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Lambhill has seen a lot of living.
We are only the third family to live at Lambhill. First owned by the Allisons, who bought the land about 1847, and had many many many adventures here, good, horrendous, and ordinary; they sold most of the farm to the Sutherland family in 1886. In 2003, we Godfreys bought the house, the garden, and a little land, from the Sutherlands.
For about 175 years or so, then, people have lived on this land; and for 164 years, three families have lived on this exact site. In these very rooms, babies have been born, and beloved toddlers have died. Here, children have studied their homework and read books, fallen down the stairs, been rowdy, drawn on the walls, fought, had baths, been sick – and grown up. Teenagers have dressed in their best clothes, and danced here, at neighbourhood balls; here, they have dreamed and written of their flirtations. In this house, at least one husband has disappointed his wife – repeatedly; in some of these rooms, babies have been conceived, and birth controlled; marital arguments have smouldered; here, too, couples have been happy for years, and for years, been glad to be married to each other. And inevitably, in this house, and in its gardens and surrounds, Lambhill people have lived their last days – and died.
Our boys left home about ten years ago, after spending their teenaged years at Lambhill. Lambhill for them, and for many of their cousins and friends, still feels like “home” in a corner of their hearts. There is a quality of life here that is uniquely Lambhill, where whimsy and peace have a part, alongside hideously saggy antique mattresses and doors that will not shut. In spite of the draughts and winter cold, the gales and the lack of plug sockets, they always come back to Lambhill, bringing girlfriends, wives, children. We share Lambhill with many who love it, including the Allisons and Sutherlands. There are always new people discovering Lambhill, who didn’t know they would love it until they have been here for the first time.
Meanwhile, life at Lambhill at the moment is quiet, but loving, happy, and full of imagination and richness, hard work, books, flowers, ideas, and the love of nature, and the love of God. Some things never change. Unusually, for a New Zealand colonial house (made of timber, and exposed to the wild elements), Lambhill is Alive! It is still doing what it was meant to do from its earliest days, and for a house of its type, that’s rare. Lambhill, like all of us, has come through a lot.
Feijoa Chutney (Miss Towgood’s)
- 1 kg Feijoas
- 1/2 kg Onions
- 1/2 kg Dates
- 1/2 kg Brown Sugar
- 1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 4 cups Malt Vinegar
- 300g Raisins
- 1 tbsp Ground Ginger
- 1 tbsp Curry Powder
- 1 tsp Ground Cloves
- 4 tsp Salt.
Scoop out feijoas, chop onions and dates, add to rest in a large pot, and cook 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Pour into sterilised jars, cover and label. Keep a month if you possibly can, before scoffing with cheese and crackers – or with cold meat and salad – or any way you like….
Janette’s Tomato Relish
- 1.4 kg Tomatoes
- 1/2 kg Onions
- 1/2 kg Sugar
- Malt Vinegar
- 1 tbsp Curry Powder
- 3/4 tbsp Mustard Powder
- 3 tbsp flour.
Cut up tomatoes unpeeled. Sprinkle with salt and leave overnight. Drain, place tomatoes and diced onions with sugar. Barely cover with vinegar and boil for 20 minutes. Then add curry, mustard and a little vinegar. Boil for 1 hour. Blend flour with a little vinegar, add to thicken the relish and cook a little longer. Seal in hot, sterile jars. Label. Resist eating it for a month. Goes perfectly with cold meat or cheese.
Pretty Jug Cover to Make
Life is messy, routine and dull – but it can also be lovely! To keep flies off my milk jugs, I make old-fashioned jug covers. They are so easy to make – and you can vary them to suit yourself.
This one was made using an embroidered cotton doily, and glass beads, with the odd button. The doily only cost a dollar from a charity shop, but the glass beads cost about $15. I’ve used plastic beads in the past, on jug covers, and they will do – but they somehow look a bit nasty, and they are not as heavy as glass ones. Just choose some white or coloured embroidery thread (a couple of strands) or sewing twist, threaded onto a needle that is narrow enough to fit through the holes of your beads, and sew the beads to the edge of the doily, at regular intervals. To make the edge interesting, I thread several beads together in each spot, in random groups. Knot each bead, or cluster of beads very securely. You can either knot each bead or cluster individually, or run a simple, over-and-under stitch around the whole border between the beads. Up to you!
Variations on this project that I’ve made are to use a crocheted lace doily, or to cut out a square or a circle from pretty scraps of cotton to hand-hem, before sewing on the weights. Printed dimity looks charming. You don’t need much fabric – just enough to cover the jug, with enough for a good drape, and some hem. I’ve pulled apart old necklaces (again, very cheap from charity shops) to use their beads. I also had a broken necklace which had been made of small sea-shells with holes drilled through them. Mixed with glass beads, the shells made interesting weights around a jug cover. If you have a great collection of buttons, you can sew buttons on instead of beads – either in short strings, or as individual buttons.
I have found some very pretty filet-crochet jug covers that were finished, but not beaded, at charity shops. Filet crochet was popular in Edwardian times, and was a kind of geometric, intricate lace made of fine cream-coloured cotton thread. Look for them amongst the doilies – and you might find them with the word, “MILK” crocheted into the pattern, or the picture of a housefly crocheted in amongst the borders!! I’ve found both, and have sewn weights on and used them.
To clean fine lace or cotton from the inevitable tea or milk stains, just soak them in warm water with gentle stain-removal powder dissolved into it. Leave it twelve hours and simply rinse out and hang over a string to dry.
ALWAYS USE YOUR PRETTY THINGS!!!!
Never having grown up….
After breakfast this morning, Millie was under the Sitting Room table, and I crawled in and joined her. It felt cosy, secret, silly and fun! I’m 54 years old, and still sometimes hide under tables – it’s good for the soul, and I recommend it.
Pokers for the Fire
Don’t you love something old and perfectly fit-for-purpose, that other people have used the same way you use it in your daily life? Years ago, while clearing an overgrown bit of garden, here at Lambhill, I discovered a long metal “Thing” which, when cleaned up, appeared to be a fire poker. I was thrilled because we didn’t have one, and sorely needed it, to shift burning logs inside the fireboxes we had installed in the kitchen and sitting room fireplaces.
We still had no poker for the sitting room fire, but some friends of ours, who were selling their old country house near Fordell, gave us some of the treasures they no longer needed in their “Downsizing.” One of their gifts was a hand-wrought iron poker with the most delightful Ram’s head as a knob. Utterly perfect for Lambhill!
The Running of the Deer
Wanganui has always had the largest population of feral deer of any district in New Zealand. Early settlers, like Lambhill’s Dr Allison, were eager supporters of the Acclimatisation Society, and imported all kinds of creatures – and birds – from “Home.” One of their aims was to encourage gentleman’s sports that had traditionally supplied the British Armed Forces with good officers. Hunting on horseback gave you a great “seat on a nag,” and taught you pluck, as you barrelled at full gallop over impossibly high hedges. Shooting taught you to kill cleanly, with one bullet: wounding a dumb creature by your own ineptitude was always A Pretty Poor Show – and you’d never want to do it again. Net result: hardy soldiers for H.M.’s army at Home or in the Dominions….
And so, here at Lambhill, living in the forest which was once Dr Allison’s 22-acre Arboretum, are red deer and fallows. You can see where they lie, in nests of beaten grass under our trees, and you can smell their pleasant odour. You rarely see them, though. Usually, you’ll catch sight of fallow deer heading back to the forest after a Summer night’s feasting on the neighbour’s maize crop. Or you’ll spot them slipping like shadows between the shrubs of the garden. It is always a surprise to see them, and although we feel privileged, we are also a bit nervous: they do dreadful damage to the garden. We fear for our young trees, which can be ring-barked, rubbed to smithereens, or just eaten down to nothing.
Yesterday we saw a large red deer or two in the garden, and Jonathan crept out with his camera – but they had melted into the undergrowth. He texted the hunters who have permission to hunt on the Estate, and they came out at dusk last night. I thought I heard a single shot in the distance, over the sound of the rain – and I was right. The hunters shot a big red deer – and saw five or six others. They have given us, and Spin and Joan Sutherland, some frozen fallow deer venison, and Jonathan is going to turn some of that into biltong for the hunters.
Cut venison or beef into strips about half a centimetre thick, and about one centimetre wide. They can be as long as you like. Sprinkle them with seasalt crystals (not too thickly) and leave for half an hour. Wipe the salt off, dip in cider-vinegar, red-wine-vinegar or balsamic-vinegar, then shake off spare liquid and roll in ground fresh cardamon, and any other herbs or spices you fancy, and lay on the racks of a food dehydrator. It takes a few hours to reduce the meat to leathery snacks that will keep well in airtight jars.
Treading Lightly at Lambhill
I’ve always tried to exclude plastic from our house, justifying not buying it by joking that, “Plastic rots the eyes,” when you have to look at the nasty stuff. Now, wonderfully, a lot of people are concerned about the plastic rubbish that has accumulated in the sea and all over the planet. I am trying to avoid buying anything unsustainable – but it is difficult when we have become so used to finding absolutely anything and more than we need at the supermarket – made incredibly cheaply so that we can all afford plastic gadgets, and made to be thrown away after use! This morning I sat down with my breakfast pot of tea, to jot down a few ideas for our life at Lambhill. Here are some photos to illustrate: (Don’t you love the notebook? Got it at a quirky little shop in Drews Avenue, Wanganui.)
As you see, I am practising NOT writing with plastic biros! Instead, I’m using old dip nibs and nib-holders for pens. The old pen in the photos was given me by my father-in-law, along with a little tin of spare nibs, but I also have a nib I found here at Lambhill, and Spin and Joan gave me an old dipping pen with a good nib that had come from the house in the old days when their grandparents, aunts and uncles lived here – so I am lucky enough to have a usable collection. The ink is plain Indian Ink, bought from a stationery shop, and put into a small glass ink bottle that I unearthed in the Lambhill garden. The little green-glass bottle stopper that I use in the ink bottle was also one of my gardening finds. How’s that for the ultimate recycling? They were thrown out here at Lambhill, and have been found, cleaned up, and re-used in the same house, fifty years or more after being jettisoned!
It is not easy to write with a dipping pen and ink, when you are used to a biro, which regulates the ink flow (I get heavy then thin letters, and then blots and smudges!). Try writing with one of these, and you will acquire a new admiration for Victorian letter-writers like Lambhill’s Nat Sutherland. His “hand” was so beautiful that his first paid job as a young man in Wellington was as a clerk. (I’d looove to be able to create his beautiful ornate script-flourish decorations, too – fancy birds and goodness knows what – but I fear that a hundred years of practise would still not help me achieve them!) Also, thinking about using ink-and-nib in modern life, it wouldn’t be easy to carry them about safely in your handbag, although I have seen a gorgeous antique inkbottle made to be portable and with a lockable, spill-proof lid. Since some of us always need notebooks and pens with us wherever we go, I think we could get around the temptation to throw in a biro by taking a reasonably soft (dark) pencil with us. I was thinking of stitching a small drawstring bag to carry pencils, a (metal, not plastic!) pencil sharpener, and perhaps a rubber-latex eraser. This little pencil-bag would keep the inside of handbags or baskets clean, keep writing things together, and you could grab them in a hurry when you need to jot something down, or draw a garden plan you had just imagined…
The Shared Culture of Friends
Here at Lambhill we are lucky enough to have friends who lend us some of their books and puzzles. We have a kind of back-and-forth lending library up and down the Lambhill driveway. This brings us closer together as friends, but it also lets us experience small delights we might not otherwise have found.
