Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Did you know there was a cemetery in the heart of Paris - it was the oldest and largest - so overcrowded that there wasn't enough earth left to allow bodies to decompose properly? I didn't, until I picked up Pure by Andrew Miller.

The cemetery, Saints Innocents or Les Innocents as it's called in the book, is no longer there: in its place is a fountain Fontaine des Innocents on the Rue St Denis in the Les Halles district. The bones are now in Paris's Catacombs.

From the Middle Ages until the late 18th century, the ground and its charnel houses had swallowed up almost two million people, many buried in mass graves, until it could take no more. The cemetery and surrounding area were so unsanitary, even by mid-1700s standards, and the already intolerable situation made signicantly worse by a prolonged period of heavy rain, that Louis XVI ordered it destroyed. Every body and every bone was to be dug up and moved. The cemetery and church was to be no more.

Pure is a fictionalised version of this event told from the viewpoint of the young engineer, with no more experience than having built a small bridge in Normandy, who was given the task.

I haven't finished it yet, but so far it's the best type of book: a literary page turner. Andrew Miller is beautiful writer, and he's just won a major prize in the UK for the book. If I'm still enthralled by the end, I'll be straight on to the library to reserve everything he's ever written.

The Husband, who read it first, also loved it and he'd normally resist anything that could even be vaguely labelled as historical fiction with a barge pole. But he was desperate for a book and I was in the middle of something else. Now he keeps asking me what Jean-Baptiste is up to every time he sees my nose in the book.

Last night we looked up the exact location of Saints Innocents, now the Place Joachim-du-Bellay, on Google Maps and found the site was literally around the corner from the apartment we stayed in when in Paris the year before last. If only we'd known then, but Paris has so many secrets and stories.

Not far from the Pompidou Centre, which I never got around to either. Clearly, I need to go back.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Red mist

My tomato growing days are over. The Grosse Lisse was floury. Ditto for Mama's Delight. Still waiting on the Tommy Toe and Black Russian to ripen, but don't have high hopes. Even worse than the texture, though, is the battle of the fruit fly. Too disheartening to go through all that planting and watering to discover motley little holes throughout the crop and the creator of the holes having a little rest of the biggest tomato after all its hard work. I shake my first at its awful twitchy little wings but it just sits there. Not worth getting angry over. I give up.

Next year, I will just buy tomatoes from the farmers' markets at the height of summer when they're juicy, perfect and cheap. Which is what I've been making my daily Greek salad lunches from. To me, a Greek salad is like summer in a bowl, and as there are only a few days of summer left, I raise my glass to it. At least the cucumbers were ours.

The only variety to have worked so far is the Tomato Berry, but I'm not sure all that water and garden space can be justified on two handfuls of cherry tomatoes - so goodbye to those too. If I adapted the cost-per-wear fashion equation for these I may be looking at the Louis Vuitton of tomatoes.

For anyone who'd like some tomato-growing tips from someone who knows what they're doing - clearly not me - The Mother-in-Law's pal Mildred who's a champion grower says tomatoes like a bit of milk. Who knew? Mildred fills an almost empty 2-litre milk container with water and uses that on the soil. Also likes to grind up egg shells and toss ground coffee about.

Suspect my troubles had more to do with lack of sun than the tomatoes' desire for an omelette with a latte on the side, but heartfelf thanks to Mildred. I think it's fair to say I need all the help I can get.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dove sanctuary

I seem to have unwittingly created a dove sanctuary. Everywhere I look, there's a dove in our garden.

What started as feeding two breeding doves whose eggs kept being stolen by currawongs, has turned into my own flock.

On our teeny tiny patch of grass this morning, I counted 12 breakfasting - three quarters of them babies.

Some sit in our tree afterward, others just loll about on the grass.

They don't bother the native birds, even the two willie wagtails who seem to spend most of the day in the same tree don't tell them off - and they're birds who like to give everything a telling off with their telltale shaking-maracca sound, which means they're annoyed.

One landed in front of The Cat, who was sitting around doing nothing, a couple of weeks ago and gave her a beakful. The Cat looked at the bird with a "what-the-hell" expression but didn't move towards it. So the willie wagtail walked straight up to The Cat's face and let loose again. Luckily for the wagtail, The Cat was a mild beast.

While I'm not encouraging any more doves into the garden, I have to admit that I find the cooing, their weird dovey dancing and the proximity of their general animalness comforting. When a pet dies, the house feels quiet. Thanks to the menagerie of birds in the garden, though, I'm assured of at least one, if not 12, pairs of beady eyes that register my presence whenever I walk outside.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

End of an era

There's a cat-shaped hole in our hearts tonight.

