30 May 2013

The long and winding road

I had such a wonderful time on the 1500km trip from home to Tricia's. I got up at 12.30am, had a cup of tea and a crumpet, organised myself and drove out the driveway at 1.45am, heading south. The trip to the Gold Coast, which usually takes two hours, took only 90 minutes at that hour and by the time I reached the southern end of the Gold Coast it was 3.30. I pulled over and had a walk around and a cup of coffee, then crossed over into New South Wales at around 4am. I drove down the Pacific Highway until sunrise, then turned inland at Grafton and headed for Armidale.

This is the road from Grafton to Armidale. It's lined with thousands of tree ferns and other rain forest species and winds up across the Great Diving Range, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Climbing up through the mountains, the long and winding road overlooks some spectacular scenery, and then, out of nowhere, a red light!
This photo was taken at the summit, from a lonely lookout, where the trees parted to give the perfect private viewing of the clouds below, with mountain peaks poking through.

The New England Highway is bordered on both sides by trees with either autumn colours or bare branches; it is spectacular. The countryside is brown, in sharp contrast to home where consistent rain over summer has kept everything beautifully green. I was surprised to see quite a few businesses and shops with closing down signs, and two pubs for sale. I haven't seen that before. A sad sign on the times, I guess.

Lunch was had in Tamworth and I happily drove on with short bursts of loud singing, interesting and  intelligent discussion on Radio National, the window down, then up, and stopping occasionally to take a photo or two. I wanted to reach Tricia's before dark so apart from one stop to fill up on fuel and one for a toilet break in Mudgee, I drove on. Sure enough, I pulled into Tricia's driveway just after five. She was waiting, the fire was blazing and hot soup was ready to be served.

Tricia with Johnathan by the fire.
Lunch with Tricia and David.

Tricia is looking after her grandson Johnathan at the moment. Yesterday, Tricia, Johnathan and my nephew David, all went to the Megalong Tea Rooms for lunch. This little cafe deep in the Megalong Valley has been operating in the same location since the 1940s. The menu is simple, delicious and mostly home-made. After lunch David helped us with the shopping for the workshops and then took the train home.  

I'm not sure what we're doing today, Tricia might be coming down with a cold so it might be a day of knitting in front of the fire. Poor us. LOL


27 May 2013

Road trip

I just realised this post didn't come through as scheduled. Sorry, it was supposed to be published on Monday morning.

I'm off on a solo road trip today. I'm driving down to visit my sister and for a workshop in Blackheath. I'll be meeting several readers and members of the forum while I'm down there so I'm really excited about the trip and what it will bring.  In the next week or so, there will be no regular posts as such, but I'll be posting photos along the way and checking for your comments.

Membership on the forum has been suspended for the time being to try to rid ourselves of spammers. If you are interested in joining the forum, email me and when I come home, I'll arrange it.

I hope you all have a wonderful week. :- )


24 May 2013

Weekend reading


This is Hanno at the Susan River Homestead near Hervey Bay. We visited there on Tuesday to give a short talk at the Queensland Carers Retreat.


Why bugs aren't the enemy - Michael Pollan

Worm therapy

David Bell's tiny home

How to teach spelling

Thinking of starting a Transition initiative?

How to Make Kombucha Tea at Home

FROM COMMENTS DURING THE WEEK

Frugal Down Under

Scarlet at The Finished Article

Hana at Marmota's Dress Diaries

23 May 2013

Warm ... Fortunate ... Thankful

I had a great time yesterday sewing and organising myself and my work room. You know that I'm visiting my sister, Tricia, next week and I want to take a few things down for her grandson, Johnathan. He is six months old now, they're just coming into winter in a very cold region, so that presents me with many wonderful options to knit cosy cardigans and sew fluffy fleece sleeping bags. I love helping others stay cozy. I'd like to write that on official forms that ask "occupation". (Not that it's anyone else's business what I do and besides, I refuse to be categorised by a single word. "Retired". Pffffft! End of rant.)  I love the cold weather, rugging up and feeling cosy and I take every opportunity to help others do the same. I'll help Tricia start Johnathan on that road early.

While I worked in that little room, rain fell outside, I could see the trees and bushes move in the wind and I was pleased I was in that room. Warm.


Out in the yard, the wisteria is turning gold and slowly falling, the grass isn't growing so fast and soon the pecan tree will lose its leaves. All signs that winter is nearly here. It makes me think of the alpaca yarn I have here and what I'll make with it. Alpaca is very light but incredibly warm so it's one of the natural yarns that I love to knit. Maybe some gloves for Hanno. Since he had his chainsaw accident, his damaged hand, with compromised circulation, seems to always be cold. It's even worse now in the cold weather. Yes, that's where the alpaca will go.

While I worked in that little room, I could smell chicken casserole slow cooking on the stove. I thought about all the people who have no warm room to tidy up and no casserole to eat.  Fortunate.


