22 July 2014

The wonderful possibilities of a simple life

Housework is boring!  Hmmm, yes, it might be. If I resented having to do housework, rushed through it so I could have time online or with my friends, or if I'd rather be out shopping, I'd think housework was irrelevant and holding me back. But I don't think of my home or the work I do here in that way. I see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to create the home I feel comfortable in, the home I want to raise children and grandchildren in; the home where I feel content just doing this and that and wandering around in my slippers. It's really all about the mindset. You either see your home as just a place to sleep and keep your belongings or you see it as your project - a work in progress. Taking control of a home can help you feel self-confident and strong, and if you get it right, it will give you a slow, sustainable life, full of wonderful possibilities.

All of us have to work. Not too many of us are born into wealthy families that allow us to do what we want to do every day. We learn very early to trade our life hours for money and to use that money to pay others to prepare food or us, to make our clothes, to produce the products we use in our homes. As the years roll on, many of us find a partner, have children and try to find a balance between what we have to do and what we want to do. Depending on circumstances, some leave work to raise their children and make their home the productive place they know it can be, while others continue working outside the home while treasuring those home hours and homemaking after work and on weekends.

When I left work many years ago, there was no emphasis on simple life. I didn't know what simple life was then, I just wanted to survive. My focus was in putting food on the table every day and saving money by changing the way I shopped for food. It didn't take me long to realise that the best use of the time I now had at home was to self-produce a lot of the things I used to pay for. If I could do that I'd have a very good chance of not only saving money, but supplying healthier food for my family.  So I was like a woman on a mission. I taught myself how to make bread, soap, laundry liquid, cleaners, jams, sauces, preserves, pasta and pickles. When I went shopping, I examined everything before I bought it. If there were too many chemicals and additives in it, I made it myself. Along the way I discovered there were quite a few things we didn't need at all. Doing all that saved a lot of money and I skilled myself to supply my family and home with much of what we needed. While all that was going on, I was smiling more, slowing down and learning to appreciate this calm and quiet safe haven I was living in. I had taken control of my home, turned it from a passive to an active dwelling and changed myself in the process. Doing the housework changed me and my life.

As I worked towards making my home more productive, I turned myself from a fairly sad, overworked, self-employed woman into a happy, energetic and fulfilled homemaker who brought real life back to my home. I felt powerful doing it too. I learned many basic skills, worked hard to improve every day, and every night I went to bed tired. And after a good night's sleep I jumped out of bed early the next morning, eager to do it all again. When Hanno retired and joined me we divided up the house and yard work and both settled into blissful contentment.  Mind you not everything went well.  When I made a mistake (and there were many), particularly when I was trying to learn something new, it made me stop and examine what I was doing, work out where I went wrong and then think about how to make it right. That kind of analytical thinking helped a lot and those lessons were the most valuable because I never forgot them. Mistakes might be annoying but never waste the opportunity to learn from them.

This way of life is very personal. It's all to do with family and what we eat, drink, sleep on, wear, wash, grow and love. Whatever we do here affects and benefits all of us. It's the opposite of a mainstream kind of life that is concerned with shopping and acquisition.  Mainstream life is more about being influenced by what is outside ourselves and our homes. It is rarely personal, it focuses on possessions, status, popularity and living large in a public world.

If you're at a crossroads and not sure how to change your life, start with something that you're currently concerned about. If you're worried about money, start with a budget and re-think how to do your grocery shopping. Paying off debt is key to this way of life. If you want to eat healthier food, start by learning how to cook and bake from scratch. If you want to grow food, start learning how by finding a community garden or a neighbour or friend to teach you. Doing these things for yourself will bring you back to your home and all the goodness that flows from that. I promise you that once you take that first step, life will open up and it will be quite obvious what your next step should be. Just follow that path. It will be long and windy, there will be hills and quite strolls in the park, but it will always be an interesting journey. A journey with no end.

I am a vital part of our home life, I know that. I feel valued and appreciated. I feel the same about Hanno and the work he does. We back ourselves, we're self-reliant and independent. Our work helps make the life we've both decided we want to live and as we slowly transition into older age, this kind of home is ideal for us.  Of course we'll have to modify a few of the more strenuous things when we see the need, but I can see us both living here for many years to come. And bored? Nope, I'd have to be bored with life to be bored with living as we do and I can't see that happening. 