Sweet dreams, little friend.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chain reaction

No-one but me has been allowed to sit at the dining room table since yesterday afternoon. I camped here determined to crack a new-to-me chevron pattern as I really didn't want to make another ripple blanket.

So I sat. I translated Michelle's pattern into a diagram. I tested it out. I finally got it.

I now have two completed rows on the blanket, which means easy-peasy crochet-with-your-eyes-closed plain sailing from here on in.

For anyone attempting something like this for the first time, take heart that it's the first row where you crochet into the foundation chain that's the nightmare. When working on something that's more than 200 stitches (I'm not keen on little knee rugs - but that may change when I'm old enough to require a knee rug - so I tend to make them all wider) it's almost impossible not to go wrong somewhere, particularly as you have to manipulate the hook into each chain a certain way, making the links distortingly confusing, to ensure a smooth edge.

So I learnt to fudge it - as everything becomes clear on the second row and I made up for any mistakes there - not easy for a retentive personality like me. I feel cleansed.

No more posts on this project till it's finished (or, at the very least, more interesting to look at). Promise.

ps. Here's a great pic that demonstrates exactly where to put the hook when working into a foundation chain.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Crochet rage

When The Child saw these tweely named egg cosies, she stared. She was silent. She asked why eggs would need hats. She had a good point, I thought. This was the little project I mentioned last week. I didn't make them because I wanted any egg hats, just had the urge to crochet and wanted to try something new, and small.

Upside is I used 0.001 per cent of my wool stash - and we have egg hats - which could also be a downside...

What I cropped out of the top photo is the actual, proper crochet project that I posted about last Friday. Couldn't work out the chevron I wanted to make, as it wasn't a complete pattern, or the one I linked to as I don't understand how you can have a floating number of chains to begin with and I don't know how to get rid of any leftovers as suggested.

So I resorted to the ripple-blanket pattern that I've worked successfully from before. Thought I was clever enough to make it bigger than the pattern's 216+3 first chain row by adding the suggested multiples of 12+3 stitches. But either my maths was out or I mis-stitched somewhere as after two attempts, taking several hours each, I'm no further ahead. 216+12+3=231 doesn't it?

I need to go away and check my maths AGAIN - and translate the whole thing to a diagram so I can see what I'm doing wrong.

If the next attempt doesn't work, I'll either cry or begin the first of 25,000 egg hats.

Both patterns from the excellent book Vintage Crochet by Susan Cropper.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Blanket statement

I was at Morris and Sons yesterday sourcing some product for a freelance job. I promised myself that's all I would do and would not buy a single thing for myself. So I bought seven things instead (eight if you could a new crochet needle, which I don't). I love this merino wool. I used it to make a blanket for The Child, who loves to wrap it around her as it's so soft against the skin. Not cheap, but totally worth it.

Reason being I felt the urge for a big crochet project again. The sort of simple, medatative project that I can get lost in and not think too much about. I was thinking blanket.

First started getting twitchy fingers last weekend so ended up looking for projects that would eat into my wool stash. Found a quick one, which I'll reveal at a later date that both The Child and Husband thought hilarious, but it just didn't hit the spot. I wanted something I would love, not just get on with.

What I found was this 1939 painting, Train Landscape, by Eric Ravilious as published in Jane Brocket's book The Gentle Art of Domesticity. The colours were perfect, and I used it as inspiration for the palette of my now-in-progress chevron eyelet striped blanket.

Should be finished just in time for next summer.

Have a lovely weekend. x

ps. have started a pattern but if I don't like the look after a few rows, I may change to this one.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wrapped up

Riding down the back lane on my bike I spied a pile of stuff a neighbour had put out for a council pickup. Of course, I slammed on the brakes and had a good look. Nothing worth getting off the bike for, apart from some pristine wire coathangers. Now I love wire coathangers - but only when wrapped in fabric - as they are perfect for sleeveless dresses and tops.

They take up no room in the wardrobe and clothes cling to them.

Pulled out my first ever ebay buy - the Sanderson fabric on the bottom - that I paid a silly price for, purely because I wasn't going to be outbid. The fabric duly arrived and was put in a cupboard. It's lovely, but too prettily flowery for my soft furnishings taste.

Not too pretty for wire coathangers, though. So I started cutting and covered one.

Only 9 more to go...

