Saturday, January 4, 2020

No Spend Year

After mulling it over, I have made up my mind to attempt a No Spend Year. The idea popped up on my Instagram feed (thanks Yarnder Woman). This led me to reading a sample of the year of less by Cait Flanders. She originated the idea. The concept gelled with me.

I would love to purchase the whole book, and it is a click of the button on my Kindle to do so, but that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. I have more books waiting to be read than I could read in a year, both hard copy and digital.

The idea is to stop all spending except on groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies and petrol and basically use what you have for the rest. Obviously medical expenses will be covered and other essentials, but not clothing, shoes, decor, books, entertainment and hobbies etc. Use what you have, which is my motto already. So far I haven't been shopping yet this year and, after a bit of post New Year cleaning and sorting, have been belatedly motivated to clear out the old. When I say clear out, if often means use up rather than discard. This concept appeals to me. Waste in any form is disagreeable. My goal is to shop in the pantry, garden and freezer before adding anything to my grocery list. I recognise and appreciate that I am privileged to be able to do this and there are so many people that consider even this a luxury.

Yesterday I had leftover veggie tart for breakfast. Lunch for four was a tuna salad made from a can my sister left here over the holiday, pickled cucumber, that needs using, along with chopped roast veggies and mayonnaise. It was tasty on slices from the end of the loaf Decadent Dad baked the day before. We were invited out for dinner so I took along a bottle of champagne we already had and some fresh vegetables from the garden as a hostess gift for my vegetarian friend.

Even though I will buy groceries, I really do want to use up what we have. This morning I cleared the last of the leftover croissants out the freezer for breakfast with jams and homemade cheese. That marks the end of the block of cheese. It was homemade and tasty. I have about 5 or 6 rock hard, mature goudas in the fridge that I plan to grate finely to turn into our very own Farmesan. This will have to suffice in the cheese department until it is all used up which could take months.

On a mission, I baked three loaves of a fragrant bread, adapting a health loaf recipe, tossing in what I had in the storage jars on the kitchen counter. It included some chickpea flour that I never get around to, sunflower seeds, my zataar spice mix, a bit of the farmesan for extra protein and the usual mix of brown and white flour and yeast. We will eat them later with egg mayonnaise and the last of the cucumber pickle from the jar.  I usually try to plan my meals around what needs using the most in the fridge.

The bread took a while to bake so we had some orange, almond and chocolate cake for a late tea. I had traded with a friend, two cakes for some of my soap, for my son's 21st birthday in November but only one was eaten so I froze the other. It defrosted beautifully and we are loving it.

Tonight my son is having friends over for a movie night. We will grill two packs of sausages that were given to us and I will make a potato salad using dug up potatoes, serve more of the never-ending pickles and make a just pulled carrot and needs-using cauliflower salad as a type of coleslaw. I figure cauliflower will work instead of the usual cabbage. I can pick beets and made a beet and horseradish salad. That horseradish has been hanging around in the fridge for a while. Then there is the last bottle of last summer's apricot preserve which will be lovely with that box of custard my sister left here. We also have homemade cordial for drinks. Dinner sorted.

I don't expect Decadent Dad to play along with the No Spend idea. In fact I am not even sure he needs to know about it. He will do his usual thing and I will do mine and we will find a happy balance between us. He always treats me to Special Night on a Friday where he cooks dinner that he shops for, and he certainly isn't as decadent as he used to be.

So wish me well. I hope I will keep to my resolve. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A New Day Dawning

New Year brings with it a chance to begin again. I love mornings, Mondays, birthdays, changing seasons and New Years Day. Today has to be my favourite day of the year. It is a day of hope. There are no external expectations placed on me regarding work, decor, food, gifts or traditions. My only goal today is to rest after a late night at the annual farm barn dance. My family will be taking it easy. There will be music playing in the house. There is always music.

My day is open before me with many options and yet the freedom to do nothing.

I have missed writing. Right now I choose this.

Bananas go soft before we finish the bunch. Baking them into banana bread is a tasty, yet time consuming, option. It is faster to just unzip them and pop them in the freezer. Then on lazy mornings, like today, we whizz up a few with milk, peanut butter and a dash of honey for a breakfast smoothie. Our sad honey jar had nothing to offer. A delightful alternative was a bit of leftover vegan coconut ice-cream.

The days after Christmas and around New Year, being conducive to purging and new beginnings, have awakened my desire to clear out, clean up, and organise my thoughts, routines, home and life. Hence the banana smoothie. Frozen bananas lurking in the freezer are conquered. 

