Surprise Mushrooms

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Aaaaaages ago, in fact, just on thirteen months ago, I posted about how I get a bit panicky when February’s cruel, dry weather rolls around again. This year has been no different, with February going out with a bang here in Perth, logging some seriously hot weather so that no one forgets who’s the real champion of the summer months.

The garden, such as we manage to have here in our little shoebox, has been suffering for it, with a lovely Colourbond fence reflecting most of the day’s brutal sunlight straight down onto the long, potentially useful garden bed that runs the length of our tiny backyard. Nothing survives long in there, except one pestilential shrub thing that nevertheless at least gives the backyard a little shade, and a scrawny bottlebrush that should never have been planted there, and, miracle of miracles, one passionfruit vine that has not yet succumbed. It’s in a slightly more sheltered spot, in the lee of aforementioned pestilential shrub thing.

We are forced to water the garden almost daily, which could be worse, of course. We could have a garden like my mother’s – a massive 1/4 acre around the homestead as well as sprawling grounds and vegetable gardens around the outbuildings a mile away from the house. And they do have to chase hoses endlessly there! Here it’s a once-a-day job, done in an hour and a half or so.

Today, we got a surprise! In one of my pot plants, one I’ve had for ages but that isn’t thriving like I wish it would (creeping ivy, which I tried to train around a wreath), have sprung up the most astonishing fungi. They weren’t there yesterday, when I enthusiastically watered the pot plant. There was no sign of the neon yellow fruiting bodies at all. And then today, when we got home from work and were just letting the cat out to lounge in the sun, Frog found this…

In the UK, apparently, it's known as the plantpot dapperling, which is an exceptionally charming moniker

In the UK, apparently, it’s known as the plantpot dapperling, which is an exceptionally charming moniker

Frog immediately went to Dr Google (the Eminent Mycologist) and came up with a Mushroom Appreciation page, and that gives a nice synopsis of what the fungus is, why it’s so suddenly occurred in my innocent ivy (hot weather plus watering), and how to get rid of it.

“What????” I cried. “Why would anyone want to get rid of it?” It’s so beautiful. I adore surprise mushrooms of all descriptions, even the dreaded puffballs, which are an endless source of fascination to me. I can’t tell you how truly chuffed I am to have this little beauty in my pot plant.

It’s not edible, though.

Frugal Fridays – Strategy Edition: Grocery Shopping

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Last week, I kicked off a series of indeterminate length that I’ve called, somewhat unimaginatively, Frugal Fridays. I want to share some of the things that we do to get the most out of our spending and try to plan for big spends down the track.

I left off after having broken down for you how Frog and I go about nutting out a menu plan. This is something we do weekly, so that when we go to do the food shopping we’re not standing around trying to decide what to do with all that lovely cabbage/pumpkin/spinach/kohlrabi/okra/produce of the week. We go in with the plan, we shop to the plan, we come out ahead.

The menu plan is just the first step. Once you know what you’re going to eat, you need to figure out what you need and what you already have. So go ahead and do that. Forage in your pantry, freezer, fridge, cupboard, wherever you stash the dry goods. There’s the polenta, and oh! that sago I forgot about! Hmm, there’s a lot of chickpea flour – might be time for a quiche soon…low on cacao nibs and buckwheat, so sock away a few bucks for the next few weeks to save for those. Random coconut water will be good for a smoothie, and I’ve still got lots of things to make muesli bars and/or granola with. Amend your menu plan if you find a big save you can make! Be smart about this! I’m making lasagne, right? I’ve got soy mince in the pantry, there’s a couple of tins of tomatoes but I’m out of lasagne sheets and onions, there’s a jar of garlic but it’s nearly empty, better replace that, what other veg do I want to put in it, do I want cheeze on the top or not? Do I have time to make pasta, rather than buying a box of lasagne sheets? This is the kind of stream-of-consciousness thinking that helps at this stage. Visualise making the meal, so you hopefully don’t miss out on crucial ingredients. And then go shopping.

There are some rules for successful grocery shopping. At least, successfully as defined by us – that is, with a minimum of time and money needlessly spent.