Instructions how to make these here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Memory Lane

Found myself early for something today so decided to make the most of the sunshine and take a walk around a part of Balmain I haven't visited for years. So there I was strolling, when I realised I was in front of a fantastic old house I'd been to a few parties at when in high school, as it was owned a classmate (two actually, as she had a twin brother) and her family.

It was a beautiful, big old place that bordered three streets and overlooked the harbour (still does). It was fabulously shabby with an air of loving neglect and an overgrown garden. I heard it sold for several million dollars recently but, back then, it wasn't prime real estate - just a friend's house.

When I say it overlooked the harbour, that's true, but the view was very different. Ballast Point Park wasn't there yet, so the house was directly in front of the ugly old Caltex industrial site. There was no access to the water and no mothers with prams strolling about like there is now. Just lots of blokes and trucks.

It's been gutted now and, clearly, undergoing renovation. But for a moment today I wasn't walking the back streets of Balmain - I was taking a trip down memory lane.

I found this site showing the interior of the house when it was for sale, should you wish to poke your nose inside.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Laundry picnic

I picked up my first vintage picnic basket, which I use as a sewing basket, many years ago. The second, the small one on top, came into the house about five years ago to give a home to the tapestry stuff I have, never use, but don't want to part with.

At Rick Rack Retro in Summer Hill on Saturday, I bought my third for $15. I had a specific purpose in mind for this one as there's a space quite high on a laundry shelf that it tucks perfectly into. As it has a lid, I can pull it down without the threat of WD 40, the magnetic window cleaning thingy and its sponges I bought at a shopping centre demonstration that I can't live without, spare oven knobs that I keep for no known reason and suede shoe protector, falling on top of my head. In other words, those random things that need a home somewhere out of sight.

I actually brought home a smaller version for the same price but realised when I got back that the bigger one would indeed fit so The Husband kindly went back to Summer Hill to swap it.

So if you're looking for a similar smaller version of the bottom basket, you know where to find it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mind like a sieve

Another market find I love. Another market find I'm not sure what to do with. I've experimented or thought about using this big old colander as a fruit bowl, peg basket, under sink clutter container, wool depository, garden caddy, and herb pot.

Never actually crossed my mind to use it as a colander, funnily enough, and so it continues being shunted around the house until I can decide what to do with it.

Suggestions very welcome.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Buttered up

We have special butter only allowed to be used on weekend toast. Butter that tastes like butter should - not like the stuff sold in supermarkets.

I noticed this Meander Valley Saint Omer butter a couple of months ago and being the curious soul/glutton I am decided to give it a go. It's the best Australian butter I've ever tasted, no question. The reason it's saved for weekends is because of the price - I've seen it for sale between $7.99 and $9.99 for 250g. A price I'm happy to pay because it's a quality handcrafted product. Should I win Lotto, it would be the only butter allowed in the house but in the meantime bog-standard Allowrie will have to do.

Their creme fraiche is also worth the price, but I found the double cream too thick.

Now, usually toast and marmalade is only made on weekend mornings but for the sake of this blog I made some this afternoon and then, of course, ate it.

All in the name of duty.

Have a lovely weekend. x

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Big red

The first tomatoey crop of the urban mini farm is in. All five varieties have fruit but it's a Grosse Lisse that's first ripe for the picking.

Firm, very sweet and... slightly floury. Now waiting for some Tommy Toes, Mama's Delights, Black Russians and Tomato Berries to turn red so we can test them and see if our little garden is capable of growing good tomatoes.

Unfortunately, if all varieties aren't up to scratch may have to experiment again next year as we won't know if they're floury due to not enough sun or to too much water (extremely wet summer here). Last year's tomatoes were floury but were grown in pots, so I've eliminated that as a factor.

All good things take time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sandy days

With all the grey skies this summer has thrown at us, I've been lighting lots of candles in and around the fireplace. Pillar-style candles I like to put in vases and jars as I don't want wax cascading over the floorboards like lava flowing over Pompeii.

However, most jars don't have completely flat bottoms so I tip a bit of Sydney sand, available from hardware shops, to create a sturdy base for the candles to sit on. The sand is inexpensive as it's the stuff used to make cement and fill sandpits with.

The sand has even turned one of the slim bottles or containers, which I found scattered underneath our house presumably left there by builders in the 1920s, into something useful.

I'd much prefer sunlight to candlelight at this time of year, but, apparently, the La Nina effect will keep Sydney reasonably grey until the end of summer.

