Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tiny stitches

Perhaps my time might right now be better spent preparing for Christmas, but I keep finding myself being drawn to little knitting and sewing projects which could happily wait another month or two.

I put together my first pair of quick change trousers - the very first pattern I have every followed from start to finish -  from fabric gleaned from the local op shops. Two old floral nighties and a ream of hand dyed and screen printed cotton. And the stitches for a tiny little cardigan appeared on the needles in a day or two - finished off with buttons from my Grandma's old collection.

I pulled out the box of baby clothes this week, washed them and hung them out in the sunshine. There are no less than three tiny green cardigans - one from each baby. It is a style that endures!

Christmas for us is always simple - a few presents, a trip to the beach, a slow lunch and an afternoon walk. This year we will be camped on a remote stretch of coastline with my family. Once I have sorted through the camping gear and hidden the presents amongst the sleeping bags we will be on our way.

Wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas with your loved ones. I am hoping my creative energy returns to writing again next year. For now I will keep on casting on tiny stitches.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

summer knitting for an autumn babe

It seems a bit silly to be knitting woolen bonnets when summer is just around the corner, but I thought I had best notch up some knitting days while the weather still permits. I made another one of these in cream bamboo, then decided to switch back to wool. For this will be an autumn babe, after all. So a rich, orange russet blend of cashmere, merino and silk, teamed with a hand turned wooden button from the Goldfields it was. The bonnet slipped off my needles in one afternoon of knitting last week. It is tiny and beautiful but I think will still swim on a newborn's head. So that is one in the bag for next winter.

While I was reluctant to start making things for this baby too soon, passing the half way mark of this pregnancy last week - combined with several visits from the postman with paper parcels full of inspiration - spurred me into action. And while most of our days are still spent outside, it does feel so good to sit down and put my feet up. With a little boy snuggled sleepily by my side and this little one kicking happily inside me (as it does whenever it feels a brother close by) it is my favourite way to spend the evening.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Our summer garden

When I was 14 I asked my parents if I could have a spot in the garden to grow vegetables. I am not sure where I got the idea. Perhaps it was from growing up watching our elderly neighbours harvesting cabbages and cauliflowers from their backyard. We used to skip in and out of their yard, picking mulberry leaves for the silkworms at school and crouching beneath their old camellia bush to peel the petals from the fallen buds. I planted tomatoes, capsicum and snow peas in two rows with a neat sawdust path running between, and would tend to it each day, watering and weeding and breathing in the smell of tomato leaves between my fingers. While my friends were in the city shopping and chasing boys I was wearing my mum's old overalls and harvesting tomatoes with dirt between my toes. I still remember the pride with which I served them for dinner - bowls filled with luscious red fruit bursting with flavour.

For many years I have been a frustrated gardener, whose dreams were far bigger than the patch of earth in which I planted. I don't know whether I have succeeded in growing a decent tomato since I left home. But here I have found a garden to fulfill my yearning to feed my family. For the first time in the 20 years I have been keeping a vegie patch I have six beds to rotate vegetable crops through, all of them flooded with sunlight and irrigated by rainwater via a tank that collects the shed's runoff.

We planted out handfuls of heirloom seeds a month ago and have been watching with great excitement as our summer vegetable garden germinates and grows. I have since mulched the beds with oaten hay and spread sawdust from a local cabinetry workshop around the beds to keep down the weeds and deter the snails. Already we are picking a salad every day from our bed of greens, and come summer we will be eating tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, basil, garlic, peas, beans, corn, zucchini, beetroot, melons, cucumbers, radishes, cavolo nero and bok choy. The carrots, pumpkins, onions and potatoes should be ready for an autumn harvest. Raspberries and boysenberries are growing up the fence behind the beds and the boys are plucking blueberries from the big blue pots in our courtyard.

