees and no pressure; we'll all have a bit of fun and learn more about sewing and recycling. I'm hoping new sewers join in as well as our intermediates and experienced sewers. Everyone is welcome.  You can join either here or on Instagram - #downtoearthsewingbee.

This is the old bed skirt I'm using to make pillow cases.  What will you use?

The item should be finished by Thursday 21 November (or close to it) and when you finish, I'd like you to take a photo and send it to me so I can add it to my Instagram sewing bee gallery.  I'm always interested in what other people sew so I'm looking forward to seeing what you create.  Start now, let me know what you're sewing and when you finish send a photo of your finished project to downtoearthsewingbee@gmail.com so it can be added to the photo gallery.
20

Tea with friends

It's been a crazy week with many visitors, reading, gardening, rest and a lot of busyness snaking through my days. The highlight of the week came yesterday when Clare Bowditch visited with her husband Marty and publicist Isabelle. Clare is on tour promoting her first book Your Own Kind of Girl and on their way to Maleny they dropped in for afternoon tea. It was wonderful seeing her again. I met Clare when she interviewed me in 2016 on tour with The Simple Home. She's a wonderful and interesting woman who makes everyone around her feel loved, although it's clear when reading her book, she had a complex and difficult past. If you're looking for a good book with a clear message about life and how it changes, this is the one for you. I'm still reading mine and I don't want it to end.



20

The last of the garlic and spuds

It will be cloudy here today with a minimal chance of rain so I'll be out in the garden planting up geranium Rozanne, a Lillipop Soda Pop gaura and a rosea, the final plants in our newish cottage garden. Before that though I want to write about the last legs of our vegetable garden - a thriving collection of common and not-so-common vegetables and fruits we started growing here in 1998.


29

What's growing in the backyard?


I've been working in my garden for a few weeks transitioning from a vegetable to a cottage garden and trying to get everything ready for spring.  Spring is the season that sets our gardens up for the year and if you get good rain in spring, as we did, it's even better. But I have no illusions of a lush floral display throughout summer, I just hope I can help most of it through the prolonged heat that I know is coming.  Our average annual rainfall is about 1800mm and that is one of the reasons we chose to live in this area. However, so far this year we've had 755.4mm, 286mm less than the previous year. This was the first year two of our tanks ran out of water, and the big 10,000 litre tank had only about 2000 litres left. I wouldn't grow vegetables without the safety net of tanks. They're expensive to put in, but like solar panels, they earn their place in most environmentally sound houses.  We saved for our tanks, one went in soon after we arrived here, and the big one was established about ten years ago; again, when we had the cash to pay for it.  When you set yourself up with tanks, you can water liberally most of the time and know that you're producing food with no hidden costs.

24

How my books came about - part 2

This is a continuation of this story 

We set off on our first book tour just before Down to Earth was to be published on 22 February, 2012. We had no idea what to expect or if anyone would come along to meet us. There was no need to worry though because at every stop along the way so many lovely people travelled in, often bringing gifts of jams, relish, soap, dish cloths, bread, cake, kombucha and magazines to read on the journey, as well as their good wishes.

What generosity! Just some of the many gifts we received on the road.

Being interviewed by Richard Stubbs in Melbourne. I also had the good fortune to meet Jon Faine and Clare Bowditch on their radio programs too.
Feeding the chooks. I think this was Channel 7.

26

How my books came about - part 1

A few new readers have ask about my books, how I got published and how I fit writing into my daily routine, so I thought  there may be others interested in that. I've written three books - Down to Earth, The Simple Life and The Simple Home, all were published by Penguin | Random House.


I used to earn a living as a technical writer/journalist and when we moved to where we live now, in 1997, I transferred my business to the Sunshine Coast. Hanno retired soon after we arrived and bought a shop in Montville. I continued writing technical manuals and travelled up to the mines to gather information and photos and then I'd write the manuals in an office I had close to home. I had a couple of people working for me at the time and life was hectic.  But when I settled in here at home, I started looking at my life with a more critical eye and realised I was far from happy. To make a long story short, I closed my business, started working in my home and that simple decision changed my life completely.

And things started to get better.


29

Hello everyone!

