Lately I have been stitching Christmas. The shepherds in the fields.....
.... three crowns for my little kings and queen.....
....Mary, Joseph, and an admittedly lumpy and oversized donkey (well, I had to shrink him in the washing machine...)
...tree decorations. The pink bird was stitched by my five year-old son....
....three kings from the Orient....
... and here's my husband's beautiful contribution - a gorgeous wooden stable.
Mary and Joseph are journeying around the house until Christmas Eve, the kings are waiting in their castle (constructed from wooden blocks by my children), and the shepherd is tending his flock in a little felt field.
Today I have been dyeing pieces cut from an old silk sheet which I'm attempting to stitch into cloaks for the children, to go with their crowns. Husband chopped down a pine tree (he regards this as environmental assistance because apparently these trees are a pest here in Tasmania) and brought it home on the back of the ute. The children almost exploded with excitement before helping us decorate it with all the beautiful handmade things we've been gathering and making. I wrapped a little piece of tinsel round some of the branches but it actually spoilt it, so I've hung said tinsel along the edge of the mantelpiece above the fireplace, together with my eldest's fingerknitted Christmas strings. The paper angels from Lark are singing along the shelf, and the tin Santa we brought from London is standing in the middle of them all.
Making Christmas.... probably the best way I've ever done it.
We've been living in Tasmania's beautiful Huon Valley for a whole year now. During that time we've discovered beautiful beaches, amazing old growth forests, magical caves, waterfalls, rainforest, mountains, quaint little country towns (which would definitely be known as villages if they were in England), and the paradisiacal Bruny Island. We've made some gorgeous friends with lovely people, and woven ourselves into the wonderful community centred on our school. Our veggie garden is bursting at the seams, our garden is rambling with flowers, and the rain is keeping everything green and growing. We've even started fixing up the children's cubby house, so they'll have their very own summer hideout.
After a year in Tasmania, we are so happy we made the decision to flee the heat and concrete of the city, and finally I am happier than ever that I crossed the world in the hope of a better life. I am grateful to say I have found it, and the best affirmation of that is watching my children run through the grass at home, chase the waves at the beach, delight in the wildlife all around them, and enjoy the friendships and the community we have found here. Their sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks, tangled hair and grazed knees say it all....!
Is it just me, or is anyone else slightly sick of blogs and lifestyle magazines featuring perfectly arranged interiors of vintage collections of this, that, and the other? I mean, I love an old biscuit tin or two, and I'll pounce on anything remotely folk, or handcrafted if it's knocking around in a bargain bin or an op shop, but do I showcase my pickings in beautifully positioned piles around the house? Do I artfully hang old white linens and lace in front of bright white window frames, stack pre-war china on ideally situated pine dressers, or fill up expensively tiled fireplaces with rusty old watering cans teeming with dried flowers? Er, no. I do have an old painted butterchurn in one of my fireplaces, but I also have three children whose chaotic trails of dolls, blocks, cars and books invalidate any attempts at tasteful presentations, even if we do clear up before bedtime. Not only that, but I also look around me and find that I have built up an utterly idiosyncratic collection of stuff over the years, from far flung places such as Mongolia, Iceland, Indonesia, and a variety of other continents and countries that are only characterised by fitting a folk description. There's nothing uniform about my tastes at all.
Now don't get me wrong. I do love vintage collections and often admire the displays I so often see inside, well, every single house, home and fashion magazine available (not to mention the blogroll). But I am beginning to think it's all (dare I say it) becoming frighteningly homogenous. Where's the individuality in all of this? And what about the constant emphasis on Stuff? Sure, we all like to decorate our homes and make them comfy and cosy and personal, but does anyone really need an entire room of vintage nightdresses, or a whole shed full of antique gardening tools? When do we draw the line and say - actually I have enough! And I am sick of shopping!
So - too much consumerism, too much materialism, too much old stuff which is, most of the time (if you choose to get your stuff from admittedly lovely, but frankly overpriced emporiums whose owners no doubt make regular trips to the tip shop and spruce up their findings...) simply superfluous. Not enough representations of real homes belonging to real people, with real messes and real lives. Not enough individuality. I really would like to see a change.... which is why I've posted the above picture of my distinctly imperfect, overly-cluttered, thoroughly chaotic workspace. Bring on the mess!
Recently, my children's school, Tasmania's beautiful Tarremah Steiner school, held its annual Spring Fair. With such a big emphasis on community, parents are invited to come on board to help create this magical event, and consequently Gingerbread houses have featured in my life for several weeks now. On the day, we secured this cute little dwelling for the wild things, who were seized with a bout of artistic gusto and set about decorating their confectionary as soon as they got home (5pm, after a good nap in the car...). Such anarchic flair is rarely seen after the age of five, so I saw fit to capture it. Everyone was terribly excited and terribly proud, and we began nibbling away at it today. I can see that this is one tradition that may continue for years to come....
