to popcorn (verb) :: a feathery, explosive pop high into the air made by guinea keets

in the brooder

On a recent visit to a nearby farm, we met our first Guinea Fowl.  There were 2 males, with their exquisite speckledy feathers and striking blue heads, shepherding a little flock of keets (guinea chicks) about the garden – sadly the hen had recently been taken by a fox but the males stepped up to the mark and were enthusiastically practising hands-on parenting.

We were utterly enchanted!  They were so pretty and different – their bodies are very very round and their heads are like tiny blue periscopes with red trimmings – and they are very independent.  They will amble about your garden all day, eating bugs and weeds without causing damage to your plants, and then at night, if trained, will return to a little house to safely roost.  They  also, apparently, make for a delicious roast.

Once home, I jumped on Gumtree and searched for some of our own.  There were not too many about and most were tiny keets, requiring weeks of care in a heated brooder box – something we didn’t have.  But then I found 12 in nearby Moruya that were already 4 weeks old.  They were still living in a brooder box but did not need extra heat as their feathers were already fluffing out nicely.

That weekend, Julian and I knocked up a brooder box – using two Ikea Gorm bookshelves as our base structure – and the following Tuesday Noah and I made the trek north to collect our new feathered babies.  The lovely owners also had a pair of Appleyard Duck breeders that they were looking to rehome as they were focussing on Muscovies – who were bullying the Appleyards.  “No problem!” we said delightedly “We’ll bring extra boxes!”

Oh it was such a funny pick up :-)  The farm was lovely – an old establishment with a dear little wooden farmhouse and beautiful orchard with ducks, chickens and guinea fowl roaming everywhere.  The keets were in a guinea pig house – transferring them into our big box, laid with pea straw mulch was filled with unstoppable laughter.  Keets are like feathered popcorn!  You open the lid and pow!  They shoot up into the sky every which way.  The owners and Noah were darting about plucking up the little keets as they landed whilst I was in charge of opening and slapping back down the box lid.  We were beside ourselves!

Then the farmer collected the Appleyards – a much more dignified affair.  They are majestic ducks – beautifully feathered and calm, with sweet faces and exaggerated waddles.  On our journey home their boxes were quiet and still – the keets’ box bumped and clattered and cheeped all the way home as 12 little popcorns boinged about all over the place :-)

brooder box

After almost 2 weeks in their brooder box it was obvious our funny little keets needed to move to bigger quarters.  So, yesterday the 3 of us set to transforming the unfinished chicken tractor into a guinea keet home.

chicken tractor

on the inside

cutting the mesh

stapling the msh

Since it was such a hot day, we rolled the tractor on logs into the shade and set to work.  One side panel of mesh was cut out and turned into a wooden framed hinged door.  We added another panel of mesh to the triangular end.

Julian removed the corrugated metal panels that provided the little, dry sleeping quarters and we popped in struts and gum tree roosts.  It’s possible Julian got a bit carried away when searching for good roost material – so we added the lovely big twisty end of the branch as a bit of play equipment for them.

adding the roof struts
roost material

light on the gum

creases in her stockings

trimming them up

Do you see how the bark has crinkled in the bend of the branch?  Looks all the world for like the back knees of over worn stockings doesn’t it – truly beautiful how something so very hard can be so flexible and tactile.

measuring

back on with the roof

The whole process was such a lovely family affair.  That’s certainly an aspect of our new life on this little farm that I love.  Our cottage is so small and the farm so remote (well, not really by Australian standards, but certainly by inner suburban Melbourne standards!) that we just gravitate so easily to doing things together.  It was a blissful afternoon of building and chatting and laughing in the loveliest of settings …

furry protea

beautifully lit

watching over us

Thankfully, we finished all the essential bits in time to transfer the keets from their brooder to their new a-frame home just before the sun began to set.  And oh how the loved it!

Noah and I carried the brooder across the top field (where the sheds are) and down into the fenced cottage garden (where all our poultry live).  Then we once more played the highly entertaining game of “stop that keet from popcorning up up and away!”

They are dear little birds – so warm and feisty, so pretty and full of character and purpose.  One by one we dropped them into their a-frame – at first they all scurried into the shelter at the back.  But once they were all in and felt a little more confident, they began toddling about – pecking at the grass with amazed delight, checking out the play branch, eating and drinking.  In a completely anthropomorphic way I am sure they couldn’t believe their world could be so beautiful!

