Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Some more crazy

I usually write my blog post the day before it is published in case I run out of time before work in the mornings but today I was in Brisbane all day visiting a good friend and now dinner and other jobs are calling me so rather than write a long post I though I would just show you another of my crazy patchwork projects.

Beaded and French Knot Wisteria and a Dragonfly

This is a cushion that I made quite a few years ago now and it is looking a little worse for wear but the embroidery is still nice, and looking at it brings back happy memories.

Beaded fly stitch in variegated cotton
Isn't it nice to surround yourself with things that bring a smile to your face when you see them.  It helps to bring a sense of peace and homeliness to your house.

Silk Ribbon Fushias

The inevitable spider and web

An appliqued button lady
When I do crazy patchwork project I try to interject some items that have special memories for myself or the family.  These little button people are from a button bag I used to make and sell many years ago.  There were two people on each of the four pockets and I always depicted each of them doing something different like skipping, gardening, holding hands etc.

The complete cushion
The colours I chose in this cushion were to fit in with our lounge room at the time which had curtains made from an orange, purple, red and gold fabric.  It wasn't as bad as it sounds :)

Do you do embroidery, cross stitch, sewing or other textile crafts?

Monday, 30 January 2012

Toxins in our homes

A number of years back I started to develop a sensitivity to chemicals.  It began with sunscreen and I would start to itch on my neck right where my lymph glands are and eventually would be clawing at it until it was red and angry.  After a few months I noticed sensitivities to other things too like perfumes, moisturiser and some makeup etc.  It was obvious that my body had 'had enough' of toxins in the environment and I had to do something about it.  

I set about researching ways to eliminate chemicals from our home or at least cut back as much as possible.  I stopped buying commercial cleaners and made my own, I began to make soap, used natural pest controls as much as possible and began an organic vegetable garden.

Non-toxic cleaners and airfreshners 
Since moving back from overseas it has taken me a little while to get myself unpacked, settled into our home and organised enough to begin making my own again but last week I made some of these cleaners and air fresheners for our home.

All purpose cleaning paste- Mix 2 heaped tablespoons bicarbonate soda with 1 tablespoon white vinegar.  Store in an air tight container.  For really stubborn spots, use with an old toothbrush and scrub well.

All purpose cleaner spray - Citrus cleaner.  3/4 fill a jar with white vinegar and add any citrus peels from oranges, lemons etc to it as you eat them.  Over time the vinegar will extract the oils from the peels.  You can read more about it at 'Just Like My Nan Made'.

Tiles, bath & basin- Use the all purpose cleaning paste above.  Apply with soft cloth.  Wipe off with clean moist cloth.  Leave a while for stubborn stains.

Mould removal- Wipe white vinegar onto surfaces, leave overnight, then scrub off with a small bristled brush.

Toilet cleaner- Use white household vinegar and leave to soak for ten minutes.  Limescale can then be scrubbed off.

Air freshener Spray- 25 drops lavender, 10 drops lemon, 5 drops eucalyptus essential oils in a 500ml spray bottle of distilled (or boiled and cooled) water.  You can add 20ml of rubbing alcohol so that the spray evaporates into the air quicker but this doesn't bother me so I don't add it.  I don't spray so much of it that everything gets wet in the first place.

Homemade soap and washcloth

I also make our own bath soap as a hobby.  I use the 'Cold Process' and it is really not much harder than making a cake batter.  I usually double the batch on my recipe and it makes 12 bars of soap which last us quite awhile so I only make soap 2 or 3 times a year.  If you add nice soft hand knitted washcloth and a bit of ribbon you have a lovely handmade gift.

Knitted Dishcloths
There an hundreds of washcloth and dishcloth patterns available online for both knitting and crochet, but I mostly just like the simple stockinette stitch knitted ones.  The ones above are knit on 4mm needles with a dk (8 ply) or worsted (10 ply) weight yarn.  I cast on 35 to 40 stitches and just knit back and forth until I had a square and then cast off.  The blue one has a little loop to hang it on a hook.

