An upcycled sweater quilt

quilt-on-bed
Remember growing up with the three R’s: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic? Now I have moved on to the 4 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Perhaps I should add Reflect in there as well because a little reflection every now and then on my spending habits would certainly assist with the budget. Hmm! Naval gazing is a seriously off-putting option for the middle-aged and no, that doesn’t mean I am going to gaze lovingly at my ex-Naval husband over the breakfast table while he reads his digital newspaper.

finished-rug-3727

The finished upcycled sweater quilt

Which leads me to the point of this exercise, as we are endeavouring to move towards being a zero-waste household. I don’t think we will succeed in the immediate future but there are measures we are taking that contribute to this aim. An obvious indicator is the weekly wheelie bin which is now generally one third full when we put it out for collection. Our recycle bin is heavier, but that is probably an indicator of how many friends join us for a teensy glass or two of wine as we don’t subscribe to print newspapers.

 

Paper is an obviously easy resource to recycle as I shred it into the composting heap, make my own gift cards with home-made paper and use all envelopes as scrap writing paper.

Food wrappings are on my target list. I read about a French woman who suggested taking your own containers to the supermarket. After purchasing the products, she suggests discarding the containers that the meat and cheeses come in, and placing them in your own reusable containers whilst leaving the original wrappings for the supermarket to dispose of. That might be a workable solution if you are going to cook the meat that evening but the meat wrappings do have a purpose such as extending the life of our meat and protection against contamination. https://blog.csiro.au/meat-our-scientists-helping-to-explain-meat-packaging/

We have always composted our food scraps or fed them to the chickens and we try to minimise our water usage. Although encouraged by my husband who cites his experience in the Navy, I do draw the line at 10 second showers which scarcely lets the water get to the skin below his chest hairs.

I love sewing and knitting so this is an easy area to start thinking about reusing and recycling.

Old t-shirts are converted into yarn and in a fit of enthusiasm this year, I arm-knitted a wreath out of old t-shirts and put it into my daughter’s suitcase when she was relocating to Auckland.

Arm-knit-wreath-03573

Arm knitted wreath

Saggy jeans have been converted into a skirt and fabric scraps are cut and saved for a future rag rug. I have started collecting patterns and ideas for reusing these scraps and in a fit of enthusiasm, I cut lengths of linen left over from making curtains and knitted a bathmat which turned out to be very durable.

Last winter I put my elbows through my jumper. This might be an indication that I lean on my bony elbows too much but I prefer to believe that it is just a sign of a well-loved 10-year-old garment. As the rest of the jumper was still in very reasonable condition I was reluctant to throw it into the gardening pile so it went into my sewing pile to await darning.

Realistically, who darns jumpers these days? So rather than reuse, I decided to upcycle my discarded jumper into a quilt. A few quick moments of research on Pinterest and I realised I wasn’t the only person who had this novel idea. It could be done, but the first challenge was to find sufficient material, aka, discarded woolly jumpers. Eventually my husband wore holes in his elbows and I purloined that sweater. I know downsizing and decluttering is in vogue but I am now in need of more storage to hold my discarded clothing awaiting upcycling.
I also went in search of other cold weather gear that wasn’t being worn. I found a scarf that had felted up with its 40 years of use and a felted woollen jacket that had looked wonderful in the 80’s but its style was dated and definitely too young for me. While my daughter was packing her house up, she found a couple of jumpers that had been munched on by clothes moths. I scooped them up with glee. Eventually, a colour combination began to develop. Now I had my project; a quilted woollen rug by upcycling unwanted garments.
rug-on-chair_9070Before storing these woollen items, I placed them in a ziplock plastic bag and stored them in the freezer for 48 hours hoping to kill any clothes moths that might be lingering in the fabrics. After this I washed the jumpers which helps get rid of any moth carcases then stored them in fresh ziplock bags to prevent reinfestation by the clothes moths.

Although they were old, the jumpers hadn’t felted up so to avoid the wool unravelling when I cut it into squares, I tried felting it.

Felting the jumpers.

