Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blooming marvellous

The Friend Who Knows About Bees also knows about growing stuff. So when he asked me if I'd planted tomatoes yet and said, "oh", when I told him I hadn't I knew that I'd left it too late. Sure enough, a quick check revealed that tomatoes take between 3-5 months to grow from seed. Since summer officially starts tomorrow, I decided to take some shorts cuts and bought some biggish seedlings from the nursery.

Faced with an abundance of varieties, each one claiming super power such as "Australia's favourite", "Easiest to Grow", "Heirloom Variety" "Masses of Fruit & Sweet Flavour", I decided to have a crack at most of them.

At the very least, I'll see which ones suit the urban mini-farm best (if at all). Last year, I tried growing some in pots and they were the flouriest things I'd ever tasted. Hoping for better luck this year.

Something that's been growing very successfully are the crochet flowers from the pattern I posted a few weeks back. Megan, who must have one of the most stylish caravans travelling around Australia at the moment, sent me this pic of her successful woolly garden.

My tomatoes probably won't get quite as much sun but hopefully they too will bloom as easily as Megan's.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bed time

I wasn't even looking for bedlinen. Really I wasn't. Which is always the time you find the best stuff, and my favourite way to shop.

I was doing the grocery shopping and next stop was Herbie's Spices in Rozelle, when I found a park just opposite and right out the front of Vivalino, a tiny shop which stocks French-style bedlinen. Vivalino with a 50 per cent-off-everything-in-the-shop sign displayed in the window. Sceptical, as thinking they'd probably hidden away all the good stuff, I went in. And just as well. The shop looked the same as when I'd last popped in and the sale had just started.

I didn't go nuts, but I did bring home two Bianca Lorenne grey-linen Euro pillowcases for a grand total of $80. I already have some pillowcases and teatowels from the same range and it is the loveliest linen around. That very soft, best straight-off-the-clothes-line crumpled linen.

Surely, a reward to rest my weary head after all that grocery shopping.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's a wrap

Now that my birthday has been had, I can start thinking about Christmas. And there's nothing that makes me think Christmas more than a visit to one of my favourite shops, The Bay Tree in Woollahra.

While essentially a kitchenware shop, The Bay Tree really is much more. It always has a beautiful selection of decorations and stationery and today I came home with the music-sheet wrapping paper, $4.95, along with the tin heart, $5.95, the post-it notes, $10.95, plus a teatowel, not shown, as I am unable to walk out of The Bay Tree without one. I have post-its stuck to many books, magazines, recipes, etc, and I don't want bits of fluoro ugliness sticking out of beautiful books. Particularly yucky on magazine tearsheets and other bits of loveliness on my desk. I may not have solved world hunger here, but the general irkiness of post-it notes is a small thing that's been bothering me for some time.

I've also starting playing with tags I bought there another time. I painted this one with white stripes and then added some glitter glue. Will look good I think on brown-paper packages finished with a strip of music paper and ribbon.

Now that I've got the wrapping under control, it's time to think about what's going to be wrapped. Much harder...

Friday, November 25, 2011

The shoe fits

These are my 'dress thongs'. Country Road prefer to call them their Cadi sandals.

As they're plastic, I thought they might be slippery so didn't buy them the first time I saw them. Next time they came my way I handed over the $39.95 as thought, at that price, it was worth the risk. And it was.

Have worn them twice - my version of a road test - without even a hint of loss of traction.

And just the right shade of blue, which will go nicely with the new nailpolish I bought for my toes today, ie, Revlon's Totally Toffee in a formaldehyde-and-toulene-free formulation.

Should the rain ever stop (it's been a week now) I might get the shoes and nailpolish together. Until then, gumboots it is.

Have a lovely weekend. x

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Behind closed doors

Nobody likes to queue for the bathroom in the morning. Some manage to be patient. Others not so much.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wax works

Some friends and I got together the other evening to make soy candles in between eating dinner and glasses of wine. All supplies were ordered from here, apart from containers as we brought along our own.

I plucked two tealight jars I'd made that have been hanging on my deck for ages, along with an old Country Road ceramic pot and bits of glass. Others had teacups, great finds from the $2 shop, tins and other pieces of glass.

