it work

planting our letterbox

my favourite

all in a row

julians favourite

the microwave

interesting use of star pickets

the old one

digging the hole

tamping her down


with the neighbours

it work

Letterboxes in country Australia are quirky things.

They are constructed from all manner of things – and most often homemade.  Old milking cans, perched on their side – and often with the bottoms almost completely rusted out – are a long held favourite.  A more modern take on this is the old gas bottle – one would think they would be a bit sturdier than the milking can – alas, they too seem prone to rust. Even more peculiar is the recent popularity of old microwaves.  I must say, this does not do it for me at all.  I don’t like microwaves at the best of times.  But I guess it’s probably reasonably waterproof – something most country letter boxes are not.

Then there is a never ending parade of handmade skill, ingenuity or imagination – my favourite round here is that white peaked-roof little house number at the top with the sweetly painted door – very traditional and so big – there’d be no parcel too big for the postman to leave in that one!  I could practically sit in it and wait :-)  Julian likes the next one down – a combination of little Swiss Chalet with a heap of mechanical cogs and wheels attached for extra bling.  He plans to make one similar to this.

As for that very old oven, precariously woven onto a quartet of star pickets, well, it sure is quirky, but I’m surprised the postman dares to open it!

I looked up rural letterboxes on google – just to see what they looked like in other parts of the world – and found that there are letterboxes especially made for rugged conditions.  Huh!  Well, I can tell you now, no one around here bothers with that kind of fancy-jiggery.  They go through the scrap pile and make do!

Another feature of country Australia letterboxes is that they usually hold more than your letters!  Frogs, toads and spiders (both harmless and deadly) are common fare.  We had a frog and toad sharing our letterbox all summer – which made me smile every time I peered in – it was like our own little Arnold Lobel tableau come to life – I would not have been surprised to see Frog tidying our mail, and even more delighted if Toad had baked me a cake :-)

Snakes are also common – ugh!  We have plenty of snakes round here – and not your sweet little harmless ones – but red belly black snakes (shy but very poisonous) and browns (quite aggressive and deadly).  Yep, in Australia we don’t like to do things by halves.  Folklore says that if you have red belly blacks, you won’t have browns because the blacks eat the browns’ babies.  I won’t be counting on that. Imagine how big the snake could be that could fit in that huge white letter box!  I’m shuddering just thinking about it!  Sometimes I think it would be wise to check the mail with gloves and a stick.

But the quaintest thing about country letterboxes is that they are not often outside your house/farm.  Instead, they are all perched on the side of the road at the beginning of your road – with road being a euphemism for winding, pot-holed dirt track that may well go for miles, getting more track like and more prone to flooding the further it goes.  I love it :-)  It’s like the pinboard you find in a university department when you hop out of the lift – you know, the kind that has a photo of everybody who works there with their name underneath.  You peer at them – usually an eclectic assortment of easy smiles, sullen stares, and grim frowns – as you’re wondering which tutorial to sign up for, wondering which ones are nice, which ones are funny, which ones are reliable, and which ones will make you wish you never came to university.

The letterboxes are just like this!  They are the street’s version of the photo pinboard with their individual peculiarities inviting you to ponder who lives where and what they are like!  I bet the person who built the Swiss Chalet with mechanical cogs and wheels has a wonderful attention for detail and keeps all his Owner Builder magazines chronologically with a cross reference for different building methods.  And the person who perched the old oven on its stilts loves a laugh and hunting through the darkest and dingiest farm sheds, and probably watches Howl’s Moving Castle once a month.  As for my favourite – well that’s clearly a farm that has been lovingly handed down through the family and great grandad built that letterbox for great grandmother as a consolation present when she gave birth to their fifth son!

As such, Mum decided that our inherited letterbox – the dull little rusted thing with the name Neal – did not say anything useful about us!  So, with the expectation that building a beautiful letterbox will be long way down Julian’s list of things to do, she found a perfectly serviceable little letterbox at the dumpshop (why throw money away on new when the dumpshop almost always has what we need!), sanded it back, gave it a coat of rustkill and proofing, then painted it a divine glossy red – as a tribute to dear old Grandad’s decades of service to Australia Post and because red is always fabulous.  Mum did such a lovely job!

