19 February 2024

What I used to do and what I do now

When I simplified my life I thought not much would change in the future. Looking back on it now, things didn't change for many years but when the changes came, they were terrifying, challenging and, eventually, wonderful. I’d never thought about living alone until it happened and then I thought I’d just carry on as before. But it didn’t turn out that way - many of my changes were big and difficult and now my life is very different to what it used to be. So I thought it might be a good thing to write about here - to help others as they age and because I want my blog to be a journal of my life and it wouldn’t be a true and genuine account without these final chapters.

The catalyst for my life change was Hanno becoming sick and eventually dying of brain cancer and Parkinson's disease. Long term readers might notice I left out the diagnosis of dementia which I now believe was false. It wasn't the only false diagnosis he was given but let's just leave it at that. When Hanno died, I fell in a heap and sat on the front verandah staring into space and I stayed there until I realised that I had to do something to get myself moving again. Afterall, I didn't have Hanno there to ask our mutual question: "What are you doing? There's work to be done." The only thing I could think of was to restart my decades-old housework routine and see where that took me. I wasn't sure what would happen, maybe I'd come up with a great idea on how to live well, maybe I'd sell the house, maybe I'd go back to the seat on the verandah. I just didn't know. But what did happen was subtle and reassuring - my housework nurtured me by providing a familiar way to spend my hours and that in turn removed my anxiety and sadness. I felt my life taking shape again, I started with making my bed in the morning, taking Gracie outside and sitting to watch the sunrise, then making breakfast, thinking about lunch, cleaning the kitchen, then moving on to whatever needed to be done that particular day. I also included a lot of downtime when I'd read, paint and write because I wanted my creativity to thrive again.

I was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumour in 2019. It makes me dizzy and unable to bend over or look up to do things but mainly it's made me think in a different way! It's made me more organised and patient, two things that weren't a big part of my intellectual or emotional makeup before. Now I do what has to be done, not find reasons not to do it and that has made life much easier, especially as I haven't had Hanno asking the "What are you doing? ..." question. I can easily motivate myself to do almost anything now and I'm more inclined to forgive mistakes, in myself and others.

I met Hanno when I was 28, he died when I was 74, so it took a while to work out what made sense at this stage of my life. In the old days, I'd stockpile, bake bread every day, make almost everything from scratch, preserve food, make soap and simple cleaning products, I'd grow food, cook and store it, shop mindfully, I gave up recreational shopping (including thrift shopping), I decluttered, recycled and composted. But that all changed when I was alone. Initially I stopped baking but started again when I didn't want to drive to the bakery to buy bread, and I missed my daily piece of toast. Instead of baking a loaf every day, I now bake about once every two weeks and wait until the loaf is cold, slice it, bag it in a reusable plastic bag and store it in the freezer. When I make biscuits/cookies, I make a full batch but divide that and freeze half the dough. It tastes just as good when it's baked and if someone comes over I usually have something in the freezer I can defrost and bake for them. Instead of growing or buying a large amount of tomatoes for relish or strawberries for jam, I buy those things in season when they're at their best and cheapest and preserve smaller amounts.  Around Christmas time, I bought four punnets of perfect local strawberries and made two jars of strawberry jam - that will probably last me most of the year. Instead of buying fresh tomatoes, I bought tinned tomatoes and made the relish I usually make for Christmas lunch. I still have six jars of that which I'm using as pizza sauce, sandwich relish and as a base for curry and pasta sauces.

I've cut my food waste by about 90%. I did that by using the Zwilling vacuum seal glass containers and plastic bags. I wrote about that twice last year, here are those links:  Zwilling vacuum seals one,  Zwilling vacuum seals two.

Now I eat when I'm hungry and go to bed when I'm tired - even if it's 4pm. The time of day and day of the week don't matter because the daily decisions I make usually only relate to me.  I can do whatever I like, whenever I like. If you were to walk past my place at 2am and hear the gentle whir of a machine, it would probably be me sewing. Having no timetable or deadlines eases stress, especially after a writing career that is based on deadlines. I feel happy and lucky that this is what my life is now. Of course, I miss Hanno and think of him everyday, but I talk to the photo of him in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure he'd like the way I've rebuilt my life.  