Some jumpers just won’t felt up due to the type of wool. Check to see what percentage of wool is in the jumper because if there is too much silk, rayon or acrylic the fabric just won’t felt. Remove any buttons, zippers, tags and ribbons which might catch and tangle. Also, if you have a few jumpers, wash in colours so that you don’t get the dye running in the hot wash.

I start with using a 40º wash to check the shrinkage. Some jumpers might need a second hotter wash to achieve the shrinkage you are seeking. It is also a good idea to put the jumpers into a pillowcase and secure the opening tightly so that you don’t fill your washing machine with felt. Use wool detergent as well to clean the jumpers before quilting them.

After they are washed, I put the jumpers, still in their pillowcase into the dryer on a long hot drying cycle to felt up.  This saves filling the filter with felted wool.

Creating a pattern
Once I had a sense of the colour combination, I cut the jumpers into squares 13 cm x 13cm (approx. 5in x 5 in). I also made a cardboard template to check I was cutting to the right size. This is the really tricky part as you have to be as accurate as possible with your cutting because the squares will be sewn into strips and then lined up to match the rows. I use a rotary cutter on a square cutting mat with a clear plastic ruler to make my cuts as clean and accurate as possible.

stacking-the-squares_1971

Stacking the squares of wool

I collected these piles of squares until I thought I had sufficient for a quilt and then played with the colours to determine a design. Fortunately, no-one was using my spare bed-room which meant I had a spare queen-size bed with a plain Indian cotton quilt on which to work. I shifted and moved squares around until the pattern fell into place. Naturally I had considerable help from Colin the cat who has an uncanny knack of finding a soft rug to lie on.

 

Colin-on-rug_8570

Take a photo before your assistant messes up the pattern

Once I had the pattern I photographed it to make sure I could remember it. I stacked the squares into their rows and numbered them clearly such as first row from left, second row from left etc.

 

One of the cashmere and silk jumpers that my daughter gave me didn’t felt when washed. It was a fine knit so to give it some strength I attached it to a square of cream linen left over from the bedroom curtains and reinforced it with Sashiko stitching in a windmill pattern that I found on Pinterest.

Tufting_8921

Tufting with embroidery thread

Sewing the woollen quilt
I chose a straight seam to sew the squares together in a row. I also placed tissue paper under and over the seam while sewing it, to reduce the amount of woollen fibre getting into the sewing machine. Once sewn, I pressed the seam flat with my steam iron

Sewing-with-tissue-paper_8615

Using tissue paper to reduce fluff in the machine

.
Make sure you don’t lose the order of the rows so that you don’t change the pattern. After the rows were sewn, I then sewed these together two at a time in a straight seam which I pressed flat. Check the rows to make sure the squares were lining up.

 

the-back-view_8913

Attaching the backing to the quilt

After sewing the rows together, I reinforced the seams by oversewing on the right side, in a curving stitch which helped to flatten the seam.

 

Finishing
the-backing_8924
I decided not to insert a felted layer behind the wool as I didn’t want it to be too thick so I lined it with a lovely soft blue and cream striped cotton that matched the colours in the quilt.

Because the squares were different thicknesses, I secured the quilt to the backing with a tuft at each corner. I did this with embroidery thread to match the blue squares.

knited-border_9028

Knitting the border

To finish, I knitted a border with yarn I had bought in Los Angeles about 10 years ago. It is a lovely combination of silk ribbon, cashmere, mohair and wool and matched the colours absolutely perfectly. I sewed this border onto the quilt with fine wool that again blended in perfectly in a series of running stitches secured with knots every now and then to prevent unravelling.

 

I didn’t realise just how much time goes into making one of these rugs but it has such a gorgeous feeling that it is worth all the hours that went into it.

ready-to-use_9079It is now sitting on a sofa while I decide whether to keep it, give it to a grandchild or sell it.

