Monday, December 31, 2012

365 paintings in 365 days

1/365 Summer Rain 

And now let us welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Do you still suffer from the wounds of childhood? It happened to me with painting and though I still dabbled creatively I would never call myself a painter. I'd actually do anything but paint because I did not believe I could, and if I didn't have a go I couldn't fail, now could I? But I longed to paint. (This reminds me of when I started to write fiction. Same story, just a different script.)

Then two generous artists entered my life -  Kate Forman Ortiz (who is illustrating a story I wrote) and Lucie Walker. Both speak the same language as me. I instantly connected with their bright, joyful paintings of people mostly. They celebrate humanity and all its colours. Lucie told me that I could paint. That in fact anyone can if they have the desire to do so.

And so I started. One painting at a time. The very first one was a riot of bright colours. It was one of those glorious moments when I was lost inside myself and time stood still. It was a meditation. It was a prayer. Now I paint my way to joy. I even painted my way to peace during our move to the city.  I paint and I paint and I don't care if no one else likes it. I don't care that I am self taught. And YES I am a painter. I tell people you are a writer if you write. I am a painter because I paint.

Today is New Year's day and I have started several challenges (because they motivate me), but this is the first one that I will share with you. I am going to try to paint a painting everyday - or at least 365 paintings in the 365 days we have this year. This is my first. It has been so hot here, and I realised as I painted this (like a stream of consciousness) that I was expressing my gratitude for water. As St Francis wrote in his canticle of the creatures: 'All praise be yours my Lord through Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and pure.'

I will be posting a new painting everyday to keep me accountable. I hope to make it past this week, but for now I am taking one day (one post) at a time. Through colour may I give back to the world a little of its lost heart. - Asta x

' a time lacking in truth and certainty and filled with anguish and despair, no woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart.' - Louise Bogan. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A trick of the light.

Best friends and their families sharing an early Christmas dinner.

It was a joyous and peaceful 'no present' Christmas. Like many I am mindful that it was not the case for all, and I also know that I am not immune to family or financial issues, to grief and loss. This Christmas was good to me and for that I am grateful.

We had an early Christmas dinner with my best friend a couple of nights before Christmas, then a lovely labyrinth walk and 11pm service at our church on Christmas Eve, and a casual bring and share lunch in our home on Christmas day - with my side of the family, and a friend who was going to be alone.

When I said a blessing over our food I reflected on Jesus being born into a family and how significant that is because people need to be in relationship with others, and how it is said that God sets the lonely in families. And we prayed for those alone that day - when being alone feels lonelier somehow than on regular days. And we thanked him for our family.

That lovely Christmas day I often found my mind wondering to the sadness in this world, and oddly my train of thought led me to a happy place where the Spirit of Christmas lives - it is always there, in some small way. At Christmas time we are often-times more tolerant and compassionate. We may look for opportunities to bring peace into the world by our thoughts, as well as our actions. We may be kinder than we need to be. And everything looks prettier.

Christmas has this strange affect on us. It is like a trick of the light... we think we see something but we aren't sure... we can see a goodness, a light that shines back at us through a foggy mirror. Sometimes we think it is because the shop windows are decorated, the excitement of a young child, a Christmas concert, a carol, a movie, or a gift we've received or been given (and of course in some ways it may be.) Sometimes it is only a faint niggling because we haven't allowed ourselves time to reflect - or those dazzling Christmas tree lights are blinding us.

But what if ( how I love 'what ifs'), what if it is Christ's humble light we are seeing? And what if it quietly begs a response that goes beyond the season? What would the world look like if we stripped away the commercialism and everyday was Christmas? It is time to look forward to a new year. I think a philosophy of 'everyday Christmas' is worth pondering.

Peace and all good dear friends and new friends to be,

Asta x

PS I have a new support group for simple livers at Facebook. Here is the link:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Give a little love this Christmas. It is the only present we need.

The song is sung by Noah and The Whale and the video is by Graham Kervin. Thank you guys. Good job!!!

I just have to share this video. I think it is perfect for Christmas and leads us well into the new year. I dislike the commercial aspect of Christmas - the tinny music, the advertising, the fact that some will get into debt to buy presents that will, more often than not, end up in landfill. Some perhaps made by slave labour. (So once again our family is doing a 'no present' Christmas.) 

For me Christmas is about the outpouring of  the love of God who stooped down and became a humble man, who epitomised what we are capable of - kind, selfless, sweet Eucharistic love - poured out for the other.

Let's open our eyes, see the other, and offer kindness. There are a lot of hurting people out there at this time of year. 'They' may even be us. If we give love we will get love, not because 'the universe' owes us anything, but because of the ripple affect. It is just bound to happen. I can imagine a huge wave of kindness washing over the world this Christmas, and I sooo want to be a part of that. How about you? 

Peace, love and kindness my friends, 

Asta x

NB: A thank you to Karen Fowler (my old roomy and bridesmaid) who put me onto this lovely, lovely song and video. She is exactly like this video. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On the impending loss of a loved one: Guest post by Julie Graff

Julie Graff

Today I stand aside and give Julie the floor....

TEACH ME TO NUMBER MY DAYS by Julie Graff (guest blogger)

In thinking about death and dying, I keep being reminded of a conversation I once had with the wife of a hospice patient of mine.  It was my privilege to be a private duty hospice nurse for a time, meaning that I spent twelve hours a day with the same patient in his/her home until they passed away.  This being a full time fly-on-the-wall gave me a lot of insight into the whole experience of death as it is experienced by everyone in the household.  I have often been inspired by the dying, but more often, I've been inspired by those who've survived to tell the tale.  Now I am in this lady's shoes.   My own husband is terminally ill, though not nearly ready (I hope) for hospice care.

