Starting your simple life

I wish I could step into your homes and help you work out a way to start your simple life. It seems to me that starting is one of the most difficult parts of the process. Oh, it does become difficult in places along the way too, but the starting of it, that's hard.

We all have different circumstances and different ways we want our lives to be. For some, the main goal might be to completely scale down spending, driving, watching TV and to turn an otherwise normal suburban home into a little farm. Others might want to get out of debt while keeping their life pretty much as it is right now. There will be some families struggling with two parents working to provide enough for a growing family. Their idea of a simple life might be that one of them stays home with the kids and concentrates on saving money while the other continues to work. You might be about to retire or become an empty nester and see now as the right time to simplify. There are many scenarios, many ways to live more simply and many ways to start.

All of them take time.

It's a wonderful thing to have plans to work to and goals to fulfil but listing 20 difficult things to achieve in a short space of time will just set you up for failure. So instead of doing that, when you first start moving towards a more simple way of living, decide on one thing and start with that. You'll find that one thing will naturally expand into other areas that will lead you along. For instance, you may decide to reduce your debt. The first thing you do is gather all the information you have about what you owe, what you earn and what you need to live on. That, I hope, will lead you to make a budget for yourself. Your budget will allot your money to whatever it is you need it go to, and as one of those things will be to continue eating, you might see the need to shop in a way that will save more money. That might lead you to stockpiling. So as well as reducing debt, budgeting and stockpiling you might then decide to make more of your own produce. You learn to bake a good loaf of bread, you teach yourself how to make sauces and jams. Six months later you look back and here you are doing four important activities - debt reduction, budgeting, stockpiling and cooking from scratch - that are generally part of most simple lives.

You've made your start. That one activity lead you by the hand to others and your simple life is beginning to open up before you.

Once you've been consciously working towards your new life for a while, you might like to start working on yourself as well. Simply living is more than the practical aspects of cooking, cleaning, decluttering and gardening, it's also an attitude. It will help you a lot if you get rid of the nagging need for more, better and new. This need has been created in all of us by advertising and seeing what new things our friends and neighbours have. If you can convince yourself that you really will live well and be happier living a simpler life, then also convince yourself that having more, better and new will highjack any attempt to make your life simpler. You have to redefine for yourself what success is for you. In the past it might have been an overseas holiday every year or good clothes, now it might having no debt or baking bread your friends and family say is the best they've ever eaten. You can replace energy sapping activities with life affirming ones. It just takes work and time.

Above all else, I want you to stop thinking that you can't live as you wish to live. If you want to be happy, content, loving, successful, debt-free and healthy, then a simple life will help you gain every one of those wishes. It will be hard work to re-program your wants and desires, you'll work harder in your home because you'll stop paying for the conveniences you're used to and you'll have to explain your unusual lifestyle to your family and friends, but as you peel back the layers of your life and see how wonderful living can be without all the crap we have been urged to buy and how life affirming and significant you can make your every day existence, you'll wonder why you were ever sucked into the mess of more, better and new in the first place.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have if you're stuck in your move towards simplicity. I don't have all the answers, not by a long shot, but I might be able to offer a something you may not have thought of yet. Just ask away in the comments box or send an email if you'd like a more private answer.
21

The storm before the calm

The countdown is on here. I have two busy days before the new year begins. When it does, it's full steam ahead into what looks like being a fairly active and significant year for me. The busy days will hopefully see some things done that I've been putting off, and can then be part of last year and not taken into the new year. I'm still on holiday next week but I'll go in on Wednesday to see if there are any people who need emergency food, and tidy the Centre while I'm there waiting. If I can get these things done today and tomorrow, I'll be free to relax with sewing, knitting and the cricket next week.

So what's on the agenda today? Well, we have Jens and Cathy coming over for lunch. I'm serving tuna bake, made with our home grown potatoes, local cheese and home made pasta, plus tuna from the stockpile cupboard. I made it yesterday because it always tastes better the following day. We'll also have a salad picked fresh from the garden and lemon surprise pudding, made with our lemons and eggs, with local cream. There is German beer or ginger beer for the drinking, whatever takes their fancy.

