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Back in the Garden

Oh, The Glories of Spring? Or is is Sprinter? Will the six seasons of Australia ever take hold? I do hope so. I like Sprinter. So much potential. And the indigenous Australians say we have six seasons so that is good enough for me.

The backyard is finally getting the attention I have wanted to lavish on it. I’ve been chipping away at it. In previous years I planted the berry canes and the fruit trees (16 in the ground, three in pots). I put in a vegie patch that, although weed infested at present, is still productive. The rhubarb patch is in. And now, finally, the flowers and herb beds. Slowly slowly…

How I love the garden. Creativity, beauty, and practicality. Three of my favourite things.

A foliage bed. A bit week right now but will soon be full and verdant.

A foliage bed. A bit weak right now, but will soon be full and verdant.

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Wasn’t sure tulips would take, but here they are!

 I thought the cauliflower was a fail.

I thought the cauliflower was a fail.

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Imagine my surprise when I went to rip them out and saw these little heads peeking out.

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Garlic Patch

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Lots of broc. Glad the kids like it.

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Peach blossoms, with heaps of beautiful bees.

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Getting a little obsessed with putting in paths and creeping thyme.

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Trying strawberries this year.

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Yes, this is a vegie patch. Fossick around and you’ll find something to eat.

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Dill

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Calendula

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Bringing the outside in. Annie added the rabbit. She styles most of my photos.

I now have permanently dirty nails until at least February, when it gets to darn hot to be digging around in the dirt.

I hope everyone is finding time to be outside, and maybe the chance to grow a little something! Happy Sprinter!

On The Great Cooking Journey

I still remember the first meal I ever cooked. Baked Barbecue Chicken Drumsticks. I must have been about 11. It was exciting, watching the sauce get all shiny and glazey. I don’t remember anything else. I assume I made this for my parents, and I assume they looooved it. I remember making a good deal of fried salami or bologna sandwiches, and checking out quite a few cookbooks out from the library. So began my lifelong haphazard affair with cooking.

fisher184

M.F.K. Fisher

Only now, after over 20 years of cooking for myself and others have I realised how weak my cooking knowledge is. And I have cooked a LOT of food. Sometimes I was just too busy to cook.  Side note: This includes a time when I cooked for money. Unfortunately the people I cooked for didn’t care much for food so it was terribly boring and I just wanted to get home. Seriously, during times where I had exams or other busy times I would buy a pre-roasted chicken, dress it up, and they thought I was a fricking genius. But the beautiful crab bisque went uncommented on. Whatever. But I digress…

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

Jerry Traunfeld

Jerry Traunfeld

Maggie Beer

Maggie Beer

There were long stretches where I only cooked from what techniques and knowledge I had. There was no time to try new recipes and learn new things.

Nonetheless, I cooked huge vegetarian Thanksgiving meals. I cooked for parties. I collected cookbooks and worked around sophisticated food and devoted people who knew about it.

I worked in restaurants and grocery stores, cafes and pastry shops. During adolescence I thought I might open a restaurant one day and then I worked in a few. I quickly realised I did not have the chops for it. That is a hard business. But I still loved cooking for people, and did it when I could, even when life kind of sucked.

nigella lawson

Nigella Lawson

Then I had kids and the last eight years is a blur of sausages and peas. And school lunches. I kid you not, dear friends, when you dish out three meals a day for children and you 1) care, most of the time and 2) just want them to eat, your time learning new techniques and exploring cuisine is often limited to about 30 minutes a day. That is prep to serve. You can have 40 minutes if you don’t mind the young one screaming and grabbing at your legs. I entered the world of the slow cooker and the freezer. And it is ok. I have found ways to keep learning at this stage of life. Baking, for instance. I have mastered the scone. I can experiment with all matter of breads, cakes, and pies. Asian is on the menu as long as I keep out the chili (boo). Soups are good. No reason I can’t master a good white stock. Breakfast opens up to be much more interesting. The two big kids are interested in learning and helping. It’s surprisingly interesting learning about how to teach kids to cook and what they can do. The Toddler fine if I don’t cook between 5:00pm and 6:30pm. Thanks Toddler.