The lady I'm referring to broke down one day because, she said, she felt guilty for thinking of herself at all during this time.  She was overwhelmed by despair, not knowing WHAT was going to become of her once her husband died.  She "knew" it was selfish and sinful to worry about herself, but really, where was she supposed to live?  Was there enough money?  Who would help her?  She would be ALONE.  What was she to DO with herself?  She was a wicked person.  Her pain was awful.  She would never have revealed it to another soul if she had had any way of keeping it in.  Ashamed of herself, she apologized for collapsing in front of me.  How to console her?

I realized then, that though the dying go through the "five stages of death and dying"--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance,  and their loved ones along with them, those left behind are left to go through this whole shebang all over again.   They are obliged to accept what is unacceptable to them TWICE.  This lady was simultaneously losing her husband AND being set adrift with no idea of what to do, and she would still have a long row to hoe.  I held her.

And I held her.  She went on with her housework.   I eventually became aware of her standing a little straighter.   Later I was certain I was seeing a spark of mischief in her eyes.  Well.  She had prayed while she was working.  This is what she had to say:  "My days are numbered too, dear, and every one of them is precious.  Just because my husband is dying, it doesn't mean that I am not.  We never know absolutely what is going to happen."  So  I told her of two other hospice cases that I had worked where the whole family was geared toward my patient dying but, when no one was looking, another family member died instead--quite out of order and all unexpected, you see.  (It happened twice again when I worked at the hospital.  This is significant because I was actually a nurse for only fourteen months before I was injured on the job.  I don't know what the statistic is on this, but in my experience there has been a high incidence of people dying out of turn... We really never know...)

I asked her what she’d always wanted to do.  Well, she'd always wanted to see Ireland but had been told it was impossible so she'd quit thinking about it.  I wondered, since I happened to know she didn't have a selfish bone in her body, if she couldn't ask her God to help her make a secret plan to go there.  She allowed as this might be "a pretty good i-deee".  Some months after her husband's death, she went to Ireland.  I have no clue as to how she pulled it off.

Now here I am with my days as numbered as anyone else's;  As numbered as they always have been.  Who will die before whom at our house is not known.  I have made my apologies for cracking up.  A plan is being developed.  After all, you never know.

Peace be with you both Julie - we send you love,

Asta x

Monday, November 5, 2012

Like a snail I carry my one warm room with me and yet something is missing.

May you find harmony between your soul and your life...
(from John O'Donohue's prayer For Belonging)

Here is a picture of our new/old lounge room. Anyone who knows our 'warm room' will recognise it. We've taken it with us where ever we've gone - like a snail carries her home on her back. (I love snails.) It's a room where there is no need for 'any mask of pretense or image' (words borrowed from the new home blessing I shared in the last post).

I have loved reconnecting with very dear old friends, and I have even had one new friend visit, and yet I feel a little off centre. Lonely, but not alone. I can't really pin down exactly what it is, but I know that I'm not quite right. I can't paint. I'm totally blocked. I couldn't even go to church last Sunday - because I just wanted to go back to my church in the country. I could fight these feelings but I sense I just need to sit with them. Sitting shiva with my grieving self. (Sitting shiva is a Jewish custom where you sit alongside someone who is grieving, possibly in silence.)

I have never reacted quite like this before. I wonder if it is the sudden and unexpected change. It is as though, in my hasty move, part of my soul is still on its journey  here. Perhaps I just  need to wait until it catches up.

Half of my family is still in the country. One of my sons will join us in a few days. And my husband in a few weeks. I know that will help.

Meanwhile my warm room will shelter my heart. My daily practises of prayer and journal writing will ground me. Silence will still me. My family, friends and pets will sit with me. I trust that soon my soul and my life will be in alignment and harmony will be restored.

Peace be within you my friends,

Asta x

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Behind the red door.

May this be a safe place full of understanding and acceptance, where you can be as you are, without the need of any mask of pretence or image. 
- John O'Donohue

Hello from our new home in the city. Actually it isn't strictly new to us. We bought this house around 17 years ago, and left it 8 years ago when we moved to the country. I grew up in the country. I like it there. In the city I can feel like I have fallen out of a space ship. So much is alien to me. I can't help but wonder if I actually look like a Martian - all green and out of place. Perhaps I will share more of this later on.

Can you see the painting? I painted this just before we left Narrogin. I'm not sure what it is all about I just painted what was in my heart as a way to hold onto 'the peace' in a time of sudden change. In her hands she carries a plant in full bloom, in a round bowl. Is it an offering? Is she receiving the new? Any ideas?

Notice the colour of the door. Something I promised myself was that one of the very first things I would do would be to paint the door red as a sign of hospitality. In our new/ old home family, friends and the stranger will always be welcome. May this home once again be a soft place to land. A spacious place of peace. Somewhere you can just be yourself, seen and accepted.

 A friend signs his emails with this saying - 'porta patet cor magis... the door is open, the heart even more'. That is our new (and old) motto. When we lived here before I  painted a large mural, on the wall that you can see behind the door, on the right. It was of a Mexican street and the message I wrote there was 'mi casa - su casa'. Translated that means 'my house - your house'.  I was so sad when we had to paint over it to rent the house (so were the kids), and I have a feeling that that beautiful blank white wall will be a canvas for me again very soon. I guess it is symbolic of this fresh new canvas we have as we start life anew in our old, not-as-ugly-as-I-thought, much loved home. What excites me about returning is that I have remembered this...

This house is not about the style of it, its age, nor the location of it... it is what happens behind the red door  that matters most, and that is what makes it one special home!

Asta xoxox

'May you have the eyes to see that no visitor arrives without a gift and no guest leaves without a blessing' - from John O'Donohue's blessing for a new home. Prayed over us by my friend and priest Rev Lynda.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sumara Brown - 'loving, longing, open, thoughtful, odd'

"You've got to be what tomorrow needs" (- My Chemical Romance)  Sumara Brown's favourite quote.  

