Saturday was not the day I expected. Abby unexpectedly visited the city with her friend. Julian unexpectedly spent all day asleep. Frankly, I was at a bit of a loss. There was so much that could be done – a kitchen table to clear of wool, the last of the Christmas decorations to put away (I hate leaving the Christmas decorations up so long but they longer they stay up, the harder they seem to be to take down – add to that the disadvantage of being away for 4 weeks of January). Then there’s always chores.
However, taking a cool drink and my crochet out to the back garden to wile away a hot day whilst the doggies contentedly snuffled around seemed a much better idea. I gathered all the things I would need – and realised using a tray would make it much easier to carry everything outside. Fetched the tray – then decided what it needed was a nice cloth – thought about a tea towel folded in half and then thought – no! I’ll make it a wee quilt using these pretties that surfaced last week. Fabrics I’ve had forever. Favourites that have danced through many of my quilts over the years. It wouldn’t take long … and having a quilted tea tray cloth would make my solo afternoon in the garden ever so much nicer.
So I did …
:: the perfect summery colours for my blue tray
:: starting in the middle of a wee piece of thrifted blanket
:: scribbly wibbly quilting, how I love you
:: looks so pretty I almost wanted to leave it untrimmed
:: the fit’s just right
:: jolly binding
:: don’t you love quilting from the back? – I do
:: with a spare chair should a family member appear
:: happy doggles
It was such bliss, that when eventually the family appeared, we all stayed out there under the tree until after 8pm. Just how a summer’s Saturday should be spent.
Some things never change. When the sky is radiant blue, the sun is beating down, and the mercury climbing, I immediately think of the beach. Surely the result of a childhood spent in damp, soggy bathers, my hair crusty with salt, sand between my toes, and my freckled skin sticky with sunscreen.
And so this morning, with today’s top expected to be 42 celsius AGAIN, I convinced the family that the only sensible thing to do was head to the beach. With towels and bathers packed, the beach umbrella tucked under my arm, Abby carting the bag full of snorkels and masks, and books and hats squished into the corners of the beach basket, we skittled out of the house whilst it was still a cool 25.
Today’s destination – Birdrock Beach, with its 169 steps steeply marching this way and that down a very steep cliff ensuring there won’t be a crowd :-) It didn’t disappoint – we were greeted with a cool breeze, sparkling water, the pick of the spots under a broad, almost toppling tree, and colours so lush and perfect it was as if they had been painted on especially.
Immediately I swam out – it is only waist deep for such a long way – and floated; the cool, salty, sparkly water holding my body in the way that only the ocean can. Pretty scraps of seaweed floated by, a school of chubby, stripey fish swam round and round below me, brilliant white gulls swooped back and forth across the sky, and the sounds of excited children and chatter of relieved-to-be-out-of-the-heat parents bounced off the small waves.
As I floated I thought about the beach – about the notion of my beach, my magic beach – and what makes that beach so. And decided that Birdrock Beach would probably never be my beach, my magic beach. Not because it isn’t lovely – it is. No, it’s not the location, nor the curve of the bay that makes it my magic beach. Nor the quality of the sand, nor the nature of the waves. It’s not what treasures you find there, or what sits back beyond the beach.
It’s that part of a beach that stays with me when I leave, that makes it my beach, my magic beach. That beach becomes part of my story, part of my heart, part of how I fit into the years I have spent circling this sun and the family I have around me. It’s that part of a beach that when I return years and years later, I recognise myself as still there – I can feel my joy, my laughter, my experiences in the air around me, in the water as it holds me.
When I reached the sand at The Pass, at the far end of Byron Bay, two weeks ago with Mum, the tide was way out and the paisley patterned sky was heavy with a brewing storm. But there were still plenty of people about – families making the most of the last sun-kissed evenings of the school holidays, surfers bobbing out amongst the waves, people walking gently, slowly along the glistening sands. It was magic. All those years of swimming and playing here as a child filled my heart and my senses. All those years of bringing my Abby here when she was small. All the sandcastles we built, the waves we raced in to shore, the mermaids we sculpted and decorated, the shells we collected, the daydreams we had about what adventures waited for us at Julian’s Rocks if only we could get there. I felt a love-filled and familiar ache in my heart and I knew it was my beach, my magic beach.
Earlier that day, I had experienced a similar rush of sweetness at Crowdy Head – a beach further south, down the road from the small fishing village my grandparents lived in when I was little. It is such a modest spot compared to Byron. A small, quiet surf lifesaving clubhouse, an almost defunct fishermen’s co-op, maybe fifty ordinary homes nestled into the gentle hills behind me. But once I picked my way gingerly across the heavily pebbled foreshore and stood at the water’s edge, Crowdy’s gentle, glittering waves rushing in to wet my skirt’s hem, tears filled my eyes and I felt an incredible sense of coming home, of belonging here, of it too being part of my heart – something I never would have expected. It too was my beach, my magic beach.
As for Merimbula, each time we visit, our plans for moving there become ever more concrete and detailed and I know that her beaches are my magic beaches too. When Julian and I stroll along that majestic main beach in the cool, soft purple light of the late afternoon, the dogs bouncing at our heels, sharing our plans and hopes for the future, I know that I am where I want to be and I feel such a sense of contentment. When we hit quirky little Bar Beach- be it to slip down for an early morning snorkel, a visit in the middle of the day with the family (and all the other families!), or to sit with our supper looking out across the ocean and mountains, whilst the sun turns everything in its path to a glittery gold – I feel an incredible sense of warmth, knowing that this will be my beach, my magic beach, one that I will visit and love for the rest of my life.
