Friday, June 23, 2017

in the darkness

I probably shouldn't be writing my blog this week. I woke up first thing this morning and declared that I wouldn't. It was icy cold, just past dark, and we were all huddled around the fire nursing hot drinks, and everyone agreed. Even though the world about me seems to be spinning around merrily, even though I can't seem to pin point a single action or happening that's made me feel like this, I feel like I've been living inside a dark cloud for the past few days. I feel grumpy and irritable and sensitive and sad. And I feel cold and tired and uninspired. And before you ask, it's not that time in my cycle, but I am suspicious of the solstice and the moon.

But regular writing becomes a habit and now here I am even though I decided not to be.

Although it just occurred to me that maybe I am here writing my blog because the alternative is house-work, and I just can't.

It's funny this feeling bad thing while everything around me is so good. Bren is building and creating, the big girls have had some great results at school and are happily social and Miss Pepper is officially on school holidays and the play she's in starts next week. We've been taking advantage of the mild winter and checking off so many more jobs than we thought we ever would, and we have a little mini break coming up to look forward to. But still I feel blue. I ache with it.

It makes me constantly question and doubt myself, it makes me feel incapable and uncreative, it makes me feel dull and boring, and it feels unending.

So I'll keep it very short and try to be sweet. I'll fill you in on the goings on here and if by chance I feel sunnier during the next week I'll write an extra post on some of the things I've been thinking about: Things like the danger of expectations, like keeping honest relationships, and the power of positivity. Nothing ground breaking, just stuff that I've observed lately and am learning about.

I said short and sweet so I'd better get on with it eh?

Back in May of 2013 I wrote a story on this blog about the building of our patch-work cubby. Many years in the dreaming, an afternoon in the planning, a few Thursdays in the building. And that was, I declared at the end of that post, The End of our cubby house story and hopefully the beginning of years of make believe, tea parties, games and secret kid stuff.

But as it happened, none of that was meant to be. Not long after it was built, the girls found a poisonous red back spider inside the cubby and forever after they needed more than a little encouragement to play inside. Which meant that fake cakes went mouldy in the fake fridge, spiders spun thick webs across the ceiling, autumn leaves collected and began to rot in the corners and it felt scary and dark in there, rather than the secret and exciting we had hoped for.

While the cubby has been so very loved for its patch-work look and so often used as a backdrop for my photos, including the cover of Slow Living magazine May 2015, it has been sadly neglected as a play space.

So the other day when my farmer boy suggested that he renovate it a bit and use it as a woodworking studio over winter, we all thought it was a great idea.

First Jobbo and Bren pulled the tin off the back wall and replaced it with old school windows.

Then I came out just in time to see farmer Bren making a big design decision regarding the door and stopped him  just in time for a discussion.

He thought the slats should go horizontally like the tin, I thought the opposite.

In the end we compromised.

I'm hoping it will age nicely and blend in with the rest of it.

Next is filling in all the gaps, putting glass in the windows and then plumbing in the pot-belly stove.

I can hardly wait for that dark, foggy, winter's day in the near future when I look out at the garden from the lounge room windows and see smoke coming from the cubby chimney and know that something beautiful is being crafted inside.

I wonder if this now, second time around, is actually The End of the cubby house story.

Other than that, I'm reading my sister Abby's advance copy of Once In Lourdes which is exquisitely written and haunting me day and night. A suicide pact between four teenagers and then their stories as they live out the two weeks between when the pact was taken and when they plan to enact it.

During the week Bren reminded me to step back from an issue with one of our girls and not to get too attached and involved in it. Instead of moving away somehow that made me travel back into the intensity of my own life and mind as a teenager. The angst, the anguish, the love and the dreams. I was flooded with memories and feelings of 30 years ago. I was overcome by thoughts of times I hadn't visited in years. And I felt overwhelmed with the fact that now I am parenting my own girls through that. What a responsibility.

Reading this book at this time is only serving to heighten these feelings. I am desperate to read more and I'm frightened to at the same time.

I'm listening to the Invisibilia podcast, which I LOVE!

I'm crocheting a ripple blanket with 12 stitches in-between zigs and zags and a chunky 6.5mm hook. After all this time crochet feels like home.

I'm spending time in the green-house planting and watering and admiring.

I'm loving my little spotty pot that my friend Tania made me and gave me (first photo) as a green-house warming present.

I'm looking forward to next Friday when the big girls finish school for the term - sososososososo tired and Miss Pepper has her opening night.

And I'm hoping and wishing that you sweet friend, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, are feeling as calm and as happy and as inspired and driven as I hope to be when I open my eyes tomorrow.

Thank you for sticking with me through the dark as well as the light.

Big love,

Kate  xx

Friday, June 16, 2017

some green for the green-house

Hello honey bunches!