I knit washcloths out of soft bamboo or cotton bamboo blends because they are so soft and luxurious but I knit dishcloths from a tougher cotton to give more scrubbing value.

I keep these cloths in each bathroom so I can give them a quick clean and dust each day.  I also use one of these in the kitchen all the time.  When they are dirty I throw them in with my regular laundry and reuse them again and again.

If you are not a knitter but would like to be, these are a great place to start.  Youtube has great knitting videos that you can replay and replay until you get it right.  I often use them when learning a new technique.

Some interesting reading on toxins in the home:
Statistics for parents on household chemical toxins
Harmful ingredients list

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Last weeks wrap up

Sunday and it's a new week, but for me it's the middle of my weekend as Monday's are a day off work for me.
I'm going to start a new blog post for Sunday's that is a wrap up of things we accomplished, what worked and what didn't and money saved throughout the previous week so here is this weeks wrap up and a few photos of our local area for your enjoyment.

Our local creek.  There will be a lot more water now with all the rain.

Great news with this one.  Our large pest, Johnny the labrador, has decided that he doesn't like the taste of my potted plants anymore.

Savings: $11

Yates Pest Control Spray $12.35 - which wouldn't stop the dog from chewing plants and would probably poison him instead.
Homemade Garlic and Chili spray less than $1 as I grow the chillies but maybe no more than $2 if you were buying them.


Thank you for your lovely compliments.  We are having a lot of rainy weather and below average temperatures at the moment so despite it being Summer it is still good knitting weather.

Savings of making all these items are too much to list here, plus the enjoyment and relaxation I get from making them is priceless.


This was a success and a fail.  We enjoyed the pizza but found that the base was a little bit too cake like in texture and more suited to a dessert pizza, topped with sour cream and peach, apple or mango slices.  Yum!  I might give that a try this week.

Savings: $0
The cost is about the same as buying a pizza from a takeaway place but it was much more filling so we only needed one rather than two.

Mooloolaba Beach

A success so far.  We have noticeably less flies around the doorways and bins although it remains to be seen how it will go once the weather fines up as there are less flies because of the rain.  The flies that are around tend to stay further from the house though.

Savings: Minimum of $38 in first 6 months.

Initial savings of $2.00 but long term savings will add up to more than $as the bottle of Citronella Oil will last me for at least a year where the can of flyspray would last about 3 or 4 weeks.  Over 6 months of flying insect weather this would cost me about $43.

Can of flyspray $7.20 for 100g
Citronella Oil - $5.20.  Portion used - approx 20c worth.
Rags free.


These were great!  Win win!  I had one for breakfast one morning and found it kept me full enough until lunchtime.  I'll definitely be making these regularly,  keeping the basic recipe but changing the flavours from time to time.  The downside is they don't last long in our house :)

Bushland around the Glasshouse Mountains


The BBQ sauce was a big hit with all my taste testers.  I gave my daughter and son-in-law a bottle and they used it the next night to marinate some steak and also put it on the steak once it was cooked.   I hear the bottle is almost empty already ♥   

Savings = $15.00 on the entire batch.
$2.50 for HP 250ml sauce at Woolworths - My costs for homemade BBQ sauce = $1.50 per 250ml and mine is healthier, no preservatives or added chemicals and mostly organic ingredients.


It's a little early to tell as this was only yesterday but so far so good.  I feel a whole lot better now that I know what income we get and where it is going.  The spreadsheet linked to the post also calculates what percentage of your income is spent in which areas.  It has made me more determined to take measures to save on things like electricity and water.  It has also made me think twice when I go to buy something, do I really need or want this? Can I use something else instead?

My savings this week are about $65, not bad for a little extra work and much better on our mortgage than in the supermarket pockets.  Now I need to actually go and put it there!

Hope your week was successful.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Putting Our Affairs in Order

I have an unexpected day off work today due to all the rain we are having here, school and work have both been cancelled for the day and so I find myself with an extra day at home to do some of those things I have been 'meaning to get to'.

I decided to use my time wisely and get our finances sorted.