But before lunch I have to do some washing. That low pressure system is still hovering off the coast and rain is predicted for the next week. I think it would be prudent to get all the washing done before that sets in. I'll also bake bread for lunch, wash the floors and tidy the front verandah. When our visitors leave, I'll make a start on tidying our bedroom. It's not a good sight in there. We have a large bedroom and it tends to collect things. I still haven't removed everything we put in there when we had the kitchen and floors fixed. I've decided to clean out our cupboards and drawers while I'm at it so I think it will take about a day to do well.

Some of the things I'll be moving out of the bedroom will go to my sewing room so that will probably need some work too. I would dearly love to clean out my greenhouse too, and move the worm farm, but I know I won't get to that before the new year. Oh well, maybe I will do that on new year's day, go to work the next day, then start my new year with the cricket on Thursday. There's nothing like moving the year around to suit one's self. I'll only do it this once, I promise. LOL I really like the idea of beginning the new year with everything finalised and in order, even if I have to change the first day of the new year to do it. ; - )

It pleased me a lot to read your plans for next year. There is certainly a lot to be done and it looks like many of us have decided to use the time we have to simplify and live well. It will be good to see the plans develop over the coming year and to settle into our lives with the knowledge we're living deliberately and taking small steps towards gentler and more home centred ways.

ADDITION:
I'll be sending the Warm Earths to Ali and Lib. Ladies, would you please send me your postal addresses. Ty.

Update on the chicks. None have successfully hatched. One started hatching but died in the shell and there
are two eggs left. They feel heavy so I think there are chicks in them. Mary was walking around this morning but when I checked the eggs they were still warm. She's still happy to sit on them so we'll just wait and see what happens.
9

Planning for a good year

The beginning of any year is a great time for changing and making new plans. There seems to be endless possibilities at the beginning of a year; anything is achievable. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was thinking about what worked and what didn’t work for me last year, while making plans for next year. If you don’t want to stand still, or worse, go with whatever comes along, you have to grab your life by the collar and decide what it is you will do during the year. If you make definite choices you are in control and you can steer your life in the general direction you want to go. You’ll still have unexpected things pop up, but if you’re in the general area you wish to be in, the unexpected won’t take over and steer you away from your chosen path.

I’ve finished thinking about my last year’s list. I have a few things to do to finalise everything, but it’s all under control and I will do what I have to do in the next week to complete my 2007 work. I’m severing ties with a few things that haven’t been what I expected, and developing others that were better. I’m putting last year behind me so I can concentrate on what’s ahead. I’m really looking forward to everything that will come my way next year. I’m looking forward with optimism and the feeling that 2008 will be a good year. I turn 60 in April, how can it not be a good year!

In 2008 I’m going to teach myself how to crochet. I want to make some more jug covers, both for myself and for giveaways and gifts. I also want to make a couple of fiddly crocheted things that I’ve seen in books. I will teach myself to knit on circular needles so I can knit socks and mittens. I will write more.

I will also push the envelope and keep growing the vegetables we’ve been told we can’t grow. Yesterday we harvested the best crop of kipfler potatoes we’ve yet grown. We’ve been told we can’t grow potatoes in our climate in summer. Wrong! We grow potatoes all year long now. I’ve also planted 20 rosella bushes in the front garden so I hope to be harvesting rosellas right through till April and maybe May and will be freezing the juice and pulp for concoctions later in the year. I’ve been told I can’t do this. We will see. If someone tells you that you can’t do something, don’t listen. Just do it; about 90% of the time you’ll find they are wrong.


And that reminds me. We will also continue to grow peaches and nectarines. A while back I said we’d have to cut down our two trees as the fruit were wiped out by fruit fly. Well, on reflection, we’ve decided to keep those two trees. The reason – when we picked the dozen or so fruit that weren’t stung by fruit fly, they were simply the sweetest, juiciest and peachiest fruit we’ve ever eaten. We have been told we can’t grow them here as the fruit fly will get them every year, and while that may be partially true, we WILL find a way that will enable us to eat some of them. Those 20 fruit make the growing of them worth every peach we give to the chooks. Maybe in 2008 we’ll have 40 fruit.