And I, of course, added my own bit of letterbox bling.  A “boot” for the front – with flowers growing out of it – our name, and across the top I painted the number as big as possible – don’t want the postman getting mixed up – and more flowers.  Mum was delighted!  Julian just smiled and shook his head – and maybe moved “build letterbox” further up the list ;-)

So the other Saturday morning, as we sat on the porch contemplating the day’s list or gardening and animal chores, we bumped “plant letterbox” up to the top.  We chucked all the tools we’d need into the back of the car and drove on up to our road’s letterboxes – where we met up with some neighbours and had a good old chinwag and planned a street party! Julian yanked out the old disaster – it was so precarious it was a miracle it had not toppled over – and dug the hole much deeper.  He planted a lovely sturdy fence post (also bought at the dumpshop – yes!) nice and deep and filled around it with fine little pebbles, bashed them down with the crowbar, then packed in more dirt on top.  Next he screwed on our cheerful little letterbox – then realised I had painted it “back to front”. That was a moment.  Well of course I did because it’s not really back to front!  I want to be able to pull up in the car right beside that letter box, flip back the lid and peer in.  Perfect!  He thinks I’m mad – but loveable.

Yep, our little letterbox might not score high on the country Australia quirky letterbox scale but it definitely says “The Boots live here!”, don’t you think :-)  And now we are that bit more firmly planted here in our beautiful valley.  Sigh!

under the applegum

finding our faraway tree

milkshake and crochet




Noah and Julian

Julian and fu

upside down

looking up

crochet hook


bark stripping


peaceful pooches

on the quilt


under the applegum

front door


so twisty

down to the faraway tree

Early Friday morning, we sat on the porch, third coffees on the table between us, me with my crochet, Julian with his moleskin, and we brainstormed all the things we’d love to achieve around the farm over the weekend.  Then we marked off the most important seven for Friday and set to work.  It was mostly a day of orchard planting.  The raspberry patch was finished off – 5 metres long by 2 metres wide, thoroughly dug over with old duck bedding, liberally seasoned with the neighbour’s horse poo, edged with timber and secured with a nice deep row of poultry netting, steel hoops and black netting.  Nothing can be left to chance around here.  If the ducks don’t get in with their destructive flat feet and jack hammering bills, or the rats and rabbits eat it down to a 1 inch stick, then the rosellas and king parrots annihilate every last bud. We’ve learnt the hard way.

Then we planted plums, pomegranates, peaches, blackcurrants and gooseberries.  At the moment the whole thing looks like a graveyard of sticks with a half dug pond piled with dirt around the edges.  Nothing to show off for sure.  But oh, when I look down from the kitchen window, I dream of what it will look like in a few years time.  The pond will be deep and full, edged by water plants with a lovely rock wall at one end, and ducks and geese cheerfully swimming round and round the water lilies.  Those fruit trees – including the already planted apples, pears, hawthorn and almond will be tall and blooming.  That raspberry patch will be glistening with fat juicy berries.  And off to one side will be the lovely wooden rotunda that Julian and I plot every time we stand amongst the fruit trees – a handmade octagon with no railings but wide steps leading into the orchard from each side and tall roof thickly covered in wisteria. Mmmmmm …..

Anyways – that was Friday’s list.  Yesterday’s was filled with niggledy little tasks that needed finishing off as well the building of a proper, functioning compost system, and the relocating of the sheep.  A big and busy list, that one, but oh so satisfying to tick each thing off.  And last night – when I looked out and could see our five dear sheep on the other side of the house fence – it felt just right.

This morning, we sat at the table with our third coffees and ambitiously checked off the next seven items.  We may even have said “And once we’ve done all that. we’ll start digging the next 10 metre long raspberry patch.” Yes, I ordered 20 more canes (on top of the 10 we planted Friday) and they’re arriving this week – eek!

First on the list … weed whack around the new sheep fence.  But by the time we got down there, we were already discussing number 2 – move the goat tethers over to the field next to the sheep so that they’d have plenty of shade from the nearby small gum grove.  We wandered down amongst the gums to pace out where we needed to start.  The grove was delightfully cool but sun speckled and the kangaroos have been doing a sterling job keeping down the grass.  It was almost the grove of our dreams.

Our talk turned away from weed whacking and goat tethering to … if we cleared this bit here, got rid of that clump of bracken, dragged these logs up to edge the herb garden.  Next thing, Julian was weed whacking in an ever increasing circle around the huge central apple gum whilst I raked and made bush turkey styled piles ready to be carted off to the bonfire.  We plotted where we would put a rustic wooden table and benches.  We ooohed and ahhhed about how lovely it would be to sit down here on a hot summer’s day with jugs of iced lemon and mint water.  I dreamed of slipping away to wile away the hours with needles, wool and books.

Then, pushing all thoughts of lists and chores away, Julian weed whacked us the perfect path back to the house where we made icy cold banana milkshakes, dug out the picnic quilt, coaxed Noah away from his laptop, and returned to the applegum.

