red :: white :: blue

the view

Here’s a simple quilt.  Red, white and blue.  One single motif in the middle.  Inspired by the individual bolts of fabric, found at Darn Cheap.

Sewn up super quick.  Then stuck on my quilting sewing machine for many many many weeks.  Progress was so slow.  Not helped by a whole bobbin’s worth of quilting that had to be unpicked because of dodgy bobbin tension.

Not helped by starting my new nursing rotation.

Overshadowed by all the fun I am having with my mosaic.

Finally finished whilst staggering through the worst flu-thing I’ve had in 8 years.  As I sat sneezing on the first day of sickness, I wodged a tissue up my nostrils and sat down to just FINISH the bloody thing.  Then lay on the sofa, whining and coughing and sneezing, quilt draped over me, to sew down the binding.  Then read and slept under it for the rest of the week, intermittently panicking over the five shifts of work I missed, and melodramatically wondering whether I would ever feel normal again.
from the side

Good to know, though, that this bit of sewing works well as a warm and comforting quilt.  Can’t have too many quilts, right?

pattern

safety pins

starting

It’s the first quilt I’ve started since Grandad’s death.  The first quilt I’ve ever made that I haven’t sent him a photo of so that he could see what I was up to.  Grandad loved that I quilted, but still offered objective criticism.  He’d tell me which colours he thought worked really well and which were not pulling their weight.  Which techniques he thought showed I’d really put some time into the quilt, and which he thought were obviously a quick fabric fix.  And if I suggested any doubt, he’d always remind me of the value of pulling things apart to start again if the end result truly wasn’t right.  But also of not seeking perfection – a vanity he thought stymied both the creative process and the joy to be found in making.

Grandad also loved that I quilted onto vintage, thrifted blankets.  Like many of his generation, he was disappointed in the loss of Australian manufacturing, especially the wool industry and its accompanying small rural mills.  And he could never understand how someone could prefer a doona over a well made, nicely checked Australian pure wool blanket.

He also loved a good display of thrift – there’s not much that’s thrifty about our modern day patchwork and quilting – we flock to designer fabric labels and gobble up glorious, high quality cotttons that we carefully cut and piece to make something beautiful.  And yes, it’s undoubtedly useful, but Grandad loved to ponder that earlier purpose of patchwork – the gathering of small scraps from clothing which were saved, then carefully curated to make warm bed coverings for families.  He loved that I eschewed expensive battings and backing fabrics and just whacked my quilt tops on blankets rescued from the opshops.
from the back

finished quilt

lovely smooth texture

squiggly

binding

But whilst he may not have seen this quilt, I was able to include some fabric I know he loved – the binding.  It’s from the fabric I used to sew his little black wallaby – the one he is buried with.  And as we were driving up to Wombat Hill on Friday afternoon, the car packed to the roof with bits and bobs for the cottage – quilts, crockery, lamps, the Lotte sideboard – we were almost at Mum’s, there was only a skerrick of light left, and there, standing on the side of the road on one of the last sharp bends between Eden and Pambula, was a beautiful little black wallaby.

You often see kangaroos by the road – in the late afternoon there are often dozens gathered on grassy verges and in parks – but not wallabies.  They are shy little, solitary things, and much prefer to stay nestled back in the bush.  This little wallaby stood alone on the bend, just watching us speed on by.

loop

It was a sign :-)on tree

Dear old Grandad mightn’t be sitting up in his armchair in Queensland, on the other end of the phone, listening to all of our exploits, but oh, he is with us every step of the way.

Every plan we make, fence we strain, trailer load of supplies we buy and unload, fruit tree we plant, vegetable garden we till, compost pile we nurture, chook run we build, animal we feed, Grandad has already laboured over the same, and is loving that we are now continuing on with a way of life he thought was marvellous.