So, that’s me in a nutshell. I hope to squeeze every bit of pleasure that I can out of next year. I hope to learn more, become a better person than I am right now and I hope I can encourage more people to slow down and live simply. I want to look back at this time next year and know that I did my best and I took every opportunity that came my way.

What are you doing with your year? I have a couple of copies of the next edition of Warm Earth magazine to give away. I’ll post them to two readers who comment here about the plans they have for next year. Both Australian and international comments are eligible.

THE WARM EARTH GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED NOW. Thanks to everyone who commented. It's been wonderful reading about your plans.

47

What's out there?

I spent some time over the past couple of days slowly wandering around the yard, just looking to see what’s happening out there. I was going to cut back rampant plants and tidy up, but I went on a voyage of discovery instead. It’s a wonderful thing to really know the land you live on – whether that be the land you have purchased or the land you rent. We are part of the natural world, we should be familiar with our land and what's on it. Of course the common feeling is that if we are living on the land, we own it and it's own home. But there may be animals, insects and maybe even some reptiles sharing your land, and therefore it will be their home too.

My main quest during this time was to see if I could find any native bees. When we first came here there were a lot of them buzzing around, but lately I haven’t seen any. I found them almost immediately! I started looking in the vegetable garden, and there they were on the tiny yellow choko flowers. It's been raining overnight so there were no bees out this morning when I took these photos, but pictured below is the little flower favoured by our native bees. These bees don't sting and they produce honey that the aboriginess call sugarbag. It's generally found in hollow hogs or in the hollowed out skeleton of trees. No doubt, if I looked further, I might find some. Check out this wonderful post about native bees on Shell's blog Macadamia House.

A couple of days ago, when we were at my step son's home, I saw he is growing one of the trees we have in our yard, one that I never knew the name of. It's in the chook run and was planted by the people we bought the house from. It's a pecan tree! It's now in flower so I'll be keeping my eye on it to see if we get some pecans in late summer or early spring. Apparently they don't produce well until they're fairly old so we may be in luck. If you click on the photo below you'll see it more clearly. If you look at that upturned pot on a stick in the middle of the photo, immediately behind that is a lemon three, on the left of that is the pecan (light green) and the dark green tree on the far left is a fig tree.

You can see by the photo above how messy the vegetable garden is right now. We'll clean it up fairly soon but there is a cyclone forecast in the next couple of days so we'll wait to see what damage that does and clean up afterwards. We might not have a garden. ; - )

Do you know what is growing in your yard? Do you know what critters are out there? We have large pythons, tree snakes and, at times, brown snakes, water dragons that live in the creek but come up the sun bathe in the back yard. We have bandicoots, possums, echidnas - these are monotremes, there are a lot of funnel web spiders near the creek, we have a few red back (black widow) spiders near the house, skinks and larger lizards and many birds. We leave water out for the birds and this keeps them flying in to drink and bathe. I just heard the distintive call of the kookaburra and turned to see one sitting on the back fence. There is a family of them living on our land (ours meaning the land we all live on), they eat snakes, lizards, mice and rats, and also grasshoppers and large insects.

I think identifying what lives on your land would be a good project to get the kids involved in. I know my kids would have loved that kind of thing, especially as it serves a practical purpose. It would get them connected to their land and show them the diversity of life around them. All you'd need is a book for displaying specimens, some glue, a digital camera to photograph what is found - these could be printed and glued in the book, scissors for cutting leaves and flowers, and the internet for identifying what's in your area. Don't forget the night time animals too. I think a book that identifies all the living things on the land you live on would be an excellent resource to have. It could sit along side your homemaker's manual - a book for inside and out.
17

Christmas morning

It rained! In a year of drought with very few rain days, it rained on our picnic. I shouldn't complain too much. The ground was wet and we got one shower of rain just after the cooking started. When Santa arrived the rain stopped and right at the end, the sun was shining.

