19 September 2014

Weekend reading

Happy birthday, Hanno!

It's been a busy but steady week here - nothing we couldn't handle. Now we're looking forward to our family get together later today. Shane, Sarndra and Alex will be here this afternoon, then we'll all head over to Sunny's.

Over the weekend I'll be reading and writing. I bought three new books, two print book and Home Grown as an ebook and I'm looking forward to diving into them. I hope your week was productive and enjoyable. If not, it's nearly the weekend so I hope you get to relax and enjoy yourself then.  It's not too long to go.

Thanks for your visits and comments during the week. It makes me want to keep blogging when I know you're out there.

A look at the Amish and how they celebrate Christmas
Tougher than they look
Nine things everyone should know about cooking
Ideas for leftover beetroot
Elderberry foraging
DIY pantry staples that are better than store bought
How to make the best paper planes
Knitting at the V&A Museum
Easy DIY dispenser
Work for 52 minutes, break for 17

See you next week. ♥︎

17 September 2014

A work in progress with a life of its own

My family and home are everything to me. My family define who I am as a wife, mother, sister, grandmother, mother-in-law, step-mother and aunty. None of us has just one role to play and often it requires flexibility and grace to navigate these waters with any sort of confidence and direction. Having a stable home life can make for smooth sailing, but it's not a certainty. Anything can happen at any time. But I always believe that if the home is secure and warm, where all the family members feel comfortable, they know there is always a safe haven for them, not only from the harshness of the outside world but also from the judgements that seem to come uncalled in these modern times.

There is never one way to be a family. There is no one size fits all philosophy for how a family should work. Over the years there will be turbulent periods and times of peace and calm. You have to be ready for it all.

My son Shane, teaching his son Alex how to make a cake.

My way of dealing with the complexities of family life is to try to be the best role model I can be. I try to accept people as they are, and the expectations I have tend to be focused on my own behaviour rather than on those around me. I do expect my family to live according to our collective values but I also take into account the changing circumstances that sometimes don't allow that to happen.  And I'm acutely aware that as our family ages, some of the values that Hanno and I hold close will change and will be replaced by those of those coming after us. All those values are influenced by the times we live in, the influence of our extended families and by the thoughts and hopes of our younger generation. By the time we reach the lofty heights of grandparenthood, we have to let go and hope that all that has been taught is inherent, and we watch from the sidelines to see how it all plays out. Always without judgement and often with pride.

I think we are a strong family and much of that comes from our family culture of support and encouragement.  We are not perfect and not trying to be but we like and respect each other, we spend time together and you can see the ties that bind us are stable and secure.

My sister Tricia, planning her sewing at our kitchen table.

We have another family function coming up this week and there will be ten of us there. Sunny called us together this time because next week she'll start her sushi business and she wants us to get together before that happens. We also have three birthdays to celebrate - Hanno will be 74 on Friday, Sarndra's birthday is a few days after that, and Sunny's a few days after that. This will be the only time we can get together, so we'll take the opportunity to celebrate all the birthdays as well as our 35th wedding anniversary, which is on 28 September. We don't need separate occasions to celebrate, this one will do us just fine. The important thing is to be there with each other, to see each other face to face and not with a screen between us. Touching, hugging, holding the kids and talking to each other means a lot. Families rarely survive without that. 

In the grand scheme of things, our family is but one of many, a part of a wider mosaic of ordinary Australian life. We are what we are: a working family focused on today and the future while working for, and hoping for, the best. We're like a painting that we all helped create and as we added dabs of colour over the years, and stood back to critique those dabs, the painting kept evolving and becoming what it is.  We are a work in progress that now has a life of its own.  ♥︎

16 September 2014

I wear an apron almost every day

I wear an apron almost every day. I have about 10 of them in the cupboard, waiting, but if the truth is told, I wear about five favourites and the rest sit in there. Waiting in vain. Aprons come easy to me. I grew up in a time when they were commonplace and I don't remember many women who didn't wear an apron when they worked in their homes. Wind the clock forward 20 years to the early 1970s, and there I was in an apron again, as a student nurse in one of Sydney's largest hospitals.

Those uniforms were a nightmare to care for so it was lucky we had our laundry done for us. I doubt I could have made starch thick enough to make my aprons stand up alone, but that is what they did. Those uniforms were meant to keep us clean and more than that, to make us look clean and starched and proper. I was proud to wear that uniform and all those that came after it, but that first starched  nurse's apron convinced me for a lifetime that aprons were my friend. I have a photo here somewhere of me in 1970 wearing my nurses uniform, with that stiff apron and collar. I'll find it one day and show it to you.

