Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Biddy Taylor – My Nan

My Grandmother passed away over Christmas and today was her funeral. The past few days I have been thinking about what to write about my Nan, especially in relation to simple living. Through necessity, Nan and Pop lived a simple life as did most people of that time. I asked her once what she did before cling wrap and she had to think for a while and said ‘I’m not sure – we just did’. I suppose that is simple living in a nut shell – just doing. Getting by with what you have not because you want to, but because you have to.

Nan was born the sixth child and second daughter of Howard and Florence Simmons on the 4th March, 1920. Nan grew up in Maitland, NSW and in 1942 she married my Grandfather Jack. They stayed in Maitland where my Mum and two Aunties were born and the family moved to Belmont in 1959 and then in 1962 they moved to Sydney.

My first experience of home grown veggies and meat came from Nan and Pop. Pop had a wonderful veggie garden and I remember Nan bottling up the excess – beetroot and rhubarb in particular. They also had chickens and our baked dinners often had the odd feather left under a wing – whilst Pop had killed the chook, Nan cleaned and of course cooked it. I remember being terrified of the chickens, especially after Mum’s stories of freshly killed hens chasing her around the back yard.

Mum said they always ate best when they were broke as they would have to ‘live off the land’ – however small a piece it may be. Pop would also fish and set traps for crabs.

My Nan was a wonderful lady. Although my Mum and Aunties tell stories of how strict Nan was when they were young, I remember Nan always being gentle and kind – I am pretty sure she spoiled us rotten. I remember being allowed to have an ice-cream cone before dinner and when we were out at the shops we often got a treat.

My first experience with a button tin was at Nan’s. I remember the wonderful feeling of running my fingers through the buttons (a feeling I still love). Nan also had a tin full of old cottons – the ones with the wooden spools.

I remember playing a lot with Nan (and Pop) as a child. Their home was one I always looked forward to visiting. There were lots of things I could play with – real things, not just kids toys - like the button tin and the cotton reels and I don’t remember Nan ever scolding me or telling me to stop touching things.

Of course there were things I knew I wasn’t allowed to go near. Nan had a china cabinet that was completely off limits. I was always fascinated by the cabinet and all the beautiful things inside it. Nan gave me the cabinet a few years ago and it is still filled with beautiful things – most of them are hers but I have begun to add to the collection.

My Nan was a wonderful, kind, generous person. Her legacy is her three daughters, seven grandchildren, fifteen great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.

Nan, we love you and you will be sorely missed.

Jack and Biddy Taylor

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

This is my final post for Christmas. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Christmas.

I will be back in the New Year. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you have enjoyed it so far.


1 Day Til Christmas

Hopefully, today should be calm. I am making progress with my list of things to do and only have a few things I haven’t crossed off. I do have to make a trip to the supermarket today. We have a major supermarket that is tucked away under apartments here and it is usually pretty quiet. Hopefully today won’t be too bad.

I have decided to try and buy some supermarket salads rather than try and make 4 different salads on Christmas Day. I can then spend more time with Mr Berry and Miss Berry on Christmas morning. I will still do a garden salad (imagine a pre-made garden salad, can someone say soggy?) and there will be a homemade potato and cabbage salad.

Angela, here is the Chilled Mulled Wine recipe. I found it on the Taste website and this will be the first year I have made it. I made the syrup yesterday and it made the house smell divine. It tastes nice too (although very sweet on its own).

Chilled Mulled Wine

250ml (1 cup) fresh orange juice, strained
55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar
2 x 7cm cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
2 x 750ml bottles chilled sparkling shiraz

Stir orange juice, sugar, cinnamon and cloves in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until syrup thickens. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool.
Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for 3 hours to infuse.
Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves. Pour syrup among serving glasses. Top with sparkling wine and serve immediately.

Serves 12.

Australian Good Taste - December 2005, Page 62 Recipe by Sarah Hobbs

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2 Days Til Christmas

Yesterday I got everything done on my list except for wrapping the pressies. We did go through the pressies though and today Mr Berry went off with a short list of people to buy for (only 2 people).

My big tasks today are to finish my Christmas sewing so I can put the machine away til after Christmas and to clean the house. I have to make the tablecloth and napkins and I think I will take the easy route on both of them. I have a red brocade fabric for the table cloth and the fabric for the napkins is from Spotlight. I was going to use pinking shears around the table cloth but I think it will need a hem so it washes easy. I usually bind the napkins to get a nice finished edge but I will just hem these (I have 20 to make after all). They will only be used once a year and I have to prioritise things now – a simple hem will do nicely.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My List so Far

The first thing I do is work backwards from lunch on Christmas Day. I can make sure I won’t be too rushed on the day and I can figure out what I can do on Christmas Eve and the day before. (Is that Christmas Eve Eve?)

