Monday, March 31, 2014

Dreaming of The Simple Life

My path towards the simple life goes back a few years ago when we were staying with my in-laws in Melbourne.  At the time I was married with two kids living in a big house with a pool, 3 cars between 2 people, a camper trailer, big shed and only 6 kms from the city.  I did however have the perfect house that I built for my family but sadly for me not the perfect marriage.  I could no longer tolerate the extra marital affairs (and these weren't one night drunken stands, they were varied and long term relationships, when I was pregnant and when I was not pregnant).  I even emailed one of girls and told her to stay away from my husband but to no avail, because it was my husband who wanted to have his cake and eat it to.  When I say that, I mean he wanted the wife at home raising the kids, the big house in the suburbs and he also wanted to go out partying, drinking, sleeping around, and generally acting like a spoilt teenager and couldn't understand why I was not happy about it.


I remember fronting up to Relationships Australia by myself one week before giving birth to Sienna thinking how on earth am I going to get through this.  I sat there in tears thinking here I am about to have another baby and yet my husband was drinking by himself stupid until the early hours of the morning every night whilst he chatted up his many girlfriends on the phone all the time while I was there.  It was so disrespectful on so many levels but I couldn't change his behaviour, he had to be the one to do that but he didn't want to so he didn't.  We finished building our dream home only to move into it without the dream marriage, well for me anyway.  I felt hollow inside because I was heartbroken and crushed and my life was now a fake because I had to pretend to be happy because I had everything.  Only I'd gotten to this place in my life but there was no trust in the marriage and no respect by him for me.
  
Being the mother of a 9 month old and 2.5 year old leaving a marriage like that is not really an option.  To beg and plead to your husband to wake up and stop drinking and cheating or your family won't be around was not enough for him to change.  He happily went along to weekly marriage counselling to avoid me from ending the marriage there and then and talked the talk but did not walk the walk.  All of this just delayed things and promises were broken and yet I was still trapped unless I wanted to head home to Mum's with two young children and nothing else.  

It was frightening, in the marriage, outside of the marriage and it all seems over whelming about where we would live, how we would end up, how our life would look like.  In fact stress is still very much a part of our lives because of this person but that's just how it is.  When I say our lives, I really mean me because of the actions of a certain person still manages to cause great deals of stress to this day.

When my little family was in limbo (ie in the marital home without him living there but obviously paying dearly emotionally because someone was still in control of our lives) it was very stressful.  One thing I have learnt is that you can't change or control other people however I could only control my own life so the first thing I did was set up my veggie garden instead of putting it on hold.  I kept thinking there is no reason to set up a veggie garden now because the house will have to be sold and that could be soon so nothing happened.   

Eventually I went ahead and just did it and set up our two little veggie boxes from Bunnings and put my veggies in and those two little 1.2m x 1.2m were my lifesaver.  Going out to collect tomatoes, cucumber or lettuce for my lunch gave me a huge sense of satisfaction and the feeling inside of complete and utter happiness.  Happiness that couldn't be bought.    That little veggie garden was total therapy and I got such a kick out of it.  Sienna would go outside and pick lettuce for her sandwiches for kindy and bring it into me and I used to think it was so good for her.  James on the other hand loved the veggie garden but didn't love veggies - go figure.  He does now eat lettuce but that's about it.

When we had an oversupply of tomatoes we would give the kindy teacher and assistant a little brown paper bag with cherry tomatoes in them and they would be smiling from ear to ear and very grateful.  The next day we would hear from them that they were the best tomatoes they had ever eaten which again put a smile on our faces.  This little veggie garden was pure happiness.  My sister would come over and pick some lettuce or take a cucumber home and it felt great to be able to give to others.  Have a look at this photo below...early in the morning with a little bit of dew on the grass my children look angelic.  James was into Ben 10 at the time and Sienna dressed in fairy dresses but they were out there checking on how their veggies were growing each morning.  