Our flooded street

We all know that if you put extra savings onto your mortgage it can make a huge difference to paying your home off sooner, but the difficulty is in getting those extra savings.  I have read many blogs and books and received advice about different approaches on how to save and cutting down on expenses, but the harsh reality is that no matter how much you save or how you do it, unless you actually put that extra money into your mortgage account it is not going to make a scrap of difference.

I need to take all those little savings from here and there and put them together and at the end of the month deposit them into our mortgage account.  Once we do that and see the difference it is making I think we will be more encouraged to keep going and try harder.

Some light humour to ease the pain

I set about with a plan to put systems in place to begin those savings in earnest and the first place to start is to know where your income comes from and how much you actually earn. Then you need to know where it all goes, what do we spend our money on each month?

I have started a spreadsheet (because I love Excel) but you could use a notebook or bookkeeping journal which are easily purchased in most Newsagent's.  I have also armed myself with a small notebook and pen in my handbag and I have a mobile phone which allows me to take notes.  With all of these tools I am setting off on a voyage of discovery to track our spending over the next few weeks and months in the belief that if you know where your money is going you can target bad habits and reduce your spending.

The Strategic Spending spreadsheet tracks our income from all sources and our regular expenses like the mortgage, electricity and gas, petrol, car maintenance, groceries, phones, insurances, home maintenance, entertainment etc.

It has taken me most of the day to fill in all our details and I am trying to be as accurate as possible and now that I have this panoramic view of how 2012 could possibly pan out financially for our family it is rather exciting.  I can now see where we spend too much and what is possible in the way of savings, getting together an emergency fund, paying extra off our mortgage and planning for holidays.  Before this exercise I was just in a state of wondering how we were going to manage and not really knowing whether we were sinking or swimming.

You can find this spreadsheet on this website http://www.onelife.com.au/ .  You have to join the website to access the financial tools, however I am not necessarily recommending this website or financial planning as I am still researching it myself.  You have to do what works for you.

Here is a handy little mortgage calculator that you can play around with to see how much faster you can pay off your home.

Friday, 27 January 2012

BBQ Sauce for Bottling

Today I decided to drag out my Fowlers Vacola kit and do some preserving.  My inspiration was one of my sons asking how he could get a healthier version of the chemically laden sauces you buy at the supermarket and so I set to work to produce a great tasting, healthy version that the family would eat.

I hunted through quite a few recipes on the internet and looked on the ingredient list on labels of the supermarket brand BBQ's sauces to get an idea of what actually goes into producing the flavour of the sauce.  The recipe below is my version of a few recipes and a supermarket one - minus the artificial flavours and preservatives of course.

Homemade BBQ Sauce
BBQ Sauce 
Makes about 10 cups or 2 ½ litres

4 cans organic crushed tomatoes
½ cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic
2 large onions
1 cup tomato paste
¼ cup worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup sweet chilli sauce or fresh chopped chillies
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbs paprika (you could also use smoky paprika for a smokier flavour)
3 tsp ground cloves
juice 2 lemons
½ cup burnt brown sugar
Salt to taste

Simmer all ingredients on the stove top for about 1 hr.  Liquify in a blender until smooth.  Put through a metal sieve to make it smooth sauce like consistency.

Ingredients ready for the sauce
Pour into sterilized bottles or jars and process in a water bath for 30 minutes.
Label and store in pantry.  Refrigerate once opened.

Using a double boiler for the water bath

As I only had 3 jars to process in a water bath I decided to use my double boiler rather than the Fowlers Vacola pot because that thing is huge.  You need to have a pot big enough that you can put a metal rack on the bottom so the jars don't sit directly on the heat, and so that the water covers the jars completely.

Oh by the way......
To make the burnt brown sugar I put the sugar into a saucepan over a low medium heat until it melted, stirring from time to time.  I let it burn slightly.  You can see it burning when the bubbles are turning a dark brown and smoke is rising from the mix.  Don't let it burn too much, you just want that smoky flavour.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Banana and Almond Muffins - Paleo Friendly

Just because we are trying to eat a mostly Paleo diet doesn't mean we have to miss out on baked goodies.  These yummy muffins are my variation of a recipe I found online, however I have altered it slightly to make it more economical and the texture more cake like.

