31 December 2015

Thanks for visiting

Even after all these years, I still enjoy sharing my thoughts with you. I am always grateful to you for reading my ramblings and I still get excited when one of you leaves a comment. Let's continue in 2016 together!


28 December 2015

Summer means hydrangeas

I've been told that hydrangeas are making a comeback in gardens but, in my opinion, they've never gone away. With their beautifully-shaped, serrated-edged leaves and huge balls of flowers, what's not to like?


The flower heads are composed of small fertile flowers surrounded by larger sterile bracts. The bracts can last on the plant for months and their colours fade to antique shades that many gardeners find attractive. I'm not fond of this, so I cut some of the heads when they are at their most colourful and display them in vases in my home. Hydrangeas come in eye-catching shades of white, pink, purple and blue.


My hydrangeas are in large pots. This gives me the flexibility to move them into more shade on the excessively hot days we have in summer and to move them into the background when they're not looking their best in winter after I've pruned them.

On hot days, hydrangeas will droop if they don't have enough water. When the hot westerly winds blow in summer and the temperature hits 40 degrees, I fear for the health of my plants. Luckily, after a thorough watering, the hydrangeas always recover. 


This plant with deep blue flowers has grown from a cutting that was given to me by a friend over twenty years ago. Every time it flowers, I think of her. This is part of the joy of gardening; we can share pieces of our plants as we share pieces of our pasts. I love to be surrounded by memories like this; it's as if my garden is full of friends.


Hydrangea snapshot

Family: Hydrangeaceae
Ideal situation: morning sun or dappled shade
Dislikes: hot midday or afternoon sun
Suitable for: massed borders or pots
Habit: shrub
Needs: moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter
Maintenance: cut flower heads for use in vases indoors. Only prune stems that have flowered that season otherwise the plant won't flower next year. 
Propagation: softwood cuttings in summer or hardwood cuttings in winter
Difficulty: easy
Fun fact: some hydrangeas can change colour depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Lime encourages pinkness and aluminium sulphate promotes blueness.

26 December 2015

Three things

I confess it would have been easier to write about three things I don't like this week, but that's not the point, is it? So here we go!


1. It rained!

Properly. For a full day and a couple of nights, it rained softly and steadily, while the ground absorbed the precious water. Buildings, trees, and shrubs were gently cleaned of city grime and the earth said thanks. That's the first rain we've had here for a month and we were grateful.

2. Practical beauty

I received these secateurs as a gift from a friend. Adorned with the William Morris Cray design, they are gorgeous. I'm looking forward to using them in my garden.


3. My renewed driver's licence arrived and my photo doesn't look hideous

I had my doubts that it would arrive at all since it took three weeks to be delivered to my mailbox. It finally arrived and I cautiously peered at the photo, worried that I would be unrecognisable, but was OK. Not brilliant, but OK. I can live with that! (No, I'm not sharing it here. That's too much to expect!).

Random fact: when having your photo taken for a driver's licence in NSW, you now have to have your eyebrows showing in the picture. True!
 

22 December 2015

Summer solstice

When we live in cities, we can easily lose track of the rhythms of the earth. Since we can buy most of the same fruit and vegetables all year round (even if they have been flown from the other side of the world), we are often out of touch with the seasons.

Today is the summer solstice here - the day when the sun's track across the sky reaches its highest point - and commonly called the longest day of the year.



My hydrangea is in full bloom and today we are grateful to have rain. From now on, the minutes of daily sunlight that blasts on these glorious plants slowly decreases and, for that, my garden and I say thanks.

21 December 2015

My quest for a finger lime

Have you tasted the fruit of a finger lime? It contains flavour bursts of lime, contained in small pearls that rupture and spurt juice into your mouth. Seriously delicious.

Since I first tasted the fruit earlier this year, I've been seeking to buy one of these Australian natives, Citrus australasica. Last week, success was mine!