About 300 people turned up to share Christmas breakfast with us. There were older people, couples and singles, families with lots of children; some people brought their dogs along. There were little girls in fairy dresses and boys in spiderman outfits running around. Everyone was welcome to come along so we had people we help throughout the year as well as those who came to meet others and enjoy Christmas morning with their neighbours. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. It's great to see a community coming together like that.

We served muesli, cereal, yoghurt, milk, bacon, sausages, eggs and tomatoes, all sorts of fruit, bread, fruit, tea, coffee, flavoured milk, juice and water. Later there were cakes and chocolates.

This is my daughter-in-law, Cathy, my step son Jens - whose bald head is all you can see, and Bernadette, all preparing the fruit.

About 20 people came over during the morning and thanked me for organising the event. I made contact with members of one of our local churches who made a commitment to donating a sum of money to us each quarter to be used for our emergency relief food program.

We started packing up at 10.45 am, took the left-over food back to the Centre and just quickly put the cold food in the fridge. Our meeting room looks like a bomb has gone off in there but no one had the energy to do more. We'll go up next Wednesday and clean up again.

When Hanno and I came home, we sat down with a cup of tea and both went to sleep. : - ) It was a great morning, well worth the effort we put in and definately something we'll do again next year.
7

Sad news update

Three chicks hatched over night. We found them dead under Mary just before we went out this morning. : - ( It looks like she squashed them. We came home an hour ago and no other eggs have hatched or are cracked.

Can I get some advice from some of the readers who are raising chicks from eggs? I was going to take the remaining four eggs inside but Hanno convinced me otherwise as I didn't know what to do with them. Is it just a matter of putting them under a desk lamp in a warm nest? If Mary hatches any other eggs should I take the chicks from her? We can't watch them too closely this evening or tomorrow morning because we won't be here.

I'd appreciate any advice we can get.
30

T'was the day before Christmas

I finally put up our little cotton Christmas decorations and found two red candles. I'm ready.

The brandy has been poured over the Christmas cake for the last time and today we pick up all the food for the Christmas breakfast. However, there has been a glitch.

Hanno has been laid up with gout for the past three days and can barely walk. He's only walking, very slowly, with the help of a walking stick.

I considered asking a couple of the committee members to do all my chores today but as they know nothing about what I've ordered, I had to find another way. While laying on the couch all day, Hanno was insisting he was fine. He didn't want me to ask anyone else to do this, he wants us to do it. He sees it as an important gift to the community and while I agree with him, it's difficult to do what we have to do when he can't stand up. So what do I do when I have a work-related problem?

I rang Bernadette.

Bernadette is the woman I work with most days at the Centre. We are an excellent team, together we can do anything. I put Hanno's proposal to her: she and I do all the running around while Hanno directs us from the car. LOL!! Now how could a plan like that go wrong. Well, we will soon see. This is what is planned.

I drive Hanno and I to pick up Bernadette, we all go to the showground to pick up the mobile coldroom they are lending us. With Hanno directing, Bernadette and I hook up the coldroom trailer to our car and drive to Bernadette's house where we unhook the trailer and plug in the coldroom.

Bernadette makes us all a cuppa.

At 11am, we drive into town and try to find a parking spot near the shops. No doubt Hanno will be directing this too but I doubt I'll be listening. ; ) We leave Hanno in the parked car and Bernadette and I pick up all the bread and bread rolls from IGA, two donated cheese platters from the fine food shop, donated watermelons, rockmelons, oranges, mangoes and a box of tomatoes from the green grocer, 10 kg bacon (donated) from one butcher, then drive to another location and pick up 5 kg bacon, 33 dozen eggs (donated) and 400 sausages from another butcher. I also have to collect my ham from him. He sells antibiotic-free and free range meat, so I ordered a small ham for our Christmas lunch. Drive to Bernadette's and pack all this into the coldroom.

