Midwinter is damp and overcast and my hands ache in the cold // We enter our fifth lockdown and return to the rollercoaster of big feelings and disappointments, slowness and exasperation // The heater is lit every day and kept glowing hot over night, and the nook beside it is perfectly cat shaped // Wood cut from trees that blew over in the storm are stacked up to dry // Craft brings much comfort - face masks for friends and family, a colorful beret from leftover yarn scraps and a thin nae shawl in a delicious deep red // Hope is a short walk every day on my own, ruby rose hips on a dry vine, wax flowers on the kitchen bench, flower buds on the Chinese quince // Hope is everything beautiful and true and praiseworthy, the Good Shepherd who leads me gently on, in everything we can't see yet, a cup of hot tea, a ray of sunshine on the cheek //
Down by the river
no boys playing,
banks submerged with rain -
sodden and soaking,
debris caught and foaming.
I watch the water
it's a funny kind of sympathy
she reflecting me:
that spilling out, forcefully,
an overflow of feelings
days of rain and howling winds bring -
of wondering, half-sleeping,
weeks of lockdown and isolation
familiar paths, unsettling us
again and again.
I'm a mess of worry and relief
we know we're the lucky ones
with animals safe, with house in tact
that's dry and warm -
spirit within us, hovering,
rest and disturbance.
Down by the river
I'm a woman lingering,
listening to the flow -
birds are singing,
darting in the trees
and on my face
blessed sun, shining.
It's school pick up time on Wednesday
when the rain is flying sideways.
We try to step around the puddles,
umbrella inside out,
come on, come on, I say.
Dinner by candlelight is romantic the first time,
our only option when the power goes out.
I hear you say: mum, can we do this every night?
I read to you by torch light,
a book for each boy and a song.
Lying beside you, my eldest boy,
I can't remember the last time I sang you to sleep.
Your hand on my tummy, I stroke your hair
and can feel it's silky redness in the dark.
In bed we hear the storm raging,
a forest howling, blowing thunderously.
We toss and turn and pray
the animals are safe,
that our roof stays on.
Waking in the cold, dark of morning,
I fumble for candles, kindling for the fire,
for cereal and anything that will wake us up.
It's still raining, wind blowing.
I am so happy to discover I can
boil the kettle on top of our wood heater -
and later poach eggs and cook rice and porridge.
It's so slow, but worth it.
It's afternoon when the sky begins to part,
and reveals a sunset, pink and golden.
The rain has stopped and you ride
your bikes through the puddles
All around town we see trees missing limbs,
fences crushed and fallen.
Dinner by candlelight for the second night,
and nobody seems excited.
The river swells as we've never seen before.
Storm water swallows the banks,
almost touching the bridge
and our favourite places to sit and play,
are covered over, hidden from view.
I play Shostakovich from my phone as I pack the eggs,
- it feels luxurious and necessary to use battery for this,
the familiar notes, beautiful and haunting,
become the slow whistle of the kettle on top of the fire,
of a storm gathering, raging and calming.
When the moderato begins, I am crying.
Early June is quiet and cold. Rain and wind shakes off what remains of the autumn leaves. I watch boys ride bikes around puddles and muddy their knees. Slowly, I clear out the garden of weeds and dead things, add to the bonfire pile and compost heap. Mulch the broccoli and leeks. Sow beans, peas, lettuce and carrot seeds. Prune the roses and the plum tree. I spy the green tips of bulbs emerging, hyacinth and daffodils. Inside the wood heater is kept stoked and warm. We mark off the days until the lockdown lifts, then the days until the school holidays, how long till spring begins. I bake often - for hunger and comfort, elevenses and afternoon tea. Winter is reading in bed with a hot water bottle on your chest and socks on your feet. Winter is slowing down whether you want to or not, feeling the cold and savouring heat //
Banana, Coconut + Raspberry Bread
125 butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar // OR 1 cup honey or maple syrup
2 ripe bananas
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup rice flour + 3/4 tapioca starch // OR 1 + 1/2 cups GF plain flour mix
1/2 cup coconut flour // OR desiccated coconut for a rougher texture
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons GF baking powder
1 cup frozen raspberries // OR berries of your choice // OR 100g chopped dark chocolate
Makes 1 large loaf
- - -
In a large bowl or mixer cream together butter and sugar - followed by mashed bananas, eggs and olive oil. Mix in flours, spices and baking powder. It should be a thick batter consistency. Finally gently stir in raspberries. Pour mixture into a high-sided loaf tin that has been well-greased (or lined with baking paper - I usually just squash a rectangle of baking paper into the tin) and make in a moderate oven at 180'c for 45 mins - 1 hour. It will be ready once a skewer or knife inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean.