I chose a green one, although the plants are also available with pink, red, purple or yellow fruit. You can see the full Citrus Gems range here. This particular range is grafted onto citrus rootstock, which makes them more vigorous in a home garden.

Naturally occurring in the coastal rainforest areas from south-eastern Queensland to north-eastern New South Wales, the plants can grow to up to six metres in the understorey. That's out of the question for my garden, so I'll be growing my plant in a large tub and lightly pruning it regularly to stay as a large shrub. Sydney is possibly the southern-most part of the country where finger limes can be grown, so I'll be nurturing my plant carefully.



I took this photo before I repotted it, to show you the shape of the glossy leaves. Can you also see the thorns? I'm sincerely hoping they will deter my neighbourhood possums from getting too close. 

Flowering is from late summer to autumn, with fruits appearing and ripening through winter. I'm hoping I don't have to wait for too many years for fruit!

09 December 2015

Three things

Hooray for Wednesday! Here are three things I like this week.


1. Southerly busters

Is that what you call them, too, or is that a Sydney thing? Those wonderfully cooling weather fronts that come from the south*, bringing gusts of cold air that make the temperature drop immediately. They announce their arrival by slamming doors closed and hurling leaves into the air. We've had a few of them over the past weeks and I love them. The cooler air always makes me feel human again.

* Obviously cooler air from the south is a southern hemisphere thing - you know that, right?

2. Being organised

Bring on 2016 - I'm ready!


3. Going back to work

I've enjoyed a wonderful three-week break from my day job and I'm returning today. I've loved the flexibility of doing whatever I wanted and the ability to catch up on all those tasks on my to-do list. But it's time to get the structure of work back (at least until I have another break at the end of this month!). 

What do you like this week?

05 December 2015

My book of the month: December

I started reading this novel thinking it was a romance with a cute angle; two nerds who first met each other at a national spelling bee when they were children. Underneath, though, it is that age-old plot of a man and a woman who finally come together after overcoming life's obstacles.

Stanley (a crossword puzzle constructor) and Vera (a mathematics professor) use their unique skills to stay in touch with each other even as their lives play out in different cities. It's only after Stanley understands his true feelings for Vera that he attempts to find her, through crossword puzzle clues.


This is a clever novel that shows that there is someone for everyone; even if finding that person can take a lifetime.

Read more about this novel on Goodreads.

I also write about books on my Facebook page. Come over and say hello!

01 December 2015

Labelling ourselves

The first time you meet someone new, you'll exchange chitchat about yourselves. It usually won't be anything deeply personal but might include facts like where you live, what type of work you do, and what activities you enjoy. Harmless, really.

You may describe yourself by using labels, such as 'mother', 'quilter', 'gardener' in an attempt to find common ground. These can be helpful to start conversations as we mentally sort people into groups. 

But once you start believing that these labels define you, disquiet looms. Labels can be beneficial but they can also be restrictive.


Over the past year, I've been cautiously trying a new, extra label on myself; that of 'writer'. I whispered it to myself at first, for fear that someone would overhear me and laugh. I considered the word every day and gradually my conviction became stronger - yes, I can use this label.

I've been writing, in one form or another, for most of my life. I've been a technical writer for 25 years - writing library software user instructions, and writing and editing quilt patterns. I've written book reviews, articles profiling crafts people, and articles about my own experiences. I've been writing here for nearly ten years. I've written a multitude of short stories and I'm working on a novel.

Yet I've never thought of myself as a writer. 

Labels can limit and confine us. They can make us feel that we can't develop our lives into new areas. They can prevent us seeing what we truly are.

So, this year, I am owning my new label and saying confidently: I am a writer. 

What label will you add to your own description?

23 November 2015

Breathing space

I've spent most of the past seven days at home, pottering. It was the first week of a three-week break from my day job and I expected to revel in the extra time to sew and write. Yet, I did neither.


