Saturday, 19 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: Q = Quality of Life

When I first chose the word Quality I thought I would be talking about the quality of food or produce, but I have already covered that topic in great detail. I believe that by adopting a more simple life that I have improved my quality of life, which got me thinking...what exactly is Quality of Life? How do you define it? Surprisingly to me, there are worldwide studies and surveys on the quality of life and Australia has been ranked number 1 on the OECD's Better Life Index for the past two years. So, how do they determine the rankings?

Basically, the OECD use 11 topics to reflect what they have identified as essential to well-being in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance). The following is a summary of the criteria or statistics used to provide the rankings:

1. Housing:
* Dwellings without basic facilities
* Housing Expenditure
* Rooms per person

2. Income
* Household net adjusted disposable income
* Household net financial wealth

3. Jobs
* Employment rate
* Job Security
* Long term unemployment rate
* Personal earnings

4. Community
* Quality of support network

5. Education
* Educational Attainment
* Student Skills
* Years in Education

6. Environment
* Air Pollution
* Water Quality

7. Civic Engagement
* Consultation on rule-making
* Voter Turnout

8. Health
* Life expectancy
* Self reported health

9. Life Satisfaction

10. Safety
* Assault rate
* Homicide rate

11. Work-life Balance
* Employees working very long hours
* Time devoted to leisure and personal care

I think the above criteria provides a pretty good statistical snapshot of what determines quality of life but obviously there is so much more to it than that. I notice they don't assess spirituality or even happiness - I met some amazingly happy people in Thailand whose 'quality' of life would be largely measured not by the material, but by the spiritual. If you want to know how you personally fare according to the Better Life Index, then you can complete a survey to create your own.

So, today's topic is merely informational to provide food for thought. I think it's obvious that I believe in seeking a quality life, and to look at the criteria above did give me a reminder of how lucky I am to be living where and how I do...but I think the main thing is, we need to make the best of what we have, no matter where we live.

Do you think you have a good quality of life? What do you think determines it?

Friday, 18 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: P = Permaculture

Permaculture is another of those buzz words that I didn't know a lot about until I started on my simple living journey. Basically the word means permanent culture..but what is that? As far as I can tell, Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living. It is about creating homes and communities that are productive and self reliant and that have minimal impact on the environment.

I am currently doing a free online Permaculture course at and the lecturer, who started off his career as a landscape gardener says that Permaculture is basically an extension of is edible landscaping.

"Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It determines where these elements should be placed so they can provide maximum benefit to the local environment. The central concept of permaculture is maximizing useful connections between components and synergy of the final design. The focus of permaculture, therefore, is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts. Permaculture design therefore seeks to minimize waste, human labor, and energy input by building systems with maximal benefits between design elements to achieve a high level of synergy." Source

There is such a trend towards this concept that there is an International Permaculture Day coming up on the 4th May 2014. It is a day of celebration of permaculture through events and actions around the world. So, it must be important, right?

One of the founders of the concept of Permaculture is David Holmgren who identified Twelve Permaculture design principles in his book, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. These are outlined in the diagram above and summarised below:
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Wow, just how powerful (and logical) are those principles?  I am only scratching the surface of them and I am learning so much from Permaculture Noosa and Gympie Permaculture, the two groups I attend once a month. Last night at the Noosa meeting I listened to presentations on wicking (water saving) garden beds and heugel gardens (logs built up under the soil), and heard heaps of terms I had never heard of from a lady who spoke about her attendance at the International Permaculture Conference in Cuba last year. It is a fascinating topic, and one I want to investigate further.

What do you know of permaculture? Were you, or are you, bamboozled like me? If that's the case I hope I have made it a little clearer for you, and given you some avenues to research. I would love to hear your thoughts?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: O = Organic

For today's post I chose the word Organic because it is a word that crops up so many times a day, but I have been meaning to do more research on this topic for some time...and this challenge gives me the perfect opportunity to do so. Organic, in relation to food purchasing, generally means a steep increase in price, so I wanted to investigate what it actually means...and how I can ensure that what I am buying is actually organic.