Life naturally turns inwards in winter. More chores are carried out indoors, we don't automatically fling open the doors and windows early in the morning to capture the cool fresh air. We keep doors closed  to keep the warmer air inside. More cups of tea are enjoyed, lambswool slippers are on, gloves and scarves have been aired and worn, we've stopped keeping a jug of water in the fridge and ice cubes in the freezer. They'll wait their turn to be enjoyed again later in the year.

While I worked in that little room, I thought about writing this post and the people who would read it from all over the world. Coming here from warm and cold parts, living near country lanes and city highways, being part of my day simply because they read what I write.  Thankful.

I'm convinced we all need a bit of downtime during busy periods in our lives. Having that one day to do this and not worrying about anything else, really cleared my head and helped me prepare for what is to come. It doesn't take a lot, but taking as much time as you can to nurture yourself and slow the pace helps. No one will come along and tell you to take time out, it's something we all have to do for ourselves. I don't do it nearly as much as I should but I'm much better than I used to be. Do you take time to look after yourself?

22 May 2013

Too many eggs?

If you're keeping chickens in the backyard, often you'll reach a point when you have too many eggs. Luckily, eggs are always easy to give away but they're also very easy to use up. Two of my favourite egg-based meals are quiche and creme caramel. Both recipes can be made many different ways, this is how I make them.

Quiche
Don't be put off by making your own pastry. Like everything else, it's a skill that can be learned and when you do, it will open up so many other recipes. I did a tutorial on how to make pastry here, so I hope you are guided by that and make your own pastry case from scratch.


The pastry has to be blind baked first. That's just the cooking term for baking the pastry case without the filling in it. To blind bake, you prepare the pastry in the flan dish, cover it with a sheet of baking paper and pour on some chick peas or beans to weigh the paper down. Bake that in the oven till it's a soft golden colour, then remove it from the oven, take the paper and beans off, add the filling and pop it back into the oven to bake.

Quiche filling
Eggs are always the main ingredient for a quiche filling. I used six eggs in my quiche and a cup of cream. The other ingredients were just what I had in the cupboard. Quiche is a flexible recipe and you can add whatever suits your taste and you have handy in the cupboard or fridge. In addition to the eggs, I added mushrooms, leeks, spring onions, garlic, capsicum/red pepper that had all been pre-cooked and allowed to cool down. When the pastry was blind baked, I poured in the egg mixture and baked the quiche in a moderate oven until it was golden brown.

Quiche is one of those versatile meals that can be served hot or cold. I love it both ways with maybe a slight preference for the cold version. It's a good food to add to lunch boxes and the perfect choice for a light lunch of dinner, with the addition of a salad. Your fillings could also include bacon, ham, celery, eggplant, spinach, kale or potato - all pre-cooked and allowed to cool.

Creme Caramel
I think this might be my favourite dessert although we don't often have it at home, if we dine out and it's on the menu, I usually choose it.



Ingredients ...

...for caramel
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup water

½ cup sugar
1 cup cream
1½ cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 eggs

This dish must be slow cooked in the oven. Preheat your oven to 165C/330F. 

In a heavy based saucepan, place ¾ cup sugar and 1 cup cold water and turn on to medium heat. Stir the mix to help the sugar dissolve and cook for 5 - 10 minutes, until it turns into a golden caramel. Remove from heat and when it stops bubbling, pour into 6 ramekins, dividing the caramel evenly.  Fill up the saucepan with water straight away to help with washing up later.

...for creamy dessert


Fill the kettle with water and put it on to boil. 

Add cream, milk and vanilla to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until small bubbles start to form. 

Whisk eggs and the remaining sugar in a jug until pale and creamy, then slowly add the hot cream mixture to the eggs, whisking while you pour. Pour that mixture through a fine sieve into the ramekins, dividing it evenly between the six of them.

Place the ramekins a large baking dish and pour boiling water into baking dish until halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in a slow oven for 30 minutes or until just set - you want the centre to be firmish but slightly wobbly. 

When cooked, remove the remekins and allow to cool before storing in the fridge overnight. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the custard, put the plate over the top of the ramekin and turn it out onto the plate.

Tasty and versatile egg recipes are like gold when you have chickens roaming in your backyard. What are your favourite egg recipes?

20 May 2013

Visiting the Lockyer Valley

A couple of years ago, Queensland experienced severe flooding in many areas. I still remember the shock and sadness I felt when I watched TV coverage of the floodwaters rushing through Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley in 2011. Ordinary life was being lived in Toowoomba one minute, the next, a wall of water shot through the city centre, carrying with it everything in its path. That wall of water moved west across the ridges and then down into the Lockyer Valley. Many people died, houses and cars were washed away and entire townships devastated. My father's family were early settlers in the Lockyer Valley, he was born in Forest Hill and many of my ancestors are buried at the Laidley Cemetery. When I watched that flooding disaster unfold, I was heartbroken. I will always remember it.

