Happy Christmas!

Christmas has always been a very special time in our house, especially the lead up in the month beforehand, with all the food preparation, gift making and present wrapping!

I have already written posts about :

  • Desserts for Pre-Christmas work parties : The Sweet Spot (October)
  • Christmas Cake and Pudding (November)
  • Christmas Drinks and Nibbles (December)

I much prefer to think about Christmas gifts well in advance, so there is no panic closer to the day, when the shops get so busy and crowded and choosing gifts becomes very stressful!!! If time allows, it is a wonderful opportunity to use all those craft skills and, at the same time, make so many people very happy! Home-made presents are THE BEST and are appreciated long after their store-bought equivalents. The recipient not only appreciates the originality and sometimes quirkiness of your gift, but also the talent and skill involved and the sheer amount of time devoted to their production, while thinking about their recipient during the whole process! My family adore my embroidered cushion covers and I get much joy out of planning and executing their design, as well as admiring the finished product, and then seeing the joy and love they bring to their recipient!

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I made this cute Christmas bag for my daughter from a pattern in ‘Scandinavian Stitches‘ by Kajsa Wikman. See her blog on : http://syko.typepad.com/.

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I embroidered this cushion cover with rainforest birds for my husband’s birthday this year.BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-10-29 16.34.36A Christmas tablemat for 2000!

I have loved all my children’s home-made gifts over the years and our house and lives have been enriched by all their wonderful creations! It is also a great way for children to develop their creative skills. Here are some great books with gift ideas :

‘The Good Gift Guide : Creative Gift Giving For All Occasions’ by Alison Pearl

‘The Good Gift Book : Ideal Presents For Every Occasion’ by Judy Hubbard

‘A Touch of Christmas : Easy To Make Stockings and Gifts’ by Pamela Allardice

‘Christmas Treats To Make and Give’ by Linda Collister

‘Homemade’ by Kay Fairfax

‘Creating Gourmet Gifts’ by Barbara Beckett

‘Aromatic Gifts : Scented Ideas From Kitchen and Garden’ by Stephanie Donaldson        and

‘Beautiful Homemade Presents’ by Juliet Bawden.

Gifts can be more intangible too : a massage, a song, a performance, an IOU promise. My daughters made this hand-painted Monopoly board and these delightful wooden coasters for past Christmas gifts. A friend made this delicious Christmas cookie decoration one year.BlogCreativity120%Reszd2015-10-13 15.25.37BlogCreativity120%Reszd2015-10-13 15.12.40BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-10-13 16.32.04I really enjoy making Christmas cards and Advent Calendars in late November, the latter to be opened from the 1st December on. The last few years, I have used folded blank card, stamps and ink pads to create much more personal (and far cheaper) cards! Alas, this year, because I worked right up until the last week, I had to resort to using commercial Christmas cards!

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There are so many different patterns for advent calendars from felt pockets with little treasures and sweets to this wonderful paper pocket Christmas Tree, which I made for our 2013 Christmas. Each pocket held a small gift or a rhyming clue to a treasure hunt for larger items, which could not fit in the pocket. The pattern came from ‘Folded Secrets : Paper Folding Projects: Book 4’ by Ruth Smith and is based on the old Chinese Needle Thread Pockets. You can order all 4 books from the author by emailing her at : eruthsmith@btinternet.com. For a quick view of them, see : http://purplemissus.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/happy-families.html

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It is also fun making Christmas decorations throughout December, then finally decorating the Christmas tree in the last 2 weeks! Some people do it in early December, especially if they own an artificial tree, but I much prefer fresh trees, which do not last the whole month well.

I love the scent and colour of traditional fir trees, which are often sold on the side of the road in the weeks up until Christmas. After the 1967 Tasmanian bush fires, which devastated the native forests, my parents planted a large number of these quick-growing evergreens along the fence line of our property, only to spend every future Christmas chasing off would-be Christmas Tree thieves as the trees grew to maturity!!!

