Friday, November 28, 2008

This Simple Living Thing is Hard

No one ever said it would be easy and I didn’t really expect it to be but deep down a bit of me did think that the term ‘simple living’ implied a certain simple-ness about it.

You can see the fuzzy-edged images in your mind of a family sitting in a wonderful lush garden on a weed free lawn wearing organic clothing in natural tones and the girls all wearing scarves to keep their long flowing, shiny hair out of their faces (shiny because they don’t have any chemical build up from using commercial dyes and shampoos).

They are eating a wonderful lunch with homemade bread, cordial and biscuits. Laughing and enjoying each other’s company. In the slightly out of focus background are some white sheets, gently blowing in the wind breeze and the pet dog is joyfully bounding around them, skilfully avoiding the lunch plates.

When you pry yourself away from this image, your mind wanders into an immaculate, country style home, void of any evidence of the homemade bread and lunch being consumed in the back yard. Even though the sheets are on the line, the beds are all made and the pillows are fluffed. The living areas have that lived in look about them and yet are dust free and tidy. When your mind’s eye wanders into the bathroom all the towels match and there isn’t a splatter of toothpaste on the mirror.

Yes, some would say I do think a bit too much but deep inside my over-active brain there was this picture when we first began the path to simple living. It wasn’t a conscious thought exactly and there was definitely no plan on how to accomplish any of those things but the picture was there – ready for printing on a hallmark card.

Obviously, my life and home is nothing like this. Simple living takes a lot of work. It isn’t necessarily hard work but it is constant. If you have made the decision to cook from scratch then that will mean you are in the kitchen more, which will then require more cleaning, as will the floor from all the flour you always seem to get everywhere (makes a good excuse for the scarves and aprons though). And then, to add insult to injury, the food you have lovingly cooked gets eaten and then the cycle is repeated the following day (hopefully with a different scarf and apron). You get the idea.

Perhaps it is the wonderful help that I receive from Miss Berry or perhaps it is because there is a hell of a lot of things that need doing when you are trying to get back to basics, but either way simple living sure does take a lot of time.

Would I go back to the ways thing were?

Not in a million years.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Petrol Prices

I heard on the news last night that petrol was selling for under $1/L in Western Sydney today. Apparently this is the lowest it has been since January 2007.

Obviously this huge drop in price is going to be a welcome relief but I wonder what people will do with the extra money. Will it just get re-absorbed into their general day to day spending? I suspect that this is what will happen in the majority of cases.

Another possibility is to put aside the extra money pay off debt. Even $10 per week can make a huge difference to a getting rid of personal debt and it was money that was being used for petrol anyway, so it shouldn’t be missed. Sure, the budget will still be tight, but it was like that last month and the month before that right? And it won’t take long before you notice a drop in the interest you are paying – especially on credit card debt.

And what about those of us that are debt free? Why not boost (or start) your savings instead, or salary sacrifice the amount and get a tax benefit too.

For those of us that have reduced their car usage and walked to the shops or used public transport, why not live consciously and keep walking and enjoying the fresh air. I know I will.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brown Paper Packages

What a lovely surprise I found on my doorstep yesterday. Julie from Towards Sustainability has a 500th post giveaway and I won and my prize arrived. Brown paper packages tied up with string really are one of my favourite things – thanks Julie.

When I opened it looked so lovely, everything was arranged just so.

There were so many things – books, gardening gloves, heaps of seeds, chocolate (yum) and some grocery bags. It is so inspiring and motivating. The books look really good, I have almost finished reading my current book and will move onto one of these next.

My motivation does ebb and flow but when it comes to sustainable living it doesn’t take much to get me going again.
Often reading about other people’s lives is the best way to be inspired. You know that if other people are doing it, so can you. I read a few blogs on a regular basis and they all inspire me to continue my journey towards a simple life. Let’s face it, sometimes it is hard to say no to that little consumer voice that says I really do need that new pair of shoes and hand bag even though I rarely go out. Reading these blogs regularly help me stay on track.

