31 January 2008

The familiar rhythm of the unremarkable

Painting by Carl Larsen from allposters


With the Australia Day holiday last Monday I had only two days at work this week, but they were very busy. As well as all the phone calls and people coming in, we're getting ready to move to a new premises, I'm teaching myself MYOB (one of my new tasks is that of bookkeeper), and there was a new volunteer to train on her first day. She has a lot of great skills so I think she's going to be a great asset to the Centre.

Driving down the mountain late yesterday afternoon to return home, I started planning what I would do in the next few days. There is no doubt about it, when you live a simple life there is always something that must be done, as well as all those tasks that might to others seem like work, but are really a joy to me.

I know there are many women who have a few days off and decide to get through the housework as quickly as possible so they can enjoy the rest of the time doing what they love. I am not one of those women, I used to be, but I've changed. Now the various tasks of running a house are what I thrive on, they are done slowly throughout the day and broken up with breaks and what others might consider hobbies, but I see as work for my home. These things include sewing and knitting because although they give me pleasure in the doing of them, I knit and sew for the practical reason of necessity.

When I got home yesterday Hanno told me he'd been cleaning out the cupboards in one of the kid's rooms and found three bags of fabric. Yippee! Two were full of fabric I vaguely remember using about 25 years ago and although it is very old, still looks good. There is plain, neutral linen and small patterns, similar to what I like now. My taste in many things hasn't changed over the years, which is strangely comforting to me. The third bag was full of ribbons, velcro, trims, cording, curtain edging and rings. Seeing the three bags made me realise that although I think I'm new to this style of living, and although I was a big spender in days gone by, there is a mishmash of things - like vegetable gardening, keeping chooks and sewing- that I have done for decades. They might not have been there all the time, but they have dotted my life trying to point me to the place I am right now. I'm a slow learner sometimes but I finally got the message.

So today I am back to the familiar rhythm of the unremarkable. These days are what make up my life now and although they might be considered a bit ho-hum and tedious to many of my contemporaries, it's the part of my life that brings me back to earth, that reaffirms my spirit and allows me to experience a kind of ever present contentment with the soft routine of each day.

Never underestimate the mundane.

Tasks today include: bake bread and an orange cake, strip the bed and wash the sheets, look through my recipes and find two new evening meals to expand my repertoire, continue the garden plan, I'll sort through the fabric bags discovered yesterday and add the fabric to my stash, sew the top of the kitchen curtains, decide on an Autumn knitting project - I have a good amount of pinky-mauve merino wool, and do a general tidy up. It's been raining on and off over night and I hope that continues so I can hear the rain on the rooftop a I work. Looks like a lovely day coming up.

I want to thank everyone for yesterday's great suggestions for portable fast food. I'll be using a number of the ideals presented. I am thankful for all the comments everyday and I think they add a lot to the growing archive of practical knowledge being accumulated here.

I have another request. I'd like to compile a list of potential post subjects. What would you like me to write about? I'm quite happy to consider your suggestions because, although I usually have a topic in mind, or I just write about my day, like above, I sometimes come to the computer with barely the skeleton of an idea. Sometimes I feel I'm repeating myself too, so all comments along this line are most welcome.

I hope you're having a good week. Thanks for visiting me. : - )

30 January 2008

Fast food

This isn't a post about that greasy stuff that comes in a polystyrene box, it's about the food you eat when you're in a hurry. Yesterday I spent too much time on the computer (because Hanno used up all our internet Gbs streaming German radio stations, and now we're speed limited) and didn't have time to pack my lunch for work. I didn't get mad at him, I just showed him how to check our usage and got on with it...slowly. LOL

Anyhow, the result was I made a very quick pumpernickel cheese sandwich, grabbed some grapes and peaches and off I went. It was a delicious snack box. I grazed on the grapes in the late morning and ate the sandwich and peaches when our little group all went outside at 12.30 to watch the rain falling.

It made me think about other fast lunches I could make. I have no doubt, with the increased time I'm spending at my volunteer job, that I will have the need to make similar lunches in the near future. Yesterday's lunch took two minutes to get into a lunch box, I think I could also do a one minute lunch. If I cut the sandwich out and took just fruit and cashews, that would be the fastest food I could think of. I'd be quite satisfied with that and as long as I had a bottle of water, or tea in winter, I'd be happy.

I just know there are readers here who would make a wonderful fast lunch that could be taken to work or school, so I'm hoping you'll share your ideas with me. I'm not one to prepare anything the night before and generally our leftovers are eaten at home, but I'm happy to read all the ideas that present themselves here. I might even be convinced to try new ways, so please let me know your ideas about fast portable food.

And here is a little article about lunches from the Melbourne Age. "The older generation are very wary," he says. LOL, that's me alright. ; )

Please check
out Darlene's post about recycling here. It fits in well with yesterday's post and is very interesting.

29 January 2008

Cleaning with rags

Paula has asked me to do a post on rags, which, of course, I'm happy to do. This is her request:

"I would LOVE if you would do a post on rags. And a pattern for the adorable rag bag you made. What are rags (please don't laugh)? What do you use them for? How many do you need? Are they the same as kitchen towels (I use these as fabric "paper" towels)? Thanks for your blog. I am learning so much."


Cleaning with rags is the ultimate in fabric recycling. The older the fabric the better it is because it will be soft and very absorbent. I only recycle 100% cotton or linen fabric, again because it's so absorbent. Poly fabric and poly/cotton blends won't wipe spills as well and will never reach that soft fluffy stage cotton and linen have after many washes.

My definition of a rag is a piece of fabric that has been recycled to be used for cleaning or other household duties. I use rags for all my general house cleaning - both moist and dry, for polishing, wiping up spills and sometimes for draining fried foods. Please note: the rags used for cleaning and food prep are two different types and never cross over to do another tasks. I don't fry a lot of food - it will be the odd fried egg or potato pancakes. I use hemmed new 100% cotton instead of paper towels to drain these foods. They are used once, then washed. If there is a lot of fried food, as in the case of potato pancakes, I use three or four clean cloths drain the food. I stopped buying paper towels and napkins a while ago.

I believe the best kind of cleaning cloth is an old towel. When a towel has finished service as a towel, I cut it up into 25cm (10 inch) squares to use as rags. I am a postmodern woman and I like what I use to look like what it is. To me, a rag is a rag and should look like one. We've become used to neat edges and perfection in our store bought cleaning cloths. I usually don't worry about the edges of the terry cloths as they don't fray a lot when I cut them out with pinking shears. But if you're worried about fraying, or if you want to use the rags as dusting cloths, you could run a zigzag stitch around the border to keep the edges contained. You'll need to run the zigzag stitch around all your linen and cotton cloths to stop the fraying. You don't want to be picking up little pieces of cotton from your cloths as you dust. Generally the zigzag stitch is fine on the edges. I am aware though that there are some homemakers who like everything to be neat and tidy, so if you want neat edges, feel free to hem or edge your rags. There are no rules here, you just do what suits you.

I use these rags for my general cleaning. I have one (or more) cloth that is wet and used to clean the sink or bench (or whatever), and a number of dry cloths to dry when I'm finished cleaning. I never leave a surface wet. Drying, or in the case of metal or glass, polishing the surface after it's been cleaned with the wet cloth or scrubbing brush, will give you the best results when cleaning. So, for instance, to clean the kitchen sink, I would use one wet cloth and maybe two dry cloths.

Kitchen rags and general cleaning rags are washed, dried on the line and stored in my rag bag which hangs in the laundry. If one of my dogs is sick and has a little vomit (sorry) inside, I use a rag to wipe up and throw that rag out. That's the beauty of having a lot of rags, you can afford to throw out the odd one, and still have plenty for cleaning.