Hello friends, I'm back!  I had a few projects in my sights during my blog break. A few of them were a bit airy-fairy and I can't really describe them. They involved mental health, sleep and self-perception and I'm pleased to tell you that I think I sorted out enough so that I have a clear path forward. I also had a number of more practical day-to-day activities I needed to work on - gardening, sewing, reading and genealogy. I have very clear plans for all those areas now but I think I really surpassed my own expectations in the garden.


Here is our garden in full production circa 2010.
And this is some of what we have now.

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I'll be back

Life is bubbling along nicely here. Hanno and I have been decluttering, again, we've had numerous visitors, Jamie spent the day with us yesterday, of course I've been baking and cooking, but most of my attention and energy has been given to the garden. What else can you do at this time of year? Spring is almost here, the days here are getting warmer and plants are starting to grow again.

We grow French lavender here, in our climate it's much better than the others.  This bush is about a metre tall now, is covered with flowers and bees visit it from early morning to late afternoon. 

59

Blooming where we are planted

Sunny, Kerry and Jamie flew back from Korea on Tuesday after Sun Ja's funeral. Thanks to everyone who send kind and loving messages to our family on her passing.

🐝🍓🐝

If you've been wondering what I've been doing during the silence here on the blog, here's a clue - it's the end of winter, todays temp is supposed to be 29C and my seasonal dormancy is coming to a close. I've been taking cuttings, sowing seeds and generally getting ready for spring. 

In the foreground above are some almost ready to plant fuchsias that were sent as cuttings by Kristiina a couple of months ago. I can also see a passionfruit vine slowly growing leaves, and many salvia cuttings. I love salvias.
33

Such sad news

We heard the sad news yesterday that Sunny's dear mother, Sun Ja, died in Seoul, South Korea, after a long illness. She was a wonderful lady who raised three amazing girls and the entire family feels great sadness at her passing. Luckily, Sunny and Jamie flew to Seoul earlier in the week to be with her. Kerry is on his way there now. We'll miss you Sun Ja.  Rest In Peace.

♥️ ~~ ♥️ ~~ ♥️


40

Living on less than you earn

No matter what stage of life you're at, you'll benefit by reducing your expenses and living on less than you earn. Generally your rent or mortgage will stay the same but by reducing your electricity, water, phone, internet, insurance, transport and food costs, you can do a number of things such as paying off credit card debt, paying off your mortgage, saving for a house deposit or saving for something important to you and your family.


Back in my spending days, credit card debt and a mortgage were big parts of my life. I didn’t take much notice of it at the time, because shopping gave me other priorities, but while we worked to pay off what we owed, we were building even more debt. I thought it was normal to have everything I wanted and that debt was a part of every life. We are encouraged to think that way. The average Western lifestyle always gives you new things to crave; it keeps encouraging you to spend beyond your means. That will never change. You have to change instead.

47

30 million page views

I've just realised that a significant blogging milestone has been reached - there have been 30 million page views here on my blog! I knew is was close because I did a couple of workshops on the weekend and showed my blogging class behind the scenes on my blog, including the statistics.  I smiled when I saw it and kept going, thinking I'd do something about it later.  And then I forgot.

I started this blog because I'd written the beginnings of a book about how Hanno and I had changed our lives for the better. I couldn't find any Australian books then about this change of lifestyle and I was desperate to share how we'd been enriched and energised by the changes we made. I sent the book proposal off to some publishers and all of them rejected it. I was absolutely sure that other people would be able to make their own changes if I got the information out, so I started this blog.  Very soon, readers started pouring in.

Back in those early days, I had no idea about blogging and just wrote, every day, about what we were doing.  And over the 12 years I've been here, that's what I kept doing.  What I didn't know back then was that I'd grow close to the people who read here, I'd care about their families, sometimes I'd visit them, I'd meet them in book shops, libraries and halls and often I'd come away with phone numbers, jars of jam, bottles of home brew, cakes, chutneys and so many more little tokens of love. I have been truly amazed at the number of people who came to meet us and the thousands of emails we received over the years.

Thank you for being part of it all. It's been a pleasure to write for you and to show with my photos what is possible in a small home with a backyard vegetable plot and chickens, and to help spread the message of a splendid, slow, simple life. 