Like so many of us who are trying to live simply - Sumara often feels like a 'lone boat in a storm'... AND that is why I interview  fellow simple livers. So that we will know that we are not alone at all. To build a tribe. - Asta

1. Describe yourself in 5 words
          Loving. Longing. Open. Thoughtful. Odd.

2. Introduce us to your family.
I’m married to Noel, a very hard-working truck driver. He’s loving and stubborn and makes me laugh. I have two daughters who are 9 and 7, and a 4-year-old son. They are three very different children but have in common their wild smiles and affectionate natures. I love them to bits.

3 What do you see as your priorities? How does that play out in your life?
Priority 1 is the children. That’s meant putting my career-that-never-was on hold, and it’s also meant a lot of your typical rearranging-life-around-the-children stuff with daily life, jobs, finances etc.
Other priorities are reading (to stay informed and for pleasure), music/film/art (for pleasure and general life goodness), trying/learning to be healthy, & finding ways to do things more efficiently or environmentally-friendly.

I love that you include reading and the arts, because I think they are so important to our well being, and in turn that makes  the world a better place.

4. September’s challenge is simple parenting. Would you like to share something that is working for you?
I don’t know about “working”, but I’m learning that children just need to be allowed to be who they are. Sounds so simple, but some children are oh-so-different from any expectations anyone has that it can actually be scary and difficult to just watch them be. It can take a great leap of faith to trust in them to know what they need, but once you take that leap it’s kind of awesome to see what they can achieve.
I also find it really important to just be honest with my kids. They know that I’m human. They see me cry, and lose my temper, and laugh, and apologise, and everything else. And they know they can question me or my rules and get an honest answer. Most of the time (see: I’m human.).

5. Would you call yourself a simple liver? How does your life reflect that? 
                I don’t know, actually. Some aspects of the way I live are quite simple and natural – eg I buy and eat food that’s as natural & chemical-free as possible and I cook from scratch – but some aspects are rather the opposite… I spend an inordinate amount of time staring at that wretched iphone, for example, unable to tear myself away from the daily happenings of far-away people.
                I think I’m more on the path towards simple living than actually there yet.

6. Who inspires you? Perhaps you could share with us who set you off on this path.
Well, Johnny Depp inspires me… but I guess he doesn’t have much to do with simple living.
I think you might be surprised Sumara. How is this quote from Johnny Depp? 'There are four questions of value in life. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is life worth living for, and what is life worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.'

Some people who have inspired me to live more simply are Amanda Soule at, Rhonda from Down To Earth, the couple at, a few amazing parents that I met in homeschooling groups last year, and many other friends. I tend to take bits and pieces of information and inspiration from all over the place.

7. What are you reading right now? Do you have some favourite books you could share with us – and in particular any that can inspire us on our simple living journey?
Oh dear, well, right now I’m reading “Crop Circles: Signs of Contact” by Colin Andrews. How’s that for left field? But actually, from what I’ve read so far, the message seems to be that crop circles could be a “message” from earth itself warning humankind about environmental damage…. So I guess it could be quite relevant… grain of salt may be required.
Also currently reading a book about film. I love film.
I haven’t actually got any books about simple living – as you can see above I tend to get that input from blogs and friends. But I can’t answer this question without mentioning my favourite book of all time – Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It will definitely inspire you on any kind of journey.

8. What are you passionate about?
Film, theatre, acting – I have a theatre degree and would still love to get back into it.
Music – I don’t play much anymore but I listen a great deal, and my favourite bands are quite ridiculously important to me.
Gender equality – I cannot STAND gender stereotyping or gender discrimination, it makes me SO angry. It’s one of the few things I will actually make phone calls or send emails to complain about. I am stubbornly determined that my children will know they can wear/do/play/read/study/go/be anything and anyone, and anywhere they want.

9. What do you hope for? Dream of? 
Ok – I want to live on our property, raising animals & vegetables and making beautiful things, while working as an actor in film and theatre, traveling the world, earning enough money to provide for my family and give lots away.
I dream, also, of having my close friends closer by, of my children growing to be amazing, loving, hardworking adults, of meeting the people who inspire me, of helping to change the world by daring to speak up.
I dream of a world where everyone who has any space grows their own food and creates their own power and shares what they have, and where communities can rely on each other.
I feel a bit like John Lennon right now. I’m not sorry. :)

10. What can we learn from you? Or if you prefer – what have you learnt?
You could learn from me that people can be so much more than one impression or one side of a personality. I would happily teach you (lecture you, as Noel would probably call my insistent exhortations…) that there is always another side to the story. My parents always told me I was arguing just for the sake of arguing. I just so desperately needed to point out that there might be another point of view.
As for what I’ve learnt – gosh, a lot. How about a simple one – when something needs doing, it’s always easier to do it straight away. Waiting until some other time is never the right answer. Just do it, and then it’s done. (Please note I rarely actually succeed in this ideal… there are always undone jobs waiting in my life. But I’m getting there!)

11. What is one of your biggest simple living challenges? 

I find it hard feeling like a lone boat in a storm. I don’t have much of a community around me here, and Noel is not all that passionate about this sort of thing so I tend to feel like it’s just lil ole me, not making much of a dent in the world. That’s one reason I rely on online friends/communities so much.

12. You have just started blogging. Would you like to share with us why you started your blog and what your focus is?

Movin’ to the Country is all about us transitioning from suburban townhouse-dwellers to country landowners. I started it to a) allow friends & family to keep up with plans & progress, and b) reach out to find like-minded people. It also gives me a place to explore issues and ideas that come up along the way.

13. You are a valuable contributor on The Simply Living Challenge. What appeals to you about the page? How can we support you? 
Thank you! The appeal is twofold – the inspiring ideas and the encouragement from others. It’s such a friendly place. Having you all visit the blog when I mention it is much appreciated!

14. Anything else you want to share? 
          Just that I'm very glad I found this page and community. Its a lovely place and really helps me to remember that every little step I take towards an ideal is some progress. Every little bit really does help. 