The chickens gave an offering of four eggs at sunrise. The absence of bread for toast to accompany eggs, combined with no inclination to make a trip to town or to bake bread over the past week may also have contributed to our liquid nourishment. Yesterday we decluttered six croissant out the freezer and ate them with various jams for the same reason. Sometimes the things we purge can still spark joy.

Firefoot, our living lawn mower, shadowed me into the chicken run, hoping to eat the hen's grain. Then he sniffed into the dogs' bowls in the hope of some dog pellets. When I got around to giving him his own food he stuck his hoof into the bucket and tipped it upside down. The chickens were delighted. I topped up the bucket. Every time he sees me he nickers a greeting. He follows me too, breathing softly behind my back when I stop to fill his water bucket. Yesterday he tried to taste my braid. We have a swarm of bees living in our roof. Regular attempts to evict them have failed and they aggressively defend their home against lawn mowers and sweaty people pushing said mowers. Firefoot does almost as good a job at trimming the lawn apart from the weeds which now stand out as defiant flags. He also conveniently fertilises the lawn as he mows.

This new morning, day, month, year and decade has brought a few concerns over broken vehicles, looming university fees and a pessimistic budget which have contributed to my heart skipping a beat or two recently, all the more reason to have a slow day. Lavender tea, sipped quietly in my chair was a good way to start today. I do have hope and I know God will provide, he always does.

Herbal teas, picked from the garden are a gentle therapy that I love to use along with prayer, journalling and soothing fibre crafts. I hope to spin a little today. There is a challenge for January to spin for 15 minutes a day, but I have enough real challenges without imposing artificial pressure on myself. Maybe today I will spin. Maybe I will just sort and tidy my spindles and fibre and pretty up the entrance to our home where they live in baskets. The dust bunnies have bred indiscriminately and have overpopulated in every corner.

First, I will take a nap.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Farm Skills - a post written last year and then never published

We never set out to live as we do. It just happened. Each day presents its own opportunities for discovery and experience, exploration and adventure. Some we grasp eagerly and others slip by unnoticed.

Today my family is immersed in the music and lyrics of Sweeney Todd, a musical we saw when on holiday in Cape Town. The songs are playing, full volume, while dinner preparation is underway.

Yesterday I hand spun dog hair on the spindle that Decadent Dad turned on the lathe a while back. I spun it on a whim, just to see if I could. The Siberian Husky hair makes a delightfully soft yarn.

Since living on this farm in the Free State I have learned to:

make yoghurt, butter, cheese, and to milk a cow

ride a horse

raise heirloom vegetables from seed

grow enough vegetables to feed my family for a year

crochet well enough to make blankets for my children

raise orphan lambs

spin my hand-raised sheep, Lucy's wool

spin alpaca fibre into luxurious yarn

quilt with the help of a delightful quilt group

raise chickens, calves, pigs and sheep

help a cow with a difficult calf delivery

administer injections to our animals

make apple cider and apple cider vinegar

render lard

make delicious guinea fowl pie

make do without clean water in our taps for extended periods

gather beeswax for soap making

preserve almost every kind of local fruit and vegetable

grow and grind our own maize for porridge, bread and tortillas

sing worship songs in seSotho

brew herbal teas

dry fruit from the summer harvest

Each new skill presented itself as a natural response to a need, opportunity or responsibility. My teachers have been books, wonderful people, my animals and the internet. Some lessons grew out of my dislike of waste and the satisfaction I feel from using my resources to their capacity. I am eager to learn so much more.

I would love to:

begin exploring the art of using natural dyes for fleece

 try a little more felting

learn to embroider beautifully

weave some of my handspan yarn

learn to weave the thatching grasses into broom, baskets and hats

learn to speak seSotho so that I can engage with the farm women and children

teach the little ones some arts and crafts

ride better than I do

grow disease-free tomatoes successfully

plant a prettier garden



make fruit wine

and so much more....

Soap Making

I made two batches of soap in the past two days. My motive: to use up the tallow in the fridge which is the last fat remaining from our own grass raised beef. I rendered the fat many months ago. It remains stable in the freezer drawer of the fridge, but I would like to make some space.

Both batches used said tallow which makes wonderfully smooth, hard soap along with coconut oil, sunflower oil and a little castor oil for the moisturising bubble factor. These were all ingredients that were already in the pantry. Once the tallow is all used up, I will continue with the jars of lard in the fridge. Lard makes a creamy soap that is excellent for problem skin.

