Friday, March 17, 2017

baskets filled with hazelnuts + other miscellaneous chatter

Hello loves,

How are you?

It's Friday morning here, the girls are all off at school, Bren is somewhere outside (I think I can hear some kind of power-tool), and I'm sitting up on the green armchair in the corner of our studio, wrapped in a colourful crocheted blanket. The house is quiet except for the howl of the wind outside and I should feel calm and be able to concentrate, but instead I feel scattered and in a hurry.

Most weeks by the time it gets to Friday I pretty much know what I'm going to write about. Most weeks I have a bit of a theme of thoughts, so the writing is just a matter of getting them into some sort of order. I read in Rachael Treasure's book Down The Dirt Roads the other day that 'according to neuroscience expert Dr Joe Dispenza...of the thousands of thoughts we have per day - around 50,000 to 70,000 of them - 90 per cent are the same thoughts from the day before.'

Unusually, this week hasn't felt like that for me. This week I can't really pin point a point of view or a perspective that has dominated, but instead have found myself stuck in the practical world of picking and preserving and putting on a smiley face despite the sudden turn of the season, the house full of emotional girls and the fact that I feel a bit scattered and unsure at the moment.

So this morning over our porridge with honey I asked the family what they thought I should write about.

Bren said he'd like me to write about spurtles
Over the past few days he's gotten his pole lathe up and running and has a new found fascination with all the possible forms that he can now create. He said he'd like me to find out how they came to be, why they are round and why people use them instead of their spoons.

Indi asked me to ask you guys about your stress management techniques.
There has to be a better way to deal with life in her second last year of school than feeling constantly overwhelmed, teary and not sleeping. Unlike Bren and I at school, she has made a personal commitment to complete everything thrown at her and give it her 100%. It's tricky because she's starting to get a glimpse of the big wide world beyond school, and that excites her and makes her question what it's all about and for, but it doesn't free her from the stress.

Gosh I could write a whole blog post about how much I dislike the way the current senior school system robs our kids of the love of learning, with all the emphasis being placed on assessments and assignments and essays and exams. At 16 and 17 our kids are wide awake and open to the world, shouldn't we be encouraging them to fall in love with subjects, to follow pathways of their own interest, to ask all the hard questions and to challenge what they're taught? Shouldn't learning be about more than preparing for tests?

But in the end it's not about what I think. Indi has five school assessed courseworks (SACs) over the next few weeks and if you have a fave meditation app, herbal tea blend or breathing technique, she'd be ever so grateful.

Jazzy wants me to write about her.
When she saw that Jackie wrote this on my last blog post - 'When did Jazzy grow up? She has become a very attractive, elegant and tall young woman. That smile and those dimples are to die for. I haven't noticed many photos of Jazzy perhaps that's why it hit me so hard this time.' she was thrilled!! And then she proceeded to trawl my blog for mentions and photos and stories that she featured in. She wasn't impressed at the outcome over the past year.

Funnily enough, way back when I wrote my book, Vantastic, in 2013, my designer Michelle Mackintosh, herself a middle child, counted every single photo and made sure there were equal numbers for each of the girls.  

But in the present day, in my defence, our early teenage Jazzy has spent most of her home time in her bedroom rather than with us outside on the farm. And if you're not out in the orchard picking apples, then you're not in the photos of picking apple, then you're not on my blog.

Having said all that, since this is her bit of my blog I want to acknowledge how happy we are when she joins us around the farm, how she makes us all laugh like crazy, how much we love her stories, her ukulele playing, her outfits and hairdos and how lucky we feel to have her in our gang.

Pepper suggested I write about the first apples.
She wouldn't elaborate on what specifically she wanted me to write about the first apples, but I guess that living on an apple farm in apple season with fruit hanging from the branches, sitting in crates and baskets and bowls and stewing on the stove, it makes sense.

My mum thought I should write one of those blogs where I tell you what I'm reading, listening to, watching etc.
But honestly I'm really not a fan of the book I'm reading, I don't have any particular podcast I'm loving and I can't think of the last time I sat down to watch anything. Better fix that.

And me? 
I guess I'd like to mention the fact that even though we're having a pretty crappy fruit season, there's still so much fruit to be picked and preserved. I guess that's the great thing about biodiversity. Apples, pears, hazelnuts, nashis, tomatoes, they're all ready and ripe and filling up space around the place. Not to mention the vegetables.

