Wildlife Close Encounters and Other Garden Ponderings

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After having a several close encounters with some of Australia’s native creatures in our garden over recent days, it has made me realize just how important such oases are for the preservation of wildlife. Another house and established garden is about to be demolished in our street and a habitat for native birds and animals will disappear. Our place is fast becoming an island of greenery and haven for small creatures.

A week ago on a morning with a forecast of 42°C (107.6°F) I noticed a little Marbled Gecko had hidden inside one of our garden umbrellas. He had to be moved or he would not have survived the expected heat so I carefully maneuvered the umbrella so that he climbed into the foliage of our fernery where he could hide in a cool, moist place. Stupidly I did not take a photo of him so here is a video of one in the bush. These geckos are native to South Eastern Australia.

The only other reptile residents of our garden are tiny Garden Skinks. These small lizards hide between rocks or in woodpiles. If the dogs see the little lizards they go crazy trying to catch them. They are harmless and quite shy so you are lucky to glimpse them at all. The following video shows one found in a You Tuber’s back yard.

Our two citrus trees attract the largest butterfly found in Victoria, the Orchard Swallow Tail. All summer I have been seeing these flitting around our garden. As many butterflies are becoming less common, gardens without trees will not do their numbers any good. Just to show how beautiful these butterflies are here is another video that feature the both the dark male and lighter female.

A few nights ago we were putting out the rubbish and there was a large Garden Orb Weaver Spider making a web attached to large shrubs across the driveway. I rushed to get my camera to photograph the process. Ellie focused a torch (flashlight) on the spider but even then the shutter speed was very slow and as the Orb was moving really fast, the photos were quite blurry, but you can get the gist. These webs when completed are quite large and the spider will sit in the middle waiting for its prey. Ellie said she had seen this spider for a few nights in this spot. Unfortunately we had to detach one side of the web to put out the bins, but I’m sure the spider rebuilt it after we had left. They are very persistent creatures.

Here is a video of a similar Orb spider in daylight.

This morning I came inside from the garden and felt a tickle on my arm and there was a green Preying Mantis. I love these insects and they do a lot of good in the garden. I flicked him off, but rather than having him eaten by the dogs, quickly got him onto a piece of paper, took him outside and deposited him on a leaf. I managed to take some photos but he was moving quite quickly so they were slightly out of focus. I wish I had a good DSLR camera to be able to take good close-ups of small creatures but this is the best I could do.

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Our garden always has resident native birds. The Little Wattlebirds are constantly chattering and singing as they fly around or look for nectar in flowers. Their song ranges from squawks to beautiful chortles. In spring I often see them feeding their young. They are quite aggressive birds and will chase off food competitors, especially parrots like Rainbow Lorikeets, making a lot of noise in the process. Here is one enjoying some Banksia nectar in someone’s garden.

The only birds that the Wattlebirds don’t mess with are the native Little Ravens, a misnomer because they are quite large birds. Unlike Ravens in the Northern Hemisphere, which have black eyes, all Australian Raven and Crow species have white eyes. They are very handsome birds and a group of them visit our garden often in the spring making themselves at home in the large tree next door. Because they move so quickly and perch high up in the trees, I have never been able to photograph them successfully but I found a great video of a Little Raven taking a bath in country South Australia.

Where will city’s the native birds, animals, reptiles and insects live when their garden habitat is destroyed? So many people are building houses that take up most of the block and replacing established gardens with the minimalist designs favored by local developers. These don’t allow for the native wild life’s need for places to hide from predators, the hot summer sun and the winter cold, as well as abundant food sources.

It’s unfortunate that many homeowners value lifestyle over wild life. At the rate Melbourne’s established gardens are disappearing, future generations won’t have all these beautiful native creatures on their doorsteps for their children to learn about nature and will have to travel miles for such an experience.

If you do have a garden make the most of it and it’s wild inhabitants while you can and never take it for granted.

