Summer knits for an Australian summer.

Inspired by Craig Reucassel’s  TV documentary series, ‘War on Waste‘, I decided to set myself a personal challenge: to make something for myself to wear this summer. Instead of buying a few new t’shirts or tops for summer, I would try and knit a couple. This could be my small contribution towards stemming the tide of super cheap fast fashion that is so easy to become addicted to, but is so bad for the environment. After all, when you craft something, watch it grow and evolve over a period of time, you have a vested  interest in it. You are less likely to consign it to a Vinnies bag after donning it a couple of times!

But even though I was full of  good greeny intentions,   I had a few inner misgivings as knitting something for summer would be a first for me.  I wondered if this project, which I could visualise so tantalisingly in my mind,  would feel good on.  Would it be too hot or  scratchy or itchy against the skin? And perhaps most importantly of all, would it fit well or would I be wasting my time knitting up a shapeless garment that even a charity shop would reject?

But I would never know if I didn’t try.

Perusing my favourite knitting website, Loveknitting,  I was surprised by the range of summer yarns and patterns that are available.  After much deliberation I chose cotton blend yarns in DK or 8ply  and found two patterns that I thought were simple enough for my first efforts. (I know my limitations – my fingers definitely do not move at the speed of light and I did want to finish this project before Christmas!)

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This pattern is by an independent designer, Laurimuks patterns  and is called  ‘Pebble summer top‘  One of the things I like about independent designers is that their directions are always very clear, detailed and easy to follow.   The designer knitted this in King Cole Smooth DK but I wanted a natural fibre, not a microfibre yarn, so I substituted with another King Cole yarn with the same tension . 

I thought it might look good  in white so chose a cotton silk blend by King Cole,  called Finesse.

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This is beautifully soft to the touch and has a beautiful sheen and texture.

And my second choice  was  Sirdar pattern 7280. 

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This pattern has a sleeveless version but I thought I would knit the version with sleeves. Unfortunately, the colour I wanted in Beachcomber wasn’t available so I substituted another Sirdar yarn called  Amalfi with similar tension.
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This is a cotton viscose blend. I love the flecks of colour in the yarn. It too has a lovely feel.

I knitted up the Amalfi yarn first. I  think Sirdar have been very clever with the marketing of this yarn because as I knitted away, memories of our stay on the beautiful Amalfi coast hovered over my needles. While I found I had to pay attention to the pattern for the first couple of pattern repeats, it was very easy to follow and much to my surprise, I was soon finished. I am very happy with the result.

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The central rib pattern gives the top elasticity while the lacy pattern really helps with air flow. It feels lovely on the skin and I particularly like how the orange highlight does not dominate but just adds to the unique texture.  Special thanks to Liss for modeling the top for me.

Could my second top be as good? I cast on my stitches and was soon making progress.

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This yarn felt absolutely amazing as I knitted it up. So incredibly soft! And it has this lovely sheen and texture!  But I wondered about the bottom edge which was knitted without a basque. Would the finished top be too loose?

The pattern was really easy and soon I had finished.

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While the top is the same front and back, the broken rib pattern allows the top to mold to the body when worn giving an attractive silhouette.  It is very cool and comfortable to wear. And suprisingly, the bottom edge does not ride up! There is something special about cotton/silk blends – an affordable touch of luxury.

My tops have brightened up my summer wardrobe. I really like them and will be careful to follow the washing instructions given for the yarns,  hopefully ensuring several years of wear.

And while it shouldn’t matter what others think, it does give you a lovely feeling when  a stranger stops you  and asks,  “Where did you  get your top?”

Go handmade!

 

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Darwin dream baby

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The sea, the sky!

 

 July 2018: a wonderful time of year in Darwin when the days were endlessly sunny and it wasn’t too hot and humid. When there was nothing much nicer than floating around beside the Arafura Sea in one of Australia’s most scenic swimming pools or savouring fresh barramundi and chips on an evening picnic,  as you watched the sun sink in a fiery ball into the sea.

July 2018: and we could finally go to the famous or ‘infamous’ Beer Can Regatta which is held each year on Mindil Beach. We discovered that there was a special protocol which needed to be followed for building and propelling your hand made, beer can vessel.

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Gives a whole new perspective to recycling !

And as well as the main race, the Battle of Mindil,  there were lots of other events to keep those camera phones busy: people watching,  kayak races, tug of war,  an Iron Person competition, Thong Throwing (only in Australia!) and the  Henley on Mindil.