Next, I'd love to thank you for your messages on my last blog post that came from everyone from mothers who felt like they had found themselves in motherhood and didn't feel the need to search for anything else, through to mothers who had a glimpse of their past selves and made a dash to grab hold of her and continue her journey before they changed their minds, and everyone else in between. I've had women suggest art projects that I might like to take on, books that explore this theme, and many expressions of feeling the same. I've also listened when people have told me that they felt like I do live an artistic life - 'The way you live, the way you raise your children, the way you write and photograph your experiences...' I'm taking this on, thank you!! I love this community in all of our various stages and phases.

And I suppose that over the past week, during the busiest time of the year on our farm, I've had to make do with finding art in the everyday: making small films on my phone of the dancing shadows on my bedroom door in the afternoon light, arranging cucumbers and herbs in the pickle jars and then spending time shaking them up and watching the herbs and spices fly around in the brine and then slowly settle like snow globes, gathering groups of colours of yarn for someday projects, dreaming of botanical themed water colours...



And then I feel like I should talk about the photos above. Last Monday I spent hours alone in the hazelnut orchard, stripping the trees of their fruit. Even though the sun often glared into my eyes as I looked up searching for the treasure, it was still a pretty idyllic way to spend the time. Just me and my basket and my pockets and my shirt to fill, podcasts to listen to and dreams of all the ways we could use hazelnuts in the kitchen in the months to come.

Later on, once I'd finished picking the three rows, the girls and Bren came down to help me carry them home. I snapped some shots of them and lucky I did, because they turned out to be the only photos I took all week.

So the hazelnuts are drying out, the photos are sitting here, and I've found myself going back to 2014 and another series of photos I took in that same orchard but that time under some quite difficult circumstances after I'd just found a lump in my left breast. Coincidentally, or maybe not, I'm booked in for an ultrasound and mammogram this coming Tuesday. Look how much my girls have grown since then. Oh and look Jazzy, there are lots of photos of you in that post too.

Oh gosh, and there I was thinking I had nothing to say this week.

I'd better sign off before I write another few hundred words.
And how about you? Has your week had a recurring theme? A problem to be solved? An idea to be built on?

Lots of love to you, honey bunches!
May you trust the process, and the people, and yourself.

Love Kate xx

PS To save you the work, Jazzy, I counted for you: Indi is in four photos in this post, you are in five, Pepper is in three and Bren in in two. x



Friday, March 10, 2017

spots on the apples

Hello honey bunches, or as Miss Pepper would call you if she were here - totally terrifically tempting toasted in the toaster twice pieces of toast. That's how she described my warm skin against her icy cold toes this morning as she climbed into bed with me for a cuddle. After that she stuck a feather in the back of her shorts and with one in each hand proceeded to spend the rest of the hour before school running around the house shrieking like the peacock whose feathers she carried. Goodness what a lot of fun and craziness a nine year old adds to a household. Not to mention the noise!

So here we are again on a Friday morning. The big girls are on their long drive to school with my mum, the peacock is already sitting in class in Daylesford, farmer Bren is either on his tractor or on his pole lathe and I'm sitting up in bed with my computer on my lap thinking of all of the places I've been over the past seven days, in my body and in my head. Where do I start? What do I include? Where do I go?

I guess the most obvious place to start is at the top. Late yesterday afternoon I clambered through the nets of an apple tree and dragged my basket in behind me. And there I sat for a while, still. Lately my gym teacher has been trying to encourage me and Bren to meditate together but we always forget. And the one time we did remember he said he floated away, but he left me behind panicking about my breathing and unable to stop itching and rearranging myself and my thoughts. I know meditation would help me immensely but so far, not so good. 

But yesterday once my basket and I were safely enclosed in the folds of the bird netting, I decided to try it again on my own terms. I leaned up against the tree's trunk and closed my eyes. I listened and tried to identify all the different sounds I could hear. Over and over I had to shift my mind away from the wetness of a smooshed apple I was sitting on, and away from thoughts of the march flies buzzing around my head trying to bite me, but I got there in the end. I heard the wind through the trees, I heard bird song, dogs barking, roosters crowing and I heard our pump far across the paddock. 

And then my mind wandered to the apples on the ground around me, dangling from the branches of the tree and smooshed under my bum. In most seasons, once the harvest starts it's go, go, go for a few months; checking and protecting and picking and selling. Not to mention the eating and preserving. The fact that this year's crop is small and spotty means that each apple feels a bit more precious. It gives me the time to sit under a tree for a few minutes to admire them and consider them. And it allows me to appreciate each bite, savouring the juicy flavours, remembering how lucky we are to have the opportunity to eat warm fruit straight off the tree, and to think and wonder and hope for next season.

