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?

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 books 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

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