1 October 2014

The flexibility of simple life

Small changes are happening all around the Western world with more people realising that simple  life is not only better for us but better for the planet as well. (Did you know we've lost 50 percent of our wildlife in the past 40 years?)  Many people are being guided towards a simpler life by blogs and books, and it's wonderful to see community groups taking on the challenge and applying for funding to provide workshops on how to become more self-reliant while guiding their communities towards a more sustainable future.


I wish more people would give up on recreational shopping and comparing themselves to their neighbours. I know that change is difficult and starting any thing new is often so challenging that some folk stop in their tracks and decide to stay where they are. When change does come about and there are difficulties adjusting to new ways, or the work involved in daily life, often the temptation is to go back to your old life. It looks easier and it's so familiar. I don't often talk about the difficulties, not because there haven't been any for me but because I worked through most of my issues before I started blogging. I'm also at an age when I don't worry when things go wrong. When they do, I think about the problem and then start working on solutions. I can't be bothered with the drama now. I just get on with it.


But the truth is this way of living can be difficult, especially when you start. Bearing in mind that we all structure our lives differently, usually there is more work to be done living this way because you stop buying ready-made. When you make your own it takes more time and so many people are time-poor now. I think simple life is easier for people who have a more relaxed frame of mind and that perfectionists can struggle with it. But if you do struggle with the time aspect, just take one day at a time, take on one new task at a time and don't be hard on yourself if you have to make adjustments. I'd like it to be easier, but it's not. It is what it is. We all have to find our own ways of making it work.

Take cuttings, grow things from seed. I took eight blueberry cuttings last year and three of them took. In a few years, we'll have three more blueberry bushes that cost nothing but some effort, water and potting mix.



If you're just starting, start slowly, learn the skills you need, practise them, then move on to the next. Do your work and live every hour mindfully. Discover your own feelings about what you're doing. Look at your home and see what you can change there to help you become more productive. And I'm not talking about buying containers to help you organise yourself. I mean literally, change your home. Move saucepans to a better location, organise your pantry so it's an asset not a liability, make your work areas work for you. Mend things, take cuttings, collect seeds, look after what you already own, stop buying expensive cleaning chemicals and start making what you need to clean your home. It will be safer and cheaper. Try to do all the things that don't cost money. For me that's noticing I have calendula self-seedling in the garden and using those seedlings instead of buying another packet of seeds. It's taking cuttings of daisies from a neighbour instead of buying plants at the garden centre and growing avocado from seed instead of buying a plant. Yes, I know it might not work, but it might, and I've already wasted money on avocado trees and have them die on me - with self-grown seeds I feel free enough to experiment with planting and locations.

Look after what you own. These jumpers have been washed and dried flat in the shade. Now they'll be folded carefully and put away until next winter.

Our small solar system helps keep our bills down but we are also mindful of how we use electricity in our home.

Your main focus in your younger years is to not accumulate unnecessary debt, and as you grow older, to pay off the debt you have. To do that you'll need an armoury of frugal ideas to save money so you can pay off your debt. Solar power will help with the elecricity bills but if you can't afford to install it, work out ways to cut back your electricty usage. Do the same for water. It sounds difficult but when you get into it, it's quite easy. Hanno and I live on the same average water and electricity usage as one person. If you can save money on these utilities it's generally a great saving because they're bills that will keep coming as regular as clockwork.

Our solar hot water system.

We give up a lot of what is taken for granted in our modern world. For instance, I haven't flown anywhere for over ten years. It's something I felt strongly about - still do, but again, that decision is not for everyone and I don't expect anyone in my family to follow my lead. We spend most of our time here. We enjoy being here but we have to be here to look after our garden and chickens, to cook from scratch and to keep house the way I want to.  I would not be able to do what I do if we had frequent trips out. There are other things we've given up but I prefer to look at what we've gained. Personally, I love growing some of our food and being able to cook an entire meal from scratch, using the thrifty ideas more aligned with the 1950s than the 21st century.  Knowing I can do that gives me the confidence to continue to peel back the layers of modern life until I am left with what is plain and simple - never done to any particular plan or ideal, it's just ordinary life lived every day according to our values.


