December is finally here and the countdown to Christmas begun. I love the season of Advent and the invitation to reorient our hearts towards the things of faith. Alex and I have been reading to each other from the "Celtic Advent" devotional and it's a beautiful collection of stories, scriptures and reflections around this season of waiting. I don't know about you but I get to this time of year and my body begins to unravel in tiredness and over-stimulation and the accumulation of another wonderful, messy, curious twelve months of life. I feel slow and limited and achey even though I'm not sick with anything in particular. Recently I've begun to simplify my festive plans and pack away (figuratively and physically) projects for the new year. I crave solitude and silence and stillness, however fleeting. I can choose to forgo listening to political podcasts, reading complex books, casting on new knitting patterns, saying yes to everything and attempting complicated recipes. Instead I lean towards the simple goodness around me: listening to the beautiful birds singing in the trees around our house, reading familiar (and loved) Christmas stories to my children, eating a ripe mango for dessert and stretching my legs in the early summer sunshine. My prayer is to notice and cherish the gifts so abundantly given to me //
Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more–a grateful heart:
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose Pulse may be
November is the most glorious season of flowers!
When I was in grade 5 I did a school project all about flowers. I was ten, and I couldn't think of a better job than being a florist or a horticulturalist. My classmates teased me for this, and called me "Flower Power" in the not-so-nicest of tones. Oh if the could see me now, twenty three years older and completely and utterly content for such labels. Plants and flowers - growing them, picking them, smelling them, sharing them, learning about them is as important and refreshing to my person as ever.
There is power to be found in nature's bounty - in the inhalation of natural perfume and the sight of the most marvelous hues, the clever work of bees and the wondrous textures and healthful properties of petal, stem and leaf.
We have rented homes for our entire married life, but in each one we have planted a garden. We have sowed dreams of vegetables and flowers and bees and trees (yes, ones that we won't ever see mature).
Iris. Eckium. Fox Glove. Snap Dragon. Salvia. Quince. Viola. Violet. Red Valerian. Fennel. Forget me not. Elderberry. Lupin. Rose. Lavender. Mexican Orange. Oregano. Plum. Camellia. Strawberry. Sedum. Daisy. Rosemary. Hebe. Calendula. Thyme. Cat mint. Silver dust. Lambs Ear. Geranium. Hydrangea. Pig Face. Sage - are just some of the things I have planted in my three years living with this patch of earth.
I once wrote a poem about my heart's desire to grow a garden, you can read it here.
I think mice are rather nice;
Their tails are long, their faces small;
They haven’t any chins at all.
Their ears are pink, their teeth are white,
They run about the house at night;
They nibble things they shouldn’t touch,
and no one seems to like them much,
but I think mice are nice!
It started with this poem which we discovered in a book of poetry for children. Ever since Archer has had the words to explain his love of mice - those little ears and teeth, long tails and nibbling instincts. So when it came time to think of ideas for his 6th birthday party, a mouse theme was suggested. And of course, I simply had to honour this poetic whim!
There were mouse meringues and mouse shortbread, a mouse cake (orange zest and vanilla) and various mouse games: making mouse ears, mouse, mouse, RAT! Pin the tail on the mouse, mouse egg and spoon race, What's the time Mr Cat? And a piñata which was not mousey but made by the birthday boy and I into a number 6. My mum gifted him a beautiful book called "Mouse's Wood" which we've been reading and exploring the magnificent illustrations for days.
How can my littlest son be six already? Though it's hard to believe, he is every bit a wonderful six year old; he can read a book to himself and ride a two-wheel bike and help collect eggs. He loves school and music and adventures and cuddles and sloths and lego and... mice!
It has been the wettest October since records began, 250mls of rain fallen and counting. To say the ground is wet is an understatement. Soggy, sodden, mush. Water and worms and mosquito larvae collect in puddles that don't have enough time to evaporate. Twice the river has broke it's banks, sending torrents of debris into the fencing and gates and trees and flood plains of the farm. The big dam is full to capacity for the first time anyone can remember. There are regional towns throughout the state grappling with extensive flood damage, and one day school was cancelled due to a wild storm and power outage. Still the flowers bloom and the bees hum when the clouds part and the rain stops. Still we marvel at the warmer nights and milder mornings. Still we count our blessings to live atop a hill with a secure roof over our heads. Still we read and bake and listen to music and walk with umbrellas and dream of another season. I recently finished Alex's birthday "rift sweater" and it is still cool enough for him to enjoy. It is the colour of dark rain clouds and is soft and warm thanks to the possum, alpaca and wool fibers it is made from. I have cast on another birthday present, this time a many coloured shawl for a woman who loves bright hues and brings a smile to my face just thinking about. My little sister of course //
Here's a link to download a set of three coloring in pages I designed around the theme of spring: Australian native flowers, a jolly wombat and the daffodils that come out in abundance around my town in this season...
A cake for people like me who love oranges - peel, juice, flesh and all. The cake itself has two whole oranges blended into the batter and is topped generously with slices of candied blood orange. Unlike many gluten-free cakes, this one stays deliciously moist for days! To save time boil the oranges the night before you intend to make the cake so that they are soft and ready to go when you need them.
You will need:
- 2 whole oranges (I used the seedless "cara cara" variety for it's beautiful sweetness and ruby colour)
- 125g salted butter, softened
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups self-raising gluten free plain flour
(OR a combination of 1 cup rice flour + 1 cup tapioca flour with 4 teaspoons GF baking powder OR 2 cups almond meal with 4 teaspoons baking powder)
For the candied blood oranges:
- 1/2 cup water,
- 1 cup caster sugar,
- 3 small blood oranges, sliced in thin rings
For the cake:
Place 2 whole oranges in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to the boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer oranges for 1 hour with a lid on the pot. Drain the water out and let the oranges cool down overnight or for at least 4 hours before making the batter.
