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17 April 2014

Setting yourself up for simple life

An email arrived last week from a reader in Canberra. For those of you who don't live here, Canberra is situated half-way between Sydney and Melbourne. It's our national capital and it contains our parliament buildings, the mint, war memorial, the national gallery and library. The city is home to thousands of public servants and people who own and work in the businesses that support them. Our reader, Sarah, writes:

"We have been on a quest for a simpler life since we left Vancouver with one small child. My boss demanded full time work, I had no childcare space (despite a 1.5 year wait list), a long commute, etc. We have greatly improved our lives in coming to Canberra but I want a whole lot more. Life is so serious here in Canberra. It does not make sense to me that our generation has to squeeze ourselves into cities or suburbs with super high mortgages, commuting, childcare, rushing around, etc. just so our children can go to good schools and continue this pattern themselves. I would love to read about your ideas for people with young families looking to escape that treadmill."


It never occurred to me when I was younger that the majority of us sell our life hours for money. It was only when I was older, and much more concerned trying to balance work with life that this strange reality dawned on me. The way we live in Western society is so deeply entrenched most of us never question it. But it is what it is, the majority of us have not been born into great wealth. We have to earn our keep by selling what we've got - our intellectual and physical capabilities and the life hours that go with them.

I am a worker bee, have been all my life, so you won't be surprised to know that I think work is a good thing. I firmly believe that we all should work for what we get in life. But I don't think we should work an entire lifetime. We aren't here just to keep our country's businesses going, we are here to find love, happiness and contentment and to build strong families. Doing that will keep our species and our nations going. So if you were to ask me how to set up a strong simple life that would function well right through until old age, I would say to work hard to buy a home and when the mortgage is paid off, to move to a blend of paid work and home work in a town you want to live. Though I imagine there would be some who would want to give up work altogether when they're established and debt-free, and there will also be many folk who live in the same place all their lives. When you are debt-free and working towards it, your focus would be to reduce the cost of living as much as you can, to make your home a place of production where you make as much as possible, and to keep the traditional skills of homemaking and small farming alive while you live your simple life in, but separate from, the mainstream.


Remember, that you don't have to wait until you pay off your debts to start living a much simpler life. You can start right now if you want to.  You need to think about what you want in your life, what your own values are and decide to step back from buying everything you want. Then, by living frugally and paying off debt as you go, you have time to develop the skills you will require when you dive fully into this life. Some of you will pay off your mortgages faster than others but that really is the key to this. To be free of debt and to live frugally, producing some of what you need, while working enough to pay for your lower cost of living.

We all know that life doesn't always go by any rules. If you've never been able to buy a home and are a lifelong renter, you're still well and truly included in this, although your path might be a bit more unstable if you are in a situation when you have to leave a loved home because the landlord has other plans. Buying a home puts more power into your hands but not all of us can do it, or we do it, then lose it.  But if you can live frugally then it might be possible for you to go to part-time work too but you'd have to have a good emergency fund to cushion you from the unexpected. We all need that.

From the time you decide to live a more simple life you need to be more prudent and thrifty, you'll  learn what you need to know in your particular situation, you'll plan and budget. You have to look after what you own and make the most of what you have. If you have land, use it to grow food. You'll be getting the full value of your land if you can live on it and grow food on it as well. Don't be tempted by fashion or updating what you own to keep up with the neighbours. Make your own cleaners, dispose of all the disposables, make do, cook from scratch, stockpile, and pay every cent you save on your mortgage. And while all this is going on, find the best in every day and be content with what you've got. 


Simple life has many offerings but you have to look for them, nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. Yes, your life will be full of activity but there is nothing wrong with that. The work you do for pay and at home will give you the life you want, and it will build character. Most of the work you do at home is worked at your own pace, it's gentle work and it gives you what you need. And as the months turn into years, I hope you'll find the contentment and happiness that can be found living this way.