And I think that's the key to all this - a change of mindset and to think of this way of living as flexible and changeable. I certainly would not be working as I do today if I were a younger woman with children to care for. I have time now for entire days of cooking, gardening and knitting. You can still do it when you're young, but you'll be doing it differently. Even ten years ago I worked differently. So give yourself a break. Don't look at anyone, especially me, and think this is what you have to do. You should do what is needed in your home - whatever that is. And if you can't do all you want to do yet, accept that, get over it and get on with it. Because I will tell you one thing I know is true for all of us. If you live your life according to your values and beliefs, if you plan your time and do what you can, if you take one small step and then another, you will be enriched by it and have the strength and confidence to do it again tomorrow.

30 September 2014

Summer knitting here I come!


I knit all year through. In winter I often, but not always, knit with wool. In summer I often, but not always, knit with cotton. Although I love knitting, I don't knit for pleasure. For me, knitting is part of my system of home production, providing clothing, gifts and everyday items to use in my home. I am fortunate to have Vivian at EcoYarns as a sponsor and I use various cottons, wools and alpaca from EcoYarns for my projects. My favourite yarn to knit with, not just now but in my knitting life, is Vivian's 8 ply organic cotton. Not only is it a real pleasure to knit with, the cotton comes in a range of beautiful natural colours and it has a great story attached to it. I love the names of the colours too - patience, temperance, courtesy, pride, honesty etc.

These are my jars of bits and pieces for knitting and sewing. They're filled with small scissors, pins, stitch holders, place makers and darning needles.



I love being surrounded by good quality yarn.

Soon I'll be doing my summer knitting. The point in the year that marks the start of summer for me is when the first cricket test match starts. Usually that is late November or early December. This year the first ball is bowled on 4 December and on that day I will be ready with my knitting basket on one side and a cold drink on the other. I know another lady, Sue in Perth, who does the same thing. : - ) I sit there, take it all in and know that for me, the hot months ahead will be made better by clicking those needles together and looping yarn around them. These test matches start at 11am so it gives me ample time to organise my chores or water the garden before the time comes to take my seat and pick up my needles. It's a nice easy start to summer for me.

November and December is a good time to get last minute Christmas gifts organised and finished, then I go on to new or larger projects. At the moment I'm knitting something for myself - a blue organic cotton  sleeveless vest. I think it will be good to wear on those very hot days when we have the air conditioner going and I need something light on my back. I've just gone through a period of knitting cotton dish cloths. I did some as samples for my library talks and some as gifts.  Over summer I'll knit another batch of about ten to have on hand here.

Have a look at this delightful English knitting group. Knitting brings all sorts of people together through their love of knitting. If you belong to a knitting group, I'd love to hear about it. And this is about how knitting became popular again, and why.  I'm really please newspapers and magazines are featuring knitting and knitters again because it brings more people to the craft and for those who rarely make anything, that's very enriching.

My knitting books.

What inspires you to knit? I have several knitting books and usually go through them when I'm looking for a project, but I also browse Pinterest, Ravelry and Knitty for ideas as well. It doesn't matter how you're inspired to knit but it matters that you are. I can't imagine a world with no hand knits and no knitters.  Happy knitting everyone!

  Great knitting blogs  
My sister's knitter
Knitting to stay sane
Queerjoe's knitting blog
Wendy knits
Queen of the tea cosies

29 September 2014

Elder - easy to grow and productive

Elder flowers - open at the top and still closed at the bottom.

Often, when new gardeners get through the first years of vegetable gardening, they think about adding fruit to their backyard crops.  It's an excellent idea and fruit is quite easy to grow, as long as you're in an area with no animals or insects to spoil your efforts. If you are adding fruit, start off with some of the easy things, depending on your climate of course, like lemons, mandarins, oranges, passionfruit, strawberries, blueberries or elderberries. My selections for the two easiest fruits are strawberries and elderberries.  Strawberries can be grown in pots or in the ground and a few weeks after planting your first strawberry runners, you'll have delicious berries. Elderberry is a tree but it grows fast and doesn't have too many problems. Using either the berries or the flowers you can make a fermented, champagne-style white wine, a red wine, non-alcholic elderberry cordial, elderberry jelly, puddings, cakes, immune booster against flu and elder tea.  Woolworths sell elderflower cordial for eight dollars a bottle but you could make your own for about 50 cents.

Elderberries and flowers are highly nutritious and many people take elder drinks for their healing properties. However, elderberries should not be eaten raw and you should use only the flowers and the berries, no stems, leaves or bark. They can make some people sick. 