Now that we know how to do it smoothly, we're going to do it again. Much cheaper than buying candles, particularly if sharing the cost among a group. My lot here set me back $16, which includes wax, fragrance, wicks and delivery of supplies.

Sparkling good value.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Street art

Caught the ferry over to Cockatoo Island to see the street art exhibition that's currently on. I don't even like street art much but I do like ferries so the highlight for me was sitting at the back and watching the harbour open up around me.

Getting a bird's-eye view into some of the waterfront homes isn't bad either.

The industrial setting of Cockatoo Island is perfect for the exhibition. Whether wandering through the tunnels, taking a break at the open-air bar, dodging toddlers at the ice-cream stands or just rambling around the site, there's something for everyone. Even nature lovers.

Seagulls nest on a rocky cliff, which they don't seem to realise is bordered by a fence. A fence that's there to stop people falling off. Drawn to the view, you find yourself right at the fence only to be shouted at by birds who are nesting centimetres from your toes. Clearly, it's egg time and the birds got very shouty. The only reason I knew there were nests was because of all the screeching.

As soon as we realised what was happening, we backed away and left them alone. You can see some of them here all lined up, beaks open and blasting, which is fair enough. We left.

Back down at water level, we watched them swoop warning crowds below to keep away. Crowds which weren't remotely interested in them so they were getting worked up about nothing. But that's seagulls for you.

Fascinating to watch them acting naturally rather than how I usually see them, which is harrassing people for chips at the beach.

My kind of art.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy feet

A box of juicy mangoes (for an unbelievable $10) and feet in thongs.

What's not to love about this time of year?

NBee: Friday's bees moved on themselves after a couple of hours. A Friend Who Knows About Bees told us they would have been full of honey and taking a break while scouts were searching the area for a new home.

Friday, November 18, 2011

To bee or not to bee

This is taking the urban mini-farm one step too far. Looks like a swarm of bees are trying to make a hive in the magnolia tree, which is really more like a magnolia twig, that's only a few metres from our back door.

"We need to find a Bee Man", was The Husband's not-particularly-helpful advice. In the meantime, I'll be scouring markets this weekend for three human and one cat shaped set of bee-protection overalls. Smoke guns optional.

Have a lovely weekend. x

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to recover a lampshade (tutorial)

I've just recovered an old frame with fabric for The Child's room. As far as classic proportions go, this one's too small for the stand, but, in this case, it was the look we were after.

The other one I made a while ago but have included to give you an indication of different shapes and trims.

Need to start with a frame. This is an old lampshade I bought for about 20c at a fete and stripped the old fabric and lining off.

Board games

I picked up a much-needed new small chopping board for the kitchen. It's not only lovely because of its looks but its also sustainably harvested Australian hardwood (camphor laurel) made by a small Australian company based in Queensland. It also smells wonderful and, I'm told, has life-long natural anti-bacterial properties.

The only downside was the company's name, Fab Slabs, was branded (in the old-fashioned burned-on sense) onto the board in a not-particularly attractive typeface. It looked to me like a regretted tattoo after a wild night out so I decided to do tame the beast and perform a spot of abrasive surgery and sandpapered it off.

I'm sure it would have thanked me if it could.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pot bound

It's southerly buster time in Sydney. Long hot days that are broken by a "southo", or cool southerly wind, in the evening. It's a fantastic and much-loved weather phenomenon that sees people all across the city opening their front doors, clothes and hair fluttering all around them, and letting the strong breeze move through homes to do its work. The temperature can drop 10 degrees in seconds. Best air-conditioning in the world.

As I've planted bok choy, spinach and lettuce in pots rather than in our little garden bed, as that's currently busy growing cucumbers, it means slipping into a routine of watering the pots in the morning or evening so they can cope with the heat. Makes me feel like a little old granny wandering around in my pyjamas with a battered watering can - but in a good way.

Found the little brown Ikea pots the perfect size for this job and putting some of them in the old jam-making pot makes them easier to move around. While these pots don't have a drainage hole, I always make one with a drill and a masonry bit.