Cleaning cloths for the bathroom and toilet are never added to the rag bag; they are stored under the sink in the bathroom. I usually colour code my cleaning rags so I know not to use a bathroom cloth in the kitchen. I'm slowly knitting a number of black cloths for the bathroom and toilet. I only have two done so far, but when I have about six of them, I'll only use black cloths for bathroom and toilet cleaning.

I made a larger version of this bag. The measurements of the larger bag are in the photo below. You'll probably need a flap on the front instead of just an opening as the rags will make the bag gape open. Use your clothes hanger as a guide when cutting out the shape at the top. The rest is just straight sides.

Recycling old clothing and towels for cleaning is a really old fashioned thing that I'm sure your grandmothers, and the great grandmas who presented them, all did. Buying cloths specially for cleaning is one of those things we've been duped into. I hope you try this method and stick with it if it works for you. It will save you money, you'll use the products you do buy to their full extent and reduce landfill in the process.

This is just an update on yesterday's post. Tricia saw the bit about the lace doily. She said it was our mother's but it's not hand made. They were mass produced in the 1930s and 40s.

28 January 2008

Getting ready for planting

I'm really pleased to let you all know that Kerry is fine. He has a few bruises and sore bits, but he's fine. Hanno and Shane have gone over to see him as Shane is applying for the job Kerry is currently doing. I've spoken to Kerry a few times since the accident and apart from feeling a bit silly because he rolled the car, he's in good health. No doubt Hanno will tell me all about it when they come home. They left yesterday and will be back tonight.

I love spending time alone. I am, by nature, a solitary person so when circumstances present a chance for some time alone, I grab it with both hands. I'm not sure exactly why I love it so because I generally do exactly what I would be doing when my family is here. I still rise and sleep at the same time, I don't do anything especially out of the ordinary and yet there is a relaxed feeling of freedom to do whatever I would like to do. Strange that, as I know I can do whatever I want to do when Hanno is here too. I suppose it's knowing that I have only myself to take care of, there are no cups of tea to be made for someone else and no meals to prepare unless I get hungry.

So what did I get up to yesterday? I worked in my bush house, cleaning it up and getting ready for our main vegetable planting of the year in March. Hanno build a bush house for me shortly after we moved here 10 years ago. It's a simple construction of shade cloth and timber that gives just the right protection from sun, rain and wind. At this time every year, I ready it to hold the seeds I will plant. From late February onwards there will be trays of seedlings in there protected from the elements until they grow large and strong enough to be planted out into the main garden.

The bush house is also home to the worm farm - which you can see in the photo above in the old bathtub, bins of potting mix, pots and various fragile or sick plants. This is where I propagate plants that will later go into the ornamental or vegetable garden. Rosie sits in there on the cool stone floor when it's really hot.

Now is the time I start planning the vegetable year for us. I talk to Hanno about what we'll grow, go through my box of seeds and work out what is there and what we need to trade for or buy, and then write it all down. I generally draw up a plan of our planting so we both know what our original plan was because often when we start planting, it changes for various reasons.

I also grow orchids and maiden hair ferns in the bush house. It provides ideal conditions for their growth and when they're looking good, I sometimes bring them into the house or onto the front verandah so we can see them during the day.

Above and below is a bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) that has just flowered for the first time. This plant is native to south east Asia and Africa, and although our winter temps sometimes drop quite low, it grows well in our sub-tropical climate. I really like the long rubbery whiskers that fall from the centre of the flower.

And last, but not least, is my pride and joy. One of the many bunya seeds I had, has sprouted. It's taken almost 10 months to get to this point but the plant looks strong and healthy so we may just get our own bunya pine to grow in our garden.

The region I live in is the indigenous area of the wonderful bunya pine - a bush tucker food for the aboriginees. I was given the pine seed cone last April (see below) and I divided it up into many segments. I put a hen's egg next to a seed so you can see the size of the seeds. I sent some to my friend Chris in Belize to grow on their permaculture farm in the jungle. His should be almost at this point too so I must remember to email him to see how they're going. He wanted to trial them in their renewable timber forest.

Today I'll be organising myself for work tomorrow and writing a few things for work. It's a public holiday in Australia today and usually I would be working on a Monday. But I look forward to a slow and relaxed day that will prepare me for the week ahead. To my fellow Australians, enjoy your long weekend and to everyone else, I hope the week ahead is a good one for you.

27 January 2008

The phone call

At 11.30 last night we got the phone call no parent wants to get. It was Kerry. "Mum, I rolled the car." Kerry is out west at the moment helping an Australian friend he met in Canada. They're running the kitchen at a five star resort, with their accommodation a few kilometres down the road. Kerry finished work and drove home in the company car but lost control on the unfamiliar road and rolled it. No alcohol or drugs were involved. He told me those brief details while I was still shocked and not quite awake. My first comment was "Are you okay?". He said he was, that he'd hit his head and there was a bit of blood but he felt okay. I told him to go to the hospital to be checked over and to ring straight back if there was any problem. The phone stayed silent the rest of the night. I'll call him later this morning.

I love my boys calling me when something is wrong. It doesn't happen often, but the first thing they do if things aren't quite right, is call me. They like to talk to their mum to get reassurance that all is well and to know we'll be there for them when they need us. I feel honoured to have that trust and I am ever thankful for what has been with them and what is still to come. I can't begin to tell you how grateful I felt that Kerry survived that accident. It could so easily have been different. Just a couple of weeks ago, four boys died in a car accident near there. It is another reminder to me that life is such a brief and fleeting thing, we need to really live it, appreciate the passing of each day and know we have used every hour it gives to its full and true extent.

Yesterday was Australia Day and of course I watched the test cricket on TV. Actually I had the TV on and at times sat and watched and at other times I did chores, or worked quietly in my sewing room, only going to the TV when I heard the crowd cheer. It was a quiet and gentle day full of little organising tasks I've put off for a short while.

It looks like I need to get my scissors out and cut some of those loose threads I've just seen now in the photo below. ; - )

I went through the fabric basket Tricia brought with her when she visited a few months back. I folded and sorted, thought and matched, ironed and colour coded and generally filled the time with tiny tasks that made for a lovely day dotted with pieces of cricket.

I found an old doily that I think was my mothers. Tricia sometimes reads my blog so if you're there Tricia, was this mum's? I seem to remember it being on mum's dressing table. It's a precious piece of self sewn white cotton bordered by hand made lace. There is no seam on the lace so I think it was tatted especially for the fabric. It was hand sewn onto the cotton centre and the white embroidery seems to be hand done as well. I have removed the lace because I want to use the centre piece and the lace in different parts of a quilt I'm planning.

Another small task was to find fabric to match an old cotton jumper of mine that I will cut up and make into other things; the first of these being a tea cosy. I've got the package together now so when I have the time, I'll be set to go. Having projects packaged up and ready is a great encouragement to start and I'm thankful that I have a number of these waiting for my time.


Hanno worked outside most of the day and then went to visit Jens and Cathy. We had leftovers for dinner so I have to say my day wasn't really a work day, but rather a day of fiddling around with bits and pieces and planning for times ahead.

I hope your weekend is filled with gentle pleasures. Thank you for taking the time to visit me and thank you for sharing your thoughts in the comments box.

25 January 2008

Mending and repairing

There is mending to be done today. When I stripped the bed yesterday, I noticed a tiny rip just under Hanno's pillow. The cotton sheet is thinning, but it's still worthy of repair. Mending will give that sheet at least another summer with us before it goes on to other duties like polishing clothes, tomato stake ties or wipes for Airedale beards.