So to answer part of Sarah's question specifically: I think it does make sense to work to set yourself up in life, buying a home and what you think you need to live well. After setting up with a partner you should be focused on earning enough to buy a home. I think it's best to do that fast with both of you working, and certainly before children are born. But that only has to be done in cities and suburbs if that is the only place you can find work. You may be one of those lucky people who can work from home and not be tied to a specific location. When the kids are born, if you can continuing paying off your debt as fast as possible, while enjoying life as well, you'll have a good chance of being able to transition to part-time work in about eight to ten years, depending on your mortgage. Those early years of hard work and sacrifice pay off when you own your home. Then, if you want it, you could sell your town or suburban house and buy somewhere less expensive, maybe in a semi-rural location where the houses are cheaper, but your still have access to city life when you want it. By selling a city house you'll have enough to buy a rural home and a nest egg to keep you going while you establish yourself.


Many people know from an early age they want more than what city life offers, others get sick of the rat race in mid-life, sell up and go and live in the country. I'm reminded of Duncan and Megan at the Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores who gave up city life with two young boys and set up in the country town of Nundle. Now they operate a homewares store and if you read Megan's blog, you'll see they're living a busy but very rich life. You can read about Duncan and Megan's story in Slow magazine here:  http://www.exchangestores.com.au/nundle/resources/slow_magazine_0214.pdf

Sarah, you must live true to your values and if they don't include paying off a high mortgage, private schools or commuting then you have to work out a plan to move away from that scenario. You don't have to live in any particular place, but you need to have the means to live the way you want to live. Start planning your escape. Work out a plan to pay down your mortgage, put the children in good public schools when you need to and work towards a life that will enrich you. I think it all starts with buying a home. When you have that asset, you'll be able to structure the life you want but don't forget to live simply from today.


15 April 2014

Another milestone day

If you'd asked me when I was fifty, when I would start to feel old, I would have told you 80ish. I turn 66 today and I'm starting to feel old. Feeling old to me means I'm starting to slow down, I'm less inclined to take on new things and while I feel I've seen it all, I also have an optimistic view of what is coming and my ability to meet whatever it is with confidence. BTW, I don't think growing old is a bad thing, it's what we're all doing every day. I think life often gets better as you age. When I was 50, I wanted to live till I was 110. I'm not that selfish now and whenever my time is up, I'll be grateful that I had an interesting life and for the great majority of it, I was happy.

And just to prove I'm not a glamorous 25 year old masquerading behind these words, here is my birthday photo - the Queen and I do them every year - taken yesterday afternoon when I was 65. ;- )

Living to a really old age is not part of my plan now. I don't want to die tomorrow or in the next few years, but I don't want to live passed 90 either. I am happy knowing that my family is settled and that grandchildren have been born. I have had a few successes in my life, but having the family I have has been the greatest of them.

Today Hanno and I might go out for a seafood lunch. It depends on Kerry though because he flies back in from his job today and Hanno has to pick him up. If we're too late for lunch, we might have afternoon tea up the mountain at the French cafe. It will be good to have a day off too, I'll do some knitting, wander around and no doubt I'll talk on the phone to various family members and friends. It's a day for pottering, not working.

I want to thank you all for being here today and for reading what I write. It's not often a woman my age gets to have an audience and that's something that I think about almost every day. So thanks for giving that to me, for reading, for commenting and for walking this path alongside me.

- - - ♥-♥-♥- - -

Over at the forum today there's a very interesting thread about how various folk started their simple lifestyle. It's well worth a look.

14 April 2014

Pickled cucumbers from the garden

It's that time of year again when many of us are starting our gardens so we can eat the freshest and tastiest of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Hanno started preparing the soil here on March 3, and over the following weeks, home-sown and bought seedlings started going in slowly. Last week some of last year's garlic was planted along with kohl rabi, turnips, lettuce, kale, Amish paste tomatoes and more ruby chard. Already planted and growing well are green beans, tomatoes, passionfruit, bok choi, peas, silver beet, onions, broccoli, cucumbers, cauliflowers, cabbage, capsicums/peppers, Welsh onions, sage, borage, parsley, pumpkin, daikons, thyme and yesterday I repotted an avocado and a bay tree. I wonder what you're planting.

For those of you who emailed asking whether Hanno will continue to do our lawn or will we get someone in to do it, here is your answer. A close up photo would reveal a smiling face. When we discussed it, Hanno said he wanted to continue to look after his own place, and that sealed it for me.

It was raining here yesterday, the remnants of a cyclone up north. That steady, gentle rain makes the plants grow like nothing else can. It feels good knowing the soil is wet and the tanks are full. Most of the hard settling up work is done now, we only have a bed of potatoes to plant and then the follow up plantings whenever there is a vacant spot. Of course there is still the occasional weeding and watering but that's not a chore, I think it's relaxing.