For the last few years in the city, we bought our trees from the same supplier, who harvested them from their country property then sold them in their suburban driveway. We’d select a small, well-balanced tree, then place it in a tub of water within an old rusty family cream can (from dairying days), decorated with Christmas wrapping paper and a large red bow. I love this old photo from the early 1900s of my husband’s grandparents’ Christmas tree with all the toy animals underneath.BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-10-29 16.33.46Back in the country, we would cut our own tree – maybe a feral cypress or a native she-oak (Casuarina) or even a gum tree (Eucalyptus). This year, we had hoped to purchase a Wollemi Pine in a pot, which we would keep outside during the year, then bring inside for Christmas until it grew too large. Wollemi pines are incredibly ancient and very special, as they were thought to be extinct until a small stand was discovered in 1994. See : http://www.wollemipine.com.

Alas, they were too exorbitant for us this year at $ 169 for a 150mm pot ( plus $14 for shipping and handling). I know we would probably recuperate the price after 3 to 5 years of buying ordinary cut Christmas trees, but you would have to be certain that the plant survived!!! Maybe when we’re rich and famous…!!! For those with disposable income, see : http://www.wollemipine.com/order.php

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It is always such fun decorating the Christmas tree with friends and family with all the old Christmas favourites, as well as a new purchase/ creation each year. After the baubles and ornaments, we drape the tree with tinsel, then last of all, the Christmas lights – so magical!!! Here are some photos of hand-made Christmas decorations: a simple, bright felt star for my eldest daughter’s first Christmas tree of her own; Christmas angels being made by my daughters : I made the middle angel, Caro the blonde angel and Jen, the angel with the dreadlocks!; I also made a beaded/ sequined and embroidered Christmas angel and pear one year.BloghappyXmas40%Reszdxmas 2009 004BlogCreativity120%Reszd2015-04-22 08.59.48 - CopyBloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-10-13 14.31.53BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-10-13 14.34.34We were a bit late putting up our ‘tree’ this year, but it was just as well as the weekend before Christmas we experienced 40 degree days! We now live on a corner block fringed with very old Cypress trees, so we cut 5 branches, which were extending into the lane way, then bound them together and put them in the old family cream can. I think it looks great and it’s hard to detect that it is not a complete tree! My daughter made a beautiful wreath with the trimmed branches as well (bottom photo).BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-19 20.26.16BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-19 21.38.59BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-19 19.28.22BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-19 18.26.23And finally, Christmas Eve has arrived! When we lived in the ‘Big Smoke’, we always use to enjoy making a special visit into the city to see the Christmas decorations.

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I loved the illumination of the Geelong Town Hall last year.BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2014-12-18 22.19.05And on the night of Christmas Eve, it was always worth doing the rounds of the neighbourhood to view all those outrageous Christmas decorations and lights. Some streets specialize in it!!!BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2012-12-24 22.51.01BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2012-12-24 22.22.36There were even still a few here in country Candelo! While the 3rd photo took the prize for effect, I must admit that I much prefer the simpler more discrete ones like the hammock shot (4th photo). Someone had even draped a large fir tee in their front yard with lights, which changed from green-and-blue to red-and-gold (5th and 6th photo)! A local farmer tied a big red bow round each of his fence posts, which looked really effective, though perhaps not so good at night-time! (1st and 2nd photo)BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-24 11.46.22BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-24 11.46.10BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-21 22.52.22BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-21 22.42.27BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-21 22.44.14BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2015-12-21 22.44.05It is always fun seeing everyone get into the Christmas spirit, including our old postman last year! We had a hilarious Christmas Eve a few years ago, when we came across a long line of ‘Father Christmases’,  university students on their way to the pub, who then very good-naturedly, carjacked us for a lift to said hotel!!! I think my daughter thought all her Christmases had come at once! We caught up to their companions and dropped them off, little realizing that one of them had lost his mobile phone in our car! Two suburbs later, we received a very sheepish phone call, asking us very politely if we would mind dropping their phone round to the hotel! So funny, though it did highlight how quickly a car can be hijacked!!!

BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2012-12-24 10.20.48BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2012-12-24 22.18.59This year here in Candelo, we were hijacked in a different fashion! I saw 3 Santas walking up the hill, only to have a large group of them materialize on our doorstep to sing us Christmas Carols, then we were bundled up and absorbed into the group, as we wended our way back up the hill to accost other suitable benefactors! My daughter grabbed her Santa hat and reindeer antlers, which she had bought for my neighbour’s handsome black labradors, whom she was to babysit over Christmas, but unfortunately not her camera, otherwise you would have had some classic shots of me in her  antlers with multicoloured flashing lights. It took me a while to realize that the faint Christmas jingle I kept hearing was also actually coming from  those same antlers!!! It probably would have been a bit dark for a decent photo anyway. We found it increasingly difficult to read the words by candlelight, so ‘Deck the Halls’ was very dodgy and thin in the verse singing, but voices swelled considerably in the ‘Fa-La-La, Fa-La-La, Fa-La-La’ chorus! We finished at the local bakery, where we were kindly given a fresh, warm sourdough loaf straight out of the oven and a lovely moist Christmas Cake, which we quickly wolfed down with French Champagne and tea back at my neighbour’s house. It was such a fun night and a great way to meet all the locals!

Father Christmas certainly gets around, as can be seen by these eye witness accounts on our drives to visit family interstate over the Christmas period!BloghappyXmas40%Reszdxmas 2009 013BloghappyXmas40%Reszdxmas 2009 043BloghappyXmas40%Reszddec 2010 073BloghappyXmas40%Reszdxmas 2009 072BloghappyXmas40%Reszdxmas 2009 071BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2014-12-14 08.13.18He is such a busy fellow and must get so exhausted with all his travels! We have a family tradition of writing Father Christmas notes to attach to our stockings. He would then have to reply in the wee wee hours of the morning in an increasingly illegible scrawl! Funny how he always knew what had transpired during the year! When the kids were little, we always used to visit him in the shopping mall, resulting in a wonderful family photographic record of the childhood years.

Every Christmas Eve, we would leave him a slice of Christmas, a beer and a carrot for his reindeer and in the morning, we would discover cake crumbs, the bottle drained and little bite-sized bits of carrot all over the garden.

The kids would be up so early on Christmas morning, excitedly opening their Christmas stockings or, in later years, sacks! After the stocking opening and a much-needed cup of tea, we took it in turns to open the gifts, which had accumulated under the tree in the previous 2 weeks and had suddenly swelled in number dramatically overnight. The youngest often had the job of finding each person’s gift, while Mum (usually) kept a note of ‘who gave what’ for later thank you correspondence.

After the last gift had been opened, the kids all gathered around the open window to yell at the top of their voices ‘Thank You Very Much, Father Christmas!’, a tradition carried through from my childhood!

Because everyone tends to nibble stocking fruit and sweets and are a bit exhausted by this stage, we often have a rest till mid-afternoon, then prepare for Christmas Dinner : a roast turkey with stuffing, a clove-studded ham, roast vegetables and the finale, the flaming Christmas Pudding! One year, when we had just moved over into a cottage built to lockup with no electricity, water or stove, the thought of preparing the traditional Christmas dinner overwhelmed me and it was so wonderful when my ‘kids’ (late teens by this stage) took over and bought 2 barbecued chickens and boiled up vegies over the camping gas stove – the most relaxing Christmas dinner we have ever had!BloghappyXmas40%ReszdIMG_9113BloghappyXmas40%Reszddecember2011 200

I love setting the Christmas table and organizing the flowers ! For a few years, we even made our own Christmas Crackers, complete with corny jokes!!! We will miss our dear Scampie this year!BloghappyXmas20%Reszd2012-12-25 11.00.35BloghappyXmas20%ReszdJens Xmas 2013 055

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Our old dog Scamp used to love Christmas!

I will leave you with a few photos of our iconic native flora and fauna. Happy Christmas and All our Best Wishes for a Wonderful 2016!!!

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A koala sitting in an old gum tree!
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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
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Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo
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A pair of Pink Galahs
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A Pretty-faced Wallaby browsing a friend’s Bauhinias
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Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius)
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Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum)
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Rainbow Lorikeets at home for Christmas!
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Oliver, our resident King Parrot, also at home for Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid Autumn

April and the leaves are turning beautiful Autumn colours , including our neighbour’s Virginia creeper. The purple violets are starting to bloom and we discovered white nerines in amongst the mondo grass in the border of the back path.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-12 17.02.51Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-22 10.53.07After treating all the garden beds and new plantings with manure and mulch from a friend’s farm, we planted our first vegetables : lettuce, broccoli and silver beet.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-06-07 12.12.35

We covered them with a wire guard to protect them from the bower birds, of which we have a huge population next door ! Lovely birds, but very destructive in vegie gardens !

