Thursday, November 29, 2012

... on an incredible flower.

Have a look at what is bursting out of two very-neglected plastic pots here.

You know these type of pots - you've been meaning to redo them for two years, so they're only half-full of too-well-rotted soil, and they'd been missing under a pile of fallen leaves in a forgotten part of the garden for some time. I rescued them, completely leafless, a few weeks ago, stuck them out in the sun and started watering them. I KNEW what was in them, but I certainly didn't expect so many.

What grand timing! They're blood lilies, or scadoxus multiflorus, and I was given one bulb by our dear family friend Jan some years ago. Over time the bulb has multiplied, and I had divided them into two pots-ful a while back. Looks like they've come to maturity since then! So far I've cut at least four for vase-flowers and there's still at least eight in the pots.
Oh for the right spot in the garden to let them naturalise...

Edited to add: The size of one of these blooms is almost 20cm (or 8in) across!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

... on cushion archaeology.

I was about to toss an old floral cushion into the bin - it recently came to me from my grandmother's place and although I did have plans to sit on it (and the perfect chair to go with it), it proved to be a great source of dust, no matter how much I whacked it or vacuumed it. It had some strange gravelly texture within. Before I tossed it, I undertook to answer the question... 'what in hell is in this cushion?'
To my delight I discovered that the cushion had been re-covered six times! The further in I got the more rotten the fabrics became, and right in the middle was a blackened foam-rubber pad that had degraded so much that lots of little hard bits had fallen off, forming the gravelly loose bits I could feel.
No wonder it was so dusty! Although it's made me sneeze quite a bit, investigating this cushion has made my day!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

... on learning. Always learning.

I've been taking lots of photos lately. I've made some more wall hangings out of my cast plaster seedpods, and I set one up to take some pics. It was mid-morning. There was strong but diffused light flooding in from one side of the house.
Using Photoshop, I get the seedpods themselves to look good, but even after adjusting the levels and contrast for an age, I can't get the background to become anything but mid grey without blowing out either the seedpods or the cables. I tell you, these white mobiles are a challenge to photograph. Every time I do I seem to come up against a different issue! I write up an Etsy listing for the wall hanging but these photos look way too heavy on the page.

Mid afternoon. I notice that the sun, now beaming in from the other side of the room, has lightened that white wall considerably. Pulling the white under-curtain over the glass doors acts as a big ol' diffuser and the wall is looking very promising indeed. I set to... again.
This time I'm able to get a much brighter result without anything blowing out, and it certainly makes the Etsy listing look more appealing... I think. I'm torn. I almost prefer the look of the first set, as those white seedpods really look lovely against that mid-grey. The second set is cleaner, somehow, but almost... less interesting?
I can't tell! What do you think?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

... on a volcano.

When I hear about someone who knew what they wanted to be when they grow up as a kid, and then actually went ahead and ended up DOING exactly what they said they would, I'm curious. It's almost as though that five-year-old had already figured out what really interested them, and had the possibility of interesting them all throughout their adult life. I know that most kids don't end up being astronauts, or zookeepers, or whatever it was that they were keen on, but some do, don't they, and some of them knew that from the start.

I was five when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980. First I knew of it, though, was a couple of years later when I was flicking through one of our huge collection of National Geographic magazines; their yellow spines occupied a whole shelf in our living room. They were dog-eared and much read; often I would select one and look at the pictures from cover-to-cover, thrilled by the illustrations of, say; Inca rituals, or; macro photographs of the eye of an insect, or; in one case, terrifying pictures of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. For some reason I kept coming back to that one, the January 1981 edition. I knew it backwards. I read the eye-witness reports. I dreamed about eruptions.

