August 31, 2015

WINTER 2015 || AUGUST... I'VE DONE IT


WELL, hello there. Nice to see you.

In August:

I WENT TO… Mount Victoria, in the Blue Mountains, to a little-known place called Random Cottage. The site is a Girl Guide property that once hosted intrepid women hikers. The original cottage is an old miner’s cottage with the bare basics but a view to die for. Nearby are dormitories and a big kitchen suited to cooking up steaming pots of hearty soup for hungry Girl Guide volunteers. It was here, over the first weekend in August, that the wonderful volunteers who plan out the delivery of the Girl Guide program in NSW and the ACT came together. I’m keen to go back on a non-Guiding weekend and explore the tracks generations before me came to the campsite and original cottage for.

I ended the month at a Girl Guide event too – in fact, every weekend of August was a Girl Guide weekend.

However, the weekend just gone was pretty special. I slept out on the concert lawn of Taronga Zoo. Yup. Just me, my trusty swag, and 1000 Girl Guides. The weather was glorious and I quite literally woke up and rolled over just before 6am to see Sydney Harbour glistening and winking in the pink dawn light. A privilege and an experience I could only have as a Girl Guide leader.

If you’re curious about becoming a leader, or are keen for your daughter to join, drop me a comment, or visit the Girl Guides Australia website to find a link for your state contacts.

I ATE… A breakfast at Bloom, in Mosman, Sydney, choosing The Balmoral for its eggy goodness, roasted tomato, avocado, greens and salty Persian feta.

A lunch at Neil Perry’s Burger Project, at World Square, Sydney. I dunno, I wasn’t that fussed. It’s no Shake Shack.

A dinner at Chur Burger, in Surry Hills, Sydney. Again, I must be pretty fussy about my burgers. A soggy, stick to the roof of your mouth, smooshy mess.

I OP SHOPPED… Books, knitting patterns, a 1960s vintage cheongsam, and a spring wardrobe refresh to add cute Levi’s jean shorts and a linen overdress.

I MADE… Not just made, I finished, the ‘red vest’ knitted in the round from an op shop salvaged stash. I’ve been carting this thing around to my study programs, Girl Guide meetings and on the daily commute for almost a year and I finally got it off the sticks, blocked and made up. Done!

I also made three Bilby beanies for the Girl Guide sleep out at the zoo. I am part of a leadership trio, and we wanted to team with the event theme of ‘Bilbies, Bedrolls and Biscuits’. We, if I do say so myself, looked adorable.

I READ… Reports, minutes, agendas. Reports, minutes, agendas. Reports, minutes, agendas. It’s been one meeting after another with not a lot of time to catch up in between. I am just managing to sneak in audio book chapters on my commutes to and from meetings. Just.

August 29, 2015

WINTER 2015 || FINDING A PATTERN TO FALL BACK ON

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || the fair isle hand knit and the pattern
IT took a second-hand knitted vest and a pattern book to alert me. The Fair Isle vest was snapped up for a few dollars from a local op shop. The pattern book arrived some weeks later in a stash given to me by a work colleague. What I didn’t see, for weeks, was that they were one and the same.

Yup, the op shop vest is exactly the vest detailed in the pattern book.

So what, I hear you mutter.

So what! I missed it, that’s what. I missed a moment of serendipity. I missed seeing a coincidence that should have been held up as a moment of magic. I missed that something a little bit special had come into my life and passed through. Not a ratty old vest or pattern book – though both are actually lovely – but the moment. I missed the moment.

I feel like I am missing a lot of moments, of late, but I take heart in what a hand-knitted Fair Isle vest and pattern book taught me. One stitch, one row, one piece at a time, and that there’s always a pattern to fall back on. Always.

August 17, 2015

WINTER 2015 || PINNING THINGS SPRINTER CAMPING


CAN you feel it? It's starting to thaw out. Winter is being chased away by the spring. Sprinter is here, and with it, a return to the great outdoors.