 

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So entertaining!
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Despite the heat, unlike the swimmers behind me, this was as far as my toes went into the water.  I wasn’t convinced that the irukandji jellyfish knew that they were supposed to be taking a holiday away from Mindil Beach

As well as the formal programme, there were lots of entertainment for young and old alike and fabulous stalls to explore at the market.

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Didj players
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and a really cute puppet show among many other acts.

 

July 2018: when we were able to witness a  fabulous star gazing event, a blood red moon caused by the longest, total eclipse this century and accompanied by Mars, which was at it’s brightest and closest for 15 years.

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Obviously, the moon didn’t appear this big to the naked eye, but it was still very impressive. Did you, like me get up early to watch it in the early dawn?

And  most importantly at  11 pm  on the 26th July, 2018, our Darwin Dream baby arrived.

After a delay of a week or two, Ilyssia Claire Black finally made her way into the world following an emergency Caesaraen section and she was just so beautiful!

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That was all a bit much, Mum. Think I’ll just  rest for a bit!

It has been one of the joys in life for Kenn and I to witness each of our children welcoming their own little miracles into the world. Words and images can’t really capture that extraordinary depth of feeling as you experience so many firsts.

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That first sleep on Mummy’s tummy

 

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That first sleep with daddy
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That first meeting with her canine protector, Hannibal.

 

And even though I can see Reece, her father looking out at me, gazing at her asleep takes me back to when Lyndsay was a wee little baby.

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Lyndsay was a little older, perhaps three months old.

Alas, all too soon it was time to share her with other members of the family and we had to fly home to Byron to prepare for our trip to China. But I wasn’t too sad as I had already booked my return ticket to Darwin for a catch up visit.

Early September, and it was feeling a little like deja vu, as I traveled to Brisbane to catch a flight to Darwin. Lys was now 6 weeks old and Lyndsay was finally able to get out and about.

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This is the life, a cruise along the Foreshore and a nap while Mum and Nanna enjoy dinner at the Pop-up Pizza restaurant. Looks yum!
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did we really eat all that by ourselves?

Ilyssia has already become a cafe aficionado. She enjoys acai berries and matcha tea lattes! She is such a good baby: just feeds, sleeps and gurgles. Lyndsay  looked quite rested for a new mum as well. Lys has obviously decided that she’s not a party animal yet. Sleeping for 5 to 6 hours at a stretch through the night, she is being very considerate of her parents.

Luckily for us, four weeks later, Lyndsay had to attend a conference of the Gold Coast and present a paper as part of her PHD and she asked if Kenn and I would like to babysit Ilyssia between sessions. Of course we jumped at the opportunity to spend more time with our Darwin baby. We were staying at Broadbeach, within 5 mins walk from the Crown Casino where the conference was being held. There we went for long walks with Lys along the beachfront.

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Even though it was a little cloudy, the weather agreed with this beach babe.
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And made for very atmospheric skies

A couple of times, Lyndsay was able to join us and we would explore further afield. One such place was the Cascade Gardens. Snuggled close to Mum, Lys  took in the sights.

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I’m just a wee bit squished
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The gardens back onto the canals and are a lovely picnic spot
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And we noticed that there was a Vietnam memorial there .

 

Following the conference, Lyndsay and Lys were able to spend a couple of days in Byron and meet her cousin Hudson. Huddy didn’t really want to share his mummy with Ilyssia but did think Lys was very special, especially when she came on a beach walk with him.

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This is such fun! Soon you’ll be running like me, Ilyssia!
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Even when it’s windy, Byron doesn’t disappoint.

Far too soon, it was time for Lyndsay and Ilyssia to fly home but not before Lys had filled our home with smiles.

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I wonder what she’s thinking?

 

As with our other wonderfully unique and special grandchildren: Genevieve, Francesca and Hudson, little Ilyssia fills our lives with love and hope, such precious gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

TripADeal: 2 for 1 trip to China – a great deal?

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One small section of the Great Wall! Not many made it this far on a very hot day!

Have you ever wondered what those amazing internet travel deals are really like?

Are they merely the ‘Fawlty Towers‘ of travel or are they genuine value for money?

Well  a  few weeks ago, Kenn and I took the plunge and decided to put one to the test. We traveled to China for the first time on a 10 day tour with TripADeal. It seemed too good to be true! The basic tour price was $1999 for two people which included accommodation, breakfasts, tours and direct flights with Qantas and not an airline we had never heard of and which might drop us into the the South China Sea at any moment!  An extension to see the Terracotta Warriors which has always been on my bucket list  was also available for an additional $1000.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained as the saying goes, so Kenn and I contacted our wonderful niece, Amanda Sullivan at Dynamic Travel  who organised everything,  including our visas for us.  And just like that, together with my sister Jenny, her good friend Pauline and about 30 others, Kenn and I found ourselves flying off to the forbidden kingdom.