Elderberries are native to eastern North America and many parts of Europe. They are two separate species but they're so similar that the North American variety is thought to be a sub-species of the European one. Both species can be used in all the links in this post. There is a warning though. Given the right conditions, elder will send out suckers and you may have more plants than you know what to do with. Our own experience with it has been that it needs quite a bit of water and if it gets it, suckers will apprear. You have to be brutal. We just pull them out. It's an easy enough exercise and so far we've never had a problem with our main tree or any of the suckers.


I first came across elder when I found a small plant at our local organic food co-op. I'd heard about elder and knew the late John Seymour was a great fan of them, but I'd never seen it in Australia before.  I bought that little elder seedling, planted it and within two years it provided enough shade for our garden bench. Hanno and I still sit in the shade of the elder tree and for that reason alone it has been worth the price and the effort to grow and water it. Elders respond well to a high nitrogen feed a few times a year; comfrey tea is ideal. And as it grows, clip it back to keep it to a size that you can manage. It responds very well to pruning in early spring and will send out a lot of new growth, particularly if you give it a good nitrogen feed at the same time.

Elderberries forming.

Our elder tree is one of my favourite things in our back yard. I try to get others to grow it, and always have a couple of suckers here potted up and ready to give away. I think only my sister and one other person have taken up my offering, but I still try to spread the good news about that tree.  It's spring here so our elder is starting to flower. If history is any guide, the flowers will develop small berries and then they'll drop off. That's the down side of a warmer climate with elderberries - they like the cold and I'm guessing anywhere north of Brisbane they'll develop the flowers but not the berries. We have had a few winter berries but not enough to do anything with. If you're in a  colder climate though, you'll be able to use the flowers and the berries.

So far I've made elder flower cordial - and that was truly a delight in that it didn't taste of fruit and sugar, as most cordials do, it tasted more of flowery honey instead.  Using that cordial, I made elder ice cream. That too was delicious.


Overall, an elder tree will stand you in good stead as a shade tree or as a productive part of your garden. Christmas champagne made using elder flowers is a seasonal delight. I've included the River Cottage video link below. But champagne is just the start. It's worth experimenting with jams and relishes too and if you produce a basket of berries, try making wine.  It's an easy to grow tree and even if you only use it for shade, it's worth the effort.

Do you have elders growing in your garden?

River Cottage elder champagne video
Elderberry facts
Mother Earth News - elderberry
Mother Earth News - how to gather elderberries and recipes
Elderberry syrup for flu prevention

26 September 2014

Weekend reading

Feeding the chickens, learning through doing.

It's been a big week here for all of us with Sunny's Sushi Isu opening, a visit from Shane, Sarndra and Alex, the early mornings trips to pick up Jamie and looking after him here. It takes a lot of energy but we love it and wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, I didn't get the chance to do my post at the usual time today because at 3.45am I drove over to Sunny's to pick up Jamie. Now he's outside with opa, they're gardening and I can hear them laughing, so all is right in my world. I hope it is in yours too. Thanks for your visits and comments this week.

Down below I've included Roman and Jana's Spurtopia workshops and open days. You may have seen them on Gardening Australia. These workshops are at their home and they'll be great for you if you want to learn or be inspired. Donations are welcome. Also below are details of the Brisbane Craft and Quilt Fair.

Generation rent becomes generation gardenless too
Race to protect Australia's rock art
Free sewing pattern for simple backpack
Free sewing pattern for Abbey baby dress
Sewing 101 tutorials
Ways to make extra money on the homestead
I love this little handmade sewing kit. It would make a wonderful gift for a sewing friend.
Knitted knitting needles case - free pattern
How I became plain
DIY starter level projects
Making your own apple cider and perry
Urban farming Tasmania
Collecting seeds


.SPURTOPIA OPEN DAYS AND WORKSHOPS.   < --- click here for more info
September and October
Sun. 28 Sep 2014 (12.00pm – 2.00pm) – Hands-on Workshop:
 Learn and make your own self-watering planter box.

Sun. 28 Sep 2014 (2.00pm – 4.00pm) – How to Be Healthy &
Chemical Free:
 Learn about our way of living a healthy lifestyle and what you can do to avoid chemicals. Includes household chemical free recipes.

Sun. 5 Oct 2014 (1.00pm – 4.00pm) – How to Start Gardening:
 Learn about garden design, how to make organic soil and fertilizers, pest control and lots more.

Sat. 25 Oct 2014 (10.00am – 12.00pm) – How to start Beekeeping:
 Information and tips to get you started with beekeeping.