Kat

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Setbacks and Learning Curves

 

When you teach yourself something new it does not always go to plan. While you might be trained in a related field this does not mean that you will be able to do a new technique well at the beginning. Often you learn things by trial and error. There are bound to be technical difficulties from a lack of knowledge and not having the best equipment for the job, so you spend a lot of time trying to overcome these issues as best you can. It can be a big learning curve.

As I have said in the last two posts, Ellie and I are teaching our selves how to make rag paper. This all sounded very straightforward in “how to do” articles on the net. So we jumped in, bought the basic equipment, prepared the materials and started to make paper outside under the car port. That’s when we discovered this was not as easy as it looked.

 

 

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First sheet out of mould

 

Firstly we had not made enough pulp to completely fill the tub to make a lot of sheets. The pulp in two colours that we had made in the blender was too coarse and the process was closer to felting wool than paper making, which I have done before. You could plug up any holes in sheets with bits of pulp before taking them off the mold just like you can when making felt. We did not panic when things went wrong but had a good laugh about our shortcomings. The results were quite decorative and can be used in collage but they are not suitable for writing or drawing upon. We had to go back to the drawing board and work out how to make finer paper.

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Texture rag paper once dried

That’s when we discovered that professional hand-made paper makers use a machine called a Hollander Beater (great name) and the smallest models are AU$2,000 plus, which is way above our budget. As we want the paper for our own use and do not want go into major production this would be an expensive investment. This was all a bit disheartening but barriers always make me more determined to find a solution. First we thought of using cotton linter (cotton waste from the ginning process) rather than rags, but could not find an Australian supplier for small quantities and it is just too expensive to buy from overseas if shipped here at all (crafters in the US are spoilt for choice). You could use cotton balls but that is hardly recycling and you would need an awful lot.

Ellie went back onto the net and did a lot of research and came across a suggestion from someone who had the same dilemma (click on this link). If you do not have a Hollander beater use a washing machine to break down the cut up rags, as well as a clothes dryer if you own one. The one-inch square rag pieces are placed in fine mesh lingerie bags and the machine set to a heavy-duty hot water wash cycle with some sodium bicarbonate. Pretty much the opposite of what you should do if you want to preserve your clothes. You would not need to boil up the rag pieces if you put them in the washing machine.

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Cotton rag squares ready for washing machine

We tried this out and the cloth became much more fibrous, and was easier to pulp in the blender. You need to do small quantities at a time or risk burning out the motor. We have quite a powerful one and need to wear ear protectors or risk going deaf from the high sound levels. Any lumpy bits of pulp can be cut up and put back into the blender to break them down. We have decided to process a lot of rag material then go back to making the paper. The pulp can be dried for storage and the warm water added when you begin the paper making. We hope that we have better luck with the next batch.

The downside of all this is that it is quite time-consuming. It would be much easier to make paper from shredded computer documents, but this is not acid free or archival. I think I will concentrate on making decorative cotton paper first until I get the hang of it. You can also press the paper dry with an iron to make it smoother or put the newly made paper between smooth cloths or felt before it is pressed. We used Chux cleaning cloths, which give the paper texture.

Sometimes in the initial stages of learning a new skill you are unaware of the pit falls. In some ways this is just as well because you might not try something new if you think it is going to be too hard and the challenge to find solutions is good for your creativity. And if you don’t have all the right equipment there is usually an alternative. It might not produce perfect results but it could also lead to some very creative work that makes the most of imperfection.

Ellie and I will see where this leads. Whatever the results of our rag papermaking we will be able to use it in our artwork to trigger our imaginations. Experimentation does make life and art more interesting.

Kat

For those of you wondering what on earth is a Hollander Beater, here is a very short video of a paper maker demonstrating this machine and the pulp it produces.

Getting rid of the Annoying Stuff

Isn’t it funny how we put up with things that annoy us for ages before doing something about it? It can be an object that you use everyday, a process with an aggravating glitch or just something that keeps getting in your way. Often these are just irritations but sometimes an inefficient item can even damage your health. Whatever the level of frustration anything that continually bugs you is energy sucker and rather that put up with it you’ll have less stress if you use your creativity to eliminate the problem.