I have another blog waiting in the wings that is devoted solely to food, and I can’t wait to get it going. This one gets the love now as I’m trying to build up writing skills and working habits, but that one is the one I’m keen to lean into. I also look at the billions of other food blogs out there for “research purposes.” Yeeeaaahhhh.

Alice Waters

Alice Waters

jamie oliver

Jaime Oliver

For me, it’s one of the great things in life because I will never, ever get to the bottom of it. As long as you do it, and pay attention, you learn. I may have made you some crappy food at some point, but do know I was trying, and I did hope it would be nice. Next time will be better.

Poh Ling Yeow

Poh Ling Yeow

And as far as all these little pictures, I gave myself 30 seconds to list as many people who have influenced my cooking travels along the way. Some of them I adore. If you want to start a fight with me, dis Martha Stewart. I dare you.

Anthony Bourdain. Read his work to understand why a career in restaurants was not for me.

Anthony Bourdain. Read his work to understand why a career in restaurants was not for me.

On Pottery.

So here begins my series that should rightly be called “My drawing project has fallen in a heap and I am not exactly sure what to write about but I want to write about something so it may as well be things that I like.” Or something.

One of the things I have a real affection for is pottery. It dawned on me that I am amassing a small collection. Mostly for use as practical vessels, but nonetheless. I don’t like making pottery particularly, but I sure like looking at it and living with it.

My two favourite types are Japanese Raku and 1970’s styles, from stoneware to the more pop-py things. It might seem disparate but there’s a similar earthiness to them that must be what I appreciate. And the pop stuff is just cool. No doubt a hangover from my childhood.

200px-Black_Raku_Tea_Bowl

16th Century Raku Tea Bowl

Raku is the method initially created to make cups for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Like all good things, it has morphed and changed as it’s gone across the world as a technique, while maintaining the tradition and respect it deserves in it’s home country. How gorgeous is that tea bowl? Talk about having some soul.

Raku is a low temp firing technique, and the pieces are hand shaped; be still my heart. It’s also fired outside, which appeals to me greatly. There’s a lot more to it. If you’re interested Wikipedia has an excellent rundown.

Raku

Raku

This is some modern raku that I really like. It falls into the camp of Western raku. Those modifications I was writing about earlier. I love that it’s totally unpredictable. The potter does not know what they will be pulling out, though they can try and guide it along. Love it when chemical reactions take control and give us something unique. Chemical reactions in ceramics anyway…some are best avoided.

Raku Firing

Raku Firing

I have one piece of Western raku I bought ages ago in Wisconsin. It was the potters first go at it and he reckoned he was addicted. The cool thing is that there is no glaze. The colour is due solely to the firing technique. We talked about the different wood he tossed in the fire to see what happened. I think the he was reluctant to sell it. His pottery was gorgeous but it was geared towards a tourist trade (friendly colours, consistency), and I don’t think he expected this to fly off the shelf a day or two after he put it out. To which I say Sorry Dude. It is loved.

I love this thing.

I love this thing.

Ah the 70’s.

Ugly, but I wish it was mine.

Ugly, but I wish it was mine.

I wish these were mine too.

I wish these were mine too.

What can be said really? I know little about 70’s pottery and ceramics other than the influence of the 60’s. It can be butt ugly. But I likes it. I don’t have much myself because it isn’t too often you come across something nice in the op shops, where most of my pottery shopping gets done. Occasionally there is a winner.

I have found a few things I quite like. Factory made, but that has it’s charms as well. To be frank I can’t pinpoint these as being truly 70’s. They could be earlier. But they’ve got the vibe and I go for vibe.

Coffee Pot and Container Thingo.

Coffee Pot and Container Thingo.

Now despite the immediate above, I’m not too into retro stuff. There are lots of people who are absolute obsessives about some of the iconic old pottery studios. I love looking through the old catalogues of some of these and seeing the variety these companies produced. Things of great sophistication right next to schmaltzy girls with flower baskets and odd looking dogs. A great look into what people liked at the time. But I digress. In the 90’s folks seemed to be getting in to a real lather about McCoy. As a young adult in the 90’s, I worked in a shop that had quite a lot of McCoy. I never loved it as a whole, but I had to have this. I think it was around $50.00 minus employee discount. It felt like a fortune.025I’ve hauled it around for yonks now and killed numerous plants in it.

