Sunday, June 04, 2017

Fire Feb 13, 2017!

Sorry for the 6+ month gap in my postings. Life was very rudely interrupted by a huge fire on Feb 13. It started on Early Valley Road near the bottom of our 3.5k driveway and appears to have been caused by a fuse dropping out of a utility pole. Ross noticed huge amounts of smoke coming up the valley (there was a strong norwester). We put the dogs and a couple of essentials in the truck drove down our drive about 1k and found neighbours frantically escaping up the hill. After opening up stock gates, we decided we shouldn't drive back home as there was no vehicle egress route from the top of our property. So we drove over the neighbour's paddocks to a neighbour's driveway that goes up and got to Summit Road at the top of our ridge.  It was about 6:30pm at that point.

The fire rapidly moved up the hill. Our house is just behind the trees to the left of the bright flames in the middle of the photo. By 10pm, the fire was too close and the smoke was bad so we had to leave, assuming our house would be gone soon. This was confirmed by a neighbour on the next ridge north who could see our property was surrounded by fire. We went to a neighbour's house away from the fire for the night.

The next morning, our neighbour called to say he could see a green roof!! We couldn't believe it. Our house had miraculously survived. Well it wasn't a complete miracle. Ross had always been concerned about the possibility of fire and had kept the small lawn in front of the house short and well watered in the summer. And we always kept stock to keep the grass down in the paddocks close to the house. Plus Ross had trimmed the branches on the large trees behind our house to about 7 ft high and had cleared all the debris from under them. As Ross' father used to say, 'the harder you work, the luckier you get'.  It was sobering to see the scorched ground under those trees and realize that if Ross hadn't done that clearing, they probably all would have gone up in the fire and then the house. The fire came within 6 ft of our house at one corner and about 10 ft at another. Here's a drone photo showing how lucky we are to have our house. Over 100 of our 117 acres burned.
We went up to the house the next morning and this was the view before we got there:
And here's the view from the other side of the valley:

We spent the next 2 days putting out residual fires around the property with backpacks of water plus some help from volunteer firefighters. Most of the pipes from our two 30,000L water tanks burned so the tanks were empty the next morning. But all that water leaking out must have helped put out the fire.

The fire raged for about 5 days eventually covering 5000 acres and burning down 9 houses including our next door neighbour's house and two others on our street. The wind changed on day 3 and that's when things really got out of control. Because everything was burned around our house, we weren't too worried about our place even though the wind was blowing the fire back in our direction.
By the fourth night, we were able to stay at home for the night but it was probably stupid as the smoke stench in the house was dreadful despite leaving it open every day. It was almost 3 months before people didn't notice the smoke smell when they walked into our house.

We lost four sheds, most of our fencing, two heifers and only about 1/3 or so of our vegetable gardens  in the fire. Our three lambs survived as did all of our chickens - thank heaven for that huge chook palace all covered in roofing iron! Our old cow Milkshake turned up two days after the fire looking pretty bad but with some fresh hay and water she started to perk up. And after about a week, she wandered over to our neighbour's bull (the fences were burned and not much of a barrier) so she must have been recovered enough to answer nature's call!

Our lemon tree!
It took about two months to clean up all the shed debris. Our 24m long propogation area with office, shade house, glasshouse and raised beds took forever! As we have decided to turn it into grass, gardens and a sitting area (maybe even with a spa!), we had to remove all the gravel and underlying half burned plastic sheeting that had been there for 20 years. I'm now most of the way through digging over all the compacted clay soil and adding gypsum and compost.

Ross is a happy man now as he has rebuilt the retaining walls near the house and the steps down from the house and he is now rebuilding sheds.

And we've even managed to get away to a friend's bach at Lake Tekapo for 2 nights!
While Ross is building, I am planting (or digging over compacted clay!). I've planted over 300 natives so far mostly along the driveway. But I also put some in a steep bit of our garden after first putting in coir matting.

My friend Rosemary helping with planting
The retaining walls have been repaired and the fence lines are bulldozed ready for the fencer and look how green things are getting. Although we spent a lot on aerial grass seeding, most of the green is broom, California thistle, bracken fern (native at least!) and blackberry! But at least it's green.
Digger driver putting in concrete (non-flammable!!) poles for retaining wall
Some trees that burned have new leaves and the tussock grass is sprouting. The flax has survived remarkably well. After being burned almost to the ground, most of it is coming back.
Tussock regrowth

Grass growing along creek
And even the burned cabbage trees still look cool!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Busy Springtime

It's been a hectic couple of months here on the farm. We've had a lot of gray, drizzly weather - 211 mm rain in October, less this month. But we did have 2 days of 28C this week - one extreme to the other!

