19 December 2014

Weekend reading

Christmas colours.

This will be my last post of the year as I need to take a break. I won't be far, I'll be here with Hanno and my family, probably with the gate closed to the outside world. But there is plenty here to keep me happy and engaged.  I hope you are able to take a break from your normal routines too.

I think I have the most endearing and faithful readers on the entire World Wide Web. Every day, whether I post or not, you're here in your thousands, reading about our simple life. I've never been able to quite figure out why. Perhaps we all seek the familiarity of everyday life, but your visits here, and especially your comments, keep me writing. Thank you for your visits. Everyone of them give me a reason to keep writing.  If you continue to visit over the holidays, I invite you to read through the archives - there are almost 3000 posts there - and if you're a new reader, it will give you the context to my story. If you have a particular topic you want me to write about next year, add it to your comment and I'll see what I can do for you.

I hope you have a beautiful Christmas and that next year will be a happy one for all of us. Stay well, stay safe, rest and recuperate. Make the most of the holidays and in addition to looking after your family, look after yourself too. xxx

I'll ride with you
Middle classes employment earthquake
The cheapest generation
The mysterious rise of the non-working man
7 steps for getting your kids involved in the kitchen
The student who is raising money for a homeless man who tried to help her
A charming new-to-me blog - Frontier Dreams
How to carve a turkey
Festive drinks - cold
Festive drinks - warm
Make your own marachino cherries
Sorry kale, quinoa, we've already forgotten you   (Psssst, just eat what you like.)

18 December 2014

Cleaning up for Christmas

Here is Jamie with his little red Hamburg overnight bag.  He wanted to know why Santa left those presents at our place. 

We have a surprise visitor staying with us. Last night Jamie had his first sleepover with grandma and opa, while Sunny and her mum overnighted on the Gold Coast. Sunja goes home to Korea tomorrow so it was nice for the two of them to have that time together. As I knew he was coming over, I took the opportunity during the day to wrap presents and set up our very small Christmas tree. Lights went up, the reindeer is out and it's looking a lot like Christmas. I knew he'd be excited when he saw the tree but on the way home from kindy, he fell asleep and instead of running in, Hanno carried him in. But the excitement was there when he woke up and he wanted to know why Santa left presents for Alex and him at our place. I sometimes forget how innocent and sweet young children are.

Before I have a break for Christmas, I want to encourage those of you who haven't yet tried any green cleaning to make up this very easy creamy cleanser and see how well it works.  When I first made my move to a more simple life, I worked hard to remove as many chemicals as I could from my home. I had a real bee in my bonnet about dish washing powder, I thought about how caustic is was and that you couldn't touch it with wet hands and in the end it wasn't good enough to come up with a replacement, I got rid of the dishwasher instead. That was many years ago, and I've washed up a lot of dishes since then, but I'd never go back to machine-washing my dishes. I viewed all commercial cleaners the same. I knew they made my hands red and itchy and the thought of the invisible harm those chemicals did helped move me towards green cleaning. 

That was before the days of eco cleaners and ethical companies such as my wonderful sponsor eco store. I use their dish liquid and hand wash everyday. But I still make my own laundry liquid, soap and creamy cleanser - and I use white vinegar in a spray bottle for wiping down the kitchen bench and other small cleaning jobs. If, like me, you're well and truly into the habit of making your own cleaners, if there comes a time when you can't do it, I recommend ecostore to you. They sell their products online - see my sidebar link - and in most major supermarkets. Woolworths has a 25% off special at the moment. Thanks Sue.



This cleaner will replace your Jif or Gumption or whatever you use to clean the bath or kitchen sink. It's a simple mix of bicarb soda (baking soda) and a soapy liquid. I have used my homemade laundry liquid in the past (recipe here), I also use Dr Bronner's Citrus Castile Liquid Soap.  To make it up, place about half a cup of bicarb soda (baking soda) in a small bowl that has a lid. Mix enough of your liquid - either the laundry liquid or liquid soap - to make a paste.  Mix it up well. It will look like frosting, so make sure it's kept away from the children. Make only enough to use for about a month. If you want to make a larger amount, you have to add a couple of teaspoons of glycerin to it to keep it from drying out. Store the paste with the lid on.

This is my kitchen sink after I cleaned it with this paste.

You might also add essential oil such as eucalyptus or tee tree oil. They're both powerful antiseptics. That will help kill some of the germs in the bathroom and around the kitchen taps and sink. But the paste will work well with just the two main ingredients.

So what are the advantages of using this cleaning paste and other green cleaning pastes and liquids?  You know what's in them, they're much cheaper than buying a commercial product, and you'll be reducing the number of chemicals you live with in your home.  Please let me know if you try this. I'd love to know what you think of it.