Instead, I drifted around my house, doing a small task here and another one there - drilling four holes in a wall to put up hanging baskets (but not planting the flowers), reading four books, enjoying my morning coffee each day, watching the cricket on TV, and daydreaming (I'd like to call it 'thinking' but it wasn't that focussed). Each day, I'd consider blogging but couldn't think of a single thing to write.

Eventually, I understood I was giving myself time to regroup; time to simply be by myself. The days passed quickly and I realised it wasn't necessary to be 'doing' something. It is enough to allow breathing space.

11 November 2015

Three things

Here I am again, looking for the positive in my week!


1. Sewing

Yay, it's back (my sewing mojo, that is)! I haven't used my sewing machine for so long but now it's quietly helping me make a quilt. A simple layout of squares cut from fabric I already own; it's giving me pleasure to see how the pieces combine.


2. Lessons from Great Gardeners by Matthew Biggs

This beautiful book is full of wisdom from gardeners (mostly) of the past. Initially I thought this would be the type of book that I would quickly flip through but it isn't. The subtitle explains why there is so much to learn here: Forty Gardening Icons and What They Teach Us. Interesting and useful.


3. It's cricket season

OK, so the first Test against New Zealand was one-sided but it's still great to have international cricket back for the summer. Go Aussies!

08 November 2015

My book of the month: November

It's not a novel this month but a year's collection of carefully observed moments. Intertwining events from her own life with the nurturing of her tiny inner-city garden, Margaret Simons gently reminds us that there is a season for all that life offers us.


The beauty of this small book of memories is that it can be dipped into and appreciated, no matter how little time you may have for reading. It is a delight.

Read more about this book on Goodreads.

28 October 2015

Where I fall in love with these flowers

Two excursions in a single week! What a treat. Last Friday I visited Glenmore House for a garden class. It took only a single minute before I started snapping photos of these poppies; the main garden beds were crammed full of these amazing flowers. MUST BUY SEEDS!










24 October 2015

My Name is Lizzie Flynn

My first article for Quilters Companion Magazine is published in the current issue of Great Australian Quits (no. 6). For the article, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Claire Saxby about her latest children's book, My Name is Lizzie Flynn.

21 October 2015

Going on an excursion

I'm a person who likes to be at home. Pottering around my garden, reading and writing, working on various sewing projects, and simply taking time to recharge - it's how I like to spend my life. I never have any problem finding things to do at home.


Love this fence!

It has to be something special to make me walk out the front door. My day job is one of these reasons, obviously, because it provides me with the income to pay my bills (yes, we all have those pesky bills, don't we?). Meeting with friends and family is another, as is going to watch my footy team play.


The vegetable garden at Elizabeth Farm.

Lately, though, I've been trying to have a variety of excursions. Taking myself to a place I've never been before or to an event that's new to me - these are the excursions that will give me different perspectives and fuel my creativity.


The oldest olive tree in Australia is at Elizabeth Farm.

Last weekend, I visited the Spring Harvest day at Elizabeth Farm in Rosehill, NSW. Let me tell you a little about that place. Building commenced in 1793 to create this home for John and Elizabeth Macarthur, who had arrived in the colony with one of their children in 1790 on the Second Fleet. It is the oldest existing colonial house in Australia. Today, it is a museum operated by Sydney Living Museums on behalf of the people of NSW. You can read more about the history of the place here.


 Part of the house, with vegetable garden nearby.

As I wandered around the gardens, it was difficult to believe this historic property is in the middle of a built-up and densely populated Sydney suburb. I came home with recently harvested lettuce and radishes, and freshly-baked olive and rosemary bread purchased from vendors. I also came home mentally refreshed, having immersed myself in evidence of our colonial past.


Convict-made bricks in the courtyard.

Do you have regular excursions? Where did you go?

