Thursday, 31 December 2015

Sewing in a New Year

The end of 2015 is nigh and soon the clocks will signal the beginnings of another calendar year.  Are your thoughts turning to New Year resolutions? Do you harbour hazy or sharply-in-focus plans? Or are you just gladdened by the promise of another day in your one and only life? 

On the cusp of 2016, all I wish for is the gentle rhythm of the simple life I'm crafting here with my family. May we be lucky enough to share many more days together. Relaxed days that unfold on spontaneous whims. Outside days tinted with the colours of nature. Happy days where our laughter rings out and bounces off our walls. Peaceful days that end with the sweet closeness of bedtime stories.

Part of my journey towards a simpler kind of life has been the rediscovery of lost craft skills and the learning of new ones. With that in mind, I aim to make any new clothes I want this coming year excluding underwear and socks (I do have to be practical about my sewing abilities or lack thereof!). So my newly-serviced sewing machine, gifted to me when I turned 18, has been dragged out of retirement after more than twenty years.  Just as I did with my knitting this year, I will start with something easy and simple so that I can practise my beginner skills and experience success. Success often spurs me on to try more difficult aspects of whatever skill I'm working on.

The fabric and pattern for my new top. 

I think my sewing goal will add another aspect to my self-reliance, leave more money in my pocket and save a little bit of the Earth's resources as I'll be buying less stuff.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Knitting Washcloths

This year, I have had time to take up knitting again after many years where I barely crafted anything in what was a too busy life. Although I learnt to knit as a young girl, my clumsy first stitches guided by my ever-patient and encouraging Grandmother, I had forgotten all but the basics. So, I began to knit some easy beginners' projects; to get the feel of the needles in my hands again and to remember. 

One of my favourite projects are washcloths. We use them in our home and I give them to dear friends as gifts, packaged up with creamy soap. The pattern for the first washcloth I knitted was from Rhonda Hetzel's inspiring book, Down to Earth. I then found a vast array of patterns on the internet and branched out from there; teaching myself more and gaining confidence again as I knitted different washcloths. 

As Christmas approached, I started knitting a set of these washcloths for one of my closest friends. A while ago, I was able to purchase some creamy, oatmeal-coloured organic cotton, on special at my local yarn shop.  It's natural, soft and perfect for this pattern. I had some left-over french-blue cotton too for the stripes. I like the contrast of this blue very much!

The washcloth taking shape on my needles.

This re-learning of my lost skill has been worth it in so many ways. I love the feel of the fibre in my fingers and the rhythmic "click" of my needles.  I love the way this craft connects me to my Grandmother through my memories; and to my Mother too who crafts beautiful, complicated cardigans and to whom I turn now for help when I get stuck with a pattern. And, I love that I can give my friends something I have crafted with my own hands. 


Have you rediscovered a lost craft skill too?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Boxing Day Compost

While the post-Christmas discount sales tempt many at this time of year, we decided to compost instead! 

Outside, under a warm blue sky, we cleared the spent sunflowers and tired cucumber vines from our veggie patch. We then gently levelled the newly cleared patch ready for a layer of our own "homemade" compost. What used to be our waste; garden clippings, veggie scraps, dry leaves and shredded paper; had broken down into a rich, earthy compost in our rotating barrels. 

 Garden goodness from our composting barrels.

Scooping up handfuls, I knew it was ready for the garden; crumbly and earthy (not stinky) and full of goodness to feed our soil. We spread it over our veggie patch and around our mandarin tree too before "icing" it with a thin layer of lucerne mulch.  Now, we'll wait for the worms to do their work underground, incorporating the new compost, while the soil rests over the remainder of the summertime. 

One of our hardworking worms.

To complete the cycle and start making new compost, we filled one of our empty barrels with all the plant material we had cleared from our patch, crispy dry leaves and veggie peelings. We secured the lid and gave it a good spin to mix it all up and aerate it. In time, it will break down and make new compost for us to use in the garden.

Veggie patch scraps waiting to go into a composting barrel.

To me, the process of composting and feeding our soil is so much more satisfying than finding any Boxing Day bargain. It returns material to our Earth that would otherwise end up in landfill and costs us nothing. Do you compost at your place? Do you have any composting tips to share?

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Rocky Road Parcels

In this quiet, little street of ours we are blessed to have many kind and friendly neighbours. At Christmas time, it has become a tradition to cook something delicious to gift to these wonderful folk who make up our happy neighbourhood. 

