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.

 

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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

Seasons Greetings

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Today is really sunny and I’m sure lot’s of Melburnians will be outside for their Christmas Holiday celebrations. December has been both very wet and warm this year in Melbourne and our garden has benefited. Everything is green.

Due to all the rain the Christmas Lilies came early and suffered a bit from the humidity but the Japanese Irises have gone berserk. Here are some photos.

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We did not put any presents under our tree for obvious reasons.

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Wishing everyone a very happy holiday where ever you may be.

Kat and Ellie

When Everything Comes to a Stop

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Sometimes life deals you a blow and you are forced to drop everything to get through a difficult time. The past three weeks Ellie and I have been dealing with the death of our mother after a long illness. I don’t want to go into all the details but I will say that our creativity has helped us get through this distressing period. Ellie and I did all the planning for the ceremony and wake ourselves and if it wasn’t for all the creative organizational skills that we have learnt over the years, I doubt that we would have coped.

We decided to have a wake at our place and got on with the preparations. In this type of situation it is extremely comforting to separate yourself from everyday life. I did not want to talk to too many people because explaining what had happened became exhausting. Instead I practiced some songs Ellie and I wanted to play at the ceremony. This was very soothing and made us feel a lot more relaxed.

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The wake was to be held in the late afternoon and to limit the amount of work and stress we outsourced many of the necessary tasks. We ordered sandwiches, party pies and quiches from a local cake shop in advance and ordered wine from a local supermarket that also supplied the glasses for free. As we were having this in our home cleaning the house and moving around furniture kept us busy without being mentally or emotionally taxing and we put out some of our mother’s crockery and a tablecloth as a reminder of happier times.

As the front Japanese garden was in a bit of a state we had a gardener do all the weeding and pruning. Luckily I had done most of the back garden so it only needed a bit of spruce up and some quick fixes that did not require a lot of effort on our part. We put some tan bark mulch over the bare area that needs to be paved and shoved some pots of herbs where the garden surrounding our lemon tree had been destroyed by the dogs. We covered the old outdoor furniture with tablecloths and cushions to make it more inviting for those who wished to go outside.

Writing the eulogy and gathering photos for a slide show at the wake was very cathartic and gave us both something to focus on as well as bringing back a lot of happy memories of our mother. This was where my love of writing really helped. It was good to remember some of the amusing or unusual episodes of her life, as well as her achievements. I would have found it much harder to write the eulogy if I had not been writing regularly.

It also made a big difference having had performance experience with the ukulele. I was not nervous about the public speaking or singing aspect of the ceremony. This would have terrified me in the past but when it came to the day Ellie and I were both able to stand up and honor our mother’s memory without falling apart.

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You never know when you will have to hold an event under stressful circumstances so if you have creative and organisational skills it makes a big difference and reduces panic. For such an occasion things don’t need to be perfect and a lot of what we did was smoke and mirrors, with the mulch, pot plants, the textiles and lots of flowers inside (most were sympathy gifts).

At such times it’s funny how you notice the little things. I heard this beautiful bird song and looked out the window. A Song Thrush was singing in a Manchurian Pear tree outside. I had not seen one of these in years. It was glorious and uplifting to hear.

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When you feel sad it is good to go outside. Melbourne has been having a long hot spell and the sun has been shining nearly every day. The foliage looks green from recent rain and it is wonderful to enjoy the outdoors before it gets too hot. On the way to see our solicitor we had time to spare so stopped outside the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. Ellie and I sat on a park bench near a huge Moreton Bay Fig tree. These are one of my favorite trees, which I always wanted to climb as a child.

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We did not have enough time to walk around the gardens but sitting under the trees outside was pleasant. Butterflies were flitting over some Agapanthus plants nearby and it was very peaceful, even with lunchtime joggers passing by every few minutes. After about a quarter of an hour we headed off to the city to deal with the more mundane aspects of life and death, but I kept that tree in my mind. Strong and full of life no matter what happens as the days and years pass.

Kat

Wisteria and Witches

It’s October again and in Melbourne we are now in the middle of spring. As I mentioned last October when I started this blog, we have the strange combination of the Spring Racing Carnival and Halloween celebrations. There is nothing more typical of Melbourne than scenes of costumed witches, wizards or zombies mingling with the more traditionally dressed amongst the stunning roses at Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup day.