  1. Don’t go in hungry. I read this rule years and years ago and having noticed the difference over a long period of time, it’s something I hold now as gospel. The hungrier you are when you go shopping, the more you spend and the more impulse buys you make. This is where your biggest savings lie.
  2. Take your shopping list with you, and your menu plan. I mean, the first one is a bit “Well, duh“, right? But the second? Invaluable. If you’ve got avocados on that shopping list and you can’t remember if you need them tomorrow or Friday, and the avos look a little ripe, you could be wasting money buying them only to find you need them on Friday and they’re mush by then. Also, if you can’t quite remember why you needed that spinach and there’s no spinach so should you get kale or roquette? Clearly knowing if it was for dhal or pizza would help here. Also-also, how many potatoes do you need? Is it for two meals or just the one?
  3. The right venue. Find a market/shop/grocer that stocks the things you need most often, and shop there. Plan your route if you need to go to multiple places so you’re not wasting time and petrol driving around. Shop in order of “where can I get most of this stuff” to “emergency bailout in case the last joint didn’t have it”. Frog and I do our shopping at a place 5km down the road, where there’s ample parking, the produce is good, reliable and they buy in a locality hierarchy (local>Western Australian>Australian>international). They have a great continental dry goods section where we can get all the weird flours, pulses, seeds, spices, dried fruits and jars of pastes, unguents, oils and potions we regularly use.
  4. Go early. This place we shop at puts out yesterday’s aging produce first thing in the morning and seriously? Unless you’re making a salad, yesterday’s produce is just fine. Last week I got a bunch of English spinach, five huge apricots, a tray of field mushrooms, a big bag of capsicums, some little marrows and gourmet zucchini and five eggplants…for about $8.
  5. Be flexible…to a point. Be ready to substitute if you see something cheap or new-season. I had moussaka planned for last week, and when I went to the market there was that big bag of capsicums. Now, I know Frog loves a tomato-based sauce that’s not tomato-based, but capsicum-based. So I grabbed that bag and as soon as I got home, whacked those babies on the barbecue to blacken. Peeled and pureed, they make a great base for a pasta, pizza or moussaka sauce and you save buying fancy tomatoes or using two tins of tomatoes.

Did you try a menu plan since last week? Have you tried to plan this way before, but found it didn’t work? What were your pitfalls? Leave me a comment and let me know!

It Was Great! (Once I Stopped…)

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Last Saturday was my second trail race, and I had some moments of relative leisure during it to snap some pictures to show you.

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There’s this thing, in the running community, called a “running report”. It is, in essence, a really boring-sounding term for someone’s pared-back-to-the-bone, honest, no bull story of their battle with the sneaky side of themselves that just wants them to go back to bed. But it should be a saga, a towering tale of victory or a lament for disappointed hopes or goals unreached.

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This is my race report. My saga. My tale of weekend idiocy. It’s Saturday, after all, isn’t it? It’s a day for sleep-ins, and reading the paper over a big cooked breakfast, and watching old TV series on DVD, or knitting, baking, pottering, visiting with friends. Who in their right mind wants to get up hours before dawn, drag cold tech clothes on, drive an hour to some unfamiliar place and then wait, cold, nervous and awkwardly wallflowerish, before shambling, lurching, trotting or sometimes even running with varying degrees of pain, self-doubt and suffering, just to end up right where they started?

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I learnt ages ago to never trust anything that goes through my mind in the first two kilometres of a run. That’s a good thing to remember but on Saturday, my watch clicked over the six kilometre mark and I was still miserable, regretting even dragging myself out of bed. There’d been a long, stressful descent featuring a terrifying combination of pea gravel (gravel of varying sizes shaped like peas), honky nuts (gumnuts the size of golf balls), and drifts of dry, slippery eucalypt leaves obscuring the ruts and protruding rocks. I was mentally exhausted from being so frightened of falling or worse, sliding and pulling a back muscle. My lower back was tired and my quads jelly from the constant braking with each step.