17 October 2015

Three things

Hooray for the weekend! No day job this Saturday or Sunday but I do have to start working on a commissioned article. That's something I can do from my home desk, surrounded by my my lovely indoor plants. Aren't I fortunate?


1. Cutting fabric

I've had a total not-interested-in-sewing few months. Does that happen to you, too? I simply wasn't keen to take a stitch. This week, though, I've started cutting three-inch squares of fabric so I can start a simple scrap quilt. All my unfinished quilt tops require creative contemplation before I take the next step so I thought starting a new project, a straightforward project, would help. It did!

2.  This book: Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden

Have you seen this glorious book yet? It's large, with stunning photographs that illustrate this Sydney garden wonder. The text by Janet Hawley tells the story of Wendy's garden and how it helped to recover from the painful loss of her husband and daughter. If ever there was a story about the healing quality of creating a garden, this is it. 
 

 

3. A fun quiz: which punctuation mark are you?

From the Oxford Dictionaries blog, this quiz asks you to answer a few questions before it tells you which punctuation mark best captures your personality. 


Quite accurately, I think, my result is that I am a ? Yes, I'm that annoying person who keeps asking 'why?' all the time! If you take the quiz, let me know your result - it's just a bit of fun.

14 October 2015

Poppy pleasure

For the first time in many years, I planted Iceland poppies in my garden this year. A punnet containing only six plants has given me so much pleasure as I tended the growing seedlings and watched them develop. Oh, the flowers!


 I love taking close-up photos so I can see the intricate detail of these delicate blooms. Those stamens! Look at all the pollen waiting to be released.

Look carefully and you'll see the ovary, waiting to be fertilised. And the colours! Gloriously subtle shade variations on a single petal.




Poppies are a must-plant for me now. I settled the seedlings in a sunny garden bed in June, watered them regularly with Seasol and watched the leaves spread. The first flower head, covered in its furry layer, appeared at the end of July. By August, there were unfurled petals and the bees came a-buzzing!



There are still new flowers coming each week but, as the temperature heats up,  I know my plants will yellow and soon be gone for this season. The pleasure of anticipation for next year's crop will last for eight months and I think I'll be reckless and plant two punnets next winter!

10 October 2015

Three things

I confess it's a strain isolating three things I like each week. Sometimes there are so many from which to choose while, other times, I can barely think of a single noteworthy item. That's my challenge, though! Here are the three things I like this week.

  
1. Creating imaginary people
 If you read my Facebook page, you'll know I've been using photos of people from magazines as inspiration to create characters for a story I'm planning. Once I had a clear idea of how I want these imaginary people to look, I've been assigning them other characteristics and histories. Now I understand why having imaginary friends is fun!

2. Visiting an archaeological dig

Yes, a real one! It was at Parramatta Park, one of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage properties. I've always been interested in stories - those of people who have gone before us and those who are still with us - so I was excited to see what has been recently discovered there by archaeologists.


This photo shows remains of convict huts believed to date back to 1790, two years after the English founded their colony at Parramatta. They were searching for arable land in 1788 to grow food to support those who came on the First Fleet. Fascinating!


3.  The end of the footy season

It's been a long six months since our team played the first game of the 2015 AFL season. I'm glad it's over now because it really hasn't been an enjoyable year. Player injuries, some tedious games, and disgraceful behaviour by some sections of certain clubs' supporters combined to tarnish my enjoyment. So I like that it's over for this year. Now I can start anticipating a fresh start in 2016!

05 October 2015

My book of the month: October

My favourite novel this month is an immensely satisfying tale that shows the complexity of human emotions. We all make assumptions about people's behaviour based on what we think we know about them, right? What if we are wrong?




Some readers may interpret this as a contemporary reworking of Pride and Prejudice but I have to confess that never occurred to me while I was reading it. It was only afterwards that I could see the similarities in the plot. Such clever writing by Marianne Kavanagh.