Minor irritations usually just require a bit of creative thinking to make them disappear. Before we had our kitchen renovations, we had nowhere to put our trays. Many were too wide to fit in a cupboard so these were stuck against the wall at the end of a bench and would fall over all the time and send something else flying. Drove us crazy. When we bought some metal shelves to hold a small dishwasher and the microwave there was room for the trays but no way to stop them from falling over.

Ellie and I went looking for a solution and found an old wooden Bookmaker’s Stand in a vintage shop. Bookmakers would stand on this small wooden platform at country race meetings and the punters would place their bets. Fortunes must have been made and lost on this stand. There were spaces between the slats and when you put down one of the folding legs, it became an angled rack for our trays. Problem solved and it had a great story as well.

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A tool or a piece of equipment or a process that causes physical pain definitely needs to be changed. I have been cutting up lots of old clothes for rag paper-making, which is a great way to recycle and eliminate more clutter, but have found that I don’t have the right scissors for the job. I have sharpened and tried the various ones we have in the house but they all cause hand and wrist strain from repeated use. As I don’t want to get RSI in my right hand I have looked online for ergonomic scissors and there are several options, although some are quite expensive. I will probably go for the medium price range. Looks like it will be money well spent because RSI is worse.

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In the meantime changing the working method has helped. Ripping the fabric into long strips, rather that cutting reduces the use of scissors and I only have to cut the strips into small pieces. Rethinking a process is a good way to solve a problem.

Quick fixes are often all that is needed when something is bugging you. I always have duct tape, Blu-tack, wire, bulldog clips, pegs and metal hooks handy when a temporary solution is all that is required. These can be used in all kinds of situations to hold or hang items around the house and garden or for use in creative work. As well as the usual types of tools, jeweler’s pliers are invaluable for fixing fiddly things, like jewelry or bending fine wire. Of course there are times when you need to consult an expert. If a problem involves electrical or plumbing repairs DIY is probably not the safest way to go. A bad situation could escalate into an awful scene from a sitcom.

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When you don’t have a lot of space for your creative work anything that gets in the way becomes an annoyance. At the moment we have a folding clothes rack in the studio for drying towels and sheets inside during the winter as we don’t have room for a clothes dryer. This has been bugging me because it takes up a lot of space. As it is summer I have folded it up and it feels much more roomy. I don’t want to put it up again in this spot so I need to find a solution to this problem. I’m still mulling about it but I’m sure an idea will come to me. Some resolutions take longer than others.

The thing is there are always solutions to problems if you put your mind to it. Irritations can inspire original ideas and are a great incentive for all types of creativity and you’ll feel a lot better when you make them go away.

Kat

In the spirit of fixing stuff here’s the wonderful David Byrne with Broken Things.

The Heat is On

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While the east coast of North America freezes Victoria is melting. Today in Melbourne it’s expected that the temperature will reach 42°C and in the north of the state up to 45°C. In our house we have an old air conditioner and several fans so we do not suffer from the heat too much, but the garden is a different story. At these high temperatures plants will burn, so it is important to find some way to protect them from the hot sun. This often requires all kinds of creative solutions.

In 2009 when Melbourne reached 46° we threw old sheets over many of the camellia shrubs and this worked quite well. If it was going to be this hot I would probably do the same but 42 is not as fierce. One of the easiest ways to protect plants from the sun is to use umbrellas. This morning, before it became too hot, we put every sun umbrella we own, including market, beach, some of which are really old, over vulnerable plants. As the wind is picking up we tied these to a branch or structure so that they won’t fly away.

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Another useful item that can be quickly employed to protect the garden and house in a heat wave is shade cloth. We have pegged lengths of this to a clothesline to protect the fernery, put it over the pergola to shield our family room, and have draped it over some moveable trellis to shade some of our herbs. It may look strange but if it does the job, who cares.