These past few weeks have been hot and dry, the grass has browned off, the tomatoes are finally ripening and loads of washing have been drying on the line in the time it takes for the next armful to start and finish in the machine. Although the mornings are definitely darker, the days still feel long and golden and glorious.

We wear overalls and men's shirts and hats to protect us from the sun as we go about our farm jobs all day, we come in when the girls get home and go out again after dinner in tee-shirts without the layers, until the sun goes down and it's too dark to see. Autumn is when farming makes the most sense in my mind. There is fruit on the trees in the orchards, vegetables in the rows of the gardens, and wherever there is room new stuff is being planted for winter. The best feeling in the whole world is sending a hungry child outside to pick whatever she feels like eating.

During the week one of the girls was telling us about her friend who was grounded for misbehaving. When Miss Pepper asked for the definition of grounded she was told it's when you're not allowed to go out at all and have to spend all your time at home. "So you can't even go out to pick stuff from the garden!?' she cried incredulous, 'that sounds like the worst punishment ever'. Totally.



The next thing is going away. Anyone who's been reading my Friday blogs this year has probably noticed an undercurrent of me anxiously trying to separate a little from the girls and find a bit of space in the world that is my own. There has definitely been a bit of fear about leaving this comfortable place where I've been sitting for the past 17 years. Added to that is the knowledge that in just under two years Miss Indi will leave school and possibly home forever. Should I really be trying to find my own adventure when my time with her, as a family of five, is so limited?

The result is my recent baby steps. First I took a train to the city and spent an entire day doing exactly as I pleased. I skipped the school's Chinese New Year celebration in the morning, even though Pepper was at the head of the dragon, and came home after dinner, but just in time for bed. Then we left the girls at home and went to a party. I know it doesn't sound like much, but living on a farm in the middle of the forest, well mostly it's just easier if one of us stays home with the girls. And then I went away from home for three days and two nights.

Last Sunday one of my sisters, my mum and I, flew out of the mainland and down to Hobart for a few days. We stayed somewhere incredibly beautiful, we did so many of the things that three girls away from home do, and it was amazing.

On each of the three days we visited Mona. On the first day we walked all the way to the bottom level of the cave and I felt so giddy about my freedom and about the fact that I was finally at the gallery I had wanted to visit for the last couple of years, that I moved from exhibit to exhibit with a huge smile on my face sucking up all that I could and loving everything. I loved being in the ground surrounded by the sandstone walls, I loved the labyrinth feeling of it all and I loved the juxtaposition of the old next to the new, the religious art next to the art made from rubbish, and the themes of humanity and death and sex that seemed to come at you from all angles. I felt like I was being filled to the brim.

The second day was more difficult for me. For some reason on my second trip to the museum I took it all personally. I looked at exhibits and wondered about what specifically made them worthy of hanging and being called art. I thought a lot about the processes the artists would have gone through on their way to creating their works. Did they suffer self doubt? How did they justify their costs, and their time and their focus? Did they get stuck in their process? Were they worried about their reception? Were they so deeply involved they couldn't see out? How did they know? How did they get to the stage where they could identify as artists? And most importantly, how on earth did they balance their art with all the demands of the real world?

As I wondered and wandered, I watched and considered my process. I studied and made art all through my childhood and my schooling, I made and studied art at university, and I honestly believed I would create art for the rest of my life. And yet here I am an artless adult.

When this realisation hit me hard I was staring at an enormous wall covered in small artworks. I was moving from piece to piece studying it and thinking about its process, when all of a sudden I had to stop and sit and think about mine. I felt overwhelmed by emotion. The combination of being surrounded by art yet unable to create art made me feel claustrophobic and like I wanted to cry and hide and get out of there immediately. The feelings were immense, intense and I feared I'd never get out from under them.

We spent that afternoon swimming, eating last night's pizza for lunch and drinking champagne in the spa and I felt better. Like things shifted back to almost normal. But I felt like the realisation was an important one that should sit uncomfortably inside me until I really examined it properly.

On the last day we toured the gallery with its director. I was slightly hesitant to begin with but he moved and spoke fast and covered ground quickly. He filled in the gaps we'd missed and we were back up out in the sunshine before we knew it.

It occurred to me lying in my own bed that night that part of my fear of separating from the girls is what I'm bound to discover underneath that I've neglected all these years. It's scary and confronting and uneasy. I wondered how I could balance being a present mother of emotional girls with my own personal archaeological dig.

