Thursday, January 28, 2016

What Are Ewe Doing Here?

Well, what a strange summer we are having.  Since the last blog entry we've had about 90 millimetres of rain, which is stupendously fantastic!  We collected 27000 litres in our tanks, which will be brilliant for watering for the rest of the summer and give us the chance to use only rainwater on the fruit trees and vegies, and use a combination of rainwater and borewater on grass and ornamentals.  The temperature is strange too, most of our summer days are sitting at 22 degrees, which thrills me no end, I love cool weather.  I think we've only had two days over 35, I hope it stays that way!
The sweetcorn has grown well, the first cobs are almost ready to pick.  Corn, zucchini, tomatoes and carrots have seemed pretty tolerant of our bore water, but the scarlet runner beans, in the left of the photo, said 'nup, we aint growin'.  It's all a learning curve.
Gosh bees love zucchini flowers, which are huge and lovely and yellow.  There are always two or three bees at the bottom of the flowers, and we have no shortage whatsoever of zucchini!  They are yummy and I've discovered that I really like slices of raw zucchini with salad.
Michelle gave us this gorgeous statue for Xmas, and I have found it interesting to see the effect that rain has on it.  It makes her look like she is weeping don't you think?  I have to think of a cool name for her.
 With all the hassle of the crappy bore water and the fruit trees getting upset and dropping fruit and leaves, oddly, one nectarine thrived and grew like the blazes, with so much foliage that we were worried the fruit wouldn't ripen.  It didn't get the usual blush you see on nectarines, but the fruit was delicious, really sweet and yummy.  We managed to get about 35 fruit off this tree which was very pleasing for a tree that was only planted 18 months ago.
 
 The chickens just love spending their days in the orchard, patrolling the boundaries, scratching around the trees and clearing bugs from the area.
 Sadly we said goodbye to the last of the originals, Angie, who was fine one day, didn't want breakfast the next day, and was gone that night.  I'm glad she didn't linger.  She had a good run for a HiLine hen, I think she was nearly five years old.
There have been lots of birds around, particularly the kookaburras.  We often don't see them for months, then there is a big party all of a sudden.  I am presuming they are breeding at the moment.
The pink and grey galahs have arrived, they too are only here for part of the year.  I love them, they are so funny.  They are helpful too as they chase away the pesky green parrots that cause damage.  Oddly the galahs mostly feed on the ground, they sort of dethatch the grass and eat, I'm not sure exactly what, but it does the grass good.
There are Splendid wrens galore.  The males are brilliant blue for breeding and their harems of cute brown females bounce around everywhere, just lovely.  I am rapt that they are getting less shy around us and will let us wander around only a few metres away.  They used to be very elusive when we first moved down here.
 
 And butterflies!  I love butterflies, even common orange ones.  I love how they dance around and I'm happy that the butterfly attracting plants that I've planted (thanks Cori!) are doing their job.
 I was very excited to see this little plant, it's a Candytuft.  My friend Ruth gave me a heap of seedpods last year and I just scattered them around randomly to see what would happen.  I've been watching this little mystery plant grow, wondering what it was.  I didn't realise it was a Candytuft until it flowered.  The butterflies obviously enjoy them too, and the icing on the cake is that apparently Candytuft is a saline resistant plant, so it should cope with the bore water.
 Isn't this pretty, it's a Melaleuca nesophila, or Showy Honey Myrtle.  Colloquially known as 'Nessie'.  It's a native.  There are plenty of melaleucas and they all have the same kind of fluffy flowers, but this is the only coloured one I have seen.  Another saline resistant plant, just as well as I have planted lots of them over the years.
There is action aplenty in the frog pond.  I haven't seen the adult frogs for a while, but the tadpoles are starting to turn into cute little tiny froglets.  Adorable :-)
Neo the inside cat is very interested in wildlife, and watches intently through the window anything that moves.  If it's a bug then he can be seen throwing himself at the glass trying to catch it.  If it's a bird he will crouch motionless, watching, but with his tail twitching. 

