Monday, 29 September 2014

tulip fever

You would think I had gone out and hunted down these tulip bulbs myself with the excitement I've been feeling about their beautiful blooms.  I've taken countless pictures of them at different times of day, enjoying them under the bright midday sun as much as I do under the last glow at the end of the day.  I'm sure my neighbours are thinking 'here she goes again' but honestly, if you'd seen our front garden this time last year - pretty much a bare patch of lawn - you would be amazed too!
As there are so few of them I have refrained from picking them, but Jono raced in and nabbed this one. He proceeded to pull it apart, the image of which I posted on Instagram entitled 'Tulip Deconstructed', boy aged 3 1/2, a modern artwork.  I will concede that it does look rather lovely, but I would have preferred it in tact!  What do you think?!

Editing, editing, editing here.  I'm just about at the end!  My synopsis is polished and the next stage will soon be underway.  Exciting stuff but also nerve-wracking!  How are things with you?

Friday, 26 September 2014

five on friday

Of the almost 30,000 photos on my computer, there are some I come back to, over and over again.  Images to print, frame and hang in my house, ones that I've had on cards and put on canvas.

* This blue urn is a family favourite, a genie bottle covered in blue mosaic tiles - an amazing creation you could stare at for hours, lost in the form and wondering at the work that went into its production.

* Roses are always a feature - currently we have blooms budding and I'm waiting (impatiently) for them to burst open in their yellows, reds, pinks and oranges - we won't be short on flowers this summer!

* The grevillea is stunning - something we're yet to plant in our garden but one of the many plants on our ever-growing list.

* The blossom one of many taken on a walk with Tom years ago - we lived on a farm with a stone fruit orchard - spring was a very special time!

* One of my all-time favourites, this echeveria was one of many in mum and E's old garden.  All our echeverias here descend from these plants which makes them very special indeed!

Do you have five on Friday to share?  If so, please leave a link in the comments.

School holidays here, so a hectic time - what's it like in your part of the world?!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

a scrap fabric bunting transformation

My sewing machine enjoyed a full work out yesterday from the patchwork flag to fixing our living room curtains and this scrap fabric bunting.  I have drawers full of leftovers in all shapes and size just waiting for a project like this.  It was all very easy to construct with the help of my iron and the 'good' pair of scissors I prepared my shapes before sewing them double-sided on the machine.
As with yesterday, Jono wasn't keen on standing still for a photo with the bunting and Soph stood in for him.  She is showing you her favourite piece of material on the wall, which matches the little doll cushion I made for her a few years ago.  Sophie was laughing so much when I took the shot that her eyes closed, unintentionally mimicking the cushion - that's what I call perfect photographic timing!
Another glimpse - Jono is so happy to have something up on his walls.  They have been looking dull for too long, just waiting for me to have time to do the job.  He's delighted with the transformation but wants more, more, more.  The pressure is on now to come up with the goods.  Help!

Did your household have a 'good' pair of scissors when you were younger?

Were you like me and couldn't understand why I wasn't allowed to cut paper 
with them, especially when they did such a good job?!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

patchwork flag: perfect for a child's bedroom!

The great thing about fabric is you can start making something, put it down for (more than) a few years, then turn it into something else.  The right-hand side of this flag was intended as a quilt for Tom's bedroom, but once I started piecing it together it just felt all wrong.  It's been waiting for inspiration such as this - the transformation from work-in-progress to a flag for Jono's bedroom (I did ask him to pose in front of it, but he was a tad reluctant - Soph was willing instead).
The end piece is stuffed with a cardboard roll with a mixture of thread and pins holding it together.  The eagle-eyed of you will see some loose threads which will be dealt with another day - it's a miracle I got it done and hung on the wall!  I've had a flag for the kids' bedrooms on the to-do list for years now and after the intense editing session yesterday, I needed a break - this was the perfect distraction!
When I eventually coaxed Jono up on his spare bed, this was his idea of posing - batter up!  The flag has lifted the room already which has been in dire need of a lift.  Would you believe I also made bunting?  It's hanging on the other side of the room and I think I will save it for tomorrow's post…  until then I will keep you in suspense!