THINGS TO MAKE AND DO: Days are deceivingly warm but the nights are still cool, even cold, in my neck of the woods. My family called these jumpers sloppy joes, but maybe because sloppy and 'slobby' sound the same to me, or because I equate these things with school sport uniforms - both bad - I've never, of my own free will, owned one of these cotton pullovers. Perhaps that needs to change because this would be perfect for hiding the grubby hallmarks of camping, or 'glamping', if that's more your style,


THINGS TO COOK AND EAT: If I did have a sloppy joe, or three, I'd be donning them all to sleep out on the lawns of Taronga Zoo with about 1000 Girl Guides at the end of the month. You walk in wearing the clothes you'll need through the night, a bare minimum of gear and a meal that requires the simple addition of hot water. Done and done.

THINGS TO DROP DOUGH ON: I hate flip flops, rubber thongs, jandals, whatever you choose to call them. Hate them. Between the thongs and sloppy joes, I am a clothing snob - more so if I am to confess loving Birkenstocks. I own one pair and it'll take just a few more degrees Celsius before it makes an early Spring, or Sprinter, appearance.


THINGS TO HANG ON THE WALL: The heavy lines of Andrew Pavitt's linocut evoke what it is to camp and tramp at this time of year: rugged up against icy winds but braving it all to escape the confines of the city and winter's walls.

July 30, 2015

WINTER 2015 || JULY... I'VE DONE IT

THIS pumpkin, along with a few handfuls of coriander and parsley, are all I've harvested from the garden over winter. I've dug, weeded, pruned to open up new spaces for spring and summer planting. Life here gets a little crazy from next weekend, so I'm busting for longer days when I can scratch away at my new plans.

In July:

I READ… Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman. I've linked to a review from The Guardian here, but there are plenty of reviews to choose from and even more theories about the motives behind its release - some 50 years after it was written. For me, I simply enjoyed hearing the voice of Scout as a young woman. I thought Lee captured that age - your early 20s - beautifully. The naivety and the bravado; the lack of confidence and the black and white opinions (literally in this case); and, the shifts that move you to shades of grey. 

I WENT TO… a huge family moment for a woman who has been my friend since we were teens. She and her partner brought friends and family together to celebrate the christening of their first born - a darling little girl. Other than that, I've had a blissful month at home, near to family and friends and weekends of pottering about the house and garden.

I ATE… Five delicious courses at the first Woy Woy Fisherman's Wharf takeover. Corey Reid, of Momfuku Seiobo took the restaurant 'over' in July, and, in August, you can win yourself a place at the table when Joshua Niland, of Cafe Nice (Fratelli Fresh) takes over.

I OP SHOPPED… A great swathe of African print cloth - at least 5m of it along with pattern and craft magazines; and, a wool blazer, silk scarf, crocheted gloves and cord pants.

I MADE… a knitted vest. Well, almost. It's off the needles. I just need to finish the seams and block it.

July 21, 2015

WINTER 2015 || WHY I LOVE THAT FIRST SPRAY OF WATTLE

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || free pottery bud vase and first spray of wattle

I AM sporting scratches across my face, up my arms and over the back of my hands. My knees are bruised and my back catches if I sit for too long and try to stand up.

Yup, I’ve been gardening.

This brutal and punishing exercise in self-flagellation has netted a veggie patch cleared of weeds; a back fence cleared of weeds; a semi-pruned hibiscus that I’ll admit has temporarily defeated me; and, an expanded garden bed.

I’ve also, I hope, managed to avoid a fine by clearing overgrown Echium and Bird of Paradise from the water meter – that, and possibly a less than discreet pruning of the same at the hands of the local council.

Best of all, being out in the garden means I’ve seen the first puffs of wattle coming into bloom. That first spray means there’s a coming spring and summer, and I, for one, can’t wait.

#opshopscore // pottery bud vase from the Kincumber Uniting Church op shop’s ‘free to a good home’ table

July 15, 2015

WINTER 2015 || HOW TO RECLAIM YOUR FEMINIST SPARKLE

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || princess sparkle has lost her sparkle

Princess Sparkle* has lost, well, her sparkle.

She was, I’m told, the unswayable choice of the grandkid. I wasn’t there at the point of purchase but I did demand to know, when Princess Sparkle was being proudly brandished about by a delighted two-year-old with a penchant for tutus and glitter, whether my partner had gone soft. What kind of feminist were we exactly trying to encourage here, I wanted to know.