Years passed. The National Geographic collection disappeared. The internet was everywhere. One day about ten years ago, I discovered that there was a webcam pointed right at Mount St. Helens, and I started to look at it daily, just to see what was going on. The mountain had been busy in all those years since the eruption - steaming and shaking and toiling and troubling, and building up an exciting new lava dome in the crater. I bought some volcano books, big coffee-table ones. I took it into my head to search for that January 1981 National Geographic, and got lucky in a charity store one afternoon.
More years passed. My father died. Life started to feel like it could be really short. I was working an extremely ordinary job that had a three hour commute, and one morning, whilst gazing wistfully at the webcam, it occurred to me. I could go to Mount St. Helens. I could GO there. Suddenly, and for the first time, the idea of visiting America was on my mind. I was surprised! I had money saved. I threw in the extremely ordinary job. Life is too short!

My first visit to Mount St. Helens was in 2005. I was backpacking around the States, and was in Seattle for only a few days. I had no transport. I was the youngest person on an all-day bus tour that almost didn't go because the weather forecast was terrible, and didn't look like changing. At the pickup spot the bus driver took one look at the number of people waiting (6), took the coach away, and came back with a minibus. The day was, miraculously, fogless. As the little bus toiled up Spirit Lake Highway towards the mountain, I got my first glimpse of a vast snowy shoulder, and was, for want of a better description, blown away. It was big. SO big. At the Johnston Ridge Observatory I had one hour before the bus left, so I walked a little way down a trail, found a bench to sit on and stared at the mountain. I knew I'd be back. I just had to come back.
I was back there, staring at the mountain, a few weeks ago. Like my two previous visits, this one was characterised by some degree of luck in regards to the weather. It should have been snowing up there by then... but no. It was clear and sunny, and my bro humoured me by letting me go off on a five-hour hike from Johnston Ridge while he read the latest Terry Pratchett in our rented RV.
I headed towards the Truman Trail - a trail offshoot that climbs up a ridge which gives the only full views of Spirit Lake from this side.
The trail was very steep in parts, and really gave me the willies. I just had to set my jaw and concentrate on not slipping off the edge, or causing a rockfall.
The view behind me as I climbed up Harry's Ridge (named for 84-year-old Harry Truman, who lived in a lodge down on the shore of Spirit Lake and refused to leave. He and his house and his many cats were buried under a huge amount of ash and debris when the mountain blew.)
Spirit Lake. The whole level of the lake and surrounds was raised more than 60 metres during the eruption. It's still filled with the many logs which were blown into it that day. They float about depending on the winds.
You can see part of the trail I've come on snaking across the opposite hill.

What a perfect day. The mountain, the first sight of that beautiful lake, the sunshine, the tinkling of my bear bell to keep me company, the crunchy sound of the ashy rocks beneath my boots, and the curious silence when I stopped. Lucky girl. As soon as I got back to Australia I looked at the webcam, and the whole place was covered in snow.

So, why? I can't explain it. I've experimented with other volcanoes, but the magnetism just isn't as powerful. Perhaps it's that my interest was caught as a kid. My Ma has a theory, which I'm not sure I should be sharing; she's quite sure I was conceived in a VW van in the carpark of a volcanic hot-spring where she and my dad camped for a few days. My 5-year-old brother would have been sleeping across the front seats. Romantic, huh? Well, it is quite a romantic notion. Maybe those steamy sulphurous fumes got into my soul when it was in the making.

I have a sub-theory that I was bewitched by a man I spoke to on a Paris railway station, because my renewed interest in volcanoes came on after this incident; he asked me whether we were on the right platform for the TGV train. I'd been taking French classes for a year, so I gathered some together in my brain, apologised to him for how bad it was, and told him. He asked me where I was from. I asked him where he was from. He said he was from La Reunion. I'd only recently learned about La Reunion because of going to those classes - it's a tiny French island between Madagascar and Mauritius. He told me there was a volcano on La Reunion. I asked him whether it was active. He said 'Oui!' very seriously, and he leaned down to rummage in his bag. He then handed me a small piece of pumice stone, which was sharp and very fresh-looking. When I tried to pass it back to him he said "Non. Pour vous." For you. I put it into the bottom of a hole I dug to plant a magnolia tree in a few days later. That way I'll always know where it is.