Another one of my changes is to have my groceries delivered once a week. For me, it's cheaper than going to the supermarket and roadside stalls. With my pensioner's discount, it costs about $2 per delivery. So I don't have to struggle getting the grocery bags in and out of my car, I'm not tempted to buy things I don't need and I save on petrol because I don't drive the 20 minute journey there and back.

One thing I've always been mindful of is eating fruit and vegetables every day, mainly for the fibre but also for the vitamins and minerals they contain. When I was cooking for two, Hanno liked having a cooked breakfast and lunch and he'd often have a toasted sandwich for dinner, so there were always a variety of vegetables cooked twice a day. Now that I eat one meal a day and that might be soup, homemade sausage rolls, eggs, steak, chicken or a casserole, I make sure I get enough vegetables by making up a bowl of coleslaw every week. I store it in a Zwilling vacuum glass container and have a coleslaw side dish with whatever I eat as my mail meal. I have at least two pieces of fruit a day and drink tea, water and milk.

I still cook all Gracie's food and alternate between red meat and chicken. About once a month she has a couple of days eating raw meat. I used to give her chicken necks too but she had trouble chewing them so I stopped giving them to her. She has a cup of Black Hawk high quality dog biscuits in the morning and drinks only water.

Overall, I cook and bake from scratch and although I eat the food I like, usually it's the simple food I grew up eating. I eat very few processed foods or drinks, I know the food requirements for my age group and I generally eat between 6am and about 2pm. I eat less than I did when I cooked three meals a day and I feel better for it. I still keep a small stockpile of tea, small tins of red salmon, baked beans, jam, relish, pickles, rolled oats, grains, pasta, rice, sugar, vinegar, honey, various flours and spices. I usually have frozen butter, bread and a small amount of meat and chicken in the freezer. The pandemic proved to me that anything can happen at any time so I stockpile foods that will store well and keep me going until the food deliveries start again.

Today I’m making a new version of choc chip biscuits/cookies. If I like them I’ll include the recipe in my eCookbook. I’ve started work on it, made changes already and now I think I’m happy with what I’m creating. Originally I was going to write one document but then realised it would be too big and didn’t want the bother of handling and emailing such a large file. I decided then that I’d break it into several sections, then decided against that because that would be a bother too. LOL Now I'm writing a savoury book and a sweet book. I’ve lived with that decision for a couple of weeks now and it still makes sense to me, so I’m guessing that’s what I’ll end up with. I hope to release the savoury book in June.

In my next post, I'll carry on with the same theme of what I used to do and what I do now. Those topics will be Gardening, Organising money and paying bills, Grooming and feeding Gracie and a third post on this subject on Spending time alone and with Gracie, Organising my time, Doing what I want, Maintaining relationships - family and friends, neighbours, My health.  

I hope there will be a few things in these posts that will help you as you grow older. It's an interesting and significant journey that not everyone is fortunate enough to make.

8 February 2024

Starting a simpler life

When I started living a simpler life over 20 years ago, I saw it more as a collection of skills rather than a way of life. It took me a few months before I connected the dots and that showed me that when each skill was seen as part of something bigger it made more sense, and all these things made life easier.

For example, we’d kept chooks, grown vegetables in the backyard and eaten organic food for many years. I’d baked bread on and off for that time too and when we lived in the bush, we stockpiled. But all these things seemed to be disjointed and random. They were things we did when we had the time for them but never part of a particular lifestyle.

I wanted to live in a way that made sense environmentally, made a better family life and that challenged and rewarded me. So I looked at what we were doing. It helped to have a name to call it so we could focus on"simple living" and not all the single elements like chooks, stockpiling, organic vegetables, slowing down, budgeting, cooking from scratch etc. When I had the name for it, I discovered I wasn't alone in my thoughts. I found people writing about living how I wanted to live and that motivated me like nothing else. I knew I didn't have to move to the country to live the way I wanted, I knew I would have to learn how to do a lot of the things I wanted to do and I would have to budget and save as much as I could.