If all goes well, I'll rotate the "crop" as it gets eaten bringing the biggest closest to the kitchen doorstep and prime northerly direction that these lettuces are currently enjoying.

All I need now is a sourdough baguette, some goats' cheese, tomatoes, olives and olive oil.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baby bird

We now have three chicken doves who peck seeds in our garden each morning, despite the best efforts of the currawongs to keep this family's number down to two.

I hadn't been posting much about our doves nesting efforts since the first slaying as it's been like something out of a Tarantino movie around here. I came out onto our back deck once to see a currawong sitting on our fence holding a cracked egg in its claw like a bottle of beer. It quickly sculled the contents before flying off.

On Saturday evening, though, I was sitting on the deck while the husband cooked dinner. I looked up into the tree and saw what I thought was our two doves, and then I realised there were three - and one quite a bit smaller than the other two. (One of the parents had dropped to the grass for a bit of a peck when this pic was taken.)

As you can see he or she has yet to grow into its looks - or its beak - and hasn't yet developed the spotted band around its neck. But, right now, I think this is probably the prettiest bird I've ever seen.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I've long had plans to do a bit of quilting. Still do. At least I've made a start by making some patchwork cushions for the deck.

I've had the fabric put away for ages. So long in fact that I've gone off it for the bedroom and don't want a quilt made out of it, but I'm happy for four new cushion covers to brighten up the deck now that we're eating all our meals outside again.

As there were no hiccups along the way, these cushions have given me the confidence to actually try quilting rather than just buy the stuff you need and then putting it in a cupboard.

Decided to tone the cushions down a bit by backing with ticking.

Works for me.

Have a lovely weekend. x

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Principles of Home

I've been reading this book like a novel, I find it so interesting. The hardback was released last year but this abridged version is new, and more than enough for me. I was drawn to this book because I admire Kevin McCloud's use of language when it comes to design and homes.

I came to it off the back of a freelance job where I was asked to write about 20 stories for a website, each on a different decorating style, ie, beach house, modern country, etc. So I spoke to many people and I read up. A lot. Towards the end of the job I was almost banging my head on the desk at how much bad writing is out there when it comes to decorating and how much pretension when it comes to design.

This book is the equivalent of a palette-cleansing sorbet.

Split into four chapters - energy, buildings, things, sharing - it breaks down difficult subjects, particularly in energy, and makes them easily digestible and palatable. And interesting!

I don't think I'd forgive any other book for a chapter called 'things', but it works. It's all about the things we put in our homes and two sections deal with 'Things at home worth investing in' (taps and light switches) and 'Things at home not worth investing in' (kitchen cupboards and doors).

He values good design but not in a must-have-this-chair type of way but in the way it can make life more pleasurable:

"Finding comfort - the joy of a comfortable chair or door handle - is to be prized above fashion, style, image - or cool design, which is just another term for fashion, style and image. Comfort is the most civilizing aspect of design or architecture. Seek it out."

Or, a little more idiosyncrastically:

"Cleaning the aluminium case of my own little Apple is no chore but an act of caring, like stroking a Furby. I won't admit to it being fetishistic but it's a little like wax polishing a fine old piece of French polished furniture. OK, that's enough, I'm sure, for all you PC owners trying to remove the crumbs from your keyboard. I will just add that using a Mac is a tactile pleasure and an intellectual one too. With a PC, not only does all that plastic get scratched, worn and dirty, but even trying to operate the software feels a bit dirty in comparison. Yuk."

Fan letter over.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Material world

Isn't this a great idea? If we didn't have plans to do stuff in the great outdoors this weekend, I'd definitely be taking a look. Snapped in the window of the reasonably new shop Follow in Cleveland St, Surry Hill (old Bird Textiles site), which is run by the pair behind the Finders Keepers markets so worth a look if you're in the area.

If I was a power blogger, I'd organise something similar online but since I'm not, I'll have to file the idea in the never-will-happen pile.

