Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blessings on the helpers

When I was having chemo, part of my healing-through-gratitude regime involved making plans and daydreaming about the massive thank you feast we would throw for all the people who helped us out during that supremely crappy time. I felt that even though things were not that awesome for us during those months of treatment, I still had so much to be grateful for, and I still felt super lucky. Maybe even more lucky than I feel normally. It's true I did have cancer, and I did have one of my boobs removed, and I did go through chemo, which was gross. But I have an incredible, strong, kind, compassionate and loving partner, and 2 beautiful kids. I have an extended family who love me. I had an amazing day-bed out the front of our beautiful little house on which to rest, overlooking a sweet little valley farm which I love. I live in a country with (kind of) free health care, which meant I was able to have the treatment I needed to give myself the best chance of survival. I have access to an abundance of all kinds of nutritious foods to heal body and spirit. 

And I found myself among a community of people who helped out in all kinds of ways. There were people who came and helped Pearl move the chicken houses, and to help load chickens on processing day. There were the people who brought us meals. There were the people who put money into our bank account to pay for herbs and vitamins and medical bills. There were the people who processed our chickens the night I had to unexpectedly go to hospital with neutropenia. There were people who bought us massages. There were people who knitted things for me. There were people who gave me Reiki, and people who gave me acupuncture. There were people who brought us firewood. There were people who lent us their showers and spare bedrooms. Awesome, right?

The party planning started off with me emailing one of my favourite artists, Phoebe Wahl, to see if I could buy one of her images to use for the invite. What I love about Phoebe's art is it's warmth and vigour and heart - all the things I wanted for our party. Because she's lovely, she happily obliged.
Food planning involved the procurement, fattening, killing and processing of a lamb, which our friend David took care of for us, other than the boerwurst sausage-making, which was a team effort.
We bought veggies and salad greens from all our friends with market gardens. I, with the help of 2 very special ladies, made 25 litres of rhubarb and strawberry champagne.

For party favours, I lino-cut a 'thank you' stamp and stamped it onto serviettes I'd made, for people to use at the party then take home and use over and over.
My mum and her partner made a dessert, my nana made her signature custard kisses and a 'thank you' fruitcake, and Pearl's mum made brownies.

Everything was set.

And then it started to rain.

Plan B for Bad weather was to move the party to the incredibly beautiful Quaama Hall. Ain't no way 60 people were fitting in the tiny house.

Saturday morning, the hall was booked, as it seemed like the rain would never let up. And it didn't. In fact, by sunday morning, the day of the party, we, along with food enough for 70 people, got flooded in as the river broke it's bank and covered our main road to town with over 2 metres of fast-flowing water.
The give way sign at the bottom of our road, on the morning of the party
Not really the kind of development you want on the day you've been planning for months.

So we sent out texts and facebook messages telling people the party was off. Ironically, sunday turned into a beautiful sunny day, and we cheered ourselves by cracking jokes about it being a beautiful day for a party. My brother, who was visiting from WA got to spend some quality, flooded-in time with the kids. Some also-flooded-in-neighbours dropped by, and we had roast lamb for dinner.
Nice day for a party. Shame that 'lake' is covering the road to party-town
The next day we made 'Canceled Party Pickle' with all the zucchinis, squash and capsicums we'd bought. We preserved most of the harissa we'd made and froze the marinades.
We breakfasted on harissa and labne and cucumber and lettuce and asparagus and roast beetroot for days. It was actually divine.
Luckily, no food went to waste, between the freezing, the preserving, the eating and giving things away to all and sundry. And Oscar was thrilled to have Thank You fruitcake in his lunchbox today.

So what's the moral of this rather long-winded post? There're probably a few. One moral is that flooding waits for no man, and the river and rain don't give a crap about your plans for thanking people.
Another is that a jar of Canceled Party Pickle and a lovingly hand-made serviette, while not the same as an awesome party, is also quite a nice way to say thank you. And yet another is that all exercises in feeling grateful, whether the plans eventuate or not, are good for the soul. Even though we were sad our party didn't happen, we still feel grateful for all our friends, and the things they do for us. One day, that party's gonna happen, and we'll all be glad.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Handmade delights for giving

Are you by any chance looking for some delightful handmades to give to a loved one this Christmas? If you are, I may just have something for you, but you'll have to order this week, especially if you want something custom made to arrive in time for Christmas. 