Turns out, six months later, Princess Sparkle isn’t all she promised and has been banished to the deep pit that is the toy basket of our visiting grandmunchkins.

Much to my delight, a wooden dump truck, cement mixer and digger I bought for next to nix at the op shop have had a solid airing. Those, along with good, old gender neutral building blocks and a batch of well marbled play dough I made well over a year ago – does that stuff ever go off?
* Not her real name

July 08, 2015

WINTER 2015 || PATTERNS FOUND IN KNITTING COLLECTION

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || my great aunt's and mrs murray's knitting collection

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || mrs murray's knitting needles

I THINK it’s safe to claim you’re a knitter when people bestow or retire their knitting needles to you. I can’t say I’ve ever really considered myself a diehard knitter. I don’t think I am that good. My Nana is a knitter. My friend, a former knitter for Jenny Kee who can knit multicoloured Fair Isle with her eyes shut, is a knitter.

Me? I am a wannabe knitter, and every wannabe knitter knows it’s not really about the knitting but about the knitting haberdashery. I am all about the knitting haberdashery, especially vintage knitting haberdashery, and it’s been my great honour over past weeks to bequeathed the family knitting needle collection of a former colleague’s mother, and the needles, patterns and other knitting knick knacks of my late Great Aunt.

Both collections have their stories to tell.

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || aunty glen's glass head pins tin
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || aunty glen's novelty tea cosies and doll clothes knitting patterns

The Patons-branded pattern books of my aunt stretch over close to four decades. Each one is filled with patterns I imagine she liked and knitted for herself, though I can’t recall ever seeing her knit, or noting garments she knitted for herself. Following my Great Aunt’s death, my mother collected some of her beautifully cared for wardrobe pieces to pass onto family members, but not a hand-knitted garment was among them.

Aunty Glen never had children of her own. As a child I never questioned why she was childless – she was widowed when I was a toddler and I have no recollection of her as anything but this beautifully coiffured, elegant – but cheeky and fun - single woman. She was every bit, ‘the good stick’ and as I child I liked her. I know her niece and nephew, my Dad, did too.

However, I never stopped to wonder if she felt any great loss at not having children of her own and as I’ve thumbed through her knitting collection, sans the patterns for children and her husband, Ron, it’s struck me the very particular story the collection tells. I imagine two books of patterns featuring knitted doll clothes were made for my aunt, her only niece. I could be wrong, but these are the clues this collection offers up of a woman I knew very little of.

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || aunty glen's female relative's pin WWII

My favourite clue is a pin, stored in a satin pouch that once held a small bottle of Panache, and was tucked inside my Great Aunt’s box of knitting needles. The pin reads “To the Women of Australia” and is marked as issued by the Commonwealth of Australia, along with a stamped ID number. The bar that hangs below the pin has a single star to mark the number of men from the woman’s family serving in WWII. My Aunt’s husband was a WWII veteran and this badge, I can only assume, was her own Female Relative’s Badge. I could trace the history of it by the number stamped onto the back.

Like the women of her time, tins that once throat lozenges and first aid dressings – pre Band-Aid stickies – now hold glass head pins and other odds and ends. Nail scissors are housed with the needles to snip those cast off ends. A single white handkerchief has been bleached, washed and ironed and added to the collection by my mother – as is her way. Needles, many of them, still have their paper wrappers around them, quite different to the much loved and clearly well used needles of my colleague’s mother. My aunt’s needles are carefully stowed and I wonder whether, when she bought the patterns, she bought a new set of the required needles; just in case the size she needed was not already at home. A knitting gauge would help in understanding the difference between American and English sizings and perhaps assist in matching up odd pairs, though I suspect every knitting project was tackled with a known, and possibly new, matching pair each and every time.

The clues match the woman of my memories, and the memories my father and aunt share. The puzzles too have been found. Odd dates in the family timeline, a wartime postcard from Belgium, with no stamp mark or notes, suggesting it was carried home from the battlefield and matching a vague reference to a family member called to serve during WWI. The postcard sits among the patterns to be mused over in decades to come when my own passing unveils storylines to be read and interpreted by those left to root through the trinkets that make up my life and story.