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And then, as I turned away from that 6km mark and faced down the hill for which the race is notorious, I started to have some fun. The hill was hard, hard. It was a hike from the beginning. The parks service had cut deep berms across the trail to discourage the illegal off-road driving lunatics, but that just meant that we had to leap down and then scale hillocks of deep, loose, sticky, dusty dirt and rocks, then leap down the other side, hike a few more steps up the natural hill, do it all again…over and over. Finally, we reached the top. Then back down the way we came, getting serious air as we tumbled and jumped and bounced our way over deeply scarred earth littered with the dirty, shell-shocked faces of the runners who came after us. I fell only once, I’m pleased to say.

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The final stretch of the run was purgatorial, my shoes filled with grit and cupfuls dust from the earthworks, combining with my sweat in my shoes to form irritating nubbins of gritty mud that scraped evilly at my feet with every single jarring step. I ran into the finishing chute feeling nothing so much as relief.

I can’t wait till the next one.

Grow a Set

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I posted last week about a skein of yarn I’d spun, and how it had some mates that had sort of organically accreted in the stash as I spun them, and they all gravitated together to make this pretty group of potentially useless things.

*le sigh*

I’m good at making useless things. Pretty, but useless. I know that “art” doesn’t have to be useful but I come from pragmatic stock and deep down, I want my art to be useful, to be worn in and loved and washed and mended and patched and finally, worn out and maybe upcycled.

But what to make with this gorgeous collection?

Beady Apple 2-ply art yarn

Beady Apple 2-ply art yarn

"Dried Butterflies" - thread plied art yarn with hand-sewn upcycled fabric "butterflies"

“Dried Butterflies” – thread plied art yarn with hand-sewn upcycled fabric “butterflies”

"Seeds of Change" - 2-ply traditional yarn, blue-faced leicester/silk blend

“Seeds of Change” – 2-ply traditional yarn, blue-faced leicester/silk blend

"Hard Sherbert" - double-coilspun art yarn

“Hard Sherbert” – double-coilspun art yarn

What do you think? Any suggestions? I’m considering spinning a bulk lot of some neutral that ties all the colours together and knitting a huge throw or blanket, but then on the other hand, wouldn’t they make a fabulous statement piece if woven and pieced into a blocky jacket? What do these skeins say to you?

Frugal Friday – Intro Edition

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Here at Chez Froghammer, we’re pretty darn focussed on living frugally. This is for a number of reasons – the top three are:

  1. Mortgage – ’nuff said, right? Perth’s a pretty expensive place to occupy a living space, so this takes up a fair bit of our finances.
  2. Holiday – we’re planning our second trip to Iceland in August and while we’re doing ok with the finances, the spending money side of things is pretty skint so we’re trying to make sure that’s a bit beefier by the time we head off.
  3. Income – with a full-time and a part-time wage coming in, we aren’t hurting. But we’re retail workers, meaning that we’re not highly paid. Little extras like tax returns and penalty rates are seriously important to us.

People at work often ask me about our eating habits and how we manage to keep our food budget to around $60 a week (that’s for both of us. Yes, really.) and lately more and more comments and casual conversations have made me think that we’re doing things pretty well around here. So I wanted to start sharing our strategies for frugal living here on the blog. Fridays are as good a time as any, right? Let’s kick it off!

Frugal Living – Strategy: Menu Planning

I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that the single most effective thing we do to live economically here at Chez Froghammer is a Weekly Menu Plan. We usually do this on a Friday or Saturday night, writing down a list of meals (breakfast is usually not included), skimming our weeks’ work rosters and social calendars and the weather forecast and nutting out meals for six to seven days ahead.

Let’s break this down a bit. Why do we take those environmental factors into account?

Work rosters

This helps us to know not only which of us is in a better position to cook, but how likely it is that one or the other of us will feel like a full meal at a given mealtime. If Frog works a close at the store, finishing at 9pm, she usually doesn’t feel like eating when she gets home or might just nibble on some toast. That means that, instead of cooking a full meal, I might forage in the freezer for a wee treasure, or cook enough for only three portions instead of four.

Additionally, our rosters help us to know how many leftover meals we need to account for. We try to take our lunches to work as buying lunch at work is exorbitantly expensive and, in my case, usually not vegan. So we’ll usually cook at least three, sometimes more, night-time meals that will give us leftovers for the next day or days.