Here's what I've got for you:

P&E gift certificates - these are handmade by me (of course!) using reclaimed kids' books and cereal boxes (lovingly saved for me by my nana). You give them to your friend/lover/mum/sister/daughter, they feel happy, email me, and we have a chat about fabric and colour choices then I make them a skirt. Just for them. They feel good in it, it fits them perfectly, because it was custom made, and it's special, I tell you. $70 (this includes postage of the card and the finished skirt)
If you want to buy someone a ready made skirt all I have left at present is this beautiful turquoise Birds  of Tasmania wrap 'n go. It's about a 12-14, and it's awesome. $50
Crocheted stubby holders are crazy good, handy and pretty unique. I'm into granny-ing them at the moment but I can do whatever. $12 each
Crocheted heart hair clips. Sweet as! $10/pair
Crocheted flower bangles. These are made using the rings that come off yoghurt and Vegemite jars and 100% hand-spun, hand-dyed wool. And they look awesome with some redpeg ecostudio recycled silver bangles too! (Dirty gardening hands optional). $15 for a set of 3
That's what I've got in stock, which I can send out tomorrow. If you email a custom order to me this week I could probably get it to you in time for Christmas, but you'll have to act fast! 
I hope your Christmas/holiday/gift-giving time is a handmade extravaganza!!!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fruit, music and brand new babies

Today I finished off a baby quilt I've been working on for a few days now. It's the first baby quilt I've ever made that's not been for a dear friend.
Normally when I'm making a baby quilt I channel a lot of energy and love into imagining the little person whose quilt I'm making, thinking of their parents, the life that's beginning, as I select the fabric and make the stitches. It's a beautiful process and I absolutely love it.
When I was asked recently by our friend Kate if I could make something for a dear friend of hers who's soon to have a baby, I was super-keen to make a quilt for her. And it came together beautifully.

Even though I've never met the soon-to-be parents, or their soon-to-be bubba, I still imagined and channeled love and joy as I stitched, musing on what adventures were in store for the new little family, and imagining how the quilt might figure in their daily lives.
Selecting fabrics and laying it all out, making pockets and tassels and mini-bunting, and then stitching it all together while meditating on life and love and growth and change is such a fun way to spend some hours. I love the process, and I love knowing that my craft is involved in a whole cycle of giving and receiving that's founded in love and a respect for handmade goodness.
Oh, and the quilt is part of a trade: you know how much I love bartering. So in exchange for the love stitched up in the quilt, Kate's providing me with music and fruit. How awesome is that?

Happy life, little bubba. May it be filled with heartfelt music, warm sunshine and sweet fruit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Autumn Farm Chook School Part 2: 4 days old

In the last little Autumn Farm Chook School video you had a peek inside the brooder house, at the day old chicks.

In this video, you'll see the same chicks at 4 days old, on their first day outside of the brooder house, enjoying the sunshine and grass that makes them the tastiest, healthiest chickens around.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hello sailor!

As I mentioned in my post about Edie's reading gloves, I've got a bit of thing for sailing. I've never actually been on a sailing ship (or any kind of boat really, other than a ferry... and a kayak), but I seriously dig the romance of all things seafaring. Possibly because of (or maybe the cause of??) my infatuation with Herman Melville. And the Decemberists.

So you can imagine my excitement when my real live seafaring friend Vanessa (she actually lived on a real boat!!!!) announced she was pregnant - nautical-themed-baby-quilt-time!!!

What would a sea-baby quilt be without some ribbon 'seaweed', a pirate ship and a cormorant?

Bryn hanging out on deck. Custom-made 'let's not have overboard babies' netting can be seen in the background.

Little Bryn's baby quilt has a bit of boat applique (including a little tiny anchor on a 'rope'), a map (of the far south coast!), some sea-birds and other oceanic paraphernalia, all in a colour theme of blues and greens, of course. 

I was pretty in love with it when it was done, and pretty miffed that I didn't at least get an encouragement award when I entered it in the Bega show. But, as the kids say, 'whatevs'. Because this quilt got to go sailing.

That's right: Vanessa and Ian took little Bryn on a 3 month sailing trip when he was a few months old and the quilt got to go with them. AWESOME.

Ships ahoy!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn Farm Chook School

It's been a little over a year now since the first Autumn Farm pasture raised chickens graced the dinner tables of the Bega Valley.

In the last 15 months or so we have learned an INSANE amount, including, but definitely not limited to, 'Dogs are way better than electric mesh fencing' and 'How to run a farm single-handedly while your partner suffers through cancer treatment'. While the learning definitely isn't over (though hopefully we're done with that last lesson), I feel like we've got a good handle on things and we're now pretty comfortable with our operation and all it entails.

A big part of our Autumn Farm vision has been education: educating people about food systems, educating people about sustainable agriculture, educating people about good food and nutrition. It's awesome to be able to share knowledge with people, and to empower people to make positive changes in their relationship with the food they eat. We love love LOVE answering questions and sharing information, hosting farm tours and taking people through the abattoir.
Pearl talking to the group of Making a Buck from a Beetroot course, run by Bega Tafe.

We also get lots of inquiries from people who are interested in our chicken farming methods, which is why we're looking to run some 'chook school' tours from around April next year.

At this stage (we're still planning) chook school will probably consist of a day (6 hours?) at Autumn Farm, where we'll take you through all the components of our chicken system from managing the day old chicks, to growing the chickens, to slaughtering, to legal requirements, and marketing. And a big local lunch to boot!

