The Beach in Winter

I like having a winter birthday. I like it because Canberra does winter well. We have clear blue skies, bright light, chilly air and in July, the daffodils are starting to open their yellow heads.

Birthday weekend at the coastBut this year I headed to the beach for my birthday, specifically the beach where my parents live on the coast of New South Wales. I love a bleak wintry beach, partly because I love the grey skies over foamy waves but mostly because there are almost no people on the beach in winter.

We took Alice and her mum with us. Originally the plan had been to go fishing on my dad’s boat on my birthday. I wanted to catch a snapper. I don’t ask for much. I just wanted to catch my own dinner. Two weeks before my birthday my dad selfishly sold his boat. Alice bugged him all weekend about it. ‘Grandad why did you sell your boat?’ I think he regretted that decision. Four year olds are brutal. Don’t let those cherubic faces fool you. They know how to dig the knife in!

Birthday weekend at the coastNonetheless, it was awfully nice to be out of town, to feel the salty wind on our faces and to share my birthday cake with a four year old who was determined not to miss out on the candles, the cake and the after dinner sparklers.

Birthday weekend at the coast

I loved knitting on Mollymook Beach while Sean and Alice admired the waves. That was a definite high point. A belly full of fish and chips, a bit of sunshine, someone else doing the active stuff. It was nice. That’s Alice and Sean you can see there in the distance.

Birthday weekend at the coastAfter much begging on Saturday, when we saw two little girls swimming with their mother like it was the height of summer, we made a deal with Alice. On Sunday we could swim. By ‘swim’ we meant ‘roll up our jeans and paddle’. She was over the moon.

Happy Alice at the beach.One day when she’s older I’ll tell her that her ploy to get us to paddle turned out to be the greatest moment of the weekend. The three of us held hands on Hyam’s Beach, where the rip was strong. We held hands and got way more than our ankles wet. We watched a pod of dolphins pass by and laughed and cheered as the waves licked our jeans.

Birthday weekend at the coastIn Alice’s language, it was ‘super special’. We were ‘super happy’ and not at all cold.

And in knitting news, I gave both Alice and her mum new hats over the weekend. A Meret for Fee, and a Lavender for Alice. They posed for a photo together.

Birthday weekend at the coastThey both look lovely and I realised as I took this that it was the first time I’d done knits for both of them at the same time. I was pleased with the result.

I consider this the happiest of birthdays. It pays to get out of town some times and do something different.

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In Threes Cardigan: Underground

Once again I find myself scrambling to wring the last of the cardigan weather out of winter. It’s drawing to a close – the days are a little longer, the sun a little warmer, and soon we’ll be in t-shirts, with bare arms and legs. There’ll be no more need for knitwear, at least of the wintry kind.

And so as a concession to this, I made Alice, over the course of a few weeks, a short sleeved cardigan. It’s another repeat knit: the In Threes Cardigan, which I made last winter. She got too tall for it.

Here’s the new one, made from Bendigo Luxury, 10ply, in the colour Autumn Glow.

Alice in In Threes Cardigan

A sweet, sleeveless piece that goes very well over long sleeved t-shirts and later, will probably work well over a short sleeved t-shirt.

In Threes Cardigan

Here’s how the original looked – on a much younger Miss Alice. I did so love the stripes I did on that one.

In Threes Cardigan

This one is lovely and soft and I was interested to discover that the Luxury didn’t grow on washing, as it has done for me in the past. Perhaps it was a tighter gauge, or perhaps being a small garment there was less weight. Who knows. I was worried because I’d made it longer, so that she grow into the size 4 garment – and it is quite roomy. I’m confident she’ll be wearing this next winter.

She modelled it on Saturday on our grand adventure when we went caving at Wee Jasper caves – an amazing network of limestone caves in a valley about 90 mins from Canberra. What a great, fun filled and wonderful day we had. Alice was a trooper when the tour went much longer than the advertised 1.15hrs. For three hours we enjoyed a fun, informative and highly entertaining tour through caves that were bright, roomy and quite breathtaking.

Here we are just before we went in – filled with trepidation about what was ahead of us. Alice was more excited than nervous – once she felt certain that it was only ‘a little bit ske-wee’ and that there’d be no monsters.

Me and Alice

And here is Alice actually in the cave with Sean and I.

In the cave

It was a tremendous outing that delivered everything we hoped and more as at one point, Alice and I found ourselves giving a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in what we were told was a cave with stunning acoustics.

