Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekly Report: September 1-5, 2014

We’re ambling along.

Since we have no access to the internet at our house, the kids do a couple different keys of their Math Wrap-Ups each morning instead of their usual XtraMath.  Junebug is studying her +2 math facts at the moment, so she goes through that particular key a couple times each day.  It’s working out rather well.

A big moment this week:  Junebug read a traffic sign all on her own!  We were heading into town to pick up Michael from work, and as I got onto the highway on-ramp, Junebug squealed in the backseat, “That sign says ‘Exit!’”  When we arrived into town, she again squealed, “That sign says ‘Stop!’”  Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve arrived at the place where the phonics start making sense.  (Which is good, because I was arriving at the place of “When is this going to start making sense with this kid?!?!”)

Math takes up all my time these days, which I was expecting because I have a kid in Saxon K, Saxon 1, AND Saxon 3.  That Saxon 1 & 3 combo is awful.  I remember when we went through it with Bluebird and Penguin two years ago, and I knew I’d despise it when it happened again with Penguin and Junebug.  Oh, the time spent on this everyday is just demoralizing.  The last time through, it was because Bluebird fought me on every. single. little. thing.  This time, it’s because Junebug will. not. sit. still.  Junebug’s also not reading yet, so I have to read every question aloud on her worksheets.  I know I’ve had to do that with both Bluebird and Penguin before, so I’m trying not to get hung up on it, but man, lots of time spent on Junebug’s lessons each day.  The girl can’t sit in one spot for more than seven seconds. 

Thankfully, Bluebird is pretty much self-contained, math-wise.  She heads off to her room or the living room and just sits down and reads over her Saxon 6/5 lesson herself and then does the assignment.  Once you get past Saxon 3, your teaching schedule opens up considerably.  I grade her stuff once a week, and she’s sitting in the 88-95% range on her assignments.  I will happily accept that.  (Actually, I might break into a little song and dance if I think no one’s watching…)

We had an amusing moment when Penguin discovered that her penmanship assignment for the day included a picture of a kangaroo and the word “Queensland” for practice

Random aside:  Yes, we’ve seen kangaroos.  Quite often, actually.  I originally thought they were like deer in the USA, but I’m starting to believe that kangaroos are far more common than deer.  We see a few of them every week, usually in little herds of three to seven.

Sadly though, we also see lots of them in various states of decomposition on the side of the road; and we happened upon a very fresh accident a few nights back where the fresh ‘Roo was lying in the middle of the road and the smell of burnt tire rubber was heavy in the air as the driver of the offending vehicle stood on the side of the road looking very, very horrified.  Penguin was quite distressed by the scene, and the rest of the car ride home had us discussing the event, until a kangaroo jumped out in front of our car while we were at a stop sign and hopped nonchalantly past us, across the street and into the night.  Penguin cheered up considerably after that close encounter.

Monkeyboy is enjoying preschool.  He’s also started drawing pictures; his latest fascination being the members of his family.  I about died from the cuteness of his portrait of Penguin:

Bluebird’s latest fascinations are making fun of my yarn habit, and Vikings:

And, not because it’s important, but because it makes me happy, my flower bouquet from this week:

There’s a little stand beside the road going into Bargara that sells flowers only on Fridays.  It warms my heart to see that little family out there, so I’ve decided to try my best to treat myself to a bouquet each week.  These were fragrance-free lilies, which I loved because I think perfumed lilies smell like pee.  I’m looking forward to the selections in the coming weeks!

I hope your weeks were lovely, and that your weekends are wonderful!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vera Scarth-Johnson Wildflower Reserve

If you can believe it, I have managed to take the kids on a nature hike that they have declared “even worse” than the anti-climatic trek at Sharon Gorge.  This time it was to the Vera Scarth-Johnson Wildflower Reserve, a spot that I really thought would be rather idyllic and gorgeous, but alas, I was quite wrong.

You see, the problem is that it’s winter here.  I keep forgetting that, and I’m pretty sure that all these flowery descriptions of these trails are based upon what you’re going to see in the spring and summer months.  What we’re seeing right now is that lovely gray (but kind of green) and mostly dead (but not really) end-of-winter scenery that my kids aren't really excited about.  I’ve made a mental note to return to this spot in another month or so, as I have great faith that it will be much more pleasing to the eye at that time.