It’s a good feeling.

lilly pilly jelly

with the basket

The previous owner of our wee farm was a big tree planter!  He and his dad (an arborist) planted a grove of walnut trees (which were burnt down shortly after by a neighbour’s out of control grass fire!), a grove of native hardwoods which cover the hillside in front of the cottage, and a superb windbreak that encircles the cottage and its garden.

too high up

They planted the windbreak with natives so as to encourage the local birdlife – immensely successful! – and in one of the top corners is a cluster of lilly pillies.  This tree belongs to the myrtle family, grows very tall, has vibrant, waxy green leaves, and produces thousands of little pinky red berries which the local wildlife love.

Like most Australians, I have grown up with lilly pillies and yet have been woefully ignorant about the edibility of their berries!  It wasn’t until this year, whilst watching Tilba River Cottage, that I realised how delightfully useful they could be!  Cordials!  Champagne! Ice cream!  Jams!  And such a pretty pink :-)

D72_0547

So my first harvest at Wombat Hill Farm – lilly pilly berries.  Collected with dear little friends that came over to help celebrate our first weekend at the farm.  In a rope basket of course!  Unfortunately most of the berries were so high up we had no hope of gathering them.  But enough were picked for one little jar of home grown goodness …

liquour

I followed the recipe and instructions from the Forster State School in New South Wales – which just so happens to be around the corner from where my grandparents lived by the sea in the Manning Valley – meant to be I say :-)

lemons

Added the juice from one of Mum’s lemons …

jam pot

Honestly, I’ve never had jam set like it!  I don’t know whether Mum’s lemons are especially high in pectin – or perhaps lilly pillies are?

set

But it was obvious this lilly pilly jam – jelly! – was not going to be dolloped.  By the time it had cooled in the jar, it could be sliced like quince paste and possessed such an intense flavour that it was best served in small amounts.

on bread

In fact, our lilly pilly jelly tastes brilliant with Erica’s divine 3 year vintage cheddar cheese from South Coast Cheese at Tilba – they were made for each other.  Perfect!

the solitary jar

So now, I reckon we need to plant more lilly pillies – luckily, they are very fast growing – and work out how to gather all those up high berries so as not to waste them.  Unlike Paul from Tilba River Cottage, I will NOT be climbing our lilly pillies with ropes and safety gear and shaking the berries down into waiting sheets.

But I do want many many more jars of this lovely stuff, that’s for sure!

 

a whale of a time! *

D72_0640

During these wintery days in Melbourne, squeezing in a couple of hours before and after my nursing shifts at Merryl’s workshop is the highlight of my days.  I utterly adore it!

starting the hair

Last week, I got stuck into the girl in the window’s fair isle jumper – still have a way to go – the bottom row needs finishing and then there’s the shoulders to work in the same pattern and a pair of plain sleeves.  Then it was onto her hair – braids and black velvet bows and all.  I use the glue (you can see it above) to create the lines I want – it’s very forgiving.

shapely head

I’m pleased with how the hair turned out – looks perfectly hairy.  But those bows took some work.  Oh I cut and tried and cut and tried and cut and tried before I was satisfied they bore even the slightest resemblance to bows.  Oy!  They were the trickiest thing I’ve done yet.

finished plaits

velvet bow

This week, it was back to the whale and her sea.  First I laid out her spout of water using little pearlescent tiles I cut into fours and then set on point … that was super quick and satisfying.

about to become spouting water

Then I added the sea’s horizon – which of course begged for the building and rigging of my sailing ship! Such a simple layout but I do think it’s very sweet – it nestles into that wavy horizon just right.

don't want to stop

Oh and I added my soaring birds – Cape Petrels – they must be a lazy, sun loving flock who haven’t yet headed back to the Antarctic for spring breeding :-)  It was funny – because they are rather scatty looking things, I kept absent mindedly trying to brush them off my board … and would then remember, no! no! they’re birds! they’re meant to be there!

spouty

pink tiles

a scattering of tiles

Today, there were many things I COULD have worked on.  I could have finished the fair isle jumper, or the grassy hill, or the lighthouse light, or the whale’s wave, or the sea … nah!  I really longed to make that sun rise … so I did :-)

looking towards window

… and started adding a few curves to the sky … it was bliss.

with glue

spout

I just love how the little sailing ship wound up heading straight for the sun rise, tucked into the dip of the wave and the rise of the sky.  Captain Jack would no doubt approve and I dare say Maturin would enjoy the birds swooping and diving.

so glossy

Still so many wee tiles to cut and place – hours and hours worth – but now all the elements swirling in my imagination are now firmly glued down.