I'll have to go back to Mount St. Helens. There'll always be something I haven't yet done. I want to camp out on the pumice plain by Spirit Lake. I'd love to climb right into the crater - they've just started letting geologist-guided groups back in there. This time the road around the eastern side of the mountain was open, but so foggy on the day we were passing through that we couldn't see a thing. I'll have to go back. I think I'll always have to go back.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

... on a bi-annual RANT!

It's been at least six months since my last rant, and I think I'm allowed two per year, so here goes.

I was shopping for some supplies the other day, and I got a shock. 
What's that, you say? It's something that was a bit tricky to photograph, but I think you can see it okay. This is tigertail. It's a plastic-coated stainless-steel wire used in jewellery assembly, and I use it for putting my wall hangings together. The upper piece there is a quality 7-strand Australian-made product that costs almost $38 for a roll containing 100 metres. The lower piece is a, what... 4? strand product made in That Place Where Cheap Things Are Made. It costs... get this... five bucks. For 100 metres. Retail! Standing there at the counter, I was astounded, and I think the chap helping me noticed, as he said (referring to the cheap one) "This will fall apart in a year." Lots of things ran through my head. Like this; how the hell can an Australian company compete with that, even though their product is far superior? And; so this is why things break. THIS is why things break. A manufacturer could swap from using a $38 roll to using a $5 roll. The consumer wouldn't know, the manufacturer saves $33, and the retail price can stay the same, right? GAH!

I re-stocked with the $38 roll. Walking out of there clutching it, I thought about all the substandard crap that we put up with. We put up with new cars that fail majorly when they're just out of warranty. We build 'affordable' off-the-plan houses that have frames of untreated timber, and wonder why they fill up with termites. We can buy a cheap component that costs one eighth the price of a quality one. 

Things aren't designed to last any more, and this is why. GAH!

Monday, November 12, 2012

... on Kuberstore news.

Something happened here a few weeks ago, to little fanfare, but was accompanied by considerable personal excitement. What can I say - I'm biased about this particular issue! What happened was this; I made a change to my Etsy store name.

I was in two minds about whether to do this - and asking for opinions on the Etsy and BrisStyle forums revealed that people generally think a shorter business name is better. Perhaps it's easier to remember. Plus, I had been operating as 'Kuber' for some years, and some suggested that a name change could disrupt any connections I'd made out there in the handmade world.

One thing I was sure about was that it was time for me to set things up properly. I want my little handmade business to be just that - a business. I've been declaring any income from Kuber under my ABN on my tax return for years, so I don't feel like I've been ripping off the tax man - but I looked in to what else might need to be done. I found that it was necessary to register my business name, which is where I came up against a block. When I went to ASIC, who are responsible for maintaining the new Australian national register of business names, I found that Kuber wasn't available. Humpf. These are the perils of having a short name, and for not doing all this years ago when I should have!

It was easy, after that. I HAD to make a change, so I did. 'Kuber' became 'Kuberstore' on Etsy, and 'Kuberstore' was registered with ASIC. became mine, and my lovely old colleague Clinton set about making me a placeholder webpage to fill it. My new business cards arrived just in time for me to use them at my first market, and over the course of the evening enough people took cards for me to be glad I'd got them and the placeholder page sorted out in time. The market was a blast, by the way! I had fun, and I'm hoping to do another before Christmas.
So, what's coming next?

I'm very much looking forward to moving in to the little studio across the deck, which is almost finished. Another two weeks should see me in there, and making stuff like crazy. After initial naming as 'The Shed', it's now more often referred to as 'The Outhouse' on account of the fact that it contains our second bathroom!
This little room has a similar treatment as our existing house - white walls, black-stained plywood floor, and dodgy-old-rusty-fan-made-new by spraying with matte black paint. The louvres are a new feature, though, for cross-ventilation as there's only the one big window, otherwise. 
In the bathroom, the undermounted lab sink is big and deep enough for me to wash brushes out in. The room has the same subway wall tiles and tiny white square floor tiles as our existing bathroom.
Here's the floor finish - it's structural plywood sheeting which has been sanded, stained black and polyurethaned. Curiously, it came up much 'blacker' than the same treatment in the house - lovely!
It needs some garden as a skirt. I'll get onto that!
This has been one of my jobs over the past few days - prepping and painting the architraves and skirting boards ready for C to install.
Even more excitement to come... I've received a very promising inquiry about a wholesale order for some of my plaster egg wall hangings, so I've feverishly put together a wholesale terms and conditions document (thanks must go to Aliya from Sailor Mouth Soaps for coming to my rescue via the BrisStyle forum and very generously sending me her wholesale policy document as a place to start - a thousand thankyous!) and started thinking about exactly what that might mean.