We sat on the little stage, together, singing a song we’ve sung hundreds of times before, in front of a gathering of four people. Sean, the guide and an elderly couple who took a shine to Alice. By candlelight we performed, our voices filling the room. That’s a special moment we could never have predicted and one we’ll talk about for years to come.

Not a bad way to take a new cardigan on its first outing, huh?

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40

On the last day of my thirties, a decade I was glad to leave behind, I got on a plane and flew to Melbourne with Sean. I spent the last night of my thirties eating tapas at Movida and watching my first Broadway musical ‘The Producers’ (yes I realise I wasn’t seeing it on Broadway, what can you do?). We completely loved it. The energy! The lights! The music! All  of it surpassed what I expected of a show that to me sounded like something to try rather than something we’d definitely enjoy. How wrong I was. A funny, high energy, altogether impressive experience under the spire of the State Theatre.

spire

It was a nice way to see out the decade. The long, difficult decade.

I spent most of my thirties in pursuit of motherhood and we can all see where that got me. Us. Childless.

Would I do it again if I had my time over? Probably. You can’t change the past and at the time you’re living through the hardship, you are doing it with a deep, powerful  hope in your heart that it will work out. Everywhere around you couples are welcoming their first, second, third happy bundles and you’re standing there with empty arms and an unforgiving uterus.

A spare room that deep down you fear will never become a nursery.

And there were miscarriages. Losses I will carry with me forever, scars and memories.

There was no way to know at the time that it wouldn’t work out. There were no guarantees, no magic charms to give us what we longed for.

But there were lessons. There were gifts. They come in the form of the charming little people who are part of our lives now, just not born of us. We are grateful and we are willing and able to be loving adults in the lives of our nieces and nephew – we are adults who bring with us, amongst other things, a decade of longing and hope which only serves to inform our humanity and our capacity to live and to love.

It was with this knowledge that I greeted the milestone of my 40th birthday, in the city of my birth, our second city, Melbourne. And lest you think I spent most of it staring glumly into glasses of wine mulling over my empty uterus and childless life, fear not. I went to Melbourne to eat, drink and be merry and that’s exactly what I did. Ironically, this was easier without the ‘burden’ of children. Bittersweet irony, really.

Portrait of a happy pub knitter. #melbourne #festivalofhelen

I turned 40 in the style I hoped for: eating, drinking and knitting my way around some great restaurants, cafes and pubs.

me in melbourne

We saw the excellent and highly informative Napolean exhibition the National Gallery of Victoria.

napoleon

And we ate, on the night of my birthday at the stunning, top rated Attica Restaurant, our first experience of Molecular Gastronomy, which was nowhere near as intimidating or wanky as I feared it might be. It was in every way a night to remember, and to me, far more satisfying than a big, emotionally draining party. As an introvert I’m much better at a small, quiet dinner than a big event.

Melbourne. Sunday morning. Swanston street.

And what would a trip away be for me without at least a photo of knitting and a glass of wine? This one was taken at lunch on our last day, where we sat in a lane way Italian cafe and ate pasta and drank wine and farewelled, with a little sadness, our lovely little holiday where we’d done all the things we hoped and from which I was returning a 40 year old woman.

As if there was ever any question what the My Obsession #julyphotoaday subject would be.

It was everything I wanted it to be.

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Adventures in Wonderland

I’ve long wanted to use a Wonderland title for a post about Alice and I think after our weekend adventures, it’s fitting. At last.

After months of waiting and planning and talking, we took our Best Girl Alice away for her first holiday with us. Her parents agreed to the idea earlier this year, thinking it was a wonderful opportunity for all of us. They weren’t wrong. We talked for months with her about going on a plane, about the friends we’d visit and what we’d do there. When the day arrived, she was about as fully prepared as a little girl could be. We were nervous and excited. So excited. Toys, snacks, books all packed for the journey, we set off for Queensland.

on the plane

We had talked all about how the houses down below would look very little. We explained about going up high above the clouds. She took it all in with great enthusiasm and joy.

Once we arrived in Brisbane and had to wait to collect our hire car, it all took its toll on the weary traveller who paused for a nap.

weary traveller

At our friends’ house in Brisbane there was a special sign on the door for her. It stayed there all weekend and she loved knowing her name was in bright shiny letters each time we opened the door.

A special welcome sign in Brisbane.