Over the last two weeks I have been busy doing some badly needed gardening. At this time of year the air is sweet with the smell of blossom. Our garden is full of the fragrance of wisteria blooms, which cascade from the branches like waterfalls of white flowers. They are fragile and could be easily destroyed by a spring storm so I have taken photos to remember their beauty.

With all of nature’s exuberance it seems strange to embrace the autumnal mood that surrounds the festival of Halloween. One of the disadvantages of living in the Southern Hemisphere is the topsy-turvy nature of traditional festivals. But at least daylight saving gives us longer hours of light in which to party during these celebrations.

Fun costumes make both race days and Halloween parties more enjoyable. I am a big fan of DIY costumes for both the creativity and uniqueness. As I have mentioned before, you don’t need to sew or spend a lot of money to wear a great costume. A good eye for a bargain and for reworking existing items is invaluable. In the past I have created my own Halloween costumes from clothing found at op shops (thrift or charity stores), weekend markets and by using fabric offcuts, cardboard and paper scraps to make accessories.

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Illustration by George Cruikshank for The Witches Frolic by Thomas Ingoldsby

Items that can be reused with different accessories are worth collecting so that you will never be stuck for a costume idea. Witches or wizards costumes are a favorite for Halloween and easy to create with black clothes. Using the same long black dress and a charcoal grey cape found at a weekend market, I can transform into the medieval witch Morgan Le Fey or Samantha Stevens from Bewitched wearing her flying costume. All this requires is a change of headgear.

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For the Morgan Le Fey costume I made a type of hat known as a Hennin (seen in gothic paintings) from cardboard covered with black silk fabric and gold paper. It was decorated with gold braid, glass jewels and gold glitter glue from a craft store. I pinned an old black silk scarf as a veil from the top of the hat. To turn the outfit into Samantha, a blonde wig (try to find a better one than mine as it itches) and a witches hat from a party shop are all that is needed to change the look. Black boots complete both costumes.

A simple way to make a witch’s broomstick is with a length of thick dowel and a pile of flexible twigs or thin bamboo (whatever is easiest to find). Just divide the twigs into four equal bundles and tie each securely with some twine. Place the bundles around the dowel and wrap them all tightly together to form the broom. You can wrap ribbon, fabric or raffia over the twine to hide it. Then you’re ready to fly.

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Whether it is spring or autumn, these are great seasons for festivals and celebrations before the weather gets too hot or cold.  And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere or a tropical location, enjoy the contrast of the light with the “Darkness” of Halloween. You will have the best of both worlds.

Kat

Ukulele virtuoso, Taimane Gardner from Hawaii, taps into the Halloween mood with her haunting instrumental, Rings of Saturn, although she lives in the tropics.

It’s something to do with the Light

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African Coral Tree, Melbourne spring 2017

Every place has a certain quality of light and this has long inspired visual artists and writers. Just think of Monet and Turner. Their work was all about light. Descriptions of light levels can set the mood of a story or poem. Just the words “sunny” or “overcast” put a picture in your mind. Where ever you live or travel the light has a big influence on how you feel and view the world.

It’s beneficial to have an awareness of how the light effects your environment so keep a visual or written record. If you keep a journal it is helpful to record the weather each day and your emotional response.  The light in southern Australia is softer than in the northern regions. A Japanese friend once told me that she could not get over the sky in Australia. She said that it seemed closer which I found quite enlightening. I’m now always conscious of the sky here and wonder if this is true for others elsewhere.

In Melbourne we are lucky to experience definite seasons and the sky can vary from a deep azure blue to pale violet and everything in between. The light can change by the moment and this is especially obvious at the beach or a park. Here are a series of photos taken by Ellie, some on the same day, that show the different qualities of light in our area, from the intensity of summer days to the hazy light of autumn and the brooding cloudy sky of winter.

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It is now spring and everything looks fresh and new. I love this time of year despite the hay-fever attacks. It’s easy to be creative in the spring and is a pleasure to take photos in Melbourne’s soft light. I went out and took some photos in our garden because the light was so beautiful and I loved the way it played on the flowers and plants. The last camellias are out in our front garden. I wish I had a better camera to do them justice as they have a beautiful soft texture and subtle variations in colour.

In the back garden the Aralia fruit has turned black. I took a photo with the sunlight streaming through a dense cluster, which created a halation effect and makes the photo sparkle. The action of bright light on a camera lens can really enhance an image and with a digital camera it’s much safer on the eyes than looking at the sun through an old film SLR.