Have you dusted off your sewing machine lately?  Do you have works in progress waiting for inspiration or are you someone who starts and finishes something all in one go?!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

on the desk: tools for the final edit

I have another day's editing ahead of me.  For the past few weeks, I have enlisted the help of a childminder on Tuesdays so I can work uninterrupted for a good chunk of time.  It's the final edit stage so I really need to make sure everything is just right and more!  Essential tools for this stage - apart from the pure gold that is time to concentrate - are freshly brewed cups of tea and my pencil case, holder of the precious memory stick where I obsessively back up my work.  Without either of these items, there would be no book!

What do you always have on your desk?  Are you a stickler for looseleaf tea as well?!

Monday, 22 September 2014

the weekend: blue skies, worms and so much more!

Spring put on its finest this weekend with the most glorious weather you can imagine.  I filled the memory card on my camera twice over, just in our garden alone.  Whether it was my cup of tea catching the light just so, or the green canopy of our ash trees against the blue of the sky as I read my book on the trampoline*, the days were ripe with photographic opportunities.  We met with friends, shared a loved ones birthday (crabapple snapped on the way there) and planted strawberries to enjoy drippingly fresh from the earth.  It's hard to imagine a more perfect time of year.
Jono hunted for worms, his favourite past-time.  He has worked out the best place to find them is under the bricks that border one of our garden beds.  He moves from end to end, tipping them upside-down and collecting little wrigglers as he goes.  Jono is very proud of his efforts and tells me he is a superhero to collect so many worms!  They end up being re-housed in other parts of the garden, but have a little play with him in the meantime.
The last word must go to Marbles, lover of sunshine and straw.  He had a wonderful time soaking it all in and posing for the camera, hidden away from the kids and the dog for a spot of R&R.  Nine years old and still playful as a kitten, could it get any better than this?

I hope you've had a lovely weekend too, no matter where in the world you live!

And remember - there's just today left to enter the Stanley Competition - if you haven't already, hop on over for your chance to win a fabulous and unique children's book!

* I've always wanted a hammock in the garden, to no avail.  I have discovered, though, that the trampoline is even better - you can lie down and read a book in pure comfort - just watch out for the bouncing children and you will be fine!

Friday, 19 September 2014

this is home: reality

Home is where textas, toilet rolls and glue sticks decorate the coffee table instead of attractively styled vignettes.  Lego and soft toys litter the floor, mismatched chairs sit side by side and children's pictures multiply into uncontrollable yet beautiful piles of paper all around.
Home is where children race home from school and disappear into their favourite books, warmed by the late afternoon sun.  School uniform discarded, afternoon tea devoured, flicking through pages surrounded by loved ones nearby who are doing just the same.
Home is where the light gets in and shines upon our dreams.  Where just over two years ago a bare patch of earth was transformed into the chaos and clutter it is today - in reality not always neat and clean but a haven for our family to grow and gather together as the years go by.

What is your favourite thing about home?

PS There are only a few more days left to enter the Stanley competition - please hop on over and enter before it's too late!!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

kids on kids: 5 art tips

Inspired by my post on 5 editing insights, Sophie was keen to share her top 5 art tips for kids.  Whether applied to art at school or home, this is a great spin on the usual tips for kids which are often written by adults.  Instead, we are gifted with an insider's point of view, a kid on kids if you like.

These simple tips should help instil all the confidence required for a happy future in art:

1. Art takes time

2. Don't rush with your art

3. Always make sure you're doing it the right way

4. Help your friends when they're stuck on something

5. Art makes people feel nice

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

must read: my salinger year

Imagine slipping through a portal during the late 1990s into a New York without computers where office assistants rely on typewriters and dictaphones to correspond with the world?  And so begins My Salinger Year.  When Joanna Rakoff landed a job at the literary agency representing JD Salinger, she didn't expect to find an organisation relying on formulas of the past to move them into the future.  She is charged with answering Salinger's swag of fan mail, adhering to his wishes that nothing is to be passed on to him.  Instead, Rakoff used a form letter (devised in the 1960s) until she could no longer bear it and started answering the letters herself.