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We planted our Spring bulbs in the new cutting garden, except for the tulips, which needed refridgeration, and marked their planting rows with stakes of small bamboo. In between each pair of bulb rows, we sewed annual and perennial seeds to gradually grow and replace the spent bulbs as their leaves dry off. In effect, within the one cutting bed, we had 4 long  skinny  beds, separated by paths:

  • Dutch Iris and daffodils with cornflowers in the middle at the back;
  • Freesias and ranunculas separated by Iceland poppies;
  • a bed totally devoted to blue, red and white de Caen anemones with calendula in the middle and finally
  • a late bed of erlicheer jonquils and tulips, which will be planted in May and then joined by stock seedlings after the Winter frosts. We raised the  stock  in seed trays on the sunny verandah, along with Sweet Pea seedlings, again to be planted out after the frosts.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-08-28 15.20.04 (2)

We marked out 4 paths in the Soho Bed and finally transplanted the Soho roses into their permanent positions:
2 pastel quarters :
1st quarter
• Icegirl (white)
• the Children’s Rose (pink)
• Eglantyne (pink); and
2nd quarter
• Fair Bianca/
• Fragrant Plum(soft purple) and
• Just Joey (salmon) and
2 brighter quarters :
3rd quarter
• Copper Queen (gold)
• Mr Lincoln (dark red) and
• Alnwyk ( mid pink);
4th quarter :
• Heaven Scent (blue pink)
• LD Braithwaite (deep red) and
• Lolita (orange, gold and pink).

Here are some vases of the Soho roses.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-03-26 16.26.00Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-03-17 08.45.09Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-02-19 16.43.38

We edged the bed with lavenders ( English, French and Italian ), which we’d raised from cuttings and catmint from the local nursery, as well as planting blue and red flowering salvias, a pink verbena, a white gaura (which was damaged by later frost) and 4 gold bearded iris corms in each corner of the sundial .Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-18 10.00.02

A scarlet robin flew down to sit on the sundial and inspect our progress that same afternoon!Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-18 11.56.23We placed our 2015 rose order from both Misty Downs (http://mistydowns.com.au ) and Treloars (http://www.treloarroses.com.au ) in Victoria- the start of our new rose empire !!! We also planted an evergreen Bull Bay Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) in the centre of the rain forest area. I adore their luscious huge creamy- white flowers and glossy foliage.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2014-11-22 10.17.01We also had lots of visitors in April- my daughters for Easter, as well as my sister and her husband and several close friends, so the kitchen saw lots of activity ! I made an Easter cake decorated with salvia flowers and my eldest daughter, who had just returned from a 3 month holiday in South East Asia, taught me how to make Vietnamese rice paper rolls.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-10 18.27.54Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-04 15.27.39

I attended a local sour dough bread workshop and added it to our repertoire, although over time I reverted to our No Knead bread recipe, which does have yeast, as my husband preferred it.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-18 11.30.11Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-18 11.29.00Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-19 15.44.10And we made cumquat marmalade from our generous trees- 37 jars of it ! I tried 2 recipes- Caroline Velik’s with lemon juice ( https://carolinevelik.wordpress.com/2010/07/ ) and Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from Merci Mama’s site (http://merci-mama.com/cumquat-mmmmmarmalade/ ). Both set well and I really couldn’t decide which recipe I preferred. It was so easy, as the fruit is only quartered and the numerous pips removed at the very end just before bottling. It has become our favourite breakfast spread.