The Paleo diet doesn't include those cheap filling ingredients like flour, rice and pasta or other grains and therefore it can be quite costly to buy ingredients but in saying that it is also a very filling diet so you don't need to eat as much at each meal or snack.

I've been cooking and baking for years and I feel that I have a fairly good idea of what can go together and work and what certain ingredients do and don't do, so I am okay with messing around with recipes.

Banana Almond Muffins

Banana and Almond Muffins - Paleo Friendly
Recipe (makes about 12)

Preheat oven to 180C (350F)
Grease the muffin tins

3/4 cup coconut flour
3/4 cup almond meal
2 lightly beaten eggs
1/2 cup almond butter
2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
2 tbsp honey
2 large ripe bananas
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bi-carb soda (baking soda)

In a large mixing bowl, mix together almond butter, olive oil, honey and 2 eggs.  Add mashed bananas and mix well.
Add all the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix together lightly.

Spoon into muffin trays and bake for approximately 15 to 20 mins.

You could also add chocolate chips for a yummy variation and you may notice that in the photo there are largish white pieces, these are white chocolate chips which are definitely not Paleo but I threw them in anyway.  Normally for a completely Paleo friendly muffin I would have left these out or put in dark chocolate chips instead.

This chart helped me identify Paleo foods and I thought I would post it here for others.

The muffins didn't last long in our house which is always a good sign that I got it right this time :)

Happy Baking

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Ugh I hate flies

It is Summer here in Australia and we seem to have an abundance of flies this year.  We have moved to live in a new town and perhaps being a little more rural it is normal to have this amount of flies but they are driving me crazy.
I am taking measures to reduce the fly population around our house in as non-toxic a way as possible so I'm trying some natural recipes and methods I found in this wonderful book my daughter gave me for Christmas this year.

First of all we have installed a barrier as a deterrent by way of this beaded curtain and it has helped but not enough as the flies still slip through.

Beaded Curtain
Next I checked around the yard for possible fly breeding areas.  Susceptible areas are usually, pets bedding, compost heaps, garbage bins, rubbish piles and chicken pens.  As we don't have chickens or any piles of rubbish I started with our bin which I found was definitely attracting a lot of flies.  Our other hot spot was where the dog tends to hang out on our patio.

We pick up the dog poop every second day to keep the yard clean and prevent fly breeding which I'm  sure helps. Our compost bin is a sealed compost ball, another Christmas present this year, and so that is not a problem.

Compost Ball
So with problem areas identified, I was ready to take action.  The author in the above book suggests using repellent oils to deter flies from the house and some of the suggested oils were citronella, peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus.  

Citronella Oil and rag strips
I tore a few strips off an old sheet and soaked them in Citronella oil which I then tied in little bows to our external doors and placed some hanging inside our garbage bins.  The cost of this little exercise was $5.70 for the citronella oil and I only used about 2 cents worth of it anyway.  That is a big savings on a can of fly spray which cost about the same as the Citronella oil and is something I would rather keep out of our house because of the chemicals in it.

Citronella oil rag strips as deterrent to flies and mosquitos
You can also grow pots fly repellent herbs near the doorways to your home, pennyroyal, lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme and mint are good choices and you get the added benefit of having lovely fresh herbs for your cooking.
That little job is on my to do list as I am sure they look much nicer than my citronella soaked bows on the doors.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Paleo Pizza - Gluten Free

I tried a recipe for Paleo pizza dough from the Paleo Diet Lifestyle website and it has turned out quite well although a little dry.  I added some freshly ground sea salt to the mix and left out the garlic powder as I didn't have any.
Pizza is one of those foods you have to say goodbye to when you turn to a paleo diet and most paleo-friendly pizza crust options are made of ground beef mince which really didn't appeal to me.  However this pizza dough is different and more like a dough or cake mix.  It is also gluten free.

