April 29, 2016

AUTUMN 2016 || APRIL... I'VE DONE IT

I'VE had to throw an extra blanket over the bed this past few nights. Autumn is in no hurry but the days are shorter and nights a little cooler. We head inland this coming weekend. I'm packing a flannelette shirt with the great hope that the days will be cool enough to wear it.

IN APRIL:

I WENT TO… There was no extensive travel this month, just a trip to Sydney to train a group of amazing young refugee advocates who will be representing ChilOut in its work.

On top of my work as a journalist and communications consultant, I train young people in speaking to the media, developing and managing advocacy projects and in a raft of team building and leadership skills. When I tell you our future's in good hands, it really, really is. 


I ATE… a celebration meal at Bombini, close by at Avoca Beach. The Mrs and I were celebrating paying off the mortgage and toasted our success over a bottle of red and divine Italian flavours.

I OP SHOPPED… The op shops have been good to me and I have had a handful of lucky finds. My favourite finds have been vintage haberdashery. I've posted sneak peeks on Instagram, but I'll share more soon. Does anyone know much about vintage buttons? I've scored some beautiful ones and I'd like to know more.

I MADE… I finished the boyfriend hat from my last Pinterest post. It was made from a stash of New Zealand wool. The wool is not dyed but the natural colour is warm and wintery. It's a real treat to knit with beautiful wool and this stash was a mere $10 from an op shop. There's enough to make a sweater, but I think I'll keep going with the beanies and put them aside for Christmas giving.

I READ… The sad truth is I have a number of books on the go but none close to being finished. Even the audio books were set asided when I had to hand my MacBook Air over for repairs. It's back, but Audible and iTunes are not playing nicely and I'll have to coax them into being friends again so I can listen past the first chapter of all my new downloads. I've picked out the Neopolitan series from Elena Ferrante. Do tell, is the hype worth it?

April 25, 2016

WHY I WON'T RAISE A GLASS TO THE ANZAC MYTH


I'VE spent all day pondering how I feel about Anzac Day. My Facebook feed is full of uniformed Girl Guide friends at either the dawn or mid-morning service and the news is headlined with stories of bravery, stoicism and mate-ship. The Last Post sounds and the newsreader is silent.

Today, this talk of bravery and heroic sticks in my craw. I question the bravery. I question the heroism. I question the stories of legends. I question the 'myth'.

I believed in the Anzac myth once. I have missed only a handful of Anzac Day services over my lifetime and my family has its own proud stories of wartime service.

But the glow of the Anzac legend is tarnished. Tarnished by a man deployed to Afghanistan, not once but twice. I refrain from using the word 'served'. He was doing his job. He was a career soldier and he saw the financial benefit of deploying. He was sold the myth. He'll tell you now he was a hero, that he served his country, that he deserves my respect.

But, today, he's telling that story from gaol. Two tours and the career soldier is a ruined man. His wife and infant son - my stepdaughter and grandson - now live with my partner and I. The myth could not sustain them. It did not buy them a house, or give their first-born an easy and worry-free entry to life. Hell, it didn't even give him a father, and what little he did see of him was moody at best, violent at its worst.

As she rebuilds her life and we adjust ours, if there is anyone to call brave, it's the families of these broken men.

Today, I snarl at the semantics of Anzac Day, like legend, hero and spirit, and think more of the broken, cast aside and downright destroyed.

As for 'Lest We Forget', don't worry. I will never.

#image: A postcard found among my late Great Aunt's possessions following her death last year. The image is the ruined streets following the World War I battle of Verdun. The pin is my Great Aunt's too

April 10, 2016

HOW SLOPPY IS SLOPPY WHEN IT COMES TO SLEEPWEAR?


I AM sloppy in the sleepwear stakes. So sloppy that my favourite sleepwear, a T-shirt and school sports shorts, are interchangeable with my gardening clobber. They're clean - I'm not that slobby - but bear permanent garden stains.

With the weather turning, the only real shift will be to a pair of men's flannelette PJ bottoms, paired with the same T-shirt.


The truth is I can't find PJs I like.