Lots to do. Lots to do!

Monday, November 5, 2012

... on a garden update.

This is what awaited me out the back when I got home after being away for five weeks.
A garden full of green things! As there had been no rain, and as Brisbane had just been blasted by a long period of that horrible dry gusty westerly wind, I wasn't expecting this. The tiny kale plants I'd hurriedly planted before heading off to the airport looked promising. The row of Florence fennel was outstanding! And, although windswept, the corn at the back was flowering and covered in tiny cobs.  
I'm not sure why some of the tiny corn cobs have this lovely red silk, and others green, as all the seeds were the same. They are an organic heirloom variety from Diggers called Golden Bantam.
Aren't the little pink flowers beautiful?
Another surprise delighted me - it looks like the sweet-potato experiment is a success, as least from a vine-growing perspective! Whether there's lovely tubers forming in those bags is yet to be determined - I think it's way too early yet.
But, I can almost taste that corn already. A few more weeks!

Friday, November 2, 2012

... on doing something I could never have imagined I would.

I don't know how I first found one particular blog in my reading list. I think it had something to do with Googling sweet potatoes. I guess I must have clicked through from somewhere somehow, and started reading the story of this girl. The next day I back-read some more, and after a few days I think I'd read through to the beginning. I liked her writing style, and I liked the sound of her life. She'd grown up in a city, trained and worked as a graphic designer, and realised that that life didn't go with a yearning in her soul. She wanted a farm. She wanted a working dog. She wanted to raise animals, grow vegetables, and make bread, cheese, and homebrew from scratch. She wanted to play her own music. She wanted to provide for herself. Slowly, she set about it. She rented a homestead. She bought chickens and fiber rabbits, started playing the fiddle. Now, not quite thirty, she's written three books and has purchased her own farm in the woody hills outside Cambridge, in upstate New York. She has two milk goats, a flock of sheep, three geese, a turkey (at least until Thanksgiving), a bunch of chickens, meat rabbits, two piglets, two huskies, a border collie, a new kitten, a tiny ex-Amish working horse and a strong black Fell pony who looks like a unicorn.

The girl is Jenna Woginrich, and she lives at Cold Antler Farm, and I went to visit.

This was one of those adventures that was unlikely. Fortuitous. Blessed. Incredible. Knowing I'd be visiting New York and feeling particularly brave one morning, I'd emailed Jenna to ask if she needed any help on the farm for a day or so. Turns out that my visit could coincide with Jenna's annual workshop weekend, Antlerstock. These days Jenna doesn't go to work as a graphic designer. She supports herself and her farm with her blog, by guest-speaking, and by holding regular workshops about homesteading and farming. I promptly bought a ticket for the weekend, looked at a map, arranged a rental car, and smiled. A lot!
So, on a Friday afternoon, I drove north from New York City. How I would have got through that maze of roads leading out of the city without the GPS I don't know. The country was low wooded hills, rather incredibly cloaked with trees doing their crazy red-and-yellow autumn leaf thing: something I never thought I would ever see. Sometimes I passed through little towns where everyone had decorated their porches and yards with Halloween things. The further north I got, the more frequent the little roadside farm-stalls became. Handpainted signs read 'Raw milk sales' and 'Farm-killed meats'. The communities didn't look prosperous, but they seemed full and alive, and the soil was rich and dark. It took just under five hours to get from New York City to Cambridge, where I'd be spending the next two nights in a motor inn.