I can't thank you enough Sumara - for taking time out of your day to answer my questions. It has been lovely to get to know you better. 

Live simply so that others might simply live...

Peace and all good to you my friends,

Asta x

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are we fools?

Flowers in second hand bottles and animals decorate Asta's home.
'See us go the fool's way
gathering all about us
for a covering, a surety,
a pleasure;
Opiates to fill time's hollow;
piles of things which rot away
or linger near our ankles
to stop us dancing.'
(from 'Simplicity' by Mark A Burch)

I rarely go to the city, which was obvious by my reaction to the city on the weekend.

I felt like an alien or a newborn when I walked through the shopping centres. It was like seeing things for the first time. Everything screamed for my attention; noises, smells, people rushing about, bright colours and flashing lights... there were no windows to anchor me to the real world. It was all plastic and fantastic... the latest this and that, the 'must buys'. If shopping really did fulfil us, as the advertising promises, then there would be no reason to go back to the shops, and there would be little need for them.

I hear that people are sleeping out tonight, at the Apple stores, so that they can be the first to buy the latest iPhone, which incidentally will have obsolescence built into it and so we can be certain there will be more overnight stays in the future!

My recent experience made me realise, more than ever, what I have known deep down for a long time - we who want to live simply must find a tribe to support us. We can not do this alone. We are like salmon swimming against the tide and that is hard work. The more we join together, the more we can stand firm in peace and love, and others will see that there truly is a life giving alternative (for us and the world) - and just maybe the tide will turn. Idealistic? Yes I am!!! Nothing has the right to 'linger near our ankles and stop us dancing', and we have no right to shop with abandon with no thought of the bigger picture.

Live simply so that others might simply live,

Asta x

NB - I am moving back to the city. I will need my tribe!!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Meet the face behind Nans Common Sense: An interview with Georgina Kalwak

'A simple liver to me is someone who has mostly forsaken commercialism and lives more true to nature and replaces what they have used.''- Georgina Kalwak 

Georgina and her handsome husband

1. Describe yourself in 5 words
Compassionate, Industrious, Independent, Loyal, Frugal

2 Introduce us to your family
Well, my family is a blended one. Both my parents remarried when my brothers and I were young. This added 2 stepsisters and a stepbrother to the brood. I too now have a son who is 21 and a stepson who is almost 7. Because we have an extended family it brings certain challenges with it. One of those is financial. This is where the skills that both of my grandmothers taught our family comes into fruition. They both raised their families during the Depression. Times were tough and this lead to serious and necessary budgeting. It also made it easy to lay the ground work for the Nan's Common Cents blog and Facebook page. My mother and I both joke that we could squeeze blood from a penny if we had to - and can - due to those skills.

3. What do you see as your priorities? How does that play out in your life?
Again, my mother and I have a saying that we bounce back and force, “You only go around once – this ain’t no dress rehearsal.” I am blessed to have my health, a husband who loves me, a good relationship with my son, a career that has provided many challenges but pays the bills, and (hopefully) a fair share of common sense. Everything else spring boards from there. My priorities are always to help provide for my family, but now that my son is a young adult, there is more time to focus on my next career, which will begin in 2 years when I retire from the military. 

4. September’s challenge is going to focus on simple parenting. Do you have a tip on parenting an adult child? 
My son now being a young adult and him living on his own means most of my daily parenting is over. Our relationship is mostly defined by being more friends and as an on-call advisor, lol. If I look back over the last 20 years, I would have to say that there are some things I would do differently; things I am now trying to establish in our time together, such as being a better listener. Seeing my son as his own adult helps that to happen easier. We all tend to hold those memories of our children when they are younger and it's easy to remain seeing them that way. By seeing them as adults, their abilities and talents are more recognizable and appreciated. I also try to be supportive of his ideas and be that cheerleader that we all need sometimes. My son had a hard time in school growing up, so I guess some of it is trying to make sure he has more positive support as he makes his own way in the world. 

5. We have been considering the power of words in August. Would you like to comment on that? 
I think that there is a lot of both goodness and ugliness in the world and whatever brings, contentment, joy, peace and compassion is what we need more of in our day- to-day lives, especially concerning the words that we speak. I believe we are called to our talents and abilities and that each person should try to follow their heart in what they believe is the best path for them. It takes a lot of courage and strength to do that. In turn, that strength is there for an example for others to do the same in their lives. Words of encouragement are what women especially thrive on. That in and of itself is a powerful force that balances irreverence around us. 

6. Would you call yourself a simple liver? How does your life reflect that? 
A simple liver to me is someone who has mostly forsaken commercialism and lives more true to nature and replaces what they have used. A society such as the Amish defines that for me. Simple living is a personal goal, not so much an adjective. Do I strive for that? Yes, in many ways. Do I always meet that goal? Not nearly as much as I would like - it’s a never-ending pursuit of being mindful. What I’ve learned in my lifetime is to appreciate the blessings given to our family and to be mindful of other cultures and what can be learned from them. 

7. Who inspires you? Perhaps you could share with us who set you off on this path.
Both of my grandmothers, who have both passed now, continue to be my inspiration. They lived simple lives and had so much common sense and wisdom. Their core values will live on because, I now see my son using their wisdom in his life choices. It makes me both proud of him and proud of my family and that we all learned those invaluable skills early on in life. I guess you could call it our family legacy.

8. Do you have some favourite books you could share with us? 
To be honest, most of the books I read these days are simple living, frugal living and entrepreneurial in nature. It's almost become an obsession. Go ahead and ask my husband, lol.

9. What are you reading right now? 
I hate to say it, but as an adult my attention span isn't what it us to be, so I usually start several books at once. Lately, most are on home improvement or self-sustainment, frugal living or on how to be an entrepreneur.