 

Fig leaf ice-cream

ww_fig-leaf-ice-cream2

All the world may be discussing American politics but I have my own disaster, which is particularly sad news during summer. My KitchenAid Ice Cream maker has sprung a leak and nothing we try seems to be able to repair it.  I am sad that such a reliable piece of my kitchen equipment hasn’t stood the test of time and use as it was only 10 years old and I know it hasn’t been dropped.

I noticed iridescent blue droplets in my freezer drawer and wondered where it had come from. I knew we hadn’t been drinking blue curacao cocktails so thought it might be the purchased icy poles that my husband had bought for the grandchildren.

Because I can be quite spontaneous in my cooking, I prefer to keep the ice-cream maker in the freezer so that it is always ready to use. As I lifted the ice-cream maker tub from the freezer I saw small droplets down the side under the little prongs. Not realising that they had originated from the ice cream maker I wiped them away and used it.

ww_leaking-ice-cream-maker

I adore making ice cream and my family love eating it. They will eat it for breakfast if they think they can get away with it. When I take the lid off the container, I often find finger marks swirling around on the surface and the volume gradually decreases whether I have served it or not. The mysterious freezer night raider strikes again. Even the 2-year old grandson knows where to find it in the freezer drawer and boy does he look disappointed if he cannot find any. I mean really Nanna, you have let the side down!

My fig tree has been bursting with beautiful foliage and I was thinking of what I could do with these flavoursome leaves. I wrap fish in young fig leaves and cook them under the grill for a quick and delicious summer meal.  The leaves impart a citrusy coconut flavour to the food and this is one of the nicest ways to serve fish.ww_fig-leaf

I leafed through the emails my sister had recently sent over in which we discussed our favourite restaurants and chefs in London. She has a professional ice-cream making machine which I envy but then again I don’t need to feed 12 people very often.

One of my treats, when living in London was to go to Brett Graham’s Michelin star restaurant The Ledbury. His food is imaginative and delicious and I have been enamoured with the flavour of fig leaf ice-ream and granita. I also follow another wonderful chef, Maria Elia who uses fig leaves to flavour a panna cotta.

Now I planned to make fig leaf ice-cream. I pulled out the recipe my sister had sent me which uses yoghurt to lighten the custard base. I picked the healthiest looking, most luscious unmarked fig leaves, prepared the custard and pulled the ice cream maker from the freezer.

This time I didn’t see any blue droplets so unknowingly I poured the mixture into the freezer bowl and set it to work. The ice cream took a long time to get very cold and naturally I blamed our hot weather. Eventually I decanted the still soft mixture into a container and put it in the freezer. That is when I noticed the disaster waiting to happen.

There was a blue ring of liquid coating the bottom of the ice cream maker and leaving a mark on the kitchen bench. Sadly, I think this means it is the last time I can use this machine.

However, the ice-cream was delicious. Here is the recipe my sister sent to me. I don’t know it’s origin but it may be from Brett Graham or Maria Elia or she may have adapted a recipe and created this one. ww_fig-leaf-ice-cream1

Fig Leaf Ice-cream

 

250 ml milk

250 ml cream

250 gm sugar

2 tablespoons liquid glucose

Finely grated rind of ½ lemon

½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

6 medium-sized fig leaves, washed, dried then torn

500 ml yoghurt

 

Combine milk, cream, sugar, glucose, lemon rind and vanilla seeds in a stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the simmer then remove from heat, add fig leaves and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

Strain the mixture into a bowl and once it is cool, add yoghurt and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Strain again before churning in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

 

 

 

Developing a child’s imagination and creativity

ww_monkey-on-deskIn January I decided I would be more organised but February (as you will learn later in the story) will be the creative month. I remind my husband that being organised needn’t equate with tidiness. However, I am hugely excited that I can see at least part of my desk’s surface. I celebrated by placing a new stack of books on my desk; my husband celebrated by decluttering his bookcase which is always a concern.

I watched his hand move in the space above the row of travel guides we have, hovering over some, stroking others as memories flooded in then pausing on the books deemed redundant or unwanted.