Nevertheless, we did go on the walk, and there were some interesting and new-to-us species of flora all around us.  Namely, the weird “scruffy clam cone” trees:

I’d tell you what they were if I had regular access to the ol’ internet, but I don’t, so we all get to remain puzzled as to the species of tree.  It was a weird landscape to behold, lemme tell ya—the white sand trail and these stark trees standing against the piercing blue sky while a lonely wind pushed around it all.  It was weird to be in a place that felt so desolate and so barren, and yet be surrounded, almost suffocated, by all these plants.  It was a very eery place.

We saw some flowers...

Once again, there was the promise of a river at the end of the trail; and it was a promise I dangled out in front of the Brookelets while they complained incessantly about the boring-ness of the landscape and how long the trail was, and how thirsty they were, and, and, and…I reminded them that the last river had been quite pretty, and that the view across the river had been rather lovely, and that it would be cooler by this next river and a nice little rest before we headed back.  We came to the end of the trail and saw this:

And that is how you score an “even worse than the last one” grade—when you promise your kids a river, make them walk through a mosquito-infested patch of scratchy trees, and end up presenting them with a scorched expanse of shrubbery where the river was supposed to be.  You’re welcome.  Enjoy it.  Love, Mom.
The odds of the next hike being better are enormously in my favor, don’t you think?

Although we did find a burrow of some sort, and I earned even more demerits by not allowing them to crawl into the hole, or throw rocks into the hole, or poke sticks into the hole.  You’re welcome.  Enjoy full use of your limbs and eyesight.  Love, Mom.

All in all, I enjoyed the little hike, and I’m immensely interested in finding out what those scruffy clam cone tree things are.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Star Spangled Headache of Personal Liberation

The only quilty project I brought with me to Australia is Junebug’s eventual bed quilt, affectionately named the “Star Spangled Diamonds Quilt” because it (originally) was made only from Riley Blake’s “Star Spangled” fabric collection, and it’s made out of sixty degree diamonds, pieced together EPP style.  (I expect no admiration for my naming skills on this one.)

It was to be my (ironic) Australian masterpiece, making use of my time down under to hand piece seventy-two blocks out of brilliantly American-patriotic fabric—as my time here is time without access to a sewing machine.

(Funny aside:  When I asked our “relocation specialist” if it would be possible to bring my sewing machine with me to Australia, she actually laughed out loud and asked me why I would want to do that.  “I quilt,” I replied.  “Oh,” she said, “Well, why don’t you treat this trip as a vacation rather than keeping up on house work?”
I made some sort of agreeable murmur in response, so shocked I was that she would even assume quilting was some sort of obligatory chore I had to do.  I’d forgotten, what with my past decade surrounded by the Maker Movement and amazing fellow crafters, that not everyone looks upon creative pursuits as enjoyable ventures.  And while it’s true that, based upon the state of our luggage’s contents when we arrived in Aus, my sewing machine was better left at home, I am missing it sorely every day.  House work.  Sigh.)

So I have this immense, entirely pieced-by-hand project; which is totally OK because I have no sewing machine.  The timing is perfect! 

The timing, yes; the execution…well, not so much.

While smugly pleased with how my life had ironed out so neatly to allow for all this hand piecing, and looking forward to my six months of blissful stitching, I had an entire house to pack up into suitcases and put everything else in storage.  I packed up my craft room first, seeing how I knew exactly what I needed in our new home, creativity-wise.  Easy peasy, pack it up.  First.  Then pack everything else on top of it, around it, and in front of it.  The craft room’s contents are contained in boxes in the farthest corner of the basement, with bookshelves, clothing, and furniture stacked neatly around them all.

Which was fine until I realized, after arriving in Australia, that I was fast running out of my main fabric—the mostly white prints that make up the stars in each block—and upon taking a moment to do a quick count, I realized that I was indeed short on those fabrics by more than half.  In fact, I only had about one third of the needed amount.  One third, because I only cut the same amount of white as the colors, momentarily forgetting that there are six white diamonds in each block, and only two of each color.  I have all I need (and then a little extra) of the red, aqua, and blue fabrics, but the main fabrics are short by two thirds and, even if I could remember exactly which box those fabrics were packed away in and could describe it to our house sitters, it’s in the farthest corner of my basement, hedged in by almost everything we OWN.