I heard Rakoff interviewed on So you want to be a writer, the Australian Writers' Centre's weekly podcast and I'm delighted to report that she writes as well as she talks.  Rakoff's fast-paced prose takes us through this period of her life, makes us cringe when introduced to her dodgy boyfriend Don and excites us when thinking of living with the city of New York as our backyard.  I absolutely loved jumping headfirst into Rakoff's world and enjoyed the sheer escapism of a life I can't even begin to imagine.  Beg, borrow or…  come across a copy one way or another, this is a must read for 2014!

PS I won a copy of this book through the AWC but I was in no way obliged to write about it - believe me, it wouldn't even have made it on to the blog if I didn't enjoy it, let alone the high praise it garnered to make it on my must read list!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

5 editing insights

It's been a couple of months since I considered my first draft ready to edit.  I thought I would have finished by now and be ready to submit, but my self-imposed deadline has moved.  Here's why:

1. Editing can't be rushed
There's no point speed-reading my work if I miss out on errors.  I need to apply a careful filter to my writing which requires full concentration.  It meant that when I was knocked out by a horror winter lurgy, I didn't go near my editing - I knew it would affect my deadline, but there was no reason to compromise the quality of my work for the sake of speed.

2. Takes longer than you think
Hand-in-hand with the above insight, I have been blown away by the slow pace of the editing process. My work flow goes a little something like this - write, edit, read on screen, edit, print out, edit, upload changes on screen, edit, reprint, edit, read on screen, edit…  Tedious, yes, but utterly worth it!

3. Best done on screen and paper
No matter how closely I look at the screen, errors slip past.  They're best picked up on paper - double instances of words, extra spaces in sentences where I have deleted sections and not re-formatted properly, poorly worded sentences that need to be edited and rearranged.  Use a combination of your best tools (ie pen and keyboard) and you won't go wrong!

4. Is helped by reading out loud
Those clunky-looking sentences I saw on screen?  Once I read them out loud, I found out where they needed to be fixed.  This has been one of my best discoveries - once I get to the point of calling the manuscript finished, I will go through this process again, just to be sure...

5. Requires another set of eyes
Someone else will see what you've missed - find a literate friend or loved one and let them do their stuff.  Reward them with chocolate or something equally satisfying.

What insights have you discovered during the editing process, whether it be on your blog, creative or business writing?  

Is there anything you would like to share?

Monday, 15 September 2014

using pea straw mulch to create new garden beds

How do you start new garden beds on a budget when you can't afford to buy top soil and all the trimmings?!  Pea straw mulch!  We have a large block in an Australian country town, almost quarter of an acre (just under 1000sq.m depending on what language you speak!) - there is a lot of garden and we're keen to not just have a large expanse of grass.  We have seen areas of lawn choked under black plastic, but it can be a slow process and neither of us could be described as being particularly patient.  We decided to cut out the middle man (ie plastic) and create immediate beds using a thick layer of newspaper covered by an even thicker layer of pea straw.
Our first bed created this way (above) and has worked a treat.  The plants were all dug directly into the lawn, then we laid out our newspaper and pea straw.  A few months down the track, the straw has settled in well and has compressed down neatly into its new home.  We have had very few weeds.  They only tend to show through where the newspaper has disintegrated and it's a simple matter of topping it up again.  The soil on our site is rather patchy in quality, but we can see a huge improvement in this area since its been mulched in this way.  It's now much easier to dig and there are a plethora of worms any time the soil is lifted out of place - a delight to see!
This weekend we turned our attentions to a new area in the back garden (to be photographed) and along our front boundary (above), an area that was previously planted out but had become a bit weedy.  We have bulbs coming up and it's been hard to keep it neatly whipper-snipped for fear of deheading our daffodils, jonquils, hyacinths and more.  A few hours' work on Saturday afternoon was all it took to transform this sad area to looking like a much loved, much mulched garden bed.  We watered the straw down as we went along, helping it to pack down and hold into place and only stopped work when we ran out of newspaper lining - a job to be continued.