One brave little critter – he is the biggest with a beautifully striped head – popcorned up to the roost and strutted back and forth, stretching out his feathers whilst cheeping down to his mates – you can see him in the fifth photo down from here.

And of course, they popcorned over and over again.  Finally they have the room to do what it seems they love doing best.  Oh they were so funny!

At one stage, one was like a domino.  She popcorned up into the sky and triggered all the rest, one after another – the whole a-frame was chaotically filled with little outstretched wings and fluttering orange legs and feet zooming up into the air and down again.  Sadly I didn’t have the camera – but you can see one little lavender one doing it in the left hand corner of the fourth photo down from here.

I’ll have to try and make a little film of it for us :-)
theyre in

exploring

so beautiful

popcorn fluttering tryin out the roosts

with fox proofingBeing the rather anxious type I am, I dreamt about our little keets all night long – and not nice dreams.  Oh no.  In the vignettes that woke me up every couple of hours, there were foxes sneakily digging under the electric fence and then under the a-frame and demolishing our little flock, or the little birds were all shivering to death in the cool night air, or had tipped over their water and were dying of thirst.

Of course none of these things happened – though I am never dismissive about the very real risk of foxes – and this morning when I went down in the early, mist swirling hours before the sun had properly risen, there they all were, cheerfully bopping about the place.  Phew!

One day we hope to have all our poultry free to roam all of the garden – not just within their electric fenced fields.  Both Julian and I love the notion of looking out from the verandah and seeing ducks waddling past to the pond, chickens snoozing in the shade, and guinea fowl roosting in our trees.  Before that happens we will need many more hours of work on the cottage fence, new gates and – if Noah and I get our way – a lovely brave and diligent Maremma to guard them all.

Until then we will potter along with our timber and screws, mesh and corrugated, building our little flocks homes and nests and shelters, and delighting in their antics.

This farming life sure is good.

a bit of floral in quaama

into the washing machine

Do you remember this quilt?  I said it then, and I say it now, I’ve probably taken more photos of these 4 inch squares of floral than any other quilt I’ve made!

glowing on the porch

Whilst I’m sure the old fashioned prettiness of the florals has something to do with it, I think I’m especially drawn to the lovely warm, rich, busy smooshiness that was created by just stitching them randomly together.

I can spend hours on Pinterest sighing over exquisitely pieced, complicated quilts of great beauty – and quickly add them to my board and dream about the day I’ll actually make one! – but often, in films or magazines or books, the quilts that catch my eye, that look so perfectly at home and cosy and nourishing, that have me exclaim “Oh isn’t that lovely!” are quilts of simple squares.

Such is this simple quilt of flowers.

Mum and I bought the fabric together, several years ago now, at Spotlight during their post Christmas sale.  We bought 25cm of each fabric – I can’t remember how many fabrics – 30 or 40 – and then we cut it all up into 4 inch squares (with a seam allowance).  It was the perfect way to do it because we only needed this minimum cut to give us each enough squares for a wonderfully chaotic quilt.  I stitched mine up as soon as the summer holidays were over.  I think Mum’s squares are still sitting in a pile somewhere!

At that time I was having a real period of doubt when it came to quilting.  Totally convinced my machine quilting was crap.  Which it was a bit.  So that year I tied all my quilts and was happy :-)

But now, oh I know I’m a bit boring and repetitive, but I really love my squiggly-wiggly quilting, following the principle of never crossing the line.  Sometimes I do – and stop and unpick.  Sometimes I make a jagged sharp corner – and stop and unpick.  But mostly I just cheerfully go round and round and round, loving some parts more than others.

And so, this favourite quilt was on the top of the re-quilt pile with squiggly-wiggly here in Wombat Hill and today I finished it!

Into the washing machine it went.  Onto the line for a few quick hours of drying in our breezy sun.  And then off to Quaama for a little tour and some pictures.