GF Anzacs with a twist
2 cups quinoa flakes
1 cup puffed amaranth
1 cup desiccated coconut
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup GF plain four // OR 1/2 cup each rice flour and tapioca starch
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- - -
Preheat moderate oven to 180'c. Place quinoa, amaranth, coconut, flour, zest, cinnamon, flour and brown sugar in a large bowl. Meanwhile heat the butter and honey in a saucepan over a low heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in bicarb soda (it will fizz up a bit) - tip wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Shape a heaped tablespoon of mixture into paper-lined oven trays (I ended up with four trays of cookies). Use a fork to flatten the tops and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Cool and store in an airtight container - they last ages!
Rhubarb + Strawberry Jam
This is my favourite kind of jam. I love the sweetness and fragrance of the strawberries alongside the tart and distinctive flavour of the rhubarb. The rhubarb also helps to thicken the jam.
2 cups fresh rhubarb stalks, chopped in cubes
2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, quartered
2 cups white sugar
juice of one lemon
In a medium-sized saucepan combine all the ingredients and stir on a low-heat until boiling. Pour into clean glass jars or container and store in the fridge.
The Whole Beet Dip
This is an absolutely delicious, earthy dip using the whole of the beet - root, stalk and leaves - and is a perfect accompaniment to meat like kangaroo or beef . It is also wonderful scooped up with crackers and carrot sticks.
1 large beetroot (leaves, stalks, root), washed thoroughly
1 garlic clove, minced
handful flatleaf parsley, minced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup thick, unsweetened greek style yoghurt or labneh
Peel and grate beetroot, chop finely leaves and stalks. In a small frying pan gently sauté beetroot with a tablespoon of olive oil. Once softened, add crushed garlic and continue to stir until completely cooked (you may need to add a little boiling water if it gets too dry). Set aside to cool in a mixing bowl. Add parsley, lemon juice, spice and sea salt. Using a stick blender - blend beetroot mixture until it resembles a paste. Stir in yoghurt and season with extra salt or lemon juice to taste. Serve in a bowl with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Should keep for up to a week in the fridge in a well sealed container (not that it will last that long!)
Me Made May is a month-long festival of people wearing their handmade clothes. I so enjoy seeing what people are making, wearing, mending and rediscovering. A friend asked me to share some of my outfits so I decided to challenge myself to wearing handmade things for a whole week:
Lark Tee in cotton stretch fabric which I found at an op-shop for $1
Trillium (Washi) dress which I made last year, in beautiful blue double cotton gauze by Nani Iro
Sibella Cardigan which I also made last year using Ochre yarn's fair-trade merino-yak-silk blend yarn
Seaside Shawl which I finished earlier this year and is being worn almost every day! The silk-cotton blend yarn which I bought years ago at Bendigo Woollen Mills is very stretchy, light and soft and doesn't pill at all.
Lark Tee in a bark-coloured merino wool knit from the Fabric Store that my sister generously bought for me and which is incredibly warm.
Tamarack jacket which I made last year using a lovely brown linen-cotton blend from Robert Kaufmanm and some cotton gauze and quilt-weight wadding that I had scraps of in my stash. Each panel of the jacket was individually quilted before piecing them together and attaching bias by hand. Affectionately called "the dog jacket" it's rather warm but a little stiffer than I was hoping.