A few tomatoes are growing and we've just added some Amish paste tomatoes for sauce. These are the French tomato Rouge de Marmande.

Ruby chard.

I call this petticoat lettuce, I'm not sure of it's real name. We added a couple of these solar light to the garden when we noticed bandicoot holes in the lawn and a few eaten plants. They did the trick. No more holes.


The chooks were all corralled into the corner of their run when I went out yesterday to take these photos. There is Patrick on the far right, he should be showing the frightened girls what to do but he's still too young and silly.

 And this is why the chooks were scared. A young peacock from over the back fence.  I soon got rid of him.

The last pumpkin left on the vine.


Borage ready to burst into flower.

 There is an abundance of passionfruit.

Sprouting broccoli.

Peppers and daikons.

A bag of last year's garlic, just out of the fridge.

Garlic being planted.

From the vine ...
to the basket ...

to the kitchen ...
 and the fridge.

When you grow your own vegetables you tend to collect recipes for things you didn't make before, such as pickles.  We had so many cucumbers last week, far too many to eat fresh, I decided to pickle some in spicy vinegar. Those I made up yesterday could sit in the fridge for months, although they will probably be eaten much sooner than that. 

You don't need any special equipment and recycled jars will do to store them. Take your clean jars and either boil them or put the jars in a slow oven (150C/300F) for 15 minutes to sterilise them. Keep them all warm until you're ready to pack the cucumbers in the jars. The jars should be warm for that.

I think I used about 12 cucumbers but you can pickle any amount, just adjust the quantity of spiced vinegar you make. The night before, peel and slice all your cucumbers and place in a large bowl. Pour over about a tablespoon of salt. Don't worry, you won't eat the salt. If you don't drawn the fluid from the cucumbers it dilutes the vinegar too much in the jars.  Mix the cucumbers around with your hands, making sure the salt is well distributed, put a clean tea towel over the top of the bowl and leave it overnight. The following morning there will be a lot of fluid in the cucumber bowl. Pour it all into a colander and let the salty water go down the drain. Run clean cold water from the tap over the cucumbers to make sure all the salt is removed. Leave the cucumber in the colander for about an hour to drain. 

You can make your own variation of this spiced vinegar. Depending on whther you like it very vinegary, or sweet, or spicy, add more or less vinegar (make up the volume with water), sugar, spice. Make it to suit your taste. You don't have to include any spices if you don't like them.

This is how I made it:

  • 2 cups good apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds or pickling spice
  • a few peppercorns
  • a good pinch of chilli flakes
Place the above in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves.

To make up the pickles, pack the cucumbers into the sterilised jars and add enough vinegar to cover them. Put on the lid and allow to cool overnight before storing in the fridge.

I hope all my friends up north came through the cyclone with no flooding or other problems. It looks like we'll all be able to dry out a bit today. Take care, everyone.

12 April 2014

Paying off the mortgage

If you're struggling to pay off a mortgage and feeling a bit isolated because of it, read this wonderful thread at the forum. These are ordinary people, just like you and me, and they write about how they work towards being mortgage-free. I usually feel a bit glum when I think about mortgages but this thread made me smile.

If your interest is in the kitchen, have a look at this thread about making bacon at home.

11 April 2014

Weekend reading


Forget Martha, meet Patrick, our barred Plymouth Rock rooster. :- )  I'm convinced now that he's a boy. I said on the day he arrived he looked like a boy but I named him Martha and waited for time to pass. He's always been bigger than the girls, even the fully grown ones. He's taller, elegant and more upright, whereas the pullets are round and fluffy. Now pointy saddle feathers have grown, there are down turning tail feathers and while there has been no crowing yet and still no comb, I'm convinced. Welcome Patrick! We're going to keep him and see how he goes. So far he's been friendly and a bit bonkers. I think that's a good combinations in people, I hope it is in roosters too.