And honestly I'm not sure I can. In the three days I've been back I've worked so hard on the farm and I've been so present and involved in the girls and Bren and this is the first time I've allowed myself the time to bring this up again.

I do feel the need to express myself creatively, I do need to ask myself some hard questions and yet I also need to stay present and focused on life on our farm in our family. I'm scared to write this down because it feels a bit like a commitment to honesty and forward movement, but I guess the truth of it is I'll either do something with it or I'll read about it in my archives sometime in the future and feel a twinge. Time will tell.


And with that, the start of Emily's Bulldogs' socks, and a tiny seed of a thought of a drawing-a-day project, I'm out of here.

Oh and do let me know how you're travelling, I do love to read your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.
Are you enjoying the weather where you are? Are you up to date with your laundry? Do you have a burning desire to write a book? Record an album? Make an ice sculpture? Study Egyptian burial techniques? Brew your own beer? Start a flower farm? Go to Mona? Are you scared to discover who you really are? Do you meditate? Have you got anything fun planned for the weekend?

See you later alligator!

Love Kate xx


Friday, March 3, 2017

spots on socks + other fancy stuff


Hello dear friends and welcome to today's episode of the Friday Foxs Lane.

I hope you've had a lovely week and that you're gearing up for a wonderful weekend.

My week has passed by in a haze of hot days, sleepless nights, garden and girls. Actually I can't work out whether the word I want to use is haze or daze, but you know that blurry feeling you get when your body gets out of the habit of sleeping at night for no apparent reason, your nights are never ending and your days are filled with fog? Yep, that.

So in honour of my loosening grasp of the English language and the hazey-daze, I have decided to take a blogging short cut today and make a list of ten things I am doing right now. Or more precisely doing or done, past tense, so I can include the spotty socks above.

Are you ready? Here we go...

one - sewing in the ends
Everything about sock knitting fascinates me but especially the way it makes me into someone I'm not. On the top shelf of our studio there is a basket that is filled with clothes that need mending. Shirts that buttons have fallen off, skirts with hems that have come down, socks with holes in the heels...the list goes on. This basket has in fact recently overflowed onto the back of my desk chair and on top of my sewing machine. Optimistically, I imagine that one of these days I'll pull that basket down and methodically work my way through it, buttoning and hemming and darning. But the truth is, I probably never will. But for some reason every single time I cast off a pair of socks I finish them off all the way to the end. I find a needle and I thread each of the loose bits of yarn on in turn and I darn them in until they're all done. It's like the little shoe-maker's elves have visited. And only then can I consider them finished.


two - admiring the insides
There's something so unexpected and surprising about the wrong side of a fair isle knitting project that I only really discovered a few months ago when I started knitting colour-work. Since then I've started a little ritual where I save the inside-looking until I've cast them off. Once I'm done I turn them inside out and sit with the wrong side for a while, looking at all the strands and the negative colour pattern. Each time it's so interesting to see how things have knit up on the back, sometimes I even prefer the wrong side.

three - finishing up
Once the knitting, the darning and the admiring are done, the next step is to hunt down a daughter for the photographing part. Sometimes it's as easy as stand, snap, done! But other times the foot looks funny, the part of the sock that I'm not thrilled with is too obvious, the light's not right, the foot model is in a hurry and won't stand still...you get the picture.

Luckily last night all the sock moons and planets aligned and we got the shot and the sock model was back to singing scales within ten minutes.

The details are on Ravelry if you're interested in such things.

four - casting on
I'm going to call the next project to hit my needles - when you love someone who loves the Bulldogs. Not exactly my usual type of colours or colour combination, but I do love her and she does love them. 

I guess it's not really cheating on the Bulldogs socks if I'm sitting here daydreaming about a beautiful skein of CircusTonicHandmade sock yarn that fell into my shopping cart this morning. Australian merino wool...indi dyer...soft variegated yarn...ochre, greys, charcoal and the slightest hint of lemon...mmmmmmm.....


five - preserving the sunshine
Over the past few weeks I've mentioned a few times that this season's harvest isn't looking to be quite as bountiful as we'd hoped and expected. There are definitely some things that have positively surprised us, like the cucumbers, the berries and the beetroots. There are some things that have flat out disappointed us like the apples and the plums. And then there are some that could still go either way.

Over the past five or eight years we've grown most of and made all of our own tomato passata. Enough to last the whole year through. Over January our tomatoes get going slowly allowing us to finally break our tomato fast and to eat them on everything and in everything we can. By March we're not keeping up with the harvest and we start with the cooking and bottling.