We have also worked out that if he is crouching at the sliding door, absolutely motionless, not a whisker moving, not even blinking, then he is watching something that is not supposed to be out there.  The first time he did this was when a Blue-tongued lizard got lost and ended up on the steps.  This time is was a lost Tiger snake, can you see it there on the second step?  We both stood safely behind the flyscreen door along with Neo, and watched to see where it went.  It was obviously confused about the steps and the stones were a bit uncomfortable for it as it kept trying to slither on the Mondo grass at the edges of the steps instead of the stones.  It went round and round the edges of the steps for some time before it finally got to the top and headed off.  Later, dressed in boots and long pants, holding garden implements, we ventured out, stomping loudly and making lots of noise.  We saw it shoot off at a rate of knots through the garden and out through the fence and there was no sign of it the next day.  We are very alert about it now!  I have the phone number of a snake catcher at the ready if it comes back. 
 A new posture from Neo this morning, was to stand like a meerkat up at the sliding door, obviously fascinated with something.  No, it wasn't snakey again, this time it was a couple of nice fat sheep who came wandering in.  Life is never dull!  They are still hanging around, they've visited both our neighbours places too.... our boundary fences are nonexistent in places as the kangaroos flatten them, so the sheep can wander at will through a number of properties.  I think they belong to a farmer at the top of the hill, his sheep have a reputation for wandering.  If they are still here in the morning I'll make a phonecall, I was going to today but they kept moving around and on and off our place, so I figured they'd be gone eventually.
We had a lovely couple of days with Paul and Sam who came to stay for the weekend.  Here they are with us at another delicious lunch at Boston Brewery.  :-)
Today we welcomed the return of Helga the Husqvarna, who has been in hospital since the beginning of January.  She blew up just before Xmas, a huge bang, which as is turns out was the motor destroying itself.  Bugger. 
Many many dollars later she is back with a brand new motor, new battery, new mower blades and serviced.  I expect her to run like a little purring kitten tomorrow!
 I have a bit of patchwork enthusiasm, first time for ages and ages.  My friend Lesley showed me a quilt she made, and she used polar fleece to back it with.  I was taught that it was sacrilege to do anything but use cotton backing and sandwich cotton or wool wadding between the quilt top and backing fabric, which means arduous smoothing out, pinning and quilting.  Polar fleece apparently, is brilliant.  Wadding is unnecessary, pinning is quick and very little quilting is needed as the fleece nestles and fits itself nicely to the quilt top.  And it's snuggly!!  So, I pulled out a small quilt top that Michelle had made years ago and didn't want, that I salvaged, and I am in the process of enlarging it.  It's a lovely Flying Geese pattern, all in aquas and light greens, so I thought I'd make a wide border of matching strips of fabric, about an inch and a half wide.  Then have a go with a polar fleece backing, I'm excited!  It's good to be back in the sewing room :-)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Leonardo? Vincent? Claude?

I had an interesting week, having signed up for a Fundamental Drawing class at Albany Summer School some months ago. The day finally dawned and I nervously made my way into town, giant sheets of paper flapping under my arm, sharpened pencils and a box of charcoal tucked away in my bag. Ten of us sat around the room like new kids at school, but we were soon to be put at ease by our friendly and chilled out tutor, an artist from Denmark by the name of Peter Usher. 

Firstly we had to start with contour drawing, drawing the outline of a shape, in this case our hand, without looking! Holy cow. We all laughed at our crap efforts :-) Apparently doing this helps your brain and your hand to communicate, and the more you do it the better you get at it.
Peter plonked a potted frangipani in the middle of the room and we worked on that all morning.  We contour drew it, learned about working out sizing of one part compared to another part, then we picked up our charcoal to try and find the basic shapes and tonal values.  I've never used charcoal before and found it rather daunting to begin with, but by the end of the week I loved using charcoal!  I might add that we all hated that frangipani by the end of the session ha ha
 I doodled a bit with my new found courage with charcoal.
 The next morning's lesson was about perspective.  We learned about horizon lines and vanishing points and measuring with our eye, and measuring by holding our pencil out in front of us, making us look like true arteeeests :-)  I enjoyed this lesson very much and was happy with my angles and form of the metal desk that Peter had put in the middle of the room for us to draw.
The following day we learned about grid work, and how to use it to upscale the size of a drawn object.  We all had to draw a quick outline of our keys, then grid it up and regrid it larger, then warped, and redraw it into the larger grid.  It was surprising how accurately this method can help with upscaling.
Then Peter bunged some bones, furniture and a basket into the middle of the room, we had to draw the collection as a whole really quickly as a contour outline, then we had to choose a section of it and concentrate on that.  Most of us chose the ram skull and horns as it was interesting, although quick tricky and we ran out of time.  Mine is top right.
Day four Peter brought in a beautiful handmade harp and put it in the centre of the room.  The first thing we had to do was draw it really fast, in 30 seconds, then 60 seconds, then 90 seconds and then 5 minutes.  That was very interesting, I think all of us, myself included, thought that our 30 second drawing was the best from the point of view of overall shape.  Which goes to show that you have to trust yourself.  We all thought by now that our contour drawing was improving too, although we were allowed to look this time, just a quick peep at junction points to check we weren't going too far off course.
Then we set about drawing the harp in more detail in pencil, some of the examples of that are in the photo.  Finally on a new sheet we had to colour in our A2 paper completely with charcoal, then draw the harp in that using our erasers.  Mine is the charcoal one in between the two pencil drawings.  It was scary to begin with and I got a bit confused with whether I was drawing a negative or a positive image, but I got the hang of it eventually and rather enjoyed this one and was pleased with the final image.
Peter handed us a little teaspoon each, and using charcoal only, we had to draw the reflected image we could see in the teaspoon.  But instead of drawing, we had to concentrate on the tones, the light and dark, rather than fine details.  We all enjoyed this and were all surprised with how much we liked the finished pieces.  It was amazing how different they all were.  Mine is top left.
The final day we had to choose a section of the tree we could see out the window, and draw that.  We had to accentuate texture and try and work out ways of making it obvious what was trunk and what was leaves.  We all unanimously decided that drawing masses of leaves sucks!  Peter showed me how to contour draw the shape around the edge of a clump of leaves then sort of fill in the rest with scribbly bits, that certainly made it a bit easier but  I still don't like drawing leaves!
Then we all went outside and had to do four drawings, one of bark, one of branches, one of leaves and one of the tree's shadow on the ground.  Then we came back inside, but all the pictures up and plonked them on the floor in a sort of collaborative tree.  Not particularly artistic but it was fun and interesting to look at, and we felt a sort of kinship putting our drawings all together.
So that was it, it was a great week and I really enjoyed it.  I felt like I learned a lot of new skills to help compose a drawing, how to relate the size and shape of something to the rest of the picture was really useful, it's not something I have ever really thought about much.  I have found that my contour drawing is becoming increasingly better and very useful, particularly now as we were allowed to look at what we had drawn, just every now and then to stay on track, keeping the pencil on the paper.  It is a good way to start a drawing, I think it stops you from being too anal, and just helping to get a first vague shape on paper.