Down in the backyard the fruit trees, most of them just bare branches when we moved here in winter, are revealing their secrets. There are two big plum trees, a nectarine and an apricot, two almonds, three apples, four pears, a fig tree, four loquats, a mulberry, a quince, grape vines and a lemon. I uncovered two tiny citrus trees which were being swallowed by the weeds and choked by the tubers of flowers I have since dug out and replaced with a bed of asparagus. There are oranges and mandarins and I have planted avocados, grapefruit, pomegranate and limes, rhubarb, kiwifruit, passionfruit, gooseberries, guavas and beds of strawberries. I have weeded and mulched around each tree, scattering pellets of organic blood and bone while the chickens scratch happily alongside me, gobbling up grubs and worms. They now scratch in the mulch each day and are keeping the weeds at bay without any effort on my part.

Lovely big piles of compost are breaking down in our three compost bays, and I fork them over while the boys work alongside me in their sandpit, constructed from the lengths of cypress left when we felled the big old tree. They kick footballs amongst the fruit trees and ride their bikes down the gentle slope to the chook pen to check for eggs and cuddle their girls. It is a garden we all love to be in. With time it will feed us. Every time I walk through it it makes me happy.

Friday, 19 October 2012

ducklings and butterflies

This week I finished knitting a sweet summer vest in the softest bamboo for a soon-to-be-born babe, and picked up two more balls of bamboo to knit another for a recent arrival. I am off to Perth in a few weeks time to see old friends and meet the babies who have been born since I last visited. Perth's summer is too hot for most knits, but this vest is so soft it can be worn on its own or layered over a long-sleeved top on cooler evenings. (And it is, of course, perfect for any spontaneous visits to the south coast!)

We welcomed three new feathered friends to our garden. Ping, Jemima and Puddle are Pekin ducklings who have taken to the chook's water bowl like ducks to...well, you know. We have  plans to persuade them into their bathtub this weekend to fulfill their future swimming needs.

They are only half-grown and have quickly bonded with the four Leghorn hens I brought home with them from Albany. The two nights they spent in transit at Grandma's house imprinted the rather indifferent hens on their loving duck hearts and they now follow them around the garden, falling into holes and getting tangled in the nasturtiums in an endearingly clumsy fashion. Their guardians had yesterday escaped their clutches and lay silently beneath the proteas while the ducklings peeped and piped with increasing concern. Enter Darcy, bird whisperer, who tried to gently shepherd them towards the rest of the flock. They panicked and jumped onto the slide instead, whizzing down on their tails while Quinn and I rocked with laughter from our seats in the sandpit.

And Darcy brightened up my morning cleaning the house with a butterfly from the garden he brought up to share. We stopped vacuuming to admire its delicate patterning for a few minutes before he set it free on the breeze and we climbed beneath the covers to snooze away a rainy afternoon. I am grabbing hold of sleep wherever I can find it now and waiting for this fog of nausea and fatigue to lift. Feeling very grateful for little people who still sleep most days and a bigger boy who is happy to walk home from school on his own so that I can sink into slumber on days such as these.

Thank you for all your kind words and wishes. Wishing you all a most happy weekend with your loved ones.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A cottage in the woods

Every so often I feel a deep yearning for absolute solitude. It is something I had in spades before having children - I spent two entire years traveling the world alone. These days it is somewhat harder to come by. Not wanting to tackle the spring storms on the track, I opted instead for a night away in a storybook cottage in the woods. After an early morning visit to the farmers' market, a massage, breakfast at my favourite cafe, a quick trip past the secondhand shops and some successful bidding at the poultry auction, I was ready to retreat. I read, scribbled in my notebooks, started knitting a singlet for a friend's new baby and sat on the verandah drinking cups of tea in the rocking chair with the pink geraniums nodding at my feet. And when I climbed into bed that night I felt my baby rolling inside me for the first time, arching again my skin in voluptuous waves.

After 24 hours of silence and solitude I was so happy to wave hello to all my boys again when they wandered up to find me in the pine trees. We climbed on board the tractor for a ride around the farm to feed the animals - the hand-reared cattle barreling up beside us to devour armfuls of hay. We ate fish and chips beneath the twinkling lights across the harbour and said goodbye in the happiest of ways to the holidays - waving Grant off when he left for work a short drive down the hill this morning.

Friday, 12 October 2012


I haven't been visiting this space as much lately, and there is a reason of course. It has a lot to do with this little person growing inside me. And looking after three little boys while their dad wades through mountains of exam papers. And writing several stories each week for the newspaper. And renovating a house. And taming a garden... I have been living it all, but there has been no time left over for recording each moment.