Before we went away, i spent an afternoon making two matching dresses for Alice and her new friend. Don’t they look lovely!

dresses

And as an aside, because we all know that no holiday would be complete without a bit of addiction feeding, my friend and I spent the morning at Tangled Yarns, a shop I was SO excited to see. I’ve bought from Kelly, who owns the shop, many times but had yet to go there. It was so, so pretty and bright and light and inviting. I shopped. I talked knitting with other addicts. Then I shopped some more. I bought great stuff. I’ll save that for later.

tangled yarns

On Sunday we visited the Gold Coast, where we have some family. We oversold it perhaps, with Alice longing for the beach. I’m afraid she was a bit disappointed with the bleak, grey day.

beach

All the same, we had a lovely time there, with chasing birds, eating in a cafe, hanging out with family and counting many, many palm trees. By the end, we were all tired, but pleased.

us

We flew home on Monday, terribly happy with our first venture out into the world beyond the simple day trips we’ve done. It had gone so well. Very few hiccups and a wonderful sense of something we’d all shared.

Alice had stories to tell Mummy and Daddy and was bursting with new experiences and words and a promise from us that we’d do it again some day.

We can’t wait.

Bells

Beach Weather. Briefly.

Last summer we made several trips to the coast (a couple of hours away) to spend the day swimming, eating ice creams and fish and chips and building sand castles. January and February offered up endless weekends with suitable weather.

This year, it’s all downpours, dark skies and wind. The rain is fabulous, but we have been robbed of a bit of real beach weather. It was for that reason I didn’t take bathers with me to the beach this weekend when my sister and I went to visit our parents. I thought there’d be no point. My sister and I, with Miss Alice, left Canberra feeling sure that we’d not packed enough warm clothes.

We were wrong. Alice, who had the good sense to pack her bathers, spent most of Saturday afternoon like this.

Beach.

She was swimming at Sandy Point, near our parents’ house, with cousin Willem and as I stood on the sand cheering them on in the shallows, I wished so much I’d come prepared. I haven’t been swimming once this summer. Not even a bit! I think I really lucked out on getting the most out of the afternoon.

swimming

It was a humid afternoon. Away from the shady table where we’d eaten, the sun was bright and the air sticky. I asked Willem how the water was and he said with absolute certainty, ‘it’s wonderful!’

I’m sure. Rub it in, dude, rub it in.

alice in the water

Such joy and such bravery a year on from her first beach trip where the water was fun, but just a bit scary.

All I could do was enjoy the view.

alice and willem

And after a busy weekend, there was only one thing left to do. Break the journey in Braidwood with a cupcake after a big, long sleep.

cupcake

The great thing about road trips with my sister is that she prefers to drive, while I prefer to knit and you know, in a two and half hour trip, you can really get a lot of sock knitting done. I’ll have another pair off the needles in a matter of days!

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Local History: Majors Creek

In a country pub a few weeks ago, a chance conversation sent us off on a little adventure. Aren’t the best experiences the ones that most often happen because of a passing conversation, or some momentary decision you didn’t know you were going to make?

We were in the Braidwood Hotel on Saturday afternoon. A few locals were leaning against the bar. Sean and I sat by a window with bottles of beer, me knitting and both of us enjoying the warmth and ambience of the fire.

knitting in braidwood hotel

We struck up a conversation with the small group by the bar – the usual questions followed. Where were we from, what brought us to Braidwood and so on. I told how we love the history of Braidwood and how I enjoyed in particular the cemetery last time we were there.

Well if you like cemeteries, one of the locals said, you ought to go out to Majors Creek. A flurry of directions were given and we knew we’d head there the next days. I’ve heard of Majors Creek from time to time over the twenty odd years I’ve lived in and around Canberra but I’ve never been. I’m not sure I thought there was actually anything there. Turns out I was wrong.

The day we went there – a mere twenty minutes or so out of Braidwood – we took the photos of Sean’s Dashing mitts and my half finished Honey cardigan. I fell in love with the little gold mining town which seems to somehow still support some locals, a pub and a beautiful old church. All the best things about small towns the world over, I think!

Visitors enter the town across an old stone bridge.

Majors Creek Bridge

A sign describing the town’s history explains that in the earliest days, Italian stonemasons settled and built many of the town’s most striking constructions including this bridge, the church and many of the headstones in the cemetery.

To one side of the bridge, the valley spreads out with the tiny trickle of a creek curving through it.

Majors Creek

Soon after, you hit the town, passing by small, mostly twentieth century homes built close to the street. Small cottages on a quiet road. The only person we saw on the road was a mother pushing a pram. Sunday morning is very sleepy in the village it seems.