I'm not one for gender-specific pinks and I hate things like built in shelf bras, soft knits that manage to wrap around around you through the night and cut off your blood or, worse, oxygen supply. I hate oversized T-shirts and, let's just get this straight now, if you're a fan of the onesie, we can't be friends.

My preference is a weave cotton top and bottom. Short or long, summer or winter. But PJ sets like this don't come easy, or cheap.

My fix has always been to make what I can't find and I've been stashing away vintage sheets to make up my own PJs and scouring the op shops for just the right sewing pattern. I hit pay dirt a couple of weeks ago with a stash of sleepwear patterns. The pattern to the left of the top picture is my favourite. I'm guessing early 1960s, both by the pre-decimal pricing of 4/6 and the hair dos.

And while frills aren't really my thing, for fun I think I'll keep it. Just don't expect to find me setting my curls or adding a bow for the boudoir.

April 08, 2016

AUTUMN 2016 || PINNING THINGS STEPPING BACK

I AM in multi-tasking overdrive, but in a good way. I have projects on the go everywhere - in the garden, on my sticks, in the mending pile. I am hunting down new recipes. Trying new exercise routines. Exploring new cafes. I have a stash of books on my bed and am backtracking through unwatched favourite shows. What's so good about all of this is that none are remotely related to my work.

I posted an article about Rushing Women's Syndrome this week and it resonated with readers, friends and family. Two friends even mentioned it when we spoke on the phone, all of us agreeing we had to do something about it.

I feel like I have. I took the brakes off a crushing daily work commute and removed myself from a tricky work environment to reset and refocus. It's been healthy. I was worried sick about leaving a well-paid, full-time job when my partner and I started talking about it more than a year ago. Now that I've made the leap, I'm thrilled. It's offered me new opportunities and new insights. I've booked a trip to Sri Lanka later in the year, applied for things I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do - and am now doing- and signed on to do more training. I'm even thinking about post-graduate study.

Autumn's a good month to be quiet and potter away at my many projects and ideas, all the while thinking and plotting for the future.

Are you thinking about stepping back, or are you already in hibernation? How's it going?


THINGS TO MAKE AND DO: I have seen enough blog posts and Pinterest pins now to suggest that potpourri is making a comeback. The stuff permeated my late 1980s teens. It was everywhere. My mum made it and sold in her nursery gift store, often with my sister and I stuffing drawer and wardrobe hangers and sachets. I'm not sure I can stomach another round of the loose stuff, but I do have a soft spot - along with embroidered handkerchiefs - for the sachets.

THINGS TO COOK AND EAT: This is actually on the menu this weekend. Garlic basil chicken with tomato butter sauce. I still have the last of the basil on in the garden and though there's no more tomatoes from our crop, I have set aside the last of the garlic. Some will be plated out this weekend and the rest will be used in this dish. What's on your menu? Please do steer me to new recipe sites. Quick, easy, tasty. I'm pretty bored with my current menu selections.

THINGS TO DROP DOUGH ON: I think these bottoms would go rather nicely with my new top. My pants either have to be poo catchers, like these, or slim line. I can never go the middle ground. Bootleg? No can do. Do you have a favoured style for pants?

THINGS TO HANG ON THE WALL: Speaking of slim line pants, they'd look even better if my legs - or anyone's legs - were this long. I do love me a vintage retail poster or advertisement.

#flashback: This time last year I was preparing to be away for three big months of travel. Gosh, was that only a year ago. So much has happened since then.


April 04, 2016

THIS IS NOT WHAT THEY MEAN BY SLOW FASHION

WHEN you hear talk of  'slow fashion', taking an entire summer to craft one top is not exactly what's meant, but it's true, this top was an idea at the beginning of summer. 

I wanted to use the fabric in a wrap skirt I'd found at an op shop, but the panels weren't wide enough to cut a front and back. My solution was to leave the back open and use the skirt's existing wide hems, running down the length of the open drops.

An open-back tank needed a layer underneath. In my mind I saw a knitted singlet underneath, longer than the tank and knitted in a raw cotton yarn on big needles.

I had in my stash just the yarn, and an old 1980s Handmade magazine was the source for the pattern. A little hand stitching around the tank's hems in a straw-coloured embroidery cotton, and the look's just as I'd imagined. 