Organic farming involves the production of high quality food and produce, without the use of artificial fertilisers, synthetic chemicals, genetically modified foods, growth promoters or hormones.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic farming emphasises the need to maintain appropriate land management and aims to ecologically achieve the balance between animal life, the natural environment and food crops. By purchasing or growing organic produce, therefore, you are getting the product in it's most natural form, such as my basket of goodies above.

My experience as an 'organic farmer' is a simple one. Basically, in preparing my soil I have not used any chemical fertilisers - only organic manure and my own compost. I use organic sugar cane mulch to inhibit weeds and retain moisture. When my produce is growing, I use worm juice, seaweed solution from my fish farm tanks or bokashi liquid as my fertiliser. And, when my plants are faced with pests, I still do not use any chemical sprays...I make my own homemade pesticide. So, I am therefore an organic gardener and know that what I am growing is chemical free.

So, how do I know what I am buying is organic? In Australia the way to ensure something is organic,  is to do your own intensive investigation or to seek and rely on a certification mark to confirm that it has been independently certified. This is not to state that uncertified products are not what they say they are. Some small businesses cannot justify the costs involved with certification but their products are organic. Also, just because a product has organic on the label does not mean it is truly organic.

Just as with 'low fat', 'reduced fat, and 'lite' categories of distinguishing food, there is a similar definition for organic produce in Australia:

All of the following products are permitted under the National Organic Standard in Australia:
  • 100% organic.
  • Organic (which means products have at least 95% of their ingredients derived from organic production methods).
  • Made with organic ingredients (at least 70% of ingredients derived from organic production methods).
  • Products containing less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the term organic on the display panel, but can make reference to the ingredients being derived from organic production methods in the list of ingredients.
The Auatralian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) is responsible for the appointment of approved certifying organisations which are the ones below. Basically any organic produce with these labels has been certified by AQIS:

Logo of AUS-QUAL Pty Ltd

Logo of Australian Certified Organic

Logo of Bio-Dynamic Research Institute

NASAA Certified Organic (NCO)

Logo of NASAA Certified Organic

Logo of Organic Food Chain

Logo of Tasmanian Organic-dynamic Producers

So, in a nutshell it is all a little confusing and subjective, as I am sure it would be in most countries. Larger companies can 'buy' their certifications and I recall this happening with the Heart Foundation's 'tick' several years ago when McDonald's was stripped of the privilege to use it.

For me, I will grow what I can, shop at the markets from farmers I know are organic...and the rest, well I can't say that I can go totally organic because my income does not allow for it - some things are double the price, but I will be a little more conscious of what products claim to be organic.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you buy organic over non-organic?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: N = Natural Remedies

As a natural extension of the path that I am following, I have become increasingly fascinated with the use of herbal remedies. Common herbs were always something that I had associated with flavour, but I am beginning to learn that you don't need the fancy ones like Ginseng and Gingko Biloba in your garden to be reaping the health benefits. Here is a list of ten herbs or plants that I think should be grown in most gardens, with a short summary of what they can be used for:

1. Calendula

The calendula petals are antifungal and antiseptic. The most common use is to make a cream from the petals to relieve dry skin and irritations.

2. Coriander

Coriander is a powerful digestive aid and cleansing agent capable of removing heavy metals and toxic agents from the body.

3. Peppermint

Peppermint relieves digestive discomfort such as indigestion and nausea when brewed as a tea, and when used in a liniment and applied to the skin it can relieve muscle soreness.

4. Rosemary

Rosemary stimulates energy and optimism, and sharpens memory and concentration by bringing more oxygen to your brain - a natural alternative to caffeine.

5. Thyme

This herb also has antibacterial and antiseptic properties, so it is often used to relieve cold symptoms. It also relieves diarrhea and upset stomachs.

6. Lavender

Lavender is commonly used as a relaxant. It can be added to your bath to relieve stress, anxiety or insomnia, and can also be used in creams to treat sunburn and acne. 

7. Chamomile

Chamomile is used as a tea for treating colic, nervous stress, infections and stomach disorders.

8. Aloe Vera

I find this to be the most versatile home remedy to grow. I use the gel in smoothies as it has digestive qualities and is a diuretic. I also use it to relieve burns, sunburn and skin irritations.

9. Basil

I use this all the time but only recently found out it is good for healing cuts if applied topically. It is also good for stomach gas and lack of appetite (I never have that problem).