The  itinerary took us from Beijing down to Xian (to see the warriors) and across to Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai and gave us a taste of some of the wonders of  Imperial China as well as some of the new China’s technological marvels while inviting us to appreciate some of China’s natural beauty and culture.

Beijing

We arrived in Beijing in the evening and were met by our super friendly and helpful guide Frank. Soon our luggage was stowed on our coach and we were on our way to the Schonbrunn Hotel which was a considerable distance from the city centre.

This was an older hotel and I was a little disappointed in our room which had a very smokey smell, something you don’t encounter in Australia. Frank told me later that I could have asked for a room change but at the time I didn’t want to be that ‘difficult person’.  In retrospect, I should have as we spent 3 nights here.

Nevertheless, the bed was reasonably comfortable, the linen nicely pressed and the hot water plentiful.   If space is something that you value when travelling then I would opt for a twin room as I noticed that the rooms Jenny and Pauline shared were much larger than our doubles. Breakfast was included and while western options were a little limited, it was more than satisfactory. Kenn and I enjoyed our morning omelette, resuming our tussle with toaster and exploring the  buffet each day.

Our first day in Beijing saw us visit a pearl factory,  explore Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City,  enjoy dinner in Beijing’s theatre precinct and marvel at  the special effects of a theatrical performance entitled, The Golden Mask Dynasty.

While the pearl factory was interesting, the visit to Tiananmen Square and the forbidden City was the highlight of the day. Despite it being school holidays, (which we didn’t know when we booked) and very hot (high 30s), the square is so huge that the crowds weren’t a problem and the communication headsets enabled us to enjoy Frank’s commentary.

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Jenny, Pauline and myself in Tiananmen  Square.  Behind us is Chairman’s Mao’s tomb.

The forbidden city too was vast. While the pavilions and the emperor’s throne room remain intact, most of the furnishings have been removed so it is difficult to gain a sense of how people lived here when the emperors ruled.

And it is very barren which surprised me. The city is built upon metres of paving bricks to prevent the possibility of underground attacks, surrounded by walls, guard towers and a moat, so there are no gardens. Consequently, the whole area radiates heat! There was however an icecream vendor with a delicious selection of gelati which was very welcome as was our air conditioned coach at the conclusion of our tour.

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Red and gold predominate as these were imperial colours and the decorative features were intricate.  Interestingly, the pavilions are wooden and built in such a way that they withstand earthquakes

This was followed by dinner and the theatrical performance, The Golden Mask Dynasty which was an optional tour but well worth it.

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This show was visually spectacular. They even unleashed a waterfall on stage!

The following day dawned hot and sunny but proved to be one of the highlights of the trip, the visit to the Great Wall.

On the way there, we visited a jade factory.

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Watching the artisans at work was a treat. So many variations of Jade, so many beautiful objects.

Then we drove through the countryside until we reached the Juyong Pass section of the Great Wall.

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The view is  spectacular with the wall  snaking across the hills

This part of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty and if we wanted to, we could climb to Watchtower number 4 from the headquarters below.

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Jenny on the ramparts of the garrison headquarters. Behind her is the first of four watchtowers that we were allowed to climb to.

All I can say is that the Ming soldiers had to be incredibly fit to fulfill their duties. The steps are incredibly steep and quite uneven. The Ming obviously hadn’t heard of  workplace health and safety regulations!

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This is the easiest section to climb!
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Once you reach the first watchtower, the path narrows and becomes even more uneven. Every little bit of shade was like manna from heaven. I’m sure that it exceeded 40 degrees on the wall itself! I only made it to the second guardhouse! The call of an iced tea and an ice cream consumed in air conditioned comfort was too tantalising too resist and I may have been just … just a tad knackered!

But Kenn was not so easily daunted and the final guardhouse and the most spectacular view was waiting for him.

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Imagine how hard this would be in ice and snow … not a job for the fainthearted.
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In the end, it didn’t matter how high or far you climbed, just taking a few steps on a monument so awe inspiring was magical.  And there were little surprises like the temple on the ridge line to savour.

That evening we joined an optional tour to see Bejing’s 700 year old Hutong area by pedicab as well as visiting the three lakes area of the city.