Julian shook out the quilt and we all plonked down.  Through the trees, green fields dotted with cows, rolled away to the north, and mountains loomed to the west.  A spider scuttled across the quilt and Noah caught it in his gumboot – he says it was the first thing that came to hand.  A pair of kookaburras sat above us in the tree, cackling away.  Pakkun tried her hardest to share our milkshakes whilst Fu snuffled about in the grass, and the nearby sheep mooed.  I stitched away at my granny bolster cover, and Julian stripped the bark away from a narrow log he plans to turn into a tamper handle (pond digging stuff)

It was blissful and as I looked up I realised we were really sitting under the Faraway tree!  I pointed out the little doors and porches to Noah and stared up into the sun kissed, twisty turning branches wondering what Silky and Moonface were up to.  I don’t know that Noah was quite as bewitched as I :-)

I adored the Magic Faraway Tree books when I was little.  I read them over and over and over and wished, for the umpteenth time, that I could live a life as wonderful, mysterious and magical as the children in Enid Blyton’s books.  You know, I daresay this was the start of my passion for the English countryside.  It was patently obvious to me that the grand adventures of the Famous Five, the Adventurous Four and of course Jo, Bessie and Fanny could never happen in Australia.  You clearly had to be in the English countryside to camp out in abandoned castles, capture smugglers, rescue kidnapped European princes, and spend lovely days up a tree with the Faraway Tree folk.  Sigh.

And as I sat under our beautiful Faraway Tree, I realised that it was never the promise of that magical land at the top of the tree that really drew me into these books.  I even remember skipping over those bits.  What I truly loved were the homes the funny little people of Faraway Tree – and later, Roald Dahl’s Minpins and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers – created.  The cosiness, the warmth and welcome (mostly), the nooks and crannies, the corners filled with fascinating items, and especially the fabulous make do philosophy they all embraced as they built their wee homes, turning other people’s cast offs into the loveliest of belongings.

I didn’t care about running around in Candy Land or whatever had zoomed in that week.  I longed to peek into little sitting rooms, and take tea by the fireside with people whose lives revolved around the dear little homes they had built all by themselves.  I wanted to live there with them.  I wanted to build my own home just as lovely and creative as theirs. And I wanted them to come visit me.

Forty years later, and I don’t believe I’ve changed one bit :-)  Here we are, Julian and I, building our little home bit by bit.  Weekend by weekend.  Making use of what we find, what other people cast away.  Building it by hand.  Making it so utterly descriptive of just who we are, what we love, and what’s important to us.

Making it cosy.  Making it welcoming.  Making it creative.  Making it ours.



sunny and hunflower bread

So many years ago, when Julian and I first set up home in a tiny flat in Paddington, we used to frequent a small strip of old shops in Auchenflower.  There was a magnificent European style delicatessen that was literally packed to the roof with preserved meats, unheard of cheeses and exotic chocolates, an excellent wine cellar, a newsagent that always had my favourite English Country Living, and a bakery that on Saturday baked Honey and Sunflower Bread.

My idea of the perfect Saturday was for me to stay in bed with a cup of tea and some cross stitch whilst Julian rode over to the shops for the newspapers, magazines, special treats for lunch and of course the Honey and Sunflower Bread.  He’d return with an overflowing backpack, hop back into bed with me and we’d spend the next few hours reading the papers and eating thick slabs of bread with almost as thick slabs of cold butter.  It was perfect.

I’ve never visited a bakery since that bakes this bread.  But it has always stayed so fresh and good in my memories.  Especially since that Saturday morning when I went to the bakery and asked for Sunny and Hunflower bread and everybody laughed and laughed :-)

So, since I’ve been so enjoying making bread again – and having it turn out just lovely with very little effort – thanks to the ever so helpful and encouraging Rhonda of Down to Earth Living – I decided to try baking my own Honey and Sunflower bread.  And it turned out beautifully.  And we ate it with thick slabs of cold butter.  And reminisced about the little shops in Auchenflower.  And laughed again about Sunny and Hunflower.