Whenever Spin and I go out, we try to sneak into a bookshop, and very often (at least) one of us brings something home! Spin justifies buying books because I can read them too. And if she is buying me a book for Christmas, she always reads it first, because, “I have to check that it is suitable for you!” Like me, Spin has wide ranging tastes in books. She introduced me to Alexander McCall Smith’s gentle books about Precious Ramotswe and her Botswana “Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency.” She lent me her mother’s copy of “Rotten Rhymes for Horrid Households,” and many, many others, from detective novels to scientific non-fiction. She might be 87, and I might be 54, but we share a great curiosity and zest for the world, and are always learning. We have given Spin and Joan a range of books too, over the years, beginning with Daisy Ashford’s “Young Visiters,” which is a nine-year-old Victorian girl’s incredibly funny and readable little novel, full of memorable characters and quotable quotes. When friends have read some of the same books, they build a culture of their own, and create a kind of family with shared jokes. I like this little blessing of Community.
Also, we four Sutherlands-and-Godfreys love doing crosswords together. One will call out clues and write in answers, and the rest of us will laugh at their spelling, show off our vocabs wildly, and look up reference books when we are struggling to think of an answer. We hardly ever let a crossword beat us, and have picked up Joan’s trick of signing off every completed crossword with a big, flourishing tick! We tell funny stories during these sessions, drink tea, look up the etymology of words… and most weeks, new words get jotted in the margins of Spin and Joan’s dictionary – which is getting weightier and weightier… These are small joys, but cost nothing, and make life a little more beautiful.
Trying homemade shampoo
Have you seen Eleanor Ozich’s lovely book, “The Art of Simple” (Penguin, 2017)? One of the things I like about it are its home-spun, simple recipes for sustainable living. (She has another book out, with more recipes, and that looks just as useful.) I tried her homemade recipe for hair-wash, using raw honey and cider vinegar as some of the few ingredients, and here is a photo of my version, bottled and labelled, and the tiny china jug I use to pour it onto my hair in the bath.
The hair-wash does not behave like foamy, lathery shampoo, but it has other attributes that make up for this disadvantage: you can make it quickly and cheaply, and it doesn’t come in a plastic bottle. I intend to try other homemade shampoo recipes too, when I can source the ingredients, but so far, this one is perfectly adequate, although a little alien.
Trying other zero-waste products.
I do like the “Fairyland Cottage” videos on Youtube, which are full of zero-waste recipes and short videos about simple living. I’ve copied down several recipes from those, to try.
Also, I have ordered a copy of “The Art of the Natural Home,” by Rebecca Sullivan (Kyle Books, 2017), which I found at our district library. That is full of zero-waste recipes, some of which I have already made, and am loving. I bought brown glass bottles and jars online, and have made Rebecca Sullivan’s: Washing Powder, Oven Cleaner, Bath Salts, Body Scrub, and Face Moisturiser. I’m looking forward to sending away for some ingredients and trying her makeup recipes! How brilliant to make your own skin tint or blush or mascara – without any plastics or much money involved.
In the Coldest part of the year…
We’ve had frosts that have frozen our waterpipes this last week. They don’t thaw until mid-morning, and for the rest of the day after that, the tap-water is the colour of tea. But it tastes alright!
The Joy of Sweet Things
In the Bleak Cough-Winter, Chesty-Cough-Cough Moan….
For a whole month, my poor husband, Jonathan, was ill with influenza. He was delirious and uncomfortable, shivering with cold even in front of a roaring fire, feverish and asthmatic. He was a mess. I installed him on the sitting room sofa, bundled in quilts and cushioned with pillows, where I could keep the fire going twenty-four hours a day, and contain his illness. The sitting room became a hospital for week after week, with me doing nothing but nurse him at first, keeping notes of the times he took medications, drank lemon/honey/garlic or other warming liquids, and (eventually) what he was able to eat.
During this time, I reflected on the many other illnesses Lambhill has sheltered in its time. I know the previous two Lambhill families endured colds and influenzas, and probably plenty of measles and chickenpoxes. One tiny two-year-old girl, the light of her Daddy’s eyes, died here – before the doctor could come out from Wanganui to wonder what was ailing her. And then, over the years, the Sutherland girls and some of their brothers, grew old and petered out here. The house has seen its share of sleepless, coughing nights, anxious nurses, and discomfort. It has seen relief and rejoicing too, when “patient sufferers” recovered their mojo!
During his convalescence…
Jonathan had been so ill that it took him weeks to recover his strength, even when he was feeling much better, and eating like a shoveller-duck. He began working from home, joining in conference calls and skype sessions for short bursts, and then sleeping. The enforced rest was a revelation to both of us: we had time to play quiet board games together, and he actually finished reading three books! We began to understand what “calm” meant. And we began to want to hold onto it.
As for me, I was still feeding and caring for the fellow, but could not go out to garden because it was cold, wintry and windy (brr! most unpleasant!), and could not write or blog, because my computer was ill as well. Instead, I undertook a massive simplification programme in the house. I culled 25 large shopping totes-full of books which went to Patrick’s Book Shop, in Ridgway Street, Wanganui. I pulled out two spare wardrobes, a gateleg table, bedside cabinet, suitcase, china, games, and bedroom chairs, and heaved or “walked” them onto a verandah, where Andrew from the City Furniture Exchange came to collect them. It was a novelty to know I had significant credit at both shops! And the house and cupboards were significantly emptier: How restful.
Here is a clutch of pictures I took while reorganising things:
These pictures, above, were taken in the parlour (which we sometimes call the library), and also in the hallway, where you see my gallery wall of Lambhill pictures growing up the stairs.
Many of these pictures, above, were taken in the passage or the main hallway (both downstairs).
A Painted Tray
Some years ago, I found a round wooden tray in a charity shop. It had handpainted flowers on it, which I didn’t like, so I painted over it with Chinoiserie designs adapted from some of my old china! I still enjoy looking at it, and it is propped up in the pantry, on the top of the fridge.
If you feel like doing something similar, I used Resene test pots, and painted the tray, first, a deep ruby-red, then when it had dried, painted that black, in a washy sort of way. Once that was dry, judicious dry-brushing of the red base coat gave a good, patinated finish. Then I set to work to paint the pictures, using my finest brushes, and a soft sage-green, a warm red, and a bright road-paint yellow. The yellow stood in for Japonisme-gilt, and looks quite fine. A bit of fantasy like this never went astray! x
Number 8 Wire Toasting Fork
Our friend and neighbour, Joan Sutherland, made this toasting fork. In fact, she made two, and passed this one on to us. As a farmer, running the Lambhill estate with her sister, Spin, Joan is as practical as they come. I don’t know whether the wire she used for this is “No. 8,” but I do know that it was just spare farm wire, kicking about in a shed…. We have used it to toast things over the embers of the kitchen fire, but I usually use it to (stand on a stool and) fish out dry clothes and washing from the top of the deep hot-water-cupboard shelf! This is a truly multi-purpose and classic country tool! Photos below:
The Perils of “Sustainable” Living…
Jonathan always knew that buying an electric car second-hand, in New Zealand, was a bit of a pioneering gamble, given the lack of mechanical back-up from the car manufacturers overseas, and the skimpy infrastructure to support users. Once before, on a Sunday morning, we had locked up the house, ready to head to church, to discover that the Nissan Leaf had not charged up overnight! It took time to fix it that day, and afterwards, Jonathan bought a new auxiliary battery, and we have been hoping for the best.
Last Sunday, our Wanganui church group was hosting a combined meeting with the Palmerston North group, and Jonathan was to be “in the chair.” I had some flowers in a vase ready to take, and we had a willow basket full of curry and rice and what-nots to contribute to the pot-luck lunch. We were all dressed, and had our things ready on the verandah, to stow in the car. The car had not charged again! Jonathan, who dislikes presiding, is inclined to stress. To his great credit, he did not show it, either then or later, although when complimented, he admitted to feeling “discomposed!” This time round, Jonathan knew exactly what to do, and it only took twenty minutes or so. Luckily we had been ready early, for once… I rather like the photos below, and think them a charming record of one of the perils of trying to live sustainably.
I like mended things. Mends show that people have taken thought and care over something that they value enough to conserve. Mends show that people have actually used something.
The Late-Spring, Early-Summer Rush
It is so easy to get caught up in the heady rush of activity and social events when Spring is maturing into Summer: the weather is warmer, the days longer, the garden is lovely enough to show visitors, and – at least in the Antipodes – it is time to clean up and prepare for visitors over Christmas and New Year.
Here at Lambhill, I have had visitors for afternoon tea, and garden peeks, some to stay, some for meals, and have visited a few in return… Having neglected the garden somewhat, last year, to concentrate on writing my book, the Spring flush of growth alarmed me into several weeks’ hard toil to get a few key sections of the garden into some semblance of order… And at the same time, Jonathan has been far too busy to look at the lawns, which have been stretching for the sky at about an inch a minute – so I have been mowing and mowing and mowing and mowing…. Suddenly, I realised that I was tired.
Time to reconsider! Actually, the grass is lovely when it is left to get longer; plantain flowers spring out tall, like dark-green bullets in tutus, the tiny blue germander speedwells shine out from the depths of the grass, the tiny scarlet stars of pimpernel, too – and the glorious common lawn daisies spangle everything. Tender grass flowers bud and wave, and if you lie on your stomach and look through the lawn from its own level, it is delightful. So now, I think that I will not add lawnmowing to my lists – if Jonathan can’t do them, they will have to get shaggy for a while. It is so hard to relinquish long-held ideas about what is appropriate or beautiful! (Thankfully for us, we have a kind friend down the drive – Joan – who often mows our meadow, or the drive-sweep oval, on her ride-on mower, especially if she knows we are busy or tired.)
Washing Dishes, Lambhill-style
As part of my ongoing attempts to de-plasticise the house, I recently bought some simple brown glass bottles online, from a supplier in Petone, near Wellington, NZ. I bought black (plastic!) squirt-tops for them, and now keep one of them on the shelf above the kitchen sink, full of diluted ecologically-sound dishwash liquid.
When we bought the house, fifteen years ago, there was an old wooden dishbrush in a drawer, with a few replacement brush-heads made of natural bristles, and over the years I had worn the heads out. Nobody seems to sell the replacement dishbrush heads in Wanganui, so I phoned a shop in Greytown, in the Wairarapa, where we had seen them, and got them to send some by courier – and we paid them online.
The shop we bought the dishbrush heads from, has a Lambhill connection: It is called Emporio, and used to be a church. It was St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church; the church that the Sutherland family of Lambhill helped to build at Fordell village, in about 1906, and helped to run the church in every kind of capacity, until its closure about seventy or eighty years later. After serving as a preschool hall, the church was sold for removal – and its new owners trucked it over to the Wairarapa and craned it over some trees, to serve as a beautiful homewares shop, on the main street at Greytown. I like the thought of buying dish brushes from the old family church that previous Lambhill people loved and supported for so long. If it has to be a shop, then Lambhill people will still care about the old church, and remember it while they wash their dishes!
Colour in the Kitchen!!!
The Lambhill kitchen has papered walls and ceiling, which have been painted off-white for many decades. Over the years, lamp and candle smoke had stained the ceiling a grubby beige, the colour of brown paper envelopes, and the walls were yellowed in patches. The gloss paint, probably designed to make the room washable, reflected what little light came in at the east-facing sash windows, and highlighted the imperfections. Somehow, although it was charmingly “historic,” the room felt dark and cold. What to do about it?