Our newest arrival on the farm is Eric the Perendale ram. We got him a month ago from a neighbour when he was 2 months old.

I bottle fed him until a few days ago and now he's been weaned although he still persists in 'bonking' me each morning to try and get some milk. He's growing fast and looks like he's a little bigger than the dogs already. I am sure he is eagerly awaiting the arrival of some ewe lams to keep him company.

One real benefit of all the rain as that the grass is growing like crazy so the cattle are very happy. 

We didn't have any live calves this year unfortunately. Milkshake, our grouchy old cow, delivered twins a week ago (very uncommon in cattle) and they died. They looked normal externally so I don't know what happened as we got there just after she delivered. She had cleaned them up beautifully so I don't know if it was a cord problem. Poor Milkshake was just bursting with milk and there were no calves to give it to. Our neighbour had 2 calves without a mother so we put them together but it didn't work. They are 3 months old and mostly weaned so perhaps the urge to suck was gone. Fortunately Milkshake is drying up now. 

The other interesting event on the property was with our bees. The hive seemed to be very full as they were lining up in masses waiting to get in. One day, Ross saw a huge swarm set off down the valley. There is a box covering a water pipe junction at the bottom of the valley and it is full of bees now! The day after the big swarm, I found a huge mass of bees on a flax plant. They stayed there for several days then one morning most of them were gone and 3 days later they were all gone. Apparently when bees decide to swarm and find a new home with their new queen, they often find a spot close to the hive where they wait for the scouts to get back and let them know where their new home is going to be. I'm guessing that in the centre of that mass of bees is the new queen being carefully protected. I don't know why they left in 2 groups a few days apart. Maybe the second group just went back to the original hive? Or could there have been 2 queens? I'll have to ask the guy who manages our hive if he knows.

The vegie garden is looking great and has required a lot of weeding because of all the rain. We ate our last cauliflower from the winter garden, the artichokes are coming on, and the new plantings are now popping up. 

We have a track going through all the kanuka trees below our driveway. We put it in several years ago and have to hack away regrowing gorse, broom, and blackberry every year. But the good news is that the kanuka are getting very large and all the little native trees coming up around the kanuka are getting much larger, especially the mahoe. 

Well that's it from our little patch of heaven. We're off to pick up 2 bales of shavings to put on the chookhouse floor after we clean it all out - a big task that involves scrubbing all surfaces down with cleaner but fortunately only has to be done once a year or so.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Neenah dress

Still waiting for a pamphlet on tailoring a men's overcoat so I was forced to sew something else for myself again! I've had some beautiful Viscose/Nylon/Lycra ponte knit from The Fabric Store here in Christchurch for about a year and I finally found the right pattern for it. It's a very basic turtleneck dress from Seamwork called Neenah. The pattern is a printout pdf so I had to do the dreaded printing, taping, tracing. I do think I am getting faster at it though.

Fabric details: Viscose/Nylon/Lycra ponte knit, 50% widthwise stretch, 25% lengthwise
137cm wide, I bought 2m, which was more than enough. I prewashed the fabric with a cold handwash and dried it on a towel along the top of my sofa. Soft lovely fabric.

Pattern: I measure XS at bust and S at waist and hip. As the pattern indicated there was quite a bit of negative ease, I cut out a size S at the bust and tapered to halfway between S and M at waist then to M at hip. I cut size S for the collar and sleeves. If I made it again, I think I would go for medium for the sleeves but the collar was fine. It's quite a tall turtleneck but I have a long neck. So it might be worth shortening the collar for someone with a short neck.

Sewing machines: Brother 3034D overlocker, 4-thread, used grey overlocker thread on loopers and first needle, colour matched Guttermann polyester thread on 2nd needle; 70 ballpoint needle; Stitch width 5mm, length 3mm, differential 1.4
Janome Memorycraft 6600 Professional for skirt hem; 75 twin stretch needle with wooly nylon hand wound in bobbin, thread tension at 2.5, stitch length 3mm

I didn't make any changes to the pattern and it was very quick to sew up. I used Wonder Tape on the skirt hem and top-stitched with a twin stretch needle. I would definitely consider making it again and might try it next as a shirt using a slightly shorter turtleneck collar. The dress is super comfortable and cosy.