Peter also emphasised how helpful it is to carry an art journal around with you as much as possible, and to jot down ideas, draw tiny shapes that appeal to you, sketch somewhere you are that grabs you, anything.  Not to do works of art but to play with ideas, perspectives, shading, everything.  So I am going to try that and started mine a couple of days ago.  I've decided that our water tank will be a good thing to draw regularly, it's quite tricky with all the lines in it, and trying to keep the relationship of the uprights correct.  Not to mention all the shadows and sweeping and wiggly lines of the colorbond it is made of.  I have to remind myself that it is meant to be fun, I am doing only for myself and that there are no exams! :-)

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Proboscises Probosces Proboscides

The air is perfect.  The temperature is so right that I can't even feel it on my skin.  An occasional, gentle, cool breeze ruffles my hair, just enough to be refreshing. 
The cicadas chirruping fills the air, cleverly they have synchronised into a rhythmic beat of sound.
Butterflies flit lazily, delicately alighting onto tiny flowers, proboscises uncurling to drink the tiny drops of nectar within.  Spiralled dances ensue when chance happens upon an encounter with another butterfly.
A brilliant blue Splendid Wren busily hops through the grass, oblivious to my presence, sharp eyes spotting tiny insects to eat.  His females, safely hiding in the shrubs, talk to him incessantly.
 Glancing over, I admire the first banksia flower in my garden.  It is tiny, and perfect.
Bushflies drone, only occasionally causing annoyance with their tickly little feet.  Bees busily dash from flower to flower, weighing themselves down with pollen-laden hind legs.
I study the beautiful old jarrah growing behind the shed, wondering how to photograph it to show its true magnificence.  It's never quite right in a photo.
Every now and then a kangaroo hops past the fenceline, I can hear rustling, one of them is nibbling at the other side of the banana passionfruit vine growing on the fence, it's probably Lucy.  Brutus, the big boy, has been actively pursuing a female all day.  We keep out of his way.
Christmas spiders team up, forming a wall of webs between the plants.  They sit motionless on the underside of their webs, like armoured, jewelled stones, reducing the fly population.
 I'm sitting on the lounge on the back patio, reading.  It's a great book, thanks for lending it to me mum -  "All The Light We Cannot See", by Anthony Doerr.  I am really into it, but I keep getting distracted by all this glorious nature.  So the pages turn slower than usual.  But that's okay.
It's been a perfect afternoon.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Unexpected Finds In The Hammock