Pizza - Paleo Friendly

Paleo Pizza Crust (Gluten Free)

- 1/2 cup coconut flour
- 1 cup almond meal
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4 eggs
- 1 t-spn sea salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup milk (or coconut milk if you are dairy free as well)

Preheat your oven to 190C (370F)

Prepare the crust as follows:  Place dry ingredients into a bowl, add eggs, oil and milk and stir with a wooden spoon or whisk.  The mixture becomes like cake batter and is light and airy.
Spread the crust mix on a well greased tray and bake in the oven for approximately 10 - 15 minutes.
Take the crust out of the oven and spread with your favourite pizza sauce or tomato paste.

Pizza dough mix ready to spread on a baking tray

Pizza toppings

Toppings I used for this pizza
- 4 tbsp Organic Basil and tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup ham of the bone, shredded
- 1/2 cup salami or pepperoni
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped spinach leaves
- 1/2 small red capsicum (pepper)
- 1 small onion sliced
- 3/4 cup shredded cheese (optional if dairy free)

Return pizza to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes.  

Pizza crust straight from the oven
The dough ended up about 1 cm thick and was a bit dry.  It had a cake like consistency once it was baked but it held together well when sliced into pieces.
I think next time I would try to spread it much thinner and bake it for longer to try to make the base crisp up more, however made like I did would work as a delicious 'dessert' pizza base.

Fresh toppings on the crust ready to bake

I found it easier than making a normal pizza dough and next time I'm going to top it with some feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, olives and herbs.  The blandness of the base required rich tasting ingredients.

Happy baking

Monday, 23 January 2012

Knitting and Grandchildren

Late last year we were blessed with our first grandchild and of course he is adorable and we love him to bits.  We are lucky enough to live close by and be able to see him nearly every week.
I've heard it said, and it's true that "You love your grandchildren like they are your own but without all the hard work" :)

I enjoy knitting and was taught by both my mother and grandmother when I was about 10 years old or maybe younger, and I have knit on and off ever since.  For me it's a very relaxing pastime and I find myself, needles in hand, in front of the television most evenings unwinding from a busy day at work.

Knitting has recently become a very fashionable hobby again and it's useful for making lovely garments for yourself and your loved ones and also for making handy things for around your home like dishcloths and washcloths.

These are some little things I have been busy knitting for my grandson.

Knitted baby hat - My own pattern
 I have recently branched out into writing knitting patterns and while I don't do this often I enjoy the challenge it brings.  This little yellow hat is a free pattern you can download from Ravelry - Hearts and Bows Baby Hat.  If you add a little ribbon through the eyelet holes it is gorgeous for a baby girl.

Precious Baby Blanket - Square Counterpane Leaves pattern by A.M.

This baby blanket doesn't have a pattern but it is the Counterpane Leaves square pattern, crochet together and then a knitted lace border added.  You can find the pattern for the squares here knitting-and.com/wiki/Quilt

Blanket Buddy - Pattern by Lion Brand

I am a member of a wonderful knitting and crocheting community called Ravelry.  It is a closed site and so you have to join to access all the wonderful patterns and forums but it is free to join.  I have Ravelled about these cute little bunny blanket buddies here.

Puerperium Cardigan - pattern by Kelly Brooker

Baby Surprise Jacket - pattern by Elizabeth Zimmerman and Saartje's Booties
The Baby Surprise Jacket is an interesting knit.  It is all knitted in one piece and looks very much like a strange underwater sea creature at times and then finally all comes together to make this cute little cardigan.  It is a vintage pattern that was originally published in 1968 and has become hugely popular again today.

Do you knit or crochet?  You can find me on Ravelry here.  I'd love to see you there.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Organic Pest Spray

I have a very large pest in my vegetable garden........our dog!  He is a 5 month old Labrador Retriever and true to Labrador temperate he loves his food.  One morning (after New Years Eve) he didn't get his breakfast at the usual time so helped himself to the vegetable garden instead.
Birds Eye Chili Bush

At the moment there is not much in the veggie garden as it is a difficult growing time for vegetables where we live, with garden pests, fungus and extreme hot weather,  but he tried the capsicums and tomatoes that were there anyway.   Obviously the carrot tops and the chili bush were not appetizing as he didn't touch those.  He has also been known to have a nibble or two on some of my potted plants so noticing that the Chili bush remained intact, I thought I would make up the Chili and Garlic organic pest control spray that I usually make for controlling bugs in the garden and see if that would stop him from chewing my pot plants and vegetables.