I'd already realised that shopping was a wolf in sheep’s clothing that would give me all I needed and wanted. It had to stop and when it did, I suppose that was the first conscious step I took on the road to my simple life. I stopped handing my money over to large corporations to buy the latest fashions so I could look like everyone else, buy convenience rather than do my own work and buy services I could do without. That made the biggest difference.

I created a plan to stop shopping for what I wanted and buy only what I needed instead. I changed the way I shopped for groceries, I cooked from scratch and made as much as I could myself. Another aim was to rethink how I viewed housework and to make what I did in my home meaningful and rewarding. I did it by realising that every single thing I did at home, I did for my family or myself. Knowing that, and really understanding it, made that change possible. It was like a light turned on inside my head; one of those classic cartoon moments when the light globe comes on and you can almost see new ideas forming and old ways melting away. If what I was doing at home was for us then what greater incentive could I have? However, the work wasn’t all mine, I think housework should be shared. My kids grew up keeping their own rooms tidy, making their beds and doing easy household chores. When they left home, I usually worked in the house and Hanno worked outside, but there are many times we crossed over and I'd do one of "his" jobs and he did one of "mine". I then realised that the work we do in our homes contributes significantly towards how we feel and that flows into other parts in our lives.

I am proof that change is possible. If you were to ask my advice on moving towards simplicity, I'd tell you to focus on yourself first and to understand that you may already be doing a lot of the things that make up this way of living. If it still feels disjointed to you, try to connect the dots in YOUR life. Work out for yourself how not shopping for convenience and things you don’t need, saving on your grocery bills, cutting back on your use of water and electricity helps to pay off your debt. Work it out on paper if you have to. Convince yourself. Develop a plan and new values that will facilitate and support your simple life. When you focus on a simpler future, when you do the work, it will change how you think abut housework, and the satisfaction you feel will help you to keep going. The rewards you gain are massive and you’ll discover the feeling of living debt-free, spending more time with your family and living in a calm and stress-free home. And I that, my friends, is the glittering prize.

Nicole Lutze is advertising her new natural cleaners workshops in March. They’re being held in several locations on the Sunshine Coast, cost $5 and are being sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Council. Click here for more information. 

🌿 🌿 🌿

17 January 2024

Housework changes us

I used this quote at the beginning of chapter five in The Simple Home, Laundry Love. It's one of my favourites:

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

That is how I feel about the work I do here in my home. I end up with the prize, this is how I win it.

Back in the day, I used to multitask, take shortcuts and do only the work that was necessary for a clean and tidy house. I didn't think about comfort, warmth, wellbeing or safety. It was only when I started to slow down and appreciate the work I was doing that I realised how important it was. Housework changed me from being a busy, tired and overworked mother, wife and writer into what I am today. When I gave up work at 55 and concentrated on building a simpler life, housework was my steady guide. It taught me that I could modify what I did to suit how I work, and to hope for the unexpected and challenging because that was what would keep me productive and interested in my home. When I understood that, the rewards were abundant.

Over the years I moved furniture around to better suit the way we live, I started stockpiling, changed the way I shopped for groceries and although I'd always cooked from scratch, I started baking bread every day too. We got rare breed chickens. I began growing food in the backyard, preserving, volunteering, budgeting, sewing and mending. And I was knitting - I started knitting organic cotton dishcloths, and I still do that now. 🙂

One of the important parts of this new lifestyle for me was my mindset. I promised myself I'd be kind, generous, non-judgemental, respectful and accepting. That made a big difference. Surely those values should be part of any simple life. It doesn’t make much sense without them.

Cutting up old sheets and pillowcases to use as cleaning rags. 