♥️ ~*~ ♥️ ~*~ ♥️
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Frances and her washable wipes

Over on my Instagram pages recently, I created a photo gallery for an online sewing bee. It never fails to amaze me how talented and creative our makers are and of course, photos of wonderful creations came rolling in.

The one that stood out for me was Fran's homemade facial wipes. Fran had crocheted round cotton, washable wipes and packaged them in a small glass preserving jar.  Sometimes I think the thing that elevates a particular product is its packaging.  The preserving jar was a wise move because it presented the wipes in a recyclable container, you could clearly see the product and it looked sweet - something you'd love to have on your dressing table or in the bathroom.

17

In my kitchen

Hanno has picked the last of the oranges and we have a bucket full sitting outside the kitchen door. We'll use them in the coming days to make the finest orange juice we're ever likely to drink, then the orange season will fade to black and we'll prune the tree to open it up a bit for the next season. Further down the garden, our flock of hens are producing so many eggs. It's like they're trying to make up for the months when the nests remained empty. I'm so pleased to have fresh eggs again. Eggs tie so many meals and sweet treats together. We have them for breakfast, for baking, for deliciously warm baked egg custard and to give away. Everyone loves backyard eggs. We still have about 10 passionfruit on the vine but soon they'll be gone, we'll prune the vine back and wait for another good crop next year.

Eggs and oranges are very simple, ordinary foods but when they come from your own backyard, they taste much better.

55

Writing, cooking and teaching

It's been a very busy week here with no time for blogging. I'm sending out the notes for my writing and blogging workshops today and tomorrow so I've spent some time over the past couple of weeks going over the notes, adding and editing, so they're as good as they can be. I'm looking forward to mentoring this group of writers and bloggers and our face-to-face chats on Skype will be a highlight. 

This is near our front door. It's the first thing you'd see if you walked into our home.

30

A small vegetable garden

I had a sore back yesterday so all I did was make bread and butter cucumbers, rye bread and some sweet potato soup for lunch. In the morning and late afternoon I walked around the vegetable garden and took some photos. It's not much to show for a day but my back is feeling good now so I think it was a wise investment.

Morning in the garden, looking south.
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What are you making?

I want to get a better idea of what everyone is making for the Do Whatever You Want Bee. The bee started 4 June and will end on Tuesday 2 July. Everyone is welcome to join in - from all corners of the world.  Instead of being confined to one craft or item, you can do what ever you like, using the technique you prefer, as long as it's for your home. So tea cosies, tablecloths, dishcloths, napkins, nappies/diapers, cushions, curtains, jug covers, crocheted edging on pillow slips, whatever. Some ladies are doing a summer blouse and dog coats.  


20

Saturday at Hetzel House

I still have one spot in the blogging workshop and a few spots in the writers' group. Full details are here: https://down---to---earth.blogspot.com/2019/06/new-online-workshops.html  Let me know if you're thinking of joining us. Bookings close at the end of the week.

I've had a few people in the UK interested in joining the group but the Skype sessions we have now take place at 2am UK time. So if there is enough interest, I'm happy to arrange a UK and Europe set of workshops that would start at 9am, Saturday and Sunday, UK time.  They would be the same workshops in the link above. Let me know if you're interested.
~:~:~ ♥️ ~:~:~ 

It rained most of yesterday and with the heater on, Hanno and Gracie watching TV, it was a good time to cook and clean.  I deep cleaned the kitchen sink and benches, baked bread, prepared apples for an apple cake to be baked today, sliced and salted cucumbers to be pickled today and made a hot beef and vegetable curry to go in the slow cooker overnight.  That will feed Hanno, Jamie and I at lunchtime today, and Kerry, Jamie and Jen (Sunny's cousin who is staying with them) for their dinner tonight. Kerry will work all day today so as he has to come over to pick up Jamie, it's always a good time to make an extra meal so he can take that home and relax without the extra work.

This lop-sided loaf was baked yesterday. I topped it with polenta.

22

It's another sewing bee! Sort of ...