I encourage you to get some pottery in your life. It can be beautiful, humble, useful, ludicrous, and a dust collector that makes you feel good. And I find potters to be lovely, lovely people. Down to earth (no pun intended) and really into what they do.

One day I would love to have some high end pottery such as Edmund De Waal.

Edmund De Wall Tea Pot

Edmund De Wall Tea Pot

He makes these refined, ethereal, beautiful things, and calls them his “pots”. See what I mean about potters?

And dig through all the boring stoneware mugs and cutesy items on the op shop shelves and you may find something special.

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I found this for a couple of dollars. This may not be to your taste, but there could be something unique waiting for you.

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One more tip. If you’re at the garden centre, go to the reject pile. I always go to the reject pile for plants on death door and possible pot deals. I some pots for a pittance and they almost look like raku! Makes me happy each time I reach for the spatula.

Yours in Clay.

Slowly

I tell you this. I sure am happy to hear that the new pop psych path to happiness is slow little goals instead of grand plans e.g. writing a blog post every week or two instead of a Booker Prize winning novel. If this is the case, then I am set to be about the happiest gal in the world.

The drawing project has slammed right up against my organisation one. Which, as you will see, has it’s very own Binder. Yes, I want to be one of Those Women with a Binder (not in a binder, because that would mean I might be working for Mitt Romney hahaha).

The Mighty Binder

The Mighty Binder

It’s full of lists and schedules and plans. I LOVE lists and plans. Now I just have to get used to using them. Not losing them. Now if one is trying to create more time, sitting around drawing up your own spread sheets is not the way to do it. I ended up purchasing a set from Modern Parents Messy Kids (http://www.modernparentsmessykids.com/), a Martha Stewart approved  (!) blog that tries to sell you stuff but has some good advice for trying to get your $^#% together. Why not support those people who actually like coming up with this kind of thing? The more power to them. I hear there are some free ones around too. I will look into it and set up some links in a future post if I find this system a useful one.

I have been planning some big clear-outs too, in preparation for the renovation of two of our bedrooms. I am rattling around whether or not to share some of this with you. One, because this blog isn’t really about organising and simplifying, and two, because the before shots are sure to be embarrassing. But in this grand age of over sharing, why not? It will either make you feel better about yourself, or think “Thank goodness someone is just as hopeless as I am.” and perhaps give you the inspiration to slog on.

Here is my inspiration. There is just too much fun stuff to make.

Yarn and Fabric Fabric and Yarn

Yarn and Fabric
Fabric and Yarn

I’ve completed a few projects in the past weeks, but I think this one is my fave. Insane unicorn tunic for my darling daughter. It’s an Ottobre pattern. The sleeves fold up in a kicky way but alas, she likes them down.

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And as usual, I make a lot of play dough. A LOT of play dough.

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So as everything to do swirls around, still take the time to look around and find something beautiful, and maybe draw it!

Finding the Time

While I’m loving getting reacquainted with exploring creativity, beauty, and writing in a more consistent and conscious way, it has brought about some home truths that cannot be ignored. One of those is making the time!

I’m discovering the best way to do this is to be organized. So I am in the process of a major reorganization. I will get nothing done if my work space is a pit, if I’m feeling bad because I’m not making the kids good meals, if calls haven’t been made and laundry is piling up. I’m sure you know what I mean, all that nagging psychic baggage. Believe you me, I’ll sit down to some sewing before I clean out the fridge any day, but I reckon the daily grind may just be easier if I have a schedule so the fridge rarely gets frightening and stinky, requiring more then five minutes attention. I like a tidy house, and our living space is important to me.

This doesn’t sound very artsy or romantic, but honestly, neither am I. I’ve never dreamed of the garret.

