Category Archives: Lifestyle

The Dawn Chorus

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My morning visitors.

I heard something last week that was so addictive that I am happily waking up before dawn in anticipation of hearing this music again. You might be thinking, ‘Crazy lady’ and I couldn’t blame you but it is almost sufficient enticement to get me out of bed before dawn in winter and down to the nearby bushland to try recording it.

Are you a morning person? My early morning alarm is usually the cat leaping onto my bed, nudging me with his cold nose, and meowing in ever-increasing tones telling me that his food bowl is empty. I can ignore the yowls but not the nibbles on my toes.

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Mohair blankets are purrrfect!

Last week however, my furry intruder was early and the sun’s rays were just lighting up the hills across the valley, immersing my bedroom in that half-light before dawn. Opening my eyes, I could see a sliver of pale washed blue sky through the linen curtains that moved lightly in the morning breeze.

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Birdsong drifts across our valley.

It was a strange feeling, not knowing why all my senses were alert yet the cat was also sitting up, eyes wide, ears twitching quite obviously listening to something. It was as if the air around me was vibrating with song, and the room a tunnel with the notes bouncing off the walls. The dawn chorus was so clear and so beautiful it was like being submerged in bird song or in a painting filled with music and I lay there, trying to identify which bird produced which sound. It was early, well before the sun had risen so there was almost no traffic noise to compete with this chorus. It was also a very cool winter’s morning so this symphony dominated the airwaves.

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Tempting the Rosella

I had forgotten how truly magnificent is the dawn chorus in Australia. Gloriously melodic notes floated on the air, a soft warble, a chirrup, a twireep, a trill and more and more songs. All these sounds cascading together to form one of the most beautiful natural chorus anyone could wish to hear. I am no expert but I think I could make out at least some of the following bird songs from the magpies, the grey butcherbirds, the blue-faced honeyeater, the common myna, the black-faced cuckoo shrike, the willy wagtail and of course the kookaburra. There were probably others I didn’t identify.

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Shy Rosella feeding on sunflower seeds.

Listening to this music I tried to remember other dawn choruses and I think Australia does it better than anywhere else. They sure sound louder than other choruses I have heard. Perhaps this is because songbirds originated in Australia about 23 million years ago.

Although our dinosaur bones have survived, our very fragile bird skeletons tend not to, making it difficult to determine the migration of songbirds.  Now a team led by Dr Rob Moyle from the University of Kansas, USA is using DNA to study the migration of these songsters. They are thought to have occurred travelled across the chain of islands called Wallacea that lay between Australia and New Guinea and the Indonesian archipelago.

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Map of Wallace (Sunda & Sahul) Sourced: Wikipedia.

Australia has many eucalypts and paperbarks as well as grevilleas that bear nectar producing flowers which attract the honeyeaters and lorikeets. These birds which feed voraciously on the flowers and fight over their food patch, have become the primary pollinators of trees and shrubs.

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The wattle flowers are like star bursts of fireworks.

At the moment my local park and bushland has lots of  flowering wattles, eucalypts and grevilleas.

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Ducking and weaving amongst the flowers.

Each afternoon when I go for a walk and I see the myna birds feeding on the Grevilleas and there was even a very shy Rosella munching on the last of the sunflower seeds. Sometimes it feels as if the trees are starting to vibrate with the bees feeding on the flowers.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is small birds such as the hummingbirds that act as pollinators and most trees are pollinated by wind or insects.

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Bee raiding eucalypts flower.

On other mornings this week I have also heard the dawn chorus but it hasn’t been as loud or clear and I wondered why on that one morning it was like being in a tunnel of sound. Perhaps winter is the reason. I was intrigued to read a description using the same words in Nature’s Music: The Science of Birdsong by Peter R Marler and Hans Slabbekoorn. Apparently in winter you often get an ‘inversion’ layer of cold air sitting just above the ground and when the birds sing, their songs are reflected off the warm layer above them and beamed along the ‘tunnel of cold air’. Sound travels better in still cold air than warm air which may be why the bird song at dawn seems up to 20 times louder than in the middle of the day.

At least I have this beautiful sight every morning.

