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Weekend reading

I took advantage of the Aldi special on cucumbers this week and bought 10 continental cucumbers for 79 cents each. It's good to stock up on bread and butter cucumbers when you can. They're one of the easiest pickles you can make.  All you need are the ingredients below, a few sterilised jars and lids and a bit of time.

I used a mandolin to cut the cucumbers and for this amount I placed them in two large bowls. Cover with salt and make sure most of the slices have some salt on them. It drains the juice from the cucumbers so it doesn't dilute the vinegar solution that will preserve them in the jars. Let them sit for about 4 hours, then wash the salt off under a tap and drain the cucumbers in a colander.  Pack the slices into your sterilised jars and cover with the following preserving liquid.

You'll have to judge how much of this you make according to how many jars you need to fill.  I used:
  • 3 ½ cups good quality white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds 
  • 1 tablespoon celery seeds
  • ½ tablespoon cracked pepper
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • dill and chilli pieces are optional but they add flavour to the mix
Place everything except the dill and chilli into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, making sure you cover the slices completely.  If you're adding dill and chilli, add it while you're loading the jars. Put on the lids, wash the jar under the tap to remove any liquid, turn the jars upside down to sit on the lid for an hour or so then turn them back again and allow to sit on the kitchen bench overnight.  These will keep in the fridge for six months. You can start eating them the following day but the flavour gets better if they sit for a while.

It's been wonderful seeing the interest in The Simple Home series I started a couple of weeks ago. I love the sharing and encouragement that's happening in the comments. Don't forget to come back on Monday when we'll tackle customising your work spaces and looking after what you own.  

I hope you have a great weekend. Take advantage of any spare time you have to put your feet up and look after yourself.

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Food shopping, organising recipes and menu plans

January, week 2 in The Simple Home

This is another of those topics where there will be vast differences in the way all of us do things. I know people who shop everyday for their fresh food, I know others who, like Hanno and I, shop weekly and grow some of their food. I know quite a few people who grow most of what they eat and just buy beans, pulses, dried food and occasional fish or dairy. All of us are living simple, all of us organise our food in a different way.  I wonder what you do.

It's easy enough to wander down supermarket aisles and put products into a trolley. But to shop well and to get value for money, the food shopping we all do should be part of a plan that has been thought through. Hopefully, this week you'll be able to do that. Think about how you intend to shop, cook and store food. Our moderns times have given us a lot of choices. It's your job as a homekeeper to work out which choices work for you.

Most of our food conversations will take place in March.  This is to set us up with good habits and techniques until then, so it's mainly thinking about how we organise our food shopping, getting value for money, buying as much seasonal and local food as we can and involving children in the family food choices. Recipes and how to cook will come later.

One thing to note early here is that there is one thing that we should all be doing - involving the family in our food choices. It's the best opportunity you'll have to discuss budgets, food prices and nutrition with your children and a really good way to teach them about home-cooked food. Getting the family on board with the food choices will mean they'll be more likely to eat what's put on the table every day. And having your children grow up with a good idea of what food costs, where is comes from, how to store and cook it, will be a great help to them when they leave home and already have a good understanding of how to feed themselves and how much it costs.

When planning your food, think about:
  • Nutrition
  • Your recipes
  • Your budget
  • Where to shop - markets or supermarkets
  • How much time you have to cook
  • Supplimentary food from your back yard, freezer or bartering
This is lemon curd/lemon butter made with our backyard lemons and eggs. 
Home preserves - these save money because you buy the ingredients when fruit and vegetables are in season, at their peak and cheaper, and you get a much better product than the supermarket version.  For those of you near an Aldi, they have cucumbers for 79 cents each until tomorrow, Tuesday.  I'll be buying a dozen for bread and butter cucumbers, click here for my recipe.