Hanno and I visited the Lockyer Valley on the weekend. The small community group, Citizens of the Lockyer Valley, invited us to present a workshop in the beautiful old hall at Stockyard Creek. Inside, not only did we find members of this strong and resilient community, we found framed collections of flood photos - a solemn testament to what happened in the valley.

 In the kitchen getting ready to make laundry liquid.
Outside the Stockyard Creek hall.  Photos by Hanno.

The workshop began with a welcome and short speech by the local mayor. His council provided funding for the weekend and I was delighted to know there was strong support for the event. Soon after we got down to the business of sharing, discussion and demonstrations. We spoke about simple living, budgeting, growing vegetables, composting, heirloom seeds and chickens, dishcloths, preserving, freezing, green cleaners and grocery shopping. We made up 40 litres of laundry liquid and showed how to blanch vegetables. It was a busy workshop, interrupted only by country hospitality - the urn bubbled away, cakes, slices, scones and salad rolls were laid on the table. There were a number of people there who read this blog so I was delighted to meet them and put faces to what is sometimes "the great unknown" to me. We ended late yesterday afternoon with a community forum. That resulted in several suggestions for projects the group may take forward to help local people transition to a simpler life. It was such a positive way to end what had been a wonderful weekend.

Many of the people who came along thanked us for being there and for sharing our lives with them, but I felt thankful that we'd been invited. This little group is the first grass roots  group to ask me to present a workshop for them and from what I could they were are the perfect model for how small communities should be and what they can achieve. I loved every minute of it.

ADDITION 1: If you're attending the Simple Living workshops in Blackheath on June 1 and 2, and will be travelling in from the Bathurst area, can you email me please. Hopefully, if there are a few of you, we might be able to arrange a car pool.

ADDITION 2: Jill, a local from Laidley, emailed and told me my explanation of the flood waters was not quite right. Here is her explanation: The flood waters in Toowoomba in 2011 did not come into the Lockyer Valley. Rain fell along the range and some water fell in Toowoomba and went west and some fell down the scarp and went east to parts of the Lockyer Valley and probably hit Withcott, Helidon, Grantham and Murphy's Creek.
Mind you it rained and thundered all day on the day of the flood here in Laidley so the flooding here was locally manufactured. There is no gap in the range at this point to let the water through and all creeks in T'ba flow westwards.
I also need to point out that the flooding here in Laidley and also in Glenore Grove was far worse on Australia Day this year but we are small settlements and easily forgotten.
The flood in 2011 was 1 metre and in 2013 it was 1.5 metres and also much faster and more destructive, dragging away the topsoil from many farms (remember this is one of the few areas of good agricultural land in Australia) and digging holes of about 50 centimetres in all sorts of places around town. Some businesses have just re-opened and there is still a lot of repair work in individual shops and homes.  
Thanks Jill.


17 May 2013

Weekend reading

I'm looking forward to conducting simple living workshops at Stockyard Creek in the Lockyer Valley this weekend. I love meeting people who are open to new ideas and change. I think I'll enjoy it a lot. I'll take photos so you can see what we got up to. I hope you enjoy your weekend too.

Thanks for your visits this week and for leaving comments that we all read. Commenting is another way of sharing and your comment may make a real difference to someone's life. 

= = = ♥ = = =

How to reduce your bills and save

Recessions can hurt, but austerity kills

Ewww, what's found in food.

If you're feeling a bit down today, you have to look at this. Cat in a shark suit + vacuum cleaner, duck and hammerhead dog. Yes, you did read that correctly. LOL - You Tube

Young Americans are driving less

Some of My Best Friends Are Germs

The Flipflop Recyclying Company in Kenya - link from Kathy

FROM THE COMMENTS DURING THE WEEK
Maria at My Days

Levenses

Dianne from Sweet Journey Home

16 May 2013

Choosing happiness - revisited

I originally wrote this post in 2008 and have resurrected it hoping that you'll find it interesting and helpful. I'm too busy to write this morning, I'm teaching myself how to edit a video on my computer. I'll be back tomorrow. :- )

At my sister's house.

Recently Kathleen sent me a magazine article called Grin and Tonic. I don't know what magazine it's from, there was a time when I knew every popular magazine by their page style, now I'm happy that I don't know. Anyhow, it's a very interesting view on happiness. In part it reads:
"While not exactly simple, some of their findings suggest there may indeed be a science to happiness - even a recipe. (And if your own idea of happiness is a flat-screen TV or a pair of Jimmy Choo heels then cover your eyes because the truth is, well, not very glamorous.)
...
When University of Wisconsin researcher Dr Richard Davidson hooked up a Tibetan monk to an MRI and asked him to meditate on, of all things, compassion, he got the most surprising result of all.
"There as a dramatic increase in activity in the areas of the brain associated with happiness. There is an inextricable link between personal happiness and kindness."


Well, well, well. Fancy that. So all those times our mothers and grandmothers told us to be kind to others they were really showing us the way to personal happiness.