Going back to the in laws whom we love very much, Nanny & Pop have a lovely veggie garden at their place in Melbourne and when we would stay there Nanny would send Pop downstairs with James to collect some salad stuff for lunch or dinner and I just thought that the food tasted amazing, right there in your backyard we would be eating beautiful home grown food.  I was so jealous (in a good way ie I wanted a veggie garden of my own) of what they had created for themselves.  Here's Pop in his garden.



Whilst in Melbourne I would ask questions about growing things, read through all their Gardening Australia magazines including going to their bookshelves and reading the magazines that were 2-3 years old and dream of growing veggies and having chooks one day.  I didn't know how I was going to have chooks because I was a bit intimidated by them to be honest.  As kids we had cats but how was I going to handle a chook I didn't know but it sounded really great to be able to eat fresh eggs.

While I was in Melbourne I would visit the local Borders Bookshop (which no longer exists) and would search the store high and low for books on these things and just wanted to read more.  I bought three books over a period of days and the first one was called "A Slice of Organic Life".  The cover looked organic, it had a chook on the front and the list of things on the front read:- bake bread, plant a tree, shop locally, keep chickens, grow salad on a windowsill, pick berries, collect rainwater, make jam, raise a pig, save energy, compost, design a herb garden, preserve your harvest.  All of these things sounded so "grounded" to me and I read the book cover to cover in Melbourne in between cups of coffee and sitting in Nanny & Pop's back garden with James and Sienna playing.  I loved that these grandparents (my ex's parents) were so involved with James and Sienna and bringing us "down to earth".  I remember Nanny teaching James about counting and grouping pegs together on the concrete while she was pegging the washing.  James, how many pegs altogether, how many groups of pegs are there, how many pegs in each group.  It was beautiful to watch and beautiful to be around and yet it was so wholesome and I loved being in their home and back yard.  Pop would be pottering in the garden, James would be tinkering with him and Sienna would be chasing or playing with their cat.  We have such fond memories of our visits there.  Nanny and Pop are very much involved in James and Sienna's lives from week to week and in fact this week they both received a postcard in the shape of the Tasmanian Devil as they are in Tassie on a little holiday.

One of the other books I purchased was "Organic" by Don Burke of the famous "Burke's Backyard" (sadly which no longer exists as well).  This book is Australian and is a guide to growing organic food, raising chickens and beautiful cake recipes using zucchini.  My mother in law has made it and said it's great. It showed a family new to veggie gardening how to set one up, what to plant and how to crop rotate.  It has a detailed description of individual veggies when to pick, how to harvest and how to store.

The other book I purchased was called "Vegie Patch" How to grow your own food.

Note: These books whilst not available at The Book Depository UK would be available other places.

I would read about some of the aspects of the simple life and couldn't get enough of it but that dream was so far off the horizon because I didn't even know where we would be living.  I also knew that there seemed to be an "all or nothing" when it came to this type of thing. If you were a hippy you would be growing veggies, not spending a lot of money and not using much electricity etc.  Most of us thought to have the "organic type of life" you really had to live in the country with lots of land.  It seemed odd for people in the city to be growing veggies and keeping chooks but these things gradually started to creep into suburbia.  When my mother was young everybody had a water tank and everybody kept chooks.  When I built our big house we put in 3 water tanks off our shed because Brisbane was in a drought and water tanks were necessary, so everything old was new again like a cycle.  

Once again while the kids and I were still living at our marital home by ourselves I decided we were getting chooks and the chooks could be moved with us, if and when the house was sold.  I was not waiting any longer to live our lives and we went ahead and bought our first two chooks called Coco (James chook) and Fluffy (Sienna's chook).  Thanks to Pop for putting our chicken coop together when he was visiting from Melbourne otherwise it might still be in the box.  He had two fabulous helpers James and Sienna however I'm not sure how much help they were too him but it's all part of the learning experience.