At around $6 per bale of pea straw and whatever newspapers you can beg, borrow or steal, this makes a cost effective and quick way to create new garden beds.  Have you done anything similar?  Have you any tips and tricks I can add to this post?!

Ps It also makes a great bed for our cat Marbles to enjoy the sun!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Stanley and the Hot Air Balloon Giveaway!

Stanley and the Hot Air Balloon is a children's book written by Kate Bruning, a visual feast of crocheted creatures and magical, miniature worlds.  The Greedy for Colour blogger and Simply Crochet pattern creator - who just happens to be my younger sister - has been crafting and creating ever since she was a little girl (not all that long ago really, because that would make us really, really old!).  Stanley is a small rabbit whose love of adventure sees him escape in a hot air balloon at nap time.
Kate is a brilliant writer and in Stanley, she has combined her skill for words with her prodigious creative talents.  Each page is illustrated by real-life images of Stanley, his mother and the world in which they live.  All the sets* have been put together and photographed by Kate, a combination of crochet, painting, paper craft and more.  The actual text on the page is a glorious kaleidoscope of colours and fonts, helping to guide young readers with expression and excitement in their reading.  Kate has also included her patterns in the book so you can make your own Stanley and his hot air balloon.
Kate is always making something and loves nothing better than giving her wonderful creations as presents.  Our house is filled with beautiful, thoughtful custom-made gifts from a beautiful painting of a field of poppies (made for me during my community project last year) to Jono's favourite companion, his crocheted rabbit Bernard, Stanley's older and larger cousin.  In Tom's bookshelves is a stunning embroidered piece marking the occasion of his birth, pillowcases on our bed a wedding present many moons ago, while Sophie sleeps under a divine quilt handcrafted by her Auntie Kate.
I asked the kids to share their thoughts of Stanley with you, an endorsement from children who are picky readers and know quality when they see it, even when it is made by someone who they love and adore - or love in a door, as Auntie Kate would say:

Tom - It's creative and it isn't like any other books I've seen.  It's been great having an auntie being an author.  My school librarians can't wait to get a copy of the book (which we will donate next week).  Auntie Kate, you are the best!

Sophie - It sounds awesome and I like the way she put in extra details. I also like how she made words look different . The best bit is a funny bit……where the mum says no words not a peep! On the first page before it starts it has a picture of Stanley in the hospital when he was a baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  AUNTIE KATE IS COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jonathon- Jono says he likes the moons and stars!  Also he likes the baby's in the nursery.  But he loves the whole book because it makes him feel good!

I'm delighted to offer you the chance to win a copy of Stanley!  
All you have to do is tell me - in 25 words or less - about your favourite childhood book and the title of the book you are reading now.  
This giveaway is worldwide and entries close Monday 22 September 2014.

PS If you miss out on the giveaway, Stanley is available here.

* Behind the scenes post of making Stanley blogged here.

This competition is now closed.  
Congratulations to Squiggling About for the winning entry!  
Thank you to everybody who entered and shared their favourite childhood books and the title of the books they are reading now - I loved hearing everybody's answers!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

made with love: the snowman and his faithful companion

Today my daughter Sophie (nearly 8yo) would like to tell you the story of latest ceramic creation...
The snowman has a cute pet dog.  Also the snowman has a little hat.  I also made a sleigh for the snowman to sit in.For the arms I used two twigs.  In my art at school I love to make new things with clay!  Once I even made Olaf from the movie Frozen.  Another time I made a little girl at the beach waiting for the ice cream van!