I spent several weeks, this Spring, ruminating about solutions. The kitchen needed to feel warmer, needed better general light and task lighting, and might possibly benefit from a more saturated colour. Interior design experts online and in books seemed to suggest that you shouldn’t be afraid to make dark rooms darker – but this was a kitchen, where we needed to see what we were doing. It was, and is, also a dining room, where visitors seem to prefer lingering around the big table after meals, instead of moving to sofas in the parlour or sitting room…. I asked my friends for their advice on colour and lighting. One of my friends is a photographer and designer, one an interior designer, one an artist, and several have done up houses. They suggested warm LED lights, pale colours, and some liked my sister’s suggestion of yellow walls, for a sunshiny feel. I ruminated more, and studied paint charts, and drew possible new versions in my notebooks…
I liked the idea of using Annie Sloan chalk paints for the whole room, to play up the room’s historicity – but the nearest agent seemed too busy to give me the information I needed, and I changed tack.
First, lighting was important. After over a hundred years of being lit by lamps and candles, the kitchen has twin ceiling lights. We had installed warm LED bulbs, but a couple of weeks ago, we changed them for new LED bulbs that more than doubled the light. They each shed over 2000 lumens each, and seemed much warmer than the first LEDs. Wow! We could see clearly! Second, we bought a cheap, simple, painted-tin wall lamp from Mitre10, ($14.95), and Jonathan wired it in on the wall above the kitchen sink-bench, and pointing along it, for task-lighting. We put an LED bulb in that: what a wonderful difference!
Thirdly, I used some project-money that Jonathan had given me months before, and bought paint. I had shown him photos of colonial rooms, with various wall-colours I thought could work – and he narrowed it down. Together, we chose a deep amber-yellow ochre for the walls: Resene Paints’ “Rob Roy.” For the ceiling I bought: Resene’s Quarter Villa White, which had a yellow tinge, but was very light and would bounce light about.
The next step took several days: First, empty the kitchen, take all the pictures, mirrors and wall-fittings off, and heave the large furniture away from the walls. Second, clean the walls and ceiling, and paint the ceiling. I used a small roller and a little square artist’s brush for the corners. It took three coats of Quarter Villa White before the ceiling really looked clean and bright! My neck was tired afterwards, but – onwards and upwards! – I am a “finisher” – and need to crack on and finish jobs smartly. Besides, the kitchen was hardly useable, with the ladder out, and paper all over the floor…
The next morning, before I opened the big bucket of yellow wall-paint, I sat down in the parlour and had a long pot of tea. I knew it would be a long day, and that this tea was “the calm before the storm.” It was! I hardly stopped to eat, and only gulped down glasses of water throughout the day – finally finishing the second coat, cleaning up, and returning the chairs to the kitchen late that evening, just before Jonathan got in.
Opening the paint bucket had been alarming: the paint was such a saturated, pumpkin-like yellow! “Yikes!” I said aloud, in the echoing, empty room – and then, “O my Lord!!!!” Did I dare? ….Yes, I did dare! As I painted, all morning, while the paint was wet, I was alternating between fright, trepidation, and then unholy glee…. As the day went on, and so did the second coat, my nerve strengthened, and so did the unholy glee!
When the paint was finally dry, a day or two later, I had already set up some of the furniture, and arranged china and the “vignettes” that seem to be an extension of my personality. Before taking down the furniture to paint, I had glued together pieces of paper in a long strip, and drawn a scale-model of the kitchen, wall by wall, opened out flat, with windows, doors, fireplace and panelling in, but no furniture. Then I had cut out outlines of each piece of furniture to try different placings around the room. To help with this, I had made a separate floor plan of the room to the same scale, and scaled outlines of each piece of furniture to help work out traffic flow and spacing. I find measuring tapes hard to use when I’m on my own, and I am hopelessly inaccurate with a metal metre-ruler, so my measuring unit was the length of my own foot! I used a small ruler with a centimetre to represent a Janette-foot on paper, and it worked brilliantly! Everything was accurate, and I was able to try heavy furniture and looking-glasses in various places, without actually having to heave them about or get anyone’s help to hold them in place while I considered….. One thing I will say, if you plan to take my lead, and use your own foot-length as a measuring unit: make sure there is nobody about when you lie on your back and measure up the sides of the furniture with your feet – or they will think you are utterly nuts! (I had to laugh, myself!)
So, once all the paint was dry, it was easy to put everything back. I deleted some tatty old “temporary” shelving, added an antique French wall-panel that had a looking-glass in it, and shuffled other things about. I love the new kitchen, and, thankfully, Jonathan does too. His first words when he saw its new look were, “It looks much warmer now!”
Somehow, now, when the kitchen lights are off, I love the dark room: the yellow is so very beautiful, saturated, warm and cocooning. When the lights are on, everything is bright, and my camera can’t really do justice to the wall colour. But it’s great! I love my kitchen!
Lambhill Christmas: Simple, Personal, Old-fashioned, Sustainable
I’ve always loved Christmas trees. When I was a tiny girl, living with my parents in Ngaio, a hilly gully suburb in Wellington, they used to put up a decorated pine tree for me on my birthday, at the beginning of December. By Christmas, the tree looked a bit dry, but I was happy! As an adult, I saved up and bought a tall, natural-looking artificial tree, which I could leave up for a couple of months. It never wilted! I missed the real smell of pine trees, but would spray it with (expensive!) Crabtree & Evelyn Noel roomspray to create the illusion. A couple of years ago, during a big reassessment, I gave that artificial tree to my sister Aydie. From now on, I had decided, I wanted simplicity and real Christmas trees! Last year, I bought a young Picea abies (fir) from the garden centre. Firs are the traditional British trees you see in old pictures. Now, that tree is planted out in the Lambhill meadow, and it was time for another tree-solution this December!
The local garden centre sells cut pine trees for Christmas – at about $30 or more – and they are all young and rangy and spindly. I have been scanning the roadsides as we drive into town, these past few weeks, spotting wilding pines. Wilding pines are a pest, and the Department of Conservation has to send people out periodically to cut them down so that they don’t elbow out native trees. I decided to save money and help local conservation efforts by cutting down a wilding pine as a Christmas tree, this year….
In the meantime, while Jonathan was away at work with the car during the week, I went into our forest with secateurs, and clipped a bunch of manuka branches. I snipped a length of ivy to bind them together, and back at home, poked the stems into an old tarnished silver jug that had once been won as a pony club trophy by the old lady who used to rent the house before we bought it. (I had bought a few mementoes of her stay here from her niece after she died.) This small “tree,” I set on the table in the parlour, and decorated simply, with red and tartan ribbons, Victorian Christmas cards, handmade birds, and artificial apples. Underneath, on the table, I put a small garden gnome (like the Swedish Christmas Tomte) that I had painted with extra details, and a scented pine candle.
And then yesterday, on the way home from shopping, I had spotted two promising wilding pines on the side of our country road. They were high up at the top of a steep cutting above the road. It is a narrow road, and there is no room to pull off and park at the side, but both the little trees were just over the fence from Spin and Joan’s farm – the wider Lambhill estate. They readily gave me permission to push a wheelbarrow across their paddocks on a Wilding Pine Mission, and that’s what I did.
Jonathan came too, with Millie on a lead. I had my pruning saw in the barrow, and pushed it down the drive to Spin and Joan’s house turn-off, through the gate into the paddocks, by their wood-pile under the big macrocarpa trees, down the hill, across the stream-bridge, through the gate there, u-u-u-u-up the steep hillside, following sheep trails, to the flat tops, and far across them to the extreme farm boundary corner above the road. I went for the smaller tree first; it was furthest away. It seemed a long way to walk, pushing a barrow over rough terrain. Distances can be hard to judge, and I’m afraid I’m old enough to “think in miles,” rather than in kilometres. I think it was about a mile from our door to the trees, up hill and down dale. Ah – the things one does for a proper Christmas tree!
Next, I took off my straw hat and laid it in the grass, so it didn’t blow away, climbed over the wire fence to stand on the grassy ledge at the top of the high cutting – the road seemed a hundred feet below (Agghhh! Heights!!!!!!), but was probably twenty or less – and Jonathan put his arm through the fence and hung onto my jeans belt-loop so that I could lean out to cut the tree off, as low as I could reach, without toppling over the cliff. Within two minutes we had it – and me – over the fence and the tree stowed in the wheelbarrow.
The second tree was larger – much fuller, and had a heftier trunk. Jonathan gave me his leather belt to loop around the trunk, through the buckle, and he held the tree by the end of his belt with one hand through the fence, and me by the jeans, with the other! This one took longer to cut through, and was harder to heave over the fence and wedge into the barrow. And then I had to trundle it home, stopping now and then to tuck in straying fronds, or pause to pant, with my face buried in the fragrant branches. Jonathan did offer to help, but I was secretly afraid that if he did push the barrow, he’d be too tired to mow the lawns, later……. so I persevered.
I sent Jonathan in to see whether Spin and Joan wanted the small Christmas tree. “They’ve never bothered before,” he said; “I don’t think they will….” He was right. Never mind! All the more Christmas trees for us!
The two photos above show the smaller tree, which I put in the kitchen, and decorated while Spin was talking to Jonathan. She had driven her small dogs for a car-outing up the drive, and to lend me one of her old books, and came in for a cup of tea. I made this a kitchen-themed tree, using torn red-gingham fabric strips for ribbons, a tiny china teacup or two, handmade orange-and-clove pomanders tied on with rough twine, strings of old teaspoons, and old silver serving forks and metal biscuit cutters tied on with the same twine. Nestled in the lower branch-forks of the tree, I put old biscuit tins with pretty lids.
The Sitting Room tree is a beautful shape. This was the big one that was so hard to confine to the wheelbarrow, with profusions of lower branches and a thick width that is perfect to decorate. I used some tiny red-and-white stockings that my younger sister Beth had knitted and given me last year, and two pairs of our son Wilfred’s red socks (with holes!) saved from his early childhood. I used ribbons and long lengths of cotton lace out of a suitcase full of sewing leftovers Spin and Joan had given me, that had been their aunts’ here at Lambhill over a hundred years ago. The old handmade ornaments and a bunch of feathers at the top, all combine with handblown glass baubles and Victorian Christmas cards. It is not a densely-smothered Christmas tree, but it is lovely all the same, filling a corner of the Sitting Room, and scenting the air. The whole house smells of pine trees – and brings back more than fifty Christmasses past, which smelled just as wonderful.
“Northern Heart” is a vlog I sometimes look at on youtube, created by a Swedish woman who lives in a tiny Swedish hamlet deep in the countryside. She shares my preference for simple, sustainable life, and has some lovely ideas. One of her comments struck me in particular, which was, if you want to enjoy Christmas as you did in childhood, you need to purposely introduce and look for child-like magic!
This glass jar seemed a wonderful receptacle for a little Christmas magic. I’d found it years ago in an Op-shop, and it has been sitting on a pantry shelf ever since, a little too grand for everyday living. Just before Christmas, I took it down, and considered how I might be able to create the kind of snowy landscape scene in it, that used to thrill and attract me in the snow-globes of my childhood. This is how I did it:
First, I roamed the house looking for miniature china houses (a Dutch town-house, and a tiny English cottage); washed a few pretty pebbles and stones, and dried them carefully; went out and snipped off a few lower twigs off a fir-tree growing in the meadow; and found a tiny bunch of glittery pastel Christmas bells: the favourite decorations of my childhood Christmas trees.