[Insert an entire week of silent fury at myself for being such a smug little idiot.]

So, as I came to the eventual acceptance of my situation, I decided I had a few options:
1.       Have the house sitters find my original fabric.  (Highly unlikely.)
2.       Buy more Star Spangled fabric and pay the ridiculous shipping to have it shipped to me in Australia.  (Bank account difficulties make this near impossible right now.)
3.       Put the project aside until we returned home.  (Then what the heck else am I going to do with my fidgety self while we’re here?!?!  And, remember, the timing was perfect for this project!)
4.       Buy some low volume white fabric here in Australia and just grin and bear the fact that the fabric would no longer be mostly from the “Star Spangled” fabric collection.  (Oh, heart…everything will be OK…I think.)

You see, somewhere along the journey of immersing myself into this quilting world that exists nowadays, I’ve picked up on the sentiment that staying within a particular fabric collection will draw more attention to your work.  I see all these beautiful quilts being made from single fabric collections, which guarantees perfect color coordination and theme incorporation in fabric choices.  I like that.  I also like that this kind of perfect color harmony appears to afford more pins, comments, likes, and awards.  And I’m of the opinion that this particular quilt could be a serious contender at the next county fair, what with the hand piecing and theme.  (Patriotic counts for a lot at fairs!)

With a resigned heart in regards to my quilt’s descent into obscurity, I made my way (on the left-hand side of the road) to the local quilt shop here in Bundaberg.  When the kids asked what we were doing, I sighed and said that I’d left Junebug’s quilt’s fabric at home in the States, and that we were going to try to find some replacement fabric here in Australia.  “We get to buy fabric for my quilt in Australia?!?!” Junebug squealed, “That’s SO COOL!  I’m going to have Australia fabric in my quilt!”  And she skipped into the store, eager to begin the hunt.

We found two mostly white polka dot prints straight away, although I didn’t really want to get the red and pink polka dot fabric because pink broke with the whole “red, white and blue” thing we had going on in the quilt.  “But Mom,” Junebug frowned, “the pink dots are pretty, and there aren’t a lot of them.”  Sigh.  Alright.

We came across some plaids and ginghams, but those received an instant thumbs-down from Junebug.  “What is wrong with plaid?” I asked, while simultaneously trying to smother Monkeyboy’s hands within my own in an attempt to save all the thread, buttons and embroidery floss from disastrous endings.  “I don’t know,” she said, “it’s just too square-y.”
“But it matches the whole ‘Fourth of July’ theme of your quilt,” I said, “it’s actually rather perfect.  See?  Picnic blanket fabric.”

She wrinkled her nose.  Fine, no plaid today.  Perhaps I could talk her into it at a later time.

And then we went head-to-head over the next fabric choice.  While it technically had a white background, it was a floral print teeming with not only pink, but also yellow and green.  “This fabric does not match your quilt,” I said, breathing hard as I struggled to keep Monkeyboy on my hip, “put it back on the shelf and let’s look for something that matches better.  There’s no yellow or green or pink in your quilt.  It doesn’t go.  Put it back.”  Junebug, who had spotted the bolt on her own and brought it to me with triumph shining in her eyes, cast her eyes down upon the fabric in her hands, running her palm over the print, tracing the flowers with her beautiful little fingers before murmuring to herself, “But it’s so pretty.”

And that was the moment that woke me up.  My adorable little girl, my first grader missing one of her front teeth, had found something she thought was beautiful and I was shutting her down based upon the imagined opinions of complete strangers.  The fabric WAS pretty; on any other day I’d buy a yard of the stuff based simply upon its eye candy merits.  It would look lovely in anything, but it would completely destroy the cohesive look I was going for with this quilt.

This quilt…was her quilt.  Her quilt.  Her quilt that we had dreamed about and planned out together, with her input being the highest priority every step of the way.  (Why else would I ever, EVER agree to hand piecing an entire twin-sized quilt?!?!)

Pins and ribbons be damned.

I whisked that bolt of fabric out of her arms just as she was turning to take it back to the shelf.  “You’re right,” I said, “it is pretty.  How about we get twice as much of this one as the others?”

The gap-toothed smile she gave me was all I needed to know that I’d made the right choice.

 It really is pretty.