In early April we had a sewing bee to make aprons with the information and comments here on my blog. When the aprons were finished, I made a gallery of apron photos on Instagram.  It was very popular, I think it encouraged those new to sewing to take a chance on making something they would use and since then, I've had quite a few emails asking about the next sewing bee. So here it is. 

Last week - adding a divided pocket to my apron.

19

New online workshops

When I gave up work in my 50s and decided to live a simpler life, I secretly hoped that one day I might be able to earn some money working at home.  I didn't know what sort of work would enable me to do that so I was very excited when it became clear that I'd be able to continue my writing career at home. 

I have an Arts degree with majors in Journalism, Literature and Communication and qualifications in technical writing. Over the past 30 years I've worked as a journalist, technical writer, monthly columnist for the Australian Women's Weekly and Burke's Backyard, freelance magazine writer and have written three books, all published by Penguin. All my books are still selling in book shops and the first book, Down to Earth, has been selling well for seven years. My blog has had almost 30 million hits. So if you're just starting your writing career or you've been writing for a while but you're in a rut and need new ideas and techniques, I'd be happy to share my experience with you and help you get to the next step and beyond.

5

How to make chilli jam

I'm still dealing with the over-supply of chillies so a couple of days ago I pulled out the bush, stripped the chillies off and started thinking about how to use them.  I decided on a few jars of chilli jam and dried chilli flakes. It will give us the opportunity to enjoy this season's chillies for another few months and both are very easy to make.

Three jars of very tasty hot chilli jam with yesterday's bread.

22

What's in the backyard?

Over the years we've lived here, I've grown to love the homing pigeons that live a few doors down. You can set your clock by them in the afternoon because they're let out at 4pm to fly for an hour before they voluntarily return to their home. I see them flying in group formation, in ever-widening circles, over our house and on the edge of the forest behind us. The leaders swoop in and out and seem to take turns at leading the group as they fly about.


30

Buying a clothes dryer

Before I start today I want to thank Teri for sharing information in my last post about using a Kitchen Aide mixer to knead bread dough.  She said: I love baking bread. I'm having problems eating loaves with lots of seeds, so I may have to try your recipe. If anyone is using a Kitchen Aid to knead the dough, I found it's helpful to let it run for 9 minutes. I learned about that in a cookbook and my bread is better since I started doing that.  I'm sure that will help some bakers make better bread using their Kitchen Aide mixers.  It doesn't take much time to share something like that and yet it might be just the thing that helps someone who might be thinking of giving up on homemade bread. Small things do make a difference. Thanks Teri.

~.~.~ ❣️ ~.~.~

An idea for the craft bee - jug covers.