And because several people on Instagram asked, I thought I’d share a wee photo tutorial on how to make your own Hunny and Sunflower bread. Here we go …

Step 1

The night before you want your bread, mix the dough before going to bed.  In a large bowl, add 3 cups of bakers flour, 1 cup of sunflower kernels and 2 teaspoons of dried yeast granules.  Whisk about until they are well blended.  Then add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Whisk about again.  Next, add 2 cups of water (just tap water is fine), 60g of runny honey,  and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  With a wooden spoon, stir this into the flour mix until well combined – you might need to add a little more water – but do so just a couple of tablespoons at a time otherwise it will be too sticky in the morning.  When you have a shaggy and sticky but well mixed dough, cover the bowl.  I use a beeswax wrap – you could easily use a tea towel with the edges tucked under, or a clean shower cap.  Leave sitting on the kitchen bench – you don’t need any heat – my kitchen is currently around 8 degrees overnight and it works fine – and go to bed knowing that in the morning, you are going to have the loveliest fresh, homebaked bread!
all the airbubbles

Step 2

Look at that risen dough!  Full of air and smelling of yeasty goodness!  Sprinkle some extra bakers flour on your kneading surface (I use a wooden bread board), some on your hands, and some on the surface of the dough.  Remember its pretty sticky.

overnight rise

Step 3

Pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl.  This is my favourite step.  I love seeing how the yeast worked its magic overnight.  So stretchy!  So bubbly!

pull it out

Step 4

Place dough on well floured surface and knead lightly for no more than 5 minutes.

just a quick knead

I use a poor imitation of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s method (poor but effective!) – leaving the dough on the board, I pull the end closest to me towards me – stretching the dough out …


… then, I lift the pulled out end up and fold it back over the top end …


… turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat.  Every second pull, fold and turn, I flip the dough over.  I do this no more than 10 times.


Step 5

Now, leaving your dough on the bread board, spin the dough round and round whilst keeping one hand on top and firmly tucking the bottom edge under with the other hand.  I do this about 1o times.  The top becomes your presentable surface and the bottom gets a bit of a fold in it.

Step 6

Place your beautiful, barely kneaded dough into a generously floured proving basket.  Proving baskets are little rattan baskets lined with calico.  We recently bought some because that’s what they use in Julian’s sourdough book.  You could easily use a bowl lined with a well floured teatowel.

ready for the basket

in the basket

Step 7

Cover your dough in its proving basket – again, I use a beeswax wrap, but you could use a floured teatowel – and place in a warm spot to rise.  If it’s a sunny day I stick mine on the north facing (where all the sun comes from in the morning) porch railing.  I’ve also put it on the wood burning stove – on the turned on coffee machine – and even on top of the turned on Xbox.  Any warm spot will do.  Leave for 45 minutes.  At the 30 minute mark, turn your oven on to 260 celsius (that’s as hot as mine goes) and put the well floured container you will be baking your bread into the oven to heat up.
cover and put in a warm spot

Look at that!  So blossoming!  So sunflowery!  So ready for the oven.


Step 8

I bake my bread in an old Romertopf I bought in those early days of feathering our nest.  It seemed exotic, old fashioned and useful at the same time – all my favourite things – and has given us over 20 years of excellent service.  Julian uses an inexpensive cast iron Dutch Oven that was bought at the camping store for his bread baking.  Both provide a lovely heaviness, excellent heat distribution, and having a lid that seals creates the highly desirable steamy atmosphere needed to create a delicious crisp crust on your loaf.  Now your baking container has been heating up for 15 minutes.  Take it out of the oven (don’t leave the door open) and carefully lift your glorious dough out of the proving basket and into the hot container.  Put on the lid.  Pop it back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

into the heated romerotpf

Step 9

When that timer dings, take your container out of the oven.  Take off the lid and inhale that delicious steamy breadiness!  So good.

Give it five minutes rest, then carefully lift the bread out and set to cool on a wire cooling rack.  I cover the bread with a tea towel at this point.  Cooling it on a wire rack allows the bottom of the bread to dry out.  If you leave it in the container, the bottom will become damp and soggy.

Step 10

Huzzah!  You have now baked a beautiful loaf of Sunny and Hunflower Bread!  And the whole thing only took up to 10 minutes effort last night.  Then only 10 minutes effort this morning.  Then a bit of proving and baking, during which time you had a coffee, did some other chores, or sat and knitted. Or you might have done the school run – extra brownie points for you!  And what a treat you receive in return!

When it’s cooled a little, slice with a sharp serrated knife, smother with butter and savour every mouthful.

Hopefully I’ve written this out in a coherent manner.  If you find something that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t work for you, let me know and I’ll see what I can fix.

Now it’s Friday night.  We’ve planted fruit trees all day.  I’m stiff and tired but Julian’s cooked a lovely supper.  And later, before I stagger off to bed, I shall mix up some Sunny and Hunflower dough.