Which brings me back here to Birdrock. As you probably know, I’m not a fan of Melbourne. I don’t like living here in Victoria. I feel so very far away from everything I know, everything I’m related to, so many things that I love, and four years has not made it any easier. In fact, sometimes it feels overwhelmingly awful and I cry. For four years I have griped about the beaches (they’re mostly yuk with appalling water quality), the weather, the football, the government, the public transport, the roads, the neighbours, the police, the rules, the utility companies, the education system, the health system … give me a chance and I can find fault with almost every part of this state. But this is not a good way to live – for me or my family.
So in this year of 2014, with just two more years to go before Abby finishes school (I must add here that Abby’s school is FANTASTIC – I am constantly impressed by what they share with my girl and how they care for her) and we move to Merimbula and the beautiful Bega Valley, I am going to put a lot more effort into embracing.
That’s my word for the year – next year’s too probably. Embrace. Not everything will be perfect. Not everything will go according to plan. I won’t feel that nourishing sense of belonging. Birdrock Beach will never be my magic beach. And I will never understand Victoria’s obsession with football. But I will work harder to embrace what is put before me.
I will embrace the eight weeks of placement that are looming – not just an amazing opportunity to learn, but the final step I need to take before becoming a Registered Nurse. I will embrace the dark mornings that have already arrived – they are a chance to catch my breath before the day steamrolls ahead with a lovely cup of tea in hand and my husband by my side. I will embrace Abby’s very own version of blossoming – it is such a wonderful thing to watch and share. I will embrace Julian’s tireless efforts at work – hopefully it will all pay off. I will embrace the prospect of working (almost) full time come August – all those extra pennies will go towards building our home. I will embrace the cold and grey when it arrives – it’s simply a marvellous opportunity to cosy up with Abby and stitch more quilts and knit more woollies. I will embrace the responsibilities and talents I have and put them to good use.
Today, I embraced the glorious day we were given. I embraced the hot weather with its beating sun, reminding myself of how much I will miss it in just a few short months. I embraced Birdrock Beach with it refreshing, beautiful water and richly glowing rocks. I embraced the chance to escape, with my family, from the everyday and make it something special.
Magic is wonderful and I know that I need it to thrive, but sometimes – and this is that sometime – I need to accept that I can’t always have my magic, and instead, embrace that which is offered.
The great wool tidy has revealed many treasures (as well as plenty for recycling) including this summery watermelon fabric and a pretty blue paisley that looks oh so French. They’re cotton – and that bubbly sort of fabric – oh, what’s it called? I can never remember, but have loved it ever since my Mum bought me a pair of pink and white stripe tailored shorts in it when I was 11. Begins with an “s” … it will come to me.
Two metres of each fabric – perfect for a twirly skirt just like this long time favourite. And perfect for the exceedingly hot summer we are having – lovely and soft and floaty and long – ‘t’will both keep the sun off and a breeze circulating :-)
I’ve made lots of these skirts – they are a little time consuming only in that it’s amazing how long it can take to gather up length after length after length of fabric – but they are so simple and can be dressed up or down to wear anywhere. The only sizing is in the waist – and that’s elastic. I’ve made Abby the most over the years – this little Aunt Grace number is still a favourite that she now wears with knee high black lace up boots and a little cropped jacket (I know – how they grow up).
I made a beautiful red, cream and black one for Mum one Christmas that she wears in winter with black opaque tights and a black turtleneck, and of course the original one I made with Ruth in class – that was such a lovely morning and such a delight to be able to simply wander upstairs to all the beautiful fabrics and trims when I needed something. Oh if only all our sewing could be done with such treasures at hand :-)
You can use as many different fabrics as you like and completely go to town on the trim if you want. I decided to keep this watermelony one pretty simple – given there was no more than 2 metres of any trim anywhere in Bootville, keeping it simple meant I didn’t have to go to the fabric store and spend money. Of course, I may do this tomorrow, but for now, simple it is.
And, it occurred to me as I was slicing up the fabric, that you might like to make one too. So here’s a really simple tutorial for how to make up your own. Starting with … clear your sewing table. This is so empowering :-)
Then … cut the fabric! I use a rotary cutter and quilting ruler. Can you read that below? Ignore that big 6.01 that’s staring out at you from the middle background. I don’t know why it won’t go away. Just choose your fabrics – order them from tiers one to six, fold them like you would your patchwork fabric (i.e. selvedges together, folded once, then twice, place your quilting ruler at the appropriate mark and with your rotary cutter, slice straight across the width of the fabric so you wind up with a piece that is – if we’re talking about tier 1 – 8 long x 42 inches wide.
Now – a word about this tier one piece. It will be the yoke of the skirt. When I was first shown how to make the skirt, I was told to cut just one width for the yoke ’cause you don’t want a lot of bulk around your waist. However, these days (after a massive FAIL at losing weight last year – I have lost 4 kilos this year, but we still have a waaaaaay to go) one width only just makes it around my hips (well, lower stomach really, it’s a very strange thing my lower stomach). I did cut this watermelony tier one piece just one width but it’s a bit snug. I would recommend adding an extra bit of fabric just to keep it comfy – and eliminate the “fitted look” – if you find that one width is just a bit too close. I reckon, measure your widest bit and add an extra 10 inches, don’t you think, in which case you’ll need two widths of 8 inches – one full one and one that you’ll use a bit of.
Gathering – now that you’ve cut your pieces, the rest is just a repeat of side seams + gathering threads + gathering to size + stitching to previous tier. Do your side seams first – you stitch each tier piece together so that they form a giant ring – and make sure you don’t twist the pieces or it will be like a piece of knitting joined in the round – an upside down twist that will be impossible to fix without unpicking. Just be mindful. And you probably have your gathering completely sorted. But just in case you don’t, here’s a few strategies I’ve developed over the years …
:: I always do two rows of gathering thread at the longest stitch my machine will do, leaving nice long tails at both ends. Now when I was a wilful teenager, I didn’t believe my Mum when she told me I needed two rows of gathering thread – I thought that was a waste of bobbin thread and my valuable time. But she was right – one row makes mincy looking gathers that can’t be spread out as evenly and don’t sit as neatly. Two rows it is. Use a colour thread you don’t care about and wonder why you bought it – that way you won’t feel cheated as you race through it.