One of the books he decided to discard was a Lonely Planet guide to Libya. I picked it up, and flicked through its pages, reflecting upon how fortunate we had been to visit Libya before the Arab Spring movement and the removal of Gaddafi propelled this country into turmoil and unrest. This was one of those books that very few people if any would want but as he tossed it towards the bin I had an idea and grabbed it mid-air. An idea was already careering like a camel across the sand dunes of my mind.

Harry, my 5-year-old grandson was spending time with us and we had exhausted the usual activities I use to keep him occupied. I leafed through the book, examining the pictures of far-off places, people and exotic animals.

‘Your cousins are visiting the Canberra zoo soon, but why don’t we make our own zoo?’ I suggested. He looked a little puzzled but expressed interest. I tasked him to get the scissors and pencils, directed him to where the craft and brown paper was stored, while I made a paste of water and flour for glue and ‘a collecting we went.’

‘Just like Gerald Durrell,’ I told him and I had happy time telling him about this amazing man and how he had travelled the globe collecting animals for zoos.

We had a glorious time. An entire afternoon was spent discussing the places we would visit and the animals we might find. Harry cut out the images and pasted them onto the brown paper. As he did this, we talked about the animals, where they lived and what they ate.

ww_creating-the-zoo-with-harryAfter this Harry drew the zoo with an entry gate and pathways to visit the various animals. He wrote their names on signs then drew trees and plants to feed the animals and a café with tables and chairs for Nanna Sooz and Harry to have an iced coffee and a chocolate milkshake when we got thirsty.

This led to a ‘Zoo’ game where we visited the animals and talked about where they had come from. After that Harry wanted to continue the game, with him choosing to be a monkey and Nanna the elephant chasing each other around my small garden.

ww_creating-the-zoo-with-tomThis game made me realise how powerful our imagination is. Using my life experiences, I could gently nudge him towards imagining a world he had never seen and create a story and a game that filled hours of our time. I have been reading a lot about brain development in children and how creative play and using imagination encourages a child’s cognitive development particularly in the areas of language articulation and self-regulation of emotions.

Recently a travel brochure landed on my desk, filled with beautiful illustrations for holidays to faraway places which for many reasons this year I am unlikely to visit. I couldn’t stop Harry from getting a brain tumour but I can darn well do everything a Nanna can do to help his young brain recover.

Harry in November 2016I foresee some wonderful expeditions with Harry as we explore exotic lands, go collecting and meet strangers in other countries. Who knows what all this information will be used for later in life. He may study conservation and sustainability like his clever uncle, become a zoologist or scientist, be an explorer or spend his life travelling and writing. As Shakespeare said, ‘…the world’s mine oyster…’.

 

Girlfriends are so important

ww_the-girls-backs-on-logWe were off to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island which has to be one of the most glorious places to have a girls’ week-end away. A southerly was battering the boat and my girlfriend and I were struggling to stand upright against the swell that was tossing the passenger ferry around like flotsam.

ww_point-lookoutSea water was splashing against the windows of the lounge area where the passengers had crowded to avoid getting wet from the spray that washed across the outer deck. Bracing against the seat, I looked around the lounge and noticed that my friend and I were the only people chatting; our travelling companions were all head down, looking at their iPhone or tablet. This silence was broken only by giggles coming from the front of the sitting area where I saw two little girls playing with each other.

Version 3I had seen the little strawberry topped hat looking out through the rain drops sliding down the glass as the passenger ferry rolled and splashed its way across Moreton Bay through the squall that was making our passage distinctly uncomfortable.

She was playing very happily by herself, running her finger down the wet window and drawing pictures. Occasionally she would turn to the child nearest her and play with her. I have no idea whether they were siblings or friends but when I asked to take her photo, she immediately wrapped her arm around the other little girl and gave her a hug, including her in the shot.

Version 4My girlfriend smiled at me and I reflected that this is what I would experience over the next two days in the company of my girlfriends.

Some of our friendships have start way back when we were as little as these two girls, sharing simple pleasures, some started when we were thrown together as a disparate group at school or later at university when a common interest, subject studied or another friend brought us together.