I have to tell you I love mending. It is one of those cherished homemaker duties that really connects me to this life we are living. It is a firm reminder that Hanno and I don't want to live in a throw-away world, that we care for what we own and we reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, renovate and revive. We are renegades and rebels, we don't throw much out. We want to resuscitate the planet, we are into renewal, we want to make reparation. Okay, enough of the "re" words. LOL

I am ashamed to tell you that back in my free-spending years I would throw away a perfectly good shirt or pants rather than repair them. That included throwing away clothes that just needed a button sewn on. : - ( I wish I could take back all those wasteful times but the best I can do now is to make sure I remain a good steward. Whatever needs to be repaired here now, is, and not wasted in the ever growing piles of "landfill" rubbish dumps.


Sometimes I come across a small rip or missing button in the course of my day but I usually find mending jobs when I'm washing or ironing. I make sure now that I look carefully at the fabrics and fasteners and put aside any that need repair. I have a spot in my sewing room where broken clothes and household goods sit until I have enough for a mending session. In the past couple of weeks, I've sewn on a number of buttons, reinforced handles on cloth shopping bags, and patched an old business shirt of Hanno's so he can wear it in the garden. Today I have the sheet to repair and I will also strengthen the top of a zipper on a pair of shorts and hand stitch the hem.

If you're new to mending and repairing, there is a nice little guide here that might help you. Get into the habit of collecting any buttons you find in your home. Have a small (recycled) jar handy to collect them so that when you find the shirt or dress with the button missing, you'll know exactly where to go to the find the matching button. When you're ironing, check hems and collars so you can repair them before they get out of hand. I remember my mother removing collars to turn them over on my dad's shirts. I have no doubt this almost doubled the life of his shirts. I haven't had to turn any collars yet, but it's something I will do in the future.

Here are other guides on how to sew darn a sock or a jumper/sweater, how to sew on a button and how to mend a tear (video). This is a lovely article about mending and the art of living.

I'm off to tidy my sewing room and start my mending. I hope you're having a good week and that you enjoy your time reading here. I send warm hugs to all of you.

24 January 2008

Controlling your money

There's no doubt about it. Almost everyone has money problems at some time in their life. We all use the stuff, it is a requirement of modern living and for the most part, we don't get much of an education in how to handle it. Usually our lessons are by trial and error and many times we learn a lesson too late to avoid a financial disaster.

Hanno and I made the choice to live on a very meagre budget. We have no debt, an emergency fund, we have money invested and we have shares, but we choose to live frugally. Our total budget for the month is $1370, of which $765 is left in the bank to cover bills and $605 is withdrawn in cash to spend on our needs. The $765 covers car, house and private health insurance, phone, internet, electricity, house and land rates, car registration and maintenance etc.

This is the breakdown of the cash withdrawal - $605:
  • Groceries $290
  • Fuel $120
  • Health $50 (includes vitamins, doctor, pharmacy)
  • General $145 (includes garden supplies, dog and chook food, clothing, pocket money)

The only amounts that are always spent are fuel and pocket money, everything else we usually underspend on. We get $80 a month ($40 each) pocket money. That may be spent on anything we desire, or saved for a double whammy the next month.

The one thing that allows us to be so frugal, apart from our attitude to spending, is our stockpile. Stockpiling allows us to live well on food we usually buy on special and if we are running short on money, we can stop spending on food altogether and live off the stockpile. I was please to see others say they do this in the previous comments.

Let me say here loud and clear: being thrifty is not about being cheap, miserly or being poor. It's more about recognising our own needs and not exceeding them. Now for me, my needs might be that I require to eat healthy food, buy local fresh dairy products, a new car every few years, broadband internet and enough wool and cotton to knit. Your needs, on top of what you need to stay alive, might be organic food, pay TV, a motor bike and good clothes. Or maybe you're more into travel, so a trip overseas every three years, dance class for your daughter, soccer club for your son, 5 magazine subscriptions and 6 books a year. It could be anything within your means. The choice is yours, and you make that choice after you've done up your own budget to find out what money you have left over after you've paid EVERY bill you know you'll receive during the month.

Everyone makes their own choice because we all have difference circumstances, desires and needs. But when you make your choices, you stick with them and you don't add other choices on top. That is when you get yourself into hot water. Unless you're a millionaire, you have to recognise the fact that your money is limited. You have to live within your limits.

This is where personal responsibility comes in. You are aware of the choices you make and accept the consequences of them. I'm sure a lot of us would like to go through life like we did as teenagers - buying whatever we wanted, doing whatever pleased us. If something goes wrong, someone fixes it. There comes a point though that we make a transition to a more mature point, where we think carefully about what we are able to do and what we can't do. We examine our income, write up budget and make our decisions on what we can do within the means we have available to us.

I know there are some of you who will be saying: I deserve a treat every so often. Or, I want to enjoy my life! Maybe you do deserve a treat, but I think you also deserve to live a good and decent life, unburdened by debt. How much of life do you enjoy when you have too much debt? Doesn't the burden of paying off debt dampen a lot of life's joy?

A number of you have allowed me to take you by the hand with advice about other things. I wonder if I can do it with money and budgeting. Do you trust me enough to believe me when I tell you that a budget will help you organise your money? Will you follow my lead on how to manage money? I wonder. This is a tricky one.

I would like to pass on to you three things that will help you:

  • Stop spending.
  • Make a budget and stick to it.
  • Stockpile

But you have to supply the personal responsibility and you have to find the joy of life and not just the pleasure of spending. I know it's much easier for me to write these words than for anyone to act on them. I know it can be done though, because I have done it myself. I used to be a spender and now I'm not, my attitude to spending is completely different now.

I also know I'm at a different stage of life to a lot of you, but that is what I mean about making your own choices. YOU decide what your choices are and as long as those choices are within your means, and you stick to your choices and not keep adding others, then I'm sure you can manage your money well

Tough times are predicted in coming months so some good decisions now may change your life. Are you game enough for this? Can you organise your money instead of it organising you? I wonder who can do it. I'm happy to offer my help if you need help. If you get stuck on your plan or your budget, email me and we'll see what we can sort out together. Good luck everyone.

Niki at rural writings is also writing about money at the moment. Check out her post here.


23 January 2008

Staying on budget

There is something about January that always sends me a bit nutty. It's kind of a non-month for me. I can't quite organise myself, I'm forgetful and a bit crazy. January is a mad jumble of holidays, relaxation, cricket and the self reflection that comes at the beginning of the year, along with the excitement of new year's celebrations, Australia Day my sister's birthday and going back to school. Even though I have no children at school, when the school holidays are on, it changes the amount of traffic on the roads and the sounds I hear during the day. The last day of holidays I hear the neighbour kids making the most of the last day - there are bike jumps set up out front, crazy games being played and usually a cricket match; the next day, it's just Hanno and I with the sounds of the whip birds.

So it never surprises me to find that every January I have to reorganise my money and spend a period of time tracking what I spend. I've written about this before here, but just to recap, I generally withdraw an amount of money in cash that we use for petrol, food, doctor's bills, chook food etc. This money is put into plastic bags marked for their purpose and as I go through the month, I take cash from the bags as I need it. It really is a great way to organise our money and I always know how much we have for the various things we need to buy.

However, although this system works for us every other month of the year, in January I lose focus and usually have to borrow from one bag to pay for other things. Why am I doing this? Who knows. We usually have money - anything from $20 to $100 - left over at the end of every month, but not in January.

I need to steady this ship. I've put a small notebook in my bag and every time I spend money, I will record it. In a week or two, I'll see what I've been wasting money on and I'll be able to work out ways of stopping it. It won't be anything major, it will be little things like a sandwich when I haven't had time to pack lunch for work, or going over my postal budget - things like that.

You might think I have it together here, and generally I'm quite controlled about what I buy, but I'm not perfect and I do need to refocus occasionally and get back on track. I wonder if others have this same problem. Tell me what happens when you go over your budget. How do you recover from that before it becomes a disaster? There is no shame in this for any of us, we all do what we do. But we can help ourselves, and others, by discussing this subject honestly and sharing how we stay on track with our spending.