This year, we made up a big batch of sweet Rocky Road by following Sarah's recipe. Fluffy marshmallows, almond slivers, macadamia nuts, dried cranberries and crushed biscuits all tumbled in melted chocolate and set in the fridge. Mmm...

Smooth and delicious...melted chocolate, butter and syrup.

 A jumble of deliciousness!

 Coated with melted chocolate mixture.

 Pressed into a tray and ready to be chilled in the fridge.

 Simple, sweet, special and scrumptious! 

Unlike sweets like the traditional White Christmas slice, Rocky Road is not just a festive treat. You can quickly make a batch to enjoy at any time of year. All you need is an excuse to treat yourself and a great big mixing bowl!

Printed Christmas Wrapping Paper

Printing wrapping paper is a fun and easy project to do that involves children in meaningful Christmas preparations. We always begin with recycled brown paper as this is inexpensive, readily available and more eco-friendly. 

The possibilities for printing onto this paper are endless. Over the years, we've used Christmas stamps, stencils, leaves and our hands to print the paper with.  This Christmas, we decided to use cookie cutters to print red, white and silver stars and trees all over our brown paper.  

Roll out your brown paper. 
Spread thin layers of paint on old trays or lids. 
Choose your cutters.

 Dip the cookie cutter into the paint.
Press onto the brown paper to make a print. 
Repeat prints all over the brown paper.

 Wrap your gifts when the paper is dry. 
Tie it together with matching string or ribbon.

Simple and special paper for wrapping up a child's carefully chosen or handmade gifts for the people they love and care for.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Going Home

Our time on Straddie has come to an end for another year. In the late afternoon, of our last holiday day, there was time for one last walk along my favourite beach. It was low tide. The sand was golden and wide and the sea quieter. I whispered my goodbyes to the land and the sea. And, as I always do, I promised myself I would come back next year.

One of the barges that takes people to and from the island.

Our barge leaves the island.

Goodbye, Straddie. I miss you already!

Too far to swim back now.

The mainland awaits.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Weaving on a Tiny Circular Loom 1

Surrounded and inspired by the myriad shades of green here on Straddie, and by a desire to do something with an errant piece of fishing line that I picked up on a morning beach walk, I took out my tiny circular loom, collected some threads and began to weave.

Creamy cotton and green threads woven into the loom. 

Around and around with creamy white cotton followed by a thin circle of a natural green, followed by creamy white again until it was time to weave in the fishing line.

Yellowy-green fishing line ready to be woven in.

 Fishing line doesn't belong on beaches or in the sea where it can tangle around seabirds' legs or get caught around a sea turtle's flippers, sadly causing terrible harm. I wasn't sure it belonged in this weaving either, but weave it in I did. 

A ring of fishing line before a final rim of white.

I have used my little circular loom, purchased from Twill Textile Design, many times now. The kit comes with very clear instructions, each illustrated with a clear photo, so it's easy to begin and easy to complete. I find the weaving quite meditative; calming and rhythmic as I move the sewing needle under and over the taut warp threads. There is a certain delight too, when all the threads are woven in and it's time to take the weaving off the loom.

Perhaps a tiny nest? 

Now, all that remains is to decide what to do with this sweet little circle of woven threads and one short length of fishing line that is no longer floating in the sea. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

By the Lake

There are two freshwater lakes here on North Stradbroke Island. Blue Lake and Brown Lake, so named for the apparent colour of their waters, offer a stunning contrast to the ocean environment that is synonymous with the island.

The warm, tea-coloured water of Brown Lake.

This year, we packed a picnic and drove to Brown Lake early in the morning. We were the only ones there and the quietness surrounded us like a tranquil blanket. The lake, its water deepening gradually in darkening shades of brown, was warm and still.  Leaves from the Ti-Trees and Paperbarks settle on the bottom of the lake and their tannins leach into the water turning it the colour of brewed tea.

Paperbark Melaleuca leaves release tannins that stain the water.

We walked part of the shoreline to find our swimming place. The strappy grey-green leaves of the reeds that line the lake rustled quietly in response to a quiet breeze. We spied a pair of goannas who left curving tracks in the fine, white sand as they made a hasty retreat at our approach. Large dragonflies, red and blue and stripy, darted this way and that, above our heads. And the tiny, silvery fish that we swam in the shallows with, provided much joy to our young son as we tried to scoop them up in handfuls of water for him to see.