How's your week been?

Mine's been one of those weeks where there was often so much going on that it felt like we were juggling our hours. Like a lot of the time I was looking beyond the present and trying to figure out how the next bit was going to work. And then the bit after that. Who was going to go where? Who was going to pick up what? How we were going to remember? And even then we almost ran out of toilet paper on Wednesday night.

But the in-between moments, when we caught them, were lovely; A quiet coffee before school pick up, a sit on the wood pile to listen to the birds, a few chapters of my book before bed, hide and seek with a four year old, a favourite record playing while I chopped the onions for the soup....nice.

This past week the doors went on the green-house, the walls were lined, the gaps were filled and it was declared open for business! That is finished until I've had a chance to spend some good planting hours in there and I can see if any changes need to be made. In this cold climate winter's pretty limiting as far as growing things is concerned, but I couldn't resist planting some trays of onions just to see, and so far the spaces, and heights, and light, feel just right.

It's such a beautiful space to spend time in and look out over the garden at the leaves flittering in the cool breeze, and feel safe and protected and warm inside. We've drunk our coffees in there, farmer Bren has carved a spoon in there, I've read chapters of my book out loud to whoever's listening in there, and of course I've knitted more than a couple of rows in there. Our aim for the future is to always keep a corner cleanish so we can still use the space even when it's in high production and covered in soil and seeds.

Meanwhile, we visited the local nursery yesterday and bought a bunch of potted colour and herbs to put some green into the green-house. Hopefully I'll get a chance to properly pot them in tomorrow, but I love the difference they make already. An espaliered lemon tree is next. The winter frosts have killed every single one we've tried to grow here over the years, but we're optimistic that this feels like a pretty safe, protected space. I'll keep you posted, hopefully with photos of lemons dripping from branches trained up to the roof.

This week Ms Pepper dressed up as Ray from Star Wars for a birthday party. She took it so seriously researching on-line, making shopping lists, taking her dad on an after school op-shopping adventure to hunt for belts and sheets and pants, putting it all together and then showing me a YouTube clip so I knew exactly how her hair was meant to go.

I have never been any good at dress ups. Book days and themed birthday parties have always been a bit of a challenge for me, so it makes me happy when my girls get to the age when they can pull something together themselves. 

After last week's pictures of our nine year old spending hours up a tree, I thought it was important to be transparent about the fact that this week she spent a few hours on her iPad researching ways to put together her costume. Everything in balance I say.

Then there's the olives we picked with Bren's folks. Well actually they picked most of them I just came in at the end for the last row. The frost damaged some of them, the birds ate their share of them and the remainder are stacked neatly in crates on our lounge room floor.

So here's the thing; most years our olives get pressed into oil but this year that's not going to happen and instead I want to turn them into eating olives. I put the call out on instagram but I'm wondering if any of you might have a favourite olive recipe? Do you cut them or squish them? Do you leave them in jars of dry salt, or fill them up with salty brine? DO you rinse them daily? Shake them weekly? Keep them in the dark? The fridge? On the shelf? Ahhhhh I'm me please.

I happily continued knitting beanies to send to the ASRC using this pattern until my friend Tania told me of how she'd auctioned off a tea-pot she'd made with proceeds to be sent to the ASRC and I wondered if my efforts could be better used by holding an auction myself. A couple of beanies will warm a few heads but I wonder if I could raise a bigger chunk of money and make more of a difference if I auctioned off something of my own. 

I've started thinking about knitting a pair of socks which usually take me about three or four weeks. I could start the auction as I cast on with a photo on instagram and take bids in the comments on that photo, and then over the weeks post updates, accept bids on them and then close it on the final cast-off photo. There are a few issues with that method that I'd have to work my way around, but it's worth thinking about I think.

Meanwhile we're having our first crochet lesson here this weekend with my dad, Indi and Pepper as my students. I haven't crocheted for the longest time and really miss it. Watch this space, I'm dreaming about a ripple blanket for the end of our bed...

I'm reading my sister Abby's copy of Colm Toibin's latest book House of Names which I couldn't quite work out until my Mum filled me in that it's a retelling of a Greek tragedy. With the very first words 'I have been acquainted with the smell of death', the story continues with so much violence, seduction, revenge and lust, that it almost feels like an episode of Game Of Thrones. (I mean that as a compliment.) I look forward to getting lost in its pages over the weekend.

I'm afraid I have to end this here as Miss Pepper is on her way to a costumed disco tonight with the theme of 'my hero'. She's chosen to dress up as her big sister Indi and needs my help. (I might need to wipe away a few tears in the process).

I do hope you have yourself a lovely, peaceful weekend wherever you are.

