Wednesday, April 2, 2014

from the mending basket

 I hadn't really felt much like sewing over Summer. A few halfhearted attempts ended in a couple of disasters, so I thought it better not to try to push it while my heart wasn't in it. I knew that eventually I would feel like sewing again, that the interest and enjoyment I once felt would return. It always does eventually, doesn't it? As Summer turned into Autumn and life calmed down somewhat, I did feel that pull to get back to the sewing machine.

The biggest hurdle was that darn mending basket sitting at the entrance of my bedroom as a glaring daily reminder. So one rainy day I tackled it. It took about 3 days on and off, and then it was done. Not so hard afterall, but the seemingly unsurmountable sewing hurdle has been accomplished.

After the usual sock and tiny hole t-shirt mending (what is with t-shirts these days?), there were a few patches  (you might recognize the fabric from here) to sew on some jeans for Violet, an adult dress and skirt to convert into skirts for Violet, and a dress for myself to take in. I couldn't resist the $5 dress sale at the local op shop and I had a feeling this dress would be easy to take in. I don't know about you, but I just can't pass up a good floral. With no zipper, and only the bodice being lined, it was thankfully quite easy to take in. But I'm still wondering if I can get away with a dress that short.

My quilt had long been waiting for some kind of closure. Poor thing had been sitting in the mending basket for some time. Me being the lazy sewer that I am, popped a few lace ties on, rather than time consuming buttonholes. As I hadn't had it on the bed for so long, it feels like a new quilt again.

I also came a across a whole bundle of half finished dish drainer towels (last batch seen here). I'd started them about 6 months ago and I had wondered if they would ever get finished. I had roughly put together some vintage tea towels backed with old towels. Isn't it funny the drama you can have with the simplest of things? I guess that's what happens when you don't measure properly and try to skip the pins. The first one I finished I had to unpick an entire row and broke two needles. Not fun. But after that things went pretty smoothly and I finished them before school pick-up.

My mental sewing space now appears to be cleared and I feel ready to move ahead with some bigger and better (hopefully) projects.

Does this happen to you? Do you too suffer from mending basket/unfinished project guilt?

What projects are you working on?

Or have you been taking a break too?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the milking routine

A few of you have been asking how the cows were doing, so I thought a cow devoted blog post was in order. Last week was a busy one and it got away on me without being able to spend time on any post. But with a (thankfully) dreary wet day outside it is the perfect excuse for a little blogging update.

Bessie has been with us around 6 months now. She has been good to us beginners, and although there was plenty of learning for both us and her in the beginning, being a first calf heifer and all, I think we really did get into a good routine. Of course there was much trial and error, but I think we really have got the hang of things. At least in the milking department.

A proper routine has evolved and every morning I drive out to the property. Bessie waits at the fence, often sitting chewing her cud. By this I would know that all was well. On her heat days however, she would be nervously pacing around inside the stables and I would have to coax her out with some good hay. The stables would get cleared of manure, hay brought down from the small shed and her mixture of pollard, barley, sunflower seeds, chaff, beet flakes and minerals made up for her morning and evening bucket. The water is checked and I may have Jerry cans of water with me if there has been no rain.

The morning bucket gets emptied into the feed bucket in the milking bails. I would then get all the milking equipment ready, stool out and get Violet out of the way behind the gate.
I then let Bessie in, who had been making her "foghorn" noise for the past ten minutes or so.

Cows are such a creature of habit which really makes the whole milking process fairly easy in the end. It may take awhile to get there, but in the end you have a cow that willingly walks in, happily eats her grain, lets you bolt the headpiece into place, put a chain behind her to keep her from swinging from side to side, and then a rope tied to keep her leg back. Of course you may not need the leg rope, and I likely don't really need it anymore,  but I view it more as an insurance policy against losing a bucket of milk. Of course one day Bessie swung her other leg and caught the bucket and I lost a hard earned three litres. But you live and learn and you get to anticipate any major shifts in that department.

I then brush Bessie's udder and surrounding area to get rid of any muck. Her udder is then washed with a soap and vinegar mix, dried and then each teat squirted into the ground to get rid of any bacteria. Coconut oil is then coated onto each teat and we are ready to go.

