under the applegum

finding our faraway tree

milkshake and crochet

julian

noah

Fu

Noah and Julian

Julian and fu

upside down

looking up

crochet hook

pakkun

bark stripping

tasty

peaceful pooches

on the quilt

sunlight

under the applegum

front door

sunbeam

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.

 

done

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 …

stretch

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

fold

… 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.

turn

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.
IMG_0473

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.

risen

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.
done

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 …

 

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.

binding on

change

fabric

very drab

seams

on the mat

duck head

over chair

quilting

chopping pumpkin

pumpkin and butter

ready for baking

lines

binding on

inspected

approved

The last few months have been so many things.  Bewildering, magical, overwhelming, everything I’ve ever daydreamed about, exhausting, bliss and such a privilege.  I have not started back at nursing yet, Julian is working from home, and Noah’s having a gap year.  So almost everyday, here we are together.  Each pottering about in this small cottage, sharing our daily lives in a way we’ve never been able to do before.  There are so many times when I stand here and think – wow!  This is amazing!  Even better than when Noah was little, because Julian’s here too and we are somewhere exquisitely beautiful.  What a gift for us.

But it has been stressful at times.  I don’t like change.  Never have.  Which must seem insane to read because I have longed for this change for soooooooo many years.  But change is change.  2015 was a stressful year with so much change and challenge.  Moving was exhausting and stressful.  Oh my goodness – those last few days in Melbourne were hideous – it felt as if they COULD never end.  By the time I arrived here at Wombat Hill, I was utterly wrung out.

So pleased and relieved to be here – but completely spent.  And what did we do – threw open our arms and welcomed even more change!  Julian no longer left the home for work each day.  Noah was no longer at school – 13 years of routine disappeared in a blink and a whole new era of parenting a young adult began.  We had animals that needed to be housed and cared for.  A normal sized family home’s worth of contents and furniture was divided between our little esky cottage and one side of the workshop.  Then there were all the niggly details of moving – changing licences, registrations, service providers, insurance …

It was “Yes!  There’s no more tram out the front!” to “Oh my god, there’s no more tram out the front!”  Every where we needed to go required so much driving.  But the road is beautiful and there’s no traffic.  Everything is so much slower and more peaceful.  But we can no longer call into all those shops that had become our favourites and where we knew everybody.  I no longer had to carefully check my roster every night before falling asleep.  And I no longer had that wonderful sense of purpose, privilege and camaraderie that comes with working as a nurse in a really good hospital with wonderful people I looked forward to seeing every day.  And oh how I miss Meryl, her beautiful mosaic studio, the wonderful women I met there and the joy that was hours spent creating with like minded women.

I sound ungrateful.  Truly I’m not.  I do love living here.  It is everything I’d ever hoped for.

But it’s a huge change.  And I don’t like change.

Change flusters me.  Leaves me nervous, heart beating a little faster, unsure of what to do next, what to expect, how to cope.  Makes me teary sometimes.  Short tempered other times.

Let me tell you how well I coped when Julian and Noah were in Melbourne and one of the chickens died overnight and something ate its brains out.  Well.  I didn’t.  I called my mum sobbing and SHE came over and coped.

My Mum did what every sensible, loving mum does, and after she picked up the dead chicken and popped it into a box, she sat with me whilst I made an appointment to see our GP – who I’d only had an introductory visit with the week before and had been perfectly grown up and coherent.  Not like when I saw her the day after the chicken died.  Oh I cried and cried and cried.  And she was incredibly compassionate and lovely.

We had a really really good talk – about change, and sadness, and relationships, and what makes us feel worthwhile, and menopause (oh that is so much fun!).  She also prescribed a low dose of some good old antidepressants to help smooth things out, and I’ve been back to see her every week since.  She is a real gem.

Five weeks on and I truly feel like I’ve been pulled out of a rather scary whirlpool and gently set back down on my feet.  I haven’t cried in weeks – except those hiccuping tears of laughter when the new puppy or goats do something funny or Julian is silly.  It is a joy to get up everyday and I’m steadfast in only thinking about what needs to be done in the next hour – not all of what we should do or what might go wrong in the next decade.  Everyday tasks are so much more enjoyable that way – who’d have thunk!  I’m so grateful for the love and patience shared with me by Julian, Noah and Mum.  Gratitude and patience go a long way to making days peaceful and rewarding.

And instead of flapping about like a squawking hen, my newly peaceful mind and I have decided to use this change as an opportunity to reestablish good habits that I’d let slip over our years in Melbourne – especially with all that studying and nursing and a year’s worth of moving and feeling so unsettled.  Simple things that make me feel relaxed and competent – making our bed first thing in the morning, watering my little porch garden, folding all the washing when we bring it in so our little home stays neat, washing up before we go to bed, putting time and effort into planning and cooking our meals.

That might sound a little 1950s housewife-ish.  But I find that when all those little things run smoothly, I have so much more energy and passion for the much bigger and more exciting, creative things.  A calm house makes for a calm mind.  A reliable routine makes me feel capable of doing so much more.

So here I am.  I have settled back into the regular reading of some inspiring books like Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and Rhonda Hetzel’s Down to Earth and her new book The Simple Home.  They help me think through what is important for my family and I, and encourage me to put these values into practice everyday.  I’m pulling out the old favourite cookbooks and making well loved suppers and baking treats.

My patchwork boxes are still in the shed, but open and I’m slowly working through them, delighting in the treasures they hold and bringing in projects to finish off.  I may not be able to work on my mosaics at the moment, but I’m loving painting – all the animal houses are being colourfully decorated and I’ve started a big canvas of what I love looking at when I stand on the porch.  I’ve pulled out pieces of fabric and patterns I’ve bought over the last few years, and have started making clothes again.

And I’ve knitted.  Oh my goodness – knitting is as good as meditation I reckon.  In those first couple of weeks after seeing my doctor, every time I felt overwhelmed, I just sat in a lovely spot and knitted.  And that feeling slowly subsided.

Now, I’m aware of speaking more kindly and thoughtfully.  I’m considering my reactions when the unexpected happens and applying a good dose of self talk as required.  My levels of impatience and frustration are so low, I feel positively Zen.

Chickens will still die and have their brains eaten out.  Just this last fortnight we’ve had a big upsurge in rat activity and they ate all my carefully nurtured broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, parsley, silverbeet and lettuce.  All the leaves fell off my new mulberry tree.  And my right elbow is so sore (I’ve had “tennis elbow”) that I doubt it will ever feel the same again.

Julian will annoy me.  Noah will have me throwing my hands up in despair.  The dog will vomit on the rug.  The kitchen will be a disaster and I will rather eat toast than cook supper.

But I am optimistic.  I have so much.  Every day I have many moments of such happiness and love.  What was once this huge change is now becoming part of who I am. That is such a relief.

And I’m so glad I’m here, with my wonderful, much-loved people at my side, creating this new life.  It is everything I’ve dreamed of and so much more.