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The Hutong tour was great. We were treated to a performance by one of Bejing’s cricket men  (as in insects not the sport), enjoyed a meal prepared in a traditional way as well as travelling in style in a pedicab. The lake area was lovely and  popular with locals who were enjoying boat rides or just promenading  along the shore.

Our final day in Beijing was also full of fun and exciting experiences.  We visited the Bejing Zoo to see the giant pandas. And we learnt about traditional Chinese medicine at Tongrentang in the city centre, where we had the opportunity to be assessed by a traditional practitioner.  The talk was very persuasive, but I couldn’t get stories of wild animals being hunted to extinction to become products for Chinese medicine out of my mind so couldn’t make myself try some of their products. I was in the minority though! A fantastic lunch at one of Bejing’s best dumpling restaurants followed and then it was time to catch the very fast bullet train to Xian, a journey of about five hours.

Xian

A fabulous experience, the train proved to be very fast, smooth and comfortable even when reaching speeds of 300 kms an hour and it was a real pleasure to travel through such a vast swathe of the countryside.  But there was one little hiccup. We thought that the train would have a great dining car and planned to enjoy dining a la the Orient Express. But alas, the dining car was more like a truck stop with a very limited menu which sold out of food very quickly. Then we noticed that most of the Chinese passengers on board had packed their own obviously aware of the dining car’s limitations.  We wished that we had done the same.

Nevertheless, we arrived safely in Xian. Driving along lamplit, tree lined boulevards I  could have imagined that I was in Paris except for the Chinese signage. Our hotel, the Grand Nobel Hotel was lovely. We were sorry that we didn’t get to spend more time there, but on the following day the Terracotta warriors awaited.

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There was a chance to become a warrior!

And the chance to wallow in the marvels of one of the world’s great archaeological sites.

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The scale of the museum is mind boggling. Only the Chinese would have built a museum over an archaeological site. You can view the warriors in their ranks as they would originally have been placed there, see them in pieces still stuck in the mud and see them in various phases of restoration.
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Every face is unique. For a sum you can even have your own face put on a warrior and shipped home. Makes a change from your everyday buddha or garden gnome.
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The horses too were fascinating. The museum is set in beautiful grounds that would be spectacular in Spring or Autumn.

We also enjoyed a lunch featuring local dishes of Xian before heading to the airport for our evening flight to Hangzhou.

Hangzhou/ Suzhou

Our flight was very pleasant and a couple of hours later we landed in Hangzhou. Can you imagine our consternation when our guide, Thomas told us how happy he was to see us as we had flown directly into the path of a typhoon! However, despite some wet weather, we were soon comfortably settled in another very comfortable hotel.

The next morning saw us exploring a tea plantation for Hangzhou is considered the tea capital of China. It was stunningly beautiful.

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Confucius ushered us into the tea house
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The tea house is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Maybe that’s why the green tea tasted so amazing?
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Even the  goldfish seemed happy

From the tea plantation, we made our way to West Lake an UNESCO world heritage site and was easy to see why.

We walked to the lake through woods fringed by lotus ponds and tea pavilions

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Our cruise boat was charming
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while the lake vistas were stunning.

There were lots of choices for lunch and soon we were on our way to Suzhou.  It took about two hours by bus. Our hotel in Suzhou, the Snowy Sea Hotel was in my opinion the best we experienced on the tour.

The following day, we visited a silk factory and took a tour along one of the many canals in Suzhou.

But the highlight for me was the visit to the famous Lingering Garden, another UNESCO heritage site.

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The house is built around a series of ponds and views of the garden are gained from both within and outside the house

Needless to say I would have loved to have included many more photos but this post is already too long. What is interesting is that this garden is only one of many you can visit in Suzhou. Late that afternoon, we were on the bus again, this time for Shanghai, our last port of call on the tour.

Shanghai

Shanghai is a fabulous city. We enjoyed every moment of our time there. But there was one drawback. Our hotel was pleasant but situated a long way out of the city. This meant that if you wanted to immerse yourself in the city, you needed to take the optional tours as getting to and from the hotel under your own steam might have been a little difficult and expensive.

Consequently, we took the optional tour to see the acrobatic show ‘ERA’ and enjoy dinner in the centre of the city. This show was enjoyable but I really was expecting something better. And to make matters worse, our bus had been delayed by a couple of tardy passengers, something that I imagine happens quite often on tours. But it meant that the dinner I had been looking forward to had to be rushed. Half an hour is not sufficient to savour one’s food in an exotic, expensive restaurant!