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Morning chorus

I lost Autumn

Autumn has eluded me.  Occasionally when I wake, the western hills are cloaked in a thick, grey fog dampening the sounds of an awakening suburb. It fills the gullies and swirls around like a dancer clothed in a cape of moist air teasing me behind a mask of summery temperatures warm enough for a t-shirt when I work in the garden.Web_fog_9127
This morning, I heard, over the shrill squabbling of the lorikeets feasting on the bread, milk and honey mixture I put out for them, an unfamiliar chirruping outside my kitchen. Coffee in hand, I wandered into my front garden and squinted up into the early sunlight. Perched high in the spindly branches of the crepe myrtle, surprisingly well camouflaged despite its bright blue and yellow colours was a Rosella, visible only because the leaves have finally started to fall. This drought tolerant deciduous tree is a delight in summer with its bowl-shaped canopy of mauve crepe flowers attracting lots of bees and in winter its beautiful bark is a stand out feature. I think I lost autumn, I am not sure it occurred and now this elusive season has segued into winter.

Web-Lorikeets_9234-2We get excited about the leaves dropping in our cooler months. I get excited as they are a useful dry leaf matter addition to the compost bin, but my gardening assistant sees them as a chore to be swept up. I have uttered serious threats to this individual, because after sweeping up the Wisteria leaves, he tends to toss them into the rubbish bin rather than into the compost. As punishment, I have set him a task to install a light under the Frangipani to highlight its sculptural bare limbs in the evening. Now the Birch has started to drop leaves around the garden, the yellow colours mimicking the yellow paint on the house. Suddenly there are enough leaves to scrunch beneath my feet, a true sound of autumn and winter.Web-autumn-birchleaves9475

The shorter days are still perfect for long lunches on the deck although we have dusted off the gas heater so that as the sun disappears below the hills we can continue the conversation over another bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to bring out my collection of old rugs under which guests can snuggle to ward off an evening’s cooler temperature. I have an assortment of old tartan rugs inherited from various members of the family plus those knitted or sewn by myself. None are so precious that I get upset if a glass or two of wine is spilt over them. They need an airing to rid them of the smell of lavender that I store with them to dissuade the clothes moths.Web_blankets_9481

Now that the cooler evenings have arrived, we have moved from eating outside with tea lights for romance to dining under soft candle light at the dinner table. Our barbecue is still frequently used, but now I am beginning to plan meals around warm soups and casseroles accompanied by winter salads incorporating the delicious flavours of vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and beetroot.

I am impatient for the colder nights to arrive so that we can light the first of only about 20 fires that we have each winter. Our winter evenings are not really cold enough to warrant a fire, but I have been known open all the doors and windows to let in as much cold air as possible. My idea of bliss is to sit having a drink after dinner, feet encased in uggies, books and knitting beside me, soaking up the warmth of the flames.  Web_pinecones_9470

If I am really lucky next morning there will be enough coals left, that with the addition of a few pine cones, the fire will reignite. This is definitely one of the pleasures of not having to rush off to work in the morning, because I will make a coffee and curl up under a rug eating breakfast in front of the flames.

This week in anticipation of a cooler night, I put a light winter blanket on the bed which was a total waste of time as it is still too hot to sleep under anything heavier than a summer blanket. This didn’t stop the cat who leapt onto me in the middle of the night pitter pattering with his claws, purring loudly and commandeering more than his fair third of the blanket. If I get tired of being squashed between the two males in my bed, and try to shift the hairy one, he digs his claws in and bites. Ouch!

I am however, the eternal optimist and have started on a list of tasks for the elusive autumn and winter:Web_kindling9472

  • Get the firewood and pine cones ready for the first fire. Set the fire in preparation. This can be a very competitive business in our household.
  • Buy more candles for the dinner table
  • Fill up the gas bottle for the heater on the deck
  • Wash the old rugs and give them an airing.
  • Start thinking about recipes for soups, winter salads and pies
  • Finish knitting the baby rug for number 11 grandchild before he goes to school!Web_meatpie_7205

An Anzac food parcel of love

Can food speak as words of love from a mother? I certainly tried to make this happen.

PoppyAnzac Day always has special meaning to our family as we have had so many members serving here and overseas. I try not to let it pass without thinking of what it means to Australians and today as I was listening to a speaker talking about letters sent home by Australian soldiers in previous wars I started to think about the words and messages my son and I used in our emails during his two stints overseas and of how I tried to communicate my love to him.