Lark Tee in striped polyester cotton that a friend gave me and was my initial test of the Lark pattern. Makes a lovely layer under dresses like this one - which is the Trillium (Washi) Dress in dark blue linen that I had leftover from another project. The generous, side-seamed pockets are the best bit of course.
My newly finished Felix Cardigan over one of the three Wiksten Shift tops I have sewn and wear all the time. This one is made from soft Japanese cotton that has these lovely little embroidered pink spots on it.
Channelling the Boy Scout here, and not at all sure if it works but going to try anyway. Lark Tee in cotton jersey and a well-loved linen skirt (see below for my modifications to it), with my Seaside shawl.
My striped Lark tee again with lots of warm woollens - Felix Cardigan, fingerless mitts I crocheted for Alex a few years ago and a recently knit Bisbis Beret in mohair and wool.
Late autumn is the sight of healthy mama cows and some seventy plus calves grazing the pasture as the sun sets // the crunch of leaves underfoot and the damp, dewy morning air // weeding out the veggie beds, and harvesting every tomato red, green and in between // it's the sound of boys playing cubbies in the ash tree and the smell of wood smoke, of fresh paint. on the walls of the spare room // It's the golden glow of dusk on the trees, the bonfire pile growing // and the cool wind whispering a slow, sad song of a season ending.
Much Loved by Mark Nixon (2013)
This is a book of photography and storytelling - of much loved soft toys and teddies and the memories they hold for us. I stumbled across this book by accident at the library and brought it home with the intention of reading it with the boys - some of the toys are so quirky, loved and threadbare that they are barely hanging together. It was later when I read it by myself in bed that I was moved to tears by the stories behind the much loved items. Mark Nixon's photography is simple and sublime.
Adam Bede by George Eliot (1859)
I have read some of Eliot's other works (Silas Marner being one of my favourite novels of all time) but never Adam Bede. It was her first novel written. I actually read it in a bookclub with my mum, sister and her partner and we shared our thoughts and feelings on it every few weeks via zoom. Who would have ever thought of a zoom bookclub a few years ago?! I found the story deeply engrossing and moving. Eliot is a master storyteller and she sets the pastoral scene and nuanced characters and conversations so well. So many of the issues she raises can relate to today - this quote stood out: " Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult... Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings - much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth"
Quarterly Essay 72: Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age by Sebastian Smee (2018)
Does a long essay count as serious reading? I think so. I was able to access a digital copy of the magazine through my library. Critic Sebastian Smee writes with wit and insight on the idea of "the inner life" as explored in art and culture and how it has been changed or lost in the wake of digitisation. He writes: “Every day I spend hours and hours on my phone . . . We are all doing it, aren’t we? It has come to feel completely normal. Even when I put my device aside and attach it to a charger, it pulses away in my mind, like the throat of a toad, full of blind, amphibian appetite.”
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (2019)
Reading the Smee's essay promoted my interest in reading this one by Cal Newport. Instead of reading the pages, I borrowed the audiobook from my library and listened to it, slowly, over two weeks while I cleaned the eggs. There is something appropriate, I felt, to digest this one carefully - to listen to it an hour at a time with ample space afterwards to contemplate his ideas. Cal Newport is not dismissive of the benefits of digital technology, but calls for a more holistic (and minimalist) approach to using it: one that places more emphasis on developing a sense of self, of leisure and rest, deep work and building relationship over mere connectedness, and aligning our choices about digital tools with our deeper values at the fore. He writes: "How much of your time and attention must be sacrificed to earn the small profit of occasional connections and new ideas that is earned by cultivating a significant presence on social media platforms?"
Wild Light by Robyn Mundy (2016)
An engaging, fast-paced novel set on a remote Tasmanian Island. I enjoyed the descriptions of the wild weather, lighthouse keeping and local flora and fauna best of all.
Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison (2019)
I requested my library to buy a copy of this book and was so delighted when they did. I've been listening to nutritionist and journalist Christy Harrison's podcast "Food Psych" for a few years now and always found her conversations around food, shame, diet culture, intuitive eating and mental health really fascinating and insightful. She draws on so much good research and evidence to explore the perils of our modern obsession with diets, weight loss and wellness. It made me angry and sad, empowered and energised - so much better informed. She also draws on personal stories including her own and her clients, and offers practical suggestions for deconstructing the unjust and unfounded beliefs that proliferate about bodies and food. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Hold Your Fire by Chloe Wilson (2021)
Oh I just loved this one. It was one of those books I saw the cover of at the library and wanted to borrow on impulse alone. I stayed up way too late reading it bed because I just couldn't put it down. It reminded me how much I love short stories, and these ones by Australian writer Chloe Wilson are absurd, funny, dark and beautiful. Go and read!
Read my summer reading here //
This autumn I've worked away at a few practical clothing projects. The first was the Felix Cardigan (Pattern by Amy Christoffers) using quince and co yarn unravelled from a garment I made nine years ago (which I never quite loved the fit and feel of and pilled dreadfully). I paired the recycled wool with a fine silk-mohair blend from Isager which I bought new and the result is this super soft, warm and snuggly cardigan. I particularly like the simplicity of the pattern and the generous fit which allows me to layer it over lots of things and roll up the sleeves if need be.. I found the perfect buttons made from coconut shell at my local craft shop.
Following in the blending mohair and wool theme, I knit myself a Bisbis Beret (pattern by Sari Nordlund) using some old dark blue Bendigo Woollen Mills 4ply yarn I had in my stash and a strand of black Isager silk-mohair. I love how together they make a rich dark blue-grey that shimmers depending on the light. The pattern is fairly simple and goes from top to bottom - which meant I could add extra length as I went along for a more roomy fit - and finishes with an elegant i-cord bind off.
On the sewing front I have made three long-sleeve lark tees in cotton jersey, a poly-cotton blend and merino knit fabrics. The latter was gifted to me last year by my lovely sister and seemed only right to do a test first using the other fabrics. I am so happy with these tops! As someone with a long torso and arms it's difficult to find tops that are "long enough" or at least get to that point of real ease and comfort - which for me is well past my hips. I hate having to pull a top down! The lark tee is a pattern by Grainline studio, and like the other patterns of theirs I have tried - it is well written and a pleasure to follow. I also like that they give you a range of options for sleeve and neckline modifications. There will be more in the future!
There was also this fun, improvised project I did for Archie. He has long wanted a turtle daddy in "ice colours" to accompany the green crochet turtle mama and babies that a kind relative gifted him for his 4th birthday last year. The turtle was made by a woman in Cambodia through a fair-trade organisation and is truly delightful. It was fun to pick up a crochet hook (which I rarely do these days) and play around to construct a mate for her. Made from bits and bobs in my wool stash and stuffed with soft fabric offcuts, he's turned out okay I think.. I also made a few little blue babies to add to the family...
Currently in progress are some fingerless Fiddler Mitts (pattern by Ysolda Teague) which I initially intended to make for myself but are way too small and have now been claimed enthusiastically by Archie. He is the most keen to wear (and commission) hand knits of my three boys, which makes my heart happy.
I am also knitting a pair of fingerless seashell mitts using Melissa's wonderful free pattern that she put up on her blog and fit perfectly. My hands have really been aching in the cold weather so it will be good to have a lightweight pair of mitts that I can tuck in the pocket of my coat and pull out when needed.
Have you sewn or knit anything this season? I'd love to hear what you're working on...
This week we celebrated Beren's sixth birthday. A fellow April, autumn baby, he is full of wonder for creatures big and small, adventure stories, board games, jumping on the trampoline, space and lego. He is learning to read and do sums in his head, scrub the dishes and write words, not to mention loosing those baby teeth left, right and centre! He is passionate and tender, quick to make friends wherever we go, giver of big cuddles and asker of curious questions // It was extra special to celebrate his birthday dinner with two sets of grandparents present as last year we couldn't see them! He requested "a chocolate six cake with raspberries and eggs".
God bless all your days Bear xx
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...