What's everyone been making at your house?!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

this is home: reflections of our lives

Our home represents a visual collage of family, friends and ourselves.  In every vista another piece of our collective personalities is revealed - the abundant creativity of my sister in the image above, with a small sliver of her book, Stanley and the Hot Air Balloon showing beside a vintage edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  There's a gorgeous thrifted tea tray I found in an op shop showing my love of the hunt when it comes to all things pre-loved and adored; underneath a test glaze tile that belonged to my godmother from her ceramic days, a piece of art in itself.
Beside my bed, a magic pudding of books, endless and immensely satisfying.  A beautiful ceramic vase made by Joe when he was still potting - one of my most treasured possessions with its deep blue glaze reminiscent of the wild seas on the west coast of Ireland.  Our bed head was originally in the garden, one of two singles that is now pushed together and used as one.  They were lovely outside, but even better in my room - the two smaller ends are still under the apricot tree, but who knows, they may make their way inside eventually!
The second-hand glass cabinet came by way of a former workplace, sold when it became surplus to requirements - what a find!  It's so heavy that we have attached it to the wall with plasterboard anchors, not wanting to lose a child underneath or break the precious glass inside!  The beautiful painting on the right, out of view in the first image, is one of mum's and another favourite, its pinks and blues perfect against the white backdrop.  The orange bubble light was snapped up at a clearing sale on a farm out of town - let's not talk about the vintage mantelpiece that went for $20 to another bidder.  I would have fought for it had I been able to get it back to town!

What parts of your personality are revealed through the collage in your home?

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

the spring garden - coming back to life

Warmer weather and rain have brought the garden rushing back to life.  Every day there's something new to look at - leaves where yesterday there were sticks, blossom where there were buds.  It's an amazing and exciting time of year, particularly so with sections of garden that were lawn and are now filled with thriving plants.
This is one such area - you can see the delineation in the picture below, where the pea straw meets the grass.  We reclaimed this patch from lawn by putting the plants directly in the ground, then covering the grass with old newspaper and mulching with the straw.  It's been a very effective method and improved the soil - not to mention that every time we dig, there are worms galore - a delight to see!
This old bench is rickety and not very comfortable, but a lovely place to sit with the kids and chat quietly, enjoying the warmth of the sun.  Alternatively it makes a great springboard (see below) for those eager to take a leap! 
This beautiful gate came to us via my mum and step-father's farm.  I overestimated its height and it won't suit the original purpose I had intended.  It's been down the back of the garden and I wondering what to use it for instead.  Yesterday I had the bright idea of moving it closer to the house - it makes a beautiful garden ornament and hides a small portion of our rather pedestrian Colorbond fence.  We then planted a camellia japonica in the foreground which will look fantastic as it grows and matures.

How does your season grow?  Are you like me, forever changing and developing your garden?  Have you started a garden from scratch - do you have any tips and tricks to share?!

Monday, 8 September 2014

the writer's edition: month 17 check-in

How do you like to settle in with a good book - lying in bed or on the couch?  Sitting outside
with the sun shining on your back or at a cafe, with a plate of delicious food at your reach?  
And so begins my process of editing as I would read.  With my manuscript in hand, I've been trying to replicate regular reading conditions.  It's less formal than sitting at a desk, but instructive all the same.  The pages may be A4 and unbound, but this process makes it feel almost like a real book.  The critical reader appears and it's easy to distance myself from the work, as though it's someone else's rather than my own.

This more relaxed process means I've been able to work with the kids rioting around me (inside or out), which isn't always easy to do!  I was also able to bundle up my manuscript and take it with me to a nearby town yesterday while Tom went to a birthday party.  I drove around until I found an open cafe (no mean feat on a Sunday afternoon) and sat by the window with a view of the lake.  I edited as I ate an early meal all by myself - indulgent, bliss and very productive!

 Do you work on the go?  Where's your favourite place to get things done?

PS  Textas are highly recommended for editing on the couch - have you ever tried to write with a pen half tilted upside-down?!

Friday, 5 September 2014

august instagram - floral

Florals are a big feature in the Stonefruitseason household - in August they came by way of a farewell (when Joe went back to Ireland), a slightly overdue housewarming present (!) and our own garden.  I caught our cat Marbles in his favourite place to rest - underneath a daisy bush along the fence, where the straw mulch creates a soft, warm bed out of everyone's way.  My Salinger Year (to be blogged next week) rests upon my favourite Nicola Cerini placemats, a birthday present a couple of years ago that I absolutely love.  The garden is springing back to life so there will be many more flowers to come on my Instagram account - and just wait until all my new roses start to bloom!