The article goes on to state that in another study they found that five random acts of kindness a week for six weeks"produced a dramatic increase in the subjects' levels of happiness".
This is one thing I know to be true. I know that being kind to others makes me happy. And it's more than the feeling I get when I am thanked for a kindness, it's more than the smile that sets on my face when I see the delight of someone who has been surprised by kindness, it's more than that, much more. This kind of happiness is within, it's more permanent than a fleeting smile, this kind of happiness stays with you, it can be built upon.

Before I changed my life I was kind to others but never went out of my way to be. Now that it's a more conscious action I make sure I'm kind whenever the opportunity arises and I have deliberately chosen to spend some of my time where I will be in a position to help others. It has made such a difference. It has shown me that my own life truly is blessed, that giving is much better than receiving, that my soul is enriched by people I would otherwise not have met and that my life is better by doing this simple thing.

There is a knack to kindness - it should be quiet and matter-of-fact. Grand acts of kindness, done only for the thanks or what will come from it, are quite the opposite of what I'm writing about. This kindness is often carried out with no thanks or expectations of it. And I'm not talking about making yourself a doormat either. This kindness will make you stronger. Doormat kindness is loud and obvious and done to make yourself popular or to look good. I think real kindness is like a whisper, only you and the recipient know.

I have never been happier than I am now and I owe that to the kind of life I live. I have deliberately made the choices that give me this kind of life and I repeat those deliberate choices almost every day. I knew long before I lived this way that kindness, generosity and sharing would be a big part of my life but until I started living it, I didn't know how happy I would be made by those simple choices.

If you feel that your life is out of control and you're not sure how to steady it, think about what I've written here. You can change at any point by making small, deliberate choices in your every day life. Kindness is easy and simple but the rewards that come from the quiet execution of it are far more complex than I can fathom. All I know is that I have been changed by giving and if you can change one person's life by an act of kindness, then you will start to change your own life too.

15 May 2013

The marketing of convenience

I loved the interesting comments that came through yesterday. Parents sharing their experiences in an open way always has the potential to help some parents confirm their choices and it gives others the opportunity to read a wide variety of opinions they may not be exposed to in real life. So thank you for taking part in that important discussion about what kids eat.

It seems to me that parts of the food industry, and supermarkets in general, want to kneecap us. They aren't interested in our well being, they want our money and food is something we budget for on a daily or weekly basis. There is no way they will stop promoting the products they sell, so we all have to step up, refuse to take notice and just keep doing what we're doing.

My main gripe is that this form of selling promotes convenience over everything else such as quality, location, scarcity and the environmental cost of production, packaging and delivery. Convenience wins every time. And the consequence is that slowly, we lose our life skills. Why make bread when it's available fresh every day? Why put the time into making good soap when soap is so cheap? Many people take the convenient option every time and don't know that products made at home, including bread and soap, are far superior to what you buy at the supermarket. I know that many people don't have the time to make such things but those who do have the time and the inclination for it aren't encouraged or supported in their choices.


The saddest part of this whole thing is that it drains confidence. I get so many emails from young women telling me they want to do this and that but don't think they can, or they failed once and they don't have the confidence to try again. If you knew how many times I made bread and soap before I was satisfied with it you'd probably think I was mad for persisting so long. Good works take time. Anyone can walk along an aisle, pick up products and put them in a trolley. It takes time, skills, commitment, passion and, yes, confidence, to home-make what can easily be bought. But the pay off is that you retain those skills, you produce goods that are superior and you know what's in them.


I'm not going to explain why it's a good thing to remain skilled and to be self reliant, I'm sure you know why as surely as I do. But I will encourage you to learn as much as you can and to be confident in your values and the way you live. I hope you'll encourage others to do the same. Because if we don't acknowledge that the marketing of convenience is turning us into a bunch of sooky-lalas, then we'll all go down the drain. I want to yell that out loud for the world to hear, but I guess my blog is the closest I get to doing that.


I gleaned a lot of hope out of yesterday's comments. Seeing women rejecting the convenience of baby food in a jar made me realise there are a lot of us who have chosen to swim against the tide. I don't know about you but when I know my values are mirrored in others, when I know we're not the only ones who don't choose the easy option, it makes me want to keep going, keep enjoying, keep sharing and keep learning. Thank you for helping me feel that so strongly yesterday.

14 May 2013

Children and parents eating the same meals

Now that we're looking after Jamie occasionally, it's brought back a lot of memories about how things were when my own sons were babies. They both started eating porridge - the same one we enjoyed, then grew up with all of us sitting at the kitchen table for meals; there were no special foods. Our sons had completely different eating preferences. One would eat anything and everything, first time. The other was a fussy eater. He wanted to know what everything was, what was in it and if he hadn't seen it before, well, we had a struggle getting him to eat.

Our beautiful grandsons, Jamie (left) and Alex.