The following morning, Kenn and I parted company with Jenny and Pauline and decided to take an optional tour to travel on the fastest train in the world: the Maglev train. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it reached  430kms an hour! It was thrilling. Then we rejoined the tour at the bund. This riverfront promenade is delightful and the heritage buildings built by the Europeans in the 19th century impressive.  Our trip back in time continued at the Shanghai museum. There were so many treasures to see. I loved the pottery including a variety of Tang horses as well as the beautiful Ming furniture in particular.

As for fabulous places to eat, our tour guide, Thomas took us to the French Quarter for lunch where Kenn and I stumbled on a very trendy warehouse eatery. Oh the dilemma of what to choose!

And then it was onto the Yu Garden, a haven of peace in a bustling metropolis.

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Back in the day, they had a thing for limestone creations.  And we noticed the Chinese have a thing for willow trees … not just a pretty china motif.

But the best was yet to come: the Night Cruise on the Huangpu River. If you do only one optional tour, this is the one to choose. The light show rivals that of Singapore and that’s saying something. These shots taken with my phone hopefully give you a taste of what you will see on the cruise.

And then we woke up and it was our last day.  We were free to explore on our own, but TripAdeal organised a fun day for us a very little extra cost. We visited a Buddhist temple,

and an outlet mall which was super fun among other things.

Then it was time to bid China farewell as we caught our night flight home.

Final Thoughts

This tour was good value for money. If I had my time over, I would choose to travel either in Spring or Autumn as August was way too hot and I’m used to heat! Of course the hotels in the two major cities of Beijing and Shanghai were the most basic of those offered on the tour but not unexpected given the price point of the tour. You are on the go all the time on this tour which was a good thing for us but some might like to travel at a gentler pace. The tour guides were really excellent and nothing seemed too much trouble.  Yes I did have a ‘fawlty towers’ moment in Beijing but overall I would have to say, TripADeal is a great deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Cowls and a little Jumper

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Two years ago, our family and friends were celebrating Lyndsay and Reece’s wedding at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Although it didn’t snow, it was cold. So cold that everyone was rugged up in beautiful coats and jackets, hats and  beanies and interesting scarves that flowed this way and that,  while we enjoyed exhilarating walks that ensured that blood still flowed to our extremities.

Coming from Byron, my cold weather garb was particularly uninspiring: of course I had purchased a lovely outfit for the wedding itself, after all I was the mother of the bride! But everything else I had was comprised of items designed to brave the New Zealand wilderness on walking treks. Practical, yes! Stylish, well only if you’e modelling the yeti look!   I cast an admiring eye over the stylish casual attire and accessories everyone else was wearing.  Before this, I hadn’t really noticed that infinity scarves or cowls had become a fashion accessory. My sisters, Jenny  and Maryanne looked particularly good in theirs so I resolved on my return home to give knitting one a go.

It’s only taken two years to follow through and I can’t even use the excuse that I didn’t have the materials on hand. Nestled in my stash were two skeins of very special,  hand dyed, hand spun wool that Lyndsay had brought back from her travels in Montana a few years ago and I had found a free pattern on Ravelry that would be perfect for the job.  Still better late than never as they say.

 I  knitted the cowl on a circular needle.

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I decided against knitting in rounds and joined my cowl using mattress stitch. Even though the wool was very chunky, the join is virtually undetectable and you don’t have to worry about twisting stitches or moving stitch markers.

What was interesting about this pattern was the edging: it formed a very natural roll on the finished cowl while the lacy middle section made for an interesting textual contrast.

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The finished cowl can wrap around two or three times depending on the look you are after.

The pattern does suggest you use a stretchy bind off. I had never used one before, so I consulted You tube to find out how to do it.  As you can see from the photo above, it gives your cowl an elliptical shape ensuring that it sits better when you wrap it around your head.

I was so pleased with the finished scarf, that I decided to knit one as part of a birthday gift for my sister Jenny. I knew that she already had a couple of chunky cowls in her wardrobe so decided to try something different. I settled on 2ply Silk Mohair.  I  wanted something unique, so I sourced the yarn from Lara Downs, an independent Australian Merino Wool and Fine Mohair grower in Victoria. Pam has a wonderful Etsy shop and luckily for me, she had just enough left of a beautiful  rosy pink silk mohair yarn for me to purchase. Very quickly this beautiful yarn arrived. It was super soft and had a beautiful sheen but was so, so fine.  For the first time, I felt just a little daunted. I had never tried to knit cobwebs before!