It might seem strange to you now but over the course of your lifetime, you’ll save hundreds of dollars by cutting up old towels, sheets, tea towels and T-shirts to make cleaning rags. I estimated once that using rags instead of store-bought cloths would save at least $1000 over the course of the average housekeeper’s life. Anything made from cotton or linen is suitable, and because they’re old and well used, they’ll be seasoned, absorbent and soft. To clean the rags, just throw them in with the normal wash, or in with the mats if they're really grubby, and when they're dry, store them in your rag bag. When their life is over, throw them into the compost. Click here for Down to Earth rags post.

Speaking of rag bags.

This post is a sample from The Simple Home, my final book. It'll give you a good idea how I work with household linens, sewing, mending, knitting and general craft work.

After many years of using a homemade laundry liquid I've move on to homemade laundry powder. The liquid takes slightly more preparation time and I preferred it because I used it combined with bicarb soda for bathroom cleaning. That paste is like Jif but with only four ingredients so I know I'm not spreading around chemicals that might cause harm. My homemade laundry powder recipe has four ingredients and costs in the region of three dollars to make a very large batch - 10 litres in liquid form. That's much cheaper than the supermarket powder or liquid and you're not bringing all those heavy plastic bottles into your home. You can add any oxy-clean type stain treatment (Vanish or Disan) to the mix if you've got kids or a partner with dirty work clothes. Making your own laundry powder/liquid will take 10 minutes and cost around $3.  

I still make my cleaning paste with the bicarb. I just mix half a cup of laundry powder, add two tablespoons of bicarb and enough water to make a paste. Store it in a sealed container.

When I was decluttering the other day I found my dad's honing steel. It really looks its age and more like a pirate sword than a modern steel. It's still sharpens knives well though. One of my chef sons was shocked by the knife I gave him to carve the ham on Christmas Day. LOL I had been using one of those drag through knife sharpeners but that's in the recycle bin now and I'm a changed woman. Here is a good video I found on how to use a honing steel.

I cook all my meals from scratch but I don't expect anyone else to do that. If you want to start scratch cooking, do it one night a week, make enough for two meals and either freeze the second portion or serve it the following night. Cooking meals with ingredients you have in your home is much healthier and cheaper. You know what's in the meal, it tastes better, and you can make it exactly to your liking or health requirements. Food with ingredients you have never heard of, frozen meals and ultra-processed foods aren't healthy.

Chicken schnitzel and salad.

One thing I know to be true is that when you do simplify your life, be that a lot or a little, life will be easier. Start slow with what you're struggling with at the moment - budget, cooking, cleaning or whatever, choose one thing and work your way through that. Just use the parts that suit you and your life, leave the rest for now. When you feel confident with that, choose something else. 

I helped my family out with some home cooking late last week because they had a lot to do. A simple meal of bone broth and vegetable soup, lasagne and cinnamon tea cake filled them up and gave them a break from cooking. I love it when I can help. 

If you work outside the home for a living, you'll fit your simple tasks around your family and your job, but don’t make the mistake of putting off the decision to move towards a simpler life because you are working. You'll make things easier and cheaper for yourself if you start some of these simple tasks during your stage of working outside the home. You'll learn and practise some of the skills you'll need when you're living a simpler life.  Just as an example on a starting list I'd suggest making your own green cleaners, cooking one or two meals per week from scratch, stockpiling, menu plans and growing a few herbs and green leaves in pots. That will get you started and you can add more tasks when you're ready for them. Remember, there isn't a one size fits all approach to this.

It won't happen overnight and you must remember we all go through stages - that's a chapter in Down to Earth (the book). I can do what I do because I'm 75 years old and I have time but my age also restricts because I don't have the strength I once had and I have a non-malignant brain tumour that makes me dizzy when I bend over or look upwards. But no matter what stage you're at, we will all be restricted by something that will probably disappear one day - the kids grow up, you stop or start working outside the home, you pay off your mortgage etc. Making your own homemade cleaners, menu plans, mindful grocery shopping, budgeting etc will all make your life easier and only take a short amount of time to set up. Once you get used to it you'll wonder why you waited to do it. 😊