10. Sage

Apparently sage is good for skin and gum infections, digestion and menopause.

If you are looking for more detailed explanations of how to prepare the herbal remedies then I can certainly recommend Isabel Shipard's book "How Can I Use Herb's In My daily Life?"

Image Source

It is a beautiful reference book and extremely detailed. The brief information above was sourced from the internet (sources below) but Isabel will show you how to make the herbal teas and lotions. I was fortunate enough to visit Isabel's herb farm a few months ago and came away with so much information as well as unusual herbs such as this beautiful Brahmi which I use in smoothies (it is very bitter) to boost memory and concentration. It is so much cheaper than buying a bottle of tablets.

Do you make any herbal remedies or do you stick with what you can buy at the pharmacy? I would love to hear of anything you may have tried with success :)

Internet Sources

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: M = Meal Planning

Meal Planning is something that I have let slip lately, right when I needed to be doing it the most. Life was very busy at work for me this past month, and I just did not have the mental capacity to do any more planning other than getting through each day in one piece. Now that I have a two-week break from the chaos, I am busy cooking and planning ahead, so that I can start back at work organised and on track...with healthy home made lunches frozen in advance, and dinners planned or prepared.

Early on in my blog I used to do a Monday Menu Planning Post and I have decided that when this series finishes I will go back to doing that. If I am accountable then I tend to follow through, and it was a great way to share a weekly recipe. Part of my recent motivation towards menu planning was a post I read at Flying Drunken Monkey about Cassie's top 5 reasons for meal planning...I thought I would share them with you here because they make perfect sense:

1. It Saves Time
Spending half an hour each week to complete your list, and check out the pantry, does save time because you don't have to waste time thinking each day what to cook, and rummaging around for ingredients you don't have.

2. It Saves Money
This is definitely true and the main reason for meal planning. Check your pantry first to see what ingredients you have, plan a menu, and make a shopping list...and stick to it.

3. It Makes Cooking Interesting
This is a great point. Planning ahead helps you avoid the 'same same' trap where you rely on the fallback meals...ours is spaghetti bolognese but I think the kids are finally a little tired of it. Yay!

4. It Improves Your Cooking Skills
This is a positive point I had not thought of before. By increasing the variety, and if you prep ahead of time (in my case, because I work full-time), you can stretch yourself to be a little more creative in the skills department. eg. pre-preparing a lasagne for the week.

5. It Helps You To Be Healthy
If you know what you are eating for the week you can ensure that it is healthy food...and the temptation to buy takeaway is reduced if you know you already have an easy meal planned for dinner.

I would also add another reason to this list. My kids like to see what they are having in advance. If it's one of their favourite meals they look forward to it...and I know that I am cooking things they all like each week....I had them make a list of everything they wanted me to cook. With fussy teenagers with ever changing eating habits, this is really important to me.

If you are thinking of meal planning, or even if you already do so, Cassie has the best Weekly Planning Schedule I have found - free to download! It is in excel format so you can input everything in your computer and print it out each week to put on the fridge. Makes the task of planning your week (including your meals) just a little bit easier :)

Do you meal plan? Or are you like me and do it for while, then lose track?

Monday, 14 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: L = Living vs Existing

I decided today to write about the second word in my theme - Living. Simple Living is certainly a way of life, and a different way of looking at things...but what exactly is Living?

For a long time, even though I should have been happy about my life, I was just just existing, just here, not really in control of my happiness. The stress, and the 'maybe it's karma and my life is not meant to be perfect' thoughts compounded after every flood. Where was that perfect life we sought? Where was the beautiful home, and the happy blended family we dreamed of? Why is this happening to us? What can we possibly do about it?

When your thoughts take these kind of paths, it affects how you are living...and your enthusiasm for it. When you can't see the shining light at the end of the tunnel, your world becomes dim and dull, and you realise you are just going from day to day, without a future. In a nutshell, you are only existing rather than living. I was fortunate to have found my 'thing', and my enthusiasm for my property and my life has returned...and with it my happiness.