Sun. 26 Oct (2.00pm – 4.00pm) – How to Live Sustainably:
 Ideas, inventions and tips for sustainable living - includes garden tour and sampling of homemade food items.

Sun. 30 Nov (10am – 12pm) – Natural Parenting Chemical Free Kids
 Learn, share, discuss how to bring up kids in the most natural and chemical-free way.

Sun. 30 Nov (2.00pm – 4.00pm) – How to Start Using the Sun:
 Learn how to make a solar cooker and ideas for building a solar hot water system – includes cooking tips.


  BRISBANE CRAFT AND QUILT FAIR   
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre October 8-12
More details and program click here


25 September 2014

Sunny's sushi

Sunny opened her sushi bar (Sushi Isu) in the Caloundra Woolworths yesterday.  Hanno took Jamie to day care and dropped in to see her afterwards. He was really pleased to see the excellent display and a lot of people looking and buying.

 That is Sunny on the right.


I think Sunny will do very well in her shop. She is such a hard worker. This is the first time she's done anything like this because she's always been employed as a chef in the past. I am so proud of her. She's been working non-stop these past two weeks and this week she's been getting up early and coming home late to make sure everything was perfect for the opening. She and Jamie stayed here overnight and yesterday morning she left here at 3.45am, after she'd made sure she had everything prepared for Jamie, including making his snacks and lunch for day care and had all his clothes and nap bag ready. Kerry is still working hard in his job. He'll be home on Tuesday and then has a six week holiday so he can help Sunny during this very busy time.

If you're in Caloundra now or over the coming months, drop in and say hello to her. She's right at the front door, in the deli section. After talking with Sunny over the past couple of weeks about the ingredients she's using, I know the sushi is top quality, there is a wide variety and it's super fresh.  :- )

24 September 2014

Appreciating every change, every season

Our lives have been revolving tightly around our extended family recently. During a visit from Shane, Sarndra and Alex, we looked after Alex overnight while his mum and dad had a rare night out together at an engagement party in the big smoke.  It was the ideal time to be looking after Jamie as well, so he was dropped off during the day while Sunny prepared her new sushi bar for opening today.  Looking after two three year olds certainly has its challenges but oh, the laughs and smiles were non-stop. To hear my own grandsons talking to each other for the first time was priceless and unforgettable. They played so well together and even after hours of playtime, shared meals and trips in the car, they were still firm friends with no fighting, even over the small number of toys here.  They really like each other!

All secure in their safety seats on the way to the shops.

 Precious cargo.

This week we're dropping off and picking up Jamie from day care. It takes me back to my youth when life was wound tightly around my sons' wants and needs. It gives me a reason to regret the passage of time and to celebrate it too. When I was younger, with my own small boys to care for, I could never be sure what the future would bring. I certainly never thought too much about the gift of grandparenthood, but I'm pleased to be here now, just as happy as I was when I was a younger woman, and maybe more so. And who can tell what the future will bring. The only certainty is that there will be change and, in time, babies will replace grandparents.

Last Friday night at Sunny and Kerry's home.

Here at home, we have these little pockets close to silence in between periods when we're needed as care givers, then it's activity and noise while we do that caring, and back to silence and gentle slowness again. I can't describe the feeling I get knowing we're a necessary part of this family. The richness of our days is far beyond what I expected later in life. But here we are, still looking after boys, peeling fruit for little hands, reading story books aloud and picking up toys, again. I'm not sure how I'd go being a full time carer now. These brief periods are enough. They're precious to me but they're exhausting. Still, they're part of our changing lives and I'm grateful we have the opportunity to be active grandparents and part of this beautiful and ever-evolving family of ours.

Family life is about as complex as it gets and it doesn't suit everyone. It has its challenges as well as its rewards. How do you fit into your extended family?


23 September 2014

PIP is not your run-of-the-mill magazine

Over the past year or so I've been heartened by the emergence of a new kind of magazine. I'm no longer the "expert" on magazines I once was because I rarely buy them now, but these new kids on the block tend to be non-mainstream, presenting either specialist subjects or with a focus on delivering good quality information in a creative and easy to read format. The icing on the cake is there is no blitzkrieg of advertising. The advertising it contains is relevant and often from shops or companies you might never have heard of before. It's a good way to find out about products that aren't easily found, but you want to know about. 