July 05, 2015

WINTER 2015 || PINNING THINGS HOME

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || pinterest picks to make and do and cook and eat

THINGS TO MAKE AND DO: One of the things I try to do when I travel overseas is visit a local Girl Guide unit. I didn’t manage to visit an actual weekly meeting or camp, but I did go to the Girl Scout HQ in New York. It’s a bit of a nerdy Girl Guide thing to do, but I always like to have a little gift from Australia to share. Australian Girl Guide supporters make felt birds and Aussie animals for our intrepid members to pack and give to their international counterparts and new friends. I’m going to whip up something like these to share next time one of us is off on an international adventure, which actually happens quite a lot. Girl Guides Go Places, don’t you know. It’s even a hashtag: #girlguidesgoplaces

Speaking of the US Girl Scouts, did you see the awesome crowdfund venture of one Girl Scout troop? Talk about living by their Girl Scout Promise and Law: this was a brave and ethical decision. Makes me so proud.

THINGS TO COOK AND EAT: What’s more Aussie than a pie? How about a pie that is a nod to our colonial roots with squishy peas, our post-World War II migrant intake with a smidge of Italian parmesan and our more worldly multicultural mix with a side serve of sumac and labneh? That’s my kinda pie. If I could infuse it with a little Indigenous-inspired bush tucka, it’d be perfect.

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || pinterest picks to drop dough on and hang on the wall

THINGS TO DROP DOUGH ON: I have a pair of good old Clarks Desert Boots bought at an op shop for a song. They’ve served me well but they’re pretty beaten up now and I’ve been hunting around for a similar looking pair of boots but with street smarts that I can wear on more casual dressing days to work. Clarks Desert Boots are an English-made boot, but I still associate Clarks with the school shoes I wore through much of primary school. You?

THINGS TO HANG ON THE WALL: I’ve had a lot of small artworks, and one big one, framed. They’re all mementos from overseas travel that have been sitting around in folders – some for years – waiting for that “get ‘round to it” moment. Well it came, and I may have very little wall space once I work out where they’re all to go, but should I be adding to it, this one would remind me of home for sure. No beach near here would be complete without a seagull, or a few hundred of them.

#flashback: The big blue skies I'm enjoying right now were a feature of this week last year too, as were things hearty and solid.

June 29, 2015

WINTER 2015 || I'VE DONE IT... THE BUMPER EDITION

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || done it... the empire state building in new york
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || done it... the blue mosque in istanbul turkey
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || done it... tented refugee settlement lebanon
YUP, that's us squeezing in a photo with the Empire State Building, in New York, in April. That's me and a work mate about to go into the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, in May. And, that's me in the blue UNICEF shirt with another professional collaborator you may well recognise, outside a tented refugee settlement in Lebanon, in June.

Six international flights to take three trips into the Northern Hemisphere's spring and summer, with a week of winter back home to break each trip up. Needless to say, the jet lag was horrific. 

In April, May and June:

I WENT TO… A holiday to New York in April, with work trips to Turkey in May and Lebanon in June. 

I ATE… Diner breakfasts along with cheap, tasty falafel rolls from the street vendors in New York; gorgeous sweet Turkish Delight, sticky dark coffee and tart, refreshing pomegranate juices in Turkey; and, moreish mint lemonades, flat breads and hummus in Lebanon.

I READ… Ironically, Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home. There has been a lot of discussion in my household about where we should live and what we should be doing with our days. My partner and I live two hours from where we work, so commute four hours each day. This has a huge impact on our family and community connections. Happier at Home, as an audio book was a good read to help distill some of these discussions. 

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, was my favourite read of recent months. Alma Whittaker was a character I was happy to bring into my days and sorry to see go.

I OP SHOPPED… Just because I was travelling didn't mean I stopped op-shopping. I brought home from New York a pair of leather boots bought in a Goodwill store, a silk scarf bought for a dollar from a stoop sale and a 'Made in USA' Levi's denim jacket from the Brooklyn Flea. In Turkey, it was a struggle to pass up vintage hand-loomed rugs and kilims. I resisted, and my bank balance is much the better for it. In Lebanon I spent $10 on a vintage film poster. It's being framed and should be hanging on our walls next week.