Three gifts update

I couldn't get back to post this yesterday but I want to update on our three gifts challenges. I know there are a lot of you doing this, so how about letting us know what you've done so far and if you've found any difficulties.

Remember, it's not too late to join the challenge if you missed it first time around. The details are here.


My three gifts are:
  • stop accepting plastic shopping bags
  • stop buying water in plastic bottles
  • provide a suitable container for the smokers where I work and dispose of the cigarette butts correctly

I've taken water from home every time I've gone out and have kept my shopping tote pouch in my basket, so no plastic shopping bags are coming home with me. The cigarette butts have been emptied into the bin but as we're about to move to a new location at work, I'll make sure I set up a similar arrangement in the new building.

What have you done so far?

(I will be back soon with another post.)

22 January 2008

And the winner is ...

Drum Roll .....

PEBBLEDASH

Congratulations Diana. Please email your postal address and I'll get the book in the post as soon as I can.

21 January 2008

Choosing Eden

Don't you just love blogs! Here we all are in various parts of the world, being inspired and changed by people we don't know but feel we do because we read their blog. I guess the best part of any good blog for me is the sharing - the showing of another life in minute detail, seeing inside other homes; being privy to the thoughts of someone many miles away is strangely hypnotic and always fascinating. I feel privileged to look and meet the family, I admire and celebrate the creativity and I melt at some of the phrases and sentences that explain their life and the living of it.

There is only one blog I visit every day but I have several I visit when I have the time. My time on the computer is limited and I want to get the best value for the time I have available. When I read a blog I want to be changed by it. I want to be moved. I want it to make me think. I also want to experience the generosity of the blog - through the telling of the story, the showing of the projects and the sharing of the creativity that makes it all possible.

In my experience, bloggers are a generous bunch. There are so many who freely share and invite readers to use their ideas and patterns. There is an element of worldwide sisterhood in many of the blogs that I find charming and I have no doubt that if these women got together for real coffee rather than the cyber kind, the respect and joy would overflow for all to see.

And speaking of generosity, I am fortunate to extend the generosity of one of the readers here to everyone. A couple of weeks ago Dot sent me a book she thought I might be interested in reading. She asked that after I read it to give it to someone who reads my blog. The book is called Choosing Eden by Adrienne Langman. It's a first hand account of a middle aged couple who give up their life in the city, and all the frills that go with middle class city living, to move to the country to establish a self-sufficient farm that will support and nurture them. It's a good read.

Thank you Dot. : - ) You can check out Dot's own blog here.

If you're a regular reader here, please enter your name in the comments box. I will draw a name from a hat and post the book to the winner.

20 January 2008

Organic vegetables in the backyard

From this (above), to this (below) in a few short weeks. The picture above was the garden at Christmas time, below was last week. We were grateful for the rain but it hit the garden hard.

We've had a lot of rain here since Christmas and while that is wonderful it has really devastated our vegetable garden. We're still harvesting tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), eggplant, cucumbers, radishes, chokos, Welsh onions and herbs but most of the garden is either bare patches of dirt or weeds. Hanno and I are going to tidy it up today. We'll pull out the weeds and some old vegetables, cut back the plants we'll keep and then leave it until mid March when we'll do our main planting for the year.

This avocado is in its second year. It was one of the beneficiaries of the rain. You can see all the bronze new growth.


I was surprised at the amount of damage the rain caused. We have plants that bent over and snapped, some that died because of the water logged soil and some that grew like mad but didn't produce any fruit. We appreciate the rain so much though. It's saturated the ground that's been dry for a long time and the trees are putting on new growth and look healthier than they have in years.


The last of the potatoes were dug up two weeks ago. We still have some of these in the cupboard but I think they'll all be gone at the end of the week.

I love our vegetable garden. It gives us the freshest organic vegetables possible and if we didn't have it, we couldn't eat as well as we do. Going into the garden in the late afternoon to pick what we'll eat for dinner has become a ritual I enjoy and look forward to. I can also check out the health of the plants and plan future meals when I see vegetables almost at maturity. The garden feeds us all - the humans, the dogs, chooks, cat, worms and the fish, as well as many wild birds. Our silver Perch love munching on parsley and silver beet leaves and I sometimes give them little pieces of left over cooked food.


For the past week we've let the chickens into the garden to scratch around and find grubs, insect eggs and grasshoppers. They love it in there and so far they've been too interested in scratching around for grubs and seeds to realise there are tomatoes and cucumbers for the taking. Yesterday they focused on little green grasshoppers and while I watched, they chased several of them. I helped them a bit by shaking the pigeon peas and all of a sudden the great chase was on again with chooks and grasshoppers in a mad frenzy. Free entertainment. What can't this garden do?

This photo was taken yesterday afternoon. As you can see, there are bare patches and lots of weeds. Gardening is based on time and balance - it will grow in its own time and you get out of it what you put into it. That's how I look on weeding and the less pleasant aspects of gardening. Our work today will make way for lots of fresh vegetables to balance out the weeding and the time we put in.

Planning will start soon for our March garden. We will definitely plant the staples like potatoes, pumpkins, beans, peas and salad vegetables but what type we'll grow this year is anyone's guess. Luckily for me, Green Harvest, that fabulous Australian seed business, is just one street away from where I work. I'll get their catalogue soon, work out what seeds I have here and then my plan will take shape. I would love to try German Johnson tomatoes this year but don't know if I can get the seeds. If anyone out there in Australia has German Johnson seeds to swap, let me know and we'll do a deal. That's half the fun of gardening - swapping heirloom seeds and trying new varieties each year. I've grown the Brandywines for the past few years, along with other smaller tomatoes, it's now time to move on.

If my step son gives us some raspberry canes we'll be planting raspberries too. We had them growing well in the first year we were here but moved them to enlarge the garden. Sadly, they didn't like being relocated. The raspberry Jens has is native to Queensland (where I live) and is a sweet juicy fruit, full of flavour. I wonder if I will get my six jars of raspberry jam. I have my fingers crossed.

This is a shade structure that Hanno put up last summer. We didn't need it this summer. It is a good way of protecting your delicate vegetables from the mid-summer sun. Cucumbers, lettuce and silverbeet happily grew in this tunnel whereas they would have died without it. It might be an idea for all those readers in very hot climates to put up some shade during summer. This one is just star pegs bashed into the ground with a shade cloth top sewn on to poly pipe. The shade can be easily lifted off the pegs and be put away until it's needed again.

I suppose readers in cooler climates are planning their spring and summer gardens now. Isn't it a lovely thing to do? Everything is possible in the planning stage and if you're anything like me you want to try new fruits and vegetables as well as having the comfort of growing your old favourites. I hope we all have healthy gardens and abundance harvests this year, along with the pleasure of gardening. I feel it's a privilege to have a garden - not just the space for one but to be able to work away in the yard, tweaking this and that, cutting back, building up, mulching, making comfrey tea for the lettuces and spinach, banging in stakes and tying plants to a steady and firm support. There are many things to find pleasure in the vegetable garden but I guess my favourite time is when those tiny seeds emerge as a new green promise. That signals for me the real start of the garden and all the joys that will spring from it.

Tea Cosy Swap

Hello swappers. We seem to have only one lost swapper now . Would Ingeborg please e-mail either Lorraine at: ma_pabarney at hotmail dot com or myself, Sharon at: cdetroyes at yahoo dot com so we can get the last of the swappers together. Thank-you so much. UPDATE: we now have only one lost swapper. Aimee, if you could e-mail me (Sharon) or Lorraine so we can get you together with your partner Maggie. Thank-you so much.