At the beach house, as I sat sharing a glass of wine and laughing at our reminiscences of past boyfriends I realised how important these friendships are in helping you get through your life. We talked about our worries for our children and our hopes for their careers and love life and how gut wrenching it was when they left home. We mused over the sorrows and tragedies that have occurred hoping that our friendship acts as a barrier to despondency and loneliness.

ww_the-girls-sitting-on-logWe complained about the incremental changes on our bodies that ageing causes and moaned of the challenges faced when dealing with our ageing parents. Although most of us are experiencing it, none of us could determine the best form of treatment for AMS (Ageing Mother Syndrome).

Some of us are married to our first husband, some onto our second marriage and others divorced but we remain friends. The wonderful thing about a friendship with our girlfriends is the acceptance of what you are. It is a liberating feeling to know that you don’t have to appear with make-up on each morning and who cares about the bulges that no amount of yoga or Pilates will tighten up and make disappear. We were content, sitting  on the deck, sipping a coffee and talking about what interests us. We have all followed different career paths and there is no need for jealousy or envy. I am happy to delve into their experiences and adapt their strategies into my life.IMG_0320.JPG

Having a girlfriend as a friend means listening while she talks, trying to see her point of view and abstaining from being judgemental. We walked along the beach fluidly changing groups depending upon whose knees were stiffening up, discussing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We exchanged opinions about people and politics and argued about how to make the country a better place for the next generation. We laughed at ourselves and each other.ww_the-three-girls

Sharing girlfriend time is as refreshing as a tonic and for me, more effective than meditation or a health retreat. I came away happy, knowing I am valued for whom I am and confident that I can deal with what the world might hurl at me this year because there is always a friend I can turn to.ww_frenchmans-beach-1

 

 

 

Organising myself into 2017

 

perfect-knitting-couch

A perfect place to knit and read

I looked at my 90-year old father on this New Year’s Eve and mused that he could possibly, although highly unlikely have made 70 New Year Resolutions. What a challenging concept. Why would you want to change yourself that much? So why am I bothering this year? Only because this year’s decision could be fun and thus more likely to succeed. In 2017 I am resolved not to more organised but to be less disorganised in my life.

‘Good luck’, said Andy, ‘that means we will have to get rid of all horizontal surfaces in the house.’

I muttered that he might be my first project, which made him hurry past the cluttered, untidy bookshelves and back into his study. ‘There’s opportunity on them there shelves,’ he hollered from the safety of his ‘cave’.

quilt-on-bed

A quilt project on spare bed

He is right of course, as I work under the philosophy that all flat surfaces, i.e. the tables, couches, benches, floor and beds should be covered because what else is a flat surface for. The only time our house looks remotely like the pages of an interiors magazine is when I go away for a holiday and leave him at home. He probably has a blissful time and able to find everything he needs but within an hour of my returning everything starts to look as it did before I left. knitted-trim-quilt

I do have a history of clutter. I remember my grandmother advising me not to leave my new baby on the floor as I would never find her again and my brother-in-law once asked me whether I had just moved into the house in which I had been living for 2 years.

It isn’t that I am untidy, it is just that I have a lot of projects on the go at any one time: I am making a recycled jumper quilt, knitting a baby rug, knitting some washcloths out of gorgeous brightly coloured cotton, sewing a balloon skirt, altering an Italian cotton skirt as well as reading numerous books and magazines and that is before you open the food cupboard and fridge where I am making ginger beer, sourdough and jams.

However, I do acknowledge that just occasionally, having a system or plan to work with can be of assistance in achieving my goals.

painting

Painting, boring but great effect

To start the momentum of this 2017 New Year Resolution I needed a significant project and what better task than to tidy up the dark area outside my laundry where I store my gardening equipment. Naturally I don’t start small and the easiest most effective way of making it look better is to paint it white. I am full of admiration for all those house painters who finish their jobs so quickly. What a tedious and time consuming job the painting of my slats has been and a very fiddly task particularly when negotiating the copper piping that leads to the hot water system. It wasn’t just a matter of slapping on a coat of white paint because the slats had many coatings of timber oil that had gradually darkened over the years. So I had to wash them, paint them with primer and then 2 coats of white paint on the inside and 2 coats of pale yellow on the outside to match the rest of the house. I was going to just do white but it started to look like a gingerbread house and very tizzy so I went with the yellow that blends with the corrugated iron and timber walls near by.