Do you have anything fun lined up?
Do you have a good book on the go?
Are you good at putting together costumes or baking fancy cakes?
Do you have some olive advice for me?

See ya later alligator.

Love ya's!


Friday, June 9, 2017

through a new lens

Hello honey bunches!

How are things?

The last week eh'. Luckily I snapped some photos or I wouldn't have a clue where the time's gone.

Pepper spent much of last Sunday up a tree. The cat joined her for a while but then lost interest and left Pepper up there to sing, make up stories, make herself more comfortable and dream.

I remember feeling like nine years old was particularly difficult with my other two. Aged nine and year nine we'd grumble under our breaths. Those fiercely independent, filled with attitude, eye rolling experts we'd made. It's funny how different this nine year old seems. I'm sure it's not her, it's me and my last chance for a littley. I can feel that she's stretching her wings out wanting more from us and her world, I can sense that she's wanting to keep up with her big sisters and also carve out new path-ways of her own. She's changing there's no doubt about it. But gosh I'm holding onto the unselfconscious dreamer, the silly dancer, the tree climber and the bunny rabbit pyjama wearer, whenever she allows herself to be seen.

While she was up her tree we started pulling down the poly-tunnels. As soon as we took the white plastic off the hoops the whole area looked and felt different. The colours looked brighter, the space felt less cluttered and more open and the view across the garden and into the forest, or across the garden and onto the new hot-house, made us wonder why we hadn't taken them down ages ago.

Then we got to work picking the last of the tomatoes that had been hiding away inside and clearing the space.

We found this red-back mother spider guarding her babies on one of the star stakes we pulled out and moved her into the forest to find new habitat well away from us and our babies. Funny, I'm nowhere near as scared of spiders as snakes.

Farmer Bren carved a tiny bowl.

And a rather large one.

The hot-house build continued with a potting table built inside the space to account for the different levels of the floor.

And a shelf to hold our coffee.

I'm convinced it's the most beautiful room in the house and am only half joking when I talk about moving my bed and a little pot-belly stove in. I guess I should probably wait for the doors to be hung, the gaps to be filled and the roof to be sorted out first though.

Some other things that happened over the past week -

I finished reading our book club book The People Smuggler which I found easy to read, incredibly gut wrenching and an important story to know. It's unimaginable that one person's life could be filled with such terror and torture and risk and horror, and yet he remains a caring, humanitarian. It breaks my heart that after all he's been through that even now Ali Al Jenabi's future is so uncertain.

I finished knitting one beanie and cast on another for the ASRC.

We started watching season two of Billions.

I got a horrible cold and have lost my voice. Funny how many things I desperately want to say all of a sudden now that I can't.

I got a new phone and I don't know how to connect my phone to my car so I haven't listened to any podcasts this week but lots of radio instead.

Miss Indi had a week of year 11 exams, Miss Jazzy did a first aid course at school and Miss Pepper wrote a book about a cheese monster.

We moved our chooks and dogs, planted more garlic and started a new compost pile.

We farewelled Rod May yesterday and feel very shaken up by his legacy and loss.

I clicked on my new lens and used it to take all of the pictures in this post except the one below.

And lastly, but most importantly, it's my Dad Ross's birthday today and I'd love to wish him a happy and wonderful 70th birthday.

Two years ago I wrote this about him on my blog - 'My dad, Ross Ulman, when he isn't driving his electric car as discussed in the latest issue of Renew magazine, he's walking 14,000+ steps per day, volunteering at my girls' school, working at a Ballarat hospital, baking and delivering challah to each of his Daylesford daughters each Friday, selling tickets at the local cinema, helping out in the local kitchen garden program, doing maths homework with my girls, pole-walking around Daylesford in the early morning with a bunch of people not scared off by the cold, and supporting and loving his five Ulman girls. What a man (or an honorary woman as we used to call him when were growing up)!'

Two years later and now he's also; teaching learner driving, writing study timetables and coaching exam technique, driving our girls to school and back a few times a week, smashing his PB at the gym, planning and recording a couple of radio programs a week on Hepburn community radio, and being on call 24/7 for advice and opinion and support for his girls, their partners and his grandchildren.

I feel so lucky to have my dad at the bottom of our hill, so interested and involved and part of our lives. Since we celebrated his last big birthday he's had heart surgery, built a house, moved states and formed a new life and community. This afternoon he told us that he's happier now than he's ever been and that makes me very happy indeed. 

Happy birthday Dad, I love you!

And that's me for this wintry week.
How about you?
What have you been reading, celebrating, making and cooking?
What have you got planned for the weekend?

Have a great one!
Keep warm (or cool).

Love Kate xx

Friday, June 2, 2017

winter's here

The week that was:

When autumn became winter a tiny part of me felt relieved that that thing that I had been dreading had not only arrived, but was one day closer to being over.