Rundown for the month of August:  I whipped out twelve more blocks, smashing my record of five blocks in both June and July.  I now have twenty-two blocks done, only fifty more to go.  (That’s 30% done, people!  Woot woot!)

Goals for SeptemberI’d like to piece at least ten more blocks, and hopefully get one whole quadrant of the quilt pieced together (eighteen blocks).  I had to divide up all my “original” white stars into four piles so that the fabrics will be distributed evenly throughout the quilt; so, although I have more than eighteen blocks at the present, I can’t piece them together.  Once I get enough “new” white stars put together to add up to eighteen in one section, I can start assembling.

Linking up with:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Rainbow Lorikeets

We've moved into our "permanent" residence for the rest of our stay here in Australia.  The first place we were was only for three weeks or so while we waited for our current house to become available.  Michael was adamant that I would like this house better, which I doubted when we moved into the first house because the first house was very, very nice.  Now that we're in the second house, I will totally admit that he was correct.  Both houses are huge and close to the beach, but this second house also boasts this:

My kids are so finally learning how to swim.

The other side of the backyard looks like this:

See that big tree bush thing in the middle?  It is a haven for birds.  There are multiple birds in that thing every minute of the day, slowly waddling along the lengths of the branches, sucking the nectar out of the weird honeysuckle-like pods that grow on it.

My favorite birds that visit are the Rainbow Lorikeets.  They usually visit in pairs, and we've seen as many as five at a time making their slow searches through the branches.  We eat lunch out on the patio almost every day now, just so we can watch these beautiful creatures as they eat.  Lunch has never been such a quiet event in our family, ever.  Even Monkeyboy silently munches on his sandwiches while his little eyes follow the Lorikeets' movements.

I was trying to get a good picture of this guy's underside
to show how colorful their bellies are, and he was scooting along
and totally bumped his head on the intersection of that branch! Hee hee!

Because this place wasn't beautiful enough, right?  Goodness me, it's just wonderful to just look at the world here.  You can't get enough of the light, the trees, the's just gorgeous.  Hopefully I can get some photos of some of the other insanely-colorful birds flitting about all regular-like each day.

These are my favorites, even when they're squawking their little heads off at each other.  Michael tells me that there's "Lorikeet Trees" in various parts of the city where big flocks of them go to roost at night and you can't hear another person yelling at you right next to you because the birds are so ridiculously loud.  I'm glad we don't have that problem, just the occasional squabble every couple of hours.  It's worth it though, to look at those brilliant feathers.  So pretty.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Fourth Time's the Charm!

I schedule my crafts.  Honestly.  I sit down at the beginning of a new year and brainstorm all the things I’d like to make, keeping new babies, weddings, and the like in mind, and then I schedule my time and projects accordingly.  I’ve found that this approach allows me to finish the things that are important to me, and still allow me a little wiggle room if I finish things quicker than I had planned upon.

As you can imagine, I loaded my craft schedule pretty heavily with quilts this year.  January through May was consumed with work on the Storybook Hexagon Quilt because I wanted to be able to present it to my dear friend Rachel when her long sought daughter was born in June.  (Oh, what fun that was!  I still smile when I recall her shocked face when it was pulled from the gift bag.  That was a good day.)

And then I scheduled the summer for working on Junebug and Monkeyboy’s quilts for their bedroom, which I had planned to redecorate over summer break.  Alas, this was not to be because of the whole “let’s move to Australia” thing, but I did get a good start on their quilts.  Monkeyboy’s quilt parts have stayed behind in America; and, because Junebug is a little stinker and changed her mind about her quilt pattern at the last minute, I’ve brought along the pieces for her quilt because it’s all done by hand.  As I could not bring my sewing machine with me, having that big handwork project is rather perfect.

When I was sitting down with  my spreadsheet in January, figuring out what projects to plug into what weeks, the last half of the year just would not schedule out.  I’d try to apply my brain to the task, but seemed to be thinking my way through a hazy cloud.  (This should have been my first clue that something out of the ordinary was brewing for our family this year…)  I wanted to do some cute Halloween crafts, begin a gorgeous Christmas quilt, maybe make a few new-baby items to stash away for when I’m inevitably surprised by one of my siblings having a new baby and I somehow missed the five months of announcements on Facebook.  But nope, nothing felt right in the September through December time slot.