Preheat moderate oven (180’c). In a blender - blitz oranges (rind and all!) until smooth. Beat in softened butter, sugar and eggs. Mix in flour and beat until smooth. Pour batter into a (paper-lined) 22cm spring form cake tin. Bake for 50-60 minutes. You will know when the cake is done when a skewer or thin knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove cake from the oven and cool while you make the candied orange slices.
For the candied blood orange slices:
Slice three small blood oranges into thin rings. In a large, heavy-based frying pan bring 1/2 cup water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil on a high heat. Gently place all your blood orange slices in the pan - they can overlap each other - and reduce heat to low. Let the oranges simmer for 20-30 minutes. I used tongs to flip the slices over a couple of times in this process. Turn the heat off. Remove the slices and let them cool a little on a piece of baking paper or on a clean plate. There should be a little syrup left in the frypan.
Arrange candied slices on the top of the orange cake and drizzle all the remaining orange syrup on top. Enjoy on it's own or with a generous dollop of double cream or greek yoghurt...
I have read some wonderful, interesting, thought provoking books this year - thanks again to my book loving friends, family and superb local library. Here are some highlights:
Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore (2021)
A serendipitous find at my local library. I fell in love with the cover and the blurb on the back. While it may be classed as "young adult fiction", I think it's for anyone and everyone - and so beautifully explores the complexities of adolescence, grief, identity and place. The 14-year-old narrator, Dylan, is quirky and refreshing. Highly recommend.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2018)
An urgent and important read for our times. What can we do about the myriad ethical, social and political dilemmas amplified by the online spaces we occupy and the digital devices we rely on? Who has the power and what are they doing with it? I found myself disturbed by the details of deceptive and behavior-altering actions of our wealthiest companies and platforms online. It is worth reading for her final essay "Sanctuary" alone.
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles (2021)
This is an exquisite book. Nina's prose moves like water: caressing your feet, trickling over your hands and at times rushing over your entirely. She transports the reader to beautiful, raw inner landscapes as well as the various places, cities and countries she has called home.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (2014)
I loved this. I think my favourite novel in her Gilead series so far. I couldn't put it down. It was sad, beautiful. Evocative. Robinson is a master of prose and telling the stories of ordinary, complex human relationships. Lila is my favorite character of hers yet.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (2020)
It took me a while to get into this one - but once I did, I was completely enthralled in the bizarre and magical world of Piranesi. Humorous, dark and intriguing. I won't say anymore, just go and read it!
How to End a Story, Diaries from 1994-1998 by Helen Garner (2021)
I don't think I will ever tire of Helen Garner. This is her most recent collection of excerpts from her personal diaries through the years her marriage was ending. I loved the details of everyday life - food, music, church, swimming, conversations and observations. I recall some of the more hilarious scenes and chuckle!
To the River by Olivia Laing (2017)
This book follows Olivia Laing's journey on foot along the river Ouse in Sussex - where Virginia Wolfe lived and died and many other notable characters from literature, art and history. I enjoyed how she weaved personal memoir with travel notes, mythology, history and poetry. At times it was fast paced and refreshing and at other times meandered slowly, like the river itself.
The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo (2021)
My mum lent this to me and assured me I would love it. Which I did. A whimsical, tragic and beautiful story set in a fantastical, medieval past intended for children (and everyone) about fate, love and power of words. The child at the centre of the story is wise and curious - then there's her fierce protector goat, a kind-faced monk and a brave boy. I look forward to reading this aloud to my boys.
How about you? What have you read this year and loved?
My newly finished Steele pinafore is a labour of love! The pattern is very well written but requires careful concentration. I enjoyed the challenge of sewing it, and even though my topstitching is not perfectly even, I am happy with the results. The fabric is "Roccoco" gingham linen from Merchant and Mills and is deliciously soft and comfortable. I love that it throws navy, grey, beige and mauve depending on the lighting. I know I will wear this pinny over and over again.
I also recently made another Eva dress as a sample for a sweet fabric and haberdashery shop in Bendigo called "House of Cloth". It was a pleasure to test this pattern using their beautiful European linen which has black and green threads woven together to create this shimmery teal hue. It is a lovely pattern; enjoyable to read and follow. Once again I decided to lengthen the sleeves to 3/4 length.
The weeks of winter blur together, one after the other. The weather frames the stuff of life, work and home. We move through frost, wind, rain, sunshine, frost and rain again. I find myself with less to say, and more to listen to. We sit with big, momentous decisions and try our best to slow down, to understand each other. I walk and feel acorns crunching under my boots, mud squelching. I spy daffodil heads swelling, parrots and galas chattering. And still the the wood heater keeps us warm, my bedside piled high with books, our table laid with good food and the shenanigans of young people, the hardenbergia showers white pea flowers, the blueberry dotted with buds...
Making: a Steel Pinafore with sublime checked linen
Knitting: Rift Sweater for my (almost 40 year old) love
Baking: Frangipane tart with rhubarb and blackberries frozen in summer
Reading: Matrix by Lauren Groff and Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper
Listening to: Rang Tang Ring Toon (and other whimsical tunes) by Mountain Man
"You will indeed go out with joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush, a cypress will grow,
and instead of the brier, a myrtle will spring up;
they will make a name for the LORD,
an everlasting sign, never to be destroyed.”
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...