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I continued making aprons for the store with Mother’s Day coming up and made a cute little alien designed by Melly and Me ( http://mellyandme.com/) for another new baby, as well as a little appliquéd felt bird purse (designed by Salley Mavor from her book Felt Wee Folk. See : http://weefolkstudio.com/) for my youngest daughter.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-09-03 09.49.16I also made a star cushion to thank my friend Beryl for the beautiful bunting she made and gave to me.Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-28 15.35.29Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-28 15.33.18Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-28 15.32.55

Early Autumn

March saw in the start of Autumn and a flurry of activity in the garden, as well as the sewing room ! We dug through the Soho Bed and started a vegetable bed and one of the cutting beds, both on the northern side of the garden, a folly which we later regretted, as this left side of the path was shaded heavily by the trees on the northern edge of the garden during the Winter, when the sun was low in the northern sky !Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-03-08 07.10.06

We started our white hedge behind the Soho bed, planting tiny shrubs of the beautifully scented Philadelphus ‘Virginalis’ and Viburnum burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell’, either side of the entrance arch to the path.

We attended the wonderful Lanyon Plant Fair at Lanyon Homestead on Canberra’s outskirts.

See http://http://www.hsoc.org.au/documents/LanyonPlantFair2016_A4flyer_updated.pdf and bought a large shrub of Pearl Bush (Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’), also for the white border.

Other purchases included :
• a small Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus praecox) for future Winter fragrance,
• a Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ (Cornus kousa X Cornus capitata)  for its beautiful single white flowers, which turn deep pink as they age,
• a Carolina Allspice bush(Calycanthus florida) for its exotic cinnamon scent and
• 2 colourful dahlias- a burnt red (‘Ellen Huston’) and a gold one, which we planted on the corners of the new long beds for a temporary splash of colour before the Winter frosts !

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We also ordered Spring bulbs from Tesselaars (https://www.tesselaar.net.au/ ) :
• a variety of tall Dutch Iris : Discovery- royal blue; Hildegarde – mid blue; Lilac Beauty- lilac; Casablanca- white and Golden Beauty- gold;
• mixed daffodils and jonquils : Pheasant Eyes, Golden Dawn, Paperwhite Zivas and double Winter Sun and Acropolis daffodils;
• mixed Anemone de Caen
• mixed Picasso ranunculus
• old fashioned highly scented Grandma’s white freesias and
• a variety of beautiful tulips : Bokassa white/Bokassa red and Bokassa Verandi-orange; Parrot Tulip ‘Destiny’ (pink); Lily Tulips : Synaeda Orange/ Claudia-pink and Tres Chic-white; and pink Monet Tulips).

We  bought a swag of seeds from Lambleys Nursey ( http://lambley.com.au/) :  cornflowers, cosmos, Iceland poppies, calendula, stock, bupleurium, digitalis, honesty,nigella, tithonia, aquilegia, rudbeckia , zinnias and wallflowers.Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-03-22 11.26.41We planted a small Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum ‘ King Edward VII’) beside the future glasshouse and a Magnolia ‘White Caviar’ (Magnolia figo X yunnanensis) at the entrance to the garden opposite a mature Snowball Tree.  Note all the ironmongery in the photo. There used to be an old blacksmiths here in the early days and no matter where we dig, we are constantly finding rusty old ironware and broken bits of china and glass, which I have saved to make a mosaic for the garden one day !
The local market provided a Wheel of Fire (Stenocarpus sinuatus), a NSW Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), a Silky Oak ( Grevillea robusta) and a Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum) for our rainforest garden on the cooler shadier south side of the house, bounded by the tall cypress trees and loquats.Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-03-03 14.49.04March was also a busy month creatively. I made my first-ever basket out of red hot poker leaves and cumbungi after spending a day with the Wyndham Basketeers.Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-09-01 14.10.58Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-03-09 18.00.59

I made an Easter rabbit doorstop, stuffed with lentils , and some full and half ‘Mother and Daughter’ aprons for the local shop.Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-04-21 10.31.44

I continued working on an old butterfly cross-stitch cushion cover, designed by Anette Erikkson ( http://anetteeriksson.com/ ), a belated birthday gift for my eldest daughter, and made new baby gifts for my other daughter’s pregnant friend- a very cute purple furry elephant designed by Jodie Carleton  (http://vintagericrac.blogspot.com.au/ ) and a floral nightie from an old 1950s Enid Gilchrist pattern my Mum had used for all her babies. Of course, the toy elephant had to have a matching nightie as well !Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-03-26 16.04.58Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-04-11 18.39.44Blog Early Autumn20%Reszd2015-03-26 17.41.54