Social Calendars

If one or both of us are going to be out for dinner, clearly that changes the plans. If one of us finishes work at 2pm but then has a doctor/physio/social appointment across town while the other finishes at 4pm, that changes who is better placed to cook.

Weather

Who wants to eat a casserole with dumplings when it’s 40C out there? Or a light salad in the middle of July? (Remember, this is the southern hemisphere!) It’s silly, too, to consider roasting a huge batch of vegetables when we’re trying to keep the house cool. If there’s a nice sunny day out there and one of us is home, why not cook something in the solar oven? What the weather is doing is crucial in making sure that the menu plan slots nicely into your lived experience, and doesn’t become a slave-taking framework you can’t get away from.

Menu planning - best done over a cup of tea. It's not pretty, but at least you can tell it's authentic! And yes, we do use the backs of envelopes as notepaper. What?! They're free, alright?!

Menu planning – best done over a cup of tea. It’s not pretty, but at least you can tell it’s authentic! And yes, we do use the backs of envelopes as notepaper. What?! They’re free, alright?!

Other things that impact our menu decisions are seasonality of vegetables and what dry stores we have in plenty. Right now, we’ve got lots of sunflower seeds, chickpeas and polenta. We’ve also got three overripe bananas from last week because apparently grocers now think it’s clever to store bananas in the freezer. That’ll be the start of some baked goods for work – running keeps my baseline metabolism ticking over pretty fast so I can’t get by without sizeable snacks between meals, so baking plays a pretty important part in my menu planning. The sunflower seeds gave me an idea – there was a recipe in one of my favourite recipe books I was wanting to try, so I made Sunflower Mac n Cheeze. Tasty, cheap and healthy.

Next – what sad little morsels are moping at the bottom of the crisper, and how can I revive them? There were some carrots and celery, and radishes, and some mayonnaise I’d made for something last week but of course it’s mayonnaise so you’ve got to make a whole batch and so you end up with more than you need and oh! Look at that! Chickpeas plus carrots, celery and radish, plus mayo, makes chickpea salad! That’s Tuesday’s lunch! Hopefully you get the idea.

Once you’ve come up with your menu plan, you’ve got to shop for it, right? That’s going to be the subject of next Frugal Friday’s post. I hope you get something out of this post and come back next week for more!

In the meantime, what do you do to cut your spending in little, meaningful, mindful ways? I’d be really interested to hear, so drop me a comment!

Beady Apple

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Just because there was a LOOOONNNNG time there where I wasn’t writing to this blog, doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing anything else. In fact, it was the opposite. I used to have quite a problem with internet time; i.e. I spent a lot of time reading about doing the things I liked doing, rather than doing them. That’s changed, organically and of its own accord, but now the problem is that I find it something of an unsavoury task to sit down on the internet long enough to compose, format and publish blog posts. But since I do get a kick out of the experience as a whole, and it’s a good record of my thoughts, process, journey and achievements over time, I consider it important enough to prioritise it.

One of the many things I made while I was offline was this lovely skein of yarn, a bulky 2-ply art yarn I’ve called “Beady Apple”. I wanted to try spinning beads into the yarn as I made the plies.

Beady Apple 2-ply art yarn

Beady Apple 2-ply art yarn

The fibre came to me as this lovely batt – and unfortunately I can’t remember where I got it or what the fibre content is (but there’s no mohair in there). The beads are silver-coloured metal and polished shell, both foraged from op-shop finds.

Pretty batt. I have a thing for pink and green.

Pretty batt. I have a thing for pink and green.

I divided the batt into two equal portions, which I then pre-drafted through a diz. I’m a fan of the diz. It’s a surprisingly effective and useful tool for prepping fibre and helps me to get a lovely airy, even yarn from a carded prep.

Then I took a few bits of one of the fibre bundles only, and painstakingly threaded the beads onto them, thus…

Dizzed rovings and threaded beads

Dizzed rovings and threaded beads

Then it was a simple matter of spinning one ply as normal, and the other with the beads inserted at (hopefully) even-ish spaces. The two singles were then plied, and while I can’t remember my wheel or approach, the yarn tells me it was on my Majacraft Aura, with a relatively high ratio and low uptake, to get maximal plying twist with minimal squishing of the plies – making for a bouncy, roundly plied yarn with plenty of character and awesome balance.