21 July 2014

Changeable, seasonal and creative

We had lunch with Kerry, Sunny and Jamie last Friday when we invited them to join us at a German restaurant up in the mountains. It was really cold, with a cruel wind, but in that restaurant, perched on the mountainside looking out over the range below and the Pacific Ocean beyond, we had a fire blazing, hot food and good company. It was a delightful lunch and a good way to celebrate Kerry's birthday. He'll be back at work for his birthday next weekend, so we got in early.

There was a time when we always had two Airedales in the back yard. Now I only have this one little one, a gift Hanno bought me when we lived in Germany. He's a Steiff Airedale.

Our weekend here was a pleasant mix of work and relaxation. I have been knitting a mitten for Hanno's damaged right hand. He nearly cut that hand off with a chainsaw a couple of years ago, and although he has almost the full use of the hand, the circulation is quite poor and his hand is always cold. This mitten, knitted in double strand baby alpaca should keep it warm on even the coldest days. I've also made a little rice bag to slip into the mitten.

Wool scarf knitting from a couple of weeks ago. This is New Zealand pure wool and organic red fine wool.

My weekend cooking was really quick and easy. I made a five minute loaf on Saturday to have with the vegetable soup I made. That bread is so delicious and it takes next to no time at all to make. If you're new to baking, I'll go over the recipe later in the week and hopefully encourage the young readers out there to put on their aprons and bake some bread. Baking is one of those simple life skills we all should have.

Hanno didn't share the soup because he cooked his German speciality gr√ľnkohl und schweinefleisch - kale and pork (above). No doubt there are many different ways to make this recipe. Hanno does it the way his mother taught him, which was probably what she was taught by her mother. It's a mix of smoked pork sausage, pork knuckle and bacon, cooked with onions, kale and potatoes and thickened slightly with oats. He makes a big pot at least once a year, in winter, and it takes him about four or five days to work his way through it. He tells me it gets better every day. :- )

My soap from yesterday, just about to be poured into moulds.

Sunday morning had me back in the kitchen again, this time making a batch of soap. I changed my recipe, slightly, this time. That's big for me. I'm a plain and simple woman and usually when I find something I like, that's it, it's mine forever; I see no need for change.  But both Hanno and I have sensitive skin which seems to be worsening as we age. We need our daily soap to be wholesome nourishing soap, containing only natural ingredients. The bulk of my recipe is Australian extra virgin olive oil, with a smaller amount of olive oil infused with calendula petals, and organic coconut oil. I have to leave it to cure for a few weeks but I think I'm on to a winner.  It looks and feels very creamy. I'll go through the recipe with you next week.

It's satisfying and comforting working in my kitchen, producing what I need for my family and myself. There seems to be a view that women who work at home have no power and their work is monotonous. I think the opposite is true. There is true power in taking control of a household and running it to suit the exact needs of the people who live there. The work we do here helps us live an unorthodox life that is enriching because it's so changeable, seasonal and creative. I doubt you get that in most jobs. Most paid occupations are a set group of skills that must be performed to a set standard over and over again. I was thinking about that while I worked on my various tasks on the weekend. Tomorrow I'll be writing about the powerhouse we can all create in our own homes but in the meantime, what did you do on the weekend?

18 July 2014

Weekend reading

I hope you have a restful weekend ahead and are able to spend time with people you love. Thank you for all your wonderful comments. Most of the time I don't have time to reply but I want you to know the comments often make me smile and sometimes make me frown, but they always make me appreciate the time you take to reach out. It's an important part of the blog for me and I appreciate having you here to share that. No person is an island and my blog works at its best when commentary is coming in with ideas and encouragement being shared.

Stay warm, or cool, wherever you are, and enjoy the weekend.  