I was on such a high when I arrived home, Abby suggested I start up a drop in mosaic workshop next year in Bega!  Maybe I will :-)

* you’ll have to excuse such an obvious pun
– it’s my Bob Belcher side coming out :-)

 

Wombat Hill Farm

view with dam

:: north to Tilba ::

Well folks, after many many years of dreaming, planning, studying, working, saving …. and lots and lots of looking …. we have finally bought our first home.  It’s a 42 acre farm in Brogo – a lush farming community in the Bega Valley, Far South New South Wales.  A small farm by Australian standards but to us beginners, an enormous amount of land!

view with mountain

To our north are rolling hills and pastures looking up towards Cobargo, then Tilba.  To our west, I suppose it’s the Great Dividing Range – the mountains that lead up to the plains of the Monaro and Canberra.  To the east (above) is Mumbulla Mountain, a sacred place of the local Yuin people, and just over that, the beautiful Pacific ocean.  Behind us, to the south, is Bega – a really sweet little country town where I hope to work in the newly built Bega Hospital.

lavender

We first looked at this property last Christmas.  Oh it’s a funny story :-)  All our nights were spent looking at properties on line, in the morning we’d check in with the real estate agent, then plot our list of places to visit and spend the day driving round and round and round the Bega Valley.  It wasn’t long before we were running out of suitable places to look  … and the more we looked, the longer grew our list of requirements!

We wanted to be no more than 30 minutes from Bega – no point seeking a more environmentally friendly life if I was going to spend my working days guzzling petrol.  We wanted to be off the highway, but not miles along a dodgy dirt road that would be a pain to navigate in bad weather or after a late shift at the hospital.

We wanted more than 15 acres of land, but not more than 50.  We wanted established trees, but not ones individually covered by council protection orders.  We wanted good access to water, but not on a creek or river because that would seriously restrict any future dam building.

We didn’t want to have to cross an easement to get to our land, and after meeting one potential neighbour, we weren’t that keen on others crossing our land!  We didn’t want to be in a gully that would be soggy or flood.  But we didn’t want to be perched on a rocky ridge.  And we wanted good soil.

Oh and we wanted to be north facing with a lovely eastern aspect as well.

Demanding huh!

rosemary

daisies

We first looked at this lovely property over the summer holidays – I even wrote about it at the time :-)  The real estate agent had sent us off to look at 100 or so acres on a short stretch of road off the Princes Highway.  He gave us the lot number and directions and off we went – hopeful that it might be a good one.  We found the road easily enough and just off the highway was the usual gathering of letterboxes and sure enough there was a letterbox for Lot 3 – with the street number listed as well.  Excellent!

The road wasn’t too bad – dirt, but reasonably graded.  There were neighbours all along – not close together by any means, but several other small farms with lovely trees, dams and plenty of horses and ponies – there was even an echidna toddling along the verge.  It was looking good.  When we arrived at Lot 3 – well, it took our breath away.  There were 2 huge sheds, a cottage with a beautiful garden and fencing, two huge water tanks, a cattle race, fruit trees – and lovely undulating land stretching north before us.  I was hopping from one foot to the other with excitement.

Now the fact that the for sale sign belonged to a different agent didn’t seem to matter – we just expected our agent had only recently picked it up.  And there was a local couple there who had come to check on their horse – which was on agistment – the owner of the property, their friend, was in Melbourne for Christmas.  They were friendly and perfectly happy for us to look over the land.  Julian and I bounded off.  Abby and Sacha were a bit more hesitant and reported to us later they heard the couple say to each other “Do you think these people are on the right block?” “Nah!”

fu

It was amazing.  And even more extraordinary – it was within our small budget.