Spring is settling in across the Huon Valley, despite last week's snowfall. The days are warming up so much we no longer need to light the woodfires, and the garden is heavy with blossom and thick with grass and daisies. Bees are humming among the blooms, and the air is full of the heady scent of jonquils. Daffodils, California poppies, irises, forget-me-nots, camellias, and lately an arum lily or two are scattered all around, weaving a woodland sanctuary among the huge oaks, the silver birches, the eucalypts and the fruit trees, and the children are once again busy digging, planting, cycling, shouting, running and discovering fairy gates within the lower branches of the trees. It's a magical time of year, with everything waking up to a whole realm of new potentials and possibilities.
I'm feeling it too. A slow unfurling and awakening, an inner warming up, a quiet receptivity to opportunities I haven't noticed or perceived before. Consideration and contemplation of new and different ways of doing things. And I'm also feeling a strong, silent pull to return more fully to the writing that has always sustained me, the writing that earned me a living for a good decade back in England before I switched careers, and before I became a mother. I'm wondering about new ways of writing and new ways of weaving writing into my present life, and like the garden, my mind is blossoming with ideas and inspiration.
Strangely though, all this springing has made me feel a little nostalgic for home. In so many ways, I couldn't be happier than I am here in Tasmania, but when the seasons change I sense a wistfulness and a longing for the northern hemisphere. On the brink of summer, I am thinking of the luminous green of England, the meadows and woodlands abundant with wild flowers and the low cooing of wood pigeons, the humming of bees, the scent of freshly mowed lawns, the ever-present possibility of rain and the beautiful scent that follows that rain in a summer garden. And the beaches of Suffolk and Norfolk which inspire distinctly English writers such as Esther Freud and Raffaella Barker. Listening to Kate Bush's Aerial, with it's ethereal, hazy, summer evening soundscape hasn't helped.
Recently two English friends of mine who live locally, bemoaned the lack of village pubs, stirring up another longing - for those quaint old evocatively named 16th and 17th century English drinking establishments, usually positioned on a slice of village green (in somewhere like Lower Slaughter, Little Sheeps Bottom, or Upper Pigs Ear...) where you can sit outside on a creaking wooden table and drink pints of beer with names like Old Peculiar and Old Roger..... And no, of course there aren't any where we live, here in Tasmania, which is a crying shame. So, we've decided to offer up our very own gazebo as a kind of private alternative. I'm already harbouring visions of jugs of Pimms with fresh mint, gin and tonics, local sparkling wines with strawberries, and homebrew for the menfolk, all served with a smile, in my very own back garden. Frocks might have to be obligatory, even if we are in Australia.....
This year I almost forgot my wedding anniversary. Well, no, I did forget it actually. Again. Small children consume me and I fail to remember these things.... but not my husband. He bought me a beautiful red merino wraparound dress in honour of our seven years together, which, traditionally, is marked by wool. So, feeling not a little guilty for completely neglecting the occasion, I decided to knit him a jumper. I chose a delicious Jo Sharp blend of cashmere, silk and merino in a rich chocolate brown, and found a pattern from a lovely book of men's sweaters, and set about stitching. It didn't take long, and now he has something to replace the one and only jumper he's had for almost those entire seven years - a beautiful deep brown cashmere knit I bought in Mongolia ten years ago, which the moths more or less devoured on their way across the world with it from England to Australia back in 2006. He's warm, he's happy, he feels nurtured, and the children can't stop cuddling him, which isn't unusual as it goes, only now they luxuriate in the softness of the jumper as well as the loving arms of their daddy. It's definitely been worth it! A labour of love I guess you could say. And only a couple of months late....
My second doll.... a Rainbow Angel for my niece, who's unwell, and overseas. Her dress and hair are made from handspun yarns, and the hair yarn was also dyed with flowers. She's a pretty special doll, and living on the other side of the world now.
I just finished making my first Waldorf doll after attending a dollmaking workshop. This is something I never thought I'd be able to do (I can knit, but 'can't' sew), but thanks to the incredible grace and skill of our dollmaking facilitator, I've created this little chap and I'm extremely proud of him. I'm giving him to my eldest son who will be five this weekend, and while I know you should never give a doll with expectations, I am hoping this elf will be cherished - even if he sits on a shelf.
It's amazing what you can do if you put your mind (and heart and soul) to it...... I am now obsessed with making dolls! I have already made a second one for my niece, and have another one to make after that. And I'm sewing little figures for the nature table, and small dolls for my daughter. I may not be the neatest of stitchers, but I'm loving the process of watching these little characters emerge from under the needle.....