:: It doesn’t matter how many widths of fabric I am gathering, I NEVER use two continuous rows of gathering thread. You are almost guaranteed to snap the thread somewhere – and will have to start again – and it makes pulling it up a pain in the butt. I ALWAYS stop and start at the beginning and end of each side seam. So – in Tier 2 – which has 2 widths of 8 inches – I will start and stop twice. That way I only have to pull up one width of fabric at a time. In Tier 6 – which has 5 widths of fabric of 7 inches – I will start and stop 5 times.
:: To evenly distribute my gathers I do a little maths. How wide is the previous tier – let’s say tier 4 – each width is 122cm wide and I have three pieces = 366cm. How many pieces are there in tier 5 which will need to stitch on to tier 4 – 4 pieces. So I divide the bottom of tier 4 into 4 – 366 divided by 4 = roughly 91.5cm. So starting at my central side seam (I always line up one side seam on each tier and call this the central side seam) I measure 91.5 and place a pin, then measure 91.5cm again and place a pin, and measure again and place a pin – and of course the last one will be back at your central side seam. Then I pin tier 5 into place – the side seams of each tier 5 piece will match up to a pin on the tier 4 piece. You with me ?! So now you know your gathered pieces need to fit within these spaces. Which leads me to …
:: Gathering it up! First – will your fabric fray? If it is of that persuasion, then please zigzag the edges first – I know, more thread, more time. But if you’re fussing with the gathers for a while, some fabrics will nastily fray all the way down to your gathering stitches and that isn’t fun.
Second - I always pull from the left side so on the right side I tie a knot with the two ends from my two rows on top. This way, when I’m cheerfully spreading my gathers out nice and even, they don’t slip off the far end without me noticing. That may send very silly – but I have done it! Once that knot is tied, you can spread your gathers evenly right up to the end and they are going nowhere.
Now don’t just yank on the gathering thread at the left- there’s always a bit of resistance at first – start with a gentle pull to loosen the bobbin stitches underneath and then your gathering threads will slide through the fabric nicely. I don’t worry about doing it all evenly in the beginning – waste of time. I just pull up as much as I need to to make this width fit my designated space (remember our pins) and then when I have it the right size I tie a knot in the left hand two top threads and then my gathers will not fall out and I can spread the gathers evenly right up to both ends. Pin, pin, pin and sew …
:: Final word on gathering – I always sew the new tier on with the gathered side up. The flat side of the previous tier will sit nice and flat on the bottom with minimum supervision – the gathers themselves need a bit more of your attention. I like to keep the tops of the gathers neatly aligned with the straight edge of the previous tier and make sure there are no strange skewif bits going on – you know, you want your gathers to lay in nice straight lines not go awkwardly sideways. If they’re on the bottom it’s much harder to see what’s going on and I wind up needing to unpick and straighten. Keep your gathers on top.
So off you go – sew, sew, sew, gather, gather, gather, sew, sew, sew … I added a tier of green – one always needs a good grove of greenery to survive a hot day, don’t you think.
Okay. All your tiers are on. Now before you get excited about trim, overlock or zigzag your tier edges. This uses even more cotton. You will think the end will never come. It does, but not til after school pickup. Then, when your edges are beautifully neat, give the whole skirt a good press so that all those tiers are sitting FLAT. There’s nothing like a good bash with the iron to make a piece of handmade clothing go from looking slightly clumsy with bumpy bits to being polished and professional :-) Now you can put on your trim.
For the waist, overlock or zig zag the top edge then turn over enough to hold your elastic. Stitch close to the lower edge of your turnover, leaving a gap to thread your elastic through. Thread your elastic – sew the ends together, making sure you don’t twist your elastic (I can’t count how many times I have twisted the jolly elastic – eternally frustrating). Sew shut your gap. Overlock or zig zag the bottom edge of the last tier and hem it, just on the machine – I did about 1cm. I seriously considered not hemming after overlocking it, but Abby reckoned it looked dorky so I hemmed it. I’m an obedient mama. Again – endless stitching – you think you will never get back to the beginning – and you probably won’t before the bobbin runs out! Argh!
It’s ready to wear! Yay! It’s taken about 4 hours. That’s not too bad huh! I’m rather fond of that red ric rac – will definitely be getting more tomorrow – a nice round of red for each tier, yes? Yes! I’ll need about 15 metres just to be safe.
Now I’m ready to hit the beach on another weekend of temperatures over 40 celsius – in my floaty, twirly watermelon skirt. And when I’ve lost a few more inches around the waist, I may even tuck in my t-shirt and add a belt :-0
Hope this is all clear – if there’s something I haven’t made easy to follow, send me an email at lily(at)blockaday(dot)com and I’ll do my best to set you straight. And if you do make a twirly skirt, send me a photo – I’d love to see how YOU put your fabrics together and what kind of trims you find. Enjoy!
Our summer holiday by the beach came to its natural close and one morning we had to stuff the car full – including an extra child and her luggage – and trek back across the scorching hot Gippsland to a melting Melbourne. Within hours of us leaving, Mum received word that dear old Grandad had had a heart attack and was in hospital. She didn’t mention it whilst we were on route (isn’t she strong! I’d have blabbed it as soon as I heard) but the minute we called to say we were safely home, she told us – and added that if I could, she would love me to drive to Brisbane with her, the day after the next, so that we could be there when he came home from hospital and help care for him and Nanny. Of course I said yes.