Linked by Eva, Kim's sister and Harry's best friend, these two characters see the world through different eyes. They don't understand each other fully until the very end, when a potential tragedy is averted. The story has a most satisfactory ending when, I admit, I shed tears of happiness.



Read more about this book on Goodreads

26 September 2015

Textiles Tuesday retires

For several years, I've been reformatting information about craft, quilts and textiles from my Creative Dabbling Facebook page and sharing it here regularly on Textiles Tuesday posts. I've decided not to do that anymore.

It takes me a lot of time to collate information, resize photographs, and create links for these posts. I'm sure you'll understand that I'd rather spend that time actually creating my own things instead of repackaging that information!

If you'd like to stay in touch with all the crafty information I find, please like my Creative Dabbling Facebook page. I try to post something there every day so you'll see a variety of links to interesting articles and information about techniques, shows, and patterns.



I also have a personal Facebook page, which I invite you to visit. There, I try to post daily with links to whatever takes my fancy at the time. You're welcome to join in the conversation!



I know some people don't use Facebook but it's my social media of choice because it's so easy to have online conversations. I'd love to chat to you on either of these pages (or both!) so why don't you give it a try? If you like what you find, please share it with your friends. The more, the merrier!

15 September 2015

Three things

If we don't seek out the good things in our lives, they just pass by, unnoticed. My weekly effort to focus on the positive has changed the way I observe my days. Here are three things I like this week.

1. Twitter

Last night, the Liberal Party changed its leader and, therefore, we now have a new Prime Minister. As events unfolded from 4pm, Twitter was the place to be. Posts by people I follow were informative, opinionated, and laugh-out-loud funny. It was a brilliant night's entertainment.

2. Sydney Swans
OK, we lost the first qualifying final but we have a second chance to progress by winning the semi-final on Saturday. With so many players out injured, I'm not sure how we can win but I'm sure the team will give its best. Fingers crossed.

3. Planting

Gardening is all about planning, especially when bulbs and tubers are involved. I missed my opportunity to grow dahlias last year and am determined not to do so this time. Aren't these glorious? I planted them yesterday and will be eagerly waiting for the first shoots to emerge.



What do you like this week?

12 September 2015

#amwriting

It seems appropriate to use the Twitter hashtag as a heading for this post, since Twitter has opened so many opportunities to communicate with other writers. I love the freedom of tweeting with writers I've never met in person but whose books have influenced my life. I'm here on Twitter if you want to say hello.


What I want to share with you today is that I am writing most days now. I've had a couple of ideas for novels for ages and have been researching the craft of writing for years. (I find the series of posts Kaye Dacus is sharing on her page this month and next to be incredibly helpful.) 

That's all very well but to be a writer you have to write, which I am. It's a hard slog but when you really want to do something you have to do the work, don't you? So I'm developing a new habit that is starting to kick in - do the work regularly!

My characters are being fleshed out and last week I was looking for photos so I could visualise them. Want to see my inspiration for my architect character? Pop over to my Facebook page to see and, while you're there, why don't you leave a comment? I'd love to read what you think.

08 September 2015

Three things

I'm always grateful that I can choose three things I like each week. Focusing on the positive helps me deal with the negative!

1. Gardens

Last Saturday I had a most enjoyable morning at a Jump into Spring session, presented by Sandra Ross at The Garden Clinic.  Crammed full of useful information, it was so inspirational!



These Dutch irises were in full bloom at the venue - nothing says 'spring' like flowering bulbs! I'll be planting these next year, for sure.

2. Learning

The internet has opened a world of opportunities for learning. I started two online courses through FutureLearn this week and have enrolled for another one, starting next month. They are free, short courses, run by universities in various parts of the world. Check them out - there is an interesting range of subjects.

3. An excursion

Getting out with a friend to visit a new place is an experience I really should do more often. Last week, Brenda and I travelled to Hazelhurst Gallery to see the Labours of Love: Australian Quilts 1845-2015 exhibition. The complete day was a treat; pleasant companionship, a brilliantly sunny Sydney day, a wonderful exhibition, and a tasty lunch. A Good Day Out.