This year has been the strangest tomato season ever. The vines are heavily laden with fruit but it's just not ripening. Or rather it's just starting to now, but only enough to eat, definitely not enough to preserve for later.

So yesterday we made the call and went and picked up a 10kg box off our mate Florian at Mount Franklin Organics down the road. Tomorrow we'll squish them, cook them into a sauce with some onion, garlic and basil, and then we'll pop them into jars for later. Hopefully our green tomatoes saw the boxful of red beauties make its way in and will hurry on up. And if not, we've arranged to pick up another box next week, just to be on the safe side.


six - listening
During the week Jo, another knitting mum of three, contacted me about her daughters Mabel and Ivy and their folk duo Charm of Finches. She was hoping we could work together to put on a house concert and as we've been talking a lot lately about doing something like this, we loved the idea and were hoping the same. Unfortunately, at this stage the dates didn't work, but in the meantime Jo sent me the girls' CD and I fell in love.

We've spent the past few days with Staring at the Starry Ceiling as the soundtrack to our drives to school and back, our dinner prep and our lying on the couch with closed eyes, feeling completely transported by their angelic voices, their beautiful harmonies, their original lyrics and all of the instruments in-between. 

With Mabel and Ivy being only one year older than our Indi and Jazzy, I can't help but dream of the places their shared love of music and song and flowy dresses might one day take them.

In the meantime I highly recommend you to click on over to the Charm of Finches site and support the girls and their dreams and melodies by buying their CD. 

Hopefully we'll get another chance to work with them in the future.


seven - listening to the scrape of Bren's knife against his spoon 
One of the best things to come out of this year so far is the dedicated Friday craft day. Just last night my Mum sent me a text asking if we needed help with stacking some wood today. The fact that I didn't have to think twice, or justify myself, or agonise over the decision was awesome. Friday is craft day. A whole guilt-free day for carving, knitting, sewing, drawing, playing guitar and writing my blog. If we decide to do a bit of farm work in amongst all of that then cool, but otherwise even cooler I say.

seven point five - listening to podcasts
Yesterday I listened to Richard Fidler interviewing Kate Summerscale about the life of Robert Coombes who in 1895 when he was 13 killed his mother and went on a spree with his little brother across London. I always love Richard's interviews but this particular story gripped me so tight that I hardly noticed the physical work I was doing in the garden until the whole hour was up.

It is a tragic story of Victorian-era matricide that also includes a boy's own adventure, a court case, an examination of family life with a father at sea and travels all the way over to Australia for the ending.

Kate has written a book about Robert's life called The Wicked Boy which I'm sure is a fantastic read, but I don't feel the need to read it now I've followed the whole story so closely in the author's words. Perhaps I'll look up some of her other books.





eight - splitting
The wood splitter is back for another week and the splinters in my hands and the ache in my muscles are there to prove it. Gosh I love watching that blade slice through those enormous rounds of wood as if they were butter. Not to mention that growing pile of firewood that will be stacked along the driveway and look pretty for a while and then keep us warm when the weather turns horrid.



nine - fermenting
If you were to ask me what I grow well on this farm, after little girls I think my next answer would be cucumbers. I seriously love growing cucumbers. I love how big their first leaves are when they poke their green tips out of the soil, I love how quickly they grow, I love their prolific yellow flowers and I love those green, crunchy, water filled fruit (?) and how much joy they add to my kitchen.

We mostly eat them as they come, in sandwiches and on salads, but when the season really gets going and we're bringing them in by the bagful, we ferment them by the jarful.

The recipe we use is from this book. We pretty much follow it, but often add and subtract ingredients. Lately we've been adding lemon slices (thanks Meg), and bay leaves, and as much garlic as we can be bothered peeling. 

Have I told you that my girls have started calling me Pickle? Tis true.


ten - reading
I just finished reading The Seven Good Years. Bren read it in a few days but I think I took a whole week. Even though I often struggle with short stories, and these are extremely short, I really enjoyed it. I laughed and cried at times but mostly I just admired Etgar's ability to take a simple thing that happened to him and make it into a great story.

I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I heard Wendy James interviewed on the radio a few days ago, maybe I'll start her new book The Golden Child. It sounds very interesting and topical.


And with that my lovely friends, I'll bid you farewell. Pepper is sleeping over at her friend's house, the big girls will be home in an hour, which gives me just enough time to pop some washing on the line and get started on those tomatoes.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
I'm going away for three days with my Mum and one of my sisters and I can't wait!

As always please feel free to leave me any suggestions you might have for podcasts, books, music, shows and patterns you're enjoying.

LoveLove,

Kate xx

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