So along with my little forays back into drawing, over the next few months I’m going to get a system going around here so our whole family can better enjoy more time doing the things that make life rich. Luckily for me there are so many resources on the internet, because if I was sorting this out on my own the result would be dismal. I’ll let you know how it goes. This is also a time grab; I am so hopeless with some of this blog stuff it’s taking me about five times as long as a normal person to sit down and figure out how all these dang widgets and placements work. I should just hire a 12 year old and be done with it.

That said, I’ve still been squeezing in the making of things.


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A little sewing

A little sewing

A little knitting

A little knitting

Thanks for reading. I’m enjoying seeing how this blog is unfolding and figuring out what I’m truly trying to say, and I appreciate you taking the time. Because whatever I’m doing here, I am hoping you are finding the time to do those things that mean most to you.

PS: Been trying to keep inspired in the kitchen. Homemade pitta. Why haven’t I done this before?!?

Pitta bread.

Pitta bread.

Catching up.

Well, that was silly. I launched my drawing plan just days before my father came to visit from overseas for a three weeks visit. There has been much good visiting, including a week in Adelaide. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend. Go in Autumn. Superb. Both young and old had a ball.

There has also been much else keeping me away from the computer machine. The Autumn garden season is in full swing so it’s the constant back and forth between planting the winter veg and flowers (yay!) and tidying up and weeding (boo!).

Renovating an old house is also a joy/lunatic thing to do, and we’re getting ready to move onto another stage. We’ve propped the old girl up and now it’s time to make her pretty again, but man, she is not a cheap date. It’s a relief having the kitchen and bathroom finished. Renovating a house in stages, as we must do, can sometimes be a mild torture. But such a blessing nonetheless.

Being a craft addict there’s a lot lying around awaiting completion as well, and books to be read and pins to be Pinterested…

And we cannot forget the children that must be fed and watered.

But still, a drawing here, a drawing there.

Sewing Machine

                                                          Sewing Machine

So I did a couple of simple drawings in a mouldy old sketchbook using a fine tipped sharpie. I realised it has been literally years since I have drawn anything beyond garden layouts and a few things for the kids. That is a surprise!

House Plant

                                                            House Plant

I didn’t spend more then 10 minutes on each one, but I could see how fun it would be to take an hour or so and get lost in it for awhile. Anyway, no exciting new drawing adventures for this week. I think I’ll just do one or two more of these and add some colour, my favourite bit.

Too Much Fun

                                                             Too Much Fun

I was also introduced to Gelatine Plate printing by a very dear friend who is the best sort of enabler. Can’t wait to dig into this one more deeply. I will start including links to instructive websites when time and tech acumen allows.

Happy Making everyone!

Capturing Creativity

I’ll be the first to admit that it can take me awhile to get some creative energy flowing. That may not be true…it flows all over the place but rarely ends up in any sort of recognizable form. Unfinished projects, unmet goals, always looking for the next creative thrill (usually in the form of shopping for supplies. Paint! Fabric! Oooo pretty pens!). I know this is not a problem unique to me, and as I get older, wiser, and more confident it is not so much of an issue. But still, where to start? What to do?

I have attempted numerous times to do “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron, just to try and get some habits forming. I’m not terribly interested in delving into the past and finding the areas where my creativity was “wounded”, which is probably why I never carried on with it. There are a few helpful nuggets in that book though, and one is that we are all meant to create, with examples of why. She speaks of the Creator God, and how we are born of this creation, and thusly are to create. Now I am a pretty plain vanilla Protestant (I took an online quiz once that said I was a Quaker) with some weird ideas to keep things interesting, but I do get excited at this kind of talk even if it does get a bit new age in tone. I think it’s true. It’s just important not to get caught up in what it’s supposed to look like e.g. must be capital A Art, or creative writing etc,. It’s cake decorating, it’s gardening, it’s thoughtful collecting, it can be child raising.

One of my favourite things is drawing. I drew a lot as a child, and kept it up a bit as an adolescent. The I went to art school and that killed it for awhile (it’s a common malady), but I always did it a little bit, even just sketches of garden plans, tea cups, clothes, etc. After I had my first child it stopped completely. What can I say, I was just really into my new fat little friend. I still knit, and did some sewing, but drawing was out the window. Then came along another, and who would have guessed? Another. We drew a bit together but creative time with children is a whole different ball of wax than creative time alone, or with other adults.