Then, I filled the bottom of the jar with salt. That was the snow! In the salt, I nestled the china houses and pebbles (for rocks!), and planted tiny branch-tips – for fir trees! – in natural-looking copses. Near the top of the tallest tree, I wired on the bells. And then, to fill the trees with snow, I sprinkled desiccated coconut over the whole scene! How pretty! My inner child was enchanted… I put on the lid, and set the jar on a snowy-white linen table runner in the centre of our big old kitchen table.
Using salt, of course, is alright with inert materials like stone, glass and china. You could not use metals that would react with salt. I would have liked to borrow my mother’s tiny china bridge and set it over a tiny mirror as a pond in the snow, but didn’t have time. (My mother used to give these to us when we were ill, as children, to create lovely tiny landscapes on a tray, with sand and miniature toys and snips of plants and pebbles….) The salt dried out my tiny trees in the jar after about a week, but I was ready to disassemble the display by then. I did not want to return the salt out of the jar to the pantry, but did find a good use for it: it went, in handfuls, onto weeds growing in the gravel driveway, outside!
Swedish Magic at Christmas
It is over a week since the 25th of December, 2019, but I will just mention one final piece of childlike magic that I brought into our Lambhill Christmas. “Northern Heart,” the Swedish vlog, talked a lot about little candle carousels (I can’t remember what they call them), which have become an integral part of many Swedes’ winter cheer.
Originally designed by Germans, the Swedes fell in love with these tiny candle-heat spinners, which turn little metal cut-outs, and send moving sparkles of rainbow-coloured light about your room. I can imagine how delightful they must be to Scandinavians during their long dark winters, and why they light these in their houses, alongside banks of other candles… I wondered where I might find a candle-carousel, but imagined that although they might be available online, they might be an unjustifiable expense. And then I spotted a tiny bran-new one at a local op-shop, for just $1.50!!! I had never seen these candle-carousels before, and now here was one at a price that nobody could object to.
That was a good way to spend $1.50! What a simple way to make us all smile!
We light the candle, and at first nothing happens. And then, slowly, slowly, a tiny thread of heat strikes the first angled fin of the windmill; there’s a tentative movement – and a pause; the fins take hold of the strengthening warmth; and, soon, the spangles are turning; their pace quickens; all over the tabletop and up the walls, shards of light leap and dance. We hold our breaths and look and smile. How tiny. How lovely. How easy to feel small but happy once again, after all these years. And, with little dancing lights, after all, what a perfect way to remind ourselves of the Christmas message, and our “Light Of The World.”
Dizzyness of High Summer
February has started – and brought the real heat. Suddenly, the air is scalding. The sunlight smites you on the head like an iron bar. Cicadas are sizzling loudly in the trees. It feels like 30 degrees or more; I am sweltering, sliding, and sticking in my clothes! As Jane Austen said, “This heat keeps one in a state of continual inelegance…” I’ve been cold-bathing and putting on fresh clothes, several times a day; it is a relief to put on cool, and slightly-damp things straight off the washing line.
We are all keeping up our water intake; now we are trying not to forget to replace electrolytes as well as fluid. My doctor told me once, to remember to eat a little salt, and add fruit juice to the water, if I want to stand up to the heat…. And I do!
Sewing Machine Tangles
Along with some of the old Lambhill furniture, we also bought the Sutherlands’ old Singer Sewing machine, when we bought the house. Spin and Joan’s aunts had used it here for many decades. It was an old treadle machine, neatly folded away in its wood-and-iron desk case, surrounded by small drawers full of sewing notions.
When I passed my electric sewing machine on to a sister who needed one, I decided to get the old treadle machine serviced so that I could use it. Well – now it is all ready to go – but I have forgotten how to thread it!!! These old machines only sew forwards, but no matter how I string the thread, or in what order I loop and tuck it, I can only succeed in snapping the cotton filament – and in sewing backwards!!! I need to study the manual! Luckily, some kind person has photographed every page of an original manual for these old treadle machines, so all I have to do is look it up online… It is on my to-do list…
What are you doing, to replace plastic throwaways in your daily life? I’ve been persevering with the Victorian dipping pen and nib, and practising writing with ink. It has not been easy – but I have been surprised by the progress! Nowadays, I have learnt to avoid almost all the blots that plagued my early attempts. Smudges are rarer. And – what surprises me (and Jonathan) most: my handwriting is improving with these old tools.
The lovely spin-off, when you write with a nib and ink, is that you come to enjoy the tactile experience: it slows you down to the pace of dip – wipe-wipe-wipe – careful strokes and curls, in a flowing expression of your thoughts – dip – wipe-wipe-wipe – more careful strokes and curls, and more flowing and individual marks, expressing something of your self in a handmade, artisanal way. I like the handcrafted. And writing this way intensifies the unique imprint of the originator… It is a process I find I look forward to. My right hand wants to feel that lovely slim, long pen holder, and my left wants to hold the glass inkbottle for the dip – and wipe…. This pen is magic; it makes you want to write even more than ever!
Recently, Jonathan and I noticed a small shop at the bottom of Wanganui’s main shopping street, Victoria Avenue, called, “Inkt.” On Friday, we went in. Having been writing with ink and nib for several weeks, and succumbing more and more to a love of that process, I was thrilled to discover this little establishment! …It will appeal to anyone who writes. It sells more kinds of ink than you could ever think of, from Japan, from England, from the United States. It sells metallic ink, ink in every colour, and even French ink that is scented with essences of flowers and herbs!!! (Imagine writing a valentine with purple ink gently exuding a memory of violets?!!!) The shop sells antique pen nibs, recovered from a long-forgotten drawer in the back of some old emporium, it sells beautiful pencils with erasers and brushes on the end, and it also sells Real Pens of every kind! Under glass in the counter-top is a magical array of fountain pens. I spotted a green, marbled one, with silver metal attachments that was very similar to my father’s 1940s pen, which he gave me when I was 12, and which I used and treasured until it wore out. Beside it, neatly laid out in rows, lies pen after pen, in finish after finish, colour after colour, style after style. I had to gasp: “It is like,” I told the shop-keeper, “Olivander’s Wand Shop! …The pen chooses the writer!” I spent a large chunk of the pocket money Jonathan had only just passed me, on a box of beautiful writing paper and envelopes printed with intricate 19th-century Naturalist’s art – and on a pad of thick, unlined writing paper. (Good quality paper without lines is so hard to find.) I was excited with my little purchases! How delightful to think that a shop of this kind can not only exist, but also survive, in provincial New Zealand, in 2020! …I intend to go back to “Inkt” very often. I intend to buy pens and ink and paper. I intend to be in raptures like Friday’s as often as possible. If you visit “Inkt,” or a shop like it, you too might see whether it could help you to live (at least in this one detail) a little more sustainably. And a little more enjoyably.
Taming the Blots; Writing with Ink
Well, my mother was right about practise making perfect; Jonathan is amazed at the improvement in my handwriting, since I have been writing with ink and a dipping pen. There are still a few blots and smudges, but my writing is definitely more readable!
As you can see from this slideshow of writing pictures, Skipper the cockatiel flies down from his perch on a kitchen looking glass to “help” me write. He walks over the paper, nibbling at the words, or wanders about the tabletop, peering over the side for Milly, the dog, who hides underneath, well out of his sight, in case he decides to land on her back. Then Skipper flaps up and sits on my head while I am writing. I think he likes to read what I am saying to people.
Sitting Room Simplifications Again…
Back in January, I did some more simplifying in the Sitting Room. I still had too many books; it was time I culled some gardening and interiors books, and went through the poetry collections…. Also, the ivy and holly that I love to tuck over the tops of the picture frames, dries out into tinder – an uncomfortable thought in an old wooden house in a hot, dry summer, when there is a Total Fire Ban… And, once you pull the brown greenery down, it sheds berries and leaves everywhere, and you may as well give the whole room a thorough cleaning.
As you will see from one of the pictures, I took down the length of hand-made lace above the french doors, soaked it in warm water with oxy-powder in it, rinsed, re-shaped, dried, and rehung it. It catches a little dust, and the odd cobweb, and I wouldn’t like to risk putting it through the washing machine.
I like the higgledy-piggledy pile of poetry books on the wot-not:
The little slideshow above, shows the way I re-covered one of our battered old books. I just used brown wrapping paper and hand-wrote the title in ink, without glueing the new dust cover to the book. This is a quick and easy way to alter the colour or tone of the “bookscape” on your shelves. You can cover and personalise ratty old books with new wrappers made of pretty vintage wallpaper, or using collaged images cut from magazines or calendars, old atlases, or any other paper that you fancy. You can create and stick on printed or hand-written title labels. You can brighten a monochromatic room, by covering a run of books with something gorgeous. You can go wild! Don’t (necessarily) accept a book in its original cover!
Perils of Fermenting in the Heat
This is the scene I found after an almighty bang-bump-crash-bump-bump-bump-tinkle startled me while writing quietly at the kitchen table. Behind the door in the pantry, one of Jonathan’s kombucha bottles had exploded, shooting the glass bottom off, and pouring fizzy sweetness all over the floor. Every day, his kombucha had been getting fizzier and fizzier in the heat, and more dangerous to open. So much of the liquid shot out, as soon as the lid was loosened, that he had taken to opening it in the sink, holding a basin over the top of the bottle, to redirect the sky-rocketing kombucha downwards into another basin. Otherwise, the kombucha ended up all over the kitchen, and there was about a teaspoon-ful left in the bottle, to drink. I got tired of washing fizz off the ceiling and walls, sink-bench and floor… But today, the hot ambient air had got to the kombucha before Jonathan did! I thought I’d better loosen the tops of his remaining bottles, but forgot that it might be like letting a genii out of a lamp. Huh! I had just cleaned up the first bottle’s contents, when I tried to ease open the second bottle, just a fraction. PHizzzzzzzz!!!!!! (Oooops! Another mess!) I had to go and find another bath towel, and start cleaning the pantry all over again! Well, I’ve learned now. I am beginning to admire the idea of digging a cellar out of our cool clay, somewhere in the garden, where Jonathan’s kombucha can parp and fight among itself, and let off explosions as much as it likes.
The Unexpected Benefits of an Old House
Recently, my electric vacuum cleaner snapped a cord, mid-Monday. Monday is my cleaning day. I waited until Friday, when we go to town, and took it to the repairmen. They were going to find out whether the factory in Europe would supply a new flex joiner. This would all take time.
Meanwhile, I had to clean the house without the machine. I’ve been sweeping up loose dust, grit, and doghair, and then crawling about on hands and knees with a damp rag, which needs frequent shaking outside, rinsing, and squeezing out. It’s a slow process, but it works alright. And it’s made me realise that, if your vacuum cleaner has got to go, it makes things easier if you have an old house! We don’t have fitted carpets. The floors are either wooden boards, or covered with late-Victorian (smooth) linoleum. The mats and carpet squares can be rolled up and heaved out to a verandah for beating (but I have left the larger ones, for now). The wood and linoleum floors are easy to sweep and wipe. And! There is one extra bonus of Old-House-dom: a hole in the floor! Coming down off my pantry ladder some months ago, I put my foot through a weak spot in the floor, leaving a gaping black emptiness amongst the remaining boards… We have new recycled native-timber boards stacked under the pantry table, but the builder hasn’t had time to come out and fit them. So, hooray! When I’ve been cleaning the pantry, it’s been easy to whisk away the hole-cover (my great-aunt’s wooden pastry-board) and simply sweep all the dust into The Darkness Beneath. (With small shudders and frissons of delicious terror.) Under the pantry, my dust and crumbs are joining an August Company of Historic Lambhill Detritus, in the form of china shards and broken bottles, old leather dog collars, and gnawed mutton bones. I knew there had to be an advantage to falling through the floor!