10. What are you passionate about?
My first passion is budgeting. I am a list maker and tend to rework our budget from a variety of ways, always looking for an opportunity to pinch a penny or stretch a dollar. Secondly, I am passionate about bodywork. I retire from the military in 2 years and am starting massage therapy school this year. This will allow a clientele to grow by the end of my time in service. How the body works, especially during recovery from injury, has been a growing interest. Proper body movement and structural alignment is so important to well being.

10. What do you hope for? Dream of? 
This is a tough question to answer. On a smaller scale, I just hope to continue simplifying day-to-day life in any way that seems right for our family. There is a lot of peace in organizing and decluttering. It makes you appreciate what you really have and not just in terms of material possessions. Recently, time has become more important and the drive to not waste that asset is always on my mind. 

11. What can we learn from you? (Or if you prefer – what have you learnt?)
Wow, this is a humbling question. If I could pass one thing along, it would be to appreciate what time we have here on Earth. Life is precious and can be so fleeting, so we should live our lives with passion according to the gifts and talents that we have. God blessed us each with differences that are meant to inspire and uplift each other. To not use them takes away from the blessings for ourselves and others.

12. What is one of your biggest simple living challenges? 
I tend to go to extremes sometimes with our budget. We spend a lot at times, but we also save a lot too. When my husband and I married, we decided to stay out of debt and are now paying off our mortgage. As exciting as it is, it requires some discipline, so it's hard to sometimes balance that all out when you want to go to the stores to shop. That is probably the hardest thing - to NOT make shopping a hobby. It can get you into trouble if you don't have much control. Thank goodness I have a wonderful husband who is kind enough to remind me of our goals when needed.

13. You have a fantastic Facebook page. Would you like to share with us why you started that page and what your intentions are? 
Facebook is supposed to link to my blog and eventually link to the eBook that I'm writing. The topic for all three is just to try and inspire folks to find independence from debt and to have fun along the way. That can happen in many different ways and is a different path for each person. No one way is right or wrong. Facebook and blogging are fantastic ways to meet like-minded people like yourself, Asta. It's exciting to meet people around the world and learn of their ideas and passions. Everyone needs a fan club, right???

14. You are a valuable contributor of The Simply Living Challenge. What appeals to you about the page/ blog? How can we support you? 
The Simply Living Challenge is so inspirational. Just when I kind of think life is figured out a bit (silly, right?), a post will bring a perspective that blows me away. The most striking thing about your blog is the sincerity and genuineness of you and your contributors. Again, your passion for sharing this is humbling and inspires me to be a better writer/blogger.

Lovely words Georgina. Thank you!

15. Anything else you want to share? 
Just that living frugally and simply doesn't have to be hard. Some of the best times we've had was when we had the least money. It gets your creative juices flowing and brings your family closer. If you are trying to get out of debt, be patient with yourself and your situation. Debt doesn't usually happen overnight, so it takes as long to get out from under it. Find someone who inspires you and stick to your goals - you will get there.

I can't thank you enough for being so open and sharing with us, Georgina. Keep fighting the good fight! We love what you have to say. Can't wait to see what you come up with for our The Simply Living Challenge Manual. 

Asta x

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What colour is your version of simple living?

I wish blue was a natural hair colour!
Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue.
 I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too... 

(Did I get the order of colours right?)

I love rainbows and all of their colours. I used to run a grief and loss program called Rainbows when I was a high school chaplain. I loved it for many reasons - and one of those was a very superficial reason - I got to wear my rainbow scarf! 

My house is full of colours. I have 'rescued' crocheted lap blankets on every pre-loved chair and hand knitted covers on my cushions. A friend was going to throw them out, can you believe that? She inherited them with her house. To me they were treasures - to her they were tacky. I have tapestries on the wall - created just for me, by a lovely old lady who is a friend of the family. 

This leads me to the point of this post. As simple livers we come in all different colours, and then within these colours - all different shades. 

Some are homesteaders on large plots of land. Some are vegans. Some kill their own meat. There are people who grow their own but they live on little suburban blocks. Me? Just now I grow only strawberries, native plants (they grow themselves), roses and weeds. I'm really good at growing weeds! I love that others grow their own, and I am learning so much from them. I even get to share in produce from the hard work of some of my friends. 

When we were first married we lived on a large block in the city. We had bees, and chooks (i.e. hens), and ducks and my husband grew our vegies. Now we live in the country on a small block, and we have moved so many times over the years that I just don't seem to be able to get started. 

Some simple livers are minimalists. Not me again... but I do subscribe to the philosophy and strive to hold all things lightly and to only have in my home what I love or can use. I totally agree that clutter - physical or mental - is a burden. 

Some make from scratch. Some brush their teeth with bicarb soda. Some adore upcycling and regifting. Some love old fashioned books - some e-books. 

Some don't own a car. Some only buy local. Some aspire to zero waste homes.

Some use toilet cloths. Shock horror!!! Some even compost human manure! (I love how controversial we can be!)

Some love verge collections and dumpster diving. 

Some think about their impact on the world, and that motivates their choices. They want to share the world's resources. They buy fair trade. They are environmentally conscious. Living simply so that others might simply live. 

Some are frugal - out of necessity, or to give them some level of freedom of choice - often to pursue their dreams, or so they have time to volunteer or to give money away. 

Some have some sort of spirituality that perhaps guides their choices (me) - others do not.

There are op shopping-buy nothing new-fashion fasters... There are so many versions and combinations. It is so exciting. No wonder I love this simple living world so much.

For almost all of us simple living means putting people and values above material possessions. It seems that most of us are trying to work out the difference between our needs and wants. 

At the Simply Living Challenge Facebook page, the other day, I posted something that someone openly disagreed with. We agreed to disagree. It was totally harmonious.  

I was asked for writer's guidelines for the book we are creating together here. Here it is: simple livers are the same but different. Be true to your version of simple living. That is all I ask. There is no right or wrong - just as there is no one right or wrong choice of favourite colour (though I do love my electric blue wig!). 