54

How to make milk sandwich loaf

Before I start today, I want to thank you all for such beautiful comments on my 12 year anniversary post.  I was surprised and touched that so many would take the time to tell me what they thought of my writing, my blog and me.  Thank you. Now, let's get on with the next 12 years. 
~~~ ❤️ ~~~

Hanno's had trouble with a sore mouth for a while so I've been working on a new softer loaf so he can continue to eat bread.  When you make bread you generally add flavour with salt, sugar or liquid, or you allow it to ferment and develop natural flavour. The main change in this bread recipe is the addition of milk and I've changed the amount of salt and sugar to what I think is a good balance. The milk, salt and sugar add taste to the loaf so you can leave out, or reduce, the salt and sugar but it will change the taste of the bread.

This is today's loaf.

38

Twelve years old today

Twelve years ago today, I sat here at a table in my sewing room and started my blog, Down to Earth. I had no idea what I was doing. During the previous few years I had written the beginning of a book documenting our new way of living and after the book was rejected by publishers, in a rare lightbulb moment, I decided I HAD to share what we were doing and the only way I could do that was to start a blog. My first post was about Brandywine tomatoes. I knew nothing about blogging and didn't know how to start but I did want to write honestly about our ordinary days here at home that, in the context of the times, were surprisingly enriching and satisfying. Brandywine tomatoes were what I was thinking about that day, so that is what I started with. Writing about what I was doing and thinking set a pattern that I repeated for many years.  In those first few years, honestly, I had so much to tell you, I could hardly contain it. I started off posting everyday and did that for years before having the weekends off.

I was 59 when I started, it seems like such a long time ago.

89

A perfect day in the backyard

It was a close to a perfect day in the garden yesterday. Temp 26C, low humidity, the brightest of blue skies and so many migrating birds resting on their way to somewhere else, as well as our local birds and many newbies who visit us every winter.  The gang is back in town. It was a good day.

Here is our mini Cavendish. It will grow to about 2 metres tall.
26

Two new workshops



I'm having a Blogging for Beginners Workshop on Saturday, 25 May and a Writers' Workshop (getting published) on Sunday, 26 May.  Both workshops will be at my home on the Sunshine Coast and run from 10am to 3pm.  Bookings will close 15 May. 

7

Autumn vegetables and homemaking

After a couple of weeks of rain, we now have sunshine and the gentle heat of late autumn. The strawberries are growing well, raspberries and Youngberries are developing their canes for fruiting later in the year and we have tomatoes, lettuce, French beans, silverbeet, spinach and Welsh onions almost bursting out of their boxes. The cayenne chilli bush in the old sandpit is so full and heavy, it keeps snapping off side branches and I've been giving away chillies to who ever will take them.

Strawberries in hanging baskets this year.  It's part of our way of easier gardening.
Afternoon sun on the back verandah and box garden.  French beans below.

23

Making your home


At some point in the morning, without fail, I make our bed. It's an indispensable part of my home making and the comfort it provides us when we go to bed at night consistently reinforces its importance.  Some folk have to drink coffee in the morning, I have to make our bed. It makes sense to me and it motivates me to care for the rest of my home too.  Lately I've been thinking a lot about the work we all do in our homes and I know that for me, housework slowed me down, lead me to a better life and changed me in the process.  

37

Easter - sit back and relax

It's been a busy week. Shane, Alex and Eve slept here last night. Jamie is here now, Shane is at work and soon they'll go over to Kerry and Sunny's to have a sleepover with Jamie. He even cleaned his room for the big event!  It's surprising how much you forget about normal life at various points in time.  It's only when we have the grandkids here that I remember looking after my own sons and the feeding, drinks, colouring in, playing, arguments, broken sleep, walking on small pieces of Lego 🙄 and the pure joy of looking after little people. And just how relentless it is.

Starting work on the rabbit while I watched Gardeners World.

In the couple of days before the gang arrived, I worked on the ballerina rabbit birthday present for Eve who turns four on Sunday. I struggled for a while with the shoes and then realised the answer was to hand-stitch them and then cut the felt slightly outside the stitch lines.  Eureka!  By the time Eve arrived, I'd sewn and re-sewn the shoes, and for days had thought about what to make for her top.  I finally settled on a knitted shawl, tied at the back the way I've seen some ballerinas wear their shawls.  She liked it but I think she preferred playing with the Peppa Pig car and passengers. Oh well, she might be next week's favourite.
21

How are you going with your apron?

Today I've been working on another felt rabbit, this time for my granddaughter Eve's fourth birthday next Sunday.  Eve told me last week she wants to be a ballerina. 🙂  This rabbit is a ballerina and at the moment I'm sewing prototypes of ballet shoes.  It's hard going because each shoe is only 20cm.  😳  I'm hoping to finish her tomorrow but I still have some knitting to do after the shoes.


19

Another birthday! UPDATED

I wrote the first part of this post in 2013 to celebrate my 65th birthday and thought I'd add to it today, on my 71st.


90

Homemade dog food