I come from a long line of very practical mothers and homekeepers. I clearly remember my mother advising me to give my sons chop bones to chew on, to simply puree or mash what we were eating and feed it to my boys and if they weren't going to eat, allow them to leave the table. I gave them the occasional chop bone to chew on, and they loved them. I think many of today's mothers might be shocked at the chop bones, but at that time, it was a fairly common practise. The boys happily sat there chewing away, tasting the flavour and getting a very small amount of nutrition. The purpose of the exercise was to get them used to seeing us eat and for them to eat the same food. It also helped them develop their taste buds and to be ready for meat when we introduced it later along with pureed vegetables.

One of my boys was allowed to leave the table when it became clear he wouldn't eat a particular meal. Once he left the table though, there was no coming back. Not even for dessert. Soon he learnt that lesson and then slowly developed his palate for a wider range of food. I sometimes remember the difficult days of refusing to eat and crying but they only lasted a short time. When new habits were established, that lasted forever. 

I read this very interesting article in The Guardian last week about children eating the same food as their parents. It reminded me that in Australia, almost all restaurants you go to will have a children's menu. That children's menu is usually made up of pizza, fish and chips, chicken nuggets and chips or burgers and chips. I have never understood why children couldn't just have smaller versions of the main items on the menu. Why don't they eat what their parents eat?

I've been really pleased to see Jamie eat a wide variety of foods ever since he started eating solids.  When he started snacking, Sunny and Kerry put different foods on a plate: fruits, vegetables, bread, crackers, cheese, chicken or meat, and let him choose what he wanted. Usually it was the entire plate. Now that he's eating with us, and sharing our morning tea and lunch, he eats what we eat. Last week that was pea and ham soup with toast fingers, the week before it was roast pork, red cabbage and roast vegetables. He also eats all the delicious Asian food Sunny cooks. During the day he will snack on fruit - we have organic oranges growing in the backyard at the moment, so he's eating those. He eats a small piece of whole orange cake or a homemade biscuit for morning tea. He drinks either water, milk or juice. I might ask Sunny if I can try him on warm milky tea when the days are a bit colder.

I think getting children to eat well is a problem in many homes. It can be really difficult at the start and if you're stressed after a day's work, sometimes you just want everyone fed so you have time to relax.  And there are so many different ways to get the same result. What happens in your home? Is, or was, it a battle every day or was it easy for you? When did you start solids and when did you stop giving milk as frequently?

13 May 2013

A possum resting in the nest


There was a little visitor to our chicken coop last night.  I found him this morning when I let the girls out. It looks like a little brushtail possum, a native animal in this area. We had another visiting possum stay in our nest a few years back and that one was injured. It stayed a week or so and then disappeared. I hope he regained strength and went back to his tree. 

This little fellow looks to have lost some fur on his face so he may have been in a fight with a dog, cat or other possum. Whatever his problem, we'll leave him alone to rest and, hopefully, recover.

10 May 2013

Weekend reading

Mother's Day is a day set aside to recognise the role of mothers and the importance mothers play in our lives and in the life of the nation. It's Mother's Day in Australia this Sunday. I am sickened by the advertising I'm seeing for diamond rings, trips and cars. Please don't get caught up in the commercialisation of this day. These kinds of gifts don't honour motherhood, they devalue it. The most genuine celebration is when a family comes together to honour the mother, maybe with a family meal that mum didn't cook. If you want to give something to your mother on Mother's Day, give yourself. That will touch her heart.

Leave the kids alone

Save save save

US honey bees threatened

Americans still spending on luxuries

Free quilt patterns

Cats in boxes

FROM THE COMMENTS HERE DURING THE WEEK

Katie at Simple Foody

Dillpickle Unfinished

Catherine at A time to create

9 May 2013

Making biscuits from scratch

It's Wednesday morning, 10.03, the aroma of homemade biscuits is wafting through our house. Is there any better fragrance? I have a few minutes to wait before they come out of the oven. Hanno is outside in the garden, clipping, mulching and planting in the empty spaces. Soon I'll call him for morning tea. I have no doubt he can smell biscuits baking.


These biscuits are the cheap and easy biscuits written about by Paula on the forum. Here is her recipe:
Makes 7-8 dozen, cook 10 min at 180C

500 grams butter (approx 1.1 lb)
1 can condensed milk (390-400 gram)
1 cup sugar
5 cups wholemeal self raising flour (or plain flour and baking powder)
toppings like choc chips, smarties, jam, cinnamon and sugar

Cream butter and sugar, add condensed milk. stir in flour. roll into balls and flatten. Top with choc chips etc, or thumbprint and add jam for jam drops.

Bake at 180C for approx 10 min until golden brown. Cool on racks.