See I figured that since you’ve already seen this quilt, I would add a bit of extra interest and show you our closest village – Quaama – the name of which is from the local Aboriginal language meaning “shallow water”.  Quaama is on the banks of a sandy river called “Dry River” and this was the European name for this village until the early 1900s.  It’s nestled into a small hillside between the river and the highway, surrounded by Bega Valley’s ubiquitous rolling hills of dairy farms. And it’s pronunciation … like the curry “korma”.
school of arts

It’s a sweet little place.  Very small – apparently less than 150 residents.  But it has a very resourceful General Store with a petrol pump and wee post office run by a lovely couple with a dear little baby.  Anything bigger than a regular envelope is left for us at this post office – and they stock the fabulous Tilba Dairy milk, cheeses and yoghurt and the divine Bermagui sourdough “Honor Bread” – so we drop in regularly.

There’s also a “Small School” (that’s the official NSW term), established in the 1870s, which all of the children on our road attend and the parents love.  There’s a wonderfully maintained and regularly used School of Arts – which apparently doubled as a cinema throughout the 1920s and 30s! – a sweet little Anglican Church, St. Saviours – the local Rural Fire Brigade – and lots of lovely old wooden houses with netted gardens bursting with fruit trees and vegetables.

through the trees

our corner store

stand of gums

cemetery

Oh and there’s a snake infested cemetery.  Yep, that’s right.  Snake infested.  All the cemeteries in the Bega Valley carry this unique warning and each spring they write it up in the newspaper just to remind people.  Apparently the local red belly black snakes – which are highly poisonous but quite timid – love to lay about on the gravestones in the sun.  And I suppose there’d be highly poisonous and quite aggressive Eastern Browns lurking under the stones and fallen branches.  Ugh!  Not my cup of tea at all.  So there are no photos of the old lichen speckled graves of the pioneers set amongst the tall gums.  You’ll just have to imagine that bit.

st saviours

side with view

whole quilt

quilt2

quilt1

noah and the quilt

from side

on rail

blue binding

tank

shed

One of the many things I love about living here is that so many of the scenes – like this old shed and garden and the next door water tank – remind me so much of my grandparent’s home and garden when I was little.  They too lived in a small country town on the eastern coast of NSW.  Every time I see such a sight I am transported straight back to days of lining snails up into “schools”, collecting the heavenly scented gardenia flowers, exploring under the cool dark house, and rolling down their thickly grassed steep hill.  Fabulous!
feather
the back blanket

already in use

And, as is always the case, these floral squares have been quilted onto a beautiful checked vintage wool, Australian-made blanket.  Oh it will be a sad day when I can no longer find these treasures at the opshop.

And, as is always the case, I know this simple quilt will be put to very good use.  This afternoon, after all our groceries and farm supplies were unpacked, Noah and I headed straight out onto the verandah for a quiet sit down and cup of tea.  It was deep in shade, the mobiles spun loud and crazy in the wind, the pattern pieces I was endeavouring to draw blew every which way.

Good thing there was a quilt at hand.

 

round and pretty

blanket stitch

After dedicating ourselves to building shelters, digging garden beds, planting our Autumn seeds, preserving our small fruit harvest – and fitting in some trips to the beach! – I declared today was the day I would finish the round cushion.

I started it a few weeks back – can’t even imagine now why I wasn’t doing something more important – but after spying a Liberty version on Pinterest, I spent an afternoon hunting through the fabric boxes to find scraps of red to make my own.  I’ve wanted to make such a cushion for years – lovely wedges of colour gathered tightly in the middle with a sturdy gusset, something pretty for the middle and a crocheted edging.

You know, I think it was because I had been crocheting squares, and then I had the urge to use the scraps to crochet a mandala, and then the colours of the mandala were so soft and pretty I thought they would look nice with red, and then I saw the cushion on Pinterest.  Yeah.  That must have been how it went ;-)
doily with fabric

trying it out

so much red

I would truly love one in Liberty but everyday here at Wombat Hill I’m reminded that a) we are now soooooooo far away from the shops – especially those that sell Liberty – that there’s a whole lot more of making do that needs to become the norm, and b) there are now sooooooo many more important things to spend our money on then ordering yet more fabric.  Like – chicken feed, and wood for building, and fencing supplies, and guinea keets – oh!  they weren’t perhaps essential but after seeing the older version running around a neighbour’s property we were smitten!

