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On this sun sparkly, windy winter’s morn

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My new name badge has arrived for work… I have just last week started a new position on the paediatrics ward. I love looking after children and their families and can foresee much study and the gaining of new skills in the next couple of years.

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There’s a new cushion cover waiting for me to stitch today.  I have grand notions of making a series of cushions with animals from our farm. Maybe …

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Every time I visit the kitchen garden – usually several times a day – there are more sweet pea to bring upstairs – heaven! And Julian has promised to build me a permanent sweet pea bed next year with a sturdy metal trellis.  Oh imagine how many sweetpeas there will be then!

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I’ve finally taken paint to my rough sketch on the pantry wall.  My little farmher is definitely channelling her inner Strega Nona.  That’s okay – I’m very fond of Strega.

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Jammy toast and creamy coffee before venturing out to tend to all our animals. I so love my coffee, I look forward to it from the moment I go to bed the night before!

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My auriculas are loving this sunny sunny corner of the porch  … everyday I carefully look for signs of their long flowering stems.  Not yet.  Surely soon.  Just have to get the Auricula theatre my talented friend Terry so beautifully made for me up on the porch.  Alas it is sooooo heavy and we never seem to get around to it when Julian is home.

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Spring is so close! Always the first to bloom is my sweet almond tree .  This year we are DEFINITELY NETTING so as to enjoy not just her pretty popcorn flowers but her actual nuts as well.

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First out, the honking geese  … they will surely start laying soon and hopefully this year,  their eggs will be fertile and we will have dear little goslings marching around the garden.  Apparently their first year of laying is a dummy run so fingers crossed.

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The ducks do nothing by half.  Life is thrilling and there to be seized in full quacking voice, so each morning, out they burst and off they run.

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Book wisdom says to discard your dirty eggs.  Ducks always look pristine but are right dirty little buggers.  If I heeded this rule, we would never eat a duck egg! So instead I was them quickly in skin temperature water with a wee bit of environmentally sensitive dishwashing liquid and dry them on a tea towel on the kitchen bench.  All good.

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My first delphinium is blooming.  Do I cut it and bring it inside to stick in with sweetpeas or leave it to admire in the garden.  What would Gertrude or Vita do? I shall have to check.

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Where’s my carrot!?  Honestly, ponies are worse than dogs when it comes to eating.  Everything is fair game including my pockets and fingers.

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Noah and I finally collected our bunches of Privet berries for dyeing wool.  Alas today there is no power or water so they will have to wait.  Of course I know to be super careful with these berries as privet is both toxic and very invasive … but I have great hopes for the blues and greens that we will cook up!

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This girl is sitting on a large clutch of eggs.  Common sense – or fear, Julian and Noah – says we should move her off and put them in the incubator ’cause last year which ever hen it was – all the Plymouths are called Helen because I can’t tell them apart – killed each chick she had.  Eek! Their dear little heads were all pecked in.  But I’m hoping that was youthful immaturity and this year – if I move this girl into her into her own little house on ground level in the chook run with easy access to food and water – this girl will live up to her breed’s reputation and that won’t happen …

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The bottom scrapings of the pea and ham soup pot will grow good eggs. The chickens and turkeys agree.

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These little piggies are the noisiest of my four legged children.  And the funniest.

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Good morning to you too Bridget! She doesn’t really like me that much … just wants her Lucerne NOW.

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These here sheep reckon they need Lucerne too. Every morning they tell me how starving they are … yet the fellows at the stock feed tell me no sheep ever starved in the Bega Valley.  I just don’t know who to believe …
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Our newly planted cypress hedge saluting the sun.  I hope they grow as fast as their labels promise.

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There’s definitely A Tale of Two Bad Ponies to be written.  Tooticky is frantically stuffing herself with the sheep and cow Lucerne as I wheel it down to them. Lucerne is to ponies what red cordial is to hyperactive children … Do you know what I caught the ponies doing yesterday? Squatting under the quail house and bumping it up and down with their shoulders so as to spill the quail food all over the ground so they could then gobble it up! No wonder we go through so much quail food.
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Dear Babette … she doesn’t think she should have to eat off the ground with the rest of them. Hand fed please.
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And all of this was luckily completed – with water troughs filled – literally seconds before bang! The power was turned off for the day … again.  Insert big deep sighs. So no painting or sewing or gardening or cleaning or listening to music etc etc etc.

But I shall not rant on about how much this annoys me … instead I shall write this blog post on my phone – a tad challenging so please overlook any strange errors – and look back at yet another morning spent having a marvellous time on our little farm here in the gorgeous Bega Valley where we get to live all that we dream of.  With or without power … and water!