Andy just looked at me as if I was crazy, ‘Why change what works?’. This man could live in a cardboard box and be happy, as long as it had a wine bar. Interior design really isn’t his thing, nor does he ever feel the need to change the look of his environment. Once it is painted, leave it that colour and then you don’t have to think about other design considerations such as matching up the trim colour.

bench-clutter

My projects on ‘Our’ workbench

I really didn’t mind as this area is my space and I am Head Gardener so I get final say in what goes. He has his ‘cave’ where he sits contentedly surrounded by his books, computers, drones, electronic gear, shredder, printer, and I get the rest of the house including his workbench which is usually covered in my current outside project like the ‘weed tea’ being irrigated by the aquarium aerator so that it doesn’t stink the house out and the wreaths made from the wisteria vine, and the baskets made from palm inflorescences. Somewhere underneath all these things sits the hedge trimmer and the tree saw.

knitted-trim-quilt-1

First attempt at weaving palm inflorescence

But getting to the back of the house and my garden space, this I could do.  I moved the potting bench away from the walls, threw down an old sheet and up the ladder with paint brush in hand I went. Each day I could see the space lightening up. Even the Master and Commander noticed the increase in light. This is a work in progress and now I have the walls painted I can begin to declutter the workbench and floor. By declutter, I don’t mean throw out, as I never toss anything away until I am totally convinced I won’t use it again in some form or other. To me declutter means being organised.

 

door-storage

Storing garden gloves and florist wire

Pride of place is the back of the slatted door. If nothing else is achieved this year, I believe I can meet my resolution just on the back of this door. How good is this solution for garden gloves? So simple but it has taken me years to think of this. Check out my solution for storing all the small bamboo sticks that you collect with orcids and how to store the craft and florist wire. I will have no excuse not to wire the roses I am drying onto one of the wreaths sitting on the bench.

glove-storage

Garden glove storage

This is a good reason not to throw anything out. Three years ago, I had used the plastic piping in the garden to secure stakes over which I had thrown bird netting to protect some fruit trees.

wire-storage

Storing florist wire

I plugged the piping with an old broom handle that I had also refused to discard.  I own up to asking the assistant to cut the broom handle as I felt he should be involved with the project and I sense a reluctant tinge of admiration for my ability to upcycle most things. Not that he would admit it mind you.

In the meantime, I go out each morning with a cup of coffee and just admire my handiwork  and eventually, as I do have all of 2017 to be organised, I will get around to tidying up the pots and bags of compost. You don’t want to rush a genius.

Then I hear a voice from the driveway where my father is practising his golf swing.   ‘Dull women have immaculate houses.’

Version 2

Never too late to improve your swing.

My father is right, I realise.  Go out and enjoy yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not. Rather than making resolutions each year, perhaps it is better to strive to improve on the present while enjoying and liking who you are.

 

 

 

 

 

Wooden boats on our creek

 web_sailing-boat-on-pond-jardin-du-luxembourg

“There’s nothing-absolutely nothing-half so much worth doing

as messing about in boats.”

Kenneth Grahame’s words from my childhood sprang into my mind as clearly as if I was sitting reading Wind in the Willows rather than watching children messing around with small wooden boats. It was an unseasonally hot spring day and I was enjoying my last lunchtime in Paris munching a baguette while sitting next to the Grand Bassin in the Jardin de Luxembourg. The murmur of lunching office workers drifted past on the breeze interrupted by the occasional shout of glee from a group of young men kicking a ball around on the terrace behind me. More interesting were the manoeuvres taking place around the pond in front of me where our future naval commanders ran while they shouted encouragement to their yachts which were skittering across the water.

web_-boats-grand-bassin-in-jardin-du-luxembourg

Armed with just a small pole some of these children nearly fell in with their enthusiasm to push their boat off from the side and out towards the Armada assembling at the centre of the pond. This flotilla of boats, about 24 in all, sailed under different flags including the pirate flag. There were shouts of delight as they watched them sailing in a gentle breeze, lean over with the gusts and then go about. Arguments would develop when one boat rammed another, and competitions were hosted to get to the other side.