19 January 2008

Summertime



It was one of those days yesterday when nothing much happened, yet everything did. My labours of love continued with the daily chores and catching up with odds and ends. We have a friends little dog, Iona, staying with us for a week while she is in Sydney. Rosie and Alice stared long and hard at her when she first arrived, but now they're settled into a respectful relationship and all is well in our doggy backyard.

One of my chores yesterday was to make bread and this is it - a quick sourdough made from the NY Times no knead recipe. It makes a great loaf and well worth trying if you haven't already done so.

I have been thinking a lot about baskets recently. Using my own shopping basket inspired me to make a very simple plaited raffia one. I love baskets and find pleasure in looking at them, looking after them, and now, making one. I don't know what it will turn into, my hope is for a small bench top basket I can put unripe tomatoes in. If this basket evolves into that, and there is absolutely no reason to believe it will, I will have a go at making a laundry basket.

Pigeon peas

Of course you'd know that I'd be watching the cricket yesterday - and in bits and pieces today as well, it's a five day test match. While watching, I shelled some pigeon peas, started another dishcloth for my gift stash and did some work on piecing the raffia basket together. It's a favourite time of year when the cricket is on. I wander in and out, work on projects and sometimes snooze in front of the TV. Hanno joins me sometimes and falls asleep too. If we're both sitting there and I wake and see him beside me, I have a little laugh to myself and think back to those days when sleeping during the day was the last thing we'd do.

There is a season for all things.

The sun is shining brightly outside and it's been a lovely summer of warm days and coolish nights. We usually have a very hot and humid summer, but this is very nice indeed. The vegetable garden has grown so fast, but so have the weeds, and although we welcomed the rain we had - and there was a lot - it's all but ruined the garden. Tomorrow Hanno and I will spend the day out there - with small cricket breaks, of course, to weed and tidy up. There are a few tomatoes still going, as well as the best capsicums (peppers) I've ever grown, lots of herbs, egg plants, lettuce and silverbeet. The potatoes are finished, along with the peaches and nectarines, so we've decided after we tidy up, we'll rest the beds for the remainder of the summer. Replanting will start mid-March. I'll write more about this tomorrow.

Our meal last night was tinned red salmon (from a long way off in Alaska) but I tempered that with potatoes and salad all from our backyard. Here is a picture of a yellow brandywine tomato we had in the salad. Brandywines are wonderfully delicious tomatoes that we've been growing for a couple of years. The flavour of the pinks is rich and very tomatoey, but these yellows lack the acidic taste of most tomatoes - the yellows are creamy and utterly delicious.

I hope you enjoy your weekend and have time to take care of yourself. To all those new to the blog, hello and
welcome. I hope you find what you're looking for here. To all those readers who pop in most days, thank you for your lovely comments and encouragements along the way. I appreciate you taking the time to connect and I thank you for reading.

18 January 2008

Tea Cosy Swap

I just wanted to remind all of the swappers to make sure they are in contact with their swap buddy. If anyone has a problem contacting their swap buddy please let Lorraine or myself, Sharon, know so we can work on getting the problem fixed. Don't forget that you can make your tea cosy any way you want so have fun with it! Remember that the deadline for sending your tea cosy is Feb. 8, 2008 When you receive your parcel from your swap buddy please take a photo of it and send it to me or Lorraine and we will post all of them on the blog.

Homemade dog biscuits or treats

I've been experimenting with dog biscuit/treats recipes for a while now but finally have come up with one that suits all of us. I'm happy because they're healthy, easy to make and quite inexpensive, and the dogs are happy because they prefer these biscuits to the bought ones. I've tested this several times by putting a handful of their bought biscuits in a bowl next to one of the homemade biscuits and they always eat the homemade ones first. When I give them one as a treat, they follow me around for a while in the hope of scoring another one. Another bonus is that you'll be able to make these with what's in your stockpile cupboard and pantry.

Many of you know we've been feeding Rosie and Alice on homemade dog food all their lives. They're now 12 and 10 years old and are very fit dogs, still capable of running around like mad things. The recipe for my homemade dog food is here. We feed them twice a day. Once with biscuits in the morning and once in the afternoon with the homemade dog food. I have been buying the Omega 3 enriched dog biscuits over the years while I've experimented with biscuit recipes but I stepped this up a notch about a month ago when the price of dog biscuits increased by $5, making the normally $20 large bag from the produce store, $25. Hmmmm, it was time for real action.

If you decide to try this recipe, just make a small portion until you know your dog likes what you've made. When the biscuits pass the taste test, you can make enough for a month or two. I keep about a week's worth of biscuits out in a sealed container and have the rest in the freezer.

Homemade dog biscuits/treats
2 cups water mixed with 2 tablespoons Vegemite OR two cups beef or chicken stock. This can be homemade or from stock powder.
1 cup bread or plain/all-purpose flour
2 cups wholemeal or rye flour
1 cup rolled oats or instant oats
½ cup powdered milk
1 teaspoon yeast

If you want to add Omega 3, add 2 teaspoons of flax seed oil or emu oil to the mix.

Please note: The biscuits will get their flavour from the liquid you use. If your dog likes vegemite, use that, if your dog likes beef or chicken, use the stock option.

Please note:
The amount of liquid you add will depend entirely on your flour, oats and how much humidity is in the air. Start with 2 cups, but you might need to add another cup - in small portions until the dough feels right.

You can make this in your bread machine or by hand. If using the bread machine, use the dough setting and add the ingredients in the order listed above. Feel the dough after it's been mixed to make sure it feels smooth and not too dry.

If making by hand, put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead for five minutes or until the dough is tender and smooth. It makes a lovely dough.

When the dough is ready, roll it out with a rolling pin and cut it into the shapes you like. Here I've used hearts, stars and a loaf shape. The loaf shape being the easiest. I can break the loaves up into pieces by making a knife cut into half the loaf thickness. Don't cut right through.

Place on a greased or paper lined baking sheet and allow to rise slightly for about 30 minutes. Bake in a slow oven at 170º C (325 º F) one hour. When all are baked, turn off oven and leave them in the oven overnight to cool. Then store in a container or the freezer.

Here are the loaves with some pieces broken up. As you can see by this photo, I didn't cut right through the dough but they're easy to break up. Preparing them as loaves made them crisp on the outside but with a softer interior. The hearts and stars dried out more as they're flatter and therefore much crisper. This amount makes 20 hearts, 6 stars and 50 loaf pieces. My girls eat either two hearts/stars or 4 pieces of loaf in the morning as well as their homemade dog food meal in the afternoon.

I hope your dogs
like this as much as Rosie and Alice do. If you decide to make up the recipe, I'd like to know if your dogs enjoyed them. : - )

17 January 2008

Homemade from the cupboard

There is no rhyme or reason for this list of simple homemade recipes. If you are stockpiling, they're all recipes you could probably make with what's in your cupboard right now. If you've never tried cooking from scratch, these recipes are a good starting point. You'll find, especially if you taste as you go, that the results will be much better than the same thing bought from the supermaket. Please experiment. If you like more spice, add more, if you don't like it so sweet, add less sugar.

Peanut Butter
Place two cups of raw peanuts and salt (to taste) in a food processor. If the nuts are too dry, add a small amount of peanut or olive oil. Blend until smooth and store in the fridge.

Baked Beans
This is an excellent recipe for the slow cooker if you have one.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chopped large onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 x 400g cans cannellini or navy beans, rinsed and drained. OR - if you use dried beans, soak overnight and drain.
2 x 400g cans tomatoes OR 800 grams (one and 3/4 lbs) of fresh very ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mustard
¼ cup molasses or golden syrup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil and drop in onion and garlic. Cook on low heat until tender.
Add beans, tomatoes, molasses, worcestershire sauce, mustard and sugar. Add salt and pepper and stir until well combined. Bring to the boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently for about one hour, stirring frequently. This will taste better the following day, so make it one day ahead.