The shallows of our swimming spot.

 Holding one of the tiny fish that swam all around us in the shallows.

Later, while floating on my back, eyes up to the wide blue sky above and enveloped in silence, I felt so very thankful that we'd been able to enjoy this special place by ourselves for just a little while. It is one thing to share a beautiful, wild place with crowds of people but quite another to be alone there within the quiet.

So inviting!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Native Blooms 1

There are many beautiful flowering plants that are native to North Stradbroke Island. This year, I wanted to be able to name some of them as I pointed them out to my boy. From the local library at Point Lookout, I borrowed a guide called Good Straddie Plants, published by the Point Lookout Bushcare Group. In it, I discovered the names of many of the flowering plants we admire on our walks here. 

The  fading feathery blooms of the Brush Box.

The hot pink bloom of the succulent Pigface creeper the grows in the dunes.

The tiny, delicate 'bells' of the Blueberry Ash. My favourite!

Being able to identify the different species of plants that grow where we walk has added another layer of familiarity to the island for our son. Now, he can name his favourite flora and we can look up unfamiliar specimens when we come across them. This sparks conversations about the features of these plants and their place as native species in the environment.

Do you have a local guide of the flora native to where you live? Have you planted any of these species in your home garden?

Friday, 11 December 2015

Close to Wildlife

Straddie's stunning natural environment is home to a diverse array of wildlife. We spend time everyday searching the waves for dolphins, exploring rockpools for crabs and gazing skyward to catch a glimpse of the Brahminy Kite as it soars overhead searching for food in the sea.

Occasionally too, we are delighted by rarer encounters. Spotted on the grass just outside the doors of our holiday abode, and heralded by the urgent and very excited cries of our young boy, was this large goanna.

Such amazing markings and large claws!

We watched with fascination as it lazily trundled around, one heavy foot after the other; tail moving slowly from side to side and long tongue flicking out over the sand. Its scaly skin was the colour of a burnt tree stump and its intricate markings reminded me of tiny bursts of lichen on old, dry bush logs. Such an ancient-looking specimen!

This unhurried goanna wasn't fazed by our prolonged attention, only moving on after being swooped repeatedly by a laughing kookaburra. As one of the locals later explained, this is because goannas climb trees to feast on their eggs. The kookaburra was obviously engaged in a preemptive strike!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Tiny Embroidered Bags

I always bring a craft project (or three) on holidays wherever we go. It feels wonderfully indulgent to have time to work on these projects at my leisure. 

Many months ago, I bought a stack of these tiny little white cotton bags from Reverse Garbage in Brisbane, a great place to find reclaimed and recyclable materials for all kinds of projects. As soon as I saw them, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them!

The plain white cotton bag, washed and ironed and waiting for some embellishment!

Inspired by the work of Melissa Wastney, of Tiny Happy, I decided to make these into special, reusable bags. Whenever I have a small gift to give, I stitch a botanical motif onto the front of one of these bags using pretty threads from my embroidery stash.

Backstitch for the stem, pink french knots for the buds and lazy daisy stitch for the bloom.

Finished...a quick, easy and portable craft project.

These small embroidered bags sometimes hold soap or knitted washcloths or packages of flower seeds. This one became the pouch for a set of creamy pink, handmade beads for a dear and creative friend that I won't get to see this Christmas. I think she'll like it!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Exploring Rockpools

Exploring rockpools together is one of our favourite things to do on our island holiday. We go everyday, to the rocky outcrops on the shoreline, to explore the salty pools left by the outgoing tide. 

A rockpool waiting to be explored.

On our trips to the rocks over the past week, our son has marvelled, like he always does, at the life he discovers in and around these rockpools. He eagerly searches for crabs, and when he finds these shy creatures hunkered down in crevices, he pulls us over (our tender feet rushing over sharp, crusty rock) to see them too. Many wave their nippers as we approach but somehow, I don't think this is a welcoming gesture!

A shy crab trying hard not to be noticed!

Small and extra-small fish dart away under rocks when we cast shadows into their pools so we have fun figuring out how to watch them without scaring them off. Usually, this sees us sneaking up and crouching over (our knees scraping on sharp, crusty rock) in an effort NOT to send them swimming for cover, with varying degrees of success.