How to organise your embroidery threads
20 ideas for using stale bread
Does the eco setting make a difference?
Backyard Permaculture
Raising chickens on a shoestring
21 benefits of owning less
How to freeze fruit
How to reduce food waste
Using vinegar in the garden
10 homemade coffee creamers
Woven newspaper basket

Kakao Talk - It's a Korean message and phone program and it's free to download and free to use. It's like Skype for phones, although I think there is a computer version of it too. You can talk on the phone and message all day long if you want to and there are no charges. It's been really great to use while Sunny is in Korea. The English version of it is in the link.

10 April 2014

Can you buy my book now?

As many of you know, my book The Simple Life had to be reprinted the day after it was published. I sincerely thank everyone who bought it on that first day. I've been told the new books were in the Penguin warehouse last Friday and now I'm wondering if you've been able to buy the book where you live.  If you bought the book or intend to, can you let me know if it's available at your local book shop, or if you can buy it online. I'm particularly interested in the overseas sales, if any, but I'm interested in the local sales too, and where you bought the book.  If you have a bit of time, could you let me know please. Thank you. xx


9 April 2014

A day here at home - pictorial version

Hanno bought me an early birthday present - a new camera. :- ) I spent some time yesterday wandering around taking photos and seeing what this new contraption can and can't do. I'm no photographer and I don't like staged photos so I'm sure sometimes some of you must think: Good grief. What on earth is she doing now! This camera is not a point and click, which my last camera was, this camera requires thinking, reading of the manual and a bit of practise. Hopefully it will improve my photos. 

So today I thought I'd show you a glimpse of what happened here yesterday. It nothing exciting, just Hanno, me, the chooks and the cat in a few scenes from our home. I hope you enjoy them.

Above, drying on the back of a chair, is a little crocheted pad I use for my tea pot. I can't remember now who gave it to me, it was a gift from one of the ladies, but it's one of the most useful things in my kitchen. And it's just so pretty! I use it under my metal tea pot and it keeps the bottom warm and sometimes I use it under hot saucepans, so they don't mark the benchtop.


A distinctive Barnevelder egg - dark brown with speckles.
Hello Bluebell!
It looks like Martha is dancing here.
 Kathleen with Tricia, who is too busy to look at the camera.
You can see where I clipped Miss Tammy's wing. 

Fiona and Annie gossiping at the water cooler.


This is pear vinegar made a few weeks ago.


The view when I walk out of my work room towards the kitchen. The cupboard straight ahead is my stockpile cupboard.
Yesterday's lunch - homemade macaroni and cheese with cucumber salad. We have a tsunami of cucumbers in the backyard about to hit us. There will be lots of pickling going on soon.

A little bowl of beads and bits and pieces Tricia used when she was crocheting a jug cover.


And mid-afternoon, a couple of photos from Sunny of Jamie playing with his cousin.

I have been meaning to tell you about this app Sunny put me onto. It's a Korean message and phone program and it's free to download and free to use. It's like Skype for phones, although I think there is a computer version of it too. You can talk on the phone and message all day long if you want to and there are no charges. It's been really great to use while Sunny is in Korea. The English version of it is downloadable here: http://www.kakao.com/talk/en.

 Hanno planting a year's world of garlic yesterday morning.

Working on depth of field photos. :- )

The camera is a Canon EOS 1100D, an entry level digital SLR camera. I am used to working with SLR cameras because I used them when I worked for a living, but this is a different kettle of fish entirely. I like it though. It's another challenge to learn all about it and hopefully, it will improve the photos here. And don't worry, I won't start staging things, the photos will remain simple displays of our home life.  Does anyone else have a camera like this? What camera do you use?

8 April 2014

Vegetable soup with bone marrow


There are fashions in foods as well as clothes. At the moment the food fads seem to be kale, bone broth, any "new" grain such as quinoa, spelt or amaranth, toast (yes, toast), kimchee and other ferments and coconut oil. I'm sure there are others I've failed to notice. If you've been reading here for a while, you'll know I'm not a follower of fashion. I think fashion cheats us. It makes us want something, then when we have it, it says you can't like it anymore, there is something better. Throw out the old, buy this, it's better. Pfffftt! When you've been around as long as I have, you'll realise that most things go in and out of fashion and you should just like what you like, regardless.

