Nurturing the home

We have arrived at the end of another busy two weeks. I dearly wanted to stop by here and say hello, but a few other things prevented me from doing so.

Chiefly, I have been busy applying for jobs. I feel that life is busy enough at home, staying on top of things and ensuring I am available to the kids. But needs must. The cost of living has risen significantly in the past year, and it is not a comfortable feeling. It will undoubtedly get worse before it gets better. And I know I am not on my own in that dilemma.

I have also been looking after a friend’s daughter from time to time. She is an absolute delight, but I had forgotten how exhausted you become watching and entertaining a little one. In time, I hope to create a certain rhythm to our days together, allowing her to join me in our everyday activities like gardening and baking. I don’t believe in replicating a school environment at home. A healthy home environment that is nurturing and permits open-ended play will always be of better value to a young child than a set curriculum. Already our days are full of activity and laughs. But as this little girl begins to feel more at ease in this new space, I am sure our days together will flow with greater ease.

I have also had to clean the house and yard from top to bottom for our property inspection – one of the many downsides/benefits (depending on how you view deep cleans!) to renting. It is satisfying being in a space that has had a good deep clean. But in the midst of it, you feel a bit grubby and weary and desperately in need of a soak (and some salve to treat the chemical burns from accidentally choosing a caustic oven cleaner!).

But I am here, and the weekend just gone was a reminder of how good days are and what it means to be living. Life is everything. The mundane. The moments of pure ecstasy. The dark pits of despair. And everything else in between. It is ‘everything else in between’ where life really happens. In these moments, we can make a conscious effort to introduce joy, deliciousness, creativity, imagination, magic, whimsy and beauty into our lives. Our hearts and souls become filled, and we feel full of gratitude, reverence and grace. These are moments to strive for and cherish. I tried to fill my weekend with as many moments as I could.

The house was cleaned and deserved a fresh vaseful of flowers cut from the garden. My dahlias are still flowering strong, and those vibrant colours can not help but lift a space. I think in some circles, dahlias are considered cheap and tacky. Indeed they have no smell, and they are bold and shameless. But what a dull life it would be if we didn’t make room for that. Life needs balance – too much twee is never a good thing. And as in most things, the merit of one thing is not so apparent until held up against its counterpoint.

I had also been itching to get creative in the kitchen, and after a month-long delay in the post, my bulk flour supply arrived so I could finally make a batch of doughnuts. I had never tried making doughnuts before as I thought they would be a bit complicated and messy with all the oil. But the recipe over at Wander and Woven was a pinch to follow. The photo shows just the last three not devoured. The dish was piled high with fat, chewy, not overly-sweet doughnuts. They looked so glorious, and I seriously felt full of homesteady’ goodness serving these up to my family. We had two each. I regret nothing!

I spent some stolen quiet minutes knitting a few rows of Fox and Folk’s Aelfwynn Capelet, although I made a mistake right at the beginning of those few rows, which I spent today rectifying! I am knitting it up for my youngest daughter Chloe in a squishy mossy green yarn. The yarn is a 10-ply, which should make for a quick knit. I am hopeful of finishing it before our trip to Currango in March. I can’t believe we are on the doorstep to March. Where have the past two months gone?!

There has also been a spot of embroidery going on, which I have never attempted before save from stitching my daughter’s name onto her homemade school painting apron (which coincidentally still went missing!). I am creating a simple little clutch bag for my niece and am adding some embroidered floral details to the front panel to dress up the simple linen. The pattern I am using is ‘Summer Meadow’ by @ourhomeonthehill. The fabric is not large enough for the whole design, so I am choosing just a few central flowers (and bees and snails because why not?!). The pattern is gorgeous. My execution is not so admirable. But I am sure once I have finished, and if you look from afar and with a generous spirit, it will look just fine!

I also spent some long over-due time in the garden picking kilo upon kilo of cucumbers – I stopped once I filled two massive baskets, which amounted to a little over 12kg. I threw as many more as guilt permitted to the chickens. There are still so many more to come. After last year’s dismal yield, this season has certainly made up for past losses. I harvested some more green tomatoes to allow them to ripen inside in a sunny spot. Once again, this has not been an ideal season for ripening tomatoes. So frustrating, as I had hoped to fill jars of passata for the pantry to tide us over until the next growing season. There was also a tonne of green beans to pick. I have pulled out all the zucchini plants and failed corn crops to make way for autumn/winter plantings. To garden productively, you need a good plan. I have been remiss in creating a plan for the next season. But I have numerous packets of seeds ready to go. I really must get my skates on and start planting again. With costs rising, taking care of much of our fresh vegetable needs goes a long way to help support and nourish our family.

My favourite roasted tomato relish made using some of the tomatoes that I brought inside to ripen.

That is where I will be taking stock over the coming weeks and months. Getting our cost of living down to a manageable level is a priority more than ever, as so many costs of the ‘necessities’ have become unmanageable. Housing, fuel and food costs have risen almost entirely out of reach. It is a scary proposition, especially when you rent. I can not fathom the alternatives when housing and rental prices have trebled in 12 months?

I have already begun trying to limit any unnecessary trips into town. Not that any trip has ever been altogether unnecessary. I am not one for window shopping. But I am trying to keep all jobs limited to the days I must go in. As for housing security and affordability, we are at the mercy of landlords and the market. For now, I will hold my breath. Food, however, is something I have more control over. There have been some changes that I have wanted to make for some time. I have always believed and tried to follow eating locally and seasonally. But there are always items creeping in the shopping trolley, indulgences we could do without, and products we purchase out of habit. I need to don my hobbit cape and get serious about my larder.

We all have to start with a goal. Mine is to eat only the things that our local climate can support. The things that I can catch, grow, harvest, glean, and produce in our local environment, with just a few of those ‘luxuries’ that peddlers and merchants would have brought from far-flung lands a couple of times a year. Luxuries like coffee (and more coffee), tea, spices, sugar, chocolate (though in reality, I can live without this one, shock horror!), maple syrup, soy sauce and mirin. The things that I can get locally I want to be minimally processed and involve ‘no’ waste. I will need to adjust the meals I cook to reflect this. Tomatoes do not grow well here, so I should stop cooking dishes that depend on them. The same goes for using tinned tomatoes. If I have a bumper tomato crop and can put aside jars and jars of passata, then I can adjust the menu accordingly. Likewise, instead of tinned fish and packets of pasta (oh, that would be a hard one to give up!), they should be made fresh from locally sourced ingredients.

These changes would require a tremendous shift in my thinking and habits. Many of the changes would require significantly more time to plan for and prepare. Bilbo’s larder was filled not without a small degree of effort and dedication to food and eating. But to my mind, food, shelter, a nurturing home, and creative endeavours to make items of practicality and beauty is the point to living. Everything else is there to make that happen.

But I am a long way from The Shire, and too many generations separate me from when this was the accepted way of life. I have always lived with one foot in the past. I am afraid if I plant both feet firmly in the past, I will feel like I never belong anywhere. But to bring those ancestral, traditional skills to modern living. To live like we don’t rely on massive transport networks, and like we aren’t familiar yet with the convenience of tinned food and packets of pasta. To belong only to the small, intimately known environment around us, what kind of life would that be?

I look forward to finding out.

I will keep you posted! Until next time, take care.

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