So Mum trundled across the scorching hot Gippsland to a melting Melbourne to collect me – I’ve never been so hot in my life – it was 46 celsius 4 days running with barely a breath of respite over night. And on the Saturday morning, we packed the car, yet again, and headed up the long, dry Hume highway towards Brisbane. Now it is a long drive – over 1,700km. Three days of driving. But she wanted to drive so that she would have her car in Brisbane and be able to choof the oldies around when she needed to. And I don’t mind a drive. Especially when we can turn left. Or right. Whatever looks interesting.
So with several of the quilts I made last year piled on the back seat for Nanny and Auntie Anne, the crochet tucked into the corner, and an esky full of chilled tuna, we set off on our adventure. First stop – Benalla, Victoria – one of the many small rural towns Nanny and Grandad moved to with their tribe of children – Grandad was a Postmaster with Australia Post. I’d never been so it was especially lovely to visit with Mum and see where all their stories were set.
This was their first home in Benalla – a short walk to school for Mum and her siblings – and around the corner from a family who were to become lifetime friends.
And here’s school. Faithful Companions of Jesus. Where the nuns taught Mum exquisite embroidery. Where Mum rode her bike each day.
And the beautiful church – St. Joseph’s – she attended every week. It was so lovely, standing in this beautiful building – quiet, cool and full of light – imaging my Mum here as a young woman. Making sure the nuns saw her, so she wouldn’t be in strife at school at Monday. Singing along with the choir in the loft. Meeting the Pope’s representative – she says they felt ever so holy after that! Bringing the youngest babe of the family here to be christened.
This here corner is the infamous spot where Mum crashed her bike. She remembers being dazed and staggering home with a whopping headache. Then, years later when she was pregnant with me and experiencing some neurological disturbances, they x-rayed her head then asked how long ago she had fractured her skull!! Yes it was a mighty bike crash.
Here’s the other family home in Benalla – Grandad remembers it being the old Ambulance station. No sign of that now but very sweet.
Mum graduated from high school in Benalla – and this here municipal chambers is where the town dances were held on the weekends – an outing she looked forward to all week. Apparently they were especially good if the local football team won that afternoon. Mum remembers going along to hear all the coolest acts of the 1960s, dancing the night away in shoes that were one size too small but she had to have them because they were so pointy … and then Grandad waiting in the street for her to make it safely home no more than 10 minutes after the dance finished.
Now Grandad – this photo’s for you. Sadly, the Benalla post office was torn down just a few years after you left – the new one is a horrible modern shop front – total non-event. But here’s the post office in nearby Wangaratta – somewhere I’m sure you spent many a day listening to the bigwigs from Melbourne drone on and on about what you should and shouldn’t be doing :-) Unfortunately, it’s now a tacky coffee shop. At least it’s still standing. Australia Post, if you’re listening – what you’ve done to the heritage of your organisation is disgraceful! I’m constantly annoyed by the cavalier manner with which you have disposed of the incredible history of your beautiful post offices – gracious buildings that were built when people sought to inpsire and celebrate – and the people and families who gave their all.
Soon after leaving these sweet towns, further along the highway, we were confronted with this! It seems obvious now, but we initially thought we were driving into a dreadful storm – the sky became so dark. Then the red glow became obvious and we realised those “clouds” were floating up to the sky, not down. Eeeek! It was a huge bush fire, sparked by a lightning strike that hit a pine plantation – which of course went up like a bomb. For almost a hundred kilometres, this image filled the sky to our right. It burnt for several days – taking several farms and homes with it, not to mention the horrible cost to the environment and the animals who live there. A very potent reminder of how terribly hot and dry Australia has become – just in case we hadn’t noticed from the 46 celsius days and toasted to a crisp grass.
I’m home! I’m back! Goodness, I have been away a long time. And there’s so much to share here. I don’t know … this summer has just escaped from me. We’ve had many lovely times … and many dreadfully hot days when it is all I can do NOT to indulge in a nice little tantrum over how much I dislike days that are over 40 celsius. There was also an unexpected journey to Brisbane with my Mum to help care for my dear old Grandad who suffered a heart attack. He is doing well and Mum is staying for a month to keep him and Nanny on the straight and narrow.
But now … school goes back tomorrow (I don’t know how this could possibly be so, but new uniforms hanging on the line tell me it is), baby sitting will start up again next week, and there’s just a month left before my final semester of nursing gets rolling. Eeek!
However, there is going to be such busyness and creativity round these parts. Oh yes! I intended making the most of every moment. So without further ado, I have for you this eve, a wee tale of woolliness …
It started here. Yesterday morning – another day of dreadful heat – I wanted to work on Julian’s Argyle Vest. But it really needed to shift out of the little embroidery box and into something that held it properly – those little balls of colour, oh they do like to roll away. So I decided to sort through the baskets behind Julian’s armchair (yes, that’s where I try to hide my woolly messiness) and clear one entirely so that it could become the current project, a.k.a The Argyle.
Well. Those baskets were stuffed full of all sorts of little-bit-started, half-way-done, oh-my-goodness-what-was-I-thinking projects. So I emptied them all out with a view to frogging and winding the wool and putting it in the huge cane laundry hamper in which I keep my stash. Except it wouldn’t fit. So I emptied it out too. Except that not much really came out, because most of it looked like this …
Ahem. Yes. Well. So then I got out the two back up storage baskets and tipped them out too. Sadly, they were in a similar state of tangledness. However! There wasn’t a single moth to be found and all the wool was beautifully intact. That’s good, right?! So here we are, on the eve of the second day and I’ve been untangling and winding and untangling and winding … and untangling and winding. All on the kitchen table. And floor. And chairs. Any other action that has gone on in the kitchen has had to do so, squished in amongst the wool.