Here is my list so far:

Christmas Day
(the order is backwards from lunch)

Put apples and cannelloni in oven 1 hour before pork is finished
Put pork on
Dress table
Buy ice and sort out drinks
Get ready and put on snazzy Christmas apron and silly santa hat.
Open pressies (yeah, my favourite)

Christmas Eve

Make mulled wine
Make onion jam for pork
Get Mangoes

Christmas Eve Eve
(the 23rd)

Give the house a big once over.
Finish any homemade Christmas gifts and wrap them
Make table cloth and serviettes

Christmas Eve Eve Eve
(ok, now this is getting ridiculous)

Finish Decorations and trimming the tree
Order salads
Return library books
Wrap pressies and make sure everyone is bought for. If I have missed anyone then Mr Berry gets to go shopping.
Post the couple of Christmas cards I have left.
Make any food Christmas pressies that haven’t been done yet.

When I look at this list it really doesn’t seem like alot and I actually feel calmer about the things I have to do. I have taken the easier route for a lot of things. I made sure that I had finished my gift shopping by last Friday and we had planned Christmas Day lunch a couple of weeks ago and split up the food between everyone.

I suppose the moral of this exercise is to be organised. I know this list will prevent me from panicking, especially as I cross some items off. Speaking of which, I had best get on with the Christmas decorations. I will post pics when they are done.

3 Days Til Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching and it is generally a very stressful time, especially if you are hosting Christmas Day – which I am.

And yet I am determined not to get stressed over it. I love Christmas and I love the idea of having family and friends celebrate Christmas with us at our house. I do not want to spend the next few days and Christmas morning running about like a mad chook and then greeting my guests on Christmas day still in my jammies.

The way to avoid this is to use the tools I have from everyday life – simple living. Moving towards a simple life requires thought and consciousness when going about your daily tasks and it also requires organisation. Having a set routine and not leaving things to the last minute means your life can be calmer and less stressful. The same goes for Christmas day.

So, I am going to use this blog to keep myself organised (I am a huge list maker). Perhaps you will pick up some tips and I would love to hear any tips you have for making Christmas day run smoothly.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Home Made Dress for Miss Berry

Here is Miss Berry’s new Christmas dress.

This was taken after she had spent the day in it. We were both hot and sticky and she wasn’t in the mood for photo taking and these photos are the best I could get.

The dress fastens on the shoulder with buttons I found in the bottom of my button tin. I bought them new but sadly they are now vintage – or perhaps not so sadly as they would have cost me a lot more if I had bought them as vintage buttons. Yeah me for being slack and not using craft items as I buy them!

I am slowly getting more confident in making clothes without a pattern. I am thinking of making a skirt for me next. Actually, all I want to do is sit and sew but I have put the machine away and am ignoring the urges til the weekend so I can get my jobs done.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Tidy House is a Tidy Mind

Today’s task is to give the house a really good once over. Mr Berry has the car today so I am house bound (it looks like it is going to be way too hot to walk anywhere, we have heaps of hills in our area), which is perfect to force me to clean and re-organise things.

I find that having an organised and mostly clean house (it is rarely tidy thanks to Miss Berry) helps us to stay organised.

A clean kitchen and tidy fridge and pantry help with cooking from scratch each day. If the benches are free from clutter and dishes and everything is nicely organised you don’t have to spend time making room and looking for ingredients before you start cooking. If you have to clean up first and then forage around the back of the pantry to find the wholegrain rice and can of chick peas that you swore you bought the other month, a quick 20 minute meal can take 40 minutes or even longer if you have to do the days dishes first.

No thanks. I need to be in and out of the kitchen with dinner made in the evenings – it is arsenic hour after all.

This theory leads to the rest of the house too. If clothes are folded and put away then getting ready in the morning can be effortless. Having a place for your bills means that things are paid on time and nothing goes astray. Not having everything lying around also means that there is no need to rush around tidying the house when people are dropping by. Unless of course, you don’t mind your house looking like a brothel, in which case why are you reading a post on keeping your house clean?

If you are yet to have a system for your housework or if you are new to this then I would suggest sourcing some books by Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming called Spotless and Speed Cleaning.

Spotless deals with stain removal (as the title suggests) but Speed Cleaning is the one for keeping your house in order. They go through each room and have tips as well as a plan for cleaning that takes 15 mins per day (although when I do it, it takes about 40mins – perhaps because of my overseer Miss Berry).

The other great thing about these books is that most of the cleaning products are based on baking soda and vinegar and avoid the need-to-use-gloves-and-a-mask-or-the-vapours-will-burn-through-your-skin-and-mucous-membranes cleaning products.

I believe they have another book called How to be Comfy but I haven’t read that one yet. Perhaps I can put that on my wish list for Santa (hope you are reading this Mr Berry).

