Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas greetings

From my family to yours, I hope you have a very happy Christmas. For us, Christmas morning first sees us busily getting the almost thirty members of the extended family to nine o'clock church! 
We welcomed the newest family member to her first Christmas. I think she was impressed and shows early signs of being a party girl :)
Like everyone, much of our day is centred on specially prepared food, always a cold feast for our family in Australia. I don't ever recall having a hot Christmas lunch. Salads and seafood abound!
The feasting is interrupted only to spend time pool side, cooling off. Or perhaps for the adults to have a snooze in a quiet corner!

Having had a sick daughter in 2012, we are particularly thankful this Christmas that she is well. It is a time for our family to reflect on a God who continues to give us every good thing. He continues to give graciously and willingly, two thousand years after sending His most precious gift of His Son for us all.

I hope your Christmas is a special time of reflection and time with family, and that 2013 brings good health and happiness to you and yours. 

Bloom x

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Busy hands

Our kids always hit the ground running when holidays roll around, all eager to 'make stuff' and do things that the demands of the school term haven't allowed for. They have all been enthusiastically creating.
Miss 17 has most helpfully taken on the task of gift wrapping, priding herself on making each a little different.
She has also declared her intention to learn how to crochet and as her first project has chosen to make a double bed blanket - she doesn't do things in halves! It is currently 240 chain long and 1" wide. Photographic evidence of progress to follow at a later date :) 
The boy has been madly folding origami Christmas ornaments from old French texts to sell at a local pop-up market.
He has been selling his kusudama too. He first began making these a couple of years ago, and has refined his skills to a point that I can't match and others are willing to pay for!
This is his (and my) first market experience, and he is quickly learning the intricacies of maintaining adequate stock, filling custom orders and balancing his till at the end of the morning! His customers have been very kind and encouraging. I suspect he is quietly busting to have an 'origami'free' day to indulge in Minecraft!
Our littlest bloss has been keeping our strength up with morning tea chocolate creations.
She has also been beavering away in her room making gifts for family. It is such a pleasure for us all to see her returned to her happy, creative self after such a tough year with sickness.
And me? Well I'm mostly racing about like a lunatic as is apparently normal at this time of year. But just occasionally I find a quiet spot and a few minutes to stitch the bind on my latest little quilt.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Peace on earth

We have been to the farm for a few days with our kids and have returned to civilisation to the horrific news of the Newtown school tragedy. To be frank, I have avoided reading the details as I'm not sure my heart can take it. As a parent of three children, freshly on school holidays and pulling me this way and that with requests and busyness, this news stops me in my tracks; makes me re-appreciate the blessing they are to me this Christmas.

As I was reading through my emails this morning, one from Sarah Jane Studios struck a chord. Sarah has designed a downloadable card with 100% of the funds to go to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund which is set up with Newtown Savings Bank to support families of the victims and community needs. In some small way, purchase of this card may just help with the practical needs of those mourning the loss of precious children.

In Australia, gun ownership has been stringently controlled since the Port Arthur massacre of 1996. I am genuinely interested to know how the Newtown tragedy leaves our US friends feeling about the complex matter of gun laws and the right to bear arms.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Ducks on the pond

I was home at the farm on the weekend to see our canola crop come in. 
Harvest is always a frenetic time, with machinery and trucks thundering every which way, keen to get the grain in before any rain can gather.
I spend the time anxiously pacing, trying to distract myself in the garden, my heart in my mouth as I wait in anticipation for the first indication of yield to come in ...
... waiting for an indication of whether we've done our money, broken even or perhaps even cracked a profit!
I climbed up into the header cab and did a few runs with the contractor. This is always an education! The header driver divided his time between talking to me, with very careful politeness, about the subtleties and nuances of controlling a GPS driven harvester, and raucously yarning to his mates over the 2-way as they fly past in their trucks, laden with grain on the way to the silos in town.
At one point, he uttered nervously to his mate on the 2-way, "Ducks on the pond, mate, I gotta a duck on the pond"! Now most Aussie farm girls will know exactly what that means. This is code among country men that there is a woman present and that all foul language should be moderated immediately! It is a particularly common warning when women walk onto the board of a shearing shed. Funny! I'd love to know if this is a habit peculiar to Australia, or whether there are similar expressions in other rural communities around the world. I suspect it is unique to foul-mouthed Aussies!
The verdict on the crop? It yielded better than expected, but we won't be retiring to Noosa on it!
In other news, being at the farm allowed me to spread a new quilt out and take some photos.
I had serious fun making this up, and have a second one to put together using girly flannels from Marally Craft.
More details to come when it returns from 'she-who-works-quilting-miracles', Belinda :)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Hither and thither