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now thats more like it

julian laid an egg!

a frame

the real things

geese on the move

the log

getting off the bark

very rough

little bit egg shaped

chisel

awestruck

now thats more like it

out it pops

give it a polish

all done

Oh my goodness!  I have always thought that my Julian was the bees’ knees and a right clever clogs.  But since he brought home his father’s lathe … well, just call me blown away and even more besotted with my lovely man and his endless hidden talents :-)

So here we are, winter is fading fast and spring pushing its way forth.  Our fruit trees are covered in wee buds – you should have seen the almond tree – covered in dear little tightly furled pink buds which the wretched bloody rosellas ate yesterday – aaaaargh! The days are longer.  The bread rises oh so fast.  And the geese are laying eggs.

See, geese only lay once a year.  Well, you know, they lay up to eight eggs over a period of a couple of weeks.  But they don’t lay at any other time.  Like wild birds, they only lay to reproduce.  And our dear girls – Madonna and Francesca – are slowly and carefully adding more eggs to their clutch in the little A-frame house.

We originally built that house for the ducks, but they outgrew it quickly – in size and number.  So we thought the geese might like it and filled it with lovely fresh straw.  Alas, our geese are wilful and dreadfully hard to herd, and so have never slept in there.  Oh no, they insist, every night, on sitting out under the moon and stars, their heavily feathered butts on the freezing ground. Even in the pouring rain and relentless wind.  Bizarre! Which leaves them susceptible to foxes and that means we have to keep the unsightly orange plastic electric net fence up.  Oh well.

But then we began to notice Madonna and Francesca disappearing into the A-frame for hours on end whilst Guiseppe stood guard.  Such glee! I checked many times over the first few weeks – nothing.  Until one morning, there was a HUGE, heavy, perfect white egg.  Naturally, I now – when the geese are up at the pond (very depleted – there’s been no rain for a couple of weeks) – crawl in and inspect their nest for new eggs.  And every few days, yes there’s another one buried deep in the straw, as cold as ice.

We haven’t yet decided how to proceed with this.  Clearly we would love goslings – we bought our trio of Pilgrim Geese as breeders for future meat birds.  Goose for christmas sounds marvellous indeed!  But we don’t know whether to leave the eggs where they are and let Madonna and Francesca have a go at hatching them.  Or pop the eggs into an incubator and see how that goes. Hmmm ….

Of course we don’t want to distress the geese by taking their eggs and making them feel that the A-frame is unsafe and therefore no more eggs for us!  And the plastic eggs you can buy at the ag shop are a very small substitute – I don’t think the geese would be so easily duped.  So Julian decided to turn some eggs.

This morning, he hunted through the wood shed to find a good bit of tree trunk.  And, completely bewitched by the idea of that lump of rough dark wood turning into a smooth egg, I set up a garden chair in the doorway to his workshop and watched with bated breath.

It was magical!  I know people can create exquisite and intricate things with wood lathes and this is just an egg.  But I had NO IDEA my dear man could do this!!!!  Oh the possibilities ahead of us!  I foresee wonderful candlesticks and lampbases, wooden bowls, table legs, staircase rails … all made from the trees on our land.  And of course eggs.  I think there will be many more eggs. How awesome is that!?

Julian carefully liberated his finished egg from its wooden uterus (hee! hee! hee!) and I gave it a quick rub with some lovely fragrant beeswax.  Julian worries that the geese mightn’t like that smell – oh well, that means I can keep this egg and he’ll just have to get to making more for the geese!

Truly, I think this is the most precious and beautiful egg I’ve ever been given.

polished

when the rain came

fire

digging

surveying

with shovel

african

polished

with cows

testing it

rearranged

A few weeks back we were treated to a torrential weekend of rain.  It began on the Friday afternoon and thundered down, non-stop, until Monday afternoon.  Oh my goodness, there was so much water.

Now, as a Brisbane girl – who also lived in Malaysia as a child – I thought I knew rain.  I love a good storm that stealthily appears on the horizon, turning the sky an eerie gold-green, before launching massive rolls of thunder and cracks of lightning, then torrential rain that turns your street into a creek within moments.  Yeah, yeah, I know and love that rain well.  But it’s over and done with within an hour usually.  Sometimes, if it’s arrived early enough in the afternoon, you can even enjoy a freshly washed blue sky and dazzling sunset before the moon rises for the evening.

But this rain – almost 72 hours of constant, drenching rain.  No.  That, I have never experienced.  It was delightful on Friday evening as we built the fire to roaring, tucked all the animals up safe and dry in their houses, and settled in for a cosy night of knitting and good television.  It was even adventurous on Saturday morning when Noah and I layered up and ventured over to Quaama for petrol, veggies and milk.