I stewed on the predicament for days.  I don’t like leaving empty space in my schedule.  I know, from previous experience, that empty spaces in my schedule means zero progress on my projects.  I’m not a fan of that.

And then, a few nights later, as I was in that twilight doze right before true sleep, it came to me:  The Peacock Feathers Stole.

Perfection.  A big block of time, unencumbered with any other projects to distract me, all set aside to finally tackle and conquer this unconquerable project that has kicked my heinie three times already in the past five years.  I will knit this pattern.

And I am.  Finally:

I started working on it a week before we left the States.  My previous three attempts have never seen me progress beyond row eight, but here I am today, proudly waving  ROW 108.  I’ve never gotten even halfway through Chart #1, and here I am, firmly entrenched in Chart #6!  (Chart #6 is long.  I’ll be here for about another month…ugh.)

The secret to my success this time:  Going ridiculously slow.  This time around, I’ve scheduled myself for only five days a week, and a maximum of four rows a day.  (That’s just two charted rows, as each row is purled on the backside, easy peasy...except for those sneaky double yarn-overs that require a little concentration on the return row.)  This “only twenty rows a week” schedule boasts March 2015 as the earliest possible completion date, compared to my earlier efforts that would churn this out in two or three months.  But you know what?  It’s working, and that’s all that matters.

It’s for my granny.  When I was really starting to get a feel for more advanced knitting, we did a little online window shopping of pretty knitted things and I showed her this pattern because I thought she’d like it.  She most certainly did like it, and the proud little knitter in my heart saluted and opened my mouth to offer to make it for her.  Unsurprisingly, she accepted the offer, and I made myself busy with procuring the supplies.  Unknown to myself at the time, I was pregnant with Monkeyboy, a fact that would become known to me a day before I received the pattern and yarn in the mail, because I was suddenly so nauseated and tired that the only thing I could be was pregnant. 

Barely able to move, and super sick all day long sounds like a perfect time to hunker down and do some soothing knitting, right?  Wrong.

Because the thing about this pattern is that it’s intense.  It’s a ton of symbols, which don’t really scare me, but whoa, those pages are pretty black with ink, and it’s got funky little spots where you have to actually reposition your stitch markers in order to work the stitches correctly and then put the stitch marker to the other side of the stitch.  It’s not cool.  It kicks my butt.  Add the nausea on top of that, and yeah, Try #1 didn’t last long.

Try #2, after Monkeyboy had arrived, lasted a week.  My sleep-deprived brain couldn’t handle it.

Try #3 was destroyed by my adventuresome lad four different times in the first two days.  My nerves couldn’t take it, and I decided that I was not in a chapter of my life that could handle advanced lace knitting.

And here we are, with Try #4, and it’s going very, very well.  The Boy no longer chews on yarn, removes needles from projects, or grabs projects out of my hands and runs off through the house laughing like a maniac with yarn trailing behind him.  (All important factors to successful knitting.)  I have months upon months scheduled, thereby eliminating any due date stress.  There are no newborns or growing-into-newborns in my future, and I get my eight hours of sleep almost every night.  Perfection.

Beautiful peacock perfection.  I love it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nature Walk at Sharon Gorge

This is Junebug's "We walked all this way for NOTHING?!" face.
We went for a little nature walk at a place called Sharon Gorge.  The “gorge” is a little channel for a little stream that runs next to the trail.  The kids were not impressed, especially when the trail ended at the edge of a river.  We didn’t see any koalas, and we didn’t see any neat flowers.  Big thumbs down from all four of them.

It was a very enclosed trail; lots of vines and heavy foliage around that made you feel a little claustrophobic.  I felt rather vulnerable the entire time, so I was happy when the trail ended abruptly at a little viewing platform next to the river and that we could head back to the relative safety of our car.  It was a short little walk, but a good reintroduction to our weekly habit of nature walks.  Hopefully our future walks will yield more interesting sights.

The river at the end of the trail, complete with field of sugar cane on the other side.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Brookelets at the Beach

There’s a lovely little lagoon near our house that allows the Brookelets to play in the ocean without the dangers of rip tides and deep water.  We’ve gone a few times and they have so much fun splashing, playing in the stream portion that leads back to the ocean, and building sand castles.  I get to sit nearby on my beach chair and keep an eye on everyone without raising my anxiety levels.  Pure win.