 Luckily, you knit this yarn on quite big needles. I used  5mm straight needles. You have to be careful because it is very apparent as you knit, that if you were to drop a stitch, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to retrieve it! Even unraveling  the knitting would be well nigh impossible.

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I used the same pattern as I used for my Montana cowl but added a few rows of garter stitch between the lace sections to give the cowl more stability.  You can’t really see from the photo, but the silk gives the yarn a beautiful, subtle sheen and of course it is very, very soft.
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Of course the cowl isn’t as long as the Montana cowl as the yarn is so fine but it wraps around twice easily.

If I was to knit another in such a fine yarn, I think I would purchase  Addi specialist lace needles which have a very sharp point to make the job a little easier.

Of course I am still knitting little bits of this and that for the grandchildren. I finished a little vest for Lyndsay and Reece’s new baby which is due to arrive at any moment.

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This will be a Darwin baby, so I knitted this in  scraps of King Cole 4ply Bamboo cotton. This is a really lovely yarn and knits up to any 4ply wool pattern.  I have knitted a lot for the other grandchildren and wanted this baby to have a little something from his or her Nanna.

Most projects are still on ongoing but I have finished a  jumper for Huddy in the same yarn. Bamboo Cotton is designed for the European summer but is perfect for winter in the Bay.

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I was using up yarn in my stash and only had white and blue left. Didn’t realise I was knitting  a Geelong jumper for an Adelaide supporter!  This is also my first ever V neck jumper and was really pleased with how it turned out. The instructions in my Patons Baby knitting book were really easy to follow.

The jumper fits Huddy with plenty of room and I think suits his colouring much better than brown and yellow don’t you think?

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I feel good … swinging high, sliding down the slippery dip, crawling through a tunnel, eating my cupcake or scrutinising the skateboarders, I’m dressed for success!

Having actually knitted something for myself that worked, I’m thinking about knitting a top or cardigan for summer. Loveknitting has a great sale on for July and I’ve started collecting ideas. There are so many fabulous yarn with interesting combinations of natural fibres such as linen, cotton or silk to choose from.  And I have found some easy patterns as well.  If I actually follow through, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

A friend sent me an affirmation the other day and I thought I’d share it with you. ” Love, creativity and dedication. That’s what goes into handmade!”  The human touch means so much don’t you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas the Tank and B1 and B2 live it up at Huddy’s 2nd birthday party

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‘I’ve got my boiler steaming so come aboard Huddy and I’ll  take you on an adventure,’ whistled Thomas

Hudson turned two on the 16th June and it was time to party. Where has the baby boy gone? Almost surreptitiously Huddy has morphed into an adventurous little boy who has mastered the art of making his desires known (can say ‘No’ in many different languages) and who can put on a turn of speed that forces his grandparents into embarrassing public displays of sprinting. (When I was 13 and participating in the school athletics carnival,  I recall my mother remarking that I ran like a duck and that I should retire from sprint events while the going was good!  Sadly,  I haven’t improved with time. My inner duck has not learnt to fly.)

Like many children, he loves the outdoors, especially finding ‘buff flys’ and birds and picking unsuspecting flowers ‘for Mummy’.  And like most little boys I know, Huddy loves Thomas the Tank engine and the Bananas in Pyjamas, B1 and B2. I must admit to having developed more than a passing regard for them as well. After all, every afternoon after bathtime, they deliver a peaceful half hour or so before Huddy goes home.

Not suprisingly, Thomas and B1 and B2 provided the theme for Huddy’s birthday brunch. It was amazing to see how with just cardboard, masking tape, paint, stripey pyjamas, some imagination and  a smidgen  of time,  a memorable birthday celebration was created that amused and delighted the birthday boy and his guests.

In secret, Ben wrangled cardboard into a tank engine while Melissa slapped on paint and attached  essential accessories such as smoke balloons and a driving wheel complete with sound effects.  Huddy couldn’t believe his eyes when on the party morning, he walked out of his bedroom and saw that Thomas had come to play at his house!

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‘There’s room for two in my cab’ tooted Thomas.

Soon the guests were assembled and the party fun began. A delightful brunch was served complete with Byron Bay coffee.

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While the adults devoured the croissant bar and the cheese platter, the children loved the coconut fruit yogurt pots and the fruit platter. They were such good sharers as well!

 

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Huddy  was almost too busy to eat. After all who wants to eat when you can race with new firetrucks  with my friend Harley?

After brunch, there was a knock at the door. Huddy ran over to the stairs and couldn’t believe his eyes: B1 and B2 were there.

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Are you thinking what I’m thinking B1?  I think I am, B2! It’s chase Huddy time!