I have no idea what to do with it. I have a few other handspun yarns that would go nicely with it, but what to do, what to do…What do you suggest? Leave me a comment!

From Blog to Book

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I had a sudden realisation the other day that increasingly, Frog and I buy cookbooks that have had their roots in food blogs. Just before I went vegan, Frog bought the Smitten Kitchen cookbook – and I don’t think we’ve cooked from it because…vegan. Sorry about that, babe…

Frog’s most recent cookbook purchase was The Oh She Glows Cookbook, and it’s been an interesting addition to our cookbook shelf. It’s got lovely photography (ours, at least, is a soft-cover which is a bit of a downfall but, eh) and emphasises fresh, vibrant vegetables and using the natural flavours of those vegetables and fruits. I haven’t had much of a look at it so I can’t really say much more.

For my part, I’ve got three foodish blog-to-books of note – The Veganomicon and Isa Does It, co-authored and authored, respectively, by the indomitable Isa Chandra Moskovitz of the Post Punk Kitchen. What I love about these two books is that they meet two very different niches in one’s kitchen needs. The Veganomicon is the definitive vegan cookbook, and honestly you could have just this in your kitchen and it would be all you needed for the rest of your life. Well, nearly. The authors hadn’t heard of nutritional yeast when they wrote it, apparently. Never mind – we’ll forgive that. It cost me a whopping $38 or so for a huge (albeit mostly unillustrated) hardcover book sensibly divided into chapters that don’t tie you down to set meals – it has a mix and match chapter!

It’s intended to be a fairly comprehensive starter guide for newly-made vegans, and so begins with a long but entertaining section on the sorts of supplies a (vegan) kitchen needs. There’s a discussion on hardware – pots, pans, knives and the like – and a section on pantry staples – storing, buying and substituting. Other basics include how to most safely and effectively cook legumes, and how to make your own seitan (wheat meat). I remember being blown away. You mean, I didn’t have to go to a Chinese restaurant and play MSG-roulette just to get a taste of seitan? I CAN MAKE IT MYSELF?????

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The generously detailed contents and meticulously organised index make navigating the book a frustration-free exercise, while the humour-infused writing style makes it accessible and undaunting. It’s a feat of superhuman planning, writing, testing and organising and you should get it, whether you’re vegan or not. The price tag is worth it for the chapter on cookies and (what Australians would call) biscuits alone.

Meanwhile, Isa Does It was written to target the mid-week meals that need to be high on the satisfaction level and low on the effort level. The mains have a strong focus on protein, which was my first observation upon leafing through the book. That aside, the recipes are workable, usually inexpensive, and mostly delicious. There’ve been a couple that were misses for me but I do suspect a difference in mid-West American palates and Australian ones as the main culprit there. I was convinced to get this book after Isa put a few of the recipes from it on her blog prior to the book’s release – Nirvana Enchilada Casserole and New England Glam Chowder being the two biggies. Both these recipes are incredible, make-again experiences and I had no hesitation in paying $45 for this beautiful, usable romp of a cookbook. Get it in ya.

The last blog-to-book we have so far on our shelves is my copy of The Green Kitchen, sprung from Green Kitchen Stories. The food photography here is simply breathtaking, and David and Luise’s life philosophy is one I really admire. They come across as deeply thoughtful, respectful people whose experience of food invests their whole outlook on life. Their flavour pairings intrigue me and they’re not afraid to mess with traditional prep and serving methods to make things easier, more accessible, or more portable. The recipe that grabbed me, standing in the Beaufort St bookshop and hemming and hawing about whether or not I should drop $50 on this lovely thing, was the Buckwheat and Ginger Porridge, complete with photo featuring cape gooseberries. It’s got something for every occasion, this book – feed-everyone feasts, picnic jewels, smoothies and cocktails, desserts, baked goods, breakfasts, staples like rye bread…plus, it just makes for a beautiful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

What are your favourite blog-to-book recipe offerings? Bonus points for vegan submissions!

Now the backyard’s dangerous in the dark

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We became custodians, recently, of an instant cactus collection. I say instant, but it was only instant for us. The person who bequeathed his collection to us, one of our coworkers, undoubtedly spent years carefully curating this assemblage of little – and not so little! – breath-holding wonders.