We spent a good hour walking around.  There was work to be done for sure – lots of fencing and the pastures needed a lot of work, but there were plenty of trees – some of them truly majestic – and two dams, one of which was fed by a natural spring.  The cottage was a bit funky but perfectly neat and serviceable with a fabulous porch draped with a lush and fruiting grape vine, looking straight up the valley to Tilba.  I was practically hyperventilating by the time we gathered the kids and got back to the car.

I wanted to go straight back to the agent and say “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!  We’ll take it!” and slap down the deposit.  But we’d promised the kids lunch at Bermagui first.  And Julian didn’t want to appear eager.

What ?!?!?  It was perfect!!!!  Of course we were eager!!!!

cleaning out my gumboots

:: de-redbacking my gumboots ::

lots of firewood

By the time we got back to Bega we’d decided there was no point trying to bargain the price down – it was a huge bargain already!  We plonked down at the agent’s desk, me oblivious to Julian’s instructions to be calm.

“What did you think?” he asked.  “Yeah, it’s got potential,” Julian replied cautiously.

“It’s fabulous!” I squealed “You didn’t tell us about the sheds, or water tanks, or cottage!”

The agent look puzzled.  “What cottage?”

“The little green cottage with the porch and grapes and fence and lovely garden!” I was so enthusiastic.

The agent stared at us for a moment – then began to laugh.  “No, no, no!  That’s not the property I sent you to – that’s the other side of the road, belongs to a different agent and is half the land and twice the price!”

It was a deflating moment.  But kind of funny too.  Honestly – we laughed about it for the rest of the holiday.

lots of bracken

:: lots of bracken – we need weed munchers – a.k.a goats! ::

dragging his spoils

But the property he’d sent us to – it was pretty grim and ticked no boxes.  So back to searching.  We finally found one that was not quite what we were after, but very beautiful and put in an offer that we pursued until Easter.  However, after extensive consultation, it was obvious we were never going to be allowed to build on it thanks to the Bega Valley’s very restrictive new shire plan.  So on Good Friday we had to admit defeat and go back to the list we’d gathered at Christmas.

There was nothing new to look at and we revisited all the old ones.  Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Then Julian suggested, why didn’t we go back and check out the lovely one we’d gone to by mistake.  Nah, I said, too much money.  But he pointed out our options were exceptionally limited now, thanks to the new Shire plan, and we were eligible for a lower deposit on this one because it had a dwelling and power.

We contacted the RIGHT agent and back we went.  It was as fabulous as we remembered.

pastures

the deam

:: the spring fed dam ::

The views were beautiful.  It was north facing.  The soil was rich, black, wormy and friable.  There were excellent water resources.  The owner had planted a lovely grove of hardwood.  It was less then a kilometre off the highway.  Only 20 minutes to the Bega hospital.  Under 50 acres.  And plenty of wildlife – frogs in the natural spring, wombat burrows everywhere, exquisite bird life and kangaroos bursting out of every grove of trees.

crappy fencing

:: part of our hardwood grove ::

our tree

:: my favourite tree ::

We put in an offer.  Two hours later, the deal was sealed and our deposit was down.

This little farm was just meant to be :-)

wombat burrow

:: one of many wombat burrows ::

boulder

:: our land is covered in these rocks – very typical in the Bega Valley
– Julian wants to build stone walls with them ::

mum describing her hard work

:: whilst we went walking – to gather star pickets
– mum gave us our housewarming present –
she gleefully chopped down some really unatttractive plants
that had gone bonkers beside the house ::

first meal

:: our first meal – potato and leek soup, Honour bread with Bega butter, and chocolate guinness cake :: 

So after so many years of dreaming and planning, on Thursday at 3:30, Julian, Abby and Fu picked me up outside the hospital, car and trailer tightly packed, and we made the long drive east to Mum’s.  The next morning, bright and early on a glorious day, Julian and I met with the owner.  We had a lovely long chat about his plans and ours.  He filled us in on our neighbours, gave us tips on the equipment he was leaving.  Keys were exchanged.  Off he drove.

There we stood.  On this beautiful piece of land.  We’d done it.

Oh there is so much to look forward to, so much to create, so much work, so much love.

After 24 years together, we’ve finally bought our first home … Wombat Hill Farm …