No-poo experiment six months later
DIY sunscreen recipes
Over 60% of breads sold in the UK contain pesticide residues
Organic food better
Rent a wife
Better off renting?
Best before dates
Greening your kitchen
11 ways to green your laundry
How to green your cleaning routine
Essence of Permaculture by David Holmgren. A free download in several languages.
Uh oh, it's me again. This time on ABC Radio 612 with Chris Welsh, and broadcast state-wide in Queensland on Wednesday evening.

17 July 2014

Food waste and how to avoid it

The rate of food wastage in many Western countries, including Australia, is shameful. The current estimation is that about 30 percent of the food we buy is wasted. That is just plain crazy. If you can organise yourself to not waste any food, you'll have money to pay off debt, to save or use to buy something you need. I think the main problem is a general lack of skills when it comes to selecting fresh food in the shops and then storing it correctly at home. Luckily these are skills anyone can learn.

If food spoils before you've had a chance to eat it then it might be wise to rethink your food buying and storage strategy. If food is stored in the fridge and sits there until it looks unusable or the use by date tell you it's not safe to eat it, then you're probably buying too much food, or at least the wrong kind of food.

Either way, you have to get rid of spoiled food. It either goes in the bin for transport to land fill or to the compost heap if you've got one set up. Maybe some of it can be given to the chickens but never give them food with mould or fungus on it. Often the compost heap is the only option. You don't need to have a working vegetable garden to have a compost heap. Composting your food waste is far better than sending it to land fill. Taking care of your own perishable rubbish, makes you more self-reliant and independent. Even if that compost heap sits there and the compost is never used, if it just decomposes and enriches the soil beneath it, it's a far better option than sending your food waste to the tip.

Our compost heap is a very simple affair - just lawn clipping, green leaves, fruit and potato peels, paper and old straw from the chicken pen etc, thrown together in a pile and kept moist. Over the weeks and months it will decompose.

To set up a compost heap, find a space on garden soil away from the house so you don't have to look at it all the time. If you have three sides holding the food waste in, that's ideal, but it can be done without it.  Just add your food scraps as you have them, add pieces of cardboard, shredded or ripped paper, old envelopes, contents of the vacuum cleaner, old pieces of cotton, wool and linen, cuttings from the garden and lawn clippings. You can add anything that has once been alive but do not add dairy products or meat/fish of any kind. That will attract rats and mice. When you've added the food waste, try to cover the heap with a layer of lawn clippings or cardboard. That will stop any smells and will keep the heap safe from visiting birds. When it's dry, hose the heap. It should be kept moist but not wet. If you do that, you'll be able to compost your own food and some household waste and save it from going to landfill. A worm farm will do a similar thing but it will use much less waste.

Even though you add to the compost heap all the time, it should be decomposing and therefore shrinking in size. But if the heap does grow a little and you're making good compost, get a spade and throw it around on your lawn or ornamentals plants to use it up.

The other great strategy to reduce food waste is to plan your menus every week. If you're only buying what you need for that week's meals, you'll have less waste (and more money).  There are many posts at the forum about menu planning. If you don't know what to do, read some of the posts, or ask someone to help.

Many people recommend growing your own fruit and vegetables but make sure that is a viable option before you start.  If you're starting from scratch and have to buy soil or enrich virgin soil, build or buy raised beds, fertiliser, seeds and seedlings, sometimes it doesn't make financial sense. If you want to start raising vegetables, start small - with easy vegetables such as lettuce, carrots and beans and build up your crops and skills each year. And don't just learn about planting and varieties, learn about harvesting, storing and preserving food as well. You'll do yourself no good if you grow a great crop of all the vegetables you want to eat but then waste a lot of them because you don't know how to store or preserve them.

If you can't use all your lemons, juice them and freeze the juice. I make lemon cordial during the summer months with our frozen lemon juice.

You need to be proactive when you produce food at home. If you're growing lemons, collect recipes for lemon dishes so you can use the lemons when you have an abundance, and you will have. If you don't want to use all of them, find someone to barter with. Almost everyone wants lemons, you won't have any trouble swapping them for something you want.  The same goes for everything you're growing. Know what you'll do with it when you have a small amount or a large amount.  Learn the skill before you need to use it. It is this kind of thinking that allows some homemakers and gardeners to get ahead while others struggle.