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Taking close-ups in this spring light shows up the details. Wisteria flower buds, Japanese Yeddo Hawthorn buds against dark green leaves and a small ground creeper with tiny flowers all seem infused with the radiance of the sun. In summer with the harsher light that creates stronger contrasts it will become more difficult to photograph the small things with my basic camera. Then I will go for the big picture.

Where ever you may be in the world and whatever your art form, try to notice the quality of light. How it varies from once location to another and how it makes you feel at different times of the year. After all sunlight is creative energy.

Kat

(I’m going to take a couple of weeks off blogging to take care of other things that need doing. Thank you to everyone for the likes, following and for visiting my blog. It’s much appreciated. See you soon).

My favourite beach related instrumental is the classic Gunnamatta by Melbourne singer/songwriter, Paul Kelly. Gunnamatta Beach, a popular beach for surfers, is south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula and the following film shows several enjoying the sparkling waves on a sunny day back in the 80s set to Paul Kelly’s music

Creative Garden: Signs Of Early Spring

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It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do. We had a sunny morning and it was the first day I have felt like pottering around in the garden for a while. It’s still winter but the plants in our garden are starting to wake up. I can see that I will have to do a lot of weeding when the weather warms up but will also have more energy for creative activities.

With spring just weeks away it feels like coming out of hibernation. I just hope that the winter does not hang around like it did last year. We may not have Groundhog Day in Australia, but the rare and endangered Mountain Pygmy-possums (the only marsupials to hibernate) will also come out of their nests to breed in the spring. But as they are nocturnal you are unlikely to see their shadows.

For those unfamiliar with Australian possums, they are marsupials like Kangaroos and Koalas and have a pouch. They are really cute. The ones that inhabit urban areas can be destructive to plants but it is very hard to resist those eyes when you see them in a tree and they are easy to forgive. Wind chimes, bells or bright lights seem to be the best deterrent to stop them eating plants. For those of you who have never seen these little creatures, here are a couple of videos, one of a mountain pygmy-possum and another of a  Common Ringtail Possum that has come down from the trees to accept a drink on a very hot day.

While some plants are about to display new growth, others are on the decline in our garden and need to be replaced. The grapefruit tree has not survived the dry cold weather as it had some kind of disease. It also took a big knock and never recovered when the tree limb from next door crashed on top of it a couple of years ago and destroyed its middle branches. We will need to put in another evergreen tree in its place. Preferably something the possums can’t eat.

Sometimes you do something in the garden that is not intended to be a permanent fixture but end up keeping it anyway. We stuck a lily plant in an old rusty wheelbarrow to move it from a spot where we wanted to plant something else. It has sat in that wheelbarrow now for years because we could never decide where to put it. It keeps regenerating in winter and does not require lots of water and will have pink flowers around late December. Actually it is quite convenient being in a moveable container and has been placed in various locations depending on the sun. Sometime random acts can work out quite well.

A plant that flowers in the winter and is still going strong is our zygocactus. The pendulous pink flowers look wonderful in the dull light when nothing else is flowering. These plants use smart tactics to attract desperate insects when there is no competition in the cold months. The Arum lilies that started flowing in the autumn are still hanging around and attract other creatures.

At this time of the year everything looks really green and fresh. It is good to see the ground cover plants before they are singed by summer heat. I love the tiny purple violets and the unusual striped Cobra lilies that come up under our lemon tree. The Cobra lilies look like they are about to pounce onto the violet flowers. The violets delicate scent is the smell of early spring. Both these flowers will be gone when it heats up so I try to enjoy them while they last.

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The plant that seems to be bursting with life despite the low temperatures and wind chill that we have been experiencing lately is the Japanese Aralia. It has masses of fruiting umbrels. More than I have seen in a while. They turn purple as they ripen. The colour scheme of the garden seems to be in synch. In autumn there will be lots of flowers for the bees to enjoy.

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There are many signs that spring is not far away. Nature is about to get very creative and it is always good to follow its example. Time to enjoy the sunshine.

Kat

To complete this post here’s a catchy song, Sunshine by the New Zealand band Dragon from 1977, featuring the late, great Marc Hunter on vocals. They were filmed on the Australian TV music show, Countdown. Dragon are legends of the NZ/Australian music scene and are remembered for some great hits from the 1970s and 80s.