At first milking was terribly difficult. It takes time to learn the best way to milk the teats, and let me tell you that not all teats are created equal. Each teat in my experience ranges from easy to difficult. Bessie's front teats are fairly long (still not long enough to get a complete hand around, but almost) and the milk now comes out quickly and easily. The back teats, however, are small and the milk comes out at a much slower rate. They are hard work those small teats, and you must use your thumb and two fingers, like a stripping action, and they don't produce as much milk. Over time though I have become pretty fast at milking, and I wouldn't really consider a machine at this point. It takes me about ten to fifteen minutes to milk now. It saves all that machine cleaning too.

In the beginning we were lucky to get about two and a half litres each morning, but as the months went by, and Bessie slowly gained weight, we were up to 4 to 5 litres each morning. After such a dry summer of virtually no grass, and all feed having to brought in (mostly oaten hay), we did get some small green growth after the rain. The cream line was remarkable. In some bottles the cream was a third of the bottle. As you can imagine, this was very exciting! Well, I was excited anyway.

Then when we've got all the milk we are going to get, I carry the bucket into the feed room, Violet lifts up the lid and we pour the milk into a filter sitting inside the milk can. Fortunately the feed room is nice and cool and we leave it here until we leave. Once we get home I again filter the milk into Mason jars and it is popped into the freezer for a few hours to cool down rapidly.

After milking is done, the hay is carried out, Bessie unbolted and when she is ready she heads out to her hay. I often give her a brush down at this time and tell her what a good girl she is. Bessie is not one to really enjoy a pat, but she will tolerate it. She is mostly all business, but she is a good girl. The calf is then let out and he often tries to scavenge some of the milking grain.

I then clean out the calf room, top up water and with a quick check over we are good to go. In the evening Daniel will pass through on this way home from work. He will feed the evening bucket and feed the calf in his "room" where he willingly goes each night.

We've found calf sharing to be very good for us. We can have the weekends off from milking, and skip a day here or there if the day is going to be terribly busy. It feels more humane to let them be together and they are company for each other. Of course it is not all smooth sailing and our calf has acquired a bit of an attitude in the past month or so. He has grown into a good sized calf, and when the time comes he should make a wonderful rose veal. But for now we try to make his life as pleasant as possible.

But as I type this we are missing our wonderful raw milk (Incidentally some of us have caught colds for the first time since we were on the raw milk).  Bessie is currently visiting a pure white Hereford bull, and has joined his herd for the past two weeks, with the calf by her side. We drive past them most days and all seems to be fine. Our calf is enjoying many calves to play with. Hopefully another week will seal the deal.

So you might be asking if all this fuss is worth it? For many people it may not be. You really have to like cows. You need to be prepared for unforeseen costs. Feed and supplements are not cheap, but neither are vets, and fortunately we haven't had to have one out yet. Though her hooves have been booked in.

Owning a cow is a huge time commitment and it does makes it difficult to go away. We are still trying to work our way around this. I think many people are scared of such commitments these days, though in times gone by many people had a house cow. Most people around here grew up drinking house cow milk, but now they are few and far between. It can work, but it's not for everyone.

But I do think owning a cow is the ultimate food connection. Milk is no longer just milk. There is a real connection to this large gentle creature. With luck she will also give you a calf each year. The manure will keep your garden healthy. The milk, though, is plentiful and delicious. You will never be able to really enjoy store bought milk again. To me it now tastes tainted, and I am having a hard time of drinking store bought. Not to mention slight sinus which I haven't suffered from in a long time. But this may just be coincidence.

We will be moving Bessie and her calf to the village in the coming weeks. A large 10 acre river flat paddock is available, and there is also a back up smaller paddock should this fall through. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Some of you may be asking about our calf Shirley. I will try and take some photos this week with an update. She really is growing up.