We didn't eat at the gallery's cafe but I snapped this photo of garden implements that were on one of the walls at the cafe. Loved the way they were displayed.

What things do you like this week?

03 September 2015

My book of the month - September

Jane, an archivist unravelling the mystery of a missing woman in Victorian times, is motivated by the need to find the woman's name; to name her so that she is remembered. While Jane is carrying out this research, she is also grappling with a way to move on from an incident when, as a 15 year old, a child under her care went missing.

That's a bare outline of the plot but this novel is so much more subtle and haunting than I imagined it would be when I first selected it for reading.



I haven't known how to describe the impact this novel had on me; I've been reflecting on its themes for a few weeks. While I was immersed in the story, I kept wondering how most people who've gone before us leave little record. Their names may be recorded in a census or on an electoral roll but there's often little else to remember them - no fleshing out of who they are and what they did. And what of those people who slip through the records of history? What lingers of them?

That is the role of memory. If I can't name you and no-one has a memory of you, did you really exist? Aislinn Hunter explores these ideas in The World Before Us, which includes many elements that spoke to me: history, plants, memory, and mystery.

This is a complex novel, partly narrated by the voices of the past, that continues to haunt me. Thank you Aislinn Hunter, for creating such a mesmising and thought-provoking tale. I will be reading this again soon.

To read more about The World Before Us, visit Goodreads.

25 August 2015

Three things

The three things I like this week just happen to be books. I haven't finished reading any of these but I'm well into them enough to know they are worth completing.

1. Edible City by Indira Naidoo

Oh, this is inspiring. Indira visits five Australian rooftop gardens and shares the stories of how they started and what they offer their communities. The book also contains growing tips, recipes, and beautiful photographs.

 
 

2. Jacaranda Wife by Kendra Smith

Kendra kindly sent me an e-book version of her novel so I've been able to discover that it's so much easier reading my tablet in bed than it is reading a print book! I think I might have been converted to ebooks for bedside reading.

In the novel, Katie and her family are transplanted from England to Sydney so that her husband Tom can take a job he could never have been offered at home. Katie's reluctant to go and, once she arrives, she feels isolated and lonely, as well as suffering culture shock. That's as far as I've read but I'm keen to discover whether her life changes again and how she finds her way out of this situation. It's always a good sign when I want to read on! 



 

3. Free Range Triangle Quilts by Gwen Marston and Cathy Jones

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know I am a HUGE fan of Gwen Marston's work. It's no surprise, then, that any new book by her is an immediate must-have purchase.

If you want to know more about using triangles in quilts, this book is for you. It has plenty of photos of quilts - some antique, some contemporary, and some wonderfully liberated - to inspire you. Love it.

 
 

18 August 2015

Three things

To help me focus on the positive parts of life, here are three things I like this week.

1. My nephew. He's home for a month after his second year of studying overseas and it's been wonderful to see and hug him again. Yeah, technology's great but there's nothing like real face-to-face time with people, is there? Lovely.

2. Focusing on the detail. I love taking close-up photographs of plants, particularly flowers, showing the intricacy of their forms. When's the last time you looked close into the centres of  flowers? You will be amazed what there is to see!


This is a poppy from my garden. I love the softness and subtle pleating of those petals and look at all the stamens, ripe with pollen! Beautiful.


This one's a flower head of a spring onion that's emerging from its papery skin. There's still a way to go before it is completely unfurled and I'll be taking photos most days to capture the changes. Magic.

3. Planning an excursion. I'm looking forward to a viewing of the Labours of Love:Australian Quilts 1845-2015 exhibition with a friend in a couple of weeks. The Evolution, Change, Challenge Contemporary Quilt Exhibition will be on at the same time we will be visiting - yay! 

What things are you enjoying this week?