In The Simple Home I suggest you write a set of summer menu plans/winter menu plans that you can use in these early months of the year. We will address this topic in greater depth again in March but we need to eat now, so let's get some plans happening. You can either do plans for eight weeks, or create a four/two week plan that you repeat. You may already have your menu plans up and running, or be one of the many people who do it a different way.  Menu planning can be done in a number of ways, here is a post I did on the subject.  If you're new to this, try it for a few weeks, modify the process to suit yourself and see how you go. Again, if you do have good ideas to share with us, go ahead and write it up in the comments so newcomers see that there are many ways to do this. Don't forget to plan for leftovers and easy days when you just re-heat something home cooked in the fridge or freezer.

Once you've got all that sorted out, the main part of this week will be about collecting and organising your recipes.  I have about 20 recipes that I cook over and over again, with occasional new recipes thrown in and a set of recipes for celebrations and baking. When I try a new dish, if we all like it, that stays in the month's rotation.

I have been using the app Paprika for a few years now. I have it on my computer and it is the best recipe organiser I've seen.  Version 3 has just been released and it sells for around AU $8. It organises your recipes, allows you to search the internet and save recipes, has a good set of timers, helps with menu planning and gives you printable shopping lists and a calendar with your monthly menus. You can sync it to your phone or ipad and it's available for Apple and Android. There are more details here.  If you need some help sorting thorough your recipes and having a place to store them, Paprika might be what you're looking for. I have no association with this company.

This is part of the meat section in my Paprika. I have version 2.

Creating a set of recipes that you're happy with is a great help in the kitchen. Try to include ideas that are thrifty, nutritious, easy to prepare and something you know the family will eat.  Remember to include work and school lunches and drinks because that will save a lot of money. Do you have good food containers that will keep lunches fresh and looking good until they're eaten?  That can mean the difference between food being eaten or not. Think about where you'll get your food from too.  Can you barter anything? Do you have a good local butcher, baker, green grocer, fish market or local farmers' market? This is the time to work out a strategy that will help you later in the year to provide the best value for money food you can.  I'm not saying to buy only cheap food, I'm emphasising value for money, local and in season. There's a big difference. Think now about how you can substitute other foods for meat and fish, which both cost a lot of money.  Find a few recipes for vegetarian meals, or meals that use less meat. Many of us eat too much meat and you can cut down on it without giving it up completely.  And regarding fish, we live in an area with a lot of fishing boats but the fish we bought for many years is now $50 a kilo and I'm not prepared to pay that much for it.  So we've cut out fresh local fish and I buy the occasional bag of Norwegian salmon and tinned red salmon from Aldi. I refuse fish from Thailand and most places in Asia. Yes, I know Norway and Alaska are a long way from here but we either eat that fish or none and I don't want to give up fish completely.

Sunday lunch - Aldi frozen salmon with homemade potato and garden salad. 

Take a bit of time and think carefully about how you shop. Can you make it easier, quicker or cheaper?  Set up some good habits now and improve on them them as you go on. If you can, it will make a big difference over the course of a year because food shopping is something you'll do forever.

Good luck with this. The work you do this week has the potential to make your job as a family food provider much easier during the year.  I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of good ideas here. Share how you organise yourself with the food you grow and buy and tell us if you have any little tricks that help you put great food on the table.  🍏🍎🍏

Weekend reading

I send warm wishes to my friends in California where deadly mudslides have cause such heartache.  Indeed, wherever you are in the world, if you're experiencing bad weather, I feel for you. Last week it was 47.6C in New South Wales, near where my sister lives. It hit the people living there badly but the wildlife suffered too with many bats dead and koalas needing help and water.  If you're living around the Penrith area, or any other place with hot weather last week, I hope you're okay and getting back to normal.  I fear we're only just seeing the first of what climate change will do.

Thanks to everyone who wrote about their own experiences with organising on Monday and Wednesday. It helps all of us when we share our own stories and know we're part of a community.  The second instalment of The Simple Home will be waiting for you on Monday. 

Thanks for your visits this week. Oh, and welcome to all the newbies who turned up to help us discover the ins and outs of organising our homes.  Have a good weekend.  💗

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Don't be the one who is still hoping to make changes next year

I've been very pleased to read how you're organising yourselves with the help of various calendars, reminders and organisational tools. It's difficult starting something like this if you've always been disorganised but using the technology you're familiar with, or by using wall planners, paper calendars, notebooks and lists you'll get a good start and hopefully gain some momentum.