B1 and B2 sang, danced, fell over and played games for the children.

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‘It’s bubble. bubble, bubble time B1.’ ‘ That’s right B2. Listen everyone, we have prizes for anyone who can catch a bubble and bring it to us, that’s right isn’t B1?’ ‘Yes that’s right B2!’                    Sadly no bubbles were caught.

They were hilarious. This animation which Google photos created from a video gives you an idea of their performance.

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As you can see, they had a captivated audience.  Even Ninja the dog got into the act.  What a lovely surprise for all. Thank you B1 ( Kenn) and B2 (Helen Jarvis) for your wonderful shenanigans. 

Soon it was time for the Bananas to make their departure to the refrain of

‘Bananas in pyjamas are going down the stairs / Bananas in pyjamas are going down in pairs  / Cause on birthdays, they all  like to escape unawares’ ( apologies to the ABC)

And then it was time for cake, presents and home time.

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This was very tasty, but the cake was so long, Melissa had to use a snowboard  as a cake stand.
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So many thoughtful gifts! Huddy really enjoyed opening his presents. 
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There’s always something special about a party box. 

We had a lovely time and no child dissolved into tears. Always a plus.  With the little ones all headed for an afternoon nap,  and Kenn divested of his B1 costume, we made the most of the beautiful day and walked up to the Lighthouse for some whale spotting. And they were there, just off the point, jumping  and flashing their tails around. Always a special moment. It was a great way to finish a special day. Happy Birthday, Huddy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval Magic at the Art Gallery of NSW

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This weekend, the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW finishes.  Kenn and I were lucky enough to be able to visit while we were in Sydney for the Vivid Festival a week or so ago.  These tapestries are revered as a national treasure in France and it is only the third time the tapestries has left France in 500 years, thanks to  a fabulous loan from the collection of the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris. 

We chose to visit in the early afternoon which allowed us time for a leisurely walk to the ferry along the Middle Harbour and Fairlight foreshores.   It’s a short walk from Circular Quay to the Art Gallery and before we knew it, we had purchased tickets and were making our way through the exhibition.

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Welcoming visitors with music!

 I love how galleries make exhibitions so interactive. There were weaving workshops where visitors could begin to understand the incredible skill and complexity of these medieval works of art by trying their hand at weaving as well as  an audio visual presentation providing a deeper insight into the history, preservation and interpretations of  the tapestries.

But it was of course the tapestries themselves which were so wonderful. Each one was the size of a room and the detail was mind blowing when one considers that these works of art were created by medieval human hands. Not on a  computerised industrial loom!

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The colours were so rich and the detail so intricate.

It was possible to sit and view the tapestries from a distance and also get up quite close. They allowed personal photography as well so Kenn and I had fun with our phones. I found the details within the tapestries themselves captivating, from the animals and flowers to the different dresses and jewelry the Lady wears in each tapestry. And who doesn’t love a unicorn?

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And how cute is this little dog, not to mention the detail on her skirt. I can’t believe that this was actually woven!
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And the unicorns had different expressions on each tapestry.  And the little animals that were dotted here and there like the bunnies were so cute!

Having looked our fill, it was time for a late lunch. As we exited, beautiful scents  wafted over  from somewhere over in the corner and we decided that this would be our lunch destination. No wonder it smelt so good, we found ourselves seated at harbour view table for two in a Matt Moran restaurant!

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Service and food were exemplary.  The menu is based on his dishes made famous from Aria. An unexpected bonus to an already wonderful afternoon.

We finished our visit to the Art Gallery with a quick runaround the free exhibits.  I enjoyed this exhibition just as much but in a different way to the exhibition I attended when the Book of Kells came to Australia.  Thanks to  ‘Game of Thrones’,  many now associate medieval times with political intrigue, violence, superstition and fantastical, fire breathing dragons but artistic masterpieces like these tapestries, tell us there was something more, something more poetic and gentle.

I heard on the news the other day,  that the travelling King Tut exhibition is coming to Sydney before returning to Egypt. Another world treasure to look forward to! Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

Vivid at Taronga Zoo

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Turtles swimming above us

 The Vivid Festival is on in Sydney and will run until the 16th June. Like so many others, Kenn and I traveled to Sydney last weekend  to wonder at the wonderful outdoor lighting sculptures and installations that surround the harbour. Coincidentally, there  was also an exhibition of Medieval French Tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, at the Art Gallery that we’d been wanting to see and best of all, we had some quality time with our beautiful little grand-daughters, Genevieve  and Francesca.