Homemade Face-Cream with Sunblock
For quite a few months, I’ve been making my own moisturizer – or “face-cream,” as I prefer to call it. “Moisturizer” sounds like the worst kind of jargon, to me…
My best recipe came from Rebecca Sullivan’s book, “The Art of the Natural Home” (Hachette UK, 2017), which includes aloe vera gel, coconut oil, vitamin E oil, and sweet almond oil. Since I can almost never follow recipes to the letter, I “approximated.” I use some chipped-off chunks of coconut oil, gel scraped out of two or three leaves cut off my aloe vera plants, a blip of good olive oil, and a glop of shea butter, which I warm up all together in a bowl over hot water to melt and mix it all in, before adding a good squirt of vitamin C & E cream, and a good splot of strong sunscreen that is suitable for children and faces and sensitive skin. When it is blended well, I put it through a seive to get the aloe lumps out, while pouring it into a clean glass jar with a good screw lid. The seiving is a messy process, but it all cleans up easily using hot water and dish-wash liquid – and besides, you can just about roll in all the spills, so you end up feeling as if you’ve been to a Health Spa. (I suppose: never having been to a Health Spa!) Well-moistened, anyway. Then I put the jar in the fridge so that the cream can firm up again. I don’t know what professional Beauty Consultants would say about this face cream, but it is cheap to make, and keeps my skin smooth and soft. I like it.
Hibernating During a Pandemic
The whole world seems to be shutting down, as I write, on the 17th of March, 2020. Jonathan has been quietly buying a little extra food and a few extra household supplies, in case we have to stay at home to self-isolate, or wait out the worst of the pandemic covid-19, if it sweeps New Zealand. However, life is mostly as usual – except for a lot more hand-washing.
Last week, however, I had a cold. Nothing major, just enough to confine me to the parlour sofa during the day, while the cold subsided, and my strength built up. I took some photos of the parlour on one of those days, happy that I had interesting views, and things to look at:
The slideshow immediately above, shows details of the Arts & Crafts bookshelf, with its little cupboards and assymetric balance. This is where the art books go, and the books about Explorers and Naturalists. In one, titled, “Leading the Way,” my maternal grandfather features – a little. He was Athol Renouf Roberts, a career mountaineer who knew Ed Hillary, and was leading a team in the Himalayas at the same time Ed was conquering Everest. My grandfather’s team conquered another Himalayan mountain, and they are still, nearly 70 years later, the only team ever to have achieved it. (Others keep trying.)
These images are photocopies of old etchings from an early history of Wanganui. One shows the town in the 1840s, and one in about the 1860s. I have them glued to the side of an old armoire by a parlour window, temporarily.
Do you keep several copies of the same book, too? I have a beautifully-illustrated version of “The Secret Garden,” and also a lovely boxed edition by the Folio Society. The second one belonged to a very close and beloved friend, Patricia Morrision, who died too young, had been my English teacher at Wanganui Girls’ College when I was a teenager, and some of whose books I inherited. Also, I have her matching set of Jane Austen, as well as a pair of tatty paperbacks given me years ago by another loved friend. And as for Winnie-the-Pooh: there are so many worthy editions. I do find it hard to eliminate those, and choose just one to keep. Some have nice red cloth hard-covers, some have a nice weight in the hand… But yes, Marie Kondo – I am trying!
These three photos above show the little shelf behind glass doors on my little desk in the parlour. The postcard shows an early NZ flag; I think it is called “The United Chiefs’ Flag,” but I it was used by early Europeans as well. I think it is well designed, and would choose that to fly here at Lambhill! The books along this shelf are mostly old ones – nothing valuable or rare, but interesting to me. Many of them are battered. By “old,” I mean, 1770s through early 1800s to late 1800s. Curiosities rather than Museum Pieces! The little ceramic urn holds sealing wax and a seal. I’d love to have a seal custom-made for me!
This little creation is one of my real treasures, and it belongs to Lambhill history. It is bran-new (unused), but over a hundred years old, and was given me in a suitcase of old fabrics, handmade clothes, ribbons, laces, and crochet samples and gloves by Spin and Joan Sutherland. All the contents of the suitcase had been made or left over from sewing projects here at Lambhill, in about 1912. There were a few 1920s scraps too. This little turquoise “thing” is a pen-wiper, covered with hand-embroidered leather, and filled with black felt wipers. The little brass handle on top is a finely-cast stag. I am almost certain that it was made by Daisy (Margaret) Sutherland, one of Spin and Joan’s aunts, while she was at the Wanganui Technical College, studying embroidery and crocheting and knitting and handcrafts, on a course which was created by the London School of Embroidery. This pen-wiper may have been kept as a charming artefact of her school work. It is interesting to think that this is the kind of thing that so many women made a hundred years ago, used at home, and sold at “Sales of Work” to raise funds for various World War I causes, and also to support church charities and mission work. The Sutherland sisters’ diaries of the early-mid 20th century, are full of such occasions… I love this little token of other Ladies of Lambhill.
Oh, Good Grief! …More Hibernating.
After most of the week doing very little, except scanning photos and writing, and fed up with having a cold, I felt a lot better by Thursday afternoon. That day was sunny but windy, and Joan Sutherland took the opportunity to mow our whole meadow on her ride-on mower, as well as all the lawns about our drive-sweep, and down to the top gate… It was a big job, in the wind, and when she stopped the engine, I brought her in to the parlour to share my pot of tea, while I paused in my scanning. Joan warmed up well, on the sunny sofa, and we had a pleasant and friendly chat. Just as she was finishing her tea, Spin drove up to look for her in the Land Rover, with one of their little dogs in tow (Minnie, the English Toy Terrier). She came in for a little chat as well. I took a few discreet snaps while Joan mowed, and they both left.
And so that was the end of a week in the parlour. On Friday I went shopping, and it was a long and busy day. Jonathan left me in town during the afternoon, to come out to Lambhill with my father and tackle more firewood. By the time I got home, I felt really ill. You know: during the 1918 Spanish ‘Flu, which killed so many millions, many people who thought they had recovered from it, got up and went out to celebrate the end of the war – and died after relapsing. I always knew that – but in this time of worry about covid-19, it pays to remember that viruses can take longer than we expect to leave us….
I didn’t have the pandemic virus – but only a cold. All the same, I had to go to bed this time. And a few days later, I’m still recuperating. Would you like to see photos of the tiny Governess’s Room, upstairs, on the south side of the house, where I have my “poorly bed”? Some of the views are impressionistic and wobbly because of the old window-glass.
As you see from the Skully-Cross-Bones flag, we may only have a Common Cold at Lambhill, but we are Doing the Civil Thing by friends and neighbours – i.e., Keeping It To Ourselves – and preparing to repel all boarders.
The Compensations of having a Cold
A lovely pile of library books on hand, and “the whole gang” in your tiny room…. a pot of tea beside you on a tray…. .a long view out to sea, and a rabbit on the lawn… what more could you ask while your health improves? The photos of this truly beautiful book come from “Maison: Parisian Chic at Home,” by Ines de la Fressange and Marin Montagut (Flammarion, 2018). It is full of colour, delightful montages, and photos of uplifting and creative homes.
The National Covid-19 Lockdown
New Zealand’s response to the covid-19 pandemic has been to shut as much of the country down as possible. Non-essential workers have to stay home, and so, like many others, Jonathan has been doing his work for the university from his home-base. Just before the lockdown, he went and collected his office chair and a large computer screen from Massey University. This is the 30th of March, and it seems as if he has been working from Lambhill for a long time; could it only be a week? It is an unsettling and disturbing time for all of us. What better place, then, to be marooned? We feel very blessed.
A Rag Rug
It occurred to me that, if you are shut in at home during this pandemic, and have a collection of old fabrics or used clothes, you might be interested in making a rag rug for your floor.
I’d only seen pictures of braided rugs like this when I made it about twenty years ago. All you do is cut or tear fabric (and old clothes) into strips, sew the strips together, end to end, to make long strings, and then you plait three strings. As you go, you sew the plaits into a flat coil. It took me a long, long time – months! But I still recognise some of Jonathan’s old shirts, and one or two of my skirts, and some curtains. The centre needs restitching, as you see, and this is the underside of the mat, because the topside faded. Fading doesn’t matter, of course: it just becomes more pastel as time goes by. This is a good way of using up large pieces of fabrics, and it’s a hardwearing and cheap floor mat. Also highly historic!
A Little Piece of Lambhill Art…
Just before we were all told to go home and stay home, to beat the virus, Renata, from Renata’s Framing, on the banks of the Whanganui River, phoned to tell me that one of the artworks I’d left with her was framed and ready for collecting. It was a little study I had made in Winter 2012, of wax-eyes. I’d drawn them at a kitchen window with coloured pencils, while they fluttered about the syrup feeder in a brisk wind.
My favourite is the little one on the bottom left, with his tail feathers blown up by an icy gust, and his petticoats ruffled! (The second photo in the slideshow is a close-up of him.)
Speaking of Birds…
This slideshow shows our little parrot, Skipper, during his first time ever looking out the tiny upstairs bedroom’s windows. He was a long way up – and he is scared of heights! And he has never seen quite so very far before. These pictures were taken when he got over his fright, and became very interested. He was particularly taken with three magpies which were walking about on the grass below.
As you can see, repairs to the window have been cobbled together in past years – and now the whole things needs redoing. But it is not top of our list!
Can’t See Your Friends? Write to Them!
Thankfully, although we cannot move around or visit family and friends at the moment, the postal system is still working. So I have been writing a letter a day, and taking them down to the letter box at our front gate and leaving them there, with the flag up, for our Rural Postie to collect when she delivers the post. Rural Posties are unsung heroes, and much appreciated for their regular milk and bread deliveries as well as the mail. I do think that finding a letter from someone who cares about you – unexpectedly in your letter box – might be a happy thing during a pandemic. And finding a letter with a wax seal on the back might be even better!
A Quiet Sunday (Church At Home)
Our church group has had to stop meeting while the country tries to beat covid-19. Because we couldn’t get out to church, and were disinclinded to watch a service streamed online, Jonathan and I shared our own private church service on Sunday. We had a little eggcup of port wine to share, and two small squares of bread on a china saucer – and I had picked a pretty bouquet of autumn flowers. We read the Bible, prayed, and took “the emblems” beside the fire, and the ginger-lily flowers spread gorgeous fragrance between us.
Silent Night… All is Calm…
While New Zealand, and several other countries around the world, are locked down, and so many of us are staying at home, one welcome blessing – among all the misery and grief of the covid-19 virus – is the lessening pollution and peace. Normally, when we look out our upstairs windows, we can see a constant stream of speeding vehicles passing in the distance, on the main highway. Normally, whatever time of night you glance out, there are trucks passing, lit up, loud and smelly, a mile to the south. We get used to the muffled roar. We hardly notice the stench. We expect to see the speeding lights.