Yesterday I scented the soap with mandarin essential oil. Then I stirred in grey shards of pettigrain and charcoal soap saved from a previous batch.

Today I scented the soap with honeysuckle essential oil, melted in the tip of a pink lipstick I don't wear and stirred in shards of jasmine scented soap. This batch was mixed at a slightly higher temperature and volcanoed a bit in the mould. I am sure it will still be great for home use.

I was approached to supply my soaps to a farm stall today. I will happily do so if they are willing to let me continue making varied soap according to what I have rather than according to a set requirement.

Besides the soap, other thrifty things I have been busy with this week so far...

...Making chutney using the last of the red and green tomato harvest and our abundant albeit small onions.

...Dinner last night was leftover cheese sauce served over spaghetti. It wasn't the healthiest choice but the sauce needed eating. I made sure that we had a huge salad a lunchtime to balance our diet for the day.

,,, Instead of driving all the way to town to prepare for a birthday tea I hosted for a friend, I picked carrots and then baked a carrot cake substituting sunflower seeds for walnuts and our own preserved apple for tinned pineapple. It was delicious.

... I also made her a gift Pamper Pack which was prettily presented and made from gift items I had in the home. She has step by step instructions and what she needs for a 1 hour mini spa treat at home.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Making Do in Abundance

WARNING... the longer I wait between posts, the longer my posts become. (This one was written 2 weeks ago, but I am only uploading pics and posting today.)

I have gone from someone who blogged about twice a week to someone who may blog every two months. I love writing and often find myself composing blog posts in my head, but seldom find the time to sit and type them up. My interests and crafting activities have developed and expanded so that could be a reason. I seem to live in seasons. I really really do want to continue blogging as my heart is to keep a literal web log of my life here on this farm and there is so much to record and share.
So thank you, Cindy, for the reminder to keep on writing. Ideally I would like to write frequent, short posts.

It is a sultry Friday afternoon. My son has just dragged himself back to his desk to study. He wrote a 3 hour Maths paper this morning. I am sitting at my desk with the curtains drawn in an attempt to keep cool. It's too hot to wear shoes, so I have kicked them off. I am rolling my feet over wooden beads as I type.

I had planned to wash some fleece this afternoon, but we have no clean water in our tank again. We are piping river water into the house so that we can still shower and flush, but Caledon River water is silty so it won't help to clean fleeces.

Next on the To-Do list was to make a batch of soap. Washing soapy pots and utensils uses a fair bit of water and when we are heating pots of clean water on the stove for each load of dishes...

It's too hot to spin, weave, cook or garden.

So I have no excuse not to write.

October has been a financially challenging month. We were recovering from September: We celebrated my husband's 50th and our daughter's 21st birthdays which also required a road trip to Cape Town. We discovered that a lot of my husband's tools that he uses for work have been 'taken'. Our vehicle needed major repairs and we had to pay a lump sum for education fees. In order to ease things I have shopped as little as possible. In fact I spent less on groceries for the month than someone I know spent on one meal for a braai (barbecue).

How did I do it?

Firstly, we use what there is in the house instead of rushing off to the shops. The best way of saving money is not to spend it. Usually my two guys have no idea that I am hustling to stretch our resources as they are always well fed and they don't feel deprived. That's the key to being Elastic Mom.

And October is strawberry month.

When we ran out of dishwasher blocks, we only washed the dishes by hand for the rest of the month. (Although in desperation Decadent Dad did try to run the dishwasher using dish liquid.) I haven't felt the need to buy more dishwasher blocks yet. I quite enjoy the contemplation of washing dishes and looking at the view.

I drink decaf coffee, so when that ran out I drank more tea and switched to the occasional cup of cocoa topped with leftover party marshmallows. It's all about using what there is, rather than what we might want, but making it good and tasty.

When the milk ran out, we drank interesting black, herbal tea or iced tea. I made rooibos and lemon verbena tea, mint and sage exam time tea, mint and fennel digestive tea.

When the teabags ran out we drank iced water, herbal teas and strawberry smoothies, and by then we had bought some lovely Jersey milk from my friend so Decadent Dad could make himself some coffee again. We did also buy some milk. We haven't replaced the decaf, but I don't miss it yet.