I am past the twelve week mark now and starting to feel my energy levels returning. I have also stepped back from my role at the newspaper to concentrate on home, family, and some more creative writing endeavours. We are so excited about welcoming this new baby into our family. All the chairs at the dinner table will now be filled. I have always wanted a big family. How could life ever be boring with four beautiful children in it to love?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Down on the farm

We followed the sun north through the wheatbelt and pulled in at my parents' farm gate for a week of egg collecting, mulberry picking and riding bikes through the dirt. I read a big, fat and wonderful book from cover to cover whilst wandering from the sun drenched verandah to the couch and my bed. The boys circled the house at walking pace, heaped around their father on the quad bike - and went considerably faster on two wheels down the dusty hill track. We drove past the old farmhouse where we lived many moons ago, and stopped to play in the playground that time forgot nestled in the bush there.

It was a chance for us all to breathe out after a long term of work and not enough play. Months where it felt like we were just treading water to keep afloat. Now the sun has returned and we are swimming again - great leisurely strokes through these magical weeks of holiday.

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Lewis appeared at the bedroom door dressed for exploring; his telescope under his arm and bird and snake identification books tucked alongside a coil of rope in his belt. Try as I might to drag myself from my late afternoon slumber, I could not muster the energy to set out on an expedition on that blustery, wet spring Saturday. So he laid the clothes carefully beside his bed and when I emerged from the bedroom the next morning was set to go. How could I refuse? After a quick breakfast smoothie my thoughts of a Sunday morning surf were pushed to one side and we set out into one of those dazzling clear mornings that often come after a storm.

We crossed the bridge over the river and turned left, where the forest meets the farmland and wild places can still be found close to the rolling green pastures. Ducks jogged through the trees and skidded down the banks onto the water and my boys skirted in and out of the trees, finding secret hiding places in the undergrowth and floating sheets of bark down the creek.

So many of our days are spent at home - planting and weeding and hammering and digging as we shape our home and garden. But sometimes I need a reminder to step beyond our front gate. There is a whole new neighbourhood for us to explore, and as the warmth returns to our days I feel the call of the river trails. Lewis lassoed dead branches and pulled them to the ground, and hauled his brothers up muddy creek banks. We ate apples and almonds in the dappled forest light. And then we came home and I moved some more dirt while they collected jarfuls of garden snails, content to be back home once more.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

My father's axe

"He could swing an axe, my father. And that axe is gone. He taught me how to split wood though I could never do it like him, those long, rhythmic semi-circular movements like a ballet dancer's warm-up." 'My Father's Axe', Scission, Tim Winton.

We left our old axe in the wood-shed when we moved, leaning against the side of the rusted old water tank that we stacked with sawmill offcuts and branches felled by winter storms. By the time I thought to go back for it, it was gone. I used to chop wood with that axe out the back of Grant's brown-brick government house in the town where he taught for his first three years out of uni. It came with us to the farm where we moved after our year wandering the backpacker trails of the northern hemisphere. I chopped wandoo and mallee roots and curled up on the big brown couch, watching the flames dance while our first baby grew inside me. There was no fire to feed for our years back in the city, but I stoked the open fireplace the winter Quinn was born - our last in the suburbs. I tapped tentatively at pieces of jarrah kindling while my newborn slept nestled in the sling against my chest beneath the dripping green canopy of the ficus, while we waited each day for Grant to get home from school.

My mother always chopped the wood when I was growing up, and won the ladies log chop at the bush camp where their Sunday tennis crowd spent a boozy weekend around the fire each September. She would raise the axe high above her head and bring it down with short, efficient jabs, her mouth a thin line of concentration. We collected bundles of fallen marri sticks and helped scrunch up yesterday's edition of The West Australian while the wheel of fortune clacked on the screen next to the ironing board as we set the fire each evening.