So about a year ago I started thinking about drawing again, just a little bit. I have well and truly shed any notions of Art (or Craft) for Glory. I don’t really care if it looks horrible, I’m just pleased I actually made something. So with this attitude in place, I bought a book called A Drawing A Day. The premise is that over six weeks you draw something each day using a range of techniques and materials. Now with my life as it is at present, that plan is laughable. But what it possible is maybe a drawing (or two) a week. This book is pretty detailed. Different drawing materials, go out and draw a random person one day, take a range of pencils and go to the botanical gardens another…yeah right. So I am going to boil it down to a most basic guide, and if that means a drawing of an apple with a ball point pen on printer paper instead of a trip to the gardens with my textured Nepalese paper and multi-function pencils, so be it.

Once a week I will post what I’ve managed to do. Trust me, some of it will be hilarious. I have no shame. But what I would love is if any of you, my fine friends and family, would like to have a go too. I’ll put out the basic premise once (maybe…I can’t make promises) a week and you can have a go. If you’re really into it I’ll share your drawings along with mine. If no one wants to that’s fine. Sometimes the last thing one needs is something you feel you have to do. This is not that.

So if you’re interested, this week I’m going to be trying a couple of simple pen and ink drawings of stuff around the house. I doubt I will get more ambitious than drawing the cat. One thing to try is not lifting the pen from the paper, or at least doing so very minimally. My goal is two drawings.

The Kitchen

As I was thinking about what to write about, I realised that I hadn’t prattled on about our new-ish and much adored kitchen. I gleefully posted photos of the old ones demolition on Facebook just under a year ago. Those were sweet moments…

But now there are sweeter ones. A new kitchen is truly a blessing. Renovating an old house can be a painful, protracted, and expensive process. But the bonus is you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want. No guilt at ripping out something serviceable, and for me it can be a minor form of suffering living under someone else’s aesthetic. Please excuse the quality of the photos, which may be more “Estate Agent” and less “Person Who Knows What They’re Doing”.

Looking in from the lounge room.

Looking in from the lounge room.

One of the things I love about our increasingly less saggy and baggy house is that it is very Australian. It’s a Federation style, built in the early 1920’s by the then local miller (considering our adoration of all things full of flour this seems like destiny). It has high ceilings and large open rooms on a single story. The bedrooms are in the front while the lounge and kitchen are in the back. While I do get accused of Americanising things, I do feel a need to respect this old place’s Aussie heritage so we aren’t mucking around with it too much. I did have to fight the urge to go with a 1970’s California look, but I’ve tried to sneak it in here and there.

View from what will be the dining/big room.

View from what will be the dining/big room.

One of the hardest things was figuring out how we wanted the kitchen to work. You can go onto Pinterest and see 100’s and 100’s of gorgeous kitchens, but how can you move around in it? Is there enough room to cook? I have been in a lot of kitchens that look quite spacious but were rather hard to cook in, whereas I’ve been in apartments with tiny galley kitchens that were lovely. It had to be easy to keep clean too. We gave this a lot of thought. Then we had the Kitchen Guy come with his tape measure and, you know, experience, and help sort us out. I’m a big fan of the idea of DIY but we know our limitations. When it comes to planning and building those limitations are pretty much all of them. So we bring in the people who know what they are doing.

That said, I had a few non-negotiables:

Big Sink

Big Sink

I had to have a big double sink. I hate single basins and I hate poxy sinks. Even though we bought a dishwasher, which you can see here and is quite possibly one of the great loves of my life, I was not going to have a small sink. This one also came with inserts such as a cutting board, dish drainer, and colander. I think the builder thought I was a little mad, but it’s brilliant.

Under the Counter Bins

Under the Counter Bins

I first saw these at my Brother-in Law’s house and had to have them. Rubbish, recycling, compost scraps, and weird trash (batteries etc) all have their place, and we slide it closed and it’s GONE.