I MADE… A new garden.  This past week I've started to dive into the long list of things that need to be done around the house. I dug a new garden: one of many I planned out last year.

June 17, 2015

YOU KNOW THE ANSWER, BUT IT STILL BREAKS YA HEART

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || with Tara Moss and UNICEF walking through a refugee settlement in Beirut LebanonGirls make their way through a refugee settlement in Beirut. Credit: Kate Moore

WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question I often ask the girls and young women I lead as a Girl Guide volunteer and I love the conversation it sparks. I love hearing about their ambitions, or digging deeper into the things they love to do, want to study and make a career of. Occasionally, just occasionally, I might despair at a lack of diversity among the gender roles they’ll share with me, or muse that women still have a long way to go.

But all in all, the young women and girls I volunteer my time to empower have a vast array of choices open to them and I’m old enough now to have seen a good many of them embark on, and excel, at their chosen path.

Earlier this month, and well away from the usual Girl Guide halls or open-air camps I ask this question at, I was with UNICEF Australia National Ambassador Tara Moss when she asked the same question of teenage girls at a life skills program for victims of sexual violence, in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

Their faces lit up and the room – previously full of girls politely replying to Tara’s questions and patiently waiting for the language translation – became the noisy, excited babble I am used to.  Tara and I smiled at each other, and at them. Here were young women, all of them Syrian refugees, who wanted to and could change their fortunes. A doctor, said one.  A lawyer said another. A teacher. A scientist. A journalist, a writer – like Tara.

We went around the circle, each girl rushing to have her dream translated and share it with us.

But as quickly as their excited chatter filled the room, it stopped. One young woman, just a little older and wiser than her peers – at least in life experience – said her piece and waited quietly for the translation. Her friends, sobered, waited too.

The translation came: I have dreams, but what good are they without an education.

She’s right. The awful truth for these young girls, rebuilding their lives amid the safety of a UNICEF-supported program but against a backdrop of violence, displacement and ongoing uncertainty, is that their education is now so disrupted they have little chance of being the things they dream. Already they face pressures to marry, if not married already, and some, carrying the shame of rape or sexual exploitation, are likely never to have the security that a husband and family can bring.

They can try to learn the basics they’ve missed out on, but these other pressures are too great and their only hope is for their sisters and one day, tragically too soon, their daughters.

You asked that I share with you stories from the three days I spent visiting Syrian refugee families with author and advocate for women and children, Tara Moss.

That’s just one story.

I held an eight-week-old baby hot with fever, listless and close to choking because of a respiratory problem it may well succumb to. I listened to the conversations of my UNICEF colleagues while they tried to negotiate temporary accommodation for refugees from a camp that burned to the ground following a simple cooking fire; a fire that broke out in a camp adjoining the ones we were visiting. I listened to mothers speak, in fear, for their children while they wrestled with the decision to see family members lost to terrorist groups offering to pay their rent and bills. Their hands reached out, imploring us to find a solution while young children played outside in the dirt and older boys loitered around our four-wheel-drives.

These were but a handful of stories, from a handful of the millions who have left all they know in Syria and risked everything to be safe. Safe.

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting outreach programs for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon


katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting gender-based violence outreach programs for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon
A game of peek-a-boo at the door of a family's home - a makeshift set-up in an empty shopfront in Tripoli. Credit: Alessio Romenzi

Tara Moss has a UNICEF Australia appeal open. The appeal focuses on the many, many children born into an emergency like the Syria crisis. You can read more about Tara’s trip to meet these children here, or on Tara's website here, or watch and listen to the interviews she’s given here, here and here.

If you’d like to donate to UNICEF’s work for children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable, please do. Visit www.unicef.org.au/taramoss


katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting education programs for refugee children in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Little people's shoes inside a temporary learning space. Credit: Kate Moore

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting health programs for refugee children in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Nour, eight-months, one of the beautiful healthy babies we met at a UNICEF-supported mobile health clinic in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Credit: Alessio Romenzi