Watching these children at play reminded me of summer afternoons spent playing in the lagoon on Cylinder beach on Stradbroke Island with my son and daughter. Their source of entertainment were two wooden yachts. These gorgeous boats were handmade, with fabric sails hoisted by string and tied with small hooks. They sailed beautifully and were in constant use over the summer holidays.

Playing in the lagoon at Straddie

On the flight home I racked my brain trying to remember where these may have been stored because they are not the sort of toy to give away even after a child has progressed to other toys. Sadly, I think they were left at the beach house when my parents sold it and I hope another child had the opportunity to sail them on the lagoon over their childhood summers.

Thirty years later my son has two little boys just entering the right age to use small boats like these so I decided I would find wooden boats for them. This is not as easy as it sounds because plastic boats are cheaper and computer toys more popular. ‘A heritage toy that is out of date,’ one store assistant told me. A phrase came to my mind, ‘Slow Toy’ which after much research, I discovered was a movement started by Thierry Bourret in 2011 to offer children toys that encouraged them to use their imagination and that stood the test of time.

Angus playing in lagoon on Straddie,

After much searching online I found the maker of these wooden boats in France with a retail outlet in Lille. I almost leaped on a plane straight away but was held back by my husband who fortunately was soon spending a few days in Lille so he was tasked not to come home without two small wooden boats in his suitcase. As soon as he had finished his meetings, rather than play tourist, this wonderful man dragged his travelling companion around the streets of Lille until he found the shop and had then had the joyous task of choosing the hull and sail colours. We are now the proud owners of two little timber boats and they will never be given away. The Tirot business was started in 1946 in Brittany and is continuing to produce wooden boats that really do float and catch the wind in their sails.

web_wooden-boats

I was so excited when I picked up the two beautifully wrapped packages, I kept poking the paper like a child. No way was I going to wait until Christmas to give the boys their boats. They came over the following weekend and I loved watching their faces when they unwrapped their presents. I found very old photos of their dad and his sister playing with their boats in the lagoon and together we planned a boating expedition to our local creek. Now I will have the next generation messing around with boats.

web_creek-vista

We are so lucky to have a creek at the bottom of our street which curves its way through acres of parkland and bush reserve. Although a lot of the banks are covered in weeds which local groups are trying to eradicate, there are now areas which are accessible for parents and children to paddle and play in the water. Armed with our boats, the three of us walked down to the creek looking for a sandy beach area where we could launch our vessels. It had rained recently and there was lots of water swirling across the pebbles and around the reeds growing down to the edges.

web_-child-with-boat

The warm afternoon air was tinged with the smell of ‘curry grass’ which grows in large clumps by the creek while above us in the trees, Lorikeets squabbled and fed on the eucalypt flowers.  It was too early for most walkers and we had the creek to ourselves. Only the ducks watched as we wobbled our way over the rocks and onto a small pebbly beach beside one of the bicycle crossings. There was just sufficient breeze to send the little boats off into the centre of the creek where of course Nanna had to wade and return them. We made ports, dams and moated castles for the pirates to raid. Large juicy tadpoles were collected and let loose in the dam to be bombed very inaccurately using bright blue Quandong berries as catapults. I had two junior admirals telling their midshipman what to do. Their laughter at Nanna getting wetter by the moment was like water music.

web_quandong-nuts

There was so much to do, with digging and sailing, exploring and swimming. Two-year old Tommy had no fear of the water and would head out to the middle of the creek very happily falling into large holes and almost disappearing below the surface with me hot on his heels. It was then as I bent to retrieve this sodden child I noticed a long snake swimming across the creek towards us. I grabbed the struggling toddler and using as calm a voice as I could muster I asked 5-year old Harry to climb onto the bank. ‘What’s a bank, Nanna?’ he asked.