Morning tea has come and gone and still that aroma lingers. There are extras to be had from making up a batch of homemade biscuits. There is the aroma, the anticipation, and the feeling of pride in making what you need. Your biscuits will contain no preservatives or artificial flavours and that is certainly a bonus. I cooked up half the dough and have the other half wrapped in baking paper and in a plastic bag in the freezer. I'm going to visit my sister for a week soon. The day before I go I'll bake the second batch so Hanno has enough biscuits for visitors, but mostly for him and Jamie. ;- )

Are you a biscuit maker? I encourage you to make up a batch of these little beauties. You'll need an electric mixer or hand beater. They are just a plain butter biscuit but you can add nuts, chocolate chips, glaced fruit, nutmeg or cinnamon sugar or even jam - which is spooned into into the indent your thumb makes in the dough.

I know it can be intimidating when you want to bake your own bread or cakes and you don't have someone to teach you. These biscuits are a wonderful first step into baking and possibly the easiest way to start. They are simple to make and you'll have almost 100 biscuits. More than enough to fill your biscuit jar as still have a few to give to family and friends.

Just a few hints just in case you're a first time baker. Have your butter at room temperature but not too soft, cream the butter and sugar well before adding anything else and when you form the biscuits, don't make them too thin. If you make them in balls for the first batch, you can get a bit fancier with cookie cutters next time around. The balls are easy because you put them on the tray and they just melt to form a nice round biscuit. Don't place the dough too close on the tray or they'll join up.

Other than that, it's an easy and cheap recipe that will give you first rate biscuits, with no hidden nasties. Serving these with your morning tea or for an after school snack, beats opening a packet of commercial biscuits hands down. I hope you try them.

8 May 2013

Not everything is lost

This poem has apparently been around for a while but when I read it for the first time this week it hit me right in the heart. I wanted to share it with those of you who haven't seen it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. What lessons it teaches.

......

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
Naomi Shihab Nye

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used -
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her — southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
Questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag —
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers —
Non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands —
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped
— has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

............

7 May 2013

Cleaning and organising a work area

I'm sure most of you who knit, sew or create with your hands will identify with this. I'm trying to organise my work room so I have enough room to write, which is my main occupation, and still have bits and pieces in full view so I'm inspired and comforted by them. I am more creative in controlled chaos. In the past it didn't really matter what my room looked like, I could be disorganised in there and only I would see it. But now Jamie comes into my room frequently and although he doesn't touch anything, I want to move all the pins, needles and scissors to safer places. I want and need my room to work as a creative space as well as having it tidy and organised (within reason). It's difficult for me because I am, by nature, quietly chaotic.




As you can see by the three photos above, I don't have much room on my desk and everything is messy. Funnily enough, I know where everything is.

I am a notebook person. These are part of my current crop.


Slow progress is being made here. You might not see it but it is happening. My desk is not pristine, I doubt it ever will be, but I do have space to work now.

There is a beautiful view from my window, looking out onto our green and lush front garden. It's a bit overgrown at the moment but there is order there too if you look. That's what I'm aiming for in my work room - ordered, but not rigidly so.

I'm moving into a very busy work period that will last until at least September so if I can infuse a little order into my work space now, I know I'll benefit from it. I guess one of my problems is that although I could put away a lot of the things on my desk, I like looking at them. I wonder if you feel like that too in your work space.

I'm going to clean out and tidy up a couple of shelves, boxes, and my desk and see how I feel about it.  I'll do the shelves first because if I do the desk first, I'll probably think I deserve a medal after that and stop. I often use the 15 minute limit tactic but it's not working with this task. Not doing it is not an option and I know when it's all done I'll be glad I put the effort into it, but it's the starting that's the sticking point. Secretly I like it the way it is but I know I'll be more productive and the grandkids will be safer if I ignore my preference and just do it.

What tactics do you use when you have to do something in the house that you know needs to be done but you haven't really got the will to do it?  

6 May 2013

Home-based economy

Google "home-based economy' and you get a lot of links about setting up a business at home, earning money from home and a lot of flim-flammery about earning big bucks working one hour a day at home. My idea about home-based economy is as far removed from those concepts as is possible. To me, home-based economy is exactly that - the domestic economy that revolves around the work done in the home by the people who live there. A domestic economy is a multi-faceted resource that involves prudence, thrift, sound judgement, home production, hard work and common sense homemaking.

We set up our home economy here about ten years ago. I had just closed down my business and Hanno was still working in our shop, having previously retired from the mines. I was absolutely sure that at our stage of life, having already paid off our mortgage and with no other debt, we'd be able to cut back, earn less but still be able to live within our means.  We did that in a number of ways, the main ones being:

Live with less
One of the first things we did when we decided to cut back was to get rid of pay TV and our second car. We then went on to drastically reduce what we bought. It felt good but we were out of touch with the rest of the Australian population. Since 2003, people here have increased what they spend on internet fees by six fold and they're paying a third more for pay TV. At the same time the number of electrical appliances in Australia increased by 45 percent.

We decluttered, and found that's an ongoing activity. We do small areas and then stop until we decide to do it again. I also realised the challenge isn't just about getting rid of what we already had but also not buying as much as we used to. Changes to shopping habits reaped big rewards and I also started to make quite a few of the things I used to buy.