Appliance Corner

Appliance Corner

This used to be a hideous, dismal corner with a rotting sink and cobwebs. Now it is where happiness happens. It’s right next to the stove. Here is a scene from last week where I had the bread maker, slow cooker, and with a little shimmy, the ice cream maker all chugging away at once in their own little spot. I also blow kisses to the microwave. We never had one due to lack of place to put it.

Shut Up

Shut Up

Cook book shelves. This was Chris’s idea because if there is one thing he knows it’s bookshelves and he was right about this. I know I have a lot. Don’t judge me.

Pantry

Pantry

I think you can kind of see it. We are lucky enough to have a terrific old country pantry complete with cellar. However, it’s in an adjoining room and it too needs work. To have some place to keep cereal, fruit, and all the the daily bits is great. We used to have cereal on top of the fridge etc,. Dreadful.

As far as looks, I really wanted some patterned tile and dark bench tops. I was going to get Mexican tile but it was so expensive to import or buy here. This tile is Australian made and I love it. The dark bench tops are an American thing I think. The tradies said they don’t see it too often. But what do I know? Melbourne could be full of them.

One thing that really flummoxed us was lighting. We were about to make some really impressive mistakes but then I read about lighting in Kevin McCloud’s The Principles of Home and he sorted us out. So daylight LEDs for work and pendants with Edison bulbs for fun and a bit of verve. The pendants don’t get used much but they were inexpensive and add another layer. Plus, good for parties if we ever have one in the evening again.

Lighting is hard

Lighting is hard

Little Bits

Little Bits

And I have to have my pretty bits. I’ve got quite a few house plants going as well because I do love them and they do help add to that 1970’s feel that I enjoy. By the way, Aussies call house plants “pot plants”. Makes me smile every time.

Thanks for coming and sharing our new and loved kitchen.

Thinking About Blogging

I’ve been thinking about this blog for almost a good couple of years now.

What do I want it to be? I’m not even sure what it was…

It’s a hard question. My many interests mixed with a raging technical incompetence mixed with a small posse of children can lead to some chaotic brain space. A desire to go on too much about too many things.

The general rule for blogs seems to be stick with a theme or two. Cooking. Travelling. Parenting. Books. Great Thoughts. Ok, I can’t do that. I just cannot commit. But happily I have come across many blogs that explore all sorts of different things successfully with charm, verve, and meaning. Why do I always fall for this idea that there must be Rules Set in Place? Obviously some rules are good, but many are nonsense and best left to people who don’t start getting skin prickles thinking about them, as I do. Rules are meant to be broken blah blah blah. As a side note I find this whole inner tension endlessly amusing as I am hardly what could be called an anarchist. The joy of being human…

Then I thought, well, what do I really like doing? I like writing. I like doing lots of stuff. I like beautiful things. So filter that down to “I like writing about all kinds of things I like to do.”. And I like writing about all the things other people like to do. And beauty, the celebration of and creation of things I find beautiful. So that filters down further to writing about creative endeavors. Mine, and hopefully I will hear about yours. And heaven knows I need some practice with writing. I make myself sad when I have a basic punctuation fail.

And I like taking pictures, so there will be more of that.

I am also a huge believer in a small life. I don’t mean living small in a limited, limiting way. I mean celebrating small. I know “small” is a pretty overused buzzword right now like “journey” and “slow”, but the meaning is still important. The things that we do that make life wonderful, the small adventures. The picture you paint, the book you’re reading, the cake you bake for a friend. Your garden. The around the world trip is a grand idea and I would love to do it, but the weekend away with my family is wonderful too. For me, these small actions over time, done thoughtfully, can have just as much an impact on your life as the Big Adventures. I will write here about the small adventures that feed into the Big Ones. The streams and rivers that feed into the ocean.

I see the Big Adventures as these: your intimate relationships, your working life, raising children and/or caring for others, your spiritual/religious life, your inner struggles. The stuff of life that is unavoidable unless you go totally Zen hermit. I don’t think I am going to go into any of that here. I’m sure there could be some spillover along the way. You never know, as my eight year old sagely tells me almost daily.