web_-pushing-off-the-boat

This was when I realised the snake had changed direction and was being swept towards Harry. With Tom on my hip and moving as fast as my water filled Wellingtons would allow I scooped Harry up telling him to lift his legs above the water. Both the children sensed something and were still and quiet as we watched the snake swirl past on the current and swim onto the creek bank where it slithered into the grass. The mood of the afternoon had changed dramatically and we decided we would feed the ducks instead of playing pirates. I hadn’t quite anticipated that type of excitement when I had suggested an adventure but it provided much discussion at home with Harry’s mother telling me that he kept asking about what snakes ate, where they lived and where they slept.

It was a lovely afternoon with a ‘Slow Toy’. We exercised our imagination, made up stories, created scenarios and used the sand and pebbles on the creek bank to build our castles. I cannot wait to do it again but this time Grandpa can come as Game Warden.

web_grand-bassin-jardin-du-luxembourg

 

Remembrance Day 2016

web_gravestone_0394

Never forgotten

Each night I get a dose of what my husband calls ‘war porn’.  No, I am not into video battle games or S&M in the bedroom this is what I see when I turn on the television and watch the evening news whilst preparing dinner.

The kitchen commando is particularly sensitive to what he perceives to be constructed war zone scenes and the excessive zeal of news correspondents dressed in combat gear.

I engage him in discussions on what he thinks is appropriate reporting, interrupted by the occasional critique, hurled like a missile at the computer screen.  His opinions I suspect are still based on experiences from the Vietnam War.

web_finding-lionel_01013

Finding a Great-Uncle

I accuse him of being an armchair critic, safe in our bunker, whilst we watch whole communities disintegrating under enemy fire in far off sandy places. We see families wandering dazed from the bombardments their cities are being subjected to, with children being plucked out of rubble and raced to emergency vehicles. This is what he describes as soft war porn, ready images of the distressed individual, or the fighter wandering into the haze firing at unhittable targets. He dislikes the hyperbolic language used to present the ‘news’ for our voyeuristic delight.

More boring and less dramatically reported are the conditions that our troops are experiencing, the dust particles that tickle the nose, the energy sapping heat that makes you irritable, tired and less patient, the constant tension from always being alert to your alien and rarely welcoming environment.

Remembrance Day is a trigger to reflect on the service our men and women give to us in Australia and elsewhere defending and supporting the values and morals which makes this democratic country a safe haven in which to live.

web_band-image_0393

Reflecting on their sacrifice

Of course they are paid to do this, but when deployed they don’t leave if the conditions become uncomfortable and unsafe. They cannot turn away from the ghastly sights that unfold in front of them. War is brutal and horrible, there is no escaping from that fact. They don’t have a ‘trigger warning’ allowing them to distance themselves from this harrowing place they find themselves in. They cannot choose not to participate because it might cause them distress. They learn to deal with the issues, develop resilience and keep going in an environment that is often debilitating and toxic. But then they return home to a totally different world and sometimes find it difficult to convey to their families and friends the shattering effects it has on their mind and body.

 

web_villers-b_01014

Villers-Bretonneux

In his tragic warrior, Ajax, the Greek tragedian Sophocles portrays the psychological wounds inflicted on Greek warriors after fighting in the Trojan War.   Twenty-five hundred years ago Ajax struggled to deal with the guilt over atrocities inflicted during that conflict.  This is often thought of as the first example of PTSD.

Living your life doesn’t mean that you spend your time in rosehip jelly, insulated from what we don’t want to see or hear about.  I watch friends coping with family  members suffering from PTSD and it isn’t easy. We aren’t living in a simulator where if it becomes too terrible we can turn it off and walk out of the room. No-one should have to deal with these ghosts by themselves.

web-digger-silhouette0415-2

Today I will reflect not only on those who served and didn’t come home but on those who have returned and are dealing with life after what they have experienced. That can be just as challenging. No-one is ever the same when they return from the ‘Theatre of War’.