The photos above are just some of the many aprons I've made over the years. The one at the top was to help with local fundraising, these two check aprons were for apron swaps we had here at the blog.

I think aprons fell out of favour for many reasons. One was that our dresses weren't as precious when our mothers stopped making them and we bought them instead. And I guess those new dresses had to be seen, another reason to keep the apron in the cupboard.  But lately I've been thinking about aprons, reading a lot about them and looking at many, many photos of aprons.  I guess much of that is nostalgia creeping in but there is also a practical reason - I read on the forum about turmeric stains on a favourite cardigan.  I know too that some of you are still cleaning a few odds and ends with chlorine bleach and that can spell disaster when it comes in contact with any sort of clothing. It will bleach the colour right out, before you have the chance to try to save it with a quick rinse. Enter, the apron. It provides a barrier between clothing and stains. They also help carry eggs from the nest to the kitchen, a camera can sit in the pocket during the day incase a photo needs to be taken and how many times have I wiped wet hands on my apron.

I keep my aprons in the linen press. That's them on the left. I didn't realise until I saw this photo how untidy they look.

If I could encourage you to try two things that would help you in your home, I would choose wearing an apron when you start your house work and making your bed every morning. Both of them have more than one function. Wearing an apron will protect your clothes from the potential stains of cooking and cleaning but it also brings with the wearing of it a feeling of being in charge of your home. Making your bed will give you a clean and fresh place to sleep every night and once it's done, you have a starting point to your day.

Some of you will be thinking that aprons symbolise a certain time in our history, and maybe that memory is a negative one. But I think that aprons have served us well in the past and can again now. To me it's just common sense and practical but there is also a feeling of pride when I put on my apron. It signifies that I'll be cleaning or cooking in my home and that I've taken the right steps to equip myself for the work ahead. I think works defines us - both paid work and the work we choose to do in our homes. And as a working class woman, I guess I could call my apron my badge and a symbol of the work I do here in my home. Do you wear an apron?

How to make an apron

15 September 2014

Our new way of gardening

This is our garden yesterday afternoon.

Those of you who have been reading here for a few years will know that Hanno starts our new year garden off in early March.  We can plant and grow all year if we wish to, and that is what we did for a number of years, but we found the humidity, heat and bugs of summer made it a very difficult and time consuming task. We then planted in early March, grew all through autumn, winter and spring, then stopped planting in late November. Over summer we continued to harvest tomatoes, capsicums, herbs, chard, cucumbers and beetroot but by late January it was all over and we left the garden to rest until March. That has worked very well for us until now.

This year, production has stopped mid-season and changes are being made. We're growing older. We have to think of new ways to keep gardening but without the tiring jobs that make it more of a chore than it should be. Hanno is now harvesting our last crop of potatoes. They're Dutch Creams, a delicious waxy potato that holds its shape in salads, but is still very good mashed. These will be the last potatoes we grow. This year will be the last year too for cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, onions and turnips. There will be no more plantings of zucchinis, carrots, spinach or corn. From now on, we'll be concentrating on the fruits and vegetables we eat a lot of - tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, cucumber, beetroot, chilli, capsicums, chard, kale, beans and herbs. We'll continue growing fruit because it's easier to grow than vegetables - generally there are no repeat plantings, it's just fertilising, pruning, watering and harvesting. Simplifying in this way will be easier for a gardener with recurrent arthritis in his ankles and feet. We'll produce less overall but more of what we eat regularly, and we'll keep gardening.

 The garden bed above is almost gone. This is where we'll put our table and chairs.
These two beds will stay.

To facilitate this change Hanno is removing a couple of our garden beds. We'll keep a bed for salad greens, Asian greens and kale, we'll have a combined flower bed with the flowering vegies, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. The herbs and other vegetables will be dotted around the remaining beds. Many people have suggested to us that we should have raised beds. We are garden soil people, we want to grow our food in active soil that is alive with microbes and minerals. The minerals are deep in the soil so we prefer traditional organic methods. So where garden beds once produced their crops, we'll have a table and some seating right in the middle of the garden. We'll be able to sit out there, under an umbrella, and listen to the bees and birds while we drink tea and talk.

There is some sadness in this decision. Not only because we won't have those fresh vegetables straight from the garden but there is the loss of something that's been part of our lives for a long time. But we'll still have our summer vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit, and that will no doubt keep our green fingers moving and satisfy this insatiable urge to grow food and watch it grow to lush, ripe maturity.