And now, night times are dark. There is rarely a light passing on the main road. Days and nights are quiet. With windows open, we can hear tiny grey warblers singing in the trees at the south end of the farm. (Our neighbour at Dunkeld even phoned to say, she would welcome the sound of Jonathan’s chainsaw, as a sign of life!) I am not the only one to notice how delicious the breeze is beginning to smell – had the road fumes really tainted our “fresh country air” as much as that? It seems so.
People are at home. People have subsided. And the earth has rest. Sad and dire as this time is for so many people, I am beginning to see it as an overdue “fallow” time, of respite and liberty, for our poor, battered, abused world. I can’t regret THAT part of this sad disease.
As Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said, in her address yesterday, this can become a time of rest and sober reassessment, perhaps. Will it be possible to redesign, dial back, and rewrite our lives? Will we be able to decide that we have shouldered too many commitments – and then decide not to pick those burdens up again? Or will we find it all too easy to live the way we used to? I hope, for all our sakes, that we can find ways to avoid flying, and driving; that we can find ways to stay home more, and focus on what matters and ignore lesser concerns. I hope we can all find ways to hold onto and prize the silence, and dark nights, and clean joys of the earth, without filling it ever again with our own din, and glare, and dirt.
In the meantime, I am humming a carol: “Silent Night, Holy Night….”
#1: GUERRILLA PLANTING: This is the perfect time to go for walks under large oak trees, filling your pockets with beautiful smooth acorns. Take a bag and fill the bag with acorns, too… Keep a few acorns for a saucer somewhere in your house (acorns are lovely). But then, take all the rest of those little woody oaken-eggs, and THROW them! Go walking, looking for places that are wild and set aside, banks and country roadsides. Check that a large oak tree in these places wouldn’t get tangled in powerlines, or shade someone’s house – or block a view – and then, toss two or three acorns where an oak tree might grow…. Every year I do this, always where oak trees would not matter – but would be an asset – and every year two or three new trees spring up. And every year (unless someone yanks one out, or a hare nibbles the top off), the little seedlings inch higher. Large trees (especially deciduous ones) add so much beauty and value to life. Don’t wait for someone else to plant some. They take a long time. Toss acorns now. (Acorns don’t keep long, and this is the simplest, most natural, cheapest way to plant oaks.)
#2: RAT BAIT: Please! If you knew exactly how many rats lived wild outside your place, you might be horrified. If you knew how much damage they do to houses, native lizards, native birds, and plants, you might be furious. Please, please, buy some rat bait, stow it about where cats and dogs can’t get it, and every week, top it up. Rats are a largely unseen, but very real menace.
#3: HUMOUR! Autumn is as good a time as any to cultivate a little humour in your life, house, and garden…. The first few photos in this slideshow are of the most wonderful spider (gloriously funny and eccentric) that lives with its fellows in the garden at Lambhill – this one rather liked the washing, and came in on a towel, before I rescued him… The fridge-magnet poetry is by the young Mr Alexander Gibbs, a mathematician farmer of Dannevirke, who always composes new oddities on the fridge door when he comes to stay at Lambhill (quiet chuckles from the pantry while he is working)…
Hmmm… could you read that poem, or did the slideshow arrows hide the crunchline? “Autumn secret:/ Love, laugh and murmur “Fish.”
I love humour about the place. Here are a few of the cards I have made most recently. The humour is mostly of the “odd” kind – inducing, I hope, a mild surprise and confusion….
Stand by for more gentle humour now and then… And I hope you can inject your own particular brand of humour into odd corners of your own “mindful life!!”
Jonathan tried his first ever no-knead gluten-free bread. It was extremely tough, the first day. Next day, it seemed to have died in the night, felt like granite, and could not be eaten, even after toasting it twice. I think it is probably inert, and never going to decay. Maybe we could split it into kindling shards for the kitchen fire?
What To Do At Home:
Sort your sewing stuff:
Tackle your mending:
Unpick the lining from your basket, wash, dry and sew it back in, and stitch back the loose handle:
Explore Somewhere New (but close by):
Drop a gift in your neighbour’s letterbox (the flowers and gift-book were from Helen Mackintosh, of nearby property, Dunkeld – for me!):
Browse through your Lovely Books:
Practise Tying Cravats like Mr Darcy’s:
A Quiet Morning at Lambhill
Picnic Lunch (on a working-day!!!)
Well, Jonathan is actually at home at the moment – but still working fulltime – while the country is locked down during the covid-19 pandemic. So, how’s this for a motto: “Don’t Panic; Picnic!” We took our lunch down the slope to The Little East Lawn. I took pictures…
Pleasant Days at Lambhill during lockdown
Jonathan took a week off work over Easter, and these are some of the things we did when he wasn’t out on the farm getting the firewood for us, and for Spin and Joan….
One day, we played a board game out of our games cupboard. It was called Alhambra. I won. (Therefore:) It’s a good game! My snack contribution: seaweed and cashews. Jonathan’s snack contribution: dahl curry.
Flowers for Spin and Joan:
Jonathan cooked a roast of beef, using garlic and home-grown thyme and marjoram:
Jonathan went online to find out how to thread my antique Singer sewing machine, that I’d had serviced and overhauled some months ago. I was all ready with some cotton gingham to make a couple of new petticoat skirts, but could not get the threading right. (In the Myers-Briggs Personality Types, Jonathan is an ISTP – quiet, concrete and practical, and detail-focussed. It makes him Jolly Useful To Have Around whenever there are technical difficulties, or maddenly-long-winded Instruction Manuals that need to be read!) He showed me how to thread the machine, and I drew myself a diagram, in black and red inks, for future reference. I am not used to having him about so much; he is usually Elsewhere, and he might not be handy if I forget how to thread it up, next time.
I made two gingham petticoat skirts. They are simple, with elastic waists, darts for shaping, and one had two rows of tucks around the hem. (I wear these all year – singly in summer, as a light, cool skirt; one over another, layered as skirts and petticoats, when the weather is cool.)
Joan brought us a bucket of cooking apples from the old Lambhill orchard. So I peeled, cut up and cooked them, while Jonathan was twiddling with the Treadle Sewing Machine – and then he bottled the cooked apples while I sewed. We got four large Agee jars full of lovely apple pulp, but I forgot to take a picture of the finished article!
It is delightful to be at home together, even if the pandemic is not the nicest reason for being “snowed in.” Even though Jonathan is working long hours at home, on his computer and phone, he still saves the three hours a day that he usually spends commuting and charging the car on the way home… so he has time to spend with me, and for things he enjoys, like cooking. Also, we are usually busy with our church gatherings and arrangements – which are in recess during the lockdown, so that’s a fair amount of extra time available too… So – we have time to read a book together! (Which has always been one of our favourite things.) This time I read out loud to him: “Peter Duck,” by Arthur Ransome – one of the Swallows and Amazons books for older children. Jonathan loved this exciting adventure, and it didn’t take many evenings to finish the book.
Recipe: Make a batch of scone dough according to any scone recipe. Put them in the oven at the correct temperature, then sit down and start writing a story… Five minutes after the first wafts of smoke dimly begin to annoy you, “come to,” and rush to open the stove. Then: Say, “Bah-humbug-bother!” and, “Oh, For Goodness’ Sake!!” and hop around the kitchen doing a Rumpelstiltskin dance, growling like a bear. Don’t forget the growling. It helps. (It doesn’t matter what recipe you use for these; they won’t be edible anyway.) (You can either put them into the compost bucket, or put them out for the birds, in which case your dog will refuse to come inside for hours, and will lick up every crumb.)
Jonathan’s Mushroom Concentrate
This is a great way that Jonathan has been preserving mushrooms during the autumn glut. He cooks them down, after peeling and slicing them finely, in a lot of butter. It takes a while to reduce them to a rich, mushroomy essence, but then he pours them into hot, sterilised jam jars, covers them with melted butter if they need more, and seals the lids tightly. He is keeping them in the fridge, once cooled. They will be excellent for use in cooking, or for spreading (sparingly) on sandwiches or pizzas. I watched what he did, and copied him, when Joan kindly brought him another bucketful, and he was at work (in the Sitting Room, in an online meeting). Illustrations beneath. Of the mushrooms, not the meeting:
The Lost Boys, or, The Dill-brained Duck-mother
Spin and Joan’s Muscovy Ducks are excellent and persevering egg-sitters. The Duck-mothers sit for 6 to 8 weeks, incubating a huge clutch of large china-strong eggs. The eggs can’t be comfortable to sit upon, especially when there are 15 of them underneath you at one time. As Sitters, Muscovy Mummies can’t be faulted. HOWEVer, as soon as the ducklings hatch, the Duck-mothers’ brains seem to turn to pond-slime. They lead their tiny wobbly yellow fluff-balls up hill and down dale, through long grass, and far and wide. (I expect they have been dreaming of this moment of freedom, the whole incubation period.) But they forget that the ducklings cannot cope with long walks. I don’t think the addle-pated mothers notice when their poor babies expire of dehydration, or get lost, or picked off by hawks. Day by day, the little yellow flock reduces, until, very often, the mothers have no ducklings left… And so, when a peeping pair of yellow fluff-tiddlers scurried up our garden path today, I went out and caught them, and walked about with them in my hands, hunting for their mother. It took a while to track her down. She was snoozing with her head under her wing, in a group of friends, near the Feed Shed. “Oh, there you are, “she said when she saw them, “Didn’t I tell you not to play with giants?” I walked back up the hill to the house. I was not pleased with her. But, after all, she is their mother.
How Green Are My Dragons…
It comes to all of us, once in a while, and Attacks of Illhealth have Cerrrrtainly come to me just now! I’ve suddenly and for no particular reason, developed “Chronic Daily Migraine Headaches,” which simply put, means that I have a headache most of the time, and at any moment, a fierce migraine swoops down, all claws and teeth… Apparently, this state of affairs is not unheard-of, and can take six months to peter out of its own accord. All those poor early-Victorian ladies in novels and in real life, who retired to their boudoirs behind drawn curtains with “sick-headaches”…without modern medicines! A moment’s silence for them, if you have any pity. Well, I am sore, and Not Doing Much, but not tooooooo much to be pitied: after all, I have a kind husband who is not only working from home, but who is sympathetic, brings me tea on a tray (with china), and who enjoys cooking! (Proper meals, with vegetables and protein, nutrition plus flavour!) Also, I have feather quilts, quiet, lovely books, warm fires, and gorgeous views. As for all the jobs, I am not giving up on the essentials, but one has to adapt. It is interesting how naturally one falls back onto older ways of living, here at Lambhill: for example, the vacuum cleaner is too heavy, loud and hideous just now – and a bowl of warm soapy water and a rag, instead, seems the perfect, quiet, and slow way to clean the floor. Bright electric lights are too glaring – dim, dark rooms lit by firelight and autumnal windows shaded by lace, are instead, just right… Please excuse me any Sensational Matter for a little while. Love in the meantime. x
P.S. “In Spite of…”
It seems as if most worthwhile things in life happen “In Spite Of” something. Here at Lambhill, my present reality has become (for now) newly-fledged migraines reborn with every dawn – a pill under the tongue, and lying still for four hours, and sleeping until it is beaten down a little – and then: Not Giving In! I get up, dress carefully, and sweetly, and then: quietly, and holding my head Very Still, I do a little – and rest – and do a little more, all day: without hurry, without fret; accepting the imperfect (cobwebs – oh, well!); beating it where I can (pills!, planning garden help); and still trying to ratchet up the levels of Beauty in the world one notch, if I can. Most of us have Hard Facts and Miseries to discourage or beat us down. What’s yours?: no spare money, poor health, sad romantic relationships, mean family members, traumatic pasts, job worries, someone needing your constant care, bad depression, the wrong tools, not enough education – the list goes on and on. Everyone has their own secret pitfalls. And yet, “in spite of” these, great things still happen in the world. Beauty happens in spite of everything! Love forgets its own interests, chooses not to remember past wrongs, takes a breath in the face of every hard fact to the contrary, and Always Hopes, Always Perseveres. “Love never fails,” says I Corinthians 13. And, in spite of a crippling addiction to drink, Dylan Thomas carried on writing; in spite of deep and numbing depression, friends persuaded E.M. Forster that it was worth finishing “Room with a View,” so he did – when he had meant to slit his wrists; in spite of losing her fiance, Beatrice Potter carried on writing and painting delightful small books that earned her the means to protect much of the Lakes District. Nearer to home, a dear and loving friend here in New Zealand stays home to be there for a vulnerable family member while the love of her life works for weeks at a time overseas – and she makes exquisite art while she misses him. “In spite of” is a powerful thing. It slips between hard things like migraines and absences. Life is full of blows. “In spite of” softens blows. “In spite of” is how we are strong. “In spite of ” is how we, “Keep calm and carry on.”