Here are some of the blogs I read, I hope you can be inspired by us and in turn inspire others.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Who's That Eating My Tomatoes

Well it didn’t rain all weekend so I got a fair bit done in the garden.

Here is the veggie patch before the weekend:

And this is what it looks like now:

I put in some black russian and currant tomatoes along the back and cleaned up around the bed – I found another garden edge behind the bed too. I think I will have to get a whipper snipper out to clear that back area though.

I also staked my volunteer tomatoes using the weaving method (for want of a better term). I haven’t staked them like this before but I am hoping it will be neater than using a single stake. I am using the same method for the tomatoes I planted on the weekend.

I seem to have a ‘volunteer’ bed because two other plants have sprung up. I am not sure what they are but assume they are either pumpkin or zucchini. The one at the back has some flower buds on it so we will soon find out.

Today I went down to look at my grosse lisse tomatoes I planted a while back and something has eaten the fruit.

There was a green grub on one of the tomatoes but it fell off. I really don’t want to spray but don’t know what to do to keep them eating all my fruit. If anyone has any ideas I would be grateful. I just hope the grubs don’t eat all my hard work. I need to eat some too!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bread and Biscuits

I have had a really slack week on the housework front and so yesterday I did all the housework. I usually like to spread the jobs over the week to keep the house looking somewhat respectable.
If I get everything done by Friday then nothing has to be done over the weekend and we can spend it as a family and do things we enjoy without having chores hanging over our head.

It wasn’t all hard work though, I did some baking in the morning so when Miss Berry went down for her nap I made myself a pot of tea and sampled my efforts.

Home baked bread with jam and oat and apricot biscuits

Both Mr Berry and Miss Berry have pretty much polished off all the bread I made yesterday so it looks like I will have to make some more. That’s the problem with taking the time to bake things – they get eaten!

Rain has been forecast all weekend but the sun is out at the moment and I am getting ready to venture into the garden and do some much needed weeding. I also have some winter vegies that are well and truly gone to seed and need to be pulled up.

When I am out the back my fingers just itch to pull up some of the many overgrown weeds we have. The back garden near the vegies is really overgrown and I don’t think it is safe for Miss Berry to go down there with me, so the weekends are the only time I can get stuck into it. Here is a picture of the area I am talking about.

Electricity and Water Update:

For the past 2 days our electricity usage has averaged 6.5kw and our hot water 8kw. This is down from 9kw each from the previous day. Our water usage has gone from 330L to 280L.
I thought we have been pretty good with our energy and water conservation but it just goes to show you that you can always do more if you try.

The big change we have made with our electricity use is to turn off the computer and any other appliances we can at the power point. Now the lady at the electricity company told me not to bother as it doesn’t save you much money over the year and maybe it won’t, but it has reduced our usage by 18%. We may have been a tad more diligent in turning off lights as well but it is still a huge reduction.

After reading the comments on my last water and electricity posting here, I had a look at the todae site that Sarah recommended – thanks Sarah!

Our toilet is very old and has a lever on the side rather than a button so I need to check that I can use a cistern weight but I have filled 2 soft drink bottles with water and placed them in the cistern (the cistern is so big that they are well away from any parts). This means that we are saving 3L every time we flush our toilet. It is making small changes like this that will add up to make the bigger savings.

Thank you to everyone for your comments and suggestions.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plastic Bags – Update

After talking about reducing my use of plastic here, greenfumb recommended this site for fabric bags to hold your vegies. I thought I would let everyone know about this great alternative.

Thanks greenfumb.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chicken Stock and Ginger Beer

Sunday night I cooked a roast chicken and since then we have been eating the leftovers. Monday night was toasted sandwiches and last night I cooked a chicken risotto. In true simple living fashion, I picked the bones clean but rather than throw them out, I made chicken stock.

Homemade chicken stock is so much nicer than the bought stuff, and it makes the kitchen smell divine. Put it on as you are cooking dinner.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Throw the bones of 1 chicken into a large pot with vegies – usually I use a leek, onion, a couple of carrots, some celery stalks and 2 cloves of garlic. I also add whatever herbs I have on hand but always add 2 bay leaves. Last night I added sage, lemon thyme, parsley and rosemary.