Home production of previously bought goods
I looked in books and online to find a variety of recipes that would enable me to make things that used to be made in the home. Our domestic production line still includes bread, soap, laundry liquid, jam, sauce, relish, cakes, biscuits, dishcloths, cleaning rags, all sorts of knitting, aprons, napkins, tablecloths, salves and creams. Doing this taught me what my grandmother and her grandmothers had known all along - that home production generally gives you better products at a cheaper price. Making as much as we can with our own hands is still one of the hallmarks of our home.

Remain debt-free
Living with no debt at our stage of life gives us a feeling of security and that we're in control. Paying money out for rent or mortgage repayments earlier in life is usually the norm for most of us and it's a great relief when that last mortgage payment is made. Adding more debt not only increases your footprint it also requires you to work to pay it off and often that brings a level of stress with it. Going hand-in-hand with debt-free living is developing the capacity to feel content with what you have. The ability to feel that contentment needs to be developed and nurtured along the way so that when you finally pay off your debts, the temptation to spend has been replaced by other more benign and rewarding activities.


Growing food in the backyard
Learning how to grow food in your own backyard, or in any space you have, will help you cut down on your grocery bill and give you fresh healthy food. If you want to eat fresh, local food, nothing will beat your own backyard produce. And not only will you reap what you sow, vegetable gardening gives you the opportunity to get your hands into the dirt and reconnect with what is outside your back door. Getting to know your land, learning about the birds and insects that visit your backyard will place you within your eco-system and help you understand more about your local climate and environment, and how what you do in your home affects it.


Community-based bartering and swapping
No matter how sharp and switched on you are, I doubt you'll be able to make and do everything you want to do in your home, particularly if you're working outside the home as well. We all have things we can't make and therefore have to buy or barter for. If you connect with your local community you may find there are some things that can be had, simply by producing more eggs, tomatoes, honey or dishcloths. Bartering is a great way of getting what you need without the need for money. See what you can find out and try to get yourself into a bartering arrangement with someone.  You'll still be getting local fresh produce but you'll also be helping your local area develop its own economy.




Cooking from scratch
Without a doubt, cooking from scratch will help you save money, eat healthier food and look at your household systems in a different way. Before I made my change I cooked from scratch about 90 percent of the time, but I did it out of habit rather than the radical action I see it as today. When I chose to cook from scratch everyday, it allowed me to shop in a different way, saving more while being more selective in my choice of product, point of origin and packaging. Grocery shopping became a political act as well as a domestic one. It also moved me towards stockpiling which saved me much more time than I ever expected and helped me get more value for the money I spent.



Green cleaning
Along with cooking from scratch, making your own cleaners will help you save money and become healthier.  Using simple products such as borax, washing soda, bicarb, olive oil, vinegar and soap, you can make every cleaning product you used to buy at a tiny fraction of the supermarket cost.  No matter what you hear on the TV ads, you do not have to buy a different product for every cleaning task in your home. As long as you match the cleaning ability of these simple products with what you're cleaning, it will do a very good job. The added bonus for you, as well as the dollars saved, will be that you bring far fewer chemicals into your home.

There will never be one thing that allows you to reduce your cost of living, it will be many things. What I've written about here allowed us to reduce what we needed to live on and it made us healthier, more self-reliant, stronger and happier. Developing your own home economy enables you to see beyond the commercialisation of the home and brings you back to a place where there are many alternatives and possibilities, not the single one - the supermarket - that is predominant today.

Have you developed your own home-based economy? Please share what you do in your own home.


3 May 2013

Weekend reading


Christina Lowry - this is always a beautiful blog but just look at the blanket Christina is working on.


Think Little by Wendell Berry


From comments here during the week




Another week has come and gone; they seem to be flying by this year. I hope you take some time to look after yourself this weekend. Let's all take an hour out to sit in the sun, or someplace warm, to enjoy the scenery or a book and recharge our batteries. See you next week. :- )

2 May 2013

Knitting and EcoYarns

Knitting is, by far, my favourite pastime, although maybe I shouldn't call it a pastime because that implies I do it only for pleasure. Knitting is a pleasure for me but I do it for necessity - to provide clothing, warmth, household cloths and gifts for my family and friends. Knitting is one of my household chores. I have written about this subject before because I could see women online blogging about taking a lot of time with their "crafts" and often feeling guilty about it. I see craft work as part of a simple home. If you want handmade dish or face cloths, organic cloths for baby, tea towels, tablecloths, jug covers, various muslins for straining, napkins, curtains, homemade nappies/diapers and clothes, then you, or someone in your home, will be making them. Those items are not made for pleasure then, although there certainly is a lot of pleasure in the hours spent making them, they are made for the purpose of self-reliance and frugality.