The next morning was mild, but overcast. It was with some nervousness that I set out for Cold Antler. After all, I'd been reading about this place for ages, and suddenly... what the hell? How could it be that I was about to visit?! Incredible! I drove there thinking about the wonder and immediacy of the internet, and about how small it can make the world feel sometimes.
I don't know what I was nervous about. Others were arriving as I did, and there were about twenty people standing about on the front lawn in front of the little white farmhouse in a clearing in the woods. I headed for the familiar-looking girl in a utility kilt who was greeting the arrivals in turn.
"Who's this?" she said as I came to the head of the queue. I told her, my Australian accent sounding weirdly false in my own ears, and she said "Ooooh!" and gave me a big hug. She told me I'd won the (metaphorical) prize for being the person who'd travelled from furtherest away.
The weekend began. Jenna ran through the plans for the day, standing in front of a target that was to feature heavily later on. She welcomed us all to Cold Antler, speaking over the voluminous protests of a piglet in a crate nearby, and every so often a yellow leaf would fall from the maple above. Down near the collection of red barns and henhouses were more trees (ash?) with smaller leaves that, when the wind gusted, would shower down in drifts of yellow. To this antipodean, the sight was amazing, although everyone else ignored it!
Two days of workshops followed, and I was so engrossed I usually forgot to take photographs. There were generally two things going on at once, so you had your choice of whether you'd like to, say; listen to a talk about sourdough, and taste a loaf cooked in a gas barbeque, or; follow Brett, a man with an axe, into the woods and watch him take down a tree in a graceful and expert fashion. Everyone stopped to watch Jenna harness Merlin (the unicorn) and haul that log up the road. I watched the preparation of a barrel of home-brew, and tasted just-pressed apple cider straight from the bucket. Jenna's friend Patty arrived with Steele, her enormous Percheron horse, who she harnessed up; his responses to her voice-commands had me completely in awe, and he pulled another vast log out of the woods like it weighed nothing at all. You could tell that he really enjoyed it, too.
Jenna herself did talks on keeping chickens, on rearing rabbits for meat, on sheep, she did a soap-making demonstration and was on hand to only-just catch the screaming piglet as he made an attempt at freedom from the barn, and to admonish Monday-the-tame-lamb when he became too inquisitive about someone's backpack. 
Noone could stop these chickens eating this jack-o-lantern, though. By the end of the weekend they'd (in Jenna's words) "turned it into some kind of zombie pumpkin."

Inbetweentimes, we all talked, sharing stories about our homes, towns and lives. They were the most lovely bunch of folk, and I found I had something in common with all of them; we wanted to visit Cold Antler and get an insight into what life could be like if we had our own farms. The term 'homesteading' isn't really known in Australia; here we just call it 'farming' or, if we used to be city-dwellers, 'tree-changing'. The challenges are different - I simply can't imagine what it would be like to need six months worth of firewood on hand to heat my home, or to beat my way through snow to feed the chooks. But, I guess some of the people I spoke to have never faced a blistering summer of water restrictions. I'm not a farmer, nor am I a tree-changer, but the good thing was that almost everything we learned about (large livestock and tree-felling aside) could be adapted to suit a small yard in an urban setting.

Now, I'm not ever likely to have a rifle leaning in my hallstand like Jenna (and hope I never need one) but at Antlerstock I did do something I never thought I would.
Photo courtesy Andrew from Brown Dog Photo
That's me, and yes, I'm throwing a double-headed axe. Turns out that Brett, the axe man (in the red check behind me), was a pro-woodsportsman, and axe-throwing is just one of many woodsporting events. That's what the target was for, and boy, can I see the attraction.

Since I've come home, I've thought often about Jenna and her life on that little farm. I feel so lucky that I was able to visit. I'm thankful that Cold Antler has weathered the edge of the horrible recent storm that hit New York. I've started my own new sourdough culture, an intriguing experiment that I'll post on later. I've looked at my chooks with a new appreciation, and been delighted by the tiny cobs forming on the windswept corn in the garden. I've carved my very first jack-o-lantern. And, I'm eyeing off our woodpile and wondering what the neighbours would think if I started throwing axes around here.