We are blessed with a freezer full of our own pasture raised beef and pork. So that is what we ate. I didn't buy any fish, lamb or chicken. I would ring the changes with vegetarian meals too. We have some of our own cheese,  and always one or two eggs in daily supply. Some days we get up to seven eggs. We also grow our own veg and eat what is in season. In October we had asparagus, carrots, beets, peas, mange touts, cabbage, spinach and salad greens.

Usually we eat two oat breakfasts a week and two mieliemeel breakfasts. When the oats and bread ran out I tried a bit of banting... fresh eggs and our own bacon baked in muffin trays followed with a handful of strawberries from the garden. It was delicious.

When the butter and oil ran out I cooked with our own lovely rendered lard and drippings from roasts which give the best flavour or coconut oil that has been in the pantry, just asking to be used.

When the pasta ran out Decadent Dad made some tagliatelle using flour and eggs. Who can complain about handmade pasta.

When the flour started running low (we bake our own bread) I used a mixture of flour, mieliemeel and pea flour (which needed using) to make two nutritious loaves of bread. When those were finished, we just ate other things like frittatta and salad for lunch, and meat and veggies for supper. We did buy more flour later in the month.

Here are a few of the delicious meals we ate in October:


strawberry and rhubarb muffins
homemade strawberry ice cream that was turning into butter baked into muffins

oats topped with fresh strawberries and cream (off the top of the milk)
mieliemeel porridge with honey and some of our own ground heirloom Transkei maize.
strawberry, honey, vanilla and homemade yoghurt smoothies (using Jersey milk)
strawberry, rhubarb, walnut and oat bake (walnuts picked last summer)
eggs and bacon


Egg and bacon spinach salad with curried dressing
leek and cheese pie with coleslaw from the garden
pea and bacon salad
hearty beef and vegetable soup and home baked bread
spinach, asparagus and spring onion frittata with just picked lettuce salad
red wine cured bresaola and salad sandwiches
beetroot hummus with potato salad
beetroot, walnut and cumin salad
toasted cheese and peach chutney
curried carrot soup served with pea flour and maize bread


spinach lasagne where I layered spinach leaves between the mince instead of pasta
grilled spicy homemade sausage with spinach, peas and carrots
slow cooked beef and paprika on mash
braaied pork ribs with BBQ sauce
spinach and bacon pasta
chorizo and pork sausage stew with mung beans, garden veggies and fennel on rice
homemade pizza with bacon and mushrooms (Decadent Dad bought the mushrooms as a Special Night treat)
Spinach pie with wasabi and mustard seed pastry
Roast brisket with gravy, potatoes and veg
Strawberry ice cream for dessert

As you can see we ate really well in October. If you had come for a meal and not known things were tough, you wouldn't have guessed. I am thankful for God's abundant provision for our family in so many ways.

"Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make do,
Or do without"

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Beginning of Spring

I wrote this on Friday evening:

Today we harvested nettles. We wore gloves. My wool dying experiment with nettles in July was a dismal failure. The nettle bread, however, was brilliantly green. The nettles have been safely subdued with a steaming and now they are in the fridge. There is also a large bunch drying on the verandah. Even weeds can be wonderful. Now I am dreaming of nettles served simply with butter, salt, and pepper; nettle soup; nettle soap; and maybe even nettle pancakes. Oh, and how could I forget nettle tea?

The trick of being Elastic Mom is to stay on top of whatever is flourishing right now. Well, to try.

Someone else is flourishing since she has discovered the art of knitting. This afternoon I taught Mammei, one of the Hope Knitters, how to purl and make stocking stitch and rib. She wants to knit a hat. Her Cutie Pie has stolen my heart. I have known her since she was a premie in hospital being nurtured by kangaroo care. Her mother called me because they don't feed their patients properly in the government hospitals here and she was hungry. Cutie Pie grins every time she looks at me and waves goodbye whenever we part ways.

The pigs have run away again. Tomorrow morning I will find them snoring in their beds. We knew they had finished plowing up the chicken run when they made an exit hole under the fence. My son and the dogs went looking for them. All they found were jackals aggressively guarding a den, containing pups no doubt.

Our water was black today. We first noticed it when washing the white linen from my bed. I sent my black sheets up the hill to show the two men who were working on the pipes and neglected to warn us first. I wonder if it will make a difference next time they need to fix the pipes.

We have stopped lighting fires in the evenings. Spring has arrived, clothing the peach trees in pink, the apricot orchard in white and also our almond saplings in delicate touches of white. We made it the]rough winter without needing to light Esse the Faithful. My fingers are still recovering but the saving of R1000 a month for anthracite was worth it.