I believe there are many ways to live simply. I have lived in Europe, in the Australian bush and in the city, in houses, flats and caravans, and I know with no doubt, I could have lived simply in all those places. Whatever your circumstances are, you can fashion a life that will simplify your daily tasks, help you nurture yourself and your family and lead you to discover that a simple life is like a patchwork quilt - it's pieced together slowly, unpicked sometimes, composed of a mish-mash of colours and textures and is different for everyone, depending on the fabric of your life. But when one stands back from a completed quilt, its complexity becomes apparent. It's no longer pieces of this and that, it builds into a functional piece that gives warmth, beauty and comfort. That's how your simple life will build too.

If you're struggling to simplify, have a look in my right-hand column  and you'll find my archive listed year by year. I think beginners would find the 2007 - 2014 years the most helpful. OR, just under that, all my topics are listed - just click on the topic name to go there.

I had my latest Covid vaccination on Monday. This is a new vaccine that covers variants that appeared over the last year or two. The advice from my pharmacist was to have a booster every six months from now on. That’s the advice for everyone in Australia over the age of 75, everyone else is yearly.

Today's lunch was a pork chop with coleslaw and salad, and a couple of ripe yellow peaches. I’ve been eating a lot of peaches and nectarines since the season began here in December. They're my favourite fruit.  🍑 ❤️ 🍑. This afternoon I've been sewing, watching the test cricket and finishing off this post. I hope your day has been joyful.

Beer, bread and beyond: the ‘mind-blowing’ potential of Australia’s mountain rye and other perennial grains

Purls of wisdom: the wellbeing benefits of knitting and crocheting

The incredible story of Merlin the spaniel shows how little humans know about dogs

How to make candied chocolate orange peel (and an orange old fashioned) – recipe


5 January 2024

A new year with new opportunities and challenges

I really enjoyed Christmas day. I had my family here and we feasted on a cold lunch of leg ham, prawns oysters, pork belly, roast potatoes, potato and green salads, and for dessert - pavlova, lemon cheesecake and chocolate tarts. I made a cashew roast for Shane which he had with salads. He said the roast was delicious and he took the rest home with him to eat over the following days. Again, we had an alcohol-free celebration. There was cold beer in the fridge (leftover from last year, LOL) but no one was interested. They chose from the wide variety of small bottles and mini cans of Bundaberg ginger beer and other fruit drinks, Coke and lemonade. Many of us drank cold water as well.

I started writing down my schedule for various foods to make sure I cooked everything I needed and had it all ready to go when everyone arrived. I started with one large list of everything and then divided that into smaller lists over three days.

I wanted a Christmas tree this year but I could not face a plastic Christmas tree and couldn't handle a fresh tree, so I bought this little Cypress pine, added gifts, lights and baubles and I was happy. It was small and simple and delivered the feeling I was hoping for when I turned on the lights. I want all my grandchildren to experience an Australian Christmas that isn't drowned out with plastic and expensive gifts. I want them all to grow up knowing they are important and loved and part of a family that encourages them to do their best and have fun.

Since Christmas I've been making a lot of homemade soup with mainly vegetables and bone broth. I love soup and it didn't bother me it was the middle of summer because I had the airconditioning on most days. I'm making mushroom soup today and will have that for lunch followed by fresh strawberries and Maleny cream.

Gracie loved all the Christmas visitors but she really hates hot weather so most days were spent inside with frequent trips outdoors for toileting. Rain started falling on Christmas night and carried on for days. We got 127mm (5 inches) on the first day with 69mm (2.7 inches) of that falling in 30 minutes. Gracie was uncomfortable with the weather. She doesn't like getting her paws wet so I had to push her onto the lawn to wee and when she finished she ran to the door to go back inside.  I'm not sure what the overall rain total was but over the last two days my rain gauge overflowed at 150mm/6 inches both days.  I was sorry to see many people flooded out on the Gold Coast but we've been in drought here and the water did the environment the world of good.  Have you had rain at your place?