Bernadette makes us all a cuppa.

Drive out to the dairy to pick up donated yoghurt and milk, both cow and goat's milk. We bought the soy milk already from the IGA. We will probably have a few vegans and vegetarians call in for breakfast. The dairy also offered to lend us their refrigerated ute, Tinkerbelle. I did say we'd take it but with Hanno unable to drive, I'll just pick up the donation and leave Tinkerbelle to rest with the cows over the holidays. Drive back to Bernadette's and pack it into the cold room. I'll leave Hanno at Bernadettes when I do this, it will be easier.

It will then probably be around 2pm, so Hanno and I will drive back down the mountain and go home. I'll check the chickens - Mary is still sitting on her eggs, feed the dogs, cat and fish, have a shower and we'll go to my step son's and DIL's for Christmas eve dinner.

Tomorrow we'll be up early to set up for the breakfast. It goes from 7am till 11am. We have about 15 people to help with setting up, cooking, serving and cleaning up, but on the day people generally volunteer to work as well. Shane is bringing two of his friends to help us so I'll invite them and Bernadette to come home with us for lunch. After that, I reckon I'll collapse.

This is the last post I'll do for a little while as I plan on resting for a few days over the holidays. I want to thank you all for making my first few months of blogging so enjoyable. We have built up a lovely little community here and it has given me a lot of pleasure to write for you all. I hope you all enjoy the holidays and are able to spend it with those you love. If you're alone, I hope you have a good book. Stay safe everyone.

I will leave you with these few interesting links:
Christmas poem at the wonderful Duck Herder blog.
Small Town Living magazine which is put together by garden goose. You can read a lot of good articles here.
Check out what Melinda is doing over Christmas at Elements in Time.
David Holmgren's very interesting article on Retrofitting the Suburbs.



19

Is blogging art?

Yesterday I received a catalogue Kathleen posted from a Margaret Olley exhibition being held in Brisbane. Margaret Olley is one of our greatest artists. She’s 84 now but still lives in her amazing home in Sydney's Paddington. It used to be a hat factory but Margaret has lived and worked there for more years than I can remember. Unfortunately the exhibition ends today.

I love Margaret’s paintings. She usually paints interiors, often with a window looking outside. I have a print of one of her paintings in the room I’m sitting in right now. It’s of cornflowers, tea cups, fruit, and, of course, a window with a view beyond. I fell in love with this print the second I saw it and bought the framed print about 11 years ago.

Looking through the catalogue at the 40 paintings made me realise that Margaret and I have more than our love of polka dots in common. If you took a cursory glance at the catalogue you would think that these painting are all of the same, or similar things. They’re mostly interiors with baskets or vases of flowers set on tables, with the common implements of everyday life near them. There is an apple with a knife on a plate, tea cups, jugs of flowers - all but one with the handle on the right, a lemon juicer, an empty glass, a peeled mandarin. There are several tea pots, all but one of them have woven cane handles. But I think there is more; a deeper meaning.

It has been written of her: “The art of Margaret Olley is the art of deliberate choices. The same could be said of Olley herself, who dispels all theories of Australia's isolation, repression of women and fashion following. (…)she persists in painting that which is around her; one reason for this is loathing of pretence, of adopting ways of thinking that are not true to the reality of self.”

I think Margaret is doing what we all do. She is showing us her world – the everyday common world of her home. She is telling us: this is the most important thing to me, this is what I experience every day and this is what I'll paint. Much like we do when we’re blogging. We identify what is important to us, we take photos of the rooms in our homes, we scatter about the implements of our homemaking, we show our kitchens and sitting rooms and we record them with our cameras, just as she does with her brushes.

This representation of our common day-to-day world is seen as art when its on canvass but when it’s via a computer screen, diluted many millions of times over, it’s called blogging. I like to think Margaret would fit in well here.