  







Some of the food we grew in these two little veggie boxes was some of the most satisfying food we had ever eaten and along with the health benefits of food being grown without chemicals, the kids could see where food came from, help garden and it made us all feel good.











And this photo in front of the veggie patch....don't you love the body language.  Sienna is a hugger and you guessed it, James does not like his sister getting all mushy on him.

With all of this I think "simple living" evolves over time and as Rhonda says in her book "Down to Earth" and her recent "Simple Life" Penguin Special book simple living" is different for everyone.  Simple Living can be learning how to make jam or baking biscuits from scratch and there's no finish line. My book arrived at my doorstep this morning so at lunch time I made myself some lunch and a cup of coffee and read the little "Simple Life" book from front to back.  It's a lovely little read and that's why I was thinking about how I got to this place.  Yes, my house has too much stuff in it and needs decluttering, my veggie garden needs some TLC this weekend and I need to make another batch of soap but I know what I want for myself and my kids and that is "down to earth, back to basics" living which is Simple Living.  Rhonda mentions in her book if you don't like hard work and you want everything done for you Simple Living is not for you because we all know that it would be easier to buy soap from the shop, buy pizza bases at the supermarket rather than make your own and simple living means you need to be organized.  However the satisfaction and happiness that comes from learning these skills and/or making and doing some of these things is incredibly rewarding.

I recently wrote about what we have achieved on our path to simple living here and sometimes I'm organized and other times I'm not, but I strive to stay on track because I know where I'm headed.  It's about me guiding two very young people and teaching them about these life skills that will help them grow up into independent young people.  It's about sitting down in the evening together at the dinner table and talking about our day.  It's about showing them how to make bake healthy snacks and caring for pets.  It's about giving cheese making a go even if it seems scary and putting it on home made pizza's.  It's about doing the best we can and having each other to love and laugh and to be silly with.  We do things here on a small scale but what we do we really love.  We recently grew corn and we only had a small harvest because we only had a few plants but the joy those few cobs of corn gave us, watching the corn grow, to putting it on our pizza is priceless.

So from all those years ago in Melbourne when I read an article written by Rhonda in the Burkes Backyard Magazine going to Borders Books looking for books on this simple life it's great that Rhonda's Down to Earth book was published and that she's also writing these special little books.  I like the fact that everyone can design their own simple life, what suits one family may not suit another.  If you have no desire to ever make soap you don't have to, pick and chose things that interest you and add a new skill to your list whenever you feel you've mastered the last one.  There is a lot of work, planning and organizing that goes with simple living however there are so many rewards that money simple can't buy.  We can start along the path of simple living even when our lives are in complete turmoil as mine was when I set my veggie garden up.  We can start growing veggies in pots if we live in a unit or if you don't have a lot of time but enjoying one little new thing is rewarding and satisfying and sharing our knowledge with our like minded friends.  We are all carving out a life for ourselves and we can direct that life towards rewarding experiences that go along with simple living.  As the catch phrase goes, it's about the journey, not the destination.   




Friday, March 28, 2014

Swedish Meatballs

The other night I made a new recipe for my little family and it was simply delicious.  I'm not the huge fan of meatballs as there is a lot of work rolling them into balls and when they are on your dinner plate you just cut them up anyway.  The recipe looked great and I need to add some new recipes to my weekly menu plan so I bought the ingredients and some of the spices sounded a bit weird to me to have in meat but I made the recipe exactly as it was in the book and it was a 10 out of 10 for this family.  We will be making this again real soon, probably next week....there were lots of sounds from everyone eating it and the sauce was so nice there was nothing left on the plate when the dishes went to the sink.  If you are bored with your dinners give this one a try.  I mixed up the meatball mixture at lunch time as there's chopping and cooking and making balls which probably took me about 30 minutes.  Once they were made I popped them into the fridge on a tray lined with baking paper (parchment paper) so they were ready to make the recipe that evening.  I had to laugh as James loved the recipe but didn't like the peas.  Sienna eats corn and James eats peas however he complained about the peas however did not notice all the baby spinach in the dish which he happily ate. Aaahhh I make him eat his peas because aside from potato this is the only vegetable he eats and his salad range is lettuce whereas Sienna and I pretty much eat any salad or vegetable except she is not a fan of pumpkin.


