Friday, 6 December 2013

Harvest table

One of the boys' favourite games this spring has been burying all of their plastic dinosaurs and animals in the sandpit and then digging them up again. Sometimes weeks can go by between the burying and the uncovering. Depending on what they find they are then classified as palaeontologists, elephantologists or cowologogists for the day. Their enthusiasm for unearthing buried treasure is just as strong in the vegie patch, and I have had to hold them back from pulling out all the carrots too quickly again (the bottom of the fridge has purple, orange and white heirloom tubers rolling around waiting for some kitchen inspiration). But I know of no better way of rounding up a band of willing dinner helpers than putting out a call for them to pull it out of the ground.

We have been eating lots of carrots and beetroot, and experimenting with different ways to serve up broad beans. As Darcy reflected while helping to pod them on the front verandah "they look like they taste really good, but they don't." I think I felt the same when I was his age. I stumbled upon a broad bean and beetroot salad that meant I could proudly proclaim "we grew everything in this meal!" when I put it on the table. Never mind that half the children were already asleep on the couch, it had taken me so long to double pod the wretched things. The same thing happened when I whipped up a batch of spanakopita with the English spinach that had somehow evaded our resident snails. All those layers of filo - all that butter! At least they were still happily devoured the next day.

We picked the last of our broad beans in the last week of spring, and tasted the first tomato of summer on the same day. I have since chopped the bean stalks off close to the ground, and am marveling at their ability to quickly send up new shoots and flowers. We could still be eating broad beans with the summer pesto I intend to make from the basil now planted between the stalks.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A poultry tale

After nine days wandering in the wilderness (in a backyard somewhere nearby) our runaway Barnevelder came home. We all rejoiced that, after spending less than two hours in their company, she had managed to find her way back to the flock, joining them again to roost in the carob tree. But then the vixen returned. And she (for the hungriest of foxes at this time of year are those mothers feeding their young) found a way to climb into the yard. We had thought it just about fox proof, but had overlooked the old fence post in the corner, which the wire did not quite reach. It turns out that a hungry fox can drag a chook up and over a five foot post if they are hungry enough, and then come back for more.

Darcy went to let the chooks out before school one Monday morning, and returned to the house with a full egg basket and the news that "Stripey is dead, and Puddle is half dead." And so they were. Poor Stripey, the friendliest chook we ever did have, was stiffening in a corner of the yard, her eyes shut tight. And Puddle, our beautiful Pekin duck, had a nasty wound in her neck and could walk no more than a few steps. It was more than I could deal with in the minutes before the school siren was due to sound, so I bundled the boys off to school and returned with a slightly clearer head.

I called our vet, who does home visits, but she was stuck out in the middle of nowhere and advised me to take Puddle in to the clinic in town. So I scooped her into a box and staggered into the surgery with a baby in one arm and a duck under the other. Sadly the wound was too big to treat so I carried the box home again with a lifeless duck laying in its bed of straw.

A head count of the remaining birds found one more, a Leghorn, missing, and I found her feathers strewn across a patch of the neighbours' lawn. The other birds must still have been roosting in their tree when the fox came to call. We found her track worn through the long grass, her droppings just the other side of the fence. And now we know what fox poo looks like we are seeing it everywhere, including on the freshly mown grass of our back lawn on Sunday morning. We have wired over the gap and hope that will be enough to keep the foxes at bay until we can net over the top of the yard.

I have never had to deal with the aftermath of a fox or dog attack. Grant has always been home and I preferred to stay inside with the baby. But it felt good to know that, even if I had not the stomach to take the axe to one of my girls, I could at least bury their bodies with my own hands.

I busied myself pulling out the broccoli plants then buried the bodies of our birds in the vegetable garden, planting tomato seedlings above them. While we have great difficulty culling our drakes and roosters and cannot quite bring ourselves to eat our birds, I like to think that their lives have not been wasted as they help give new life to the soil. There is now a mulberry tree growing over Ping the drake, and the boys' hands and faces are stained purple each afternoon with the fruit he has helped grow.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

spring garden notes

The roses are threatening to swallow the house again now that the weather has warmed up. Everything is growing so fast. We tackled the back lawn last weekend and the grass was long enough to cut again less than a week later. I have jars full of roses, astromaerias, lavender and daisies all over the house - all cut from our garden or the unloved rose garden that belongs to the empty house next door (I like to think that I am helping prune them into shape).

I pulled the garlic this week and trussed it up on the clotheslines beneath the house to dry. The tiny asparagus seedlings growing amongst them are now exposed, but protected from the chooks' incessant scratching with some wire mesh. The boys had pulled all the nasturtiums from the herb beds around their slide (much to my dismay) so I finished off the job by removing the actual weeds. We have so much compost to make and turn - the next job on the list.