Add enough water to well and truly cover everything and put the pan on the stove with a lid. It needs to simmer for at least 2.5 hours. The bones should basically crumble away.

I then take it off the stove, strain and reserve the liquid. The bits can then get thrown away.

Refrigerate the stock overnight and in the morning skim off as much as the fat from the top as you want and either use the stock or freeze. I freeze the stock into various portions – 1tbs fits into ice cubes and half cups and full cups go into sweet n sour sauce containers and baby jars.
I am just waiting for the stock cubes to freeze so I can freeze the rest of the stock. Once that is done I can use the pot to finish off my ginger beer. This is the second plant I have made.

It hasn’t foamed as much as the first one I did and there isn’t as many bubbles but I will see what happens after it is bottled. I am also going to adjust the sugar syrup. The last batch was too sweet for me. The recipe I used called for 4 cups of sugar to 22 cups of water but this time I might reduce the sugar to 3 cups and see what happens. I will also start a new plant so I have lots of bottles to give away over Christmas.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Meter Readings

Here is the result from the past 2 days.
Monday's ReadingToday's ReadingAve Daily Usage
Electricity72524725418.5 kw
Off Peak Hot Water50774507939.5 kw
Water1499.4611500.3670.453 kl

Yesterday we barely used any electricity so our average is low – we normally average around 10.5kw. It seems odd that our hot water system uses the same amount of electricity as the rest of the house. I will have to check that out. The hot water system is a really old gravity fed system that is super, super hot. I will see if I can turn the thermostat down.

I am not sure if our water usage is high or not but an average of 453L seems a lot. We are renting and our landlord is very reluctant to maintain the property and the big issue we have been arguing about is the water leaks. The backyard tap leaks and I catch that water for the garden, but the big leak is the toilets. Our main toilet is constantly running (as in the water’s running into the bowl and the cistern always needs to fill itself up). It is a very old toilet too so the cistern is huge; and there isn’t a dual flush. Any suggestions are more than welcome. Grrr, landlords.

I am going to keep monitoring our usage over the next week and try to reduce it. I know we can be a lot better – eight years ago our electricity daily average was 13kw.

Here is the link to Down to Earth. Don't forget to post your results there, and any suggestions.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Give Me the Cash

I spoke about our bare bones budget here. Over the weekend our pay period began so I thought I would talk about what we do to keep to our budget.

Making a budget is easy – it’s keeping to it that is the hard part. Our biggest weakness is the cards. We pay off our credit card each month but we often eat into our savings to do so. I think this is because when you hand over a card for credit or EFTPOS it is like you aren’t really paying for the item because there isn’t any actual cash.

To fix this we went cash.
At the beginning of the pay month I withdraw out enough cash for the month and then come home and divide it into envelopes. Our categories are: groceries, petrol, Mr Berry’s money and my money. These are the main categories that can be variable. Things like bills, insurances etc are usually paid automatically and are pretty much set each month. For anything else, we discuss it before hand and look at our budget; this also stops impulse purchases.

It takes discipline to not spend all the cash within a week. Mr Berry and I go about this in different ways. Mr Berry divides his money into weekly amounts and leaves the rest at home. I have all my money at home and just take it when I need it. I always know how much I have and monitor my spending so it is spread over the month. Use whatever method works for you – the important thing is that it works.

And for The Great Water and Electricity Challenge I started yesterday, here are today’s readings:

7am this morning (Monday 17/11/08)

Yesterday's ReadingToday's ReadingUsage
Electricity725247253511 kwh
Off Peak Hot Water507745078410 kwh
Water1499.4611499.91450.4535 kl

I did use the gas yesterday for about 5 mins on the stove but it obviously wasn’t enough to turn the meter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Great Water and Electricity Challenge

Rhonda from Down to Earth has challenged us all to monitor our water and electricity usage in the hopes of trying to reduce the amount we use.