We're pretty excited,  because we love growing chickens, and we think other people should grow chickens too. It's an awesome way to improve your pasture, make a small income from even a small acreage (we only have 7 acres) and feed your community. 
In the meantime, though, I'm going to be posting some little videos about our system, and about the way we run things.

And here's the first video! This one is called 'Day old chicks in the brooder house', and there will be more coming! So if you're interested in growing chickens, or you know someone who might be interested, please forward this on to them, and/or let them know about chook school.

We're looking forward to seeing some of you at Autumn Farm Chook School next year!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A day

Today was an exceptionally average day. I don't mean average in the way that it's often used to mean "not great" (quite the opposite in fact) but in the sense that today was a day like so many of our days here on the farm. When I think of today, I feel peaceful and full of joy.

Lots of people - friends, family, and strangers alike - often comment on how hard our life seems. It's true that we do forego many of the creature comforts most people in the west take for granted, like internal plumbing, for example. But these 'sacrifices', for us, generally have a flip side, like experiencing the surprising and immense joy of things like bathing and doing the dishes outside. It's also true that many of the things we do take for granted, like carrying 20kg barrels of water and bags of feed over several hundred metres, several times a day, may seem a lot like hard work, but the work keeps us strong, and means we don't have to go to a gym to get our daily exercise.

So what does an exceptionally average day on Autumn Farm look like?

Pearl, Oski and I rose at around 6.30 (a little later than usual) and set to work tending to the animals - letting the chickens out, letting the dogs off, making sure everyone has food and water. It was an overcast morning, but we could see the sun trying to bust through the clouds. We cheered it on, for the chickens' sake - they've had enough dampness these last few days.

When we returned to the homestead, Olive had woken up and was reading in bed in the loft. We made tea and hot water with lemon, and the kids had spelt pikelets with the last of the preserved blackberries from last summer for their breakfast. We packed lunchboxes (leftover veggie dumplings, more pikelets and fruit) and Pearl headed off for her day's work cooking at a cafe in town.

The kids played wild games with the dogs as I did the dishes, and then Olive got the bus to school.

With the 'morning rush' over and done with, Oski and I set to work on the important business of sewing  and harvesting and preparing food, which took up the rest of the day.

I made 3 skirts for the Mumbulla spring fair, and a bolero for my friend Genna (she's making me a hat as a trade!), sitting at the big table outside where we do pretty much everything, while Oski played around me, making 'jam' from some mulberries he'd picked. 
My dad came over to chop up some firewood for us, and we chatted, he played with Oski, and helped me to move the chicken houses and top up food and water before heading off.
Around lunch time, Oski and I harvested 2 massive bowls of broad beans. We sat together at the table and shelled them, then blended half of them with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, grated parmesan and mint to make a broad bean pesto, one of our favourite springtime treats, which will provide snacks and lunches for the next few days. The other half we reserved for our dinner. We then dined on a pretty random but delicious luncheon of broad bean pesto, leftover chicken, kimchi straight from the jar, fruit, nuts and the last of the pikelets.
Our appetites sated, we once again did the rounds of the chickens, played with the dogs, admired the new ducklings in the orchard, and tended to the 5 day old chicks in the brooder house.
A few days ago Pearl's dad had caught us a massive salmon, which was to be our dinner. Inspired by one of our favourite cookbooks, Moro East, we stuffed it with fennel, lemon and parsley, wrapped it in foil, and set it on the barbecue to cook. As the most delicious smells started wafting from the cooking fish, we headed into the orchard to take out the compost, admire the babies again, and collect many many eggs.

The afternoon is maybe my favourite time of the day for wandering and looking, and it was especially beautiful today given the weird mix of sunshine, big black clouds and enormous, intermittent raindrops.

And then Pearl and Olive came home, and much catching-up and storytelling, pesto-tasting, kissing and cuddling ensued. Final dinner preparations (cous cous with broad beans and yoghurt dressing and a simple cabbage coleslaw) were made as children played and water was delivered to the chickens.
Dinner was, as always, chaotic and rowdy and delicious. We're all pretty exhausted by this time of the day, but it's also a joyful catch-up time, especially on days like today where we've each been doing our own things. Meal times are possibly the times we feel most rich, because we feast so well on a bounty of home-made and home-grown goodness that is almost ridiculous, looking out over our beautiful valley, listening to the birds and, tonight, watching the kangaroos. It's hard not to feel blessed when your meal-times look like that and home made chicken liver pâté and fresh broad bean pesto are your go-to staples.

After dinner was Oski's 'pretend birthday', complete with a sand cake and pass the parcel presents.

The light was starting to fade as we got Oski ready for bed, and he and I retired to the loft for stories and cuddles and sleep, while Pearl and Olive locked up all the chickens and delivered the dogs to their night-time chook-guarding posts.

In all, I'd say that from wake-up time to sleep time, we spent a total of about 15 minutes inside the house. It was a lovely, average day, and I wouldn't swap the hard work for all the creature comforts in the world.

How was your day?