There’s been radio silence over here for a couple of weeks, because our Gilbert died. There’s no easier, nicer way to say it, because it’s neither easy nor nice.

He was our friend, cat-about-the-place, companion, sociable participator and giver of paws-on healing. Also, giver of catupuncture, which was one of the many surprise bonuses of letting him sit on your lap, apart from being allowed to beg favours and cups of tea from other people not quite so comprehensively pinned-down.

You see, Gilbert was mostly Maine Coon, which put him in the “lounge tiger” category of cat. He was HUGE: almost 8kg for most of his life, and we were astounded to find out that he was actually quite small for his breed. Maine Coon males usually hit between 9-12kg full grown. So we affectionately called him “our runt,” because cats like dignified nicknames like that.

We buried him in a spot he’d taken to lying in for most of the day. For better or worse, it’s just outside the dining room window, on an embankment that we can see when we’re sitting at the table. From inside, I wasn’t sure it was the best spot. After all, I am going to be staring at his grave each mealtime for the forseeable future. But once I was outside, standing in the spot he’d chosen for himself, I could see exactly why it was perfect. Sunny for most of the day, peaceful. A good vantage point to survey both the front and back gardens, and with a fence to the back and sides, so that nothing could sneak up on him.

We buried him with many tears and rememberances in an afternoon that felt full of ceremony. Texts from friends and family were read out, because he was a cat loved my many.

So for a while we’ll be opening the back door at random moments, to let in a phantom cat. And looking out for our footing whilst carrying loads of washing around, in case of sudden cat-between-the-ankles lunges, and other things you do when they’re habit and you’ve done them for 11 years.

Sigh. It’s just not the same without him.

Six months…

We’ve been here six months now. That dawned on me as I was brushing a Boychild’s teeth last night. It was slightly disconcerting, as I feel that we’ve really slowed down on the work that needs and wants to be done around here.

Canvassing opinion from some friends though assured me that we have made more great changes, and if we feel like we’ve slowed, and that the weeds are slowly creeping back, we can blame it on things like Christmas! and School Holidays! Spending Time with the Children! and Getting Ready for School to Start!! So it’s all good, really.

I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic for the early days of discovery – I know I have 6 more months, and then I will have been here, breathed this air, for the turn of a year. I will have seen the moods of a year pass in this place. Watched the sun stream from East to West each day for 365 of them. Or 366 this year. 6 more months, and then we can do some of the bigger things we’re planning; the infrastructure that needs to be taken down/shifted/put up. The plantings we’re dreaming of. Decide whether that home office we now have a permit for actually needs to be built or not…

What I do know is true is this: I fall in love with this place anew every day. It only takes a step outside to remind me how lucky and grateful I am to be able to call a place like this home. It is pretty shabby, and run-down, and the garden feels like a constant avalanche of weeds, produce and work, and I doubt that the edges will ever be neat, but there is something indefinably lovely about the whole thing. The ‘feel’ of it, which has gotten under my skin. I’m glad, and hope it never leaves.

Harvest Storm!

We have been harvesting such a lot from our garden lately.

This pic above was taken when the bounty was just beginning; when there were small zucchinis, and scant handfuls of beans. When I could pick a bunch of lemon verbena leaves and know that I would dry them carefully, not touching each other, and turning them often before laying them in a glass jar and screwing on the lid with a maternal satisfaction. A leisurely stroll in the garden meant picking a bunch of flowers, too, for the sheer joy of it, and for having beauty sitting about the house.

Now, however, our kitchen table more often than not looks like this:

What you see there in the pic are lebanese x parisian pickling cucumbers (we’ll cover that little slip up in another post…), mini white cucumbers, scarlett runner beans, avocadoes, nashi, baby corn, grapefruit, rhubarb and gadzooks. Or at least that’s what you say when a zucchini that size is suddenly sitting in your well-kept and genteel zucchini patch. These beauties are lebanese zucchinis, and we’re thinking of making a dugout canoe with the next one we find.

So that volume sitting on the table? That’s EVERY DAY, folks! What do you do with so many cucumbers?! I know, I’m totally blessed. This is what we always wanted, a garden that can feed us… but the learning what to do with it, and the total non-plussed feeling I get sometimes when I look at the combination of things coming into the kitchen and wonder ‘what do I make with all of THIS for dinner?’ is a little overwhelming sometimes.

That pile above is still sitting on my kitchen table as I speak, astounding me with the beauty and abundance that it represents. But also, a little guilt has started creeping in. What if I don’t get to it in time?

Harvest Storm, we’ve dubbed it, and to keep up we’re running as fast as we can.

So I made jam…

Apricot, it was, from fruit my mum harvested from her tree…

I used an American recipe, which called for less sugar, and then said to use water-bath canning to preserve the jam. I’d always just made jam the good ole Aussie way – equal parts fruit & sugar, cook to buggery and then ladle into sterile jars, screw on the tops and hope it vaccum seals… This was a new experience! And a good one. We now have apricot jam that you can actually taste the apricots in, rather than the sugar ruling the flavour. Yum!

And then I must have snapped and lost my tiny mind in some way, because I made:

L-R: tomato relish, canned nectarines, pickled zucchini (in tall jars at the back), and in front of them are dill pickles (cucumbers!). All but the tomatoes were from our garden, and were sitting gradually subsiding on our kitchen table, causing me anguish and guilt. There. Take that, produce avalanche!!