When I knit I always use the best quality cotton or wool I can find. I am so fortunate to have EcoYarns as one of my sponsors and I know that without doubt, Vivian always sends me yarns that are an absolute pleasure to work with. If you're looking to stock up on winter wools, alpaca yarn, organic cotton or wool, Vivian is having a sale at the moment so you can take advantage of that and stock up on the finest quality for  a good price. One of my favourite products of hers is the organic 100% cotton (above and below). Vivian tells us on her site:  By buying EcoOrganic Cotton, you are helping to revive ancestral techniques of hand spinning and hand dyeing of the Peruvian dyers, especially of the Paracas Culture. You are also contributing to the welfare of the women (and their families) who work to bring you this yarn. The women often come from the poorest localities in Lima. They are given Fair Trade conditions and a litre of milk per day that they work. The money that they make helps their children obtain an education.


When you buy the eco cotton it's in a loose coil called a skein. You'll need two arms to hold it for you while you roll it into  ball, which is much easier to knit with. Or you can use a swift, like mine below. I found this one in a local antique shop.



 These red skeins are super fine, machine-washable merino.
 Baby alpaca.

I've knitted quite a few baby garments with this cotton and all of them knitted up beautifully. I could give those gifts absolutely sure they would be safe on a baby's skin. You can't always say that about wool or cotton because quite often harsh chemicals are used in the processing of them. Vivian has reduced the cotton by 50 percent, it's now only $7.50 a skein.

 The tall cone of yarn in the middle is the Qoperfina.

When you have a spare 15 minutes, pop over to Vivian's site and have a good look around. You may find something you like. There is a fine selection of fleece, fine wools and cottons and yarns you won't find elsewhere else. At the moment Vivian has a 2ply Qoperfina which is 50% alpaca, 48% cotton, 2% copper. She sent me some to try but I haven't decided what I should use it on yet. Any suggestions?  It's 2 ply.

You know what I really love about knitting with Vivian's yarns? It's knowing I will spend all that time finding a pattern and knitting it up and that will result in a quality garment that I'm proud to give away or use myself. Before I found EcoYarns, I knitted up wool that looked worn out when I finished knitting it and a year later looked five years old. I want the time I put into my knitting to produce something that I can happily use for many years. I want quality. I recommend EcoYarns to you, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

I finished it!

And now I'm going to, hopefully, finish off a cotton shawl/scarf I've been working on for a few weeks. I wanted one similar to these but I didn't want to tie it and I didn't want a pointed back, so I just made the pattern up as I went. I want to use it at home to keep my neck warm on cold winter mornings. I was half way through this shawl when up popped Kate at Purple Pear with hers, almost the same as what I was knitting (great minds). Mine is made using the steel grey EcoCotton and when I wrap it around my neck it's so soft and comfortable, I feel like I'm wrapped in a bunny rug. I hope I can finish it before I post this tomorrow morning so you can see what it looks like.

I've got this on my to do list.
Beautiful patterns

Happy knitting everyone!

1 May 2013

Changing our meal times

Over the past year or so Hanno and I have been slowly changing our eating habits. We started by having smaller servings because our appetites have changed. This has worked well for us and we've been satisfied with the meals we're eating. Now we've moved on to a change in when the main meal is served. We're now eating it at lunchtime.

Hanno is quite used to this style of eating. In Germany that is how they serve food, many places of work serve a hot meal at lunchtime and in the evenings appetites are satisfied with abend brot - or evening bread. I have fond memories of abend brot when we lived in Germany. The table was always laid with knives and forks for everyone, either a plate or a small bread board each, drink - usually beer, tea or coffee and a delicious selection of cold cuts, cheeses, salads, pickles and tomatoes.

Unusually, when we have abend brot it's at midday. We're having a pot of tea with it. We didn't do that when we had our main meal in the evening because I don't sleep well if I drink tea or coffee after 4pm. As usual, I set the table for the two of us. Knives, forks, a plate for each of us, and cups for tea. In the middle of this is the main plate - a magnificent assortment of whatever I have on hand or have bought for the plate.


Abend brot can be made up of anything. The one we had the other day (above) was a combination of camembert and Swiss cheese, salami, boiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado, pickled cucumbers and onions. We had rye sourdough and black bread - the very dense German rye bread. Everyone makes their own sandwich so you can do whatever suits you. Usually in Germany, you'd have either cheese or cold cuts on one sandwich but I had Swiss cheese, salami, tomato, avocado and pickled onions on my slice, but I could only eat one and a half slices. 

Mayonaisse-based salads are also popular for abend brot. Next time we have it, I'll poach a chicken breast and we'll have chicken salad and possibly kassler instead of salami. Tuna salad or egg salad would also be great additions. It sounds like a light option but it certainly fills you up and it's great, as long as you have the makings of it, for those nights, or lunchtimes, when you don't feel like cooking.

When do you serve meals throughout the day? Have you changed how you eat recently? Our change is due to our ages but I'm guessing there are some who have changed to include more organic and local foods and some who have changed for financial reasons. 


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