As this is the only type of sand I'll probably see this month, I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

There Should Be More Dancing

I'd been trying to get my hands on Rosalie Ham's first novel, The Dressmaker, for some time and finally picked it up secondhand bookshop just before Christmas. A quote on the back by a Sydney Morning Herald reviewer states: "...a feral version of SeaChange", which I think sums it up perfectly. Crazy, tender, sad and surprising, this isn't a sweet story about making clothes but rather about one woman's return to the country town of her past.

The Dressmaker led me to Ham's latest novel There Should Be More Dancing, full of skillfully written laugh-out loud lines that entwine with characterisations full of depth and beauty that unfold and grow until the very last page. I was riveted.

Here's the beginning of the book as extracted by the Herald Sun, if you'd like a taste.

It'd never occurred to me that cross stitch could be used as a weapon...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Community spirit

One of the chairs on our deck had been bothering me. It'd been a quick replacement pulled from storage after the chair it'd replaced had gone to god.

And then I spotted it. There's a guy who pops up regularly at markets selling old industrial furniture - and his ex-community hall fold-up metal chairs drew me in. They'd been completely cleaned up, were surprisingly comfortable, lightweight yet sturdy and $65 each. I didn't have $65 on me and he didn't take cards. No matter. Gave him a deposit and sent The Husband back to pick it up when I got home.

On his way back, The Husband passed one of his mates in the street so, naturally, he stopped. Told him what he'd been doing and showed him the chair. "Might be okay, once she's fixed it up and painted it," said friend. "Pretty sure this is it," said The Husband. Head scratching and confusion ensued.

Here it is. The Husband rather likes it and The Child considers it a mistake.

I'm as happy as Goldilocks settling into baby bear's chair. It's just right. Hopefully, unlike Goldilocks' experience, it won't fall to pieces.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cushioning the blow

The Husband wrote a column for today's post. He worked away at it last night, diligently tapping away for a couple of hours. "Finished," he declared and handed me the laptop. "Um, you've actually written about this before," I had to tell him. "Some paragraphs are almost word for word." "Rubbish," he blustered. I showed him the published column in question. It all came flooding back to him...

The upside of this tale is that when he next launches into a story he's told before, I now have evidence that he has form in this area.

I wasn't quite ready to show the teatowel cushions I've been making, but that's life. The first one (top) I made last week after finding the rough linen teatowel at The Bay Tree. It was just the right size for an Ikea feathered cushion I have. The backing is some linen I picked up at Calico & Ivy (gorgeous texture, $70m, which is actually great value considering its 2.75m wide), which I made a simple pillowcase-style opening with.

The cushion I'll whip us this weekend will use up a white linen teatowel I bought at Toast when in London just over a year ago. I found it too thick for everyday use so only used it a few times. The backing I'll make from another linen teatowel I bought at Milton the Christmas holiday before last. The frill will make a natural opening in the middle of a square cushion, and I'll declare the prettiest side the front.

At least I'll have two new options to hit The Husband over the head with.

ps. for anyone unfamiliar with Toast, its a British label that does lovely online catalogues.

Have a lovely weekend. x

If you're reading this...
Kylie, I'm not actually old enough to know the cartoon Heckle and Jeckle intimately, I'll have you know! It was popular around the late 40s! But I have a reasonably good memory (unlike my husband) and remembered seeing it somewhere.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Heckle and Jeckle

I love a bird, but even I draw the line at the Indian Myna, or cane toads of the air. Seems they don't draw the same line with us, unfortunately.

There are a pair of them, which we've nicknamed Heckle and Jeckle, after the ancient cartoon, that sit in the tree opposite our house looking straight in at us. They do this because they wait until the coast is clear and fly inside our house to eat The Cat's food.

I've tried leaving the door shut for days on end to try and break them of this habit, but they're smart. The moment the door is opened and we walk away, they're in.

They also like to sit in a tree in our garden, well within hose range, so I thought I'd start squirting them in an effort to encourage them to move on. Thought this would definitely work as it seems to have done with the currawongs, who don't come round much anymore.

So there was Heckle, or possibly Jeckle, in our tree and within hose range. So I gave it a blast, waiting for it to fly off issuing an angry screech as it left. Instead, it lifted one wing and then the other. Even danced around a bit. It was having a shower.

I suppose even pests can be funny. Sometimes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sweet success

There was a knock at the door, which The Husband answered. "We're selling bags of cookies," said one of the young girls. "That's nice," said The Husband encouragingly, "Who are you raising money for?"

"Us," she said. "Fair enough," he laughed, and their mother shared a parental eye roll behind their backs.

Gen Y better watch out if this is any indication of the work ethic of those to come.