Saturday evening was beginning to feel a bit like we should have prepared the ark and as Sunday morning dawned – with a solid grey and plummeting sky – the novelty was definitely wearing thin. It was especially thin when we realised the pantry roof was leaking … onto our kitchen appliances.  The goats were pissed off.  The chickens were glum.  The guinea fowl had given up trying to make the best of it and were so hunched up they appeared to have lost their necks.  But the ducks and geese?  Rain is like crack to them.  They go truly insane.  They spend every outside moment running, splashing, darting their beaks into the sodden earth.  They ADORE it.

We humans were OVER it.  All the roads around us were flooding.  The ground was like walking on a sodden dish sponge.  Doing the animal chores was a drenching and depressing affair – by Monday morning I just did them in my underwear and gumboots.  No point soaking another set of clothes – and yes, I had been wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella!  Water was pouring out of the tanks’ overflows.  And we were having to replace the  buckets and towels in the pantry every couple of hours.  And what did the weather forecast say – oh you haven’t had the worst of it – that’s still coming!

Yep, Sunday night that rain was so loud on our tin roof it was hard to stay asleep.  And I hated thinking of all our animals – just as damp and soggy as their bedding.  All night I dreamt of big dry cosy barns – like in Charlotte’s Web – with solid wooden walls, high impenetrable slate roofs, dry dusty floors, separate little cosy stalls for all the animals, each with a lovely pile of warm, dry, sweet smelling fresh straw. Argh!

But as I staggered out of bed on Monday morning, my spirits as low as the sky, I reminded myself that this too would pass.  The skies were predicted to clear by mid afternoon.  The animals were all still healthy and whole.  Everything would dry out.  So, instead of frittering away another day, I decided to embrace my inner Rhonda and give the house a huge deep clean – and even throw in a little re-arrange.  Alas, the re-arrange potential here is as small as our house, but I still give it my best shot :-)

Julian went out to dig at his pond – with his ever faithful assistant and most unlikely farm dog ever – Fu!  I scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom.  Washed and polished all the wooden surfaces.  Polished the silver trays and art deco coffee pots on top of the kitchen dresser.  Refreshed all the little Ostheimer corners and filled vases with feathers and gum.  Each candleholder was filled with new candles.  I scrubbed the stove.  Vacuumed and mopped the floor.  And then with my ever faithful rearranging assistant – the fabulous Noah – moved my sewing and computer desk into the far corner of the dining room and the crystal cabinet into the prime spot opposite the dining table.  We even dusted all the crystal!  And as we moved – and created ever more dust – Noah attacked with the vacuum.

It was brilliant.  We totally reclaimed the day.  We embraced our little home and made the most of it, rain or not.  Julian gave the ducks and geese their best day on earth ever – and because the ground was so sodden, was able to really get into building up the walls of the pond which had become very hard over our long hot summer.

By the end of the day we were all tired and sore.  But the rain had stopped.  The animals were indeed drying out.  The last applied towels and buckets in the pantry were still dry.  And our house shone like a new pin, no longer feeling like a damp and untidy hovel.  The homemade furniture polish I’d used – coconut oil, vinegar and a dash of rose geranium essential oil – added a lovely soft scent to every room.  The firelight and candlelight made all the wooden surfaces and silver gently gleam.  We all felt a sense of productive satisfaction.

All was good and peaceful.

And next time such rain is predicted, I know just what to stock up on, just how to prepare – and just how to enjoy it.

on angle

The Duck & Goose :: my painted farm

the fluffy helper

so much mesh

working on the fox proofing

under the ramp

tempting them in

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close up

flora and reuben

the feeder

the rotten rosella

tools

top

middle

close up rosella

all sone

at the end of the ramp

on angle

in we go

I love building animal houses with Julian.  It’s such fun puzzling out all the questions that must be answered each time we build a new house.  What shape and size do we need for this particular species? How big does the door need to be?  What kind of access do we need to the interior?  How are we going to clean it?  What kind of floor does it need?  How much ventilation?  Does it need to be fox proof – what a silly question – everything needs to be fox proofed!!!  What are we going to build it out of?  And how much will THIS cost!?!?!

We built our original six Indian Runner Ducks a sweet little A-frame.  However, we came home from collecting the Guinea Keets with a beautiful breeding pair of Appleyard Ducks (hello Flora and Reuben!) and come the Bega Young Poultry Auction, we found ourselves with two more dear little chocolate Runners (hello Alfred and Gretel!) and three gorgeous geese (hello Guiseppe, Madonna and Francesca!).  That little A-frame was just too little.  The ducks no longer liked going in at night and there was no room for a nest for their prodigious egg laying.  Flora took to hiding her eggs around the garden (she lays huge eggs almost every day) and the Runners were simply dropping theirs near the duck pond!  As for the geese – phht! – no hope.