When Grant's dad found out he was dying he set himself the task of clearing out his sheds and workshop, of selling off the thousands of car parts he had collected over the course of a lifetime.  We were newly married and living in an inner-city rental, from where I could ride my bike to the newspaper offices each morning. On a trip to the city to visit his oncologist he brought with him a bundle of gardening tools that had belonged to his father. He had painstakingly scraped the rust from the heads of shovels, spades, pickaxes and rakes, painting them black and fixing them into new wooden handles, which he oiled by hand. They are among our most treasured possessions.

We had every tool out in the spring sunshine on the weekend as we repaired and assembled raised beds for our summer vegetable garden. I shoveled rich black compost and crumbling aged manure, raking the beds smooth in anticipation of the parcel of heirloom seeds arriving this week. And then I carefully stacked the tools back in the shed, out of the rain. Because I know that Grant still feels his father's love every time he picks them up.

I bought Grant a new axe for Fathers' Day and gave it to him with a slip of paper tucked inside Scission, marking the story we read together years ago. The book is dedicated to a friend from that little country town where we used to chop wood long ago. The new axe has a smooth hickory handle and a silver block splitting head unmarked by age. In the card Darcy made for his Dad at kindy he drew him chopping wood, his texta markings a swirl of colour on the page. Next winter Grant will teach them how to swing the axe as they chop the blocks of cypress that sit drying on our back lawn. The old tree came down last week to let in the light and it will fuel our fire next winter - when we have bought and installed a pot belly in our living room. But all those stories remain to be written.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The capes

I bundled the kids into the car last week and headed west, to the limestone coast of the capes. It is a tradition we started a while ago, when Lewis was just a baby. At the end of each winter we make the pilgrimage to our friends' old holiday house nestled in the bush high above the bay. My good friend Jess and our kids spend a few days hanging out in the trees, building cubbies out of fallen branches, making fires and exploring the nearby beaches. Every afternoon we scoot down the road to gather loaves of Yallingup Woodfired Bread hot from the oven, cradling the paper packages in our laps for the short drive home where they are quickly devoured with pots of homemade soup and local cheeses. We take no toys with us - just a small pile of books, pencils and crayons. The kids make their own fun. We spent a happy hour tearing down the big sand dune at Indjidup. Quinn found a beautiful cuttlefish boat under a ti-tree at the top - two sticks and a feather sail pushed into its soft underbelly with a twisted shell for a steering wheel. He played with it for hours.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Cold feet

Our home is laid from front door to back verandah with beautiful old jarrah floorboards. The boys have been pulling on one pair of socks over another and sliding down its long hallways. I love the ease of sweeping again after lugging our vacuum cleaner upstairs and downstairs following trails of toast crumbs through the vast carpeted space of our cavernous rental. There is a joy in keeping this lovely space of ours clean that was completely lacking for me there. It was only once we moved that I realised how important aesthetics are for my heart and soul. Everywhere I turn here there is something that makes my heart sing. This cottage is smaller but it is well proportioned and its fits us like a glove. There is no wasted space. Every belonging has found its allotted corner - there were even three hooks waiting for our boys' bath towels. Time and again I have found myself thinking 'it was meant to be.' This house was waiting for us, I am certain of it.

But floorboards, even beautiful, wide, old ones, do let in the winter chill. My feet - which are cold at the best of times - are never without a pair of woolly slippers, socks or ugg boots. I requested child sized ugg boots for Quinn and Lewis' birthdays and Nana was happy to oblige. There is an ugg boot workshop just down the road, where lambs gambol in the lush green paddocks and we try not to think too hard of their fate. After seeing the birthday boots and giving it a great deal of thought, Darcy, my barefoot boy, decided that he might even like a pair too. So back we went to wade through shelves of fleece and leather to find the perfect pair. He wears them sometimes, with the boardies and t-shirt which is his uniform on the coldest of winter days. But they mustn't ever get dirty, so more often than not he just carries them, or leaves them tucked under his bed.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Out to sea

We gathered on the beach despite the black rainclouds massed on the horizon and waited for the digger driver to finish his cup of tea before he climbed back behind the controls. The waves were breaking against the caterpillar tracks as he scooped the last few shovels of sand out of the channel and the brown water started flowing seaward. Within a day the giant sandcastles heaped alongside had been washed away and the water was flowing strongly right up to the cliffs.