With family stuff, a change in job, Christmas, Easter - you name it - it's only taken an entire season (and then some) to complete. Thankfully, Sydney's weather is still so warm I've been able to get wear from it before the season turns. 

March 30, 2016

AUTUMN 2016 || MARCH... I'VE DONE IT

IT may be autumn but summer lingered this month and I think will linger a little longer beyond the coming end to daylight saving. I hope it does, just a little bit.

IN MARCH:

I WENT TO… Brisbane for a work trip that was extended to see family and friends. It was lovely to see a beautiful friend who (though I can hardly believe it) I've known for 20 years now. I met Louise in my first real job following study to become a journalist and we've followed each other through life's ups and downs, jaunts living overseas and the peculiarities of facing our middle years. She's big of heart, wild of idea and equal measure cautious and curious by nature. She's exactly the kind of person you need to have in your life and I hope she's around for 20-plus years more.


Over the Easter holiday long weekend, the Mrs and I also did a day trip to Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, at Mount Tomah, via Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River. We headed off with a plan to breakfast at The Brooklyn Tuckshop and lunch at the one-hat Sean Moran-led cafe-restaurant of the garden.

Many moons ago, I lived on the Bells Line of Road and passed the gardens regularly but had only been in once before. As the gardens are an easy day-trip from Sydney, and my home of the Central Coast, it seemed a perfectly lovely thing to do on a sunny autumn day - and it was.

I ATE… With so many trips away from home and a long weekend, to boot, the opportunities to eat out were plentiful. My favourites are always the locals. LiKEMiNDS is a favourite coffee hang and does a great breakfast and lunch. I also discovered Gosford's The Craft Bar: a venue I'll be making my way back to with friends. The Brooklyn Tuckshop was well worth the jaunt off the coast; and out of Sydney if you're looking for a weekend train ride or day trip north.

My partner and I had high expectations of the Sean Moran restaurant at the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens. We'd booked a week in advance and were rewarded with a balcony seat overlooking the gardens.

However, our table was out of sight of the short-staffed venue and we had to call over staff to take our orders, clear plates and eventually when we couldn't attract attention to order a coffee and dessert we bailed and headed back down the Bells Line of Road to Bilpin for a roadhouse apple pie and coffee. The food was fair and simple - roasted chicken and veg and a home-made pasta with roasted tomatoes and parmesan- but, in short, it's not a meal I'd recommend the amazing taste, great service or finesse of.

I am no food reviewer, but if pushed I'd be left to rate the company and the view. Visit the garden by all means, but pack a picnic. We saw a good many families who'd done just that and those picnic spreads looked awfully tasty.

I OP SHOPPED… While in Brisbane I spent two days in workshops in a suburb about 30 minutes out of the CBD. During my lunch breaks I made a beeline to two op shops I'd spied from the bus on my way in. Neither looked likely to turn up any impressive finds but I had a lunch break to kill. How wrong could I be. In one I found, for a mere $5, a two-piece silk suit from the late 1950s early '60s. Even on the hanger I could see it needed love and care, and more so since I've washed it but it's in the mending basket waiitng to see what can be salvaged.

To match it, I found this Hong Kong-made bamboo handbag for $10 much closer to home.

I MADE… A new summer top. I know it's autumn, but I have actually been able to wear this in the last week because it's really a knitted cotton singlet overlaid with an open-backed tank - both of which have been made out of thrift shop finds. I'll share the finished item in a coming blog post.

I READ… I read Kim Mahood's Craft for a Dry Lake and William Boyd's Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay. I loved Amory. I wanted her to be a real person and imagine somewhere out there is a woman who really did live this fabulous life. Mahood's voice too is one I want to know more. Her story is real and she paints a vivid, yet nostalgic, portrait of her father and of the places he inhabited and people he endured these places with.

#images: views from the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah.

March 28, 2016

THE PERFECT END TO A HOLIDAY LONG WEEKEND


THIS morning's fog has lifted revealing another glorious autumn blue-sky day. Three loads of washing will go out on the line this morning. Manure and compost will be dug into a garden bed I freed of summer annuals two days ago and new seedlings and seeds will go in. I'll go for a run, eat good food, write a little, read a little (see below), knit a little: what a perfect end to a holiday long weekend.