So … to the fabric boxes.  Then, when it came time to stuff.  Well not only are there no shops nearby selling cushion inserts, frankly, I’ve never seen a nice plump round cushion insert for sale anywhere.  But I do have several Alpaca fleeces I have done nothing with for a few years :-)  Deliciously soft and squishy and warm (and dirty) – it made for the loveliest stuffing.

I do declare we will be fighting over who gets to hold the round cushion on our laps come winter, because it is seriously cosier than a hot water bottle.  And infinitely lighter.  Yep – I mightn’t have spun it and knitted it up but I can surely verify that everything they say about Alpaca fleece is true.  Beautifully light and fabulously warm it is.

fleece

stuffing

And dirty.  Did I mention it was dirty?  You should have seen the state of the grey gingham when I’d finished.  I’ve given it a good scrub with some warm soapy water.  I’m just hoping it will dry looking a lot crisper.  But the most curious thing was – there was not a speck of oil.  I’m so used to sheep’s fleece sliding through my fingers and leaving them glowing with lanolin.  I kept checking my hands, sure something similar would begin to build up … but no.  Nothing.  Dry as a bone.  Interesting huh!

Then it was onto the crochet.  First a round of blanket stitch.  Then a round of single crochet.  Then a round of trebles.  Then a round of double with a chain in between each one.  Then finally a shell – with a wee picot in between each one.  I learnt the shell stitch a couple of years ago and it was truly a revelation.  Yes!!  This is the look I have been after for 20 years and it’s so easy!  Who’d have thought.
slow going

But it did take muuuuuuuuuuuch longer then the sewing up of the red slices.  And so … the long finish.  And after today’s hours of effort … so very very worth it.

on left

crocheted centre

I had to wait until late this afternoon to take it out to the fields to photograph.  See, we’re trying to convince our goats that staying inside the movable electric fence is such good fun.  (I can hear everybody who has ever had anything to do with goats roaring with laughter at this point – get a goat to do what WE want!!!) Which means we have to carefully avoid walking about the top fields and getting spotted by the three naughties who – if they see us – instantly begin screaming … and escaping.

noah and goats

Ah yes.  Here’s Clyde on the wrong side of the fence.  Abel and Basil are actually growing up into good goats and cheerfully stay in their little field all day munching weeds.  Clyde – he’s smaller so wriggles out the bottom.  Then stands on the other side of the fence and yells to tell us he’s done it again …

all on the right side

… until we reward Abel and Basil for being inside the fence, so Clyde quickly wriggles back in hoping to get in on some of that action.  He’s always baffled and terribly hurt when we don’t oblige.

two rounds of crochet

noahs christmas quilt and rias quilt

One of the things I love about this cushion are all the memories tucked into each piece of fabric.  That red floral there on the left – one of my favourite ever students used this in the quilt she and I made together when she was in Year 12.  I so loved it – and Ria and her quilt – that I went back to the shop and bought some more to make a skirt that would always remind me of that lovely shared experience.  Then the red and pink in the middle – that’s in Noah’s Christmas Quilt I made when he was little.  The lovely rose on the right – that’s from the house and girl quilt I made many years back – that I still haven’t finished – and then I used the leftovers of it in Noah’s English teacher’s quilt in Year 9.  Such good stuff.

dancing for box

abel

checking out the cushion

So after all this talk of naughty goats and alpaca fleece and quilty memories, where’s this squishy, pretty round cushion going to live?

Well I think it looks just right on our bed.  I’ve painted our walls a soft grey blue.  The grey gingham is actually trimmed off the fabric I am supposed to be sewing up into curtains for our window.  And not only is there a lovely red, white and blue quilt on the bed already, but I found another lovely, even bigger red, white and blue quilt when we were packing up in Melbourne which is folded up in the laundry, waiting for me to quilt it.  So it all fits together quite sweetly I think.

pretty

on the bed

Mmmmmm …. pretty and peaceful.  Just what I love.

 

we live here!

stairs

After a steamy, hot morning of gardening, animal wrangling and painting, I flopped onto the verandah sofa more than a bit buggered.  I had suggested to Noah that a trip to our local beach – Bermagui – might be nice, especially since the perfect summer’s day lay before us.