Just some of the thirty-odd cacti and succulents entrusted to us some weeks ago. We haven't killed any yet. It can be hard to tell, though...

Just some of the thirty-odd cacti and succulents entrusted to us some weeks ago. We haven’t killed any yet. It can be hard to tell, though…

There’s a rambling scarecrow of a cactus in a terracotta pot so old it’s beginning to crumble and one side has broken off. There’s a pile of little prickly nubbins scrambling all over each other in a frantic, slow-mo quest for light and substrate. There’s a barrel cactus (front right, above) so festooned with yellow, serrated spines fountaining in all directions I’m not even sure how it gets any photosynthesis done. There’s a succulent whose dramatic, slightly obscene five-petalled flowers open to release a hint of carrion odour, such that flies lay eggs in the blooms and soon after, tiny fly larvae wriggle through the deep maroon hairs that coat the petals. Another succulent (middle back, dark green) looks like a sea-star, it has so many protuberances. There are lots of tall, hairy, super-prickly cacti and a total of four of the plants are flowering now. We’ve watered them generously through this cruel back end of summer and lots of them are picking up and growing at a surprising rate, getting greener, plumper, livelier.

Our veggie garden might be a rip-roaring failure, but by gam, we can sure nurture some cacti.

(If you want to see photos of the prickly babies as they progress, follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram – @thorhammer24 on both. I’d like to think I’m not annoying on either platform.)

Serious Adulting

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TL;DR – We moved, it’s small, I don’t like small.

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Late last September, Frog and I signed all the last bits of paper and moved out of the rental house that had been my home for five years, and hers for almost three, and into our own place. It was a momentous occasion, of course! Frog’s sister, brother-in-law, and some friends of ours helped us move, which was lovely because the day dawned surly and dull, and right on 8am when we’d scheduled The Great Move to begin, the sky opened and dumped rain on us. It continued all day. The positivity and motivation showed by our family and friends was so helpful. I mean, I know on the inside they were probably thinking “God, let’s just get this done so I can go home and get dry!” (at least, that’s what I was thinking!) but everyone was so cheerful and we worked together to get the move done.

Frog’s Mum swooped in at the tail end of the day, tag-teaming with the sibling-and-friend-types to take care of us with some food and perspective. We wedged ourselves in amongst the boxes and tried to keep a positive outlook through the exhaustion, the stress, and the irritation at not being able to move around the room freely!

I remember that day as the day we moved in, but really the whole process took weeks. Having lived at our old place so long, it was hard to return it to looking how it did when I moved in – after all, gardens grow, don’t they?! The property manager kept on and on at me, saying that it wasn’t good enough, never good enough, take the gardens back to the edges – but don’t hack them! Well, after three return visits to the old house I gave up and authorised them to send a gardener. I’d put a lot of work into nurturing those gardens and cutting so much life out of them was hurting me too much. In the end, we finally got our bond back, less a bit for the bloody gardener.

Then, having closed the book on the issues at the old place, we found a seething nest of vipers at the new one. Not literally – that would have been less difficult. You see, we moved into a little 2-bedroom villa in a set of 17 villas, built in the early 80s, a bit run down but sturdy and straight. The group has a lot of owner-occupiers in it, which is generally considered a good thing. However, one of those (#15) turned out to be owned by a couple in their sixties who are the most argumentative, unhinged, inconsiderate, rude, spiteful pair I’ve met in years and years. They pounced on us soon after we moved in, ranting at us about rules and respect and so on, and one day there was even a shouting match, complete with physical confrontation, out the front of our villa, involving us, them and the two neighbours next to us. It was a very stressful time. Things calmed down after a while, thankfully, and then one day, Frog texted me with the most magnificent news – #15 was for sale!

It was duly put under offer, then the Sold sticker appeared on the advertising billboard on the verge, and then the sign disappeared…but the horrible couple didn’t. For weeks we waited with anticipation, learning that they’d moved about a block down the road into the retirement village (oh, dear, that’s going to result in fireworks!) and eagerly awaiting the moving truck. Finally, it arrived, with Mr. 15 officiously directing it down our winding, narrow, potholed driveway and around the corner to #15. They loaded up, drove out…and we haven’t seen them since. We haven’t met the new neighbours yet. They seem quiet and not liable to get in our faces about anything, so that’s an improvement.