Genealogy trip to Otago

My husband, Ross, would like to go to Scotland and see where his ancestors came from. So as a first step, we started researching his New Zealand ancestors. It turns out that 4 of his 16 GG grandparents (Thomas Grainger and his wife Margaret nee Murie; James Bain and his wife Marion nee Christie) are what they call First Families of Pakeha (ie white) New Zealanders (ie excluding Maoris who have been here for close to 1000 years). All 4 of them arrived on the 9th ship from the UK. It was called the 'Larkins' and was built in Calcutta in 1808. Apparently it was on its last legs having already done a few convict transports to Australia and some passengers refused to board, instead choosing to take a newer ship that actually took 7 weeks longer than the Larkins. The Larkins sailed from London to Port Chalmers (near Dunedin) in 96 days, arriving on 11 Sept 1849. I couldn't find an image of the ship but here is the figurehead (an Anglo-Saxon warrior) that was saved when it was finally broken up in Australia in 1876. The teak timber was used to build houses.
After what must have been a harrowing voyage, the conditions on shore were not so great either as suggested by this quote by a Sara Lowe that we found at Toitu "...if I could have guessed half the inconveniences attending us in such a new settlement I would never have come."

We visited Toitu, the Otago Settlers Museum, including their archives. We found lots of interesting information including a diary of the Larkins' voyage, the conditions in Dunedin, family trees, and photos. They have a huge portrait gallery and Ross' GG grandfather James Bain and his daughter Catherine are in one of the displayed portraits.

We also visited the genealogy collection at the Balclutha library where this wonderful retired deer farmer, Betty, showed us lots of local books and historical records. On the way back to Dunedin, we stopped in Milton at the Fairfax cemetery and found the grave of his maternal grandparents. 

We spent one morning at the Hocken Library at the University of Otago, which has a lot of historical documents. But all we found that was relevant to Ross was a document transferring shares in the Taieri and Peninsula Milk Company from Thomas Grainger to Margaret Lindsay Robertson in 1894. We were briefly excited about finding a biography of an Andrew Liddell, who lived from 1842-1942, and had arrived from Paisley, Scotland. We were hoping he was the father of Ross' G grandmother Elizabeth Liddell but he wasn't. In fact, he was born a Docherty and when he arrived in New Zealand, he changed his surname to his mother's surname Liddell. The name change wasn't mentioned in the biography so it took a while to figure it all out. His mother had died on the voyage to NZ so perhaps it was in honour of her or maybe Liddell was a classier name or maybe he wanted to dissociate himself from his father for some reason - haven't figured it out. 

I was hoping to figure out one other family history problem and that was the parentage of a paternal GG grandmother Marion Cadzow, who we believe was born in Glasgow in about 1829. I thought Cadzow would be an uncommon name but we found lots of Marion Cadzows. We came close but it turned out that the one we thought was 'our' Marion Cadzow was still living with her parents in 1851 when our Marion Cadzow had already married James McCombie and was living in Glasgow. 

We also managed to do a little sightseeing while we were in Dunedin (and not just cemeteries). 
View from Highcliff Road

Dunedin Railway Station

Here's the pub on Shiel Hill in Anderson's Bay, where Ross' dad used to leave him in the car while he had a few pints with his mates. The bartender would come out with lemonades for all the kids left in the cars!

We also visited an early 20th century mansion called Olveston, which appears almost exactly as it did over 100 years ago. Worth a tour and it's not as dark and creepy as Lanark Castle. No photos allowed inside but I did get permission to take a photo of the Mahjong table.

On the drive home, we stopped at Naseby and tried curling for the first time ever at the Maniototo Curling rink. They gave us a lesson and we played for 2 hours. Ross was a natural but I had to switch to the stick for children and old people to avoid falling on my face trying to get the stone down the ice!

We then drove to Oamaru, had a beautiful dinner at the Riverstone Kitchen, and drove home the next morning to pouring rain and 3C. Perfect timing! 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Quilt for my daughter

Two years ago, my daughter Amy asked me if I would make her a quilt. I have only made two full size bed quilts previously. One was for my parents' 25th wedding anniversary in 1975, which I pieced and appliqued all by hand!! By the time I got to the quilting, I was a surgery resident working about 100 hours per week so my progress slowed down substantially - well it came to a standstill to be accurate. Eventually I paid a Mennonite woman in Ontario, where I lived at the time, to finish the hand quilting. She charged $50! It's still on a bed in the cabin in Georgian Bay although much faded now.