Recently I revised my recipe for Gracie's meals. I've never fed her canned dog food because I want her to stay healthy and I doubt the claims of healthy ingredients in most store-bought canned food. Homemade dog food is easy to make and I make a big pot full, keep one container of it in the fridge, and put the rest in the freezer.  Generally I cook the food up once a month.

17

Sewing bee - aprons

I wanted to hold this world-wide sewing bee so that we could work collectively on aprons that we use everyday. It's economical to make aprons rather than buy them, you'll build your sewing skills at the same time, so it's worth the time and effort you put into this.  So what is a sewing bee? This is the meaning taken from dictionary.com: Bee is derived from the Old English meaning “a prayer, a favour.” By the late eighteenth century, bee had become commonly associated with the British dialect form, been or bean, referring to the joining of neighbours to work on a single activity to help a neighbour in need: sewing bee, quilting bee, etc. 

39

Sewing bee list

Well, that was a delightful surprise!  I didn't expect so many ladies would join the sewing bee.  We'll have a good time and hopefully all come out the other end with at least one apron.  Next Monday  I'll post details of the sewing bee as well as a few free patterns that you can download. They'll be patterns for an ordinary plain apron - the simplest one to cut and sew, a harvest apron, cross-back apron, shop/market apron, half apron, peg apron and a child's apron.  You'll need about one metre of fabric for the main part of the apron and 25 cm of contrasting fabric.  If you're a new sewer, it might be wise to buy cotton tape too so you don't have to make the waist and neck ties.

THE LIST IS CLOSED NOW. Even if you're not on the list, you'll still be able to see everything that goes on in the sewing bee.  So join in and sew your apron with us.

COMMENTS ARE ALSO CLOSED

57

What are Rhonda and Hanno doing? Let's see...

It's such good weather here at the moment. The nights are coolish at 15C and the days are warm and comfortable around 28C. The true marker of the start of cold nights hasn't happened yet but soon I'll get out a set of fluffy flannel sheets, add a doona to the bed and we'll be in winter mode. I love this time of year.


Last Sunday we went to the local Chipmunks for Jamie's eight birthday party. Sunny flew back from Korea on the morning of the party so it was lovely to catch up with her and all the family news while we sat and had a cup of tea. Shane brought Alex and Eve down for the party too so it was a good day for being with our family and celebrating together.



41

Starting a more simple life

I received a comment on my last post from Kellylynn who wants to know how she can start living a more sustainable, simple life. This is part of her comment:
I'm 45 yrs.old. We are a one income family, have no savings, pantry's not stocked. Living pay-check-to-pay-check. We do own our home and have almost a 1/4 of an acre to work with. I long to help us live a sustainable, simple life. Comfortably prepped for growing old. But I feel so overwhelmed with where to even start. Feeling short on time and upset for not beginning so much earlier in life. Will your book(s) help with steps on where to start coming from zero? If so, which should I start with?

You start with NOT buying my books. Stop all spending. From now on buy only essential items. You should only spend on food and transport. If you absolutely need clothing or shoes, yes, but within reason.  That's all I'll say on money at the moment, I'll get back to it later when we discuss your budget.



87

A comfortable place to grow old

When we first moved into our home we made quite a few changes. We pulled up carpets, built a new kitchen, added another bedroom and bathroom and built verandahs front and back. Fences went up. We also put in gardens and a chook house and Hanno got a big shed to house his tools, garden equipment and any future cars our sons might have. We, although we didn't know it at the time, were getting ready to live more simply and our house and land were evolving with us.


30

Talking, baking and planting

I've spent a few Saturday mornings on Skype recently chatting away to people I know through this blog. It's been a lot of fun and many of the women I chatted to said they enjoyed it too. We were all in our own homes, many of us had a cup of tea or coffee and it was like meeting up at the coffee shop with the girls. So I've been thinking I might make it something I do just to socialise. I wonder if there are six people who want to chat on Skype for an hour on a Saturday morning (Brisbane time). You can ask about bread, or cooking, or mending, or whatever, or we can just socialise and get to know each other. Isn't that a great idea! I'll start it in April because I still have a writers chat and a bloggers chat coming up. When they're finished, I'll pick a date and if you comment here or follow me on Instagram, you can email me and let me know you're interested. I think we'll have a great time.

ADDED LATER: Please not, I'm not taking names now. In April, I'll let you know when to contact me via the contact form on the right.


I made a new bread recipe yesterday. Well, I suppose I can't call it a new recipe, I just added oats to my normal bread.  I ground it up in a small food processor and substituted one cup of ground oats for one cup of flour.  I wonder why I waited so long to do that, it was fabulous.  Here is the link to one of my bread posts with the bread recipe.

24

Here in my heartland

I intended to post yesterday, and wrote something to accompany a video I made of Gracie running around the house like a ratbag. When I tried to post it Blogger didn't like it so I walked away.

29