I wish I could go around to all your homes and help you see the big picture. The truth is I know that some of you will make it and some won't - the thing that makes the difference is how determined you are to change your life. All I can tell you from here is that by starting to make sense of your home, and working to make it support the kind of family you have, will make a difference to how you live. But you have to work at it. If you sit around wanting change and hoping for your life to be different, absolutely nothing will happen if you don't get up and set your plan in motion. You have to do that, no one can do it for you.

If you've made no changes yet, I hope you get up right now and do something for yourself. Start planning your year and see how it feels. In my experience, everything I did early on in my change, gave me the incentive to make more changes.  I hope the same happens for you because these early adjustments can help you clarify your intention and put you in a position of confidence and self-determination. Don't be the one who is still hoping to make changes next year. Do it now with the rest of us. Good luck, my friends, I send you love and my best wishes for your success.

January - thinking about the year ahead and organising as much as you can


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. ~ Abraham Lincoln

January in Australia is pretty laid-back. It's summer time, the kids are on school holidays and many people take the opportunity to take a break with the family or sit in a cool room watching test cricket on TV. Cough, cough. 😉 In the northern hemisphere, winter has set in and even though life continues as normal, the weather encourages hours spent by the fire, with some relaxing and others remaining productive with knitting, quilting, mending or other quiet work. It's good for us to sit back and slow down with our family in the one place where we should feel comfortable and secure - our homes. January is a very good time to disconnect, in varying degrees, from the internet too. I have various accounts on social media and even though I visit those accounts infrequently during the year, I make a conscious decision in December and January to step back from them and clear my mind. I want to see my own and my family's priorities rather than have those thoughts diluted with all the noise that goes with social media. I stop blogging then too. I rethink my goals, work on strengthening my values and reconnect with my family and home, with no distractions. I use the time to organise the year ahead, think about what I hope to achieve and put as much in place as I can at this slow time of year. I know that if I use January to think about my year and organise as much as I can, the better off I'll be when I'm busier.

Home is the place where we can be ourselves, kick off our shoes and enjoy every passing hour. Home is important and whether you live in an ordinary house like I do, on a farm, or in an apartment, a caravan, an RV travelling country roads, a mansion or a tiny house, all our homes need our time and energy. They can withstand periods of neglect but all homes function better and support us more if they're well ordered and maintained.

Lists can help you clarify what you want to achieve and your calendar and the emails/messages it sends will remind you to get those things done.  If you set your calendar up with the information you have at hand now, then add to it over the coming months, you'll be able to concentrate on other things during the year and know you'll be reminded of birthdays, important events and that you wanted to clean the windows when the mild weather sets in.

There is no recipe for organising a house, no website you can go to to find the list of what you need to do. We all have to create our own unique list and it's always changing. Every home requires thought, plans, routines and organisation that suit the people who live there. For instance, I have lived in this house since I arrived here at age 49, in a few months time I'll be 70. We've moved things around, changed wall colours, blinds and curtains, installed new energy efficient appliances and lights, we've put up barriers so crawling babies stayed safe, put up fences and took them down again, changed a bedroom into a writing room, then a writing and sewing room and now a writing, sewing and ironing room. All those changes and more have been part of my lists and organisational strategy over the years and helped us do the work this home needs.

What work does your home need? This week we'll concentrate on organising ourselves in our homes so that we get things done but also have time to relax and spend time with loved ones.  Putting some time into this will make a difference during the year when you're concentrating on other things and you receive an email from yourself with a reminder to give your dog his flea and tick treatments. It will help you make time to make gifts, do running repairs on your clothes, or invite family and friends over without having to doing a major clean up before they arrive. Who knows what your changes will be. I only know that if you commit yourself to this, there will be changes, and every month you'll move closer to living a simpler life.

I used to have a much better memory than I do now. In the past I knew what I had to do, now I organise myself on my computer. In January, I set up my calendar for the year and add to it as the weeks go by. I use the clock for daily reminders and to set timers for myself. Most computer calendars have the ability to alert you or send emails reminding you of appointments, birthdays and various events.