For years I've loved folk art. I've collected all manner of textiles and wall hangings and mini-sculptures and artifacts from my travels and hoarded them in my homes, and now they're virtually all on show in my family home in Tasmania I can really see the impact.
It's funny, but until very recently I've not been able to really identify my 'style'. I know I like certain colours, I know I like cushions and blankets and throws, I know I like strange and peculiar things from places like Mongolia and Kazakhstan, like the above hand stitched 'coaster' I found at a children's school craft sale in the Gobi desert, the Tibetan rug sold to benefit an orphanage, the tent cover made by a Kazakh woman for when she was married, and the handwoven woman, also from Mongolia. And the beautiful 'Birds from Norway' fabric and sprigged calico (which has been stored in someone's grandma's attic for years...) both sourced on the internet for making kitchen blinds and curtains.
Now I can really see just how much I love folk, and what a huge influence it's been on my life, and especially in creating my home, where I want to build a beautiful, cosy nest for my children. Seems it's crept up on me over the years.... but at least I can explain my tastes a little more simply now!
Autumn is definitely coming to the Huon Valley. Every morning we wake up to more golden leaves on the poplar trees in the neighbouring field, and the flame robins are here in the garden now, flying up to our huge kitchen window to greet us while they search for worms and seeds. I love watching the colours change around us, and feeling the fresh new nip in the air while the sun's deep golden warmth intensifies throughout the day.....
This time of year always reminds me of new inspirations, and new beginnings. In England autumn marks the start of the new academic year, so for most of my life it has meant the first stage of a new journey for me - creative writing, spinning and dyeing, my English Literature degree, my Masters degree in Jungian psychology, and numerous other trainings and courses... I'd always take a trip to the big London bookshops and stock up on whatever subject I was undertaking, and I have beautiful memories of those clear, wide streets in Bloomsbury lined with plane trees and Regency buildings, red double decker buses and black taxi cabs, the failing afternoon light, and everyone wrapped up against the biting wind with layers to shed beneath the warm sun.
Here, in Tasmania, there are fewer colours to the season, but still a sense of real change, which I never felt in Melbourne. We've been stocking up the woodpile in the shed and getting the chimneys cleaned and now the log fires are roaring happily in the early morning chill. We've been hanging beautiful curtains in deep reds and gorgeous folk prints (I've been sourcing vintage fabrics online, and even bought some patchworking fabric for the kitchen blinds) and I've finally had my exquisite Kazakh wallhanging bordered with red velvet and made into a curtain. And I've treated myself to a new work of art by Madeleine Goodwolf (as pictured above), one of my favourite local printmakers. I met her recently and she has such an intuitive approach to her work. I love her dreamy depictions of women with nature....
Speaking of nature... the apples and pears are ripening in the orchard, and we are also planning a big permaculture veggie plot for the garden. We'll get on with this once our current crop is all done. We've got a big new compost going in an old apple crate, and we're getting pretty excited about becoming more self sufficient. I found this fantastic gadget in a kitchen shop - a little machine that peels, slices and cores apples so now the children all love preparing their apples for crumbles and stewed apple with cinnamon for afternoon tea... and we're stocking up with more winter activities for them by rethinking the art shelf. A new set of beeswax crayons, beautiful plain paper colouring books, and beeswax for modelling.... the next step will be some decent painting materials. I think they learn how to value good quality things, as well as their own creative process if they have beautiful paints and paper to work with.... this is what they do at their school and it really honours their artistic and emotional development. Thank you Mama Moontime for help with finger knitting too - I just taught my eldest son and he loves it. I have added her Waldorf-inspired blog to my list, and it's full of great craft ideas for littlies.
So, happy autumn to all of you here in the Southern Hemisphere - and in the north I hope spring is springing! Friends of mine have just moved to Canada where the nights are still well below zero but even they say it's now warm enough to lunch al fresco. Easter soon - and I am just getting to grips with this festival happening in the autumn, so we'll be making Easter hares and hot cross buns and decorating eggs soon..... One of our very special and much loved playgroup leaders in Melbourne felt it was really appropriate to have Easter in the autumn, with the cyclical death of the year, and now I can really appreciate how lovely it is to have it at a time of year that I associate with new creative beginnings, new journeys and experiences..... whatever they may be.
It's true, I've been neglectful of this blog lately. Summer has been keeping me busy with its long, humming days and blue, wispy skies. We've been swimming in a beautiful pool on top of a hill overlooking Bruny Island, collecting abalone shells on deserted beaches, riding on old quarry trains in the south to even more deserted beaches of white sands and crystal blue seas, drinking champagne with friends beneath the milky way, and letting the children roam around the garden till way past their usual bedtime.... Evenings are filled with their laughter, the neighbouring, permanently confused roosters, and the odd, late, kookaburra.