So go in peace my friends - to celebrate your colour of simple living, and if you feel like you'd like to - please consider sharing your version with us in our manual. (Scroll down to the previous post for more information or leave a comment.) 

Asta x

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Simply Living Community Project - a manual

The sunset from my backyard in Western Australia
Did you love the big, big book swap? The feedback has been great so far, and I can't wait to hear some more. 

It was generous of you. It was an act of kindness this sharing of books from your own shelves. Books are flying all over the place to be read by a complete stranger - who is becoming a friend instead. It is bringing us together as a community. 

I think you are all wonderful! I am so encouraged that so many of you embraced this idea. 

Soooo I have a proposal for you... 

Would you like to be involved in another Simply Living Community project? A MANUAL!!! 

What if we tapped into the rich resource we have at The Simply Living Challenge? If we pooled our ideas on simple living? If Penny shared how to make a crocheted dish cloth, if Ann or Pen taught the practicalities of family cloths ( I know some of you are still not convinced and that is okay - okay?), if Doc shared tips on organic gardening, Catherine on parenting simply, Renee taught us homesteading tips, Georgina shared money saving ideas... if we shared ideas on slowing down, upcycling, the free fashion fast, making from scratch, healthy cheap eating, composting, living well on less, inner simplicity, caring for the world, conscientious  consuming, ... and how living simply helps others to simply live, and anything else we can squeeze in there.

 Hey think of The Tightwad Gazette - couldn't we do something similar to that? 

Would this help us in our day to day living? Could it help others? 

 Do you think a Simply Living Challenge manual could change the world one person at a time? 

Call me idealistic, but I do! 

So what do you think? What would you like to share with the community - with the world? What would you like to learn? You do not need to be an expert - you can be a total beginner. I believe we all have something to share, we just have to open our hearts up big enough to actually do something. 

Message me at The Simply Living Challenge or leave your details here - your email would be best. All comments come to me for moderation, so your contact details are safe with me and I will not publish them. 

Am I crazy to think this might just work? 

Asta x

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rachael Jamieson Newton

Rachael Jamieson Newton

'Instead of deciding all the things that are right and wrong with the world and what everybody else should be doing, the Lord spoke to me about going deeper in the simple things.' - Rachael  

Meet Rachael - a valuable member of The Simply Living Challenge Facebook page community.

Welcome Rachael. It is just lovely to have you here. Let's get straight into it. How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Loyal, Open-minded, Funny, Bossy and Visionary 

Please introduce us to your family.

My husband is Ben - he is a wonderful and interesting man. We've been married for 12 years in September. We have two utterly fabulous children. William, who has just turned 6, is kind and clever and curious and soft-hearted. Scarlett is 3, and is a fascinating little person. Determined yet soft, savvy, hilarious and strong. I see both Ben and I in both of them. I'm also one of 5 daughters (the second eldest, like Elizabeth Bennett!) and I've married into a wonderful extended family.

What do you see as your priorities? How does that play out in your life?

I definitely feel grounded in my conviction that my life is a gift from God, and that His purposes should be mine. I've always felt tension by having both an incredible maternal desire and a sense of calling and ambition about my career (teaching, and educational leadership). I have no desire to combine these as a home-schooler, so God has very kindly given me great peace about the seasons in life! Right now, my focus is on raising our children. I don't want this time of having young children to be spent wishing I could be somewhere else. I want to see this "simply" - to be present, to deal with the things that come up today, to teach them as they ask specific questions, to use moments in time like tiny building blocks. Some part-time teaching (and an inspired list of ideas to do when I have my own class again someday) keep my priorities clear. Over the last few years God has really taught me that when I am faithful with what's in my hands, He provides great opportunities to serve Him. It's been an exciting, and simplifying mindset!

Would you call yourself a simple liver? How does your life reflect that?

I would call myself a "dabbler," someone still very much learning about Simple Living. The idea appeals very much to my husband, who is naturally frugal and not at all materialistic. It's harder for me. I have a strong conviction of stewardship over the environment as a Christian (it staggers me that for many Christians this seems like a foreign idea), and I am being challenged very much about the notion of things I "need". Ben and I are very mindful of the message that having loads of "stuff" sends to our children. We have a veggie garden, and we're looking for our next home with top priorities being room for vegies, an orchard and chooks (though I confess hens terrify me.) I've found myself making small changes and there's a new voice in the back of my head which says "Do you really need that?"

I have that same voice speaking to me Rachael. It is all too easy to get needs and wants confused. 

Who inspires you? Perhaps you could share with us who set you off on this path.

This path started spiritually for me. I have been dwelling very much on the notion that Christians spend a lot of wasted head space bothering ourselves with doctrine and theology I refer to as "God's Business". Instead of deciding all the things that are right and wrong with the world and what everybody else should be doing, the Lord spoke to me about going deeper in the simple things. At the moment I'm meditating on "Love Thy Neighbour". If I spend a lifetime getting that entrenched in my heart, I think I will be a "good and faithful servant". So that spiritual walk has of course affected the natural, and so I am challenged to see that outworked. 

This on-line community is inspiring (though family toilet towels will NEVER be a part of my life - we'll stick to recycled paper). I recently made a jewellery hangers from an array of sticks I found, instead of buying the pretty French-inspired manaquin I wanted. Ben is very proud of that, although worried he'll lose an eye on the way to the loo in the middle of the night. I've also started shopping at a farm shop in our area, with local fruits and vegetables. I've also ventured more into op shops, not writing them off as comical places to find costumes for 70's parties (I saw some great stuff last time). Small steps.....

That's wise Rachael. I have the feeling that if we start with small steps whatever we do is more likely to be sustainable. 
Would you say you have a tribe who support you in your choice of life style? Who are they?