If you think I don't care for any of the food fads I've mentioned, think again, because I think they're all great foods. The thing is though that I don't see them as something new, like most of our ancestors, yours included, I've been using all of them for many years and will continue on, even when they've gone out of fashion (again). If you could phone your great grandma right now and ask her about food, she wouldn't know what Big Macs, Pop Tarts or Yoghurt Tubes are but she would know every one of those foods. She might know kimchee as sauerkraut, but she'd not only know fermented cabbage but would be able to show you how to make it.




Overall, having these old foods as fads shows that the trend now is towards healthier foods. Food that needs time, thought and preparation. This is not food you'll find being prepared by teenagers in a fast food joint, this is for home cooks because it's food for growing children and food for families. When I was growing up, there weren't packets of stock on supermarket shelves, most home cooks made their own stock. Bones would be saved from a roast or bought raw from the butcher and a 24 hour slow cooking session would result in the most nutritious stock to make into a soup. That long slow cooking brings the minerals - calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur, and others, out of the bones, it dissolves the gristle and gives you a form of glucosamine and chondroiton that is easily digestible and beneficial.  Usually you see that being sold as a supplement to help treat arthritis.

Stock can be made out of most bones but if you can add bone marrow to the mix, you've got yourself a super soup. Try to buy free range, grass fed or organic bones if you can but don't fuss over it. Buy what you can afford. You'll have to get the butcher to cut the bones for you because many marrow bones are long bones and won't fit into your stockpot. This is my recipe for winter vegetable soup. It's made of bone stock, bone marrow, root vegetables and barley - my favourite grain of all time. Roasting the bones until they're brown will add to the flavour of the soup but isn't necessary. You could roast the barley too if you wanted to, it will add more flavour but also adds to the time needed to make the soup.

My recipe for this soup isn't really my recipe, it's my family's recipe.; it might even be your family's recipe. My parents made it, my grandmother made it and I have no doubt she watched as her mother and granny made it too. Into a large stockpot (about 8 litres/quarts) add the bones and cover them with water. Add about half a teaspoon of pepper, two tablespoons of vinegar (that helps extract the minerals from the bones), a handful of parsley, two bay leaves and an onion. Bring it to the boil and let it slowly simmer all day. You could let this cook for a couple of days if you wanted to but 24 hours will give you good stock. The larger the bones, the longer you'll need to cook them. You can turn it off overnight if you want to and start it up the following morning. If you have a wood stove, leave it on the stove for the entire cooking time. If you notice scum develop and rise to the top, skim it off with a slotted spoon. When the stock is cooked, strain it through a sieve to remove the bones, herbs and onion. If the bones are marrow bones, put them to the side, you'll use them again soon.



The night before making the soup, pour two cups of barley into a bowl, cover with water and rinse the grains. Grains aren't really dirty but they are stored in silos and transported around and they pick up dust. Rinse them off, run clean water over them and let them sit overnight soaking in a covered bowl. This will soften the grains and start off the sprouting process. 



To make the soup: pour your stock into the stockpot, add the soaked barley and about half a kilo/one pound of diced lean gravy beef, shin beef or any of the cheaper cuts that contain gristle. The gristle will break down during the cooking and add more nutrients to the soup. Bring the mix to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, and with the lid on, simmer for an hour or two to soften the meat. Peel and chop or grate one swede/rutabaga, two parsnips, three carrots, three sticks of celery, one chopped onion, a hand full of parsley. Test taste the stock for seasoning and add what you think it needs. As the vegetables are cooking, remove as much marrow as you can from the bones and add it to the soup. Cook for another 30 - 40 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. You'll often find pockets of marrow that will easily slip out, sometimes you have to dig around with the end of a spoon.  Back 200 years, they routinely had marrow spoons in kitchens. Now you only find them in antique shops, although I've looked for many years and never found one. I use the end of a sharp small spoon - see above.

Often the bones you use will add fat to the stock. You can get rid of it by cooling the stock in the fridge so the fat forms a layer on the top. When it forms it's easy to scrape it off with a spoon.

This is a very hearty and nutritious soup that will fill up even staunch meat eaters. Add some bread on the side if you wish. If the family still need filling, make a nice simple pudding or pie. I made a coconut and blueberry impossible pie last week that would be ideal but custard and fresh banana or milk pudding would be just as good. If you need recipes for puddings, let me know and we can do some recipes for them next week. I hope you love the soup as much as we do. It will certainly be a healthy addition to your winter menu.


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