Which in itself was making me a wee bit fretful. There’s a lot of wool. A lot. It’s the woolly equivalent of that moment a couple of years back when I realised I could supply new tents for every circus currently performing in Australia made from the patchwork fabric I’d acquired.
There’s lots of little balls of Patons, Cleckheaton and Heritage DK (remnants of many crochet projects), a lovely pile of Debbie Bliss Tweeds, balls and balls of Brown Sheep’s lovely Cotton Fleece, left over bundles of Malabrigo, Rowan, Beaverslide and Twilley’s, hopeful hanks of Cascade 220, a bagful of someone else’s handspun that I bought at a craft fair donkey years ago, masses of Lanaloft that was going to become a jumper for Julian but he no longer likes it, several skeins of honey coloured mohair that I’d started knitting lace edging with (?????) … So much wool.
But then, just when I was feeling a bit sick about the dollar value of all this wool (and yes, it is a lot), as I was remembering projects that different yarns had been bought for, I realised that what lay before me was the wool I have been squirrelling away for 25 years. That’s a fair chunk of time. And even more cheering was the realisation that whilst lots had been used, and used well and with love, there were many many projects that will grow out of this stash … even if most of them will be of the stripey persuasion (apart from that Lanaloft there’s not enough of anything that by itself would make more than a small shawl, and there’s a limit to how many shawls I need).
But oh the potential! There will surely be many more crochety things. More dolls. Arm warmers? Perhaps I could buy some lovely tweedy grey and make up all those Debbie Bliss balls into a stripey short sleeved jumper like my Stevenson Jumper. I long to marry that buttery honey off to the mermaid blue homespun but will have to swatch it first to see if they are a perfect match. There are three whole skeins of Misti Alpaca in Doctor Who Blue and I’m not sure someone still wants that Tardis shawl, in which case, I could knit up one of those ever so whispy thin cardies – like Hannah Fettig’s. There’s almost a whole jumper’s worth of a marly blue that Nanny passed along to me. And enough of that Cotton Fleece for … something. Then there’s always baby knits – I’m thinking I might start a baby knits drawer – for presents and such. That would be fun. Quick to knit, and good for using up small bundles. As for that Lanaloft, someone will wear it :-)
However, right at this moment, instead of finishing the untangling and tidying away all that wool (and I do have plans – they involve many of the sweet pillowcases I made Abby when she was little, with cardboard tags and shelves put in the gentleman’s wardrobe that is currently woefully underutilised in the living room) … I have my eye on this lovely tweedy brown (a Jo Sharp DK that had been started THREE different times – none of which I’d frogged and none of which I remembered what I was doing), Nanny’s marly blue, and an orange (remember that DREADFUL razor lace cardigan that I had to frog after completely finishing it!!!!). I think …. no, I KNOW they want to become the North Shore yoked, fairisle sweater from Tin Can Knits. Who I think may well be my new favouritist knitting designers – oh my goodness, they create such beauty.
Do you think Abby and Julian would notice if I slipped away into the bedroom and quickly cast on? I could always pretend I’m reading …
… which I am! Whilst on holidays, we visited the annual Bega Book Fair and I snapped up several more Patrick O’Brian’s books from the Master and Commander series. Honestly, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but you know that scene in the book/film The Jane Austen Book Club when the gorgeous young man tells the rest of the group that they really should try O’Brian because if you love Austen, you will love O’Brian – IT’S TRUE!!!!! My goodness, Mr. O’Brian weaves a magnificent tale, full of historical detail, fabulous characters – I mean Jack and Stephen – so totally different to each other but both so charismatic – Jack, the enchanting, passionate, over grown schoolboy with buckets of integrity and good humour; and Stephen, the wily, clever, compassionate doctor/spy, as for Killick – makes me laugh every time. And Tom Pullings – oh, be still my racing heart! Plenty of nail biting action (of the fighting and wild weather variety), intricate descriptions of the social conditions, and the sailing and construction of ships. With fascinating intrigue and adventures. This one – The Wine Dark Sea – is not disappointing. Jack, Stephen and the crew are crossing the Pacific to South America – but have been mightily waylaid by an undersea volcano (which O’Brian described so well – he didn’t mention it was a volcano so I the reader was just as bamboozled as Jack) followed by an interminable lull – no wind, no rain – day after day of still and balmy weather – the suspense is building!
Hope you are all doing well, dear folk. That this New Year is taking care of you and yours – despite frigid cold or melting heat. May we have a year of much love, a goodly supply of happiness, challenges that reward us, and plenty of time for our stitchy delights.
See you tomorrow!
There’s so much life down here on the far south coast. Wombats trotting doggedly along the road’s edge. Gently, spiky little echidnas clambering up the storm water guttering – oh my goodness, their legs are SO short, I don’t know how they manage. Ringtail possums sitting in amongst the toys on the bookshelf in the attic – seriously!. Tall, loping kangaroos gathering on the front lawn each evening for a grassy snack. Cockatoos and lorikeets galore. So much of this makes us giggle – it truly does look like the Australia many folks overseas imagine we all live with, all the time. Kangaroos on the front lawn indeed!