Condensed Milk - this is the sweetened milk
Place 1 cup powdered milk, 1/3 cup boiling water, 2/3 cup white sugar and 3 tablespoons butter in a blender and process until the sugar dissolves. This will make the equivalent of one can of sweetened condensed milk.

Evaporated Milk - unsweetened
1 ½ cups warm water
1 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoons butter
Mix milk powder and warm water together. Add the butter. Heat the mixture in a small pan. When thoroughly combined, beat with hand beater, cool and store in the fridge.

Quick Vanilla Ice Cream
250ml (½ pint) cream
Can condensed milk (see above recipe)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Put in the fridge to cool. When cool add to ice cream maker and make according to manufacturer's instructions. Or click here for instructions for making ice cream without a machine.

Baking Powder
Two tablespoons and cream of tartar to one tablespoon of bicarb will give you three tablespoons of baking powder. Don’t make too much at one time as the reactions between the two elements cause the powder to go stale in a few weeks. Just make up what you need at the time.

Pancakes
1¼ cups plain or all purpose flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 large teaspoon baking powder - see recipe above
¼ cup melted butter
Milk
Mix the above ingredients (except milk) together. Add enough milk to make the mix the consistency of heavy cream. Put the mix in the fridge for 1 hour (this will relax the gluten in the flour and make soft and fluffy pancakes). Pour the mix thinly over the base of a non-stick pan and cook until golden brown. Flip and cook other side.

Milk Kisses - a quick sweet biscuit/cookie
1 and 1/3 cups (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
3 cups shredded coconut
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine ingredients thoroughly. Place teaspoon portions of the mix on a greased baking sheet, making sure they aren't too close together. Bake at 180 C (370 F) for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Breadcrumbs
Finely crush water crackers, corn flakes or plain biscuits with a rolling pin, or crumb day old bread in the food processor.

Brown sugar
White sugar mixed with a little molasses or golden syrup.

Sour cream
Add the juice of a lemon to a cup of cream. Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Buttermilk
Add one tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice to each cup of milk. Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. OR a cup of yoghurt added to a cup of milk and allow to stand 30 minutes.

graphic from allposters.com

16 January 2008

The growing challenge

Melinda over at Elements in Time has a great gardening challenge going at the moment. Check it out here.

7 things meme

Kate at Our Red House tagged me for the seven things meme. I'm not really good at these things but here goes.

Hmmmm

I have two wedding rings. One I received the day I married Hanno and another he gave me on our 25th wedding anniversary. I will give one ring to both my sons when I die.

I woke Hanno up at 2am this morning to tell him there was noise coming from the chicken coop. He mumbled all the way outside, got dressed, got the torch and found nothing. I now think I was dreaming. Shhhhh, don't tell.

I'm becoming more of a hermit. I'm now doing voluntary work three days a week and I see and speak with a lot of people there, but when I'm home I don't go out and I rarely invite anyone over.

I really REALLY like blue grass music. I don't have any CDs but I sometimes search for it online.

When I was young I went to an all girls convent school. My grade 6 teacher was Sister Clothilde, who I secretly called "clotty". When she died of a stroke, I thought I'd killed her by calling her that.

I would like to grow enough raspberries to make 6 jars of jam every year. We have no raspberries growing at the moment.

When I worked as a nurse in outback Australia, we used to fly in a little plane to treat the people living on remote islands. One day as we approached an island, it was surrounded by what looked like heavy seaweed. When we talked to the people there we discovered it was a huge mass of tiger sharks.
: - )
Now I'm going to tag my 7 random people. They are:
the mysterious wildside
robin in Perth
Here are the rules:
*Link to the person that tagged you
*Post the rules on your blog.
*Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog.
*Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
*Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

15 January 2008

Recycling and reusing

This is the little tote in a pouch I've put in my bag to take whenever I go out now. The little blue pouch unzips to reveal a full sized shopping tote. With this in my bag all the time, I can easily pick up milk or cheese from the local area and not have to bring it home in a plastic bag.

In the past couple of years we been able to decrease the amount of rubbish we dispose of to a fraction of what we threw out before. It really hit me one day that when we “disposed” of something, even though it was considered rubbish, that wasn’t the end of it. Whatever we threw out still had a life and in many cases would outlive Hanno and I by hundreds of years. We now make sure we dispose of most of our rubbish in an eco-friendly way and, more importantly, we try not to bring home excessive packaging. I am hoping our three gifts challenge will further reduce the load we place on our local landfill tip.

We don’t throw out any wet garbage. There is a hierarchy of contenders for our kitchen scraps. At the top of our pecking order are the chooks. They get the choice scraps because they turn it into food. They get most table scraps, old milk, crushed egg shells, old bits of cake, old fruit or vegetables. They also get the outside leaves from lettuce, tomatoes with spots on them, cabbage and the celery tops. Any old bread is divided up between the chooks, the dogs and the fish – they all love home-baked bread. The worms get fruit and vegetables peelings, tea leaves, crushed egg shells, anything that had been too long in the fridge and eggs we find in the back yard that are not in a nest. The worms also get ripped up envelopes and old letters, cleaning cloths that have seen out their days.

I try to buy my dried foods like beans, flours, nuts etc in bulk. That gives me the option of taking my own containers and bags. Generally I use old flour bags – they’re strong and can be washed and reused many times. If I buy bulk bread flour, I sometimes get a 12.5 kilo bag and the worms take care of the bag and string closure for me.

Paper products like old telephone books, paper, newspaper etc can be composted. I stopped buying paper napkins and paper towels and use home made cotton squares. Most of our clothes are cotton, linen or wool, so when they finally wear out, they spend some time in the rag bag, and are then given to the worms.

Worms, chooks and compost don’t cope well with too many citrus peelings or onion skins, so I have a closed compost bin for them. It’s open on the bottom, closed at the top, so even though they take a long time to break down, they’re unseen and eventually do return themselves to the earth. Every so often I throw a handful of lime on them to hasten their decomposition.

At home we recycle glass jars for preserving, soft drink bottles (they’re as rare as hen’s teeth), newspapers – both the bought ones and the free ones. We put tin cans, beer and wine bottles and large pieces of cardboard in the municipal recycling bin that is collected every two weeks along with the regular garbage. We also have the option of have a green waste bin but we recycle all that at home.

I would love to be able to tell you that we have given up using cling wrap but I still have a roll in the draw. I do however, use it sparingly and only when I can’t find another method. I often cover food (like cheese) in the fridge with a clean moist cloth and cover other food with an upturned bowl.

I don’t wrap my lunch for work anymore and it’s worked very well over the past six months I’ve been taking small containers inside a larger one. If I fit all the boxes together, nothing moves and the food stays together. Here is an old photo of my lunch box. We often share food at work so it’s great to have the various containers to pass around.

If you’re just starting out on recycling and rethinking how you dispose of your rubbish in an environmentally sound way, take it one step at a time by concentrating on one area first – maybe the kitchen. Slowly work out ways of reusing and recycling that suit your circumstances and incorporate those ways into your regular routines. If you’re like me, you’ll have need to rethink at the supermarket too and try to bring home products that aren’t over-wrapped.

I hope you’ll all share your reusing and recycling ideas in the comments box so we can all benefit from the collective experience we have here, which I have to say I’ve been very impressed with and appreciate very much.

13 January 2008

Three Gifts Challenge

Our new environment minister, Peter Garrett, is floating a proposal to ban plastic shopping bags in Australia by the end of the year. I think this is a great idea. Not only do these bags pollute every corner of the earth, they also kill a large number of marine creatures.