Speaking of fabrics, I know it's very naughty of Spotlight to be 'taking inspiration from' or, speaking plainly, ripping off Liberty prints, even to the point of the names - ie top is called Japan Tana Lawn Tonga, bottom is Japan Tana Lawn Navy - but at $14.95 a metre I found myself at the counter with rolls in hand.

The bottom fabric will become a second Japanese sack (which I'm now in love with, strangely) and the other a lampshade for The Child's room. I'll be covering a frame with it (what's called a soft lampshade in the biz) and will do a tutorial.

Lampshade is in the will-do-but-not-sure-when pile. Hopefully next week.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Christmas at Ikea

Went along to the newly opened Ikea at Tempe yesterday for a sticky beak. Came home with three packs of these cardboard/paper/string reindeer Christmas decorations, which I'll probably use on presents as we tend to go for a red/white/natural approach at our house at Christmas. Thought $2.99 for a pack of four very good value.

No more driving down ugly Parramatta Road to get to the Homebush Ikea, I also thought, would be very convenient. And it is. Little did I realise that the main thoroughfare to the Tempe store, ie Princes Highway, makes Parramatta Road look like the Champs Elysee.

Can't have everything.

There's some nice details at the new Ikea is, which is, well, quite unsurprisingly, like any other Ikea.

But being a creature of habit, I find that quite comforting.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy animals

Came across a book of 30 postcards in Kinokuniya (easily the best bricks-and-mortar bookshop in Sydney, in my opinion) by Japanese illustrator Junzo Terada.

Each postcard is different and all share a mid-century sensibility, which reminds me of another favourite illustrator, Charley Harper.

For $12.50, it seemed criminal to leave them behind.

The collection is called Happy Animal Time, and is published by Chronicle Books.

If you're reading this...
Sarah, thank you for taking the time to offer your expertise regarding Bella. We were both very touched.
We investigated the subcutaneous fluid treatment with our other cat (the vet did it a couple of times) and we would have continued it ourselves should she have lived. We're not going to go down that route with Bella, purely because of her age. She's now 15 going on 16 and don't think it fair to keep on asking her to fight it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Holding hands

It's that time of the month, so you're in the hands of The Husband...

We’re a family who likes animals. We’re a family who loves animals. We’re a family who will pause the TV when a cute beaver comes on and call in the others for a look.

I go all funny when I see a boxer, pug, staffie, or bulldog – the uglier the cuter – and ask their owner if I can pat them.

One of the best ever was a boxer with quite severe dental issues who prompted strangers to say nervously, “er, oh my, aren’t you, er pretty,” as she revealed a row of drooling snaggled fangs. She did this, her owner said, because every time she “smiled” people told her she was pretty so she “smiles” at to everyone she meets.

That’s the sort of story we like to tell each other around the dinner table. So imagine what we’re like with our own animals. Mental.

Some 15 years ago, pre-child and in rather tasteful rented accommodation in Sydney’s east, we decided to get cats. We got a couple of Russian Blues, sisters from the same litter. They were the last two in the litter, purebred rejects. Maisie was like a mini-panther, huge, sleek and a very simple soul. Bella was the opposite, a little round-faced bear, quirky and smart.

Over the years, and with the arrival of their “sister", The Child, they wound their lives around ours, purring and asking for dinner.

Our mental family story archives are full of “remember the time that tom cat tried to assault Bella and Maisie tore him to pieces. “Remember when Maisie bit the child but only after she poked her in the eye five times in a row. “Remember when Bella got locked outside for the night by mistake and leaped into “Mummy’s” arms, covered in twigs and leaves.” Okay, legends in our own family, maybe.

Four years ago, big, robust Maisie, Maisie who never got sick, Maisie who could lick a litre of spilled turpentine off her fur and not blink, got kidney disease. She died within two weeks of diagnosis. I wrote a story in a magazine about her death and its impact on us and, to this day, it is the piece that most people talk about to me, over a 25-year career in writing.

So, three months ago, Bella got the same kidney malfunction. We thought she was gone. But two nights on a saline drip at the vet and presto! – she was back with us, a little skinnier perhaps, but pretty much her old self.