Gracie loves playing with her toys. She brings this red ball to me, I threw it up the hallway (it collided with the Christmas tree a couple of times 🫤) and she brought it back each time so I could throw it again and again and again.

If you look closely below, you can see the pig's ear is missing but overall, I'll delighted with how she's been with these toys.  She's such a strong dog she usually destroys her toys in a few days but these are surviving nicely. She treats the pig like it's her baby. She carries it around by the tail or ear and licks it like she would a puppy.

This is the front yard on the first sunny day after the rains.  It made such a difference - the once crunchy grass was green again and flowers were blooming.

This is one of the flower beds on Christmas morning. It doesn't look like this now. 🥺

Out the back, the rain helped the nut grass grow enough to almost take over the flower gardens. Once you have nut grass, it's one of those weeds you never get rid of. Everything you do for the plants - watering, fertilising and pruning - all help the nut grass take over more.  I've thought about it for a few days and I've decided to get rid of the flower beds. I'll be 76 years old in a couple of months time and I don't want to waste time weeding.  I'll keep all the roses in large pots and get the gardeners to mow over the rest. It was a reluctant decision but it's the right one for me. I'll still set up a shaded seating area with a new table, chairs and my umbrella so I'll continue to spend time outside in the fresh air watching the wildlife. I have 11 roses so I'll still have plants to tend and flowers for the house. It's just another step in my journey through old age - my strategy is to keep as much as I can of what makes me happy and not regret losing the rest.

I cleaned up my writing/sewing/painting room a few days ago and decluttered my cupboards and drawers as well.  It feels so good to have a room with only the things I need in it.  The things that used to be there are now out roaming around the world finding new people to look after them.  I'll take another photo of the clean and tidy room for the next post because since I tidied everything, I've dumped a basket full of fabric on the sewing desk. 🙄

The first task in the newly clean work room was to cut up old towels for new rags and I found scrap materials that I've made into napkins.

But now I'm on Covid watch because I spent a couple of hours with someone who woke up with Covid the following day. I was going to have my Covid booster today. I'm not really sure what to expect because I never had Covid but the pharmacist gave me clear guidelines to follow if I don't get it and if I do. Now I just have to wait; lucky I still have RAT tests in the cupboard. I'm so pleased I did my shopping on Wednesday so I don't have to go out and can look after myself properly without the risk of infecting others.  A new Covid vaccine was released on 12 December which covers the variants that arrived in 2023. You can get that from your local pharmacy. In February I'm also getting boosters for Shingles and Pneumococcal Disease.  If you're living in Australia and you're over the age of 70, you can get a free vaccination for both diseases from you GP.

Nectarines and peaches are on special this week at Woolworths. I bought a kilo/nine nectarines for $3.50. If, like me, yours aren't ripe when you buy them, leave them on a dish on the kitchen bench for a few days and they'll be ready to eat. You can also stew peaches or nectarines with a little sugar or honey and have them with ice cream or custard. I bought a large punnet of smallish strawberries for $2, two green bananas, red onions, a bag of almost-local sweet potatoes, five tomatoes and a really delicious and crunchy iceberg lettuce for $2. I didn't have to buy cucumbers because I still have two I bought the week before Christmas surviving perfectly in my Zwilling vacuum dishes. Lamb forequarter chops are $12.50 a kilo this week. I'll use them on the weekend to make a lamb and vegetable casserole with herb dumplings. That will make three or four meals for me. I use to eat a wide range of modern foods but a couple of years ago I went back to cooking only the food I grew up eating.  It's mostly old-fashioned Australian cooking with lots of casseroles, soups, lasagne, pasta meals, salads, chicken, fish, corned beef and cabbage, various curries and the like 😀 and I buy according to what's in season.

Interesting reading:

When the political reporter wrote a love letter to a Queensland country show, she accidentally set off a war within the Country Women’s Association

I really liked this article on washing clothes and household linens.

Thank you for visiting me today and welcome to the many new readers who have joined through Instagram.  💜❤️💜

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