hither and thither, adv. in various directions, esp. in a disorganized way. e.g. Bloom is running hither and thither, from one project to another, as her brain races ahead of her fingers.
I have been working with felt, lots of fiddly cutting with small scissors, but it will surely be worth it. 
The design is a table centre by Mandy Shaw of Dandelion Designs and is from Australian Homespun #109. It reminds me of scherenschnitte, a form of German paper cutting which I love.
Progress on the hexagons is slow but steady.
My 'local', Marally Craft, generously sent me home last week with fabric panels and coordinates to play with: 'Animal Party Too' by Amy Schimler for Robert Kaufman ...
... And 'Pretty Paisley' flannels by Lesley Grainger for Robert Kaufman. I am planning a new pattern that might make use of all those cute panels that I have stashed in the cupboard over the years! So I have plenty to keep me off the streets :) Hope you too can find some time for creative pursuits this week.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Adventures of a paper-piecing novice

My heartfelt thanks to everyone for your thoughtful and supportive messages on my last post. Olivia continues in pure, unbroken, glorious good health and happiness. I am touched that so many of you sensed and shared my palpable relief and wonder that she is again well. I am still breathing in the peace and relief ... in enormous, deep gulps!

And so, this week I picked up needle and thread again, to revisit my Little Hexagon Purse. This is my first serious attempt at paper piecing, and I thought I'd pass on some things I've learned.

The finished hexies have 1/2" sides - I know, what was I thinking?! For the majority of fabrics, I trace around an acrylic template with a pencil and cut out the hexagon with scissors.

For fabrics pleading to be fussy cut, I made a 'window' template from light cardboard, and use this for tracing the shape onto the fabric.

I am using Sue Daley's method to temporarily glue the fabric hexagons to purchased hexagon papers. When I'm feeling diligent, I use a Sewline glue pen specifically developed for fabric. When I can't find the Sewline, I just use an ordinary old glue stick. Both achieve the same end.

After experimenting with various threads, silk and cotton of different weights and colours, I have settled with using this Aurifil 50 weight in a neutral beige (#2314). The colour blends sufficiently across the fabrics I'm using, and the thread is fine enough to sink nicely into the seams.

After stitching the hexies together, the papers are supposed to 'pop' out quickly and easily from the back of the work. I have obviously been too heavy-handed with the glue as there's no way my papers are 'popping' anywhere! I solved this dilemma by moistening the seams (on the back of the panel) using a small, soft paintbrush dipped in water. This diluted/softened the glue enough that I could quickly remove the papers. 

This purse is for my eldest daughter. It was supposed to be finished for a School Ball a week ago. Knowing full well that I was not going to get all those teeny tiny hexies pieced in time, I offered to make up a quick, 'one fabric only' substitute. 

This offer was duly accepted by said 17-year-old on the proviso that the 'real' hexie purse be completed by Christmas :) Deal!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Pull up a chair ... it's storytime

You may be aware that our youngest daughter has been unwell for many months. Last week, she made a remarkable recovery, in circumstances that I feel compelled to share. I know many of you have been very concerned for her, and have shared similar stories in an earnest desire to help our family. We have been sincerely encouraged by your thoughtfulness and concern. It seems only right to share what has happened; that our experience might help others of you who are struggling. The story is six months long, complex, and deeply personal. I will intersperse it with images from my spring garden which, as always, has been a solace for me :)

Prunus 'Shimidsu Sakura'
Olivia (age 11) came home from netball training on Monday 30th April, with abdominal pain. She was nauseous, white and weak. I kept her home from school on Tuesday, and her tummy pain continued. This pain has been a recurrent problem. Every few months or so for the last six years, she would have a bout of pain that would last for a couple of days and then disappear. The pain has always been in her upper and central abdomen, and always unable to be relieved with paracetamol or ibuprofen. The frequency of this recurrent pain seemed