On the whole, home ownership hasn’t changed our day to day existence all that much. It’s lovely to not have rent inspections! It’s not so lovely to get rates bills, or deal with strata issues, or have to organise repairs when someone backs a truck into your eaves, or decided if that tap’s drip is bad enough yet to warrant the plumber coming back. It’s lovely to plan renovations, but not so lovely to try and budget for them, or figure out if the place will pay you back for them. It’s lovely to feel you’ve got the right to go to local council meetings and the like, but not so lovely to feel responsible for the dreary neighbourhood, the lack of care, the illegal dumping, the ugly streetscapes, the neglected, apathetic parks. It’s lovely to have “our house”…it’s not so lovely that it’s not the old house.

I loved that old house. I loved living there. It was where I created my refuge from an abusive relationship. It was where I rediscovered how it felt to be empowered, where I stretched my wings again after having them clipped and then broken, where I learned to stride rather than creep. It was where I revelled again in eating what I wanted to eat and doing what I wanted to do, where I stuck my fingers in the dirt and looked up at the sky and walked the boundaries and picked the lemons and pruned the trees and learned all the creaks of the floorboards. It was my haven after a horrendous period of my life, and I miss the space we had there. I don’t know if “dinky” or “cute” or “cosy” will ever suit me, but I’m trying.

Plan D

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In my continuing love affair with the work of AnnaMarie (and Wes, and the corgi girls) at Corgi Hill Farm, I’ve been trying to bring this lovely skein of yarn to heel. Merino/angora/silk, in the colourway Gin Fizz (it’s a crowd favourite), spun into a laceweight gradient 2-ply.

I called it Caipirinha

At first, I wanted to make the wonky, wacky, wilful Windward, by Heidi Kirrmaier (I love her work). I cast it on, though, and the yarn didn’t have enough body to stand up to the pattern and was too light a weight anyway. So I ripped it out (bear in mind it’s 20% angora, will you?)

Then I found out about a site called Stitch Maps, whose premise is that lace patterns in particular are represented in such a way as to more accurately evoke the finished lace pattern than a gridded chart does. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? I was so excited, and spent many a happy hour plotting, swatching, fiddling, till I came up with what I was envisaging for my beautiful yarn – a deeply ruffled scarf with the dark blue-grey-green at the centre, frothing outwards in a fizz of fuzzy foamy angora to finish with the creamy leafy sprout green at the edges. Can’t you just see it?

Interminable boring lace

Interminable boring lace

So I rewound my ball of yarn so I could start from the dark end, and I was happily toodling away at this confection, a little bit at a time (ruffles make the looooooongest rows, doncha know), when one day I logged on to this (paid!) site and found that it had eaten? lost? maliciously thrown out? judgementally excised? my pattern. I’d started paper notes, but by this stage they were incomprehensible and so in despair I gave up on Plan B and ripped the project out again. At least it was the other end this time.

Plan C revealed itself as a very simple pattern that came as close to my vision as I could find in a (written down, hard copy, real, published) pattern. I chose the Opera Fichu, from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby. I’d always wanted a bed-jacket and I felt that this would be a stunning one, luxurious and twee and utterly over-the-top. The centre went nice and fast, but then I got very bogged down in the outer lace, which is a deathly-boring two-row pattern executed twenty times, or basically until you can’t take any more. Or, as in my case, you run out of yarn. Always the danger with handspun, sadly. At least it meant I was excused from finishing with a 1200+-stitch picot bind-off, right?

The fichu is meant to be gathered at one side of the centre panel onto a knitted strip which becomes the fastening. But of course I had no yarn left, so I figured I’d get some OTT velvet ribbon or something, and proceeded to block the living daylights out of the piece. It came out so long, there was no way it was going to be any good gathered onto a ribbon – it would look too weird.

3X0A6601

Thusly, Plan D came about. I have a new scarf, and I don’t mind telling you, I’m rather in love with it.

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