My closest friends would definitely share in some of these ideals and support all I do. My church community may think I'm slightly mild or left-of-centre (most would support some version of prosperity doctrine), but I'm sure others would share some of these ideas. I've always wanted a patchwork experience of Christianity - a broad blanket which connects with all kinds of believers who live a life for Christ the best way they know how. My husband and I very deliberately want this for our children too. This online community is an important patch on that quilt.

Oh I like that!

August's challenge is speech/ words. Last week I touched on honesty. Could you comment on the saying ‘Honesty is the best policy’?

Surely the opposite of simple is complicated. Being honest usually simplifies things. We all know how we can end in a tangled and complicated mess when lies are told. Having said that, "Honesty is the best policy" doesn't mean saying whatever is in your head, true or not. Surely the best policy is to love your neighbour as yourself - I would want the truth told to me when it will help or enlighten or challenge me, and I would want people to quietly say nothing and love me anyway when their "honest" view would cause me hurt or harm.

Do you have some favourite books you could share with us? 

Favourite books of all-time are the Anne of Green Gables series. I have read the whole series every year since I was about 13. They have changed my life. I generally prefer fiction and some favourites are the Diana Gabaldon books, "The God of Small Things", anything by Jodi Picoult, "The Eagle and the Raven" and "The Long Ships" (thanks Dad for those) and a good splash of classics.  

What are you reading right now?

Anne of Avonlea (my run started late this year) and a fascinating novel called "Day for Night" by Frederick Reiken. I've also read "Jac of Hearts", a novel for young people that a teacher friend of mine wrote. I'm also stuck in 1 Corinthians 13 - going deep in the 'love' chapter.

What are you passionate about?

My family - I think of my children and my heart skips a beat. My friends. Traveling - I combined Italy and my best friend earlier this year and it was food for the soul (and belly). I am absolutely passionate about children - seeing them learn and develop a life-long love of learning, and find their own personal walk with God. All things education. Art. Living my life with an undoubted sense of purpose. Seeing others find this too.

What do you hope for? Dream of?

I hope that my children walk with God. I hope that the children I teach do this too. I hope that my mother finds peace in her life, and my sisters too. I dream of children growing up (especially mine) and telling me that I helped them find God and to walk a purposeful path in life. I hope that in all the busyness of life (which I like) I truly do learn to go deeper in the simple things, and live a life that gives rather than takes away from others. 

What can we learn from you? (or if you prefer – what have you learnt?)

Apart from some handy literacy tips? How to tackle long multiplication? As far as Simply Living goes, I am an absolute beginner. I guess across my lifetime though, I've learned through many (often difficult times) to be content. Surely that's at the heart of Simply Living. 

Yes Rachael, I think you have touched on something important there. 
What is one of your biggest simple living challenges?

Retrieving eggs from hens will be a biggy! Also changing entrenched ideas about "needs and wants". 

You are a valuable contributor on The Simply Living Challenge. What appeals to you about the page? How can we support you?

It is so encouraging to see and hear how people live. How people have taken on a sense of conviction, and are faithfully going about living out that conviction in their own day to day lives. I love the focus each month. In small ways, sometimes just in my spirit and my head, I am challenged and changing. Thank you for that. 

Anything else you want to share?

Just again - thank you. Oh, and tips on keeping chooks without having to go near them much? 

Okay Community - any ideas on the hen problem?

 Thanks Rachael for taking the time to do the interview and for sharing something about your version of simple living. Personally I am going to spend some time today thinking about what you had to say about 'needs'. - Asta x

As always comments are encouraged. I just love to see the conversation continue. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Free lunches - is there such a thing?

by Jon Sullivan (public domain)

A real free lunch
Can we truly get something for nothing? I read a fabulous post about paying forward free lunches. It goes like this - you are given something for free (and yes this is truly free with no strings attached, and no one is harmed). Perhaps your coffee was paid for and then, if you want to, you pay that kindness forward and be the source of a 'free lunch' for someone else.

Pay it forward
Really that's what happened when we were given our 'God Car'. My friend inherited money. She bought a new car, something she previously couldn't afford. Because she considered that a gift - a 'free lunch'- she paid it forward by giving away her older, but very reliable, car to us. You can't help but want to do something for someone else when you have been treated with such kindness. If you haven't already seen the wonderful movie 'Pay it Forward' you really should. I can't recommend it highly enough. It changes you.  

The Cost of free lunches
And so today at breakfast I was reading Raj Patel's 'The Value of Nothing' and wow did he challenge me. He challenged me to speak out again about the other side of free lunches. They may be free to the person who is receiving them, but there could be a hidden cost involved, or it could come at a cost to someone else.

 I know these things he has written about. I have signed petitions about conflict minerals and sponsored a widow in the Congo. I've written letters to a company who makes infant formula and even banned their products from our home for a time (but always weakened). Do you know about them?

Patel tells us that he was given a free handset from his phone company. He says to make his phone minerals are extracted from 'bloody conflict in the Congo, where 70 percent of the world's reserves of coltan are found....In patrolling access to these resources, military units in the Congo have raped, tortured, enslaved and killed. Women struggling to bring up children in the Congo have a life expectancy of forty seven years, continue to suffer through the world's worst rape epidemic...'  (Page 54) It is said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the worst place in the world for a woman to live.

And do you know about formula milk? Breast milk is gloriously free ( a free lunch - literally - with no strings attached) but there are companies who give out free samples of infant formula (and misinformation) to women in developing countries. I have heard that hospitals are often given humidicribs and other essential equipment - a so called free lunch. Once the baby no longer feeds from a lactating mother her breast milk dries out and her only source of milk for her baby is then the formula milk. Babies get very sick, millions die,  because mothers can't afford the milk and/ or the water it is mixed with is unclean.

Patel says,'The baby-milk case is an extreme version of a wider phenomenon - that "free" can be a way of press-ganging us into behaviour that we wouldn't otherwise choose had we been confronted with the full costs before we chose to pay nothing. Free becomes all the more seductive when our budgets are tight...' (Page 59)

So some free lunches can come at a price. What price are you willing to pay? 