Birds Eye Chilies and Garlic
Recipe and Method
Take about 12 to 15 small hot chilies or 2 large ones and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic.  Place in a blender with 2 - 3 cups of water and blend until really well combined and there are only small pieces of the chilies and garlic left.
Strain this mixture through some muslin cloth or an old stocking to remove any pieces that might block your spray bottle nozzle.

The blended and strained chili and garlic water
Now stir in 1 tablespoon of dish washing detergent to help it stick to the leaves of the plants more effectively.  Pour this mixture into a spray bottle, you may have an old one from a cleaning product that you can recycle.  Remember to label your bottle so you, and everyone else, know what is in it.

Remember:  When you are handling chilies be careful not to touch your face or eyes as the chili on your fingers will burn.  Even after washing my hands with soap and water I can still feel the heat on my finger if I put it in my mouth.
Organic Pest Control Spray
I have sprayed my potted plants and the few vegetables in the garden so lets see how it goes repelling my rather large garden pest.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

A little bit of Crazy

I love crazy patchwork.

Crazy quilting was an elegant Victorian pastime enjoyed by ladies who would piece together lush fabrics and embellish the seams with beautiful embroidery stitches.

This hobby actually began out of necessity in Colonial days where people would make new and useful garments by saving the good fabric from clothing and linens, cutting out the worn parts then seaming the useful pieces together.  I'm sure they didn't look as fancy as those of the Victorian women.

Silk ribbon lavender spray and button caterpillar
I love that you can look and look and look at a piece of crazy patchwork and always see something new and fascinating, and so I thought I would show you some photos of a bolster cushion I made a couple of years ago.

Scrunched organza ribbon embellished with beads and charms
Large spider and couched gold thread web
Traditionally crazy patchwork has either a spider in a web or just the web.  You can see more crazy patchwork spiders here on Jen's blog sewsocrazy

The complete bolster cushion
I love to make beautiful things to decorate our home and this bolster cushion lives on our bed where I get to see it everyday.  One day it will be an heirloom to one of my children and maybe even my grandchildren.

Button cluster and some beaded seam treatments

Silk ribbon Fushia spray and various seam treatments

My initial 'C' embroidered in flowers
I gather the fabrics from old clothes too worn to pass onto others, Op shops and swapping with friends who also do 'crazy'.  Buttons come from my button tin which I have had for years, beads, embroidery floss, laces and ribbons come from a variety of craft stores.

Beaded fly stitch and fancy yarn space filler

Bullion stitch flowers and silk ribbon roses seam cluster
Writing this post and looking over the photos has encouraged me to pull out the 'cream on cream' crazy patchwork cushion I was working on.  Hopefully one day soon it will be finished and be able to post it here for you to see.


Friday, 20 January 2012

Re-growing Spring Onions (Green Onions, Scallions)

Yesterday I blogged about re-growing celery and because my experiment with that seemed to be going well it raised the question "What else could this work with?" Well apparently Spring Onions (Green Onions for our US visitors or Scallions) will also re-grow this way.

Store bought bunch of Spring Onions

Cut off the white parts and roots at the bottom of the spring onion about 4 cms up.  Then it's basically the same as for the celery from my last post.

Freshly cut Spring Onions in tepid water

Place them in a jar of warm water and put them outside or in a window with good light.  After a couple of days you should see new growth on the green tops.

Day 2 
On day 2 they have already made remarkable growth.  They regrow so fast that you can really notice a difference each day.

Day 5

By about day 5 and they are looking like I could cut some off and use them if I needed too however I think I will leave them to grow some more.  However I did notice that the water had started to go a bit cloudy and smelt very oniony so I think that rinsing them each day and changing the water is probably a good idea.   I think that after 12 - 14 days you should almost have a completely new bunch and best of all they were completely free!

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