I’m posting this in August 2020, now that I am having more “good-ish” days and managing neck and head pain better….. (and, yes, it turned out the migraines ‘et al’ were caused by neck damage from years of violent gardening and writing and reading, looking down)… Even in my darkest days, I still looked for every tiny joy… Jonathan was working from home more, to help me, and the fire was lit in the kitchen, and there were flowers in the garden. Lambhill was a lovely place to be if you had to have headaches!! Here are some pictures of life at Lambhill this May: As you will see, Jonathan made some more sauerkraut, and Skipper helped…
On the first afternoon of a relatively clear head, I shifted the pictures about the Sitting Room walls, and created new vignettes. The gorgeous c.1840s or 50s print, “Pity,” which we love so much, and which has lived at Lambhill for at least a hundred years, with adventures (being stolen, and reclaimed), now sits above my own drawing of wax-eyes, and an old wing chair draped in a Laura Ashley dust-ruffle covered with brambles. There are brambles and a small bird in the old print, and so the chair and pictures relate to each other, if you are close enough to notice these details:
Did you notice the “ghost” in that last picture? The Clydesdale stallion in the photograph was one bred here by Spin and Joan’s grandfather, Nathaniel Sutherland, and photographed by his son Ken in about 1916. While developing the picture, in Lambhill’s windowless storeroom-turned-darkroom, Ken painted out the farmhand in his scruffy hat and work clothes, but you can still see a ghostly image where he was standing holding the stallion’s head!
Here are a few more details of my pictures around the Sitting Room walls at the moment:
The third image in the slideshow above, shows a watercolour plan of the Lambhill garden I painted a few years ago. It is nice to look at it, and realise how much further the garden has developed since then.
June 2020, quiet in the house….
Above: a Reeeeaaally Goood Scone Recipe, from a book by a New Zealander who cooks produce he grows at the famous English garden, Great Dixter. It is a splendidly practical recipe book, with lovely photos. And I didn’t burn the scones.
Small morning meditations and writings:
A Quiet July, Winter 2020 at Lambhill:
Winter August Living at Lambhill, 2020
All winter I’ve been struggling with neck-related pain, which is made worse by vacuuming, writing with my head bent, and gardening, and so I’ve had to work out small joys and small ways to placate the neck while finding fulfilment.
Cutting rosemary to hang above the kitchen fire was one small joy. So was cutting and arranging flowers and vignettes…
And one day, Spin brought me up a few of her culled clothes to cut up for recycling projects. One of her dresses was far too tiny for me, but made of wonderful thick cotton c.1970, and so I cut it up and hand-stitched it into an apron. Skipper badly wanted to help.
Winter is the perfect time for hand-sewing beside the fire. Skipper thinks so too.
And then, Jonathan bought me a wonderful present. It is a very tiny Victorian Davenport desk, with a writing slope that will not tax my neck to write at, as long as I am sitting on a footstool! It has secret compartments, drawers and cubby-holes!!!! Don’t you love pretty desks with hidey-holes????!!!!!! This one has been beautifully restored, and its leather re-gilded. I suspect it came out on a sailing brig to New Zealand with a woman of modest means and elegant tastes. (Someone like me…) It would have been small enough to fit in the boat, portable, pretty, and practical enough to help her write letters home, from the boat, and from her house later on. What journals did she keep here? What adventures, romances, frights, and glories did she record, at this little desk???
Here are two pictures of Millie’s breakfast. Jonathan takes her for a walk, first thing every morning, rain or shine, gale or sleet – towels her down afterwards, and prepares her breakfast with meticulous exactitude. She, meanwhile, spins round in horizontal pirouettes, and dances for joy. When he lays the plate on the floor, Millie sits sharply to attention, holding her breath and perfectly still, until “Pack Leader” motions with his hand, in a gesture which means, “You may proceed.” So she does! Promptly! The beautifully-chopped herbs are wild cleaver tops, which Millie always eats in the hedgerows, so I suggested he pick and add some to her meal, if she needs the minerals and vitamins they contain… Millie has a very loving master in Jonathan. They are devoted to each other.
Without being able to garden, I’ve had to find exercise in walking about the farm. There are photos taken on some of these walks on other pages in this blog, but here are a few more: living at Lambhill was very different once I stopped trying to garden so much, and walked more!
The house glimpsed in the distance in the first image, above, is Fernielea, which is almost two miles away, to the north, near Fordell village. The tree trunk below, and the fallen leaves, were snapped in the redwood avenue, to the north of the farm driveway, planted in the 1930s by Spin and Joan’s aunts and uncles. The redwoods are bordered by large, sheltering macrocarpa cypress – many of which have blown over in storms. Some of the fallen titans are still growing; while most of their roots are out of the ground, they still retained a toe-hold – and made the most of it.
Living at Lambhill, September 2020
Walking on the farm:
Early October Living at Lambhill, 2020
Parcels in the post (I bought hand-carved wooden spoons & a comb, and antique butter pats from “Found” on facebook.) Her packaging was so nice I had to photograph it before unwrapping!
I heard thumps and bumps from the kitchen verandah, and thought, “Oh – the blackbirds are getting into the compost bucket again.” When I went to look, it wasn’t blackbirds, it was Sue – one of Joan’s farm dogs, up on the verandah cupboard, with her head in the compost. Sue had absconded from her farm duties. Joan was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear her tractor in the distance. Sue was very busy scoffing bread and vegetable scraps.
What I loved most was Sue’s Oniony Breath!!!
Late-October Flowers from the Meadow
…And When was the Last Time you Wore a Hat???
I find hats in second-hand shops and trim them myself; one of these with an old brooch and a cockade of shiny cockerel feathers… Some people think they don’t suit hats, and perhaps it just means they haven’t found a sympathetic silhouette or brim size yet? When it comes to hats, I advocate experimenting – and being bold enough to wear the ones you like.
Details in Passing; Signs of Life in the Lambhill Hallway:
Why is Spring-cleaning the Kitchen Like Rebuilding the City of Jericho?
Answer to that riddle: Because they are both inherently risky! I can only do house-work at the risk of several days of migraines (yes, I had a visitation of migraines, like a curse) – and the prophet’s curse said anyone who rebuilt Jericho would lose their eldest son. Thankfully, migraines are less dire than the death of your children – so I succumbed to the Sap Rising in Springtime – thumbed my nose at the inevitable migraines, and Spring-cleaned the kitchen. See below!
This is what I use to mop the bare floorboards (taken from “Down to Earth,” by Rhonda Hetzel (Viking, 2012): soap flakes, white vinegar, strong black tea (strained), and a bucket of warm water. I learned how to clean a cotton mop from Rhonda too: soak it in oxy-bleach and warm water, rinse, and dry it in the sun. Rhonda Hetzel’s books are lovely, sensible, and pleasing to have on your shelves.
A visitor one stormy spring day in November: a katydid sheltering from wild gale-driven rain, inside the kitchen:
Old-fashioned, Sustainable Hairstyling!
NB: I expect that you are exactly like me, in hating every single one of the photographs ever taken of yourself! Well, I am learning to accept the imperfections and to lose my pride. So – here goes. (I do have to say, though, that I’ve put on weight since my neck “exploded” a few months ago, leaving me unable to do hard work as I used to – and often forcing me to stay still while the headaches and migraines do their worst. So – starting to look more like a Rubens than a Rosetti!)
To get some “boof” into my hair, I wash it, and twist it up into three “oysters” on my head to dry. It takes a day and a night to dry properly, so I experimented with a turban one day, while the oysters were drying, a la Miss Mattie, from Mrs Gaskell’s “Cranford.”
Small joys and sweet moments: what raises YOUR spirits?
For me, lovely china, soothing tea, and an empty page and a full ink-bottle will do it every time. Small beauties are sooooo good for your health! Find yours!
A Few Flowers in November…
Use your prunings from the garden as floral art: below, snips off the Thuja ‘Smaragd” used in the kitchen (with a few white irises plucked from the fenceline, and some dangles from the Christmas drawer):
If you want greenery and life in your rooms, but not necessarily flowers, arrange some leaves by themselves. This is good for rooms which are too dim for houseplants, and for people who forget to water them:
How the Leopard can Change Its Spots…
That’s if it has natural plant dyes on hand! I had a dove-grey linen dress, a cold-shark-grey linen coat-dress, and a chilly ice-grey silk coat which I loved – except for their colours. Somehow, they drained me. I have light but warm tones in my skin and eyes…. So: the only thing to do was to try a dye!
It was an experiment that really did work! Hurrah! And what did I use? For the linen dress: Onion skins, boiled up in water. For the linen coat-dress and the silk coat: Onion skins and powdered turmeric boiled up in water. Then I strained the coloured water, added more water, heated it up and added the clothing, simmering gently for ten minutes, with a handful of salt. Then I removed the dyed clothes with my grandmother’s wooden & metal washing tongs. Then I rubbed the wet clothes well with salt all over to fix the dye, rinsed them well, and finally, dried them in the wind. I love the colours. They are not perfectly even, but I like that.
Skipper in December: Browsing among the lilies, tiptoeing through the tulips…
It’s December: Time for Homespun Christmas Cheer:
An Olive Wreath!
Every summer the olive tree on our lawn puts out assymetric whips and long, drooping sprigs. Every year I have to trim it to be (informally) tidy, and limb up the lower branches to keep the sight-lines clear under its canopy. This year, between rain-showers and headaches, I nipped out and clipped off an armful of olive. The pieces all had thin, flexible stems and were about 30-60cm long (about 1 – 2 feet). Then I just twisted and shaped them into a ring, tying it at intervals with knots of hairy twine.
Strings of Seed Lights!
These tiny strings of seed lights come with batteries and an on-off switch, and are 2m long. They cost less than $10 NZ each, and I had some pocket money so I bought two for Lambhill and one to send to our daughter-in-law so she can conjure a little Christmas magic for our 3-year-old granddaughter, Phoebe! These are the first electric fairy lights that have ever seemed to fit in at Lambhill, and I love them. The homespun aspect of these lights is putting them in old bottles that you’ve saved, or wound around tree clippings from the garden.
I clipped a few sprigs to neaten up the variegated holly in the Sunken Garden borders – and brought the clippings in to the Sitting Room, where they give the room an old-fashioned, homely and modest festive sparkle.