Until then, I hope your week is a good one, and that those that needed the rain are getting some.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Julia's scarf

In the absence of anything crafty to post, I thought I would show you Julia's latest sewing project. She seems to have overtaken me in the crafting stakes lately, and perhaps I should be taking a leaf out of her book. She has taken naturally to sewing by machine, unlike her mother. Despite my own mother sewing often as a child, I was always too scared to learn. I remember avoiding the machine in the one term I did of sewing in high school. I still wonder how I passed that class.

I was pretty proud of Julia's latest effort, a scarf, of which the pattern came from Sewing School
2, a book that we bought her for christmas. She chose an assortment of floral sheeting she had in her very own little stash, and backed it with some Anna Maria Horner flannel that was in my stash. It always interests me to see which fabrics people mix together, and especially when that person is your 9 year old daughter.

I guided her throughout but she happily did all the cutting, pinning, ironing and sewing herself. Including hand sewing the loop hole by hand at the very end.

Perhaps my inspiration to get right back into something crafty may be sitting right in front of me. It does make me think that perhaps a small, uncomplicated project may be just what I need to get myself back into my sewing space.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

a dry summer

Why hello there! You would be forgiven in thinking that I had forgotten entirely about this little neglected space. As life just became too busy around me, I found that the blog became far less important in daily life, and I kept pushing it far back into the list of priorities. Before I knew it an entire two months had gone past. Of course the longer you leave something the harder it is to come back to it. Where to start? What to blog about? You certainly become rusty in the blogging department and the words do not flow easily.

It is not easy to blog when you don't feel like yourself as much as you used to. When you start to question if this really is the best way to live. When you lose your motivation.

I guess a combination of things contributed to the way I was feeling this summer. It was a terribly hot summer, and we went for a long time without rain. I can only begin to imagine how hard this would be if your livelihood depended up on it. As it was here, my vegie garden, that I had such high hopes for this year, that I had spent many hours on, so much money invested in, potatoes, seeds and seedlings, withered up and died. I gave up the twice day watering when I realised that I was no match for this harsh windy Summer and that I could no longer justify using so much precious tank water. It is the first summer here that I had no tomato crop. Then despite the hard work of pumping water twice weekly and watering all the trees, we still lost several. The grass died and you could feel the crunch under your feet while walking around after dark. Because that was the only time it was pleasant outside. Drought can suck the life right out of you.

When it doesn't rain the cows still need water, and pumping and fetching water becomes a huge headache. Having them 10 minutes away was not helping either, particularly when we had to buy their entire feed for the summer. I love my cows, I love the fresh milk, but I will not pretend that the whole experience has been an easy one. It has been a huge learning curve. Yet I still want to do it. I think an update post is due very soon.

Going back to the dry, I can now say that we were very fortunate this time around. It rained. Hard. Then it rained again. And again and again. We went from a dirt lawn to bright green grass. Everywhere. You can't underestimate just how much better you can feel when it finally rains. My thoughts are with those going through much tougher times, who haven't yet had rain, and can't afford to bring in feed.

Then there was the whole blogging thing. Sorry to say I had been keeping well away from the blogging community, becoming more drawn to the quieter, non-sponsored and less popular blogs. A click on an old favourite didn't always feel the same anymore. Amidst the new professional headers, wonderful  photography and the sometimes bombarding sponsorship, it seemed easier at times to slowly fade away and put that blogging chapter behind me. I lack the time to experiment, funds and expertise necessary to try to perfect my photography or to stylise this space professionally. So I've just decided to do the best I can do. Homemade header it is. Blurry pictures it may be.

So I'm feeling better now. Ready to put this harsh summer behind and look forward to a cooler, greener Autumn. My favourite season. I thank all those who wrote to me out of concern, and I did feel missed. Just don't expect anything too fancy. My life is not fancy, and I always wanted to maintain an honest truth within this blog. The ups and downs are all part of life, and it would be a lie to gloss over that. So as long as you don't expect anything too flash, but just a little journal of this not so perfect life here, I hope to see you again real soon.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

christmas holidays

Nigella's Italian Christmas Pudding Cake. Just like last year.

Violet's Christmas stocking made up with a little old wool, needlework doily, ribbon and a little appliqued Liberty.