SWEDISH MEATBALLS (MAKES 24 LARGE MEATBALLS) SERVES 4 PEOPLE

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 x 30gms slices white bread, crusts removed, torn
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) skim milk
  • 1 small brown onion, finely chopped
  • 400gms extra lean pork and veal mince
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • One and a half tablespoons plain flour
  • One and a half cups (375ml) beef stock
  • 1/2 Cup (125ml) light thickened cooking cream
  • 2 cups (60gms) of baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup (60gms) frozen peas, (thawed)
  • 4 fresh dill sprigs

METHOD

  1. Place bread in a shallow bowl. Pour over milk and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, lightly spray a small non-stick frying pan with oil and onion and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until softened.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add mince, egg, allspice, nutmeg and soaked bread to onion. Season with salt and pepper.  Mix well to combine.  Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls.  NOTE:  I made 24 balls and placed them on a tray with baking paper in the fridge until I needed to cook them.
  4. Heat oil in a deep non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Cook meatballs, turning gently, for 5 minutes until browned.  Transfer to a plate.  Add flour to pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Gradually add stock and cream, stirring constantly, and cook until smooth and combined.
  5. Return meatballs to pan and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through.  Add spinach and peas and cook for 1 minute or until heated through.  Serve with dill.

I served my meatballs with fettuccine however you could have mashed potato or rice which would be equally nice.


Monday, March 24, 2014

A Trip to the Farmers Organic Market

The weekend before last I took the kids to the Northey Street City Farmers Markets which I haven't been to in many years.  First up I got the kids an "orange juice" ice block each and I had a freshly squeezed orange juice drink which was lovely.  Then as we wandered around the market which is so very "hippy" and I felt quite out of place as we looked for fresh fruit and veggies.  I really wanted to purchase my weekly fruit and veggies however I went from stall to stall and the price was just so over the top, about double the normal price that I didn't really get what I went for.

We did however buy a beautiful turkish bread, some organic lamb shanks from Silverwood Organics at half price because things were a bit slow that day, two tiny butternut pumpkins and when I say tiny, about 10 cm long which is perfect to cut in half and roast as I'm the only one that likes pumpkin in this household.  We did buy about 20 little apples for the school lunches which were half the size of an egg, but very suitable for the kids lunch boxes.

As much as I wanted to buy my weekly veggies at the markets instead of the supermarket, it was just so expensive and I couldn't justify it even when were were right there.  I left feeling disappointed because I couldn't really support the people that grew the produce because it was double what I pay at the supermarket and it's not affordable for this little family.  I don't think I will be going back there any time soon.




 
On the topic of Farmers Markets remember I wrote a post about our local community event for our suburb a little while back which had an "Ideas Clothesline" and Farmers Markets were on the top of the list that people requested.  Hopefully in the coming year we will have our own local Farmers Market that we can support and visit.

Our community launch event for our suburb.

The "Ideas Clothesline" for our suburb.  We had a "Town Hall Meeting" two weeks ago to discuss the top requested ideas and how our suburb can move forward to make some of these things happen.  We had about 100 people come to the meeting which was great.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weekend Reading

I thought I would pass on some interesting things from the internet that I have been reading or tagging lately.