It was around 11am and yet the pub was the most lively place in town with about ten locals gathered around the fireplace, or asleep on the couch as one guy was. We said hi, bought a bottle of soft drink and asked an elderly bloke the way to the cemetery. Directions secured, we left and took the photos of knitwear.

Right in the middle of the village is a grassed area with an old, disused well. Oddly this is the only photo I got, with Sean posing his dashing mitts on it.

old well

Nearby, on the other side of the small green that marks the centre of town is an old stone chimney. I’ve written before of my love of old chimneys. They haunt me. They’re such a strong symbol of what was once someone’s home.

majors creek chimney

This one is hard to get close to. The back of it is overgrown with ivy and the front is an area of boggy, overgrown grass.

A little further up the road is the beautiful church.

majors creek church

There’s that gorgeous Italian stonemasonry mentioned on the sign coming into town. That’s been lovingly maintained. What a pity the same can’t be said for the Major’s Creek Cemetery. Parts of it were very run down, which is sad for a heritage listed site. But as we’re learning by looking at small town cemeteries, their upkeep is often managed by volunteers. There isn’t always funding or capacity to do the kind of work those who value cemeteries would like to do.

We drove a dirt track through several country gates to the fenced off cemetery on the outskirts of town. We were alone there and spent a pleasant hour traipsing through the long, brittle grass to learn a little of town’s ghosts. There were the usual family crypts, fenced off plots and headstones so sunken with age and disrepair as to be almost returned to the earth.

iron post

It’s not a large cemetery, but as the town dates back to 1827, there are some quite old headstones there.

cemetery

I’m always drawn to small headstones like the one below.

tiny headstone

No name. No indication if it is a child’s grave or just this small because it was all the family could afford. But there are flowers there, so somebody, somewhere knows whose life is commemorated here.

small headstone

This one I feel certain is a child’s grave. There isn’t anything sadder than a child’s grave, is what I think when I see them.

As always, we wandered among them, piecing together family stories, real or imagined, building a flickering understanding of the town. In the photo above, you can just see Sean in the background. He was coming then from a couple of headstones that were away from all the others, behind some trees on the very edge of the site. I don’t know why but I didn’t feel brave enough to go and find see them. For all my love of cemeteries, there’s not a small amount of spookiness I feel when I’m there. I think it’s part of the appeal.

Our trip to Majors Creek showed us that there are still more undiscovered, for us, treasures just a short drive from home. Lovely outings to find out more about our region and how it came to be.

As a side note, the gold rush history of the town looks worth exploring more. I was fascinated to learn that the first gold in the area was found by a woman. How did that happen? Was she washing clothes in the creek and found something gleaming in the water? Or was she a prospector herself – forging the way for women in a hard, masculine world? I don’t know but I want to find out.

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Honey. The Story So Far.

At the start of the Tour de France race, I cast on my Honey Cardigan. Then I went to ground and just kept knitting. Apart from bus knitting, this has been my sole knitting project for two weeks in an attempt to have it completed by the time Le Tour finishes.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m going to make it but I’m going to come close. Want to see how it looks so far? Just quietly, I’m thrilled to pieces and seeing how it looks in these photos is just inspiring me to knit faster.

honey1

We took these photos this morning at a tiny village called Majors Creek – a left over goldmine town. I’m tempted to go back and take the finished photos there because it’s so picturesque, especially on a cloudy winter’s day. There’s a well, an old chimney, a cemetery and a lone pub full of locals around the fire.

But I digress.

honey2

I think by the end of Le Tour, I’m going to have the sleeves done. I’ll finish the body in the next day or so and so might just, at a pinch get through the sleeves by Saturday if I’m really focused.

But finishing this requires miles of i-cord around the edges. Serious i-cord. That’s where I’ll slow down I think.

Truth be told I’m not that fixated on getting it done by end of the race. I only ever saw participating in this knit along as a way to make me get through something more quickly than normal. I don’t mind a bit of pressure – it’s such a great way to make me bring something into sharp focus. But getting Honey off the needles before too much of winter slipped by was important, so that’s where I’m at.

I think it’s going to be lovely. It was a good choice for me. Those cables are amazing aren’t they? As Sean was taking the photos he said something like ‘wow those cables really stand out!’ He’s right. They do. And I am beyond thrilled with the way the charcoal Cascade 220 is knitting up. Perfect. While away this weekend, I found handmade buttons for my Honey. But I’ll save those for later.

honey back in progress

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