So I am going to try and post this now, as I test out the limits of my stated tech hopelessness. If this post lands anywhere near where it is supposed to then I will be staggered. But please be patient. I can’t bear the thought of a really ugly, unpolished blog but am insisting on doing this myself so things will be a little jumpy around here. There will be days when there’s only time for tech fiddling and not posting.

Oh, and you should start a blog too! Or revive one languishing. It’s refreshing.

Down the Garden Path

I confess to harboring that sweet little dream of relative self-sufficiency. This is confined to a productive veggie path, herb garden, and small orchard of fruit trees. There is still a ways to go as I am very much in the learning stage. The kids are still a little too little to be much of a help. My partner in this life, while wonderful in all the ways that count, well my darling garden, He’s Just Not that into You. Secret hope is that one day he will be, which will make things easier, but I’m not holding my breath. But that’s ok. This is my thing really.

Still, it’s exciting to know how much can be done on 1/4 of an acre. But this last summer was a lesson in climate and humility. Here are the simple rules I learned in the last six months:

1) Garden Hygiene is VERY important. During the heat wave and then my first trimester things like weeding were done in a very careless fashion. And guess what? Weeds not only strangle other stuff as we well know, but they also make nice spots for pesty insects to hide. The summer before last, I had a better handle on the weeds, and saw less of the nasties like harlequin beetles (my arch enemies) and more goodies like praying mantis and ladybugs. This year with weeds a plenty, I was overrun by nasties and the goodies went looking for nicer quarters. I even saw some new nasties! It did give the boy child great joy to go out with a spray bottle of soapy water to massacre “naughty bugs” so that’s something.

2) Soil improvement is also very important. I did get this one right. I planted green manure crops in the veggie beds and added lots of compost, animal manures, etc.  Because our soil is clay I also added gypsum and other clay breakers. After a couple of years of diligence, some really lovely soil is starting to emerge.

3) Plants don’t grow when it’s really hot. Now this I did not know. We had a very hot summer, and I was fascinated to see plants do nothing. They did not grow at all despite being given deep drinks, mulch, and all those things they like. I didn’t know that many plants go dormant when it gets above a certain temperature, in this case 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. Now it should be said I made two errors, in that I didn’t plant some things early enough, and I didn’t put any shade cloth over the beds. Because of our relatively mild climate, things can be grown year round. But I’m thinking I need revive my North American ways of thinking in that in January and February, the hottest months down here and the coldest up there, don’t expect much by way of productiveness without offering some serious assistance. So as in much of North America, you’re not going to get much in deep winter without a green house or other special tricks. And down here in high summer, you’re not going to be getting much without protecting plants from the beating sun and dry winds.

4) Some plants are way more fun to grow than other. For instance, potatoes. So satisfying. Silver beet aka swiss chard, whatever. Nice to have you around but lacks the thrill of the potato. I planted lots of berry canes and spent my weak gardening energy keeping those alive and they are going splendidly. They even produced a little fruit their first year. 734The apple trees also gave us some apples, which was super exciting for the kids.

4) Stuff dies. The blueberries cacked it. A plum tree went cactus. Our apricot crop looked promising but a late frost doomed most of the fruit. Some rhubarb, rhubarb, the great survivor,  went to it’s Valhalla. One golden raspberry just couldn’t take it anymore. And the tomatoes suffered a failure to thrive.

5) Stuff lives. I’ve already praised the potato, and I even planted them in the least efficient way (note to self: read about how to plant things before planting them). The eggplant was sublime. The Tuscan kale laughed in the face of the heatwave and the cabbage moth. And the lettuce and parsley has scattered it’s seed, quite literally, wherever it pleased leading to lots of lettuce and parsley seedlings.

6) Seedlings grown by other people make life easy. While I do love starting things form seed and hope to become good at it, sometimes you just gotta love the people who start them for you. Hence my tender little broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages. I have seeds for all of these, but as I was moaning on the couch with baby issues, I neglected to start them on time. Nothing like nipping out to the garden center to save the day.740

And I can’t leave this post without homage to my mighty kale, snuggling here with it’s friend, the under-appreciated silver beet.

Happy Gardening, whatever your season may be!737