This morning I blew off the dust bunnies and unpacked the suitcase under my bed. It felt light and lovely to hang my summer dresses in the cupboard and toss my warm scarves into the suitcase instead. The rest of my winter clothes are staying put in case we have another cold snap. It seems unlikely in these dry, warm days. Once the excitement of the spring blossoms and daffodils wanes I realise that it really isn't my favourite season. Free State spring is a time of waiting for summer rain, a time of dusty winds and often a time of firefighting for my men. The vase of peach blossoms on the mantle is pretty though.

September also heralds the beginning of the busy birthday season. My philosophy is that gifts either cost money or time. I don't really have either in abundance at the moment, though I do try to enjoy some creative time in the evenings. Yesterday's birthday girl received a knitted hat, a beanie in the Elle Toledo Smarties colourway from my stash, with a big yellow pompom. I wrapped it in drawing paper, tied some yellow tulle (fairy wings from  when my daughter was small enough to wear such things) around it and made a card from a bird cut out of a box of tea. It looked just right for a 7-year old. The other half of the ball of yarn had been used for my  Miss Marple tea cosy. I am happy that I managed to use it up and all the gift cost me was my time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Blessed Abundance

I am sitting on an old stone bench, facing the chicken run. It was built as a step for mounting horses. The warm air has a sweet spring fragrance. The chickens are industriously inspecting the upturned earth in their run after Winifred and the young pigs finished their day’s work of plowing it up for me. It is the golden hour, just before sunset, where everything is still except for the cheeping chicks, clucking hens and twitters of the white-browed sparrow weavers in the honey locust trees. Zizou, our Jack Russell Terrier, has just jumped up to join me. She is leaning against my back and staring across towards Lesotho over in the distance behind me. Next to me is a bucket filled with a lanky cauliflower and a generous picking of broad beans. The cauliflower is for tonight’s chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, a Jamie favourite. I will substitute it for the broccoli in the recipe because that is what we have in the garden. The broad beans will be in tomorrow’s salad for the Quilt Club’s lunch I am hosting. 

Barbara Kingsolver, in her wonderful book Animal Vegetable Miracle, calls this time of year The Hungry Season. It is the time when winter is over along with the last of the stored autumn harvest, but the new spring crops haven’t grown enough to be harvested either. It has been a tough year where our summer harvest was not as good as usual and we also lost all our carefully frozen vegetables, yet we are doing pretty well for the hungry season. I always shop in the garden, pantry and freezer before making the trip to town to buy food.

Last night I picked a bucket of rainbow chard and some young Egyptian walking onions. I cooked them up with 2 slices of chopped leftover gammon and served them in toasted sandwiches with a little grated cheese. The Swiss chard is such a faithful friend. It has carried us through the winter frosts and drought. Once the weather warms up it will probably go to seed, but not before new seeds have grown up in another part of the veggie tunnel to replace the existing bed.

The broad beans are taller than ever and starting to produce what looks like a promising spring harvest. Along with some mange tout peas, we have plenty of greens for the table in the form of self seeded butter lettuce, nettles, rocket, oak leaf lettuce, cabbages, kale and then some young Chinese cabbage and mizuna. The Chinese cabbages have started going to seed in the warmer spring weather, so I will use them whole in stir-fries, flowers and all. As always, I will try to use all my harvest, even if it is not perfect. In the hope that our few cauliflowers would grow bigger, I left them too long so now they are past their best but still perfectly edible. I plan to use them to make Indian pakora with the chickpea flour that needs using in my pantry (It is best served with Chai tea on a rainy day.)

The spring sowing has begun. We have rows of tiny carrots and beetroot, and lots of  hopefulseeds trays for the tomatoes, peppers and brinjals. Last years garlic’s and leeks are looking great and the new onion seedlings are doing well. It’s a good start.

We have plenty of our own pasture-raised beef in the freezer now, which will hopefully last us for a long time. In the not too distant future, some organic free-range pork will join it. The pork is rather too free ranging at the moment: the naughty rascals keep disappearing leaving us searching all over, hence their being put to work in the chicken run this week.

Marigold and Matilda are leading their chicks to bed as the sun dips behind the hill. I will shut them all in securely, feed the dogs, close the curtains inside and then finish making dinner while I watch the last episode of Miss Marple. Decadent Dad is busy in his leather workshop. Our son is at his drawing board. They are each playing their own music selection while they work, so I will wear headphones to hear Miss Marple while I cook.