About a year ago, much later than many of you, I discovered Frankie - loved it and wrote about it. Another good example of this style of magazine is Slow. It's full of information that should appeal to those of us living a slower and more simple life. Now, enter PIP magazine. It's an Australian magazine about permaculture and living a softer, quieter life. It features regular permaculture articles about design, meaningful change and planning, while the bulk of the magazine features the sections Grow, Build, Eat, Thrive, Nurture and Connect. Those sections in this edition contain a wealth of information about lifestyle, sustainable farming, community development, green manures, growing your own meat and no debt housing. I was delighted to see articles from two women I know from afar: Robyn Clayfield and Morag Gamble are both significant figures in Australia's permaculture community. Robyn writes about the ethics and heart of social enterprise and Morag profiles her own home at Crystal Waters and the process of creating that home and garden. She and her partner Evan created their home, with no mortgage, over a period of about ten years. It's an inspiring read. There is also an article about parenting the permaculture way that takes the principles of permaculture and applies them to parenting. It's similar to the post I wrote a few months ago when I applied those same principles to house work.





We've been told for a long time now that print publishing is on its death bed and soon paper magazines and newspapers will be a thing of the past. PIP is not your run-of-the-mill magazine. It's thoughtful, creative and interesting and the ideals it hold close are delivered intelligently and with passion. If print magazines do survive, I think it will be publications like PIP that will breathe new life into the tired old format. Ask for it at your local newsagent or check out their website here. I think you'll like it.

I have not been paid for this post.

22 September 2014

Mops and floors 101

There are so many different mops around now. Last time I looked, there were cotton mops, sponge mops, rayon mops, microfibre mops, well, let's just say there are a lot to choose from. Sometimes giving people a big selection is confusing and they don't know what to buy.  Recently I had an email asking about mops and what mop was suitable for a tiled floor. It reminded me of another email I received a few months ago asking a similar question about the difference between cotton mops and sponge mops.

We have tiled and floating wood floors here. Over the years I've tried sponge and micro-fibre mops but always come back to my cotton mop. They glide effortlessly across any floor type, they're easy to squeeze the water from, easy to clean and they dry in the sun - which is another way to disinfect a clean mop. I want my mop to clean my floors properly, to be locally made and environmentally friendly. A side consideration is the cost of the mop. When buying a mop, always buy the best quality you can afford, it will last longer. Remember, the best quality doesn't mean the most expensive, although it might be. The best quality cotton mop will be made using natural cotton and it will probably have a replaceable mop head. These heads can be detached for washing in the washing machine if they're really dirty. When the mop head is too stringy, after years of wear, you just replace the head, not the handle. I've had my mop for about ten years and it's still going strong.


You should always use a clean mop. Using a dirty mop will just spread the dirt back onto the floor.  You must also sweep or vacuum the floor before mopping. If my floors are fairly clean, I just use a half cup of white vinegar in a bucket of hot water and that cleans the floors very well. If they're dirty, dusty or greasy, I use the vinegar and add a tablespoon of liquid soap or a quarter cup of laundry liquid. Again, this does the job. I don't need to buy a specific floor cleaner, I don't need it for the kind of floors we have here.

So there you have it. Start with a swept or vacuumed floor. Cotton mop, vinegar and a bit of soap or laundry liquid for a heavier job. You'll get a clean floor with little environmental impact and for the most cost effective price. Sure you can go with the steam cleaners, microfibres and man-made cleaning solutions but I doubt they'll do a better job than this low tech option. Remember, it's not just your food that you'll try to source locally. All your product choices should also be environmentally acceptable and frugal.

When you finish mopping the floor, pour out the dirty water in the bucket, fill it with clean water and agitate the mop around in the water.  If it's particularly dirty, you may have to wash the cotton head with soap and rinse again, or you can soak it overnight in a solution of oxy-bleach (Napisan) made up according to the instruction on the container. If it needs a thorough clean, detach the mop head and put it through a fast cycle in the washing machine.  When you clean the mop head, take it outside and dry it in the sun. I usually have mine over the washing line or upside down, against the fence.  When the mop is dry, take it inside again and hang it up so the cotton remains dry and clean until you need to use it again.

Cleaning the floor doesn't have to cost a lot of money, despite what advertisements tells you. A simple cotton mop with vinegar or soap will do the job nicely. As long as you start with a clean mop, you should get a clean floor every time. I'd be interested in reading some of your green cleaning methods for your floors, particularly if you have an old or new wood floor or a vinyl floor. What mops are you using and how do you clean them?
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