I’m very fond of the smaller, less flamboyant locals too – my good friends the sea sponges that hunker down on the rocks at Bar, the everpresent and always crazy seagulls that strut about us when we visit the beach, and the thousands of bees that are currently adoring the Red Flowering Gums planted by a very wise soul with an eye to future beauty and shade in the carpark of a recently built local shopping centre. Come along, I’ll introduce you …
:: we head over to the rocks that lie on the far end of Bar :: as we near the water, their smooth red and black backs become home to old oysters, snails, tiny crabs, and eventually … the sea sponges :: when first you notice them, they look like a rather ugly clumping of weed and sand :: then you look closer and realise the rocks are encrusted with marvellous gatherings of soft yet sturdy chimneys :: those that are currently washed by the tide or sitting just under the water open their star shaped eyes, you peer down through the rippling water and oh – such a pretty coral red and if you peer even closer, one or two slits of deep black at the very bottom, tucked safely away in a corner :: the sponges sway with the tide, seeming to breathe gently, collectively, in and out, in and out :: my favourite bit, when they squeeze shut their eye and squirt a lovely long stream of crystal clear sea water up into the air – makes me laugh every time :: truly they smile at me, and in my imagination, they hear me when I talk to them, and reply with bobs and squirts, openings and closings ::
:: oh they are such funny little thieving things :: always on the lookout for bounty but not very good at keeping what they find :: today’s prize – one of them steals Abby’s crust from her lunch box :: we say to them, just eat it! stop with the posturing, dancing and squawking! :: but oh no, these two make such a fuss, they draw the attention of a dozen of their competitors and without even noticing – their too busy proving to each other who is the most fierce and worthy of a crust – their morsel is stolen, the victor swooping away to the rocks to enjoy her prize in peace ::
:: I walk back to the car from the shops – icecreams and stone fruit in my bag – and think how pretty the flowering red gums are :: their incredible fieriness against the vivid blue sky suggests that the air about them should simmer with heat :: instead – thousands of bees :: swooping and diving and wriggling their little butts deeper into the blossoms :: the air vibrates with their energy :: as I snap away with the camera, people stop and say “Yes, aren’t they pretty flowers … oh wow! look at all the bees!” Yes, you find so much more when you stop :: I am so grateful for the clever and thoughtful person that chose these Australian beauties :: we’ll come back in 10 years and it will be magnificent – a glow of red that sailors will surely glimpse from the bay as they scoot past ::
Christmas isn’t Christmas without plenty of books. They do make the most perfect gifts – delicious to browse the bookstore for, so much fun to buy, lovely to read, and I do so love having bookshelves crammed full of books in every room in our home. In fact, I can foresee Christmases when we declare that books and only books may be given!
This Christmas, we have some beauties …
Father Christmas gave Abby the first two books of Lemony Snicket’s new series. She adored the Series of Unfortunate Events – read them over and over, listened to them over and over, and oh my, what a fabulous vocabulary Mr. Snicket provided her with. She would pop out with some amazing words when only little, we would look at her with amazement, and she would announce “It means such and such. Lemony Snicket told me so.” She’s loving her first encounter with this series too – good stuff.
Abby gave Julian a lavish new edition of “The Hobbit.” Aren’t the illustrations beautiful? And a cloth bound cover. Lovely. We are reading it out loud together, a little bit most evenings. Well, I should say I read it to them. The two of them just refuse to read out loud. Tsk!
Mum bought this delight for herself. Both Mum and I have loved Joanne Trollope since her first book was published and this modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility is such fun. I’ve not read it yet, but Mum’s had us giggling over the bits she’s shared. And she’s read it in just three days. Excellent – means I can have it next.
Father Christmas gave me some of the Flavia de Luce books – numbers 3 – 5. I read the first two when I was working at the bookstore and so enjoyed them. I love me a good cosy murder. Flavia is such an appealing protagonist, the 1950s English setting is perfect, her family’s English country home is just my cup of tea, and the cast of villagers is a delight. Dogger’s my favourite character – I love finding out more and more about him as the stories progress. Mr. Bradley’s a great storyteller and I marvel at this middle aged American man’s ability to provide the voice of such a quirky and endearing 11 year old girl.
Cookbooks! We are such suckers for lovely cookbooks. Mum gave the New York Classics to Julian and I gave him the Jewelled Kitchen. We’ve put in our orders from the New York Classics – donuts, bagels, hamburgers, latkes – yum! And the Jewelled Kitchen – a Middle Eastern cookbook – has so many lovely vegetable dishes that I can’t wait to try – well, get Julian to try and I shall be his obliging taste tester ;-)
Hee! Hee! Hee! I gave this alarming title to Julian :-) He was a bit appalled until I made him read the back. I first came across it on the Good Reads website and it really does sound great! It’s about a group of Oxford academics who belong to a secret culinary society bound by specific rules. One is that the members should never refuse to eat a dish suggested by another member (or something like that) or their membership shall be eternally revoked – they all love food and have tried all manner of things. Then when one of the members dies, he demands, via his will, that his friends try eating him – which of course, horrifies them. Ugh! I took it with me to the beach today and it really is a good read – especially if you’re a bit of an Anglophile / Academia-lover like me.
Now the beach is not the beach without magazines. Oh how I used to love packing a basketful of magazines with CarolAnn and setting up camp at Rainbow Bay. We would be entertained for hours. At the moment, I’m reading The Owner Builder – a brilliant little Australian magazine which gets me so excited about our move to the Bega Valley. Just a couple more years! In the current issue there’s a story from an adventurous owner builder whose lovely blog Pearl & Elspeth I read. She lives with her family here in the Bega Valley and she built a strawbale home (our choice of building material) so it was SUCH a delight to find her in one of my favourite magazines, describing her family’s successes (with one small pitfall) and their enthusiasm for moving on to building the next strawbale part of their home. SO inspiring!
And there’s a craft book. Of course there’s a craft book! Crochet – a nice little booklet put out by Patons. It has such beautiful, fresh and colourful patterns. I adore the blanket on the cover – definitely on the to do list one day. And I swooned over the granny square cardigan above – but its construction looks decidedly tricky. Hmmm … So I’ve started with the little pram blanket - such pretty flowers.