The vegetable beds are ready for summer, all tucked up in their straw blankets. The earth, which was sodden just weeks ago, has quickly baked dry, but is holding on to just a bit of moisture beneath the lucerne and barley straw. We have turned the reticulation back on, and are hoping for some more rainy days before we begin watering in earnest.

I am muddling my way as I figure out how to rotate our vegetable crops through their six beds, while still waiting for some of last years' vegetables to set their seed. One enormous carrot, which miraculously escaped the boys' clutches, is now flowering its heart out - its purple root thick as a sapling. The cavolo nero had snaked their way out onto the driveway, so I took to them last week with the garden shears, leaving two plants for seed.

We are getting ready to net the fruit trees - although too late to save any figs or almonds, which the parrots stripped from the branches almost as soon as they had formed. The quince tree is laden with fruit, and there is stone fruit galore. We even have some tiny baby pears forming for the first time.

We are picking broad beans and celery, lettuces, carrots and beetroot. Shelling beans on the verandah on a sunny afternoon, with four pairs of eager hands all helping, might be my favourite slow dinner preparation ever.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

the boys' room

Our house has three bedrooms, but we only sleep in two of them. Thea sleeps with us (and will do for at least another year, if she follows her brothers' example) and the boys share the original master bedroom. Their bunks and bed, wardrobe and dresser fit neatly into the wide old room, which steps down into the old verandah that doubles as their playroom. If the room wasn't quite so big this little house of ours might start to feel cramped. But it seems there are just enough spaces for everyone and everything to find its place.

I am not normally a fan of enclosing the wide verandahs that used to wrap around most houses in this country. But all the changes that have been made to this house have been so thoughtfully considered that the space works better than it must have originally. A second, bigger, verandah - where we now do much of our living year round - replaced the one which had been enclosed for more living space.  We just pulled off a few sheets of tin roofing, replacing them with clear perspex, and cut back the rose vines to let in the winter sun.

There are usually train tracks or cars racing across this patch of floor, costumes and play cloths strewn from wall to wall. But the disorder is contained by that one little step, which stops the toys from creeping into the 'calm' sleeping space. Our old china cabinet became their bookshelf after its doors were ripped off by a winter storm (the cabinet had been sitting on the verandah while we tried to sell it, and it was only once the doors came unhinged that I saw its true potential), the ever present box of lego sliding neatly beneath.

My old patchwork blanket covers Lewis' bed, those same scraps of fabric I remember from my old childhood now etching memories in his own. And beyond the old leadlight windows lie the paddocks and forest. The stuff dreams are made of.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sticky fingers

Life just got that little bit messier when Thea started feeding herself last week. Even as I was taking  photos of her devouring her first piece of fruit I was thinking 'I am never going to get that banana out.' (And not really caring, but if anyone does know how I would love to hear from you!) We are all enjoying watching her explore new tastes and textures - squishing banana and avocado through her fingers and sucking on chicken bones. Thea now sits happily at the head of the table and throws her food around while we eat our evening meal without a babe in arms (she is usually back in them again by the time we have finished eating). And with spring fast turning into summer in these parts we have pulled out the picnic blanket again for afternoon tea on the back lawn, now with a happy baby rolling between us all and getting her fingers in the hummus.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

the heart of the home

The kitchen has always been the heart of our home. It is where you will usually find me. There is sourdough rising on the benchtop; yoghurt and kefir fermenting in their glass jars and a pot of sauce bubbling on the stove. The wide timber bench, salvaged from some felled jarrah in a paddock nearby, is where the boys come to knead playdough and paint. And eat of course. We do a fair bit of that.

Our kitchen is in what was originally the back verandah of our weatherboard workers cottage, with its sloping timber roof line still in evidence. It links the old part of the house with the new, and when we moved in was a dark and rather cramped space resplendent in pine and a patchwork of tiles in many hues. We punched a hole through the ceiling and put in as wide a skylight as we could, through which the light now pours year round, bouncing off the white walls, ceiling and tiles.

We kept it simple. White cupboards with wrought iron handles, to complement the many hand crafted fixtures around the house. And timber benchtops in keeping with the wide floorboards in every room. A couple of thrifted light fittings, a lick of chalkboard paint and the transformation was complete. It is a small but practical space that works so well. Nothing is more than a step or an arm's reach away. And behind those cupboard doors hides a walk-in pantry such as I have longed for for many a year.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


 Six months old today. Half a year. Although her brothers still say that 'Baby Fear' is zero, and will be until the day she turns one, I say she is half. She can sit (for a moment or two before she topples forward). And I am starting to think that those eyes just might be staying blue.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

coming home

Empty egg shells after a home laid breakfast.