Australians use 4 billion plastic bags each year; in China 3 billion bags are used per day; in the United States 380 billion disposable plastic bags are used each year and only 1 percent are recycled.

It got me thinking about other commonly used items that we might be able to give up that would be a great help to the planet. In the midst of this there was an interesting segment on morning TV on the five most damaging personal waste items. They are, and this is a cut and paste from this link:
  • Polystyrene foam: Take away cups of coffee are made from expanded polystyrene foam, a product that does not break down over time. Polystyrene cups simply create landfill that releases toxic chemicals into the air. Alternative: Bring your own mug or take away cup to your favourite cafe.
  • Cooking oil: Cooking oil is often disposed of in ways that hurt the environment. Simply pouring oil down the sink not only damages the plumbing, but it also means the oil ends up in waterways. In the same way that oceans can't deal with oil spills from large tankers, small waterways can't deal with oil that is put down the sink. Alternative: Store used oil in a sealable container or jar and ask your council how to dispose of it correctly.
  • AA batteries: The batteries that power your remotes control contain around one percent mercury and when this leaks it can cause environmental damage. Batteries use less energy than they cost the environment to produce. Alternative: Rechargeable batteries.
  • Disposable nappies: Nappies are convenient but they can create landfill that takes years and years to break down. It's estimated that the average baby creates around 700 kilograms of solid waste in nappies alone. Alternative: Cloth nappies.
  • Cigarette butts: Smoking is more than a health hazard, the 32 billion cigarette butts thrown away in Australia each year damage the environment. It can take years for each butt to break down as each cigarette contains poisonous chemical compounds. Alternative: Quit smoking or make sure any cigarette butt is disposed of properly.

I decided to challenge myself to give up or modify three environmentally damaging things I do. I think it’s a really good way to remind myself that I can’t afford to sit back and think I am doing enough.

It is not enough.

It's the small things that I could easily change, with just a bit of thought and action, that will make a difference. It occurred to me that it would be a good challenge for everyone here. If we all got involved, and if you wrote about the challenge on your blog or talked with your friends about it, maybe there would be a ripple effect that would really make a difference in our own communities.

So my challenge to you is to choose three items or actions that you currently have in your life that you’ll modify or give up completely. It doesn't have to be on the list here, it can be anything that you do that you know is harmful and are prepared to change. We can do something important here. If we all do this, tell our friends and neighbours what we are doing and why, and ask that they join, we could make an impact in our local areas.

I think it’s important to continue working towards reducing consumption of just about everything we use, but this will be extra. It will be our three gifts to the world. I want everyone to join me in doing something positive for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. It looks like they will pay the price for what we are doing now.

This is what I will do:
PLASTIC BAGS
I will never accept a plastic bag again. I have a number of cloth bags for grocery shopping and I always take my basket when I go out, but I do sometimes still come home with a plastic shopping bag around the milk or fruit.

I have to arrange my basket so I can put cold things in it. I generally have a diary, papers and notebooks in my basket that I don’t want to put cold and wet items on. I have a little cloth bag in a pouch that I’m going to keep in my basket so that if I do pick up milk or fruit and vegies when I’m out, I’ll put my paper stuff in the cloth sack and fill up my basket with produce. I’ll have to train myself to check I have the bag pouch every time I pick up my basket. I tend to come home and empty my bag and not put it back where it should be. That will stop from this minute.

PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES
I will never buy water in a plastic bottle again. I resolved to give this up about six months ago and did well for a while but then I bought water when I was out somewhere without my water bottle from home. I have a perfectly serviceable Thermos flask that is unbreakable, I’ll use that for hot and cold drinks. If I am caught out without the Thermos, I’ll have to stay thirsty until I get home. That will soon teach me to always take the Thermos. ; - )

CIGARETTE BUTTS
I don’t smoke but I work with people who do. When I go to work tomorrow I will put out containers for cigarette butts and make sure I put them in the rubbish bin each week.

So that’s it for me; three gifts for my local world. Will you do this with me and make a positive change? I’ve made two badges you can save to use in your blog when you write about your gifts. You can then put the badge in the side bar of your blog to show that you’re part of the challenge. Let see how far we can spread this, let’s see how many people we can motivate to give three gifts. If you have no blog, print the badge out and stick it on the fridge, and tell your family and friends about the challenge. Seeing the badge will remind us of our commitment and that we can be part of a global solution instead of continuing on regardless.

Small steps, my friends, small steps.

12 January 2008

Tea Cosy Swap Partners

Hello swappers! The following are the swap pairings. You will notice that there are no e-mail addresses by the names (except for Sarah). All you have to do is return to the tea cosy swap announcement and find your partner and her e-mail address. This helps us keep the spammers away! There are 20 pairs so Lorraine and I are splitting the list in half. If you are among the first 10 pairs (numbered 1 to 10) you are on Sharon's list and if you have any problems or questions, please e-mail me at cdetroyes at yahoo dot com (please do not contact Rhonda). If you are among the last 10 swappers (numbered 11 to 20) you are on Lorraine's list so if you have a problem or questions just e-mail her at ma_pabarney at hotmail dot com . This should be a fun swap so e-mail your partner and enjoy making the tea cosies! At the end of the swap we will have a "Tea Cosy Parade" and also put up the last of the apron photos! Remember the deadline for the swap is Feb. 8, 2008! You can sew, quilt, crochet, knit, felt, or any combination you want, so get creative and enjoy!!

Lorraine and Sharon

1. Donna-USA and Amy USA
2. Christine and Jennie
3. Mary Strickland and Sandra
4. Renee and Jean Maples
5. Karen G and Maria in NC
6. Robbie and Sharon
7. Jacket and Liz allen
8. Mama K and Christie Rivera
9. Sharon and Rebecca
10. Ann and Lorraine
11. Maggie and Aimee
12. Kate and Leanne
13. Cynthia and Lisabob
14. Lightening and Cate
15. Billie and Ingeborg
16. Margaret and Lilymarlene
17. Judy and Liane Bastien
18. Ann UK and Sarah (her e mail is sfouilla at nmsu dot edu)
19. Leah and Denise
20. Sandratee and Pura

The Daily Dose


I've been kindly given the Daily Dose award by two of the lovely ladies who read here. Lib at Lib's Private Paradise and Tracy at Seaside Enchantement. Thanks gals! Both these ladies have great blogs so if you haven't visited them yet, do yourself a favour and click on the links.

This is from Xandra the creator of The Daily Dose Award.:
"This little award is called The Daily Dose - and here is all the important info to tell you what it is about and where it came from. This is a tribute to all the blogs that you've discovered that you can't possibly live without. They make you laugh, cry, think and feel connected every time you read a post. They give you a thrill as you see them loading into your browser and you get an equally satisfying thrill when you see that they have commented on your blog."

The swap partners list will be posted later this morning.

11 January 2008

A gentle day at home

I caught up with my chores yesterday and had a free and easy day just going back and forth through the house tidying up as I went. I cherish the time I have to work at home, so as I do this and that I am thankful for the ability to work as I do.

It was a rainy day here yesterday so I hung washing under the cover of the back verandah. It took all day to dry, whereas if it's on the clothes line it's generally dry in a couple of hours. It's always a joy to see cotton sheets and aprons blowing gently in the breeze. I swept and washed the floors, baked bread, checked the vinegar, wrote some letters and sorted the vegetable seeds. It was a morning spent at a gentle pace with the sound of the rain falling on the roof. Bliss.

A few days ago I came across an old towel that was past its time, so after lunch I cut it up for rags. I keep moving my rag collection and it never seems to be in the right place so I decided to make a rag bag to hang in the laundry. I just made a large version of a peg bag with a flap at the front. The terry cloths are now hanging in the bag and I'm quite pleased with the result.