Christmas came and went this year without too much of a fuss. Sure there was that dreaded last Christmas shop, a fair bit of cooking (but not nearly so much as in other years past), and many days spent at home both with family and just ourselves. There has been some adjusting and compromising along the way as we haven't had the liberty of time that we've had in previous years. Sad to say not much at all in the way of handmade. Though Violet did finally get her stocking on Christmas Eve.

Brown paper, stamps we already had, string, bark, black marker and gumleaves made for budget wrapping this year.

 It has taken almost three weeks to really get into the routine of holidays. Holidays should be easy, right? Well, it is nice to imagine that it will be, but reality often reveals a different story. Sometimes all that time together brings out the very worst in us. There were clashes (I felt like I did nothing but break up fights amongst the kids for 2 weeks straight), there was the annual analyze your life discussions, as well as stopping to count all the jobs that need to be done around the house.

So although I have a small pile of pretty fabric just sitting there waiting to be made into a summer wardrobe of sorts, my house is only half clean and I have a sore throat, I can happily say that we are just now beginning to get into the swing of the holidays and truly enjoy each others company.  We've been enjoying homemade ice cream, allowing a few more treats than usual into the house (anyone else love panettone?), changing rooms around, long talks and having movie nights at home.

Funny, isn't it, that the week full of swimming lessons that I had been dreading has turned out the be the best week yet? But life is like that. Swimming lessons have gotten us all into the pool, with a coffee, lemonade or ice cream afterwards. Followed by a few lazy afternoons.

Our bottle fed calf has kept us grounded at home this holidays, but I think this has been a blessing in disguise. It has been good for us to just be at home doing home things.

Sadly it may be the final week that we are together as Daniel may be back to work next week. But I'm hoping that we can bring just a little holiday feeling with us as we get back into the daily grind of life. The odd movie night and a few more ice creams may be just what we need.

I do hope you are all enjoying and have enjoyed your christmas and new years break. Happy new year!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Just to let you all know that we are still alive and kicking. A little tired, yes, at least on my part, but still here and well.

I wasn't intending to neglect this space for so long. But you know how life happens, and certain things just get put on the back burner.

So what's been happening in the meanwhile? Swimming lessons, soccer, sewing lessons, calf feeding, cow milking, two birthdays (Luca's 11th and Violet's 3rd), a gun license safety course, breastfeeding finished as well as bed sharing done with (yes I still can't quite believe those last 3 things). Plus all the other thousand and one things that you can probably relate to. You know how crazy it gets at this time of year right? All those things that throw you out of your normal routine?

I'm afraid I'm so terribly disorganized this year that christmas is going to be a last minute affair. I haven't done christmas shopping, I haven't sent cards out yet and I haven't even put in my christmas ham and pork order. I know, what is the world coming to? But I am optimistically hoping that it will all fall into place with minimum effort (perhaps a little too optimistic!) Please tell me I am not the only one!

While we see the end of daily swimming lessons today, and school finishes up next week, not to mention the extra hours Daniel has been working to wrap up his business for the end of the year, we are hoping that things will go down a notch in the next week or so.

Afterall, it can be easy to get caught up in the whole "getting everything done just right" before christmas, but what really matters is relaxed time together, some good, not necessarily complicated food and a few simple presents. I've let go of the online shopping for christmas this year and I will be shopping locally for presents. In the past I have thought it was the right thing to buy online from ethical companies, and I still believe this can be a good thing. But I have seen local small businesses struggle in our small town, with many closing, and while they may have the general Made in China products for the main part, it somehow feels right this year to be supporting the local shops.

Our christmas tree only went up this week, and although this is usually my domain, and I am sadly a little controlling about how the tree should look, I let Julia take the reigns this year. So yes, our plastic white (that is beginning to yellow) tree is decorated to the hilt this year, complete with tinsel and every decoration that we own, but I'm loving it in all it's tacky glory.

I had grand plans to knit dishcloths for teacher's gifts and gift fillers this year, but the cotton is still sitting there and I don't think I'm going to get that done this year. But you never know. Otherwise I guess it's not too late for a few biscuit batches?