I love the authenticity of Margaret’s art. I love that the ordinary interior of a home is a valid subject for “high art” and is hung in galleries around the world. I doubt Margaret uses a computer but I’m sure she’d love blogs because many of us are doing what she does. I’m interpreting my world, my home, the things I use every day, the food I cook, our drinks, the ways I make my home comfortable, the hows and whys of the way we live, and presenting it to the world. Showing the daily harvest one day and how to make soap the next, is essentially my art. I formulate an idea, think about how I can present it so that it’s understood, and I take my photos. The words and photos are the simple bits and pieces of my life. It’s not pretence. Much like Margaret, I have a horror of presenting what I do here with frills and ribbons. I want you all to see the bare bones of it, I want you to associate with what I do and to understand that this is basic living. It’s tough sometimes, it’s hard work, sometimes it’s mundane, but it’s real life, and it’s not being disguised by brand names or hidden by the sad and hollow yearning for more.

Our lives, as we live them and present them on our blogs each day, are our works in progress. Each day a different scene is presented and over time you build up an idea of what that life is like. Eventually you see a work of art emerge. And here that's nothing fancy, no pretence, we are just living what we hope is a decent life, with all the pitfalls, dents and scratches that time and life afford. And the true beauty of it is not just in the living of it, but also in the bare bones sharing of it.


14

A good mother - making vinegar

I've made two batches of white wine vinegar this year and both were a great success. Vinegar is easy to make and, like just about every other thing made with care at home, it tastes better than store bought vinegar.

To make vinegar you need a crock, mother of vinegar and wine.

Christmas is a good time to start making vinegar because you'll probably have left over wine, or your friends will. Instead of throwing it out, or leaving it to sour in the fridge or cupboard, why not make some vinegar!

This is mother of vinegar made in cheap white vine vinegar I bought about 18 months ago.

First you'll have to go looking for mother. No, not your mother, mother of vinegar. That is what the slimy disc of bacteria is called that sometimes forms on store bought vinegar. Pick up the bottles in the store and look to see if there's a floating disc of slime on the top. Strange but true, this is what you want! I first found mother of vinegar in a bottle of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar I bought at my local IGA. I thought the mother had formed because the vinegar was unpasteurised but since then I've had mother form in the cheaper vinegar I bought at a supermarket. Both of these are fine for making vinegar.

It looks pretty ghastly but this is the mother sliding out of the bottle it formed in.

You'll need a glass or pottery crock. I use the crock I used make my ginger beer in. I have a bigger crock for the ginger beer now. It has a little spigot that allows me to easily syphon off the vinegar. You'll also need a cotton or linen cloth to cover the crock so bugs and vinegar flies don't get in. You need air to enter but you don't want it to become contaminated with anything else.

The only other thing you'll need is wine - this can be any quality. If you want red wine vinegar, you use red wine, or white wine if you want white wine vinegar. Don't mix the two. I'm making white wine vinegar.

Just add the mother of vinegar to some wine. If you have a full bottle, pour the lot in, if not, start with a glass or two and add more wine as it becomes available. That's why I said Christmas is a good time to make vinegar - you can ask your friends to save any left over wine they have at parties. It's okay to add different kinds of white wine to the one bottle, ditto with the red wine, but don't mix red and white white together.

The mother of vinegar and white wine in the crock. That's it. Once it's mixed together you just cover it and wait.

Like sourdough starter, home made vinegar improves with age. You don't empty the crock, you always keep some of the old mix to blend with the new additions of wine. Your matured vinegar will infuse the new wine with its flavour. Each time you make vinegar with some of your old vinegar added, it will have a greater depth of flavour.

The best way to tell if your vinegar is ready is to taste it. It will probably take between two and four months to mature, if the temp in your home is around 25 - 30 C degrees (around 80F). It will take more time in colder temperatures.

This is another of those old skills that is worthwhile taking some time with. You'll get good vinegar along with the satisfaction of knowing it's yet another thing you can make at home. Don't forget to save any good bottles and corks for storing your vinegar once it's matured.

FURTHER READING:
How to make vinegar - some photos
Very good information about vinegar
The virtues of homemade vinegar
Types of vinegar
17

A simple garden

The last of the luffas have been stored for use next year.