Now, oh I was happy just to lie in the shade and read.  The thought of wriggling into bathers, hopping into a hot car, and driving 20 minutes was utterly unappealing, no matter what lay at the other end.

But, being the sort of person who has a constant stream of self generated, back and forth conversation in her head, it wasn’t long before I reasoned it was now more than a week into February.  Before we knew it, Autumn would be marching on in and these glorious hot days would once again be something we could only dream of.

And here we are living on one of the loveliest stretches of coastline, my beautiful Pacific Ocean almost at my doorstep.  How could we not just take advantage of this at every opportunity?

So before I could effortlessly talk myself OUT of it, I marched inside, wriggled into those bathers and called out “Noah, do you want to go for a swim? I’m ready now!”  He needed no further prompting and we were winding down the pretty road between Cobargo and Bermagui before Julian even noticed.
north end

to the south

with a crash

Now one thing about Bermagui – if you happen to mention to a local that there’s a bit of a breeze blowing, they’ll reply “It’s always blowy in Bermi!”

So it’s often the way that we leave home hot and sticky and just hanging out for a swim, only to arrive in Bermagui and it’s at least 5 degrees cooler and the minute you plop your hat onto your head, it blows off.

But today that wind was only a gentle breeze and the water was utterly glorious.  Cold at first, but so fresh and beautiful that within moments it was pure bliss to be gliding through the water.

There were delightful wee fish darting amongst the rocks with their pretty pink and green plants.  Fierce little crabs scuttled back and forth along ridges of honeycomb like rock.  Magnificent waves, crashed onto the rocks just metres away from where we swam in calm safety.

And looking further down the coast, there were majestic views of steep, untouched cliffs, and gentle rich green pastures rolling right down to the rocky edges of the ocean.

As I floated on my back, the warmth of the sun pouring through me, feeling deliriously happy, all that chatter in my head was reduced to simply repeating …

“We live here now!  This is finally our home!  Oh my goodness we are so blessed.  Can you believe it – we LIVE here!”

Every time I said it out loud to Noah, he laughed and replied “We do!  It’s pretty cool, huh!”

towel and swim shirt

hat and sandals

lichen

honeycomb rock

noah

After our swim, we drifted back through the little town – bought gelati at the deservedly famous Bermagui Gelati Clinic – if you look intently at the lower of the three signs, you can see that they simply painted “Gelati” over the previous “Veterinary” – too funny! For a bitingly zesty and fresh treat I heartily recommend the grapefruit gelati.  And Noah swears watermelon has never tasted as watermelony as the watermelon gelati.

We were also very pleased to discover that to the left of the Gelati Clinic is HonorBread and to the right, Mister Jones Expresso.  Woohoo!  We’ll have to return in the morning next time to get our fill of these two delights. gelati clinic

grapefruit gelati

Then we swung on over to the Fishing Co-Op for prawns and flathead for tonight’s supper – a Stephanie Alexander favourite – Coconut Pumpkin Soup with Seafood.

coop

By the time we turned westward for home, misty clouds had settled over our mountains and we arrived home just in time to gather the animals and washing in, light the lamps, and draw into our cosy little home before a light rain fell.  It was the perfect end to a lovely afternoon.

prawns and recipe

pumpkin

Now, my life isn’t all roses by any stretch of the imagination.  I get tired and grumpy.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and at other times as flat as a pancake.  Sometimes Julian and I bicker, with lots of eye rolling, pointed glares and exasperated sighs – usually on my part – he’s a lot more mature :-)  Sometimes things don’t work out at all like I thought – hoped – they would.

Sad things happen – as they do throughout every human’s life – and some days the best I can do is remind myself – and whoever else is nearby – that “this too will pass”.  There’s never enough hours in the day – or money in our pockets – to do everything we’d like.

And it’s taken us 20 years of hard work (mostly Julian’s), a second degree and more hard work (mine), and making do (all three of us!) to finally buy our first home.

But I have to confess that since we arrived here at Wombat Hill, things are pretty marvellous actually.  I’m sure there’ll be plenty more times when having a good cry will be my preferred option – something it’s taken me 45 years to understand is perfectly normal and not a sign that the sky is about to fall – but for now …

We live here!  And there’s so much to love about it.