What have you been snapping lately?  Is there something you're waiting patiently to photograph, like me with my new roses?!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

meanwhile in quarantine: reading and watching

The kids and I hibernated during our virus.  Every now and then, mum arrived and threw a bag of groceries in the front door, not daring to come near us.  As the days wore on, there was some wall climbing by the younger members of the family.  My older sister's voice rang in my ears, 'Break all the rules.'  I did - and rented The Lego Movie via iTunes, a first in our household and a great success.  Unfortunately it was another 24 hours until the next movie screened - artistic differences between the two older kids regarding choice, unresolved until the next day!

While they watched, I read.  An American in Oz, Sara James's memoir of her move from New York to the Wombat State Forest, provides wonderful insight into the surprisingly difficult transition between two English speaking countries and the quirks of Australian country life.  It also explores life with special needs, the search for answers and how best to educate and care for someone in that situation.  This book seems to have slipped under the radar, undeservedly so, and deserves accolades for such honest and inspiring prose.

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan on its own would be up there with the good reads of 2014.  It was, however, pipped by Delicious, Ruth Reichl's first foray into fiction - I haven't read anything else of hers but am assured they make excellent fodder, pardon the pun!  Josephine Moon's The Tea Chest spans London and Brisbane and the friendships that develop as the story unfolds.  It sets up a shop I would love to visit in real life, perhaps they might come to my town?!  A big shout out for the beautiful cover featuring beautiful chinaware, soft colours and bunting which runs on to the spine - just gorgeous!

At night, when Joe was home, I crawled out of bed and watched television.  We love a great series - Friday Night Lights, Rake, Crownies, Mad Men, Girls and more.  Nashville is right up there and it was fantastic to receive the second part of series one - who would have thought they would be boxed separately?  At least I will know for next time!  I'm loving the music from this too - Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere and cast do an amazing job behind the microphone and what a clever way for the producers to earn more money from the show - well deserved too!  Orange is the New Black also arrived during this time, life in an American women's prison.  It's billed as a 'dramedy' and teeters between the two genres - harsh and dramatic one minute, comedic and hilarious the next - well worth a view.

So much watching and reading but, really, I consider it important research for my own writing! Just like Stephen King said, 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write' - surrounding myself with high quality reading and viewing material is educational, instructional and inspirational.  And how else would I spend a fortnight with the flu, or whatever it was that we had?  Whatever else would I have done with my time?!

Have you read or watched anything on this list?
What should I seek out next?!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

the book pile: recent reads

Never before have I been so glad of a marvellous book pile!  We've spent the past fortnight under the weather with a bad virus that has worked its way through the family.  There's been nothing to do but give in and ride it out.  This is just a small selection of the books that have graced my bedside table over that period, but deserve a post of their own.  Anna McPartlin's novel, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is one of those rush-out-and-get-it-now kind of books that pulls at the heartstrings one moment and has you snorting with laughter the next.  An absolutely brilliant must read that highlights the importance of family and friends when life is at its end.  Confesssions of a Qantas Flight Attendant is Owen Beddall's rollicking romp around the world as he dishes behind-the-scenes gossip - hilarious reading.

Anyone who's in the business of communication should take a look at Brief, Joseph McCormack's insights into how you can make a bigger impact by saying less.  His take is that people are so busy, we need to pare down our messages.  I'm all for clear communication and this book is a great first-step at how to strive for successful business relations.  Emily Gould's Friendship screamed Girls as I read the novel about two friends who met while working at a publishing house.  It seems I'm not the only one to draw comparisons - see here for more information.  Here, Home, Hope is the story of a woman at a crossroads - her two children at school, Kelly Johnson is nearing 40 and wondering what to do with her life.  Kaira Rouda's novel is a light read that strikes a real chord.

More to come in future posts, hopefully it will be business as usual from here-on in!

How have you been faring lately?  
Has the change of season brought ill health to you?  
How do you spend your days when you're struck down with cold and flu?