We are having a quiet and simple Christmas this year, and our decorations will be quiet and simple too. Quiet and simple decorations, though, can still be beautiful. I love using what we have to hand. That’s what country people have traditionally done. And it works.
Florals with a nod to The Nativity…
Botany and Books
I’ve always loved wildflowers, and can’t help noticing and wondering about the ones I see on walks. I picked this flower from a paddock, on a walk with Millie. There seemed to be just one plant of it in the whole enormous field. When I got home, I looked it up, wondering if it was the fabled “yellow rattle” of English wildflower meadows. It turned out not to be, but it was on the same page as rattle, in my vintage reference book.
Elegant Economies in Christmas Gifts
Most of us love the gorgeously-scented, naturally-derived products in beautiful containers, that we see in fancy interiors shops, like hand-creams, room sprays, and scented candles. Unfortunately, they are expensive.
While admiring some of these products, once, in a local interiors shop, and inhaling dizzily, I noticed on the highest shelves, large bulk refills for the room sprays and hand-creams. Lightbulb moment! Jonathan helped me to order small brown glass jars with black lids, and blue bottles with black spritzer caps, online. The glassware arrived in our letterbox this morning. Jonathan had been into the fancy shop last week, and chosen a refill each of a cedar-like room spray, and a deliciously scented hand-cream.
This morning, I sterilised the glassware, filled them up, capped them, and wrote and glued on labels. When I ran out of the room spray, I boiled water to sterilise it, then added to the water, blends of essential oils I had in the pantry, to create a few of my own room sprays. Now, I have ten small jars of rich and luxurious hand-cream to give to my sisters and family, and ten small bottles of delightful room spray to wrap up and gift as well….
The kitchen smells like an apothecary’s shop – and all the bathroom towels smell glorious, because I spritzed my room spray blends onto them to test the scents!
Home Alone Treat: Cinnamon Scones, Honey and Coffee…
Flowers for (a quiet) Christmas.
A Gift from Jonathan:
Summer Holidays mean Cooking for Jonathan!!
Jonathan picked green peas from the market gardens near Wanganui, and made Fresh Pea Soup for Christmas lunch. He made more Sauerkraut, too. Note the bird.
In January, we moved out of Lambhill: Why? It is a Secret (until a bit later)…. Where did we go? Check the page on here about a Summer in a Tent…….
After tenting for nearly six months, we moved back home to Lambhill on the 28th of May, 2021.
And there will be some parts of the house I can not show you for a few months yet…. Why did we move out of Lambhill? Why can’t I show you some of the house? BECAUSE:
Lambhill has been starring in a horror movie.
I will show you what I can in the meantime – beginning with our moving in. (WHAT A Palaver!!!!!) Nearly all our furniture and belongings had been stored away, and needed to be put back. We had bought a few movie props as well – and I decided to use the shifting-in process as an opportunity to have a huge Sort and Cull.
We had two helpers and a team of cleaners for the first two days of moving. The two men who heaved furniture and crates for us managed to have all the furniture where I wanted it – either in storage (for disposal), or in the correct rooms of Lambhill – and they even managed to stack up all the many crates of our belongings inside the house, by the end of their allotted time with us. After that, it took me several weeks of opening crates, unwrapping, sorting, and organising, before the house was really fit for purpose. It was lovely to be home, but the moving process was a strain on my damaged neck, and I had quite a few migraines in these weeks! However, it was wonderful to be living in Lambhill again. And what fun to be rearranging the rooms according to the plans I had made while living in the tent!
Within a month of our moving back, I had given furniture to both my sisters, sent a lot of culled books and belongings – and more furniture – to the second hand shop, and cleared and sent off the shipping container we had hired.
Slowly, slowly, I arranged books back on shelves (thanks to my friend Suanna for helping with that!), stowed coats and hats on hooks, and hung pictures. Slowly, slowly, the house began to look like a home again, instead of a railway station.
The Pleasantly Wicked Feeling of Burning Furniture!!
An Edwardian dressing table, made of native timbers, which we bought with other Lambhill furniture at the time we bought the house, has always had one back leg broken off. It was full of borer beetle holes and tunnels, and a lot of the wood had fallen into dust. It was a very pretty dressing table with a mirror and tiny drawers, so I just propped it up with its dud leg and left it as it was. When we moved home we found that the other back leg had also broken off, and the dressing table was belly-up and unfixable. Sadly, Jonathan sawed it up for firewood. I salvaged the two little drawers and the mirror, as well as odd bits of interesting wood (because they might embellish something later – who knows!). …And yes, it doesn’t take long to find yourself enjoying feeding your furniture into the firebox!!! It adds a delicious glow of naughtiness to a hearty blaze!
Goodbye to All That…
Sadly, I have had to face the fact that I will not be able to use a sewing machine again, without the neck triggering migraines, and neither will I be able to play the piano (I tried again recently, and had to give up after only two minutes). The neck condition is permanent, and so that means I have to live with it.
Accordingly, I have given our old harmonium to my sister, Aydie Holland, who is an all-round musician, clever with all kinds of musical instruments, and a great singer. Locals in Wanganui and further afield know Aydie well, from her performances on her own and with groups.
Also, I have given the old Lambhill treadle sewing machine to Spin and Joan’s great-niece, Samantha, who is delighted to have a sewing machine that belonged to her great-great-aunts, and on which she can learn to sew. I left the old tape measure, buttons, tailor’s chalk, and bits-and-pieces that had been in one of the sewing machine’s cabinet drawers, since the early 1900s. Samantha shares my delight in such relics – tokens of everyday life.
At the moment I still have our piano, but only because Jonathan may decide to take piano lessons – something he has hankered after for decades!
Arranging the Rooms Anew!
Moving back home was a great opportunity to reshuffle furniture. (Well, I wasn’t allowed to move it about, but I had helpers!)
I can’t show you many pictures of Lambhill interiors at the moment, since some of the rooms have wallpapers that were designed and printed especially for the movie it starred in – and I have agreed to keep them secret until the movie comes out…. But some rooms were not changed in any way by the film crew, and so I can show you those, meantime! Here are some shots of the side passage downstairs. It is no longer our main entrance, now that the front door is freed up by the porch-removal, and so the passage is what it once was: a pleasant little spot for coats and hats and books!
Winter Walks on the Lambhill Farm…
When you can no longer garden for exercise, walks in the fresh air are important for health and relaxation. Anyway, I love looking at lovely scenery!
The farm dam was so still that it mirrored the sky perfectly. I was trying to capture photographs of the swallows darting and swooping over its surface… Can you spot them?
Walking back up the hill to the house, the evening sun was slanting low across the old trees…
Winter Flowers, August 2021
Builders’ Steeds at Lambhill! August 2021.
I wanted to pat them and offer them an apple each, but I think they’d rather have a nosebag full of sawdust. Aren’t they charming?!
More Winter Flowers in the House…
Styling our New Bedroom
Finishing and furnishing and dressing a room is like writing a book; it takes several drafts, and quite a bit of refinement, over time.
Life in Lockdown (Again), late-August 2021
New Zealand has shut down again for a few weeks, in order to get control of another covid-19 outbreak. We all have to work from home, where possible, and stay at home in our “household bubble” of people we live with. As usual, our bubble includes our friends down the driveway, Spin and Joan. This makes sense, since Jonathan does most of their driving for them, works out of one of their rooms (while his new office is being built), and we live so close to each other. Here is a Bubble Luncheon: a shared lunch with our beloved bubble-mates! I took this photo while I was waiting for Jonathan, Spin and Joan to come up the driveway for lunch. Spin was bringing soup and girdle scones, and I had made cheese scones. We ate in the warm sitting room, at the long table which had, until recently, been marooned in the pantry for many years.
Skipper In Love With The Dark!!!
A local acquaintance is selling her house and downsizing. She has lived down in the Matarawa Valley for a long time, and so has her family, on the original farm owned by the Gilfillan family (Georgiana Gilfillan married Lambhill’s Dr Allison in 1847). My friend who is about to move closer to town, selected a few things for me, before she sent a lot of her collections to auctions and charity shops. How kind!!!! Here are some of the lovely things she left on my verandah, in two cartons:
The drawn-thread-work has been done by hand, and aren’t the tiny, fabric-covered buttons sweet? Another delightful piece from this little cache of treasures is a hand-embroidered linen bag:
Looking out Windows: A Lambhill Preoccupation!
These were taken in the first week of September, 2021. It was a fairly mild early Spring, with chilly wind and lovely serene sunsets. Can you spot the Bastia Hill Water Tower, as seen from our windows, 13 km away? And I love the dove-grey sea and lilac sky, in some of the pictures…. No wonder we always gaze out windows; the light, colours, and atmosphere is always changing.
A Winter’s Day (With the Fire Glowing)
Photo Essay: Lambhill in the Rain, 8 Sept 2021 (a cold snap – “snow down to 800 metres” – and a whistling wind round the house)…
An Old Farm Girl’s Love for Rugged Working Men…
Sparks of Joy in October…
Now that I have to live around pain, it is more important than ever to find small daily moments of beauty, sparks of joy, and manageable ways of being creative. So now when the pain allows, I try to wander round the garden cutting foliage and flowers and then leave them in a bucket of water overnight. Next day, I will choose a vase or container, and arrange them! Some of the arrangements are risky and experimental – but hurrah! Play is important when you’re being creative.
Old Lambhill Photos, Newly Framed!
These photos taken around our house during WWI, are owned by Lewanna McLean, who is Spin and Joan’s eldest sister, and lives over our western boundary on what used to be part of Lambhill. I spent about ten years creating an archive of old Sutherland documents and photographs for her, which I scanned and transcribed most carefully, partly to preserve them, and partly to help my researches for the book I have been writing about Lambhill. She gave me permission to use the photos and documents however I wanted to, including blowing some of the pictures up and having them framed for the house! Jonathan and I both really love these images, which were taken at the request of Spin, Joan, and Lewanna’s father when he was at the Western Front, when he was homesick for Lambhill. They were taken by his brother Ken, and developed here by Ken and Marjorie to be posted to France, for Donald to study while he was resting in the trenches.
The Framer we always use is: Renata’s Art and Framing, Taupo Quay, Wanganui. Renata always does a beautiful and careful job, and has framed old treasures in conservation-and-archival ways, and she is a very kind and honourable lady with whom to do business. We recommend Renata for any framing you need done, if you live near Wanganui!
Millie watching cheeky rabbits outside the house
The roses in the little handpainted Japanese vase are all Tea Roses. Tea Roses are not the same as the more modern Hybrid Teas. They are older – many of them bred in the 19th century, and many of them are tall, sprawling, heat-resistant, and flower most of the year round. In other words, they are the perfect rose for Romantic old country gardens, in this age of global warming!! You see them in old chromolithographs, and last year, I ordered a few plants online, from Tasman Bay Roses, and this is their first year of flowering! The darkest roses in this vase are General Gallieni, which I have had for some years, and which is a tall, semi-climbing plant, always in flower!
Images taken in the Lambhill Pantry, November 2021
Kitchen Table Vignette, November 2, 2021
A Bit of Silliness: Homemade Cards!
A Fire in Springtime…. Changeable temperatures!
The arrangement below was made of a base of philadelphus and some sprigs of Mahoe, with pink-flowering hawthorn, green libertia berries, Solomon’s Seal, euphorbia and wild Turkish Balm (which is a true weed, related to mint and dead-nettles, but very pretty).