This is a screen print of my current calendar.

I use a little notes app to take notes if I'm out but mostly I use a notebook and pen because I love to write by hand.  All my contacts are in my phone's contacts list but I have a separate list for family and friends just in case I lose my phone or the data is corrupted. All the business addresses I can find again in the Yellow Pages, the written list is kept in my Home Folder.  My calendar, times, notes and phone contacts are all synced with my phone.  Remember, this is what I do. I want to know what works for you too. You may not use a calendar or diary, if not, tell us how you organise yourself and remember birthdays, school holidays, immunisations, doctors appointments, sports days etc.

Just make sure you don't overdo it when you're planning your calendar. Most of us are full of energy and optimism at the beginning of the year and you don't want to set yourself up to fail. Be prudent with what you think you'll do. It's always an option to add to your plans later in the year.

It's a good idea to create a Home Folder to store the day-to-day details of your simple life. A folder will kept them safe and in one place. Add whatever you think is relevant to your Home Folder. I have my calendar print out, contacts list and health details such as immunisation dates and vaccination records, support groups, doctor's details and open hours, after hours doctor contact number, and information about health insurance.  It's also a good place for your menu plans, permanent shopping lists, recipes, weight and temperature conversions, grocery flyers, website details of bulk foods sites, farmers markets etc.

I covered an old three-ring binder with fabric and use plastic sleeves to hold the information. 

You can also store the following in your Home Folder so you always have your current information in one spot:

Budget and Finances
A copy of your budget
Gas, water and electricity bills - until they are paid or if you wish to keep them on hand to compare with previous and following accounts. If these arrive online, just print out a reminder for your folder and enter the due date on your calendar
Meter readings

School and after school
School curriculum
Letters from teachers
Term dates
Teachers' names for all your children

Cleaning instructions and recipes
Recipes for laundry liquid and soap
Recipes for all your green cleaners
Special cleaning instructions for any of your appliances

Knitting and crochet patterns
List of needle sizes in UK and US
List of knitting abbreviations
Yarn suppliers
Details of craft groups
Details of your craft accounts on Ravelry, Pinterest or Knitty

Warranty documents
New appliance receipts

Household inventories, list or take photos of the following:
Household furniture, cutlery and silverware, glasses etc
Appliances with model numbers and date of purchase
Electronics and technology - computers tables phones etc
Sports equipment
Outdoor furniture and equipment - mowers, pool filters etc,
Clothes, shoes and jewellery

Drawing of your current garden plan
Seasonal planting guide for your area
Ideas for next planting season
Seed, fruit and nut catalogues
Record of rainfall
Record of harvests
Mower maintenance

Pets and livestock
Vet details
Pet details
Livestock details
Recipes for pet food
Record of vaccinations, tick and flea treatments - these can be entered on your calendar as well

Gifts - homemade and purchased
List of your yearly gifts
List of gifts already in the cupboard
Gift ideas and patterns

And speaking of gifts, it's a really good idea to plan out who you'll be making or buying gifts for during the year. This will give you enough time to make something nice or add the expense of gifts to your budget so you have money put aside. I like giving a couple of hand knitted cotton dishcloths wrapped around a bar of my homemade calendula soap. It is always well received and I feel good giving a gift that I've spent time on.  Some of my gifts over the years are featured below.

You can also give cordials, jams, relish, aprons, creams, knitted hats, tote bags.  Look in Pinterest for more interesting ideas for homemade gifts.

So there we have it, friends. Use some of your time in January to start organising yourself through your calendar, set up alerts and emails, create a Home Folder and think about your gift list. These are all small steps that add up to a big difference. Please add a comment about what you're doing and if it's something different to this, describe what you do and why. I'm sure many of us will be very interested in looking at different ways to do our house and craft work.

Next Monday we'll discuss food and menu planning. The Monday after that our two topics will be customising your home and looking after your things. Our final January topic will be the ever popular routines.  In February, when the pace of life speeds up again, we'll move on to Your Money and Your Life. Then you'll look back on this time and be pleased you took the opportunity to organise as much as you could.

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