16 December 2014

Moving forward, looking back

These tiny pink roses were one of my mum's favourites - Cecile Brunner roses. They're easy to grow and they're what I'd call a non-vigorous climber. Also, no thorns, a definite bonus. The buds are about the size of a small finger nail and they smell divine. These are growing happily in our front garden weaving through the wisteria.

I like having the luxury of looking back and remembering what's happened to me and my family during the year. Over the past couple of days I've spent a bit of time looking through old posts and being reminded of just how many people I've connected with through my blog - both online and in person. When I started writing this blog I wanted to create a record of my own changes. I also wanted to get simple life information out to the world because there wasn't enough of it around. That was over seven years ago now. In the beginning there were plenty of people looking for ideas on how to simplify and I was happy to share what I could remember about doing housework the old way and encourage others towards self-reliance. Now there are a lot of blogs and simple living experts everywhere, how times have changed us all. I am not an expert. I'm just an ordinary woman who remembers how things used to be and can harvest some of those memories and tack them on to contemporary life in a way that makes sense. If I am anything, I will always strive to be that.

A year's worth of notebooks. I love to hand write and write something every day. I hate the thought of handwriting dying out so I make sure I keep mine up to a reasonable standard.

To be honest with you I did think of stopping my blog a couple of months ago. I wondered if it had run its course but I continue to receive so many emails about being a surrogate grandma and online friend and in the end, I realised the blog is an important part of the day for many folk, not just for me. So the blog will continue next year and I hope you'll continue reading.


Square knitting needles, bought in Katoomba when I visited Tricia. Have you used square needles before?  They're supposed to be ergonomic and easier on the hands.  And below: slow and steady with the organic cotton baby blanket.  I'll have it finished in plenty of time. 


This will be a quiet week for me. I have Christmas chores, cooking, some personal sewing and a new embroidery project to plan. Hanno is getting through the mowing by doing a small amount every day. The cricket continues, the days will slip by slowly and then another Christmas will be here. So shhhhhh. It's early in the morning here and I'm up with the elves. I'll do a few things before Hanno wakes and if I keep working slowing during the week, I'll do everything I must do without rushing, and I'll appreciate it more. 

It's been a year full of toys and story books and stepping on Legos. Again!

A year of fruit photos on our kitchen bench. I wonder if anyone likes these photos as much as I like taking them.

And a year of tea - loose for me and bags for Hanno, enjoyed on the front verandah, watching the lizards and birds and being entertained my Jamie.

Looking back these past couple of days has reminded me just how much I have to be thankful for. Kerry and Sunny have been living close by for a year now so we've finished a year of having Jamie in our lives on a much more frequent basis. I must say he's slipped  into our routine like he was born to it and he's given us a hurry up in the process. There has been dancing in the lounge room, soccer in the hallway, conversations in the garden and so many snacks and drinks.  It's been a joy. We also had Alex here with us staying overnight. He's another gentle soul who seems to have been born knowing us. And maybe that's what does happen. Maybe kids just know their grandparents because love is like glue that bonds generations together.  And next year?  Well, a new baby of course. Due in April, Shane and Sarndra are expecting their second child and I can't wait. Another little love to care for and cherish. These are the people who will replace us and be here to form our family when we're gone. I'm grateful that I have such a loving husband and wonderful family. I hope most of them keep simple values close when they're older and help encourage those who will come along after them.

I have to say though that both Hanno and I are tired at the end of this year. We'll celebrate the season along with our family but we'll also take the opportunity to rest and relax and get ready for next year. We have some movies chosen to watch, I'll have the knitting needles clicking away, I'll be hand stitching and I'll be writing.  Both here and more for Penguin, but that's another story and it can wait till next year.  See you tomorrow, my friends and in the meantime, please tell me what you're grateful for this year. 

15 December 2014

Saving electricity, money and greenhouse gasses

The end of the year is a good time to think about electricity, gas and water usage and how you can manage your usage. Work out what you pay, on average, see if you improved your usage figures during the year, or if they still need work. We're a mixed bag here. We are really good with electricity and gas but we struggle with keeping the water usage down. We're still under the local average for water usage, but I want to be better than that.

The spike in our usage during the August period was when our inverter broke down and we had no solar power to use.

Don't think about your electricity as one single block. Divide it up into hot water, lights, cooking etc, depending on what your appliances are, and it should be easier to manage it.