And the visitors continued....
We were delighted to see our granddaughters, who with Paul came to stay for five days.  It was a full house with them and Michelle and Michael.  Lots of fun, lots of noise, lots of presents! 
Stevie and Riley loved the kangaroos and the chickens, if they had had their way the eggs boxes would have been checked twenty times a day, collecting eggs is so exciting, particularly if you then get to eat them for breakfast! :-)  Riley loved catching chickens and giving them cuddles. 
We set up a couple of hammocks under the trees that proved very popular with everyone.  Poor Riley had the shock of her life when she found she was sharing the hammock with a tree frog.  I don't know who was more shocked, her or the frog!  While Stevie was making pastry with Grandad Steve, Riley and I found the teeniest tiniest frog in my little pond, it was the size of my little fingernail, so cute. 
Paul gave Stevie and Riley these nifty bed tents that they both enjoyed,  They just hook over the edges of the bed so quick to put on, and quick to remove.  Not quite so quick to remember how to do that twist and fold manoeuvre to get them back in the box to take home though, ha ha.  So I got to sit on the floor between the beds to read bedtime stories while little heads poked out of the tents.  The girls like to have a turn at reading some of the story, it was wonderful to see how well they are both reading, kids are amazing.
 The girls did a bit of gingerbread decorating, these are two of Riley's people.
 And these are two of Stevie's people. 
We visited the new Wildlife Park at Discovery Bay, behind the Whaling Station museum.  It was nice to be able to stroke the kangaroos, there were some very tame ones there, and a lot of albinos, I guess they are less likely to survive in the wild so end up in wildlife parks?
There was lots of sleeping going on at the Wildlife park, look at this wombat, thoroughly content.  The size of its head amazes me.
Look at this camouflage.  These are curlews, just sleeping in the sand out in the open, which surprised me until I looked at them from above and realised how well hidden they were in plain sight from predators.
 We adored this quoll, who couldn't have given a darn about people watching him.  He remained sprawled out on top of his shelter, fast asleep.  Very cute to look at, but rather a vicious and effective predator as far as I know.  Love his dots!
 We did playgrounds.  This is a rebuild of a playground at Middleton Beach, isn't it fabulous, like a pirate ship, and kids can climb down inside it or be up on the deck.  It proved very popular with Stevie and Riley.
 We risked visiting Boston Brewery during busy time.  Far out, so did hundreds of other people!  But to Boston's credit, they let people sit on their own picnic blanket in their lovely grounds and order food.  I was mega impressed with their ability to cater for a huge crowd of people and we all had a nice time.  They have a great playground there so the girls had lots of fun too.  Although in the car when we were almost home, poor Stevie discovered the after-effects of spending a long time on the fun spinny ride in the playground, and lost her lunch.  A nice warm shower and a change of clothes and all was right with the world once again.
 We did beaches.  It was like winter most of the time, cold and windy and we rugged up and had fun climbing on rocks and walking on the sand.  Steve and I had discovered a wonderful beach some time ago called Lights Beach near Denmark, with lots of rocks and pools, so we went there again.  Here are Michelle and Michael.
 And Paul and Steve.
We had a walk along Frenchman's Bay beach after the wildlife park and came across an interesting discovery where the beach meets the bush.  The is Vancouver Spring.  This fresh water spring was discovered in 1791 by Captain George Vancouver when he travelled from England to be the first reported visitor to the Albany area, where he named the sound King George Sound.  It was fascinating to come across an unexpected piece of history whilst having a simple walk on a beach.
 
 We ate, oh my goodness we ate.  Steve and I have our diet booked to start on the 17th Jan, we figure the house will be empty of Christmas goodies by then! 
 
Here is Steve trying to look fierce in his Xmas hat, eating amongst myriads of pink megabloc creations.  :-)
 
Everybody went home a few days ago,  it's been wonderful to see everyone.  xx
We spent the weekend cleaning the house and putting Christmas away, and washing.  Then we had a couple of days of utter sloth.  I read a great book written by one of my favourite authors - Kate Morton.  It was her new book, The Lake House, and I enjoyed it very much.  Oh yes, ha ha, and Neo finally came out from behind the bed, where he took up residence for most of the week. :-)

Meanwhile, in the garden, the zucchini plants have quietly invaded the world.  So many zucchinis!  Front left are two cucumbers so that gives you an idea of the size of the zucchinis!  We will have to start picking them more regularly now to keep the size down, they literally grow before your eyes.  I had never tried raw zucchini before but we've been eating raw slices with picky plate lunches and we both really like it.
 I've been scouring recipes for using them, I made zucchini bread yesterday (yum) and we had grilled zucchini and runner beans with mashed potato and sausages for dinner - also yum, and satisfying as all the veg was from our garden.  I'm going to try pickling zucchini next, and also try a chocolate zucchini cake recipe too. 
Happy Happy Birthday to our darling daughter Michelle.  The start of a new decade in your life lovey, enjoy!  xxxxx  ooooo