Because tomorrow is Saturday morning …


layered around the neck

knitting a scrappy scarf

bands of colour

sewing the ends

layered around the neck

watching for the bus

from the side
theres the moon
with Julian


and off he goes

Way back when the weather was hot and I somehow forgot about all the other projects on my knitting needles, I decided I really really really needed to knit up the multitude of dk balls of wool left over from last year’s crochet shawl making.  All those stripes only used a fraction of each ball so there was plenty to dive into.  I also wanted rather mindless knitting – the sort that feels more like meditation than knitting.

I started with red – because red is always marvellous.  I cast on 5 stitches then began knitting … I just knit up each ball of wool until only a wee tail remained – regardless of where that was – tied on the next ball and set off again.  It was indeed meditative and after inspecting it, Noah declared this growing triangle to be an awesome scarf that could be tied round his neck like a huge knitted bandana.  Cool!  Now there was purpose to the knitting.

However, the weather continued to be warm and you know me … other projects jumped up, grabbed me by the neck and pulled me away.  It wasn’t until Monday, when I made Julian measure my tiniest double pointed needles (I’ve misplaced my fabulous knitting ruler) so I could start knitting a pair of socks – because by crikey, there was nothing else to knit :-0 – that Noah rolled his eyes and exclaimed “You could always finish that awesome scarf – then I could wear it to Melbourne on Wednesday!  Apparently the weather will be cold and dreak – perfect for a colourful scarf!”

Oh yeah.

So I did.  I knitted like a demon.  Of course – by this stage, there were hundreds of stitches in each row and with every second row,it grew yet wider!  Monday night I finished the dark dusky pink, added the flecky purple (this was from a jumper Old Nanny knitted Noah when he was little!) and began the flecky rust.  Man, I didn’t think that flecky rust would ever run out.  Then yesterday, after painting the duck house, I nailed that flecky rust and moved on to the royal blue … knit knit knit knit knit knit knit … then a wee bit more of lime green, then finally the navy edge.

Now with hindsight, I could have added another row of navy blue – I was terrified it would run out halfway through the castoff.  Frankly, if I had, Noah would not be wearing the scarf today.  I began the cast off last night whilst half way through a crappy movie with Julian – I made him stay up and watch movies of his choice so I could keep knitting.  In the end I was literally falling asleep mid stitch so it was time to put the needles down.

But I was not to be defeated, so this morning it was back up in bed at 5am, a steaming coffee by my side, and casting off.  All. Those. Stitches.  Oy!

The many ends were stitched in en route – I had to start with the light colours because it was still dark when we left at 6:30am to make the Melbourne bus.  By the time we arrived at Bega, there was just enough time and light to stitch in the dark ones, trim them all off and voila!  Noah had a beautiful mama-made scarf (talisman) to wear to Melbourne.  Now he will be toasty warm and protected by his mama’s knitted love.

It’s a funny thing, waving goodbye to your young one.  Yes, he went out by himself all the time when we lived in Melbourne – but he always came home at the end of each day.  Now, he ventures off to Melbourne every couple of months to catch up with friends, visit his favourite places … and we have to just trust that he – our very trustworthy, responsible and cautious child – will be alright.  Well of course he probably will.   In the past he has stayed with the family of one of Julian’s work colleagues – a lovely mum and 3 little kids who Noah plays with, and cooks with, and draws with, and the mum picks him from the train station and drops him off.  And is a caring, thoughtful and supportive listener each evening when Noah comes home from his adventures and appointments.

This time, he’s staying with an old school friend who’s recently moved into their own apartment in Prahran.  Oh my goodness.  That all sounds a bit too huge and alarming to me – but that lovely mum is there in the background if needed, and I guess the next week will probably be very exciting, empowering and a good taste for Noah of what it’s really like to stand on your own two feet.  All good stuff.

At least his neck will be warm.

Here’s the recipe in case you too have balls and balls of colourful yarn that could warm the necks of those you love.

Cast on 5 …

  • knit2, wrap, knit1, wrap, knit 2  (right side)
  • knit2, purl3, knit2 (wrong side)
  • knit2, wrap, knit3, wrap, knit2
  • knit2, purl5, knit2
  • knit2, wrap, knit5, wrap, knit2

… and so on.  Each right sided row starts with knit2, wrap, and ends with wrap, knit2.  The stitches in between – which grow by 2 each time – are knitted.  Each wrong sided row starts and ends with knit2 and the stitches in between (including the wraps from the previous row) are purled.  Colours are just added when the wool runs out.  The last two rows are knitted so as to provide the same edging the rest of the scarf has.

Perfect for knitting whilst watching movies, listening to audio books, and de-stressing.  Good for knitting in the car if you don’t get car sick. :-)