And when we’re not reading them – they have other uses. Stopping the crochet squares from blowing away. Resting the tea and toast on them when in bed. Providing a drawing tablet …
A stack of good books is so very good, especially at Christmas.
supper has been cooked and shared :: the beautiful summer light still softly dusts the sky :: a salty mist slowly slips in across the bay, laying its folds lightly over mountains, forests and beach ::
Come for a walk …
a narrow sandy track takes us through a small forest of gums, she-oaks, tea trees, coastal grasses and softly twittering birds that are readying themselves for bed :: suddenly the forest parts, the stillness is broken, and there before us is the roaring swell of the bay, curving round to the small village of Pambula :: the sun behind me glows fiercely, turning the forest we’ve just left into an inky black silhouette :: a funny little gull trots after the departing waves, searching the wet sand for his supper, then, as the waves return, he turns smartly and bustles back towards the dry sand, keeping his toesies dry, back and forth and back and forth he goes until, as we draw closer, he elegantly, slowly, lifts his wings and hovers just out of our reach :: following his footsteps :: but stopping all along to observe and enjoy – such as the little air holes in the buoyant, wet sand that seem to breath in and out – who is living down there? :: then, lost in thought, the waves rush back in and my feet and skirt are wet :: not many leftovers on this beach – a pelican’s feather, a small shell nestling countable grains of sand, the marvellous little tumble weeds (I’ve no idea what they’re really called) that flitter wildly along the sand, spinning up and down and round and round until the wind dies, a small hillock in the sand snags them, or a wave mires them in sogginess :: the sun slides ever lower :: we turn back for home, a little trail of claw prints leading us on :: they belong to this beauty – a sooty oyster catcher – he’s joined the funny gull for supper :: our cliffs, still touched with a hint of the sun’s pinky warmth, the blunt head of which always reminds me of the whales that sail these waters, their babes tucked in beside them :: finally, our beachy version of Narnia’s lamp post – the dog off leash sign marking the path that will take us back through the forest, back home ::
As usual, once I started thinking about Christmas giving for this year, my head was full of all sorts of wonderful and creative ideas of homemade. I was going to sew up and print tshirts, make a wooden cutout of a traditional Swedish clock, start and finish quilts, piece and quilt table runners, applique cushions, fill jars dressed in crocheted covers with homemade lollies … it was a lovely list :-) I even thought I’d try my hand at creating a mini world in a broken terracotta pot with succulents … check it out here, it’s entrancing. I just hadn’t factored in how tricky that four week placement would be – especially once I added in the bad back, endless hayfever, hours of driving, and insomnia. It certainly wasn’t the sort of Advent I’ve enjoyed and loved for many, many years. 2014 – I definitely need to start early!
However, on that last Friday of working, I rushed home, out to the sewing shed, gathered an armful of fabric (the pieces I wanted to use had been percolating in my mind for the last few days) and set to work. Christmas pillowcases. I pieced and ironed and measured and cut and it was bliss. Such bliss. And by suppertime, 2 pairs of pretty pillowcases were ready for giving. Just a shame I’d missed the last post before Christmas. Never mind – they’ll arrive in the New Year and be just as fresh and useful.
This set is for my dear old Nanny and Grandad. They love the pretty old fashioned look and Nanny will especially like the reproduction pieces in this. That gorgeous blue paisley is one of the Julie Rothermel reproduction fabrics from Sturbridge Village. More of it to come! The two reds are civil war reproductions from Karen at the Quilter’s Store – she has the most extraordinary and beautiful collection of reproductions – I have never seen its like anywhere else. Oh how I loved just standing in amongst it all. Let alone loading up my arms with bolt after bolt, then staggering off to the cutting table to ask for just 30cm! And the the wee houses – well they’re not reproductions obviously but add to the whole charm of it, yes? They’re from my wee houses quilt that is a.l.m.o.s.t finished. The beautiful blue stripe is a fabric I found at The Fabric Store a few years back – it has a wonderfully crisp and sturdy hand. And the broderie trim is from The Button Shop in Glenferrie Road – the old gentleman who owns this store has an awesome collection, some of which I think has been sitting there for at least 30 years. My kind of place.
And for one of my sweet aunties – a riot of colour and florals. So many of the pieces have been used here and there. I love this – it’s like my quilts and cushions and trims are all cousins. There’s pieces from Caleb’s quilt (Cousin Elena’s babe), Gumnut Fairies from Francesca’s quilt (Cousin Clara’s babe) and my blue crosses quilt, some Anna Maria Horner from Mum’s picnic quilt … I picked up the floral background from Karen years and years ago. I had long forgotten plans for it … never mind. That’s the fun of having a stash. And the trim – why from that Button Shop again :-) If ever you’re in Melbourne and you feel like stepping back in time, you really must visit it!
So here they are, my quartet of Christmas pillowcases, beautifully pressed and folded (thank you Mum) and waiting for the reopening of the post office on Monday morn.
Perhaps I should start next year’s Christmas pillowcases this summer!
Such a merry Christmas round here with moments of …
:: packing ::
:: last minute stitching ::
:: receiving ::
:: giving ::
:: tying ::
:: steaming ::
:: dancing ::
:: cooking ::
:: brining ::
:: feasting :
:: reading and re-reading old and new Christmas favourites ::
:: relaxing ::
Thank you for all of your encouragement and friendship throughout 2013.
It means so much to me and so often provides the extra oomph I need to push me through the busy and demanding times we often find ourselves in.
I do hope you and those you hold dear are enjoying a wonderful festive season,
whatever your special celebration, and that there is much love, kindness and joy.
I’m sorry I’ve been so silent this December. It’s this placement thingy – it’s been really hard. The first two weeks – agonising back. Now into the last of the second two weeks – streaming hay fever. All four weeks – relentless insomnia. I’m so buggered. And so over it.