GENERALLY:
  • Turn off electricity when you leave the room. It will soon become a habit. Yes, it's only saving a fraction but if it becomes a habit and you do it for the rest of your life, the savings, in dollars and green house gases, will add up. 
  • Buy energy rated when upgrading appliances. 
  • Have groups of appliances on a power board and turn the board off at the wall at night. 
  • Electric ovens - bake more than one thing at a time, turn power off a few minutes before the food is cooked and allow it to finish cooking in residual heat. 
  • Use a slow cooker in the winter.
SOLAR
We have a solar hot water system and seven solar panels and our last bill was $26.32 in credit. Our bills have been up and down lately, due to a broken solar inverter, so I find it easier and more accurate to go on the average usage figures instead of the amount. Currently we use 5.9 kWh, which is half the average of one person in our area. If we were using what most people use, we'd be on 13.8 kWh.  We're not experts but we always seem to be very frugal in our usage or electricity, so let me share a few thoughts with you. 

If you're going to invest in solar power, buy a solar hot water system first. Hot water uses about thirty percent of our total energy. A solar hot water system is a smaller investment than electricity photovoltaic panels so you'll be able to save that thirty percent without such a large investment. When you have enough money for panels, your hot water is already catered for, so all the energy you produce can go towards your electrical appliances and you probably won't need to install as many panels.

INSULATION
Think about home insulation. I have to confess, we're a bit obsessive about it. We have good insulation through the house and roof and a few years ago, Hanno painted our steel roof with solar-reflective paint. That made a big difference. Now it's consistently six degrees cooler inside the house, without turning on even one fan or the air conditioner.

SKYLIGHTS
We have two internal rooms - a bathroom and the laundry - with no windows, so we installed skylights in those rooms. We also have one in the kitchen because after we added the front and back verandahs, we found the kitchen was too dark, unless we had a light turned on during the day. The skylights provide daylight into those dark rooms and after the cost of installation, there are no further charges.

LIGHTS
Think about the kind of light you're using. If you can change your ordinary light bulbs to LEDs, it will cut your costs.  These are an improvement on the compact fluros many of us installed a few years ago. According to Beacon Lighting website:

LED lights are super energy efficient, using approximately 85% less energy than halogen or incandescent lighting – meaning significant savings on your power bills. LED lights also have a much longer lifespan than other types of lighting - see the table below.

Lighting technologyEstimated lifespan
LED30,000-50,000 hours
CFL8,000-15,000 hours
Halogen1,000-5,000 hours
Incandescent1,000 hours

Security lights outside - LED on movement sensors.
If you're watching TV at night, try it without the light.
Turn off the Christmas lights when the children go to bed.



WATER HEATING
Water heating - if you have a regular water heater, reduce the temperature so that the water isn't on the verge of boiling all the time. According to Smart Blocks website
Storage hot water systems
To save energy it is recommended that the temperature of the storage tank is set at 60 degrees Celsius
A minimum of 60 degrees Celsius should be maintained to avoid the growth of harmful bacteria.

Instantaneous hot water systems

Domestic hot water should be supplied at a temperature lower than 50 degrees Celsius to avoid accidental scalding

This will lower running costs and extend the life of the tank

Unless there is something in particular that needs a warmer wash, wash with cold water.
Buy the best quality washing machine you can afford and make sure it has an energy-saving high rating

AIR CONDITIONING
I'm not going to preach to you and say you should only use your airconditioning when absolutely necessary. What you do is your own decision. We have airconditioning here - the energy efficient and rated kind - but we never automatically turn it on when it's hot. When I get up in the morning, I open the front and back doors to let in the fresh air. Later, when the air coming in is warm, I close the doors and because the house is so well insulated, if I can keep the cool air in, the house is noticably cooler if kept like this for a few hours. But there comes a time when I have to cook something or the air feels stale and I turn on the air con. I have it set at 24C and on an average day in the middle of summer, I'd have it on while I cook lunch and wash up. I turn it off around 3pm, depending on that days temperature. If it's very hot, the air conditioning stays on until later in the afternoon.

I encourage you to think about your usage and try to work our a routine for using your air conditioner that keeps you and your family comfortable, without using too much electricity and without you feeling guilty for using it. The decision to use it and how long you use it for is yours, don't let anyone tell you you're not doing it right. Just be prudent and turn it off when you can.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket - don't be an all-electric house. Mixing it up with a small amount of gas and solar will probably serve you better. Of course this may not be relevant in your region so please do your research before you invest your hard earned money. Overall though, if you can get yourself and the kids into the habit of turning the switches off, you'll reap the rewards. It just comes down to common sense.