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I remember sitting at an early morning Anzac Day service in Los Angeles, feet in thin soled shoes getting wet from the heavy dew on the grass, pulling a pashmina tight around my shoulders as a shield against the thick early morning fog that hid the gravestones surrounding us. Even the podium a few metres in front of us had swirls of grey mist clinging to its supports. I was still, tense, with hands in my lap, staring at the speaker without listening to his words, absorbed in my effort not to think of what my son might be doing on the other side of the world in Iraq. I looked with unfocussed eyes, beyond the speaker into the grey distance where urban shapes were emerging from shadows. Gradually one shape impinged on my consciousness and it was like being hit in the chest with a fist. A Bunya Pine, that tall untidy tree planted near Australian homesteads to act as a landmark to travellers and those who were lost and now would find their way home. I sat, tears sliding quietly down my cheeks, images of my son flooding my mind, reassuring myself he would be fine. ‘He is trained for this,’ was only temporary reassurance from my husband.

‘Hope the sandpit is treating you kindly. Take care, duck and weave when you have to. Love ya.’ xx Mum

As a mother there really isn’t much you can do when your adult child is serving overseas, other than write or send the odd parcel from home. And if I was lucky I occasionally had a few snatched moments on the phone and then I would pass the information on to our huge extended family voracious for news about G. These conversations were always hit and miss, because you could never return his phone call as his numbers didn’t exist.

 ‘Hi all, I just spoke with G, he’s good, his normal self, no news really. Work is keeping him busy enough but other than that he was more interested in finding out what is going on at home than talking about his side of things…’ Susie

 So write I did, frequently, about nothing in particular, just the news of what our lives were like, about my work, people we were dining with, meals and recipes I cooked, activities with friends and family and places I visited. I tried to make them the most interesting and funny letters I had written. Every time I whinged about no contact, I would think about my Italian Grandmother writing from Proserpine to the family in Piedmont and that it might take 12 weeks from sending to receiving a letter. Italy was so far from Australia that after leaving at 21 years of age, she never saw her parents again. The only time I felt that living in Los Angeles and London was a long way from anywhere was when G told me of his postings.

‘Dear G, I woke up last night and decided that I needed to see you and K for a night before you go away to the other sandpit!!!  … Therefore I think we will come home from London for about five days….’ Love ya, xx Mum

His two sisters felt his absence as keenly as I did and wrote as often. We kept each other in the loop which later expanded to include his fiancé. Food of course was an easy topic of conversation.

‘Mumsie, Just for future reference, you might already know (I didn’t), he says bring on nice cereals and antipasto-type goodies, …, and he has a small bar fridge so he can store jars of olives etc, just don’t send cheeses or anything similarly perishable.  No other tips for care parcels, just make it edible.  Typical, he’s not happy with boring digestives cookies, nah, he wants the fancy deli goods!!’ xx G

 However, just because he wasn’t at home, didn’t mean that I wouldn’t occasionally ask him to provide brotherly guidance to a turbulent sister who had issues at work or disappointments in love.

‘Mumsie, Yeah yeah, I spoke to S the other night, usual brotherly thing, all sorted, I should probably give J a call and see how her job is going. I might do that tomorrow.  I actually got a couple of little love packages from L and S the other day.  These were absolutely great as food was starting to run low out here.  It’s not that we ever run out it’s just that you get a very limited choice, not too bad but weird flavours, ie; Ham and onion sandwiches…’  xxG

I was curious about the people he worked with (on both sides), and would raise cultural issues that I had run across when living in the United States, such as the advertisements on television shows and in the Gourmet magazines that I read but got very little information other than…

‘The Americans do take a little getting used to, we’ve got a team working with us and there definitely is a bit of a culture clash, not too bad but it’s the little things.  The radio plays ads supporting abstinence and lot’s of happy clappy god fearing stuff.  Very bizarre.’ xx G

Desperate for any news at all, I would discuss politics at home and abroad but G was always the mastermind of reticence and self-censorship with a little cynicism creeping in…

‘Yeah life over here for the ordinary person might be better if we left, and I think there will always be conflict where respect is gained through firepower.  Only now are we learning, yet again, that modern western democratic ideals cannot be overlayed onto all countries.’