While pre-Christmas is usually a very busy time I've been slowly ambling along with day to day chores and the cricket. Yesterday I had the match on TV all day so I could listen as I worked and every so often, I went in and sat watching and knitting. It wasn't a great match, we beat New Zealand hands down, but it's not the result I'm keen on. It's the general summery feeling that while the world turns in increasingly turbulent times, and as mad shoppers rush here and there, the tradition of cricket is continuing in the bright light of the Australian summer sun. How many other games have a break for tea! You could love it just for that alone.

Here is Mary on the nest being visited by her sister Molly.

Mary is still sitting on her eggs and while she is quite focused on it, a couple of times yesterday she was wandering around with her sisters. !! We encouraged her to sit on the nest again but I'm not confident about the eggs now. Yesterday afternoon they weren't warm at all. I candled them again and found dark shadows and air sacs in all except one. I cracked that one open and suffered the smell of that for quite some time. LOL I won't do that again in a hurry. Anyhow, tomorrow is THE day and if chicks hatch, I'll be on the spot, with my trusty camera.

It's been a quite mild summer so far. By now it's usually around 38C (100F) with high humidity, but this year it's 28C (82F) and very pleasant. The garden is a mass of tomato bushes and as we've had little time to tend it in the past couple of weeks, it's starting to look untidy and a lit like a jungle. No matter. It's still producing enough food for us, so I'm not worried about its aesthetic appeal.

I saw this flash of red in the garden yesterday so grabbed my camera and went outside. A king parrot was grazing on the small Tommy Toe tomatoes. I love these birds and have no problem sharing what we grow with them. Although they did wipe out a crop of sunflowers I grew last year and I hasn't very pleased about that. But that was all forgotten when I saw this lovely bird happily eating some green tomatoes.

They're quite timid birds and often fly in groups of three of four, but this little fellow was alone. As soon as I moved closer, he flew to the bean trellis to eat his tomato.

These are some of the tomatoes he didn't get to. This is one of the larger tomatoes being grown near the chook house. I've forgotten what type they are but they are heirlooms and possibly a beefsteak variety by the look of these.

Of course nothing stops the eggplants once the hot weather starts. These are purple heirlooms that I like to pick quite small to cook with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Next to them are some green capsicums (peppers). They've been a good crop this year and I'll be saving their seeds to continue them on. That's the beauty of growing heirloom vegetables. As well as helping maintain the genetic diversity of backyard crops, growing vegetables from the seeds you harvest from your own crops, builds up resistance and produces better vegetables than those from seeds purchased new each year. Hybrid seeds do not grow true to type.

Further along in the garden is this Washington Navel orange tree. It's still small but we got four juicy, sweet oranges from it last year. This is the third year of growth so I've let all the flowers develop naturally, instead of taking most off to help the tree establish. There are about 30 oranges of this size on the tree.

I get a lot of satisfaction knowing we can grow a lot of our own food. I'm still learning after being a backyard gardener for about 30 years. But that's the beauty of gardening in that it constantly teaches as well as offering its sweet rewards. I think my simple life is pieced together through my garden. It gives us vegetables and herbs for our evening meals and for preserving, fruit for juice and jam, eggs for general consumption, cakes and lemon butter, luffas for cleaning and a place where we can slow down, reconnect with the earth and experience our place in the natural world.

Hello to Douglas and Sarah who sent me a lovely email this morning. I'll reply soon. : )

Please be patient while I change the look of the blog. I'm trying to make the page wider and then I'll move things around to help you access older helpful posts. Thanks to you all.

22

Families

I took this photo of Kerry and Hanno just before I drove Kerry to the bus the other day. He'd just woken up, and he's not a morning person. ; ) I love having our sons visit us. When we were sitting around the table the other night, talking and telling each other of our plans, I felt that deep and genuine contentment that often visits me nowadays. Shane and Kerry have become all I ever wanted them to be, and as a mother, that makes me very proud. I love how they still feel a strong connection with us as a family and they return home for most of our important days so we celebrate together. No doubt there will be a time when our family expands to include wives and babies, and while I look forward to that, I do treasure these times when it's just us.