I should add that we've been living here for 18 years. All the above didn't happen straight away. We added what we could as we could afford it. And it's fine to do that. Just reduce what you can in the meantime and change what you can to improve the future when you have the cash for it.  What changes have you made in your home that have made a difference to your electricity consumption?


12 December 2014

Weekend reading

Spicy pickled cucumbers.

In two short weeks, Christmas will be over for another year. I hope you have some time this weekend to plan out your festivities menu. Mine's all done but I've done nothing about decorating. I don't go overboard but I do like to put up reminders of Christmas. It's done mainly for Jamie but I think all the adults like it too. It makes a delightful change to the usual look of our home, especially having the sparkle of fairy lights. 

When you've finished all your work this weekend, sit down and relax for a while. There is nothing that can't wait for 30 minutes while you catch your breath and collect your thoughts over a cup of tea.

See you next week!

Check your email less
How to improve your Google searches
A year offline, what I have learned - youtube
The incredible shrinking incomes of young Americans
Santas getting ready for Christmas
The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis
Over five trillion pieces of plastic are floating in our oceans
Recipes for a packed lunch - some good scratch recipes in here
Ideas for a Christmas nibbles platter
Christmas finger foods

11 December 2014

December round up

Here are the boys relaxing on the ocean's edge at Airlie Beach near the Whitsunday Islands.

We've had our brother-in-law Peter visiting from Germany for the past six weeks. It's been a wonderful visit with plenty to do but he goes home tonight. The last time I saw Peter was in 2000 when he and Hanno's sister, Angelica, visited us. Sadly, Angelica died suddenly a couple of years ago. Hanno and Peter have had fun roaming around, visiting Stradbroke Island, Byron Bay, Toowoomba, the Bunya Mountains and the Whitsundays so although there have been plenty of days at home relaxing, there has also been a lot of activity. But from tomorrow, it's just me and Hanno again counting down the hot and humid days till Christmas and the end of the year.

Here is our fabulous watering can with brass shower head from Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores. Unlike the galvanised ones you get from Bunnings that rust in a year, this is properly galvanised to last a lifetime.

I still have three targets to tick off my list before the year is through. I want to make a couple of new summer nighties for myself and I want to clean and tidy my work room to set myself up for a productive new year. And I've ordered a new computer because even after replacing the hard drive on this one, it's still rebooting itself whenever it feels like it. So my last task will be to clean up my filing system and photos so that only what is necessary is transferred to the new computer. I wonder if you've still got a couple of tasks you like to get done before Christmas. I find that I look forward to the coming year with more enthusiasm and a sense of direction if I complete all the tasks I set myself. There is something about ticking that last item off the list that is very satisfying. Then I feel ready to take some time off from my daily tasks, just do only the essentials for a week or so, and take it easy. I hope that's a possibility for you too.

I love this! It's a large enamel baking tray, again from Odgers and McClelland. I'll be baking hundreds of scones on this tray in the coming years.


A German pastry brush with hairs held in place with brass wire. And below, my beautiful hedgehog green mixing bowl that I've discovered is just the right size for a salad for Hanno and me. I also have a smaller owl pudding bowl but it's in use at the moment.  The green jug is a one litre enamel measuring jug. All have been very handy in the kitchen so far.


Our Christmas day menu has been decided. It will be simple and easy with all the cooking done the day before so just the addition of dressings and the presentation to be carried out on the day. We'll start on Christmas Eve with Hanno's traditional northern German smoked frankfurts and potato salad. The next day I'll serve roast free range chicken (cold), free range ham, potato salad, garden salad, quinoa tabouleh, homemade pickled beetroot and cucumbers. Dessert will be tropical fruit pavlova and lemon meringue pie. Drinks will be served icy cold - homemade ginger beer, beer, champagne and red wine. I'm sure we'll have a wonderful day together, enjoying the company and the food. There is no doubt that Christmases have taken on a new lease of life since we've had grandchildren to enjoy it with. Have you planned your holiday menus yet?

This Night Night Balm is for the new baby.  And if she is a girl, one day I might give her my tiny cleaning brush set (below), complete with its own bar of soap. In the meantime, it's sitting on my desk, a sort of symbol of my simple life. :- )  Again, all from Odgers and McClelland.



And speaking of Christmas, if you're going to order anything for Christmas from my sponsors, you should do it today to make sure it arrives on time. I've had hundreds of requests from advertisers during the year wanting me to promote this and that but I only recommend those I am sure about and who share my values. I use products from all of my sponsors so I can confidently recommend them to you as reliable and honest merchants. Thank you for supporting them too.

All of my photos today are things I got on my recent trip south, via my bartering agreement, with Megan and Duncan at the Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores.
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