Learn how to make leftovers into something delicious on the second or third day. You'll save yourself the cost of making another meal from scratch, you'll save the electricity it would take to cook it and the time it takes to cook from scratch. Above all else though, you'll be building up your skills and fully utilising the food you have on hand. That skill might make or break you one day.

 Find some good recipes for using leftovers, then use them.

  • Clean out your crisper bins in the fridge before you shop. Use the vegetables and fruit that are still in there before you buy a new batch. Vegetables can be used to make a soup or casserole and that will be one less meal you have to shop for.
  • Have a plan for leftovers. Stretching a meal from one to two or three days is a skill we can all develop.
  • If produce needs to be stored in a certain way, do it.
  • Don't store potatoes or onions in plastic bags, they'll rot.
  • Wrap celery in aluminium foil - it will keep well for six weeks, still crisp.
  • Most vegetables store better in sealed plastic bags rather than just being open in the crisper.
  • Don't overstock your stockpile.
  • Buy only what you know you'll eat.
I wonder how you manage food in your home. Do you have any clever tips and hints to add to this list? I'd love to hear them.

15 July 2014

Simple life on the radio

My series of ABC radio talks is continuing but I forgot to give you the links the last three weeks. Here they are:
Please note, I wrongly gave double the amount of ingredients when I was talking about the laundry liquid. You should halve the amounts if you want to make it. The instructions are here.

After deteriorating quite suddenly over the past few days, our little blind chook, Lucy, died yesterday. :- (   It's something all chicken keepers have to deal with but it's never easy when it happens. That is Lucy above, sitting on one of her many secret nests.

14 July 2014

The winter kitchen

This winter has been the coldest winter in a long time in many parts of Australia. Where I live, we usually have a sprinkling of days in July and August when the night time temperature falls to about three or four degrees. This year we've had much more than that, and colder. Right now we're at the end of a two week run of cold nights and winds that go right through you. Australian houses where I live are set up for the heat rather than the cold. We don't have an open fire or a heater as such; we have reverse cycle air conditioning but I don't like using it. Hanno and I disagree on the safety of wood burning stoves. I would like to have one for winter warmth, he thinks they're polluting and unhealthy.

So in times such as these, when winter winds make us all rug up, I turn to my kitchen for warmth. I make casseroles, soups, roasts and other slow cooking meals that give the impression of warmth when it's cooking, then fulfils the promise when we eat it. So far, it's kept me going.

The one dish I keep returning to on very cold days is beef casserole. It's easy to prepare, nutritious, hearty and when I cook it in the slow cooker, it takes only about 20 minutes to prepare. If you're working outside the home on these cold winter days, there would be nothing better than this dish to welcome you back home at night. If you could prepare this meal on a Sunday afternoon, and make a double portion, you'd have two excellent winter warmer meals for two of your work days during the week.  

I know there are quite a few readers who don't cook much. I had an email from a young man last week who told me that it's been two years since he left home and he's only cooked three meals. I want you all to try this so I'm giving basic instructions for all the new cooks. Following this recipe will give you a superb meal that can be the basis of your expanding recipe file.  Here's is the step-by-step guide on how to do it.

This ingredients list is based on a family of four to eight, depending on ages. Please adjust to your own circumstances but remember, even if it's just one or two in your family, this will sit very well in the fridge for two days or it can be frozen in portions and eaten later.
You'll need:
  • about 1kg/2.2lbs gravy beef, shin beef or blade steak - cut in 5 cm/2 inch squares. Meat cooked slowly will shrink and having the meat in bigger portions helps it stay moist.
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm/2 inch pieces
  • 2 sticks of celery, cut into 5cm/2 inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons plain/all purpose flour
  • two tablespoons paprika - you could substitute chilli, curry power or curry paste
  • ½ cup chopped parsley

Optional extras: if you have vegetables in the fridge that have to be eaten, this is the ideal dish to add them to. Any of these would be ideal - capsicum/pepper, zucchini, turnips, parsnips, a small amount of cabbage, cauliflower, kale, silverbeet/chard, Brussel sprouts, sweet potato, potatoes.