Late in the day Hanno went to pick up the mail and I was delighted to find a parcel from Dot waiting there. She sent me "Choosing Eden" to read and has kindly suggested I give the book away on my blog. So when I finish reading, I'll carry out Dot's wishes and give it to one of the regular readers here. Thank you for your generosity, Dot.

After a dinner of leftovers and fruit, I tidied up my sewing room, talked to Hanno for a while then retired to bed with Dot's book. Rain was still falling on the roof so another easygoing day at home ended perfectly - reading and falling quietly into sleep.

10 January 2008

Tea cosy swap

The tea cosy swap looks like being a lot of fun but I realised today I won't have the time to join in. : ( I'll be interested to see the photos as they come in.

Sharon and Loraine (chookasmum) will be organising the swap and assigning partners on Saturday. You can still join today and tomorrow.

I found a few more links to inspire some wonderful creations - here, here and here. Your tea cosy can be sewn, knitted, felted, patchwork, embroiderd, red work, crocheted, or whatever you want to make it. It needs to fit an average sized tea pot - 6/8 cups, or whatever you work out with your partner.

If you've never been in a swap before, take the plunge and have some fun. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Caring for your kitchen knives

One of the things that will make your work easier in the kitchen is to have a good set of knives. I use a variety of knives from good quality German chef's knives to cheap Chinese choppers. They are all used for their own purpose. Generally knives are expensive but they will last a long time if they're cared for properly.

Store your knives so the blade doesn't hit or rub against anything. I use a magnetic strip, but you could also use a knife block or a non-slip tray in a drawer that keeps knives apart.

All knives will eventually lose their edge and need to be sharpened. You can do that with a whetstone. While a whetstone will sharpen a knife, a steel will maintain the edge of your knife. Generally you'd sharpen a frequently used knife about once a month and use the steel when you use the knife. I'm a bit slack doing that. I do sharpen my knives each month but I usually forget to use the steel before I use the knife. There are instructions below for using a whetstone.

The heat and corrosive chemicals in the dishwasher will eventually damage the edge of most knives. You should hand wash your sharp knives. Wash in warm soapy water and dry thoroughly as soon as you wash the knife.

Don't let your knives soak in the sink or sit on a wet sink. Wash and dry them as soon as you can.

Don't use the knife edge to scrape food from your chopping board. It will damage and dull the edge. If you want to use the knife, turn it over and use the other side of the blade.

Use wood or poly cutting boards as marble, glass or ceramic boards will dull the knife edge.

If you have wooden handled knives, apply some oil to the handle every so often. Make sure you don't allow these knives to soak in the sink or remain wet for long periods.

When you buy your knives, try to get good quality for your main work. As you can see from my knife strip above, I have some good knives and some very cheap ones. I use the cheap ones for chopping vegetables as I find a chopper easier to use. I need to sharpen these choppers more frequently as they tend to lose their edge quickly but they're a good knife for general work. If you can't afford to buy better quality right now, try the Asian choppers and knives. You buy them in Asian grocery stores and supermarkets for around $5 - $10. On the other hand, a good quality German or Japanese knife will cost around the $100 mark.

Whatever knives you work with, you will ensure their life and their usability if you look after them and keep them sharp.

9 January 2008

Storing food and dry goods - UPDATED

One of the many things you can do on your journey towards simplicity is to learn how to store things in a way that will stop them spoiling before you use them. It’s an important part of our philosophy to look after what we own.

When I lived in Europe I noticed it was commonplace for houses to have cellars. These were used to store potatoes, onions, garlic, jams, chutneys, sauces, beer, wine, seeds, flour and other perishables. If you have a cellar, make the most of it. It will provide an ideal place, with a consistent temperature, to store all manner of goods. In Australia, cellars are almost unknown and many houses do not have a large amount of cupboard space. The understanding being that goods will not be stored in the home, but bought continually from the shop.


Our home is a modest slab brick construction with an open plan kitchen and dining area. In the kitchen we have adequate cupboards and a pantry and just off the kitchen, in the dining area, we have a stockpile cupboard. There is a linen cupboard in the hallway and a freestanding cupboard in the main bathroom. Apart from wardrobes and dressers, they are my main storage areas inside the house. Outside we have a brick garden shed and a large storage shed and workshop.

If you don’t have a lot of storage space in your home you might have to look for unusual places to store goods. Under the bed is the obvious one and here is an article here about making an under bed storage unit. Look around your home and see if there are other places you could use - maybe under the stairs or under a table. I have a friend who made a fitted cover for her dining room table, which she rarely uses, and under it she stores toilet paper, tissues and rice.

While there are some exceptions like cheese and wine, most food will not improve in quality or flavour when stored for a period of time. You should store food when it still looks, feels and smells good. Most fresh food will be eaten straight away or stored in the fridge. If it's not eaten fresh the best form of storage over the long term are glass containers. Glass allows you to see what’s inside, it seals well, doesn’t taint the food and it’s a durable product, lasting many years. I have several sizes of glass containers with rubber seals. The seals have to be replaced every few years but overall they are a very reliable container.

Plastic containers are also often used for kitchen food storage. In my experience, plastic doesn’t seal as well as glass and you may sometimes get insect contamination using plastic. Plastic may also take on the smell of the food being stored, which may effect what you can store in it from then on. If you’re using plastic containers make sure you always seal them properly, ensuring a neat seal around the entire perimeter of the lid.
If you’re new to the home storage of food, work with the containers you have but as you buy more, try to get the large glass ones. You can also recycle old jars, I have several of these and they’re excellent, and you can buy glass jars from supermarkets, department stores and op shops.

Food in Australia must be marked with one of three date codes: “best before” date, “use by” date and “baked on” date.
Best before
When food is stamped with a best before date, it means that the food, if still in the intact package, is at its premium on or before the date marked. If the date has passed, the food may still be edible, but may not be at its best. Sometimes you will see best before food that has passed its date reduced for sale in the shop.
Use-by
This indicates the end of the acceptable storage life of the food. All food that should be eaten within a certain period of time for health and safety reasons, will be marked with a use-by date. It is illegal to sell food after the date marked as “use –by”.
Baked on
This is used on bread that has a shelf life of less than seven days.

When buying food that will be stored for a while, always make sure the can or package is not damaged. When adding new items to your stockpile, always add to the back and take from the front. You need to rotate your stock so nothing spoils.

I put all the dry food I buy, like rice, flour, pasta, lentils, dried chick peas and beans, in the freezer when they are brought from the store. All my dried goods are stored in the freezer until I need to use them, then they are placed in a glass jar and put in the pantry.

I learnt the hard way that food needs to be stored correctly. A pantry moth invasion made me give a lot of grains
and legumes to the chooks. Never again. All you need to do is to work out what you have to store over a long period and find the right storage method for it. We're all different and your solutions may be different to mine but if you ensure your food and dry goods survive for long periods, you'll save money and reduce the amount you waste.

UPDATE
I didn't have the time yesterday to take new photos so I've just done that now. The photo below
shows the large jars I use. The two on the left and right are canning jars with rubber ring seals that are replaced every year or so. The jar in the middle was given to me by my son. I have several of these and they were originally used to hold olives. They easily hold a kilo (2lb 2oz) of sugar, flour, beans etc.

The bucket below is similar to what Niki is talking about in the comments. This is a 5 kilo recycled plastic bucket I use to store my bread flour. You can buy these, but I got mine free from the local baker who buys icing in them. They have a good seal and are great for storing large amounts of dry food.

If you find some of these food quality plastic buckets that have been used to store food, wash them out with soapy water, fill with water and add two cups of white vinegar. Allow it to stand for a day, then wash out again and rinse. That should get rid of any residual smells in the plastic.

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