My second quilt was a wedding present for my sister and her husband back in 1990 and I did it all by machine. Much faster than making it by hand but of course, it doesn't look quite as good when you look closely. I managed to find an old photo that I took when I was basting the layers together but none of the finished project.

And I did do a wall hanging quilt of the map of New Zealand a few years ago. It was full of 3 different sizes of squares and rectangles and let me tell you, the rectangles were a bit of a challenge! It turned out pretty well though and hangs in our stairwell. I think I made the Southern Alps a little too white though! You can't see them very well on the photo but I put buttons on the main cities including a sailboat button for Auckland (the City of Sails) and a heart button for Christchurch (home is where the heart is!).

So in June 2014, Amy and I got together and designed her quilt using the 1-2-3 Quilt program. She chose 3 block designs - Star puzzle, Sister's Choice, and 4 Patch Block #1. She has a queen size bed and we planned a 6 x 5 block quilt with 12 inch blocks and 3 inch sashing plus border. Her mattress is 12 inches deep so it had to be quite large. Amy chose 5 colour schemes: blue, green, red, yellow and orange. As we live in opposite hemispheres, I had to choose the fabric but there were a lot of WhatsApp photos that Amy reviewed before purchase!

It took about a year of on again off again sewing to make all the blocks. Here are examples of two of the designs. Can't find a closeup of the third.

It took about a year to finish all the blocks. As the quilt was 6 by 5 blocks and there were 3 patterns and 5 colour schemes, it turned out to be impossible to create a symmetrical pattern with the blocks. So I just tried to strike a reasonable balance of designs and colours across the quilt - a good test for ignoring my perfectionest tendencies! 

We chose an off-white/cream colour for the sashing and I used the foreground colours from the blocks for the squares where the sashing strips met. The quilt measured 94x79 inches before adding any border. I made the border 4 inches longer on the top so there would be enough quilt to cover pillows and used the leftover material from the blocks. The final size before binding and quilting was 107 x 95 inches.

I bought a king size sheet for the backing and it wasn't long enough so I added some coloured strips at the top. That way it would look more interesting when the quilt top was turned back on the bed. I taped the backing onto the tile floor in our front hall, then added the batting (polyester as Amy is allergic to wool) and the quilt top. I pinned all the edges and across the middle than hand basted at 5 inch intervals. I should have basted a little closer together I think, especially as the sashing fabric turned out to have a little more give than I would have liked. After 8 hours on my hands and knees over 2 days, I was ready to quilt!

I quilted by machine using a walking foot, 2.5 mm stitch length, and stitched 1/8 inch from the seams of the main block pattern pieces using cotton quilting thread that matched the block main colour. I used a variegated thread along the edges of all the sashing. Wisely or unwisely, I decided to put a pattern in the sashing. I chose a cable/rope pattern and, becasue I knew I wouldn't be able to sew it perfectly, I used off-white thread to match the fabric. I made a little loop design so that I could continue across the whole width of the quilt. 

I traced the pattern onto the fabric before quilting it using a non-wax based carbon paper that I had bought in Toronto a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I ran out and had to buy some wax based carbon paper here in Christchurch and some of it was difficult to remove. When quilting the rope pattern, it turned out to be very diificult not to push up folds in the fabric, even using the walking foot. So there are a few, well more than a few, ugly bits. 

Cable template
It was quite a mountain of fabric to manipulate under the sewing machine. I think next time (if there is a next time!), I'll quilt it by hand and not worry about how long hand quilting takes.

After the quilting I added a narrow blue binding. The different colours of quilting thread look kind of cool on the back of the quilt but I didn't remember to take a picture of it. 

After quilting for about 5 hours a day for 10 days, I finally finished just in time to take it with me to the US in June. I had to put off taking out all the basting threads and washing off all the carbon marks until after I got there. I wish I had a photo of Amy and me hanging over her bathtub desperately trying to scrub out all the markings. Then to my horror, I discovered I hadn't quilted one of the 4 seams on one of the sashing rectangles. Fortunately I have a good friend in California with a sewing machine and I had brought along my various colours of threads just in case this type of scenario occurred. So at last, after a couple of days of drying, the quilt was finished. I almost forgot to take a photo but managed to throw it on the bed just before I left town. Ta da!