 This bed will go.
 This will be the flower and flowering vegetables bed.
We'll cut this borage back and transplant it.

I see this as a sensible compromise. We will still be growing some food but the pressure is off to be prolific. We'll only plant what we know we can handle. We'll shop at a local farmers' market for the rest of our fresh food - thereby supporting the locals. But we'll still have that connection with our backyard as much as we ever did but it will be a relaxed and simple connection rather than a more complex and active one.

12 September 2014

Weekend reading

As usual, I'm looking forward to the weekend. A time in our home when the already slow pace of life becomes more relaxed as we move away from the routines and expectations of the working week. I'll be reading, knitting, gardening, cooking, baking and, no doubt, writing. I hope you enjoy whatever will occupy your weekend. Thank you for your visits this week. As always, it gives me reason to keep writing.

How much backyard do you need to feed a family of four?
Air pollution - killing more people than AIDS and malaria
Best bread recipes
Ideas for left over onions
What's the most nutrient-rich vegetable? No, it's not kale, not by a long shot.
The Mennonites of Bolivia
Age appropriate farm and outside chores
Frozen corn summer treats for chickens
How to give up paper towels forever
How to care for a cast iron pan
10 steps for zero waste shopping routine

11 September 2014

Real Food Festival

Just a quick post today to remind all of those in the Brisbane and Sunshine Coast regions that the Real Food Festival is on in Maleny this weekend - 13 and 14 September at the Maleny Showground. The program, click here to read it, is full of interesting presenters but I think my picks would have been the sessions by Robyn Clayfield and Morag Gamble on Sunday morning. They're both local women with a huge amount of knowledge they share freely. But you can't go wrong with this festival. It's full of good local food, panel discussions, demonstrations and lively talks on a wide variety of food and food philosophies. On Saturday, Costa Georgiadis will be presenting at the festival with Conondale and Montville school children who participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Call in and say hello to the folk at the Maleny Dairies stand too. They'll be there with their delicious milk and dairy foods. The Real Food Festival is certainly worth a visit this weekend. And congratulations to Julie Sheldon who organises the festival each year. By the look of the 2014 program, this year will be another stand out event.

We had the last of the library talks yesterday with a fully booked group of about 70 people at the Redcliffe Library.  Tina Cavanough, the Community and Reader Services Librarian, each of the head or acting head librarians and the volunteers at each library certainly made us both feel very welcome. We had coffee made for us and a delicious morning tea provided to all who came along.  I'm delighted that every time we go out into the community for these get-togethers the numbers increase. I met a lot of the people who read this blog, thanks for coming over to say hello. It was a thrill to be able to meet you. We really did have a wonderful time.

Today I'm back being a home body again. I want to have a full day to myself, doing what I want to do, before I start work on the book writing again. I have lavender, pepper, echinacea, watercress and  lettuce seeds to plant, blueberry bushes to repot and prune, biscuits to make and some mending to do. I'm looking forward to it.  I hope you too have some heart warming tasks to occupy yourself with today. If you're working outside the home, it won't be too long until the weekend. Hang in there.

10 September 2014

Working for a living and working for a life

I was both surprised and delighted when a young woman I met at one of the libraries started talking about not going back to work after her second child was born. I was surprised because she told me that until she read my thoughts about it she'd never hear of any parent staying at home to raise  children and to make the most of every frugal, domestic opportunity instead of returning to work. Her experience was that all couples work, before children and after children. She said all the couples she knows work, both her parents work and she thought that is just how it is meant to be.

I was delighted to tell her that although it is a road less travelled, having one parent in paid work and the other looking after the children and the home, can be the pathway to a rewarding and significant life change.

When I was a young girl, it was the norm in Australia, and many other Western countries, for the mother to leave paid work when her first baby was born. She stayed at home as a homemaker rather than return to paid work. That changed in the late 1960s and 1970s when credit cards were introduced and many families started buying goods on credit instead of saving for them first, then paying cash. This increased the standard of living and during the 70s we all bought colour TVs and flash cars and instead of waiting for our clothes and shoes to wear out, we bought new ones, just because we could. Often we used credit cards or hire purchase. Soon it wasn't a choice to go back to work, many families had both parents work because it was the only way they could pay for what they wanted to buy. Over the years house prices rose and soon working to pay for our purchases became a way of life. It was then normal for both partners to work.

Many see this as a gender issue, I don't. I think it's a financial one that stems from consumerism. It is so commonplace and accepted now that younger women and men think it's always been like this.