Only four days to go … then I am anticipating a terrific summer of loveliness and lots and lots of creativity. Until then …
I do declare that you folk in the Northern Hemisphere have it so much easier. Down here, Christmas coincides with the end of the year – end of school, end of university, end of placements, winding up of work – and the start of the long summer holidays. So there’s always so much else to finish before we can truly prepare for and enjoy the beauty of Christmas.
Perhaps I’m just feeling it more this year. But here we are, 16th December and there’s still a week’s worth of nursing placement and assessments to finish before I can truly hang up my busy year and revel in the Christmassy-ness of it all.
On the creative side, there are so many gifts started – and none finished. But one thing I have managed to stay atop of is our Advent Tree. This year, we are using the funny little tree I collected from hard rubbish on a grey rainy day a few months back. At the time I christened it the Oehlenschlager tree – I declared it was to be covered in cross stitched Danish Christmas decorations as per the lovely book a sweet friend from Instagram gave me in return for Mr. Pollack’s vintage glass juicer.
However, I need another couple of years stitching before the tree can be suitably decked out in these wee stitchings alone. So – the Advent Tree. And given we simply cannot find the Tomtems we have used for many a year, I picked up the crochet hook and got stitching. I give you Advent Roses. Each with its own wee numbered tag.
Each morning, long before Abby arises and according to a long held Bootville tradition, I hang the day’s Advent Rose somewhere in the house and it’s Abby’s job to find it and hang it on the Advent Tree. I must confess, she doesn’t do this with the same gleeful anticipation she possessed ten years ago – ahhhhh the teenage years. But we all enjoy the sweetness of it nevertheless :-)
I’ve even managed to keep up with the stitching of the Advent Roses – there were the perfect project to pack for morning tea and lunch when I was nursing in the Oncology Ward – and extras made lovely gifts to sweet patients. However, a small hitch has only just emerged. I still have 7 to make … and I cannot find the wee basket that is stuffed with the pretty Brown Sheep rosy yarn for the centre, some left over cream, red and mustard Beaverslide from Abby’s Blaithin, a ball of green Paton’s leftover from Abby’s Owl Sweater, and a ball of buttery Rowan leftover from my fairisle tunic (that I don’t think I have ever shared!). That’s right – the whole basket has vanished. I’ve just spent the last half hour first walking briskly through the house confidently looking here and there, then slowly – slightly worried – poking into each corner, and finall,y grumpily crawling around under furniture and behind doors … I even checked the car. I cannot find it.
It must be here somewhere. It’s almost certainly in the living room. But as Julian has observed many a time before – crafty things are sneakily camouflaged here in Bootville. And I have a terrible track record of tucking things into forgotten corners.
A-ha! Found it! Behind the sofa cushion – no wonder I couldn’t shove the cushion back into place each time I sat on the sofa over the weekend. Never mind. Now the kitchen is glowing, the washing hung out, the chooks in bed, a glass of milk is on the bedside table and I am ready to hop into bed and stitch a bouquet of Advent Roses.
Yes, little by little, this Christmas is coming together.
Goodness, life has been exceedingly full over the last ten days. It all began with a washing basket that only had 2 towels and a half load of washing in it.
That was two Sundays ago – the day before I began my two week placement in an Oncology ward at a large public hospital. As I picked up that wretched basket, I felt a sharp and painful twinge in my lower back. No, no, no, no … this could not possibly happen at the start of placement. But despite spending the rest of the day resting my back, taking pain relief, and performing the gentle stretches my physio gave me the last time I hurt my back – over ten years ago – I arrived at the hospital, bright and early on the Monday morning, with an excruciatingly sore back.
There was nothing I could do about it. If I couldn’t meet my placement obligations, I would have to repeat the semester. So, I staggered on – literally. My doctor prescribed pain relief for the days and a muscle relaxant for the nights. Julian massaged my back every evening when I collapsed onto the bed. And he and Abby kept the house running. Every ounce of energy and concentration I had was poured into my patients. I confess, there were several moments when I simply lay there and cried.
And yet, what an incredibly humbling experience. Because, as I have walked – as straight and briskly as possible – around the ward each day, I have been caring for people who are terribly unwell. Most people receiving treatment for cancer are seen as day patients. Only those who suffer severe side effects from their treatments that cannot be managed at home, or those for whom the treatments are no longer working and their poor bodies are simply breaking down, make their way onto the ward.
I have held the hand of a patient who received very sad news on her birthday. I have cared for a patient (and his family) who died too soon. I have prepared the body of another patient for the morgue. I have cleaned up all manner of bodily fluids whilst reassuring the patient beside me that it is no bother at all. I have managed to find 10 minutes here and there to sit with patients and listen to their stories who have no family to visit them. I have given countless antibiotics, anti-virals, anti-fungals, platelet infusions, potassium, magnesium, and ever so gently washed and patted dry frail, frail bodies …. my goodness, chemotherapy is so very harsh on the body.
And that back pain of mine – well, it’s as if it has been given to me to keep my feet firmly planted in reality. To remind me that what seems awful to me can always be put into a much bigger picture. One in which life is so very treasured and fragile.
Today – thank goodness – I think that spasm in my back is finally breaking up. Now, it’s just tired, not screeching in pain. And this morning for the first time since “the washing basket moment” the fog of discomfort has lifted and I am able to look around me with clear and refreshed eyes.
The rain is pouring down. The sunflowers smothering my bedroom window are delighted. I stitched Abby’s Christmas pillowcase and crocheted a wee Christmas rose for a dear, dear patient. We turned the fairy lights on early. My uniform is ironed. My supper is packed.
It’s time to head off.