The kind people at Harper Collins Australia sent me a copy of Eliza Henry Jones's new book Ache. It's weird, although I've never met Eliza in person I feel like I know her. After I read and fell in love with her first book In the Quiet, my sister Abby introduced us on twitter and over the years we've chatted about all the important things: sock knitting, cable knitting and accidentally knitting two right handed gloves instead of a right and a left - oops. Later I found her on instagram and admired the photos of her horses and farm life on the other side of Melbourne, but in the background I was always hoping for the announcement of her next book.

And lucky for me Eliza came through with the goods. Ache is the story of a family coping with the aftermath of a horrific bushfire that ripped through a mountain community, killing the main character Annie's grandmother, traumatising her young daughter, and threatening her marriage and the stability of the life she has built for herself. Ache takes us on a journey back up into that mountain a year after that fire, where the devastation is still everywhere, the trees are blackened, most of the houses are still in ruins and the once close community is divided and angry.

Eliza'a writing is beautifully descriptive:

The mountains had always been quiet, but it was like the unimaginable noise of the fires had sucked all sound from the mountain along with everything green. There was no sound of clattering leaves in the wind now. There were no birds. No sigh of grass.

Eliza has qualifications in English, psychology and grief, loss and trauma counselling and has completed an honours thesis exploring representations of bushfire trauma in fiction, which makes me trust her with this sensitive subject. I like it that I can believe it when the characters display symptoms that were caused by their experiences with the trauma of surviving a bushfire. Even though it's fiction, it feels real and true and the title Ache feels completely fitting. 

Recently I was talking to my girls about how one of the reasons I love reading so much is because it answers my what if's? For me, living in the middle of a forest makes bushfire a very real threat. Ache takes me into some of those what if places as well as back to February 2009 when a bushfire was coming through our forest towards our house, and at the last minute the wind changed and swept it alongside, 10 meters from our house instead. We were so lucky. No one was hurt, no property was damaged, I'm sure there were wild life deaths but we didn't see them, and our community bonded together to help and support one another. All these years later many of our trees are still blackened, and sometimes I can still smell that charcoal, smokey smell, but the girls were so young they hardly remember it and we've got a story to tell. I hope it's the only one.

The same way In The Quiet has stayed with me over the years, I'm sure Ache will too. Eliza's simple yet dear characters, the calls of the birds, and the way the landscape heals. 

Now that I've read it I guess I'll have to go back to watching her twitter feed and waiting for the release of her third book.

Oh and Eliza I know that I don't know you in real life, but if I did I would totally hug you and congratulate you and tell you that I LOVED it. I loved the cover, the writing, the characters and the story. Yay you, well done. xx

I bought Miss Pepper a couple of the sweetest cat things from my friend Manda's online shop.

We waved our Jazzy off for a week of hiking and camping with her class.

I planted a few more beds of garlic.

Jobbo started building the shelves into the hot-house.

I made a start on the pile of beanies I hope to knit and send off to the ASRC soon with this pattern.

Our organic and local communities lost one of its greats and we mourned the loss. Vale Rod May, you will be missed by many. xx

We drove down to Melbourne to listen to our farmer boy make a speech about questioning the world. About holding onto the fire you felt in your late teens and early twenties and turning it into activism now. He made us name things we are frustrated and angry about and implored us to do something about them. It was awesome.

I bought a new lens for my camera but still haven't taken it out of its box. It's so weird, I've been wanting a 35mm for so long but now that I have one I'm scared I won't like it, or be any good with it. Hopefully next week I'll have something to show you. Fingers crossed.

I listened to Richard Fidlers podcast conversation with Bill Hayes - An unexpected later in life love story, set in New York City - and fell in love with it.

We watched and loved the first season of Billions, have you watched it yet?

And that's me. I messed up the photo a day in May thing in the last few days. One day we weren't here at all and another rained non stop and the sun never came out once. But I enjoyed it when I did it, letting the pictures mostly tell the stories and capturing a month on our farm. (Ahhhhh those poly tunnels are still there!!)

This June I'm hoping to knit some more hats for my pile and send them off to keep some heads warm. I'm hoping to plant some stuff in the hot-house and put the rest of the garlic in the ground. I'd like to fill a sketch book with botanical drawings and maybe branch into paint. And more than anything I hope to catch the sunshine when I can and to keep warm and positive.

Wishing you a wonderful season whether you're just starting to unfurl your leaves and stretch out towards the sun, or drop your leaves and turn inwards to the hearth. May it be productive and nourishing.

I'd love to hear about what it's like where you are, how you're spending your days, what you're reading, watching and listening to.

Lots of love,

Kate xx

Visit my other blog.