Although generally the weather could have been better, we did have one beautiful sunny winter’s day. Kenn and I spent the morning with Genevieve revisiting favourite haunts: the train park down the road, a bushwalk down to Forty Baskets on the harbour and the playground at Middle Harbour Reserve.  It was such a beautiful day that you just knew something wonderful was going to happen and it did. Opposite the playground at Middle Harbour reserve is a delightful cafe: Forty Beans. It had been a hot and thirsty morning trekking uphill and down dale not to mention the upper arm workout one gets from pushing an enthusiastic 3 year old on the swings. I eyed off an inviting table nestled in the sunshine.

“Genevieve would you like  to visit the cafe for some morning tea and a babyccino?”

“That sounds delicious,” she replied.

So hand in hand, Kenn, Genevieve and I walked across and snared our sunshiny table. Drinks ordered, we made ourselves comfy and looked around.  There, lying right in front of us, was the loveliest, most gentle Malumute.  He  was so, so big yet so, so quiet. He had found himself a shady spot and was patiently waiting for his designated human to finish her coffee.  We were captivated.

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Titus’ owner helped Genevieve to pat him and say hello and chat. Such a beautiful moment.

All too soon, it was nap time for Genevieve and ferry time for us.

Following the foreshore path along Fairlight Beach, we reached the ferry with two minutes to spare. Perfect timing I thought.  We spent a delightful afternoon at the Art Gallery ( will share soon in my next post) before exploring the Vivid installations around Circular Quay, all of which are free. While the installations on the major buildings are spectacular, I particularly liked the installations in the Botanic Gardens which we accessed from the Opera House gate. You can wander through a light forest, watch a  lagoon awash with tiny twinkling lights that resemble thousands of tiny glow worms or see images of some of the world’s most famous floral artworks projected onto easels in an enclosed garden just to mention a few. And all the while, the gentle sounds of the harbour and the twinkling lights of the city surround you.

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incredible trees
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the lagoon awash with lights

 

But the best was yet to come. Christian and Kelly had organised for us to go to Vivid at the Zoo on Saturday night. As the time drew closer I was a little concerned as the weather was looking decidedly dodgy: very cold, rainy and windy.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained so rugged up like Eskimos (I was wearing more layers than an onion) and armed with umbrellas, we set off.  Much to my relief, the wind dropped and the rain ceased and the wonder of the night unfolded before us.

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We entered under a canopy of lights with turtles swimming overhead.

There is a designated circuit that you follow and it was a surreal experience to wander along  familiar paths being delighted by the light sculptures knowing that just beyond the light, in the darkness, the animals were sleeping or maybe watching us. I loved how around each bend there was another surprise: sometimes in the trees, sometimes beside us, sometimes in front of us.

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Yes, we are watching you!
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This was definitely a tiger burning bright
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in the forest of the night.
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The sculptures also remind us of endangered creatures
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like this magnificent rhinoceros

 

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While the detailing is  intricate and beautiful, the sense of menace remained

And here and there, as you wander down the path before climbing to the entrance, there are views across the laser-lit harbour to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Of course this was difficult to capture on a mobile phone but hopefully, this pic gives you an inkling of the vista.

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Nor were the birds and insects ignored.  These are a couple that particularly caught our eye.

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He looks ready for a chat
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They captured the gossamer wings I think but thank goodness we don’t have insects this big!!!

And the way our Australian animals were re-imagined was truly magical.

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Isn’t the little devil cub cute?
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And I love the aboriginal art work here
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The echidnas were animated. Their tongues flicked in and out eating the ants.
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Anyone for a swimming platypus  suspended above a river garden?

And of course the creatures of the sea: from sea horses and turtles to a huge shark that we exited through.

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I decided that this was a girl sea horse: so pretty in pink
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Turtle mania
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At the end, you exit through the belly of a shark
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The exterior view of this giant installation! So impressive. What a final memory.

Vivid at the Zoo is not free but is well worth the price of admission. I can only show you a snippet of what there is to see and hopefully you might get the opportunity to go and experience Vivid at the Zoo for yourself.  And as well as the installations, we loved seeing the look of delight on the faces that surrounded us from little ones to the elderly. There is something very uplifting about being in such a throng of really happy and enchanted people.

There were plenty of public transport options but we decided to drive and there was enough parking at the zoo. If you felt like it, there were plenty of food and drink outlets as well.

I cannot recommend this experience highly enough and can’t wait to go back next year.

PS:  A special thank you to Kenn for letting me share his lovely photos with you all.