:: Op shopping in Sierra Leone. An Aussie aid worker shares her secrets.
:: Could you make this work in an abandoned corner near you?
:: Half of these women have been harassed in their workplace. I'm one of them.
:: Crochet as therapy. Really. Serious. Therapy.
:: Having it all kinda sucks. The reality check we all need to read.

March 23, 2016

REAL EASTER HUNT IS A FUNGI FORAGE FOR MUSHROOMS

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || Autumn Fungi Forage

FORGET Easter egg hunts. The real hunt this Easter holiday weekend is for mushrooms, and conditions are perfect for an autumn fungi forage.

The conditions on the NSW Central Coast, and up and down much of the NSW east coast, have been perfect fungi conditions: rain, followed by a cool spell. The cooler days too make exploring the coast's hinterland and national parks a comfortable day out.

Often overlooked, the Central Coast’s national parks are home to a wide variety of beautiful and sometimes surprising mushroom species – or fungi – and fungi foraging is best done throughout the cooler, often wetter, months of autumn.

Fungi are not hard to find, you just have to keep a keen eye out for them. Once you train your eye to spy them it’s amazing how many you’ll find. Children too can be enticed into the great outdoors with a good fungi forage. Either they’ll love the enchantment of the magical and mysterious, or the competition to be first to spy a hidden specimen.

What follows are my tips to a successful autumn fungi forage.

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || mushroom hunt in autumn
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || autumn is the ideal to find fungi
WHEN TO GO
A few days following rain is the best time for a fungi forage; or anywhere you know prone to dark, cool, damp conditions through autumn. 

WHERE TO GO 
Fungi can be found in many forms in many places, but my favourite places for funding fungi include the Palm Grove Nature Reserve, near Gosford, and the Piles Creek Loop, in Brisbane Water National Park, also near Gosford. Other favourite locations are Mill Creek, in Dharug National Park near Wisemans Ferry and the easiest of the walks – great for kids – is the Palm Circuit in Munmorah State Conservation Area.

WHERE TO LOOK
Fungi help break down fallen wood, branches and leaves into the compost-like matter that helps feed our natural environments. Keep your eyes peeled to leaf litter, fallen logs and hollows and decaying branches. Peering into the cavities of felled trees or behind and under fallen branches can uncover hidden away.

katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || look high and low when looking for mushrooms
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || look inside log hollows for fungi finds
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || fungi come in all shapes and sizes
WHAT TO TAKE
  • Always walk to the elements, taking sun protection, or protection from the cold.
  • Take a water bottle.
  • Wear sturdy walking shoes.
  • At this time of the year, use insect repellant to avoid leeches. It’s true, there may be leeches on your trail but I find applying any of the stronger tropical repellants on my feet and up around my ankles before donning socks and boots does the trick. You can spray your boots too, for extra measure.
  • If you’re walking to an existing trail, you won’t need a map, but it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the twists and turns of maps available on information bays in parks. 
  • Check the cost of parking at a national park. Most have parking meters accepting coin and cost less than $10 to park for the day.
  • For fungi foraging, all you need is a keen pair of eyes. If you enjoy photography or Instagram, take your camera or mobile phone. You might not have reception in the locations you find fungi, but you can bombard followers with your finds when you get back within range. Check out these top hashtags for inspiration: #fungi #fungifreaks #fungidownunder #fungusamongus #mycology #mushroom #shroomstagram #mushroomspotting

DO THIS, NOT THIS
  • Don’t remove fungi. They’re part of the ecology and are doing an important job. 
  • Don’t try and smell or taste fungi unless you’re absolutely sure of what you’re doing. Some have clever protective measures which means the spores or secretions can have nasty side effects. 
  • Don’t eat the fungi you find. If you love to eat mushrooms, buy them from your nearest grocer. 
  • Don’t disturb decaying wood or reach into leaf litter without first checking they’re free of creepy crawlies. Some of our more unpleasant spiders and insects also like the damp, dark conditions favoured by fungi.
  • Do take photos. Choose a smart phone app that supports macro photography, or carry a camera with a macro setting. Also be prepared for the low light conditions fungi are often found in.
  • Do make return visits. Fungi are short-lived. They emerge and ‘bloom’ in a day or two. Returning to a favourite walk a day or two later will often delight with new varieties to see.
  • Do look high and low. While most fungi can be found closer to the ground, stunning displays can be found higher up on trees where ground-dwelling animals haven’t disturbed them.
katiecrackernuts.blogspot.com || the smallest fungi can be hard to spy