We watered the garden really well this morning so we hope that the plants don’t get too stressed. The forecast predicts that from 6 to 7 pm there will be a gusty cool change with 90 km winds and the temperature should drop about 15° in minutes. Typical Melbourne weather, but really dangerous in these hot conditions if there are any bushfires. Let’s hope that there aren’t any.

It is a day of Total Fire ban for the whole state. This means that no one can light a fire in the open or use any equipment that might cause a spark. Fire restrictions seem to be something that is unique to Australia because when I Googled the subject the only results referred to our country. Living with the threat of bushfires has been a reality for generations of Australians and fire restrictions are an accepted part of life. This morning Ellie saw one of the Sky Cranes (water tanker helicopter) flying past that Victoria hires from North America every summer to work with our water bomber aircraft. One is called Elvis. The pilots are legends here and have saved many properties (and lives) by dumping huge volumes of water in the nick of time. It’s great that they are here but I hope they don’t have a lot to do!

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When the weather is this hot it is best to avoid activities outside, so it’s a great time to get on with creative interests indoors. Ellie and I have been cutting up old clothes to use from making paper. We are still waiting for the kit to arrive but when it does we will have enough material ready to start making rag paper. It is easy to long strips into small pieces while watching TV. I also find it quite meditative process, although you need to take breaks to avoid getting cramped hands from the repetitive action.

Whether you are experiencing extreme cold or heat it is good to come up with creative solutions for coping with the weather and protecting your garden. These extremes of temperatures also are a great excuse to get on with your indoor creative activities.

I hope that wherever you are in the world you can find your comfort zone to be creative.

Kat

Here’s the song that inspired the title of this post, The Heat is On by Glenn Frey.

 

Relighting the Creative Fire

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Often at the end of the year you can feel a bit jaded after the craziness of the silly season and need of a break. It is good to use the holiday period to refresh yourself so that you can begin the New Year feeling inspired again. That creative fire needs to be rekindled.

We are lucky in Australia that our New Year holidays occur in summertime and can get outside in the fresh air and enjoy nature. It is a time to try to unwind, read some good books, do some easy exercises and enjoy great food. Once you are sufficiently chilled out it is easier to let the juices start flowing again and come up with plans and ideas for future projects.

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Over the break Ellie and I have been doing just that, clearing our heads and discussing creative ideas. As we have a lot of old cotton clothing that is only suitable for rags we decided to have a go at rag paper making so that we have some interesting paper for art and craft projects. Paper can be really expensive, especially acid free and interesting textured paper. It is also a good way to recycle old cotton and linen.

You don’t require lots of equipment for making paper and can do this in the laundry or any wet area with a sink and bench. You just need a deckle (wire screen) and a larger mold (frame) to fit tightly around this. You could make these yourselves (click here for “how to” instructions) or find an inexpensive kit online. We have gone with the latter option and are waiting on delivery.

An old blender will turn small pieces of rag into pulp. Also you would need a large plastic basin in which to mix the rag pulp then dip the deckle to capture the fibres, which form the paper sheets. Pieces of plywood are good to use as a paper press either weighted down by heavy books or feet and any flat surface can be used to dry the sheets. Here is a good website which shows the basics of papermaking with all kinds of suggestions for equipment and materials (click here).

I can’t wait for the kit to arrive and to start experimenting will different textures and types of pulp. Then there is the creative joy of using the finished paper in an art project. I hope to share the process in this blog when we have something to show.

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We had a lovely New Year’s Eve out in the garden. Because it was a cool night and everything was green from recent rain we lit a fire in the metal fire pit, as well as some candles. The dogs were fascinated by the sparklers and barked and tried to bite these as soon as you stuck them in the ground. It was a very noisy process. They did not seem phased by the large booms coming from the city fireworks because they were with us. I took some photos of their antics. Some of them were in focus!

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I hope you are also fired up to do more creative projects in 2018 and feel reinvigorated from the holiday season.

Kat

Here’s the wonderful Pointer Sisters doing Fire