Anyhoo, I had best start on the tidying and turn off the computer. I will post my cleaning and organising schedule over the next few months. It should also help to keep my house in order too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Bunting

I know I said that I wasn’t going to get time to do much sewing for Christmas but on the weekend I went a bit nuts and made a Christmas bunting.

I have had this fabric for a few years and wasn’t quite sure what I should do with it. My Christmas colours this year are the vibrant red and greens in the fabric so this matches perfectly. I have hung it in the dining room above the table (which will have a red tablecloth) – it should look really good. Now all I have to do it make the table napkins. Here is the fabric I bought the other day for them:

(Spotlight has 50% off their Christmas fabric if anyone is interested. I got this for $2/m)

I also need to start on my table centrepieces. I was thinking of using those cone trees you see around but I want to do a handmade thing. I will keep thinking. Since we put the outdoor lights up I have really got into the Christmas spirit. I even hum Christmas Carols!

The house is an absolute mess and the only thing we have to eat is homemade bread (yum, but sadly not enough for Miss Berry who is a banana girl). So today should be spent doing housework and the grocery shopping. The grocery shopping will be done as I can no longer ignore it like I could when it was just Mr Berry and myself, but I fear the house work will again be left untouched. I really want to finish a Christmas dress for Miss Berry. This is the second dress I am making for her without using a pattern. The first one I finished yesterday.

Honestly, little girl’s dresses are just too cute for words. I just want to eat her up – which would solve the grocery issue.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Move Over Griswolds, Here Come The Berrys

We visited friends at Mt Annan on the weekend. We had a lovely time and when it was dark we headed out to walk the streets and look at the Christmas lights. It was amazing the amount of work people had put in – there were even baby animals! If you are in Sydney I would recommend you take the trip out to Mt Annan, park the car and walk around the streets to look at the lights.

When we arrived home and saw our poor attempt at Christmas lights (I had put up a set of solar lights in a tree) Mr Berry decided that less is definitely not more when it came to outdoor lighting at Christmas. So yesterday we headed down to the Christmas shop and left armed with more lights than a football stadium.

Apparently you need at least one motorised set.

And I had always wanted icicles.

I also got some more solar lights. They aren’t as bright as the others but you can see the stakes in the picture below. The tops light up and circle through the colours. I also bought some packs of basic solar lights to put on the hedge at the front.

Mr Berry assures me that LED lights use less electricity than the other types (we only bought LED) and I will read our meter over the next few days to see what we are in for. As I have said previously, we are using green electricity so our carbon emissions will not change but it is helpful to be aware of the usage so I can get an idea of the how much the next bill will be.

Living frugally is not about saving every penny you can. It is about not wasting money and using your money wisely. The higher electricity use for a couple of weeks will not break the bank and it has other non monetary benefits. When we were finishing the lights it was dusk and people walking past would stop and chat and the neighbourhood children would stop to look at ‘sea-saw Santa’. We met a few more neighbours last night and I think a little bit more electricity use for a couple of weeks is well worth it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Still Pursuing the Perfect Loaf

I have made bread twice this week. The first loaf that I mentioned here still wasn’t right. I think the problem is the kneading. The bread is turning out similar to what it did when I first started making bread by hand – I don’t think the machine is kneading the dough for long enough. I made another loaf yesterday but used some bread improver that I purchased at the supermarket and the bread turned out really well.

I really really don’t want to use bread improver though. Here are the ingredients: Sugar, Mineral Salts (170, 516), Emulsifiers (472E Soy), Wheat Flour, Soy Flour, Malt Flour, Anticaking Agent (504) Flour Treatment Agents (223, 300), Enzyme (Amylase 1100).

I have no idea what the numbers mean but I assume they are artificial (please correct me if I am wrong) and I think it defeats the whole point of making your own bread if you are going to put all this into your loaf.

The other thing I will try is to add gluten flour to the mix and see if that makes any difference. I haven’t been able to find any locally yet but I can get it online. I could also try using different types of flour. I am using a bakers flour at the moment which I think is a stronger flour. Not sure if that makes it easier or harder to make a good loaf though.

The machine also has a dough setting. Perhaps I can use that setting first so the dough will get a double knead? I will try that too.

Haven’t had much time for Christmas sewing so over the next couple of weeks I will post pics of my other Christmas things that I made in previous years.

Monday, December 8, 2008

In Pursuit of the Perfect Loaf

My bread-maker bread did not work. I am not sure exactly why it didn’t work but wasn’t as good as my normal loaf and definitely needs improvement.

Rather than place the blame solely on the machine, I have decided to take my share. So, I have purchased a bread mix packet and I am baking up a loaf now. Hopefully, this will work and I can see what I can expect from my bread maker. I have also bought a packet of bread improver to try with my usual recipe. I am really not keen on using it on a regular basis though – it has so many ingredients and most of them are numbers. I may as well buy my bread!