JOIN OTHERS
The National Parks and Wildlife Service’s Discovery Program runs seasonal walks in a number of nearby national parks. Visit nationalparks.nsw.gov.au


March 19, 2016

AUTUMN 2016 || PINNING THINGS COOL NIGHTS

I HAD the best night's sleep last night. A cool night to pull the donna up and snuggle under. It won't be long until a hot water bottle is needed.


THINGS TO MAKE AND DO: Purl Soho's Boyfriend Hat is a perfectly shaped beanie. I just need to flush out 4ply, or fingering weight, yarn from the op shop and get knitting.

THINGS TO COOK AND EAT: Red lentil, paprika and lemon soup. It's so close to soup season.

THINGS TO DROP DOUGH ON: My sister gave me an Etsy gift card for my birthday. This rose quartz and silver ring was made in the 1970s and is winging its way to me right now.

THINGS TO HANG ON THE WALL: I need to clean my gutters of the falling tibouchina trees and  am already sweeping leaves from the back patio. These cooler nights are heralding a change of season.

#flashback: Last year my Pinterest pins were all about planning a New York trip.


February 28, 2016

SUMMER 2016 || FEBRUARY... I'VE DONE IT


CAN you believe summer is all but over? Only for a leap year do we have one more day of it - a Monday, of all days. I reckon I say it every year, but I never seem to make the most of being outdoors in summer. Thankfully we did get outside a little this month, and with a little luck and good planning, squeeze in a trip or two to the beach before the weather turns.

IN FEBRUARY:

I WENT TO… Kangaroo Valley, inland from the NSW South Coast. We spent three days lolling by the river and stuffing ourselves full of good food, staying at the local caravan park, which we can recommend for inexpensive, fuss-free accommodation. That said, next time I'll be sleeping under canvas. Why waste all the advantages of being in the great outdoors?

I ATE… From the caravan park you can walk into town. We walked in for breakfast and dinner, downing a bottle of locally-produced shiraz and walking, footloose and fancy-free, home. Bistro One46 was a treat. Three courses for about $50 a head. The chicken liver pate was enough to share between two for a starter. I enjoyed the arancini as a main and my partner had the chef's curry, off the specials board. I should have picked the apricot bread pudding for dessert but couldn't pass up a rhubarb crumble made from locally-grown rhubarb. Both were delicious, but that caramelised, deep, rich apricot sauce; oh my. We sat overlooking the street under the dappled light of an enormous grapevine and washed down each course with the recommended bottle of Crooked River Black Top Shiraz.

Our other pick from the weekend was the The General Store Cafe. We chose it for breakfasts, but it does a set menu on Friday and Saturday nights that would be worth a gander too.

I OP SHOPPED… Our Kangaroo Valley find was the second hand book store. I picked up a wartime copy of a Yates Garden Guide and a couple of choice cooking and knitting books from the 1940s and '50s. Other op-shopped goodies included a Jenny Kee couch cushion cover made up from a pattern out of her needlework books; a gorgeous stash of vintage buttons; a Hermes ceramic ashtray adorned with hand-painted bees and other insects (I don't smoke but liked the bee motif); and, finally a couple of books - an Eric Carle's The Tiny Seed and herb and spice book with recipes for crafts, food and most important of all natural dyes.

I MADE… Lists. So many lists. Lists of creative projects. Lists of freelance research and writing I want to throw myself into. Lists of what to plant in the garden and all the things that need to happen before planting can begin. Lists that are forming the basis of a business plan. A bucket list for the year. So, so many lists.

I READ… Kate Grenville's The Secret River. I know, I know. I've come to this one late but it was worth the wait - another standout read for so early in the year. My other read for February was The Girl on the Train. Read on a train during the last weeks of my most recent bout of long-haul work commutes thanks to Audible.

#image: A Kangaroo Valley find tucked away off the main street is heaven for Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys fans.