And so I would go into great detail about my life of museums, art galleries, coffee with girlfriends and teaching at a Muslim girls’ school, keeping fit by swimming none of which I am sure he was particularly interested in but perhaps he was, as he did once say he had saved all our correspondence,  and he would send me details of his day ….

‘Mumsie, Well I’ve finally got here and am starting to settle in.  It’s one hell of a barren place, I don’t think the surface of the moon could look any worse than this, it’s dusty, rocky, mountainous, sandy, windy, and actually quite cold.  … There’s supposed to be a ‘coffee shop’ of some description run by the Dutch and a local store run by some international company as well as a weekly local market which everything going to plan I’ll get down there soon enough and check it out.’

We knew he didn’t want or need clothing or books but food was frequently a subject discussed in our emails as he is a terrific cook. So my sister, my daughters and I all sent food parcel after food parcel, including Anzac biscuits and the heaviest fruit-filled cakes I could carry.

‘Dear G, Here is my latest offering. If you don’t need it, use it as currency for something you do. The lady at the post office in LA couldn’t believe how heavy the fruit cake was, but her eyes widened and she smiled in delight, when she made me unwrap its many layers of brown paper and alfoil and smelt its aroma…’

‘Mumsie, One good thing though…  the food here is phenomenal, it is without a doubt the best food I have ever eaten during 11 years in the Army.  We get T-Bone steak, Eye Fillet steak, curries, fresh Naan, fresh fruit salad, good cereal etc.  That being said I’ll never turn down any home cooked goodies (or spicy stuff…).

Cooking the biscuits and cakes let me pour all my love into that food to nurture him and keep him safe. I felt I was contributing. Although after receiving that email, I did wonder if our gifts were redundant…

‘Dear G, Glad to hear the playpit is feeding you well. It sounds as if there is an opportunity for a good barista – what are your entrepreneurial skills like?  Perhaps we could dip in chocolate and send you the cockroaches that are said to be hatching in plague numbers in Queensland due to the unseasonal heat. Unseasonal, in November, unlikely.

Today, full of memories of other cakes, after the Anzac service I came home and cooked a fruit cake as a  message of love to my children. I found a recipe from my Grandmother, born in 1902, who lost a brother in France in World War 1.  Flexible as always, I fiddled with the recipe a little because fruit cakes are like that, using whatever was in my cupboard and fridge. Into a large packet of mixed fruit, I added raisins, chopped apricots, a few figs and some dates. I didn’t have sufficient hazelnuts so I made up the mixture with walnuts and almonds as well. I had plum jam so used that instead of apricot jam.

I poured my love into this cake as if it was my children, I chopped the nuts and crushed their obstacles, added spicy ginger to give warm love to their life and sweetness with home-made plum jam. And as I incorporated the flour with Granny’s old spoon, and gently blended the fruit, I was whisked back to the many times they sat around my bench, licking the bowls, stirring the alcohol into the fruit and always helping to make and eat the fruit cakes for past Christmases, christenings and birthdays.  As this cake rose it reminded me how integral baking and cooking is to binding our family together.

 

web-fruitcakeGranny Young’s fruitcake

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Butter and dust with flour a 25 cm (10 in) round cake tin.

250g butter

1 cup brown sugar

375g dried fruit

½ cup dried figs, chopped

1½ cups prunes, chopped

1½ cups hazelnuts, skinned and chopped

3 eggs

1¼ cups self-raising flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1¼ cups plain flour

1½ teaspoons mixed spice

3 tablespoon apricot jam

1 tablespoon instant coffee mixed with 2 tablespoons water

web-cake-ingredients1In a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then mix in the eggs one by one. Sieve together the flours and cocoa and mixed spice. Mix together the fruit and nuts. Add the coffee to the jam, mix together and add to the fruit. Add the flours and fruit in alternate batches to the mixture. If it feels a little dry, just add a small amount of milk to moisten the mixture.

Cook for about 1¼  to 1½ hours and remove when a skewer inserted into the mixture comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin. For additional flavour, trickle a couple of spoonfuls of brandy or rum over the warm surface. (Great for when you send it to an alcohol-free base!).

 

 

 

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

 

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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