One of my very favourite parts of going away on a holiday is definitely coming home again. Jumping out of the car and exclaiming over how much everything has grown. Running down to the chook yard to say hello to our girls and let them out for a good scratch. Stepping inside and reveling in the clean house that I spent the day before leaving frantically cleaning (while simultaneously packing the car and keeping a houseful of sick children entertained). It always feels different coming back. The ceilings seem higher, the light brighter, the rooms bigger and airier. I am sure that has something to do with holidaying in little seaside cottages, but after a long winter when it sometimes felt as though the walls were closing in on us, it is a feeling I am trying to hold on to. So I thought I would take a walk through our house, camera in hand, to record this little place we call home. It shouldn't take long. I'd love you to join me.

Blue eggs will be missing from our rainbow egg cartons after Bluebeard, our Araucana, was killed by a fox this week. She always hid her eggs. We uncovered her last nest when I was pulling handfuls of Vinca out of our garden beds a few days after she died. Twelve beautiful blue eggs from our old girl, eaten with gratitude.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

in the suburbs

We had a few days in the city before we caught the ferry across to Rottnest. Days that were supposed to be filled visiting friends, many of whom had yet to meet our little girl. But the day before we were due to arrive the smaller of our boys came down with hand, foot and mouth disease. One of those childhood illnesses that does not make you terribly ill, but does render your child terribly contagious. So we found ourselves back in my old childhood home with nowhere to go and nowhere else to be for a few quiet days. And it was quite lovely.

I walked the boys around the suburb, telling them stories about about when I walked those same streets clutching my pocket money and heading for the milk bar to buy a bag of mixed lollies. A gourmet delicatessen had replaced the lolly jars years ago, so we stopped for a pastry at the bakery instead. We took the old short cut home - but the chook yards and the fruit trees which used to dangle over the alleyway had been replaced by concrete mansions looming over the thin strip of green.

At my parents' house at least, nothing has changed. Except the grass is much softer. The buffalo grass of my childhood always left me with stinging cuts on my wrists after I had cartwheeled the length of the lawn. My boys built cubbies and made racetracks through the dirt. My baby girl kicked on the grass beside me. And I reflected that it had been a wonderful place to grow up, with the river a short bike ride away and patches of bush still scattered about the suburb. Not that different, really, to the life we have found down here.

Friday, 11 October 2013

on the island

I can think of no other place where the simple freedoms of childhood can still be celebrated quite like they are at Rottnest. With no cars to worry about, the streets are safe for the littlest among us to cruise on their bikes from sun up to bedtime. Darcy found his cycling legs, which had finally grown long enough to mount his bike a full two years after he had mastered the whole balancing business, and ranged over half the island with us. Mostly we saw him disappearing around the corner in the morning with a brief wave and a curt "I'm going for a ride." By the end of the week he was tearing through puddles and jumping over piles of sand on his little red bike - he even mastered a skiddy, tearing to a halt in the mulch on the home stretch.

Quinn held Thea's hand as they traveled around the island together behind Grant's bike. Still too young to tolerate a helmet, it was her first introduction to the world of bikes (and my first time back on one since her birth - I was just a little saddle sore) but the perfect environment for some low speed cruising sans headwear.

A vintage Balinese sarong served as shade and sling for some impromptu beach naps. I waded with Thea snuggled close around the rocky coastline, surprising orange legged crabs as I picked my way through piles of storm tossed flotsam. The boys discovered a new passion for collecting rubbish, and brought home boxes full of rusted bottle caps they intend to transform into art.

There were days running free between the Grandparents' houses, a sun drenched afternoon climbing trees with their cousin, and plenty of moments for a quiet cup of tea and a stitch or two on our verandah. There was even a meal to ourselves at the pub (our first date since Thea's birth - she was asleep at Nana's cottage just next door).

A week filled with just enough salty air, sandy feet and sunshine to see us tumble home a happy heap of washing and memories.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Across the road

There is a beautiful old fig tree in the paddock across the road. Beneath its gnarled limbs, which stretch down to the ground, there is a sun dappled cavern where the children clamber and climb and swing on the old tyre that still dangles there.  The boys are all terrified of the (very friendly) horses who call the paddock home, so they will only venture across with me by their side. But once they are inside the tree they feel safe.

Another week of rain and howling winds has left us all with a good dose of cabin fever. So once the sun came out after school yesterday I told the boys to dress up warm and we pushed our way through the windswept grass to the best 'playground' we could possibly ask for. The horses galloped up to meet us, sending the boys screaming back under cover, but Thea was nonplussed as they nuzzled her feet and pushed their hairy noses in her face. They have been curious about this baby girl since she was floating inside me. I think she just might grow up a friend to the gentle beasts.