When you think about it, you only form a really close and intimate relationship with a few people during the course of a lifetime. Usually that closeness is with your immediate family and a few friends. They are the people who know you in good times and bad, and yet love you no matter what. I like to think I (and Hanno) made our sons what they are today but the real truth is that they made me what I am. They made me a better person than I was because I had to be a role model for them. My wish to raise decent and caring boys made me model that behaviour; they forced me to be genuine, hard working, loving and tender because that is what I wanted them to be. And while I don't like to speak for Hanno, I'm pretty sure he would feel the same way.

There were times when I wondered if I was doing the right thing, as well as times when I didn't have a clue and just kept going on hope and trust. That was when I operated on motherly instinct. I have lived the ups and downs of all those years, I know my own imperfections and see some of them in my children too, but I've always had the belief that we were doing okay. So sitting at the dinner table on Monday night and seeing three decent men - my husband and my sons, with a strong sense of themselves and a true depth of character, well, that just made me smile and be thankful that we were all there together and looking forward to another year.

I hope you hold your family close at Christmas.

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Apron swap photos 2 - UPDATED

sandra tee to kristi

lisa to ingeborg

Above is a late addition of a photo I couldn't find yesterday. If you've sent a photo that's not included with the swap pix, please let me know.

I hope you've enjoyed this swap, and seeing the photos, as much as I have. Here is the last batch.

ruthie to robin


kristi to sandra tee

sharon to emily

sissigy to jacky


tracy to jessica


polly to billie



rachel to denise



rebecca to mary



rhonda jean to lucy



rhonda jean to sharon

Oops, I forgot to add the aprons I received from Sharon and Lucy. I have Lucy's here, which is a lovely crossed straps at the back apron. Both the aprons Sharon sent are in the wash. I'll take a photo of them when they're clean and ironed, and slip them in here. I have to say too that I love all my aprons. If you see the photo above of the apron Lucy sent me, you'll see we used identical fabric. : )



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Apron swap photos 1

These are some of the aprons sent in our most recent swap. We had ladies from all round the world sewing and sending off their wonderful creations. Thanks to everyone who took part in the swap and thanks to Sharon and Lorraine (chookasmum) who helped organise this mammoth task. I couldn't have done it without them.

There are a few aprons held up in the Christmas mail. I hope the ladies who receive late aprons will let us know when they arrive and send a photo. I'll do another post with the straggler aprons in the new year.

Here is a list of apron swappers:
Maria in NC and Paula
Jessica Chapman and Tracy (unlessthelord)
Donna and Allybea
Rhonda Jean and Sharon
Jenny (wren) and Ingvild
Elizabeth and Mrs MK
Daisy81 and Becky
Jackie @ Redcliffe and Sisiggy
Ann in Melb and Jennifer's daughter
Lisa J and Ingeborg
Kimberly and Jill
Dee and Donetta
Ruthie and Scooter Sissy (Christie)
Tracy (sunnycorner) and Lis
Aslaug and Niki
Coleen and Peggy
Bren and Han_ysic
Ann (UK) and Robbie
Sandra Tee and Dirkey
Heather1031 and Debbie
Aimee and Our Red House
Helen Thomas and Rebekka
Emily and Karen
Greeneyes and Tami
Chookasmum and Mama K
Christine and Leah
Mary and Rebecca
Polly and Billie
Rachel Read and Denise
Jodie and Margaret39
Solstiches and Maria
Jen and Cathy
Jennifer and Mrs H
Judy and Brigit's friend Jennie
Lucy and Rhonda Jean
kaiya to chookasmum

leah to christine

lis to tracy

tracy to lis

margaret to jodie
jen to cathy

jennifer's daughter to ann

jessica to tracy

jodie to margaret

judy to jennie
alleybea to donna
ann to robyn

billie to polly

hannah to bren

ingeborg to lisa
There are some more photos in the following post.
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