Last weekend she had a relapse, much worse, and we all sobbed at her absence, imagining her cringing in a cage at the vet, shaved and hooked up. There was no way she was going to make it this time. She was just so sick.

After two days we took her home. The levels of toxins had dropped a bit and she was at least eating and drinking. It’s such a bittersweet thing. We though we’d lost her. Yet she’s back again, purring as she stands on my stomach as I lie on the bed, making nests in The Author of this blog’s crochet.

As she’s become sicker over the last few months I’ve taken to nick-naming her PC – short for Pet Cemetary. Okay, so we like animals and inappropriate humour.

She’s very “PC” indeed. Her back legs are wobbly, her meow has turned into a quavering quack, and she seems to take a minute or two of grunting and huffing to get her purr motor going. On waking, she’ll take a minute or two to focus the eyes and get moving – like most of us.

Next time the toxins overwhelm her, we’re not going to torment her with days in a cage at the vet. She hates it.

We don’t know how long she’ll be with us. Every borrowed day is a joy, an absolute blessing. To hear her claws on the floorboards as she shuffles up to our bedroom and arrives at the door – “quack!” is such a deep pleasure, because we thought we’d never hear it again.

The bond between her and The Author is as deep as any animal-human connection I’ve ever experienced and I can’t imagine the day it’s not there.

So for now we’ll enjoy having little PC with us and make every moment for her and us as wonderful as it can be.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Heart of glass

One of the things I look out for at markets is glass, which might have something to do with the way it glints prettily in the outdoor light.

This is just a selection of small things I've gathered, all practical, and the most expensive just $15 (the square Jones & Miller bottle on the left). I use the bottles as vases.

The latest acquisition is the old pub-regulation beer glass from the 1960s. Without even looking at what was written on the glass, The Husband pulled it off the kitchen shelf and poured beer into it on the weekend. I asked him why he'd chosen that one and he said it just looked like the perfect beer glass.

Proves good design passes the test of time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bean busy

First of our spring broad beans. Young and fresh so no need for double podding.

To be tossed through with pasta, olive oil and garlic tonight.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crochet flower pattern

Here's how to make the flowers in yesterday's post.

Don't let my wonky drawing put you off - this flower is really easy to crochet. After the initial ring, there's only two rounds.

I've put the pattern into a diagram as I find them easier to follow, but here are the backup words (as drawing isn't one of my skills).

I'm using the UK/Australian terminology because, well, I'm Australian and that's what I know. The beauty of diagrams (despite mine being far from beautiful) is that symbols are universal so the stitches are the same to US readers, but they'll just call them by another name.

Start with a 6-chain ring, using slip-stitch to join.

Round 1
Chain 3 and then do a treble into the ring. (This is your first 'spoke').

Chain 5.

I've then joined two trebles together, which I think is called a 2-treble cluster*. Whatever it's called, doing it is easy. Here's instructions for the stitch in case I've got the name of it wrong.

Commence a treble stitch as normal, ie:

yarn over hook,
hook into ring drawing through stitch (3 stitches on hook);
yarn over hook, drawing through first two stitches on hook (2 stitches on hook)
- but don't complete the treble. Instead:

With the 2 stitches still on hook:
yarn over hook,
hook into ring, drawing through stitch (4 stitches on hook);
yarn over hook, drawing through first two stiches on hook (3 stitches on hook);
yarn over hook, pull through remaining 3 stitches.

Second spoke done.

Repeat the chain 5 and 2-treble cluster/puff stitch pattern until you have 6 spokes of the flower.
Join with a slip stitch.

Round 2
Chain 1 for some height.
Then working into the next space (bordered by the 5-chain loop)
double crochet;
half treble;
5 trebles;
half treble;
double crochet.

Do the same into the next space (ignoring the initial chain), and work your way around.

I've done two sets of petals here. four to go...

Join with a slip stitch.

Which is why I like diagrams. Too many words make the whole thing look complicated, when it's actually simple.

* The only reference I could find for this stitch was in a US book, which called it a puff stitch. None of my local or UK books listed it, but when there were three trebles involved, referred to it as a 3-treble cluster. Hence I'm guessing it's called a 2-treble cluster.