I have taken up the challenge. Over winter we received a shockingly huge electricity bill - $600! We have never had a bill over $200 for winter. Turns out the increase was due to our heaters. We were in a new home and had 2 heaters going; obviously a lot more than we normally do.

So, after that we began to monitor our usage and we had dropped right back down again. I haven't looked at the meter for a couple of months so lets see how we are doing.

Here are the readings from 7am this morning (Sunday 16/11/08)

Electricity: 72524
Off Peak Hot Water: 50774

Water: 1499

Gas: 4573

Here's hoping I have read the meters correctly. When we started checking our electricity meter both Mr Berry and I read the meter wrong for a few days and were getting really worried about our huge spike in usage!

If you want to join the challenge hop on over to Down to Earth and leave a comment on Rhonda's blog.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Summer Quilt

Friday is always sheet changing day. New sheets are put on the beds, the pillows and quilts are aired and fluffed and the old sheets are washed.

Slipping in between fresh cotton sheets at night would have to be my most favourite thing (and I mean my most favourite thing ever). Mr Berry usually lets me hop into bed first on Friday nights so I can savour the joy of fresh sheets. I also don’t like anyone to sit on the bed beforehand, as it takes away the fresh-sheet feeling. There, my one neurotic-ness is out. Ok it’s not my only one but let’s keep the rest private for now eh?

Anyway, because the weather has been so warm and this morning was the beginning of a hot day, I decided to put the summer quilt on the bed.

This quilt has a light cotton batting so it is perfect for the nights when you need a little bit more than a sheet. As you can see, I have left our winter quilt on the bottom of the bed in case the nights are a bit cold. I will wash the winter quilt once we don’t need it at night.

I just love white linen; it makes the room feel so fresh. Now, if only I can manage to keep Miss Berry off my bed today ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Garden Update

My first attempt at pumpkins - it is growing so fast!

The weather has been fantastic lately and my garden is going gang-busters. This is the first year I have tried to grow a productive garden. Previously I have thrown in a few tomato seedlings and some herbs, but this year I am growing things from seed and am aiming to produce as much as I can. I have also mainly used heirloom seeds so I can save some seeds for next year.

Here is the garden I started at the beginning of spring.

The tomatoes have fruit ripening and the beans are going well. I have shallots and rainbow chard that I am harvesting as I need them. I have also planted lettuce, carrot, spanish onion, capsicum, zucchini and basil and the brocolini seeds I planted on the weekend.
Last weekend we cleared the front garden. It was a mass of weeds so we laid newspaper and sugar cane mulch.
I would like this garden to be my herb garden and I have planted a bay tree, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano. I sowed some borage and coriander seeds but they have not sprouted yet but here are the rosella seeds I sowed on the weekend.
I also have some chive and garlic chive seeds that I will put in as a border.

And here are some little seedlings waiting to go in the garden or be given away.

I have two different types of tomatoes – black russian and currant, peppermint, chamomile, parsley and spanish onions. I have stopped sowing the seeds in punnets because it is just too much work and I am getting better results with putting them straight in the garden. Maybe when it gets really hot I will go back to punnets.

This weekend we will finish mulching the rest of the front garden. You can see the remaining part here:

As you can see it is really overgrown. We have not long moved into the house and it has taken us a long time to get this far with the gardens. They were really, really overgrown. The back yard was worse! It is very rewarding to look at how much we have achieved so far.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Plastic, Plastic, Everywhere

As part of our move to be more sustainable I am working on reducing the amount of plastic my family uses and throws away. Like all of the changes we are making, it has been hard because plastic is such a bit part of our modern lives. We automatically reach for plastic – glad wrap, containers, and packaging – and it can be difficult to find an alternative.

Difficult mainly because of habit. Only a couple of generations ago, there was no glad wrap (it was invented in 1953) and obviously people survived quite nicely without it. But to suggest not buying glad wrap and using a non-plastic alternative it kin to suggesting we should rip our toenails out because cutting them leads to kilos of land fill each year (most people wouldn’t believe either suggestion is serious).