I made these biscuits this morning with a biscuit maker that I've had in the cupboard for a couple of years.  I've had two previous attempts at using this item however I haven't had much success.  The trouble was I was using a recipe that wouldn't squeeze through the little templates and you have to look for a recipe for "push biscuits" or "Spritz Cookies".  I won't say it was easy because it was little fiddly until I got the hang of it and one template worked better than the others so just went with that in the end.  I remember from my childhood Mum had a biscuit press and we would make biscuits from it all the time so I really wanted to do it for my kids.  These biscuits are a very light shortbread and only take 10-12 minutes to bake.  I will be baking these again and as I do with all my biscuits, I freeze them so they are fresh and we don't eat all of them at once.  Unlike the chocolate box that has come home from school to raise money, ahhh I've just about eaten most of them myself so I will be the one donating the money.  I have no self control when it comes to chocolate and it's my "go to to fix all problems" and yes there are a few stressful problems which aren't going away anytime soon.




A camping recipe for marshmallows on sticks or at home.  You may need to press the "translate" button at the top to change the words into English.  There are pictures and the recipe instructions.

A post from the Lunch Lady about home made Anzac's vs a White Wings Box to make Anzac's.

I came across this blog on small simple living called The Assortment Blog.  The story about a successful couple with 3 small boys who lost jobs, savings and their house in 2008-2009 GFC and were forced to downsize their belongings and family dreams only to discover they have a far more meaningful life than they ever did before.  Eventually they built a tiny little cabin to live in with one small room for kitchen, dining and living and it's tiny but they couldn't be happier.  They document and photograph the cabin being prebuilt and placed on some land.  This is their story here.  Here is the link to their cabin posts.  Whenever I see stories like this it reminds me that having less is not necessarily doing without however I still have issues with trying to get rid of my excess stuff and I have a lot of stuff.  Regardless of this when I read stories like this I gravitate towards owing less stuff and nurturing my kids with home baked goods, love and kindness. Her blog is very inspiring.

Another blog I have been reading lately is Erin's blog called "Reading My Tea Leaves" and her and her husband lived in a tiny one room apartment with a loft bed.  They have had to find another apartment recently as she is expecting their first baby and a cot would not fit into their one room apartment, so it was very small.  She has lots of tips on small living which can still be applied to anyone and is worth a read.

With the school holidays coming up in Brisbane in a couple of weeks here's a list of things to do to keep the kids occupied.

Check out these wonderful painted sticks, another holiday activity and/or when you are camping to keep the kids occupied.

I have these templates and have to make time to create a book each for James and Sienna called "Reasons why I love you".  Check out Melissa's fabulous books for her 4 children, this is one of them and a "how to" post.  I started a page for Sienna..this is her a few years back and her cheeky laugh.


Have a good weekend.

Friday, March 14, 2014

New Family Pet

Let me introduce you to the latest member to our family our "Sausage Dog".  He's house trained, doesn't eat much and will not have to go to puppy training school so he's a great fit for our little family.  Whenever my kids play with our friends dog they are always asking me (hounding me, ha ha) to get a dog.  It's not something that this little family can manage given that dogs are a lot of work, cost a lots and usually end up with vet fees not to mention the food bill.  Here's our little sausage dog out in the backyard.


When we were kids we grew up with cats, budgies, finches, ducks, a cockatoo and gold fish but no dog.  That's why I was happy to get chickens because they are relatively easy to look after and they give you fresh eggs in return.  Unfortunately our two chickens died over the extreme heat we had in Brisbane during the January school holidays and will be getting some more chickens to replace them during the Easter holidays but for now we have a Sausage Dog.

I saw this little Doggie pattern on Pinterest  from Retromama when I was looking at making Sienna something for her birthday and the other day I came across it again and decided that since I've caught the sewing bug again after a 10 year absence from my machine that I wanted to make it for her since she would love a dog.  Whilst James would also love a dog, I didn't think giving him a stuffed sausage dog would do anything for him however I knew Sienna would love it.  James got a can of orange sunkist this afternoon instead (which is very rare for this family as it was left over party drinks from Sienna's birthday last weekend so he was equally happy with his gift).