I will track my ‘tweaking’ of the recipe here so I at least have a record of my trials and errors. I have a tendency to not write these things down.

I have just finished a Christmas cushion:

The plan is to make three cushions for Christmas. This one, a stitchery one and one using Suffolk Puffs. I have started the Suffolk Puff one and will try to get it done within the week.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Dilemma of Bread Making

I know it has been a while since I have posted but I think Christmas is catching up with me – I have been so busy. I will try my hardest to keep posting regularly this month.

Our family loves homemade bread – Miss Berry will only eat homemade bread. The problem with spending all that time kneading and leaving it to rise and kneading again is that it takes up a good portion of the morning. And when I do make bread, it gets eaten within a day or two and I have to repeat the process whereas store bought bread ends up in the freezer for almost a week.

The fact is that although I am trying to lead a simple life, our lives are still busy and lots of things need to be done on a daily basis and my gorgeous girl needs to entertained almost constantly (you can imagine how it is half way through the first knead and she suddenly goes quiet – that tends to be a concern).

So, I have taken the plunge and sourced a second hand bread maker (thanks Robyn). I wanted to find a second hand one to prevent it going to land fill and also to save some dosh.

The thing is, a bit of me feels like I have sold out – I am like an independent grunge band that has just signed to a major label. I have lost my roots and forgotten about the fans that made my success possible and am now writing songs to be played on a commercial radio station that is usually reserved for Top 40 songs.

So, will I now be shunned by the hard working, hand kneading bread makers of the world? I hope not. Using the bread maker is the best way for my family to have regular homemade bread and I can spend that time with Miss Berry; she is growing so quickly I don’t want to miss a moment. It will relieve some stress from me as it will be one less thing I need to do during the day and hopefully it will be a lot easier and quicker to clean.

I suppose I am saying that everyone’s situation is different and we all have to do things in the best way for our lifestyle and family. Perhaps when Miss Berry is older I can go back to hand making bread or perhaps I will have perfected my recipe in the bread maker and will use my time for something else.

For the time being though, this old grunger is going Top 40 all the way.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Special Place

In today’s busy world, it is important to have a place you can go to relax and unwind. Somewhere you can sit with your thoughts, read a book, sew or just watch the world go by. I have found that one of the secrets to simple living is being able to slow down and enjoy the day rather than rush about ‘getting jobs done’. Having a special place can help me to slow down – especially when I get caught up in the day to day rush. I find that the more I rush, the more I seem to need to do and the more stressed I get.

So, I created my new special place on the weekend.

We have a little patio out the front that is sheltered from the road and the afternoon sun by a large, old camellia tree. The little garden was full of weeds and beyond that was the view of the neighbour’s wall but I could see it had potential.

I cleaned out the garden and planted some plants that will help to screen the brick wall and offer additional privacy.

A bit of a sweep and some tables and chairs and voila! A lovely area to sit back with a cup of tea and watch the world go by.

I was so inspired by my work that I decided to start a new project. I thought I would do a granny squares blanket for Miss Berry’s bed for winter. Granny Squares are perfectly portable and I can sit outside in the afternoon and crochet without worrying about getting my work dirty. What a great way to relax and unwind!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree

Our usual family tradition has been to put up the Christmas tree and decorations on the 1st of December. This year, a spanner has been thrown into the works – a cute yet active spanner named Miss Berry.

There is absolutely no way that I could have a tree up in the lounge room full of sparkly decorations and expect her to not be at it constantly. I looked at getting a play pen to put the tree in but they were very expensive and frankly I don’t think it would’ve worked as Miss Berry would have figured out how to climb over it in about a week.

After spending most of November trying to think of a solution I realised I was thinking about this the wrong way. I was holding fast to our traditions when really our family had outgrown them. I was assuming that the tree must go up on the 1st. Previously, our household was just 2 and we could have the tree up all December but now our household is 2 plus the aforementioned spanner and holding onto a tradition that is not practical anymore would do nothing but give us all huge amounts of stress and make Christmas miserable. It would defeat the whole purpose of Christmas; enjoying time with friends and family. It’s time for a new tradition to be created. One that will suit our family of 3. One that will make everyone happy and make our home a place to enjoy Christmas.

So, out with the old and in with the new. Now we are going to spend December decorating the house with garlands, quilts and good ornaments up high so our spanner can’t break them and on Christmas Eve we will put up the tree and Boxing Day will be the day the tree comes down.

Our plan is that there will be so much happening on Christmas Day that Miss Berry will be somewhat distracted and will leave the tree alone and I won’t have to spend December chasing after her and constantly telling her no. By decorating the rest of the house we can keep up the Christmas Cheer for all of December.

I think our new tradition sounds great – in theory anyway. I’ll let you know how that works out for us.
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