In the world of craft I actually managed to finish a few things of late. Okay, only one actually finished. I have almost finished Luca's cardigan, bar the zipper, so let's hope it still fits come next season. I think it will. I will hopefully get to Ravel it soon enough. The other completed project is another Wiksten tank (the last one I made is blogged here, and I wear it to death), made up with some op shop cotton voile. I love this pattern. It is fairly quick and easy and such a great cut. I added the pocket this time. Certainly quite forgiving on muffin tops.

All three of our bovines are doing well. Bessie's steer calf is perhaps doing a little too well, and at 4 months now we are contemplating weaning him over the holidays. We're getting a little greedy for some more milk, especially since Shirley enjoys her little share every day, mixed with her milk replacer. Speaking of Shirley, she is doing quite well, and at almost 7 weeks now, has settled into our house and our hearts. Who knew cows could be so cuddly? She is still in her straw covered watertank/firewood pen, and she is being taught to lead and be tethered on the grass.

So that's about it. I promise I will try to get to this blog a little more often as I do miss it when I'm away too long.  I hope you are all well and coping with this considerably more busy time of year. If there is one lesson that I am learning myself of christmas this year, it is to let go of unrealistic expectations. Do what you can with what you have (I read that saying recently somewhere, but I can't remember where?) Christmas will still happen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

meet Shirley

Life has been restored to somewhat more normality this week. Last week was quite a week! Daniel took the kids on school camp while I held the fort here (with Violet). There was the cow to milk, the calf to put away at night, of which I had never attempted before (fortunately he has learned to like buckets), a new calf to bottle feed (more on that later) as well as some spring cleaning to be done. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to Spring clean with most of the household away. Not such a great idea when I found myself up way past midnight trying to get the floors finished. But it is done, which is a good feeling I must say. Dust bunnies and dirty hand prints all gone.

The weather turned extra warm, the too-small water tank emptied, and so I had to hand cart bucket loads of water on the back of the ute for the cows. It wasn't easy and would probably have looked quite funny if anyone was around. Let's just say half the water didn't make it.

But back to the brand new calf. Meet little Shirley. She is now a little over two weeks and is a Jersey x Holstein. We are bottle raising her at home, and Julia has happily taken up bottle feeding duties. Daniel picked her up from a working dairy the day before school camp. This was a lot earlier than originally planned, but her owner was going away.  All their first calving heifers are bred to a Jersey bull which makes for smaller first calves. Since they keep only a Holstein herd they sell off the baby crosses.

Now, a one and a half week old calf with mild scours (which is almost inevitable when you move them) on my relatively inexperienced own was not an ideal scenario. There was much book and internet research, electrolytes given, a homemade fly repellant concocted, some Bessie milk to supplement the milk replacer, a little slippery elm and a daily egg yolk mixed in. Happily the scours have completely gone. But I can't quite get rid of the flies.

She is a lively, friendly little thing with plenty of energy. Her white patch on her back leg reminds me of a dancing cat! We are training her to lead (a calf halter has been ordered) and she is beginning to nibble on grass. Our water tank/firewood storage area has become a temporary calf pen for the summer. It will be quite some time before she will have a calf and be in milk, and meanwhile we hope to get her as used to people as possible. We have a half acre of grass here with half of that being abundant with grass right now. Hopefully next summer she will be able to keep it down. In the future we have several options of nearby paddocks from kindly neighbours, and at some stage Bessie will likely be brought to this area also.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Daniel and the kids came home. You never really know what you are capable of though until you have no choice in the matter. While I am sure this is probably a part of everyday for some people, and I do take my hat off to them, it certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. I never really pictured myself shoveling manure, hauling water, milking and bottle feeding cows all on my own. Usually Daniel is around to help with the heavier duty things. My hair is always messy these days and I know I will never have nice nails again (not that I ever really did), but the funny thing is I don't really care that much.

It's strange the direction life takes you in. Sometimes it can all feel a little overwhelming, with the steep learning curves, with the hard physical work, on top of everything else, but I don't think I would have it any other way.