Asta x

 Raj Patel's book -
Pay it Forward trailer -

(Sorry I don't know how to do hyperlinks yet. If you can help me leave a comment. )

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Afternoon tea with simple liver Renee Mellor.

Renee Mellor

"What can you learn from me? That you can do more than you ever thought possible. I never thought I would be milking a goat, or canning tomatoes, or starting 600 vegetable plants from seed, but I did all of those things this year. Open your mind to the possibilities and see what happens."- Renee Mellor

With us today is Renee, who has the loveliest smile - wouldn't you agree? She smiles with her eyes. She has been part of the Simple Living Challenge community now for quite some time and her contributions and encouragements have obviously not escaped my notice. Thank you Renee. So let the conversation begin...

How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Hmm, this is hard because I try not to label myself too much, but I'll try. I'm passionate, stubborn, messy, complicated, and determined.

5 words that others might use? This one's easy. Loving, stubborn, bossy, opinionated, and fun.

We'd love to meet your family. Please introduce them to us. I've been married to my amazing husband for 15 years now, he's a great husband and an even better father. I have an 11-year-old son, Gabriel, who is moderately autistic. He has challenged me to be more patient and worry less about what people think. I have twins that will be 10 next week. Ian is mildly autistic and he's an amazingly smart and literal kid. He's taught me that it's important to do what you say you're going to do, when you say you're going to do it. Aislyn is a beautiful, smart, happy girl, who has a huge joy for life and finds such joy in the simple things in life. Lily, my baby, just turned 4 and is in that stage where she wants to do exactly what Mommy does. Nothing makes her happier than picking tomatoes in the garden or collecting eggs from the hens. 

What would you say are your priorities in life? To raise, healthy, happy, well-adjusted kids who know that people are more important than things, and that easy isn't always best. Some of the most important things in life take hard work. They have to do chores, they have to help with the animals and the garden, they have to be respectful and polite whenever possible. I'm teaching them right from wrong, in a society that doesn't seem to care anymore about right and wrong. I hope I'm teaching them to question things and not believe everything that society tells them is important. I want them to thrive, no matter what they choose to do.

What does Daily Bread mean to you, if anything?  Even as a Pagan I understand that this means so much more than food to eat. I'd say, for me, it's having the things we need. That's NEED, not want. I'm getting better every day at figuring out the difference. We need good food, clean air, clean water, and the company of the people we love. I'm lucky to have everything I need right now.

 How does your life reflect your simple living philosophy?  I think a big part of simple living is to separate ourselves from the "consumer" mindset. Having more things doesn't make you happier, it just makes you in debt and surrounded by a bunch of stuff that you could easily do without. It doesn't matter if your neighbour has a bigger house, a newer car, nicer clothes. 
 Also, I think that it's important to be as self-reliant as possible. We raise rabbits and ducks for meat, we have a flock of laying hens and a couple of dairy goats. We've got a big garden and we're putting in fruit trees as the budget allows. All of these things allow us (or will in the future) to stop spending so much money, which will allow my husband to work less.

Who inspires you? My grandpa, who plants his garden every year. My grandma, who recycles and composts and makes the most amazing soups out of leftovers. My mom, who lost everything she owned in a fire last year and rebuilt, and got on with the business of living. My husband, who supports me, no matter what crazy idea I come up with. My children, who need me to be a good example.

 What are your favourite books?I'm just assuming you are a reader... Oh, this is really hard, as reading has always been one of my favourite ways to escape stress. For informational purposes, I love Back to Basics, The Foxfire Book, and Mini-Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre. For pure entertainment almost any book will do but my favourites are the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon, the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, by J.R. Ward, and the In Death series by J.D. Robb. I like a series because they let get deeper into the characters than a stand-alone book would.

So what is on your bedside table at the moment? An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton, and Building Green by Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan. Yes, I'm one of those crazy people who have multiple books going at once.

That is me too Renee. I have trouble getting in and out of bed because I have to navigate my way around my big pile! 

What are your biggest passions? My husband, my children, my family. I'm also passionate about real food, growing it, cooking it, eating it, and making people understand that it's vitally important to know what you're eating and how it's going to affect you in the future.

Your hopes and dreams? I hope my children grow up to be exceptional people. I see their potential and I'm so excited to see who and what they will become. 
 I dream of, one day, being able to produce all of our own food here on our dream property.
 I hope I see the day that society realizes that it's not important what you have, it's important WHO you are.

What can we learn from you? What can you learn from me? That you can do more than you ever thought possible. I never thought I would be milking a goat, or canning tomatoes, or starting 600 vegetable plants from seed, but I did all of those things this year. Open your mind to the possibilities and see what happens.

That is a big encouragement to me Renee - I am a simple liver without a productive garden and I would love to do more in that area. Sometimes it just seems beyond me. 

What would you say your biggest challenge is?  My biggest challenge right now is letting go of my negativity. I so often feel like I'm the only one who sees how out of whack the world is. I need to remember that there are others who understand and are doing something to change things.

You are not alone!  I suspect this might be why you like The Simply Living Challenge, Renee - and the simple living community in general. Am I right? Yes! It connects me with like-minded people. We may not agree on everything, but we agree that change needs to happen and we're all working on it in our own way. It's so refreshing to talk to people who care about more than the latest TV show, or the hottest new trend, or the latest celebrity scandal. I get so many great ideas from so many people in so many places. 

How can we support you? Listen, share ideas, plant a garden, be the change you want to see in the world and it will be a better place for everyone.

What a beautiful way to end the interview. Thank you Renee. You have been such a source of ideas and encouragement. So true of you! 

Renee has a blog -
As always I encourage you to leave comments and to keep the conversation going. And if you haven't subscribed to the blog you might like to. One of my hopes and desires is to see a vibrant simple living community grow here in blogger land.  

Peace and all good my friends,

Asta x