Once a week, we give the children a very special treat. We let them watch TV till 8pm. For a non-watching TV family, this is something of an aberration, but the show we watch is fantastic. Educational, humourous and full of local delights, the Gourmet Farmer is all about former Sydney-based food critic Matthew Evans who has moved to Cygnet (about 15 mins from where we live) where he has set up,what he hopes will eventually be, a self-sufficient smallholding. We love Matthew. He keeps chooks, he makes prosciutto from his pigs, he has a Jersey cow, he makes jam and yummy cakes, he brews cider, he goes tuna fishing and diving for abalone, he makes mistakes and he has a lot of fun following his vision. My children want him to come to our house.
Apparently there has been some local debate regarding Matthew - about how he will now become responsible for a huge influx of mainlanders all looking for cheap property, less stress, peace, quiet and the beauties of nature - the good life at a price they could never afford in Victoria or New South Wales. I'm afraid I don't agree with this view at all. From what I can see mainlanders (although some here might classify me as such, I'm afraid I will never identify, having only spent three years in Melbourne where I felt a total outsider, and mainly because I am actually English...) have been seeking the good life in Tasmania for some time. But too many of them are put off by what they believe to be the cold weather, and what they perceive to be a distinct lack of culture- both utter misnomers as far as I can see. The job market can be a bit tricky too, unless you're lucky enough to be self employed, unusually self confident, or remotely employable - or perhaps just foolhardy enough to follow your dream.
If Matthew's show inspires a few more people to discover the challenges and joys of rural life in Tasmania, well, it's hardly going to transform the island overnight. In my view, climate change, unsustainable city populations and the consequently uncomfortable life resulting from both will no doubt figure more in people's decisions about where to settle than a weekly half hour documentary on SBS. But even the increasingly negative prognosis for life on the mainland woudn't persuade most people to dislocate themselves from their social and professional networks even if they could. Having said that, I can see why the locals want to keep Tasmania unspoilt. There's already a large building development underway in our village (thankfully nowhere near our house), although fortunately most rural land seems to be protected from subdivision by strict laws and heavy financial barriers. Tasmania still has the air of an undiscovered secret, a secluded little paradise accessible only to those who are prepared to let go of city airs, graces and conveniences on a permanent basis. I am sure it will change here over the next 20 years - what place doesn't alter with the passing of time? But it will take a lot (more than a TV series) to break the spell, and the secrets, of this truly enchanted isle...
When we moved into our house, there was a pretty little pond in the back garden. Surrounded by plants and flowers, and a wooden bird table, it even had fishes swimming in it. The previous owners kept ducks (18 to be precise...) so the pond area was a slippery mire of duck poo when I flew over from Melbourne to take a look at the property, but my father-in-law took care of that when he re-homed the Muscovys on his block down at Petcheys Bay. So we inherited a rather ornamental water feature in the end. But of course, with two year old twins, all I could see when I gazed into the green water was accidents....
When I was three or four I remember falling into a fishpond in someone's garden, and even though it was netted I was traumatised enough to be put off swimming for about 37 years. I'm a born again mermaid now, but I'd hate any of my children to have to struggle against a foundation of fear when it comes to water. So, the pond has become what is quite possibly the best sandpit in the world. The panoramic views are astonishing, the setting divine, and most importantly, there's enough space for them all to be occupied without grazing elbows. In fact, they have called it their Beach Bakery because while they're making their sand pies and cakes and ice creams, they like to think they are, in fact, actually on the beach.
I would like to thank whoever made this pond, because they did a great job - we'll probably reinstate it one day, when everyone's past the phase of tumbling, or pushing each other in. Who knows, maybe we'll even get a duck or two. But for now, it's all go at the bakery - anyone for a chocolate/coffee/apricot/broccoli/actually mostly sand muffin?
How lovely to be able to pick such beautiful flowers from our huge, rambling garden... and how lovely to place them in the vintage milk bottle on a kitchen window sill with a view across the valley..... It's going to be a year full of nature. We ended the old one watching naked children dancing across the grass with the hose, chasing each other into the cold water after a 34 degree day.... then a storm blew down the riverline and lit up the sky for hours with the most incredible lightning. I love being able to watch the weather approaching.... So, the old year was washed out and the new one blown in on the back of a blue moon. Auspicious? I think so.
After spending 22 years in London I packed my bags and crossed the world for a new life in Australia. Pregnant with twins, I landed up in Melbourne, together with my hubby and 18 month old toddler, and spent the next three years grappling with small children, belligerent drivers, and endless, faceless suburbs. Finally we boarded the ferry and escaped into the beyond, across the Bass Strait. Journey's end; an old weatherboard cottage set in the middle of a beautiful country garden, surrounded by paddocks, forests, and mountains in Tasmania's Huon Valley.... Now it all makes sense.
Thank you for looking in, and all comments will be gladly received!