Of course, I also did it in the week that school went back for Girlchild, and I had school supplies to get for Boychild, and there were eleventy million other things to do… and did I mention that it was HOT? Well it was. So I canned at night, and muttered about the heat and humidity and did prep work for it all during the day, and sat watching the Vacola canner burble away into the night, wishing that my kitchen came with built-in foot masseur. (Perhaps I should put it on the list for the one-day upgrade?)

Look what happened in time for Christmas:

So, our bougainvillea has turned out to be an amazing tropical variety! We must have a lovely little warm microclimate going here, what with the avocado tree happily fruiting behind the laundry, and now this… even though we live in the hills that are usually between 2-4 degrees colder than the city only an hour away.

The bougainvillea flowered in this vibrant crimson hue from about 2 weeks before Christmas, all the way through the holiday season, and is still going now… But is looking slightly worn and worse-for wear at present. (3 days of rain and the unseasonable cold snap we’re having can’t be helping matters!)

It is especially beautiful at night, because it sits just under one of our outdoor spotlights, and when lit up it glows in the darkness, and just looking at it makes us happy. Every time we see it we feel truly blessed. Here, have another look:

Hole in one

When weeding one of the perennial vegie beds out the back, using a mattock as you can see (isn’t that what one uses to weed?), I found this:

It was a hole. It seemed pretty deep, and the sides opened out under the ground, and we couldn’t tell whether there were tunnels attached or not. Rats and rabbits crossed our minds, as both have been sighted around the place…

We looked, and looked, and carefully excavated some more, and found that it had some weird dead wasp debris in the bottom, though we couldn’t guess how it had come to be in there. It was a little like finding the insect equivalent of an ancient tomb, complete with dessicated bodies! Ick!

From the point that we pulled out a bit of the waspy remains, and began talking in David-Attenborough-type hushed tones, it all got a bit left of centre and surreal. Eventually we stopped joking about resident rodents tunnelling under our vegie beds, pulling seedlings down by the roots, leaving no trace, and just filled the hole in and got on with the weeding. Using the mattock, of course.

And now there’s a zucchini on top. I hope decomposed wasp agrees with it!

So much, so soon!

Wow. It’s only been 14 weeks since we moved into our OKG, but we’ve ripped through some to-do items So. Fast. There are still so many things to do, but it seems odd how much we’ve actually done. I guess it’s because we’re pretty relaxed here, as it’s our long-term base now, and there’s just not the pressure that we felt at our old house to get it all done, yesterday! Less pressure = more efficient, productive work… who would have thought?!

Our achievements so far:

  • Gutting the laundry outbuilding, removing the asbestos (!), re-lining it, repainting it, and re-plumbing it.
  • Going in search of the grease trap, finding there was only an old, broken one and that horrors! it had been bypassed with a solid pvc pipe, that just kind of ended pointing at a path that is a main path to the house…and that was where the water from the shower, bath and kitchen sink drained into. So that’s why there was a swamp on the way to the car… mmm, mmm!
  • Digging in an ag pipe, to take the kitchen and bathroom grey water AWAY from the path, and through some orchard trees that can probably take the excess.
  • Made a mental note to read our product ingredients, to make sure they’re safe for greywater use.
  • Digging in a new grease trap outside the kitchen, in the process discovering the dodgiest kitchen sink plumbing we’ve ever seen
  • Paving around the back door, including around the new grease trap, so that there is not so much mud and dust getting into the house
  • Replacement of the toilet, because we discovered that the pipe to the septic tank was cracked. ‘Nuff said.
  • Epic battles with blackberries as we try to reclaim a garden and outbuildings that are in danger of being eaten by them, and used for sets for the fairytale ‘Sleeping Beauty’. This is a block that should never have been seen as a potential holiday house – who were they kidding?!
  • Got plans for a new shed, and a new home office drawn up by our architect friend, and had them submitted to local council for approval
  • Planted seeds of all sorts of things in preparation for sticking into the garden beds we’re liberating
  • Had weeding help from friends who like to be busy with their hands while we catch up! Yay!
  • Hacked a path through the overgrown front garden to the front door, and dreamed of the rose garden that I will have there one day. One day…
  • Mowed the grass countless times
  • Made very good friends indeed with the whipper snipper
  • Replaced the whipper snipper head… someone thinks they own a brushcutter…!
  • Had our ride on mower go out of action. I’m maintaining that it just looked at our paddock and had a mid-life crisis!
  • Had more rain than we’ve ever experienced at our last house. We are now officially in the area that the weather bureau mean when they say ‘chance of rain’
  • This:
  • Has been tamed, and has now turned into:

One HUGE rhubarb, and lots of seedlings...

  • And we even managed to take an 8 day holiday interstate to visit favourite Aunts, Uncles and cousins!

Watching this garden wake up and bloom through Spring has been like watching a film on fast forward. No sooner do we notice something, and remember to say to each other, “Have you seen the…?” than it is suddenly gone and finished, replaced by the next quick bloom, momentary flare of colour, astounding new growth. Except the blackberries. Always the blackberries…