It is a special moment for this town whenever the inlet breaches the sandbar. It used to happen naturally, but declining rainfall and valuable farmland which turns into swamp come the end of winter means the town's folk now dig it out themselves. They once used a horse and dray, and would raffle off the last scoop of sand. Protestors who believe it should be opened further to the east have even been known to come under cover of darkness and dig it out by hand.

We went back to look at the cut yesterday and marveled at all that water which had so quickly reshaped the landscape. The bike racks and bridge were once more on dry land, and the paddock which was just days' earlier a lake was now a boggy mire of brown grass. The small hillock of sand I had climbed to photograph the spectacle for the newspaper was nowhere to be seen. I ran along the river trail this morning, the rain falling softly on my shoulders and the sheep shying away as I jogged past. The track has been under water for the past month and mine were the first footprints to mark the fine silt that covered the broken slabs. I came home soaked through and happy. It has rained steadily all day. My footprints would by now have been washed out to sea.

Friday, 10 August 2012

In the chook house

Our chooks are living in the rabbit hutch while they await a more permanent home. We are gathering old pieces of timber and tin to build a chook house which will be home to our growing flock. But for now they range free during the day and  return to temporary lodgings come nightfall. The Pekins nestle together in the straw at the back of the hutch and Bluebeard, our wayward Araucana, roosts high in the tree that grows through the fence above them. Darcy's little hen Lemony laid her first egg last week, the tiniest egg you could imagine. I cooked it for his lunch with buttered sourdough bread and he pronounced it good.

Eggs are almost as rare as hen's teeth around here at the moment, so I was looking forward to gathering a full carton when I went to feed my friend's flock last night. The sun was dipping over the hill when I opened the door to their rustic hen house and the chooks rushed to meet me in the gloom. The last time I looked after them they had made a dash for freedom, and I spent the next day rounding them back into their enclosure, so I made sure I pulled the door securely behind me this time. They were out of grain so I filled up their feeder and pulled one precious egg from the grain sack where they lay. Turning to go I discovered the gate latch was on the other side of a solid timber door. I was locked in with the hens, and my evening started to look grim. There are no neighbours within hearing and I was heading straight to my yoga class, so would not be missed for hours yet. I eyed off the birds, who were hungrily devouring their grain, and told them seriously that we might be spending the night together. I scavenged for wire that might reach through the gap in the door and lift the gate latch, but there was none. In the end I found a stiff piece of straw, threaded it through the hole in the latch and arrived at my yoga class in time to squeeze the last mat between the rows of bodies. But my meditation was somewhat scattered.

Work on our chook house is due to start tomorrow. I have grand plans for a hatch to let us collect eggs from outside the run. And we might minimise our use of latches. Just in case.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Water, water everywhere

It has rained, and it has rained, and it has rained. One of the wettest winters on record for us on the south coast. The rivers have swelled over their banks and the inlet has risen steadily until it has almost reached the ocean. The diggers are moving in tomorrow and cutting a channel through to the sea but we decided to take one last look at all that water before it starts draining into the big blue.

We pulled on our gumboots and stomped around the sodden grass, almost making it over the little bridge before the water breached the top of our gumboots and we retreated for higher ground. Darcy and I pulled off our boots and went barefoot instead, walking around the channel to Ocean Beach to see the narrow strip of beach that still separates the two bodies of water, my boys running bare bottomed across the sand. It started to rain so we ducked up a surfers' track to take a short cut back to the car. We pushed our way through a snarl of sword grass and peppermint scrub which at times swallowed up Darcy in a tangle of vines and leaves. Half an hour later I was still pushing my way through with a child on each hip, my toes bleeding where the sword grass had sliced through. We emerged into the sunshine at the lookout to some very surprised looks from the surfers surveying the swell. Back home we had a midday bubble bath, hot chocolate and tea to warm our bones.

I paddled the kayak down the river to the inlet on Sunday, stopping to pick armfuls of wattle and swamp bottlebrush from the banks. It is so still and quiet on the water. Just the dip of my paddle and the call of the birds and frogs swelling with the breeze. The flowers now stand in preserving jars dotted around the house while the rain thrums down on the roof and we wait for the next break in the storm clouds.