On Sunday afternoon, or in the morning before you go to work: 
  1. Cut the meat into large squares.
  2. Place plain flour, salt, pepper, paprika (or chilli/curry) into a bowl and mix.
  3. Coat the meat in the seasoned flour.
  4. Put a large frying pan on the stove and add two tablespoons of cooking oil. I use virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add half the meat and brown it on all sides. Remove the meat and repeat with the other half. Remove the meat. Remember, you're just browning the outside of the meat at this point. You're not cooking it. Browning the meat will give the casserole a deep, rich flavour, so don't skip this step.
  1. Into the same pan, add all the vegetables and brown them for about five minutes. 
  2. If there is any seasoned flour left over, add it and mix it in.
  3. Add the meat back to the pan with the vegetables. At this point, it should look like the photo above.
  1. Pour over enough water to just cover the meat. Not too much water, just enough to cover.
  2. Stir the meat until the sauce starts to thicken.
  3. When the sauce is thick, pour the casserole into your slow cooker, add the parsley and put the lid on. Remember, nothing is cooked at this stage. You've just developed the flavours and caramelised your ingredients. They will cook in the slow cooker.
  1. If you're doing this on Sunday, place the inner part of the slow cooker in the fridge at this point. Tomorrow morning as soon as you get up, take it out of the fridge and sit it on the bench for a while so it's not going on the heat straight from the fridge. Take no notice of this step if you're cooking it straight away.
  2. When you're ready to cook the casserole, turn the slow cooker onto the low setting if you're going to leave it all day, or high if you want to eat the meal in about four hours.
  3. Place the lid on. Make sure there is nothing touching the slow cooker - no tea towel or plastic cups etc.
This must cook for at least four hours but can be left all day or overnight on a low setting if you prefer. Depending on what vegetables you've included, you won't have to add anything else. But if you want to bulk this meal out a bit for the men and boys in the family you could serve it with rice, buttered noodles, dumplings, mashed potato or crusty bread.  The beauty of this dish is that when you walk into your home after a hard day's work, you'll smell this cooking and you'll know you have a hearty meal ready to serve when you're ready to eat it. Ask everyone to put away their coats and bags, wash their hands, and get the children to set the table while you're mashing the potatoes and pouring the drinks.

Any leftover casserole can be placed in a covered bowl for eating tomorrow or in a freezer bag or container for eating at another time. I hope you enjoy it. Next week, I'll share an equally delicious chicken meal that can be cooked while you're out at work or busy at home with other things.

13 July 2014

ecostore now has an online shop

My wonderful sponsor ecostore now has an online shop. If, like me, you're trying to cut down on packaging, they sell some of their products in larger packs, so you can buy them less frequently and have less packaging. The washing up liquid I buy is available in bottles of 500 ml, 1 litre, 5 litres and 20 litres. Just go to the dish liquid page and choose from the sizes available. Postage is free on orders over $100.

Two new products available are Geranium and Orange laundry powder and foaming hand wash. I'm using the foaming hand wash at the moment and it very economical with about 300+ hand washes in every pump pack. It's suitable for septic tanks. And now that winter is here, if you're looking for a good lip balm, this one is excellent.

Many of us are making our own soap and cleaners but if you're not able to do that, or don't want to, I recommend ecostore to you as an ethical company with good products containing no harsh chemicals.

11 July 2014

Weekend reading

Here she is! Born on Wednesday to Danny and Laura.

We've had very cold days and nights here in many parts of Australia. There has been record snow falls in the alps and strong winds. I hope you're staying warm. For all my friends experiencing summer in other parts of the world, I hope it's not too hot for you and you're enjoying clinking ice cubes in your cold drinks. Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

Power to the people - I'm not sure if anyone outside Australia will be able to watch this but all Australians should. - Hanno's recommendation
Knitting with rags - floor rug project
Work Shop - getting people together
Koala video - watch it to the end, very cute
Using leftover risotto - I guess there must be leftover risotto somewhere in the world ;- )
Ideas for leftover milk, or in the case of many of you reading here, ideas for the height of milking season
Will switching to a water meter save money? In England and Wales your water company is obliged to install a water meter free of charge if you ask
Ten tips for cross stitchers
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