I downloaded the pattern which cost $8.00 on Wednesday and yesterday afternoon popped into the local patchwork shop and bought the fabric.  I was really pleased with the fabrics and couldn't wait to get started on sewing the doggie today.   The instructions were pretty easy and I did read them all before I started which is usually a good tip but not always done.  It was a just a matter of cutting out the fabric, sewing the ears together, then sewing the ears onto the body, then the nose and eyes go onto the body and then last is the sewing around the whole doggie leaving 2-3 inches below the doggie tail to put your stuffing in.  I used the end of a wooden spoon to put the stuffing in, first into the nose and working your way back towards the tail of the dog.  I bought a bag of 500 gms stuffing and she says her dog weighs 6.8 oz (192 gms) at the end just so you can work out how much stuffing is enough.  I ended up stuffing mine with more than that, however it is solid and very cuddly because of the shape.

The sausage dog doesn't stand up by itself because he only has 2 legs and in all reality there are not many 2 legged dogs around but none the less a beautiful addition to our family.  Sienna has called him "Sausage Dog" which is very appropriate and she loves him and is already carrying it everywhere this afternoon. NOTE:  The pattern says to use a stitch on your machine which is 3 stitches together of which I didn't know you could do this.  I did find it on my machine and used this stitch which is basically making sure the whole thing is reinforced and won't split open once you start stuffing your dog.  This totally works well and you learn something new about your machine every day.  She has this note in her detailed instructions however I thought it was worth while mentioning it here.  Here's a few photos of the process. 

I downloaded the pattern first which I printed at home.

Cutting the ears I used the light grey material as the top of the ears and the solid block plain brown colour underneath the ears.  I used a contrast for the ears but it's not necessary as you could just use the one fabric.

This is the last stage of the sewing with the opening towards the end of the dog to allow for stuffing.

Here is the dog turned inside out and ironed flat.

And a close up of his face.  She uses black thread to sew the eye lashes on however I just used the same thread as I was sewing with and didn't mind showing the stitches on the eye lashes.  The felt I used for his nose was a stick on felt so the nose was sewn into the seams but I also peeled off the backing and the nose stuck to the fabric so I didn't bother sewing around the nose except into the seams.

Here he is our proud little doggie.

Another view of him up on the table leaning against my little Ikea pot plant.

And a close up of his face and the fabric.  The stars are not white or creams but they have a hint of blue in them which is why I loved the fabric for the ears.  It's a little hard to see in these photos the colours of the stars.

And the proud owner of our latest pet.

And that was today's sewing adventures and I loved making it.  I finished it about 10 minutes before I had to pick her up from school so I could give it to her today.  Now next week I'll have to get back to the housework as James Quilt and the Sausage Dog took up my time this week.  I'm sure I'll have time to cut out the little dresses but that will be towards the end of the week.  I've had so much fun sewing the Quilts and this little doggie.  If you are looking for a baby gift or even a little toddler gift I highly recommend this cute little Sausage Dog.  There is a dog bone pattern as well you can make up but I decided it wasn't necessary however it's there if you want to sew one yourself.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Finished Rag Quilt

I finished doing the cutting/snipping of James Rag Quilt last night so I could wash and dry it today and give it to him this afternoon.  I was very excited to give it to him and he was exciting to be receiving it this afternoon. He absolutely LOVED it and gave me lots and lots of kisses and cuddles and can't wait to use it.  His Quilt is slightly shorter than Sienna's quilt as it's more manageable however with Sienna's Quilt as I had the cut fabric out already I just added it onto the end of her Quilt to make it longer other wise the spare fabric would have ended up in the sewing basket.  I love how the Quilts are both so different and love how they both love that I made them.  It gave me a big thrill this afternoon to give James his Quilt and here are a few photos where he had to shut his eyes and this time Sienna brought it out and put it in front of him and I took the photos.  You can see Sienna getting her Birthday Rag Quilt here.