Once again my solution to this has been to make small changes over time. The first obvious change is to use those green shopping bags instead of plastic bags. If you have little ones buy the funky Sesame Street or Wiggles ones (I started with these funky bags before little ones, how can I resist Shrek?)

My collection of shopping bags

Keep them in your car so you will always have them when you do your grocery shop. Don’t forget to use them for your fruit and veg, bakery items and meat (I have a separate one I use for meat). Once this becomes a habit, stop putting your fruit and veg into separate plastic bags (why do we do this?). You are going to wash them anyway, why not bung them in the one big bag? Don’t forget the grapes too – no need for a plastic bag for them either.

Once I was doing this all the time I became conscious of the other plastic bags I was using – my non-grocery shopping. Since the green bags are in the car, why not use them for all purchases? I have now learnt to say “don’t worry about a bag thanks, I'll just take the receipt”. Sometimes I forget and they put it in a plastic bag but as I said this is an ongoing process.

I think these steps are the easiest beginning steps to take in reducing our plastic use. From here you will become much more aware of how much plastic you are using and disposing of.

You might be asking: “What do you line your kitchen bin with?” This was Mr Berry’s question when I suggested we make this change. We don’t line our kitchen bin. We made this change at the same time we started our worm farm and compost bin so our waste was mainly dry. When we empty the kitchen in it gets washed and now there isn’t any wet waste or food scraps as they all get composted so the bin doesn’t get yucky. I will admit we are lining our council bin with a plastic liner but it is on the list to get rid of that too – baby steps.

Fake Plastic Fish - Beth has just written about a group of bloggers concerned with reducing plastic usage. She has links to their sites.

Jorth - Here is an Australian blog

Here are some articles of interest:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Back on Track with Modern Cloth Nappies (MCN)

I ordered some more nappy covers for Miss Berry from ecobabe and they arrived yesterday.
Before Miss Berry started solids we were using cloth nappies about 90% of the time. With the introduction of solids it became a bit too much to bear and I have been using disposables all the time. I am now beginning to work my way back up to using cloth nappies.

Here is our collection of different brands of cloth that we are using now:

My favourite brand is Tot Bots and they are the covers I use. I also have some second-hand Mother-ease one size nappies that are really good. There are 2 different types of liners in the photo; the biodegradable Eenee and some home made silk liners.

It really isn’t any harder to use cloth nappies rather than disposable, you just need to get your head around it. They are fitted nappies so they are worn just like a disposable and you don’t need to soak them or use a hot wash. And of course line drying them will anti-bacterial-ise them.

So, I just need to be aware of using the cloth nappies instead of automatically reaching for a disposable. Also, I think starting small will help the transition. I am aiming to use 2 cloth nappies each day and then increase that number over the next few weeks.

Here are some pics of my girl modelling her new nappy cover. As you can see it isn’t too bulky – but it is super cute!

She is sitting on a pack of disposable nappies. Does this represent the triumph of cloth nappies over disposable?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Babysitter - Television

Miss Berry loves television. It began over Christmas when she was 3 months old and the cricket was on. She would just stare at the screen. Now she loves The Wiggles, Play School and In the Night Garden and will sit in front of the TV for as long as it is on.

I find it is so easy to turn on the TV when I need to get something done or if I need some peace. Actually, it is too easy. Last week I realised I was letting her watch too much TV. The amount she was watching had slowly increased over time without me realizing it; I was using it as a babysitter.

So the TV was turned off and since then Miss Berry hasn’t watch any TV.
You know what? I still get my jobs done in the morning (it does take a bit longer – she is such a great helper). I still get to have a cup of tea and write my blog. We are still able to get out of the house at the same time.

Miss Berry has not looked for the TV or her favourite shows. She is very happy to sit on her own and read her books or play with her toys. Every now and then she will come up to me for attention so we will sit down and read together or play with whatever toy she has and then I can continue with my jobs. She now helps me make the bed and tidy the house too.