So, have a think about it...are you just existing or are you truly living? Do you focus on photos like the first one above, or do you choose to see the second one? I am seeing the second one more often now :)

I thought I would share these quotes with you. They express the notion of living versus existing...and offer great food for thought. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do:

“When you are just EXISTING, life happens to you… and you manage; when you are truly LIVING, you happen to life… and you lead.”
― Steve MaraboliUnapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

“All what is existing already existed. We are together for a while pondering in agile world.”
― Santosh Kalwar

“Existing is going through the motions of life with no zeal and feeling you have no control; living means embracing all that this large world has to offer and not being afraid to take chances. The beauty of living is knowing you can always start over and there's always a chance for something better.”
― J'son M. Lee

“There's a difference between living and just surviving. Do something you love, and find someone to love who loves that you love what you do.
It is really that simple.
And that hard.”
― John ConnollyThe Infernals

“Living is more than just existing. When you are living you feel emotions that you may not be able to decipher. You commit mistakes and learn from them and you will be carved in people’s hearts and souls with love and happiness so when you are gone you may not be able to exist anymore but you will still be living inside people’s heart and souls and your memory will forever be cherished by them.”
― Perky Peppermint

“Are you happy? It doesn’t matter! Are you unhappy? It doesn’t matter! What matters is whether you exist or not! Are you laughing? It doesn’t matter! Are you crying? It doesn’t matter! What matters is whether you exist or not!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Basically, being alive means keeping yourself ready for the sky to fall in on you at any time. If you start from the assumption that existence is only an ordeal, a test we have to pass, then you’re equipped to deal with its sorrows and its surprises. If you persist in expecting it to give you something it can’t give, that just proves that you haven’t understood anything. Take things as they come; don’t turn them into a drama. You’re not piloting the ship, you’re following the course of your destiny.”
― Yasmina KhadraSwallows of Kabul

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A-Z Simple Living: K = Kitchen

When I am not out in the garden or at work, I find I spend a lot more time now in my kitchen. So many of the hobbies and interests I now have, centre around this vital hub of our home. Now, my kitchen is certainly not something to write home to Mum about. It is a kitchen we fashioned when we had to relocate it upstairs due to the flooding. It just was not practical to maintain our large kitchen and dining area much as I loved that open space. Fridges and the like are difficult to move upstairs in the rain, and when we all move up there in a flood, we need a kitchen anyway.

My downstairs kitchen
One day, I dream of having a chef's kitchen, equipped with modern appliances, massive benchtops, a kitchen island...and every surface gleaming. Oh, and one of those fancy hanging pot things on the ceiling. Now, who wouldn't want to cook in a kitchen like that?

In actuality, all you really need from your kitchen is a space you feel comfortable in. A space where you know where everything is, and where there is a little order in amongst the chaos. I find that I have to work to keep it organised and I set myself some boundaries of always going to bed with the kitchen tidy, and always trying to leave it the same way when I go to work the next morning. It does not always go that way, but most days I hit the mark, and it makes me feel so peaceful knowing it is done, and I love walking into it when it is tidy and clean.

So, want to see my kitchen? These are some random shots:

It is one long room, leading off from the glass doors to the upstairs verandah. We have a small living area at the other end.

This is the sink side, with our dining table against the wall, You will note I have two pantries, and could really do with some overhead cupboards one day.

I try and keep my shelves as organised as possible, by using smaller shelves, baskets and boxes.

I need to get more containers for loose items. Most of my dry stuff ends up in glass cannisters on the top of the make more room inside.

The cupboards are steel fronted work benches suited for a man-cave toolshed, but they are waterproof and portable, which was a big consideration downstairs.

I have recently moved the clutter of ornaments out of the inlaid shelves, and replaced them with more useful items, such as my spices and glasses etc. And doesn't everyone have a few seedlings on their kitchen sink?

I would love to see these red pots hanging from the ceiling one day, but for now they live in a huge pull-out drawer.

The other side of my kitchen where all the work happens. I like to leave my breadmaker on the bench as it is used every couple of days (when I am in breadmaking mode). The 'window' opens right out and adds heaps of light to the room, but I pulled it down to take this photo.

And there is still plenty of space for food preparation. If I need to spread out I use the dining table also.

So. it's a little bit rustic, but it does the job and I have plans to add more cupboards...and a glass window :)

Do you like your kitchen? Or is it just a place to work...and then run away from?
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