I understand that many people find validation working at their paid job. Many love the social aspect of work. But it does not suit everyone. So I want to say this very clearly - we all need to work to pay for our own place to live - either by buying a home or renting one; we all need to furnish our homes, buy clothes, pay for transport and education. I get that, I've done it. But once that start is made, there is a lot of value in a couple splitting the work they do with one remaining in the workforce and one working at home and raising children while creating sustainable, domestic work practises. I have done many things in my life. I've raised a family, I have a degree, I've run my own business, I do understand the financial framework we all live within. But I have to tell you that domestic work is meaningful and fulfilling and until I came home and worked here to keep my home running smoothly, I'd never been this happy. I wish I'd done it sooner.

I've lost count of the number of emails I've received from people over the years who have been encouraged to make this move towards the split work model - one in paid work and one in domestic work. I often get follow up emails with wonderful news about success, contentment and satisfaction - both for the paid worker and the domestic worker. Having someone at home seems to focus them on working as a team and their purpose is clear. They're not working because everyone does, they're working to build a life together. There is satisfaction and meaning for both of them because they're both playing an active role in family life and debt reduction.

As I said before, I don't think this is a gender issue, it's a lifestyle choice. Some families go for the less traditional woman doing the paid work and the man at home; it works both ways. Gay couples often make that decision based on who wants to go out to work. But no matter who it is doing the domestic work, that person usually has a period of skill building. It's like any new job - there are routines to build, time is spent organising the home and there is an emphasis on home production and what is seen by some as the redundant skills of the homemaker to create this new way of working. It's a new kind of team - a two person team, living old values in new ways. And yes, I agree it's not for everyone but for those who try it, the rewards are usually abundant and consistent. 

9 September 2014

Christmas gifts and a sale at Biome

Now we're moving towards the end of the year I've start thinking about my Christmas gifts. I want no last minute rush and I need to get the best value for the dollars I have to spend. I've cut down considerably on gift spending since I changed to a simpler way of life and now I look for bargains and make what I can.  The trick here is to start now - both on making and buying because the closer we get to the holidays, the less time you'll have and the more prices will go up. I hope I can encourage you to make a list of the gifts you want to give, work to a budget that won't break the bank and can be completely paid for in cash, then slowly but surely start collecting your gifts as the weeks roll on. Remember, always work to your budget, don't let the excitement of the holidays push you into overspending and look for the best value for money.

It's also a good idea to work out your Christmas and holiday menus so you can start looking around for anything you can buy now. Packing these things away in the cupboard will help you plan later on and also free up your shopping bags when you have many other extras to bring home closer to Christmas. But that's something we can look at in a few weeks time. Let's get into the gifts first because organising yourself now will allow you to plan mindfully and increase your chances of sticking to your budget.

I've started my gift knitting and sewing.

My homemade gifts include pin cushion jars for my sewing friends (above). I'm also making dish and face cloths with organic knitting cotton that I already have here.  I've started making these and will continue knitting whenever I have free time. I also want to  make more soap for gift giving, so I have to put the ingredients for that on my next shopping list and make it up soon so it will cure in time. I might do up a couple of cleaning hampers too - with laundry liquid, dishcloths, soap, citrus vinegar spray and homemade gumption. Again those ingredients need to be bought and I have to think about containers.

When I start looking at buying, I want to buy gifts that reflect my values so I shop at places like Biome, who are happily one of my sponsors.  By coincidence, I put in an order yesterday and found they're having a 25 percent off almost everything starting tomorrow, so I knew I had to pass that on to you. Luckily, the sale is open to in-store customers and online. Over the years, I've had a few things posted out to me from Biome. Their service is impeccable, they pack the products properly and they have a wide variety of good quality, environmentally sound gifts. And for those reasons I'm happy to recommend them to you, but remember, their sale starts tomorrow and ends on Friday.

Over at the Down to Earth Forum, the ladies have been Christmas planning and making lists since July. There is a very good thread about making your own gifts, cards and decorations to get you going and keep you motivated. Another thread,  Countdown to Christmas, has a few links to interesting sites that may give you some ideas if you're not sure what to do.

Here are some more Christmas and holiday related links to get you thinking:

And there is a Christmas swap starting at the forum soon too. Click here to read the thread.

The main thing is to start planning now and as soon as your lists are made, start working on your list. There is no need to panic, small steps and a good plan will get you there and you'll arrive at the holiday season with most of your work already done, or close to it. And if you have any good ideas for homemade gifts, cards or decorations, please share them with us. :- )

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