Speaking of which, Miss Berry is tugging on my leg now – we are off to finish our morning jobs. Why did I ever think it would be easier or better with her watching TV?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Vegemite on Toast

Miss Berry has decided she does not like her usual breakfast of weet-bix. Instead she has told me that Vegemite on toast is the only thing on the menu. She told me this by throwing her weet-bix on the floor; the solution was found via a process of elimination.

There is something so deliciously cute about a little one eating vegemite on toast. There is the initial tasting followed by a shudder that runs from head foot. The pause to see if she really does like the taste and then the final decision; yes she does like it but it will taste better if she has a piece in each hand. The vegemite is then smeared over every available surface whilst the toast is being consumed.
I also feel so very Australian giving my girl vegemite on toast. I am not a patriotic person but watching her eat this national spread fills me with a glow of Australian-ness. She will now be able to stand proud and say to her overseas friends "try some, you'll love it. It's just like nutella". And try not to laugh as she watches them take a bite of toast smeared with an inch thick layer of vegemite.
Although I am dubious as to the nutritional value of vegemite, I am glad Miss Berry has dived right in and embraced this quintessential Australian meal.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Today was a normal Wednesday. Miss Berry and I had mother's group at home which was lovely. I really enjoy watching the little ones tear about my house. It makes it feel like a home when it is full of children.

I did start the day earlier than usual with pilates. I got out of the habit of doing pilates a couple of months ago and my back has been really sore since I stopped. Oh, how my muscles ache now though! A good soak in the bath tonight should help things.

And after Miss Berry went to bed I headed out into the garden and re potted some seedlings. Tomatoes, parsley and peppermint - oh my! And because it was Wednesday, I watered my veggie beds (we are on water restrictions in Sydney and can only hose on Sundays and Wednesdays in the morning or evening).

Now I have finished a dinner of leftovers from the mother's group lunch and will do a little bit of sewing before getting ready for bed.

A standard, run of the mill day.
And yet, I feel excited, refreshed, relaxed, content and happy. I am not sure what it was about my day that has left me feeling like this. It could have been the pilates, the little ones livening up the house or reconnecting with my garden at dusk. Or it may be all of these things, but I am happy (and thankful) for my lot in life.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bare Bones Budgeting

I started writing this blog about budgeting last night and realized it was getting longer and longer – it’s no wonder a lot of people think budgets are too hard!

So I have included photos of a quilt and an outfit for Miss Berry that I finished over the weekend to help prevent brain overload. I deleted most of my original draft and came up with my bare bones steps of making a budget. Use a spreadsheet program or pen, paper and calculator.

1. Write down everything you spend your money on and sort it into general categories:

Loan Repayments
etc, etc, etc

Make sure the totals are for the same period as your pay. If you get paid monthly, divide annual bills by 12, quarterly bills by 3 and so on.

2. Add all the categories up and subtract them from your total income. The figure you get is the amount you have left over. Use this amount to pay off debt or save.

3. At the beginning of each pay period, take the left over amount out of your everyday account and pay off your debt or put it into another savings account – whatever you have decided to do with it.

4. Don’t touch this extra money!

5. At the end of the pay period, take any money in your everyday account and transfer it to debt or a savings account.

6. Don’t spend more than you earn – no exceptions.

That’s it, the very basic, bare bones budget that we are using now. This is by far the easiest and quickest way I have found to budget.

I have been using a personal budget of one kind or another for the last 14 years. Some have been successful and others not so. I have tried numerous tools from hand-written scraps of paper in a diary to a full software program. I have had times when I have been lax, times when the budget has been completely ignored and my spending has been horrific, and times when I have remained on track.

Before you go off thinking I am a saint, let me say that I love spending money! Living simply and frugally is very hard for me and I have times of relapse and spend like I used to. You do not have to be perfectly on track with your budget at all times (although that is the goal). If you have or are thinking about a budget, don't give up just because you might blow it on the first day; it may not ever be easy.

Budgeting is very, very liberating. It is a wonderful feeling knowing how much money you are spending and that you are spending within your means and are in control.

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