A new house was needed – one with ample room for now and plenty of room for little ducklings come spring.  But the building supply pile was looking skimpy as were the building funds.  Hmmm.  Serendipitously, Mum found the solution!  Being an avid gardener, she often hangs out at her local garden centre and knows the owner well – he was lamenting that he had a huge pile of hardwood pallets that were taking up way too much room so Mum asked if we could have a few and he was more than happy for Julian to visit with the trailer!  Woot!

Pallet building has surely become an “in-thing” – look on Pinterest and you’ll find heaps of furniture built out of the humble pallet.  However, these misguided carpenters appear to mostly rip apart the pallets – a lot of effort for some pretty crappy timber.  We wanted to use ours whole – fast and sturdy.  So – two pallets for the floor, two for each long side, one for the back and two for a ramp – all screwed together.  A big hinged door made out of hardwood fence palings we sourced from the dumpshop.  Corrugated from the dumpshop for the roof – mounted on a bit of our building timber left over from the chicken house.  And the whole thing was mounted on besser block footings that Julian spent hours carefully digging into the ground and levelling.  This means the straw litter will filter through to the ground and all we’ll have to do is keep adding fresh straw to the top!  Works a treat in the chook house.

However, pallets are NOT fox proof.  The author of my favourite chicken book – The Small Scale Poultry Flock – says he keeps the skulls of the few predators that have breached his defences – so that he can push them through gaps in his building to see if they fit!  I reckon foxes probably have pretty flattish skulls so I’m into filling in every nook and cranny.  Julian thinks I should get myself a dead fox, let it decay and then test that bloody skull just to make sure!  He’s quite sure foxes are no where near as flat as that.  I don’t know.  There’s a reason so many stories and nursery rhymes have been written about foxes and their fondness for stealing poultry.

Anyways, the pallets lack of fox proofing meant I had to completely mesh the inside of the duck house with poultry mesh.  It didn’t take as long as I thought – but it was rather cramped and arm-exhausting work, stapling all that mesh on.  There sure won’t be any foxes dining at my duck house tonight :-)

But the BEST bit about building animal houses is that I get to decorate them when done :-)  As I’m sure you can guess dear folk, I loooooooove that bit.  And on Tuesday, after having a complete hissy fit and floods of tears over the rats eating my arrowroot, echinacea and elder, rather than spending the morning ranting at Julian and Noah about the unfairness of nature, or stewing on the porch, or sulking in my bedroom, I gathered up my paints and headed down to the duck house.  There was that beautiful big fencing paling door just wanting for a spot of prettiness.

I never really know the details of what I shall paint before I start.  I’m a bit like that.  I knew there would be a tree – with blossoms and apples and leaves all at once :-) I call it the Hayao Miyazaki art style (Japanese filmmaker – always has all his favourite flowering plants in flower at once no matter what the time of year ;-).  I knew there would be ducks.  Runners?  Appleyards? Whatever was right at the moment.

And I have to say, I am utterly thrilled to pieces with this work.  For the tree’s trunk and branches, I took my inspiration from the cherry tree that shades the duck house.  Then added my details – I’m especially pleased with the leaves – I managed to achieve a build up of colour that from a distance looks appliqued!  Grass underneath – with fallen blossoms and fruit.  Then Reuben and Flora – the runners always run about as one flock so I couldn’t just pick a couple out.  Whereas Reuben and Flora – well, they’re like an old married couple :-)  So identifiable and so much character.  Perfect for painting.  The other side of the tree needed something but there wasn’t enough room for more ducks so I thought about what the ducks love – their feeder!  Even though they spend most of their day foraging around the garden, they do love to greedily guzzle up a slurp of scratch mix as soon as they burst out of their house each morning.  And finally, one of those pesky Rosellas.  They ate all our cherries and apricots last spring.  And now they love to hang out on the roof of the duck house and in the bare branches of the cherry tree, waiting to swoop down and have a little nibble of the scratch mix.  Buggers.  They’re exquisitely beautiful – but they are buggers.

I also feel, with this piece, that I’m really growing a style I love and that feels doable.  I want to paint much much much more.  Julian loves it so much, he went straight to the workshop and put together a big “sign” made out of marine grade ply with a rustic paling frame (he even mitred the corners) for me to paint “The Duck & Goose” on – we’ll hang it on the front of the house like an old fashioned English pub sign :-)  You see, we were hopeful our three geese would move in too – but they are so bolshie and just won’t.  Means the electric fence has to stay up – and means they are not as safe as I’d like, but what can you do.  Geese that refuse to go inside and Hamburg chickens that sleep in the gum tree!

We’ll have to come up with a different style house for the geese – I’m thinking an on the ground kind of lean-to that has a fox-proof floor and a very very easy to navigate door – they’re a bit dim those geese.  Oh well – whatever, it is, there’ll be more gorgeous opportunities to keep working on my painted farm.