Stripy fish in a deeper rock pool.

Floaty anemones, spiralling shells and squirty sea cucumbers who spit out seawater as receding waves retreat back to sea are found upon close and careful inspection of these wet, rocky habitats on the edge of the ocean. 

 A sea anemone takes up most of the room in a tiny rockpool. 

 A jelly-like creature that looks like it's been set in a circular jelly mould.

 A beautiful, pointed shell with hints of blue surrounded by barnacles.

Sometimes, creatures normally best avoided, can be studied up close in these rockpools. That sparks valuable conversations about what to touch and what to leave alone!

Beware of the stinging blue tentacles of the Bluebottle Jellyfish.

Tender feet, scraped knees and the odd drenching from unexpected waves aside, exploring rockpools offers up many treasures for a nature-seeking child (and grown-up).

Saturday, 5 December 2015

North Gorge Walk

The wind was blowing a gale here on the island yesterday. It stirred up the sand, which stung the back of our legs as we walked the beach, and whipped up the waves so they came roaring on to shore. We spent the morning exploring rock pools until an unexpected wave drenched the lot of us and we had to high-tail it home because we had decided against wearing swimmers or packing towels (not an entirely sensible decision, in hindsight).

In the late afternoon, rugged up against a now-cold wind, we went for a walk around the North Gorge at Point Lookout. The views from the path are spectacular along this walk that hugs the coastline around the gorge. 

Waves rolling in towards Frenchman's Beach.

Early evening view looking southwards over Main Beach.

The entrance to North Gorge.

We have often spotted dolphins, sea turtles, rays and humpback whales (during the months of their annual migration) from our favourite vantage points along this walk but they must have been hiding underneath all the white-capped waves yesterday. We did however cross paths with several kangaroos feasting on grass and giving their furry tummies a good scratch.

Kangaroo in lush grass along North Gorge Walk.

I wouldn't mind living where they do; close to the ocean with million-dollar views stretching out all the way to the horizon!

Friday, 4 December 2015

On Island Time

We are here again! On our beloved island, affectionately known as "Straddie" or more formally (which doesn't quite suit her laid-back style) as North Stradbroke Island.

We left the mainland world behind last Friday and are now on island time. Our Straddie days unfold without set plans and without reference to clocks or calendars. They are filled with long, unhurried beach walks and refreshing ocean swims that leave us salty and sandy and content. We fall into bed each night, happy and weary, with the rhythmic crash of the waves soothing us to sleep. 

The sandy path I tread that offers glimpses, through the trees, of the beauty beyond.

 The wide and peaceful beach at the end of that sandy path.

There is something special about this island. (I'll show you more of her here over the next week or so.) I first felt it over twenty years ago, and I feel it now while I'm typing and listening to the sea. It's nature, it's simplicity and it's memories. 

I would not want to be anywhere else.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Spelt Pikelets

These delicious little spelt pikelets are a regular healthy treat in our home. We have them warm for breakfast or dessert and cold for morning or afternoon teas. They are a great option for lunchboxes too. Just sandwich them together with honey or jam. Very versatile!

Small spelt pikelets waiting for delicious toppings.

This is the basic recipe I use to make them. I don't put any sugar in the mixture because the banana or nashi pear and toppings add sweetness.

Spelt Pikelets

1/2 cup unbleached white spelt flour
1/4 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (aluminium free)
1/2 cup milk 
1 egg, beaten
1 small mashed banana or 1 peeled and grated nashi pear
butter, for frying

1.  Sift the spelt flours and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
2.  Mix the milk and beaten egg together with the mashed banana or grated pear.
3.  Make a well in the centre of the sifted flours.
4.  Pour in the milk mixture.
5.  Whisk lightly until batter is just combined.
6.  Melt a small knob of butter in a medium sized frypan over medium heat.
7.  Place small spoonfuls of batter into the frypan. (I use a soup spoon when I make them.)
8.  Cook batter until surface of the pikelets bubbles then flip them over.
9.  Cook other side until firm. Remove from pan and drain on absorbent paper.

Pikelets ready in the pan and apples slowly warming to top them with.

Pikelets ready to be served for a warm, healthy breakfast. Mmm...

You can top these little pikelets with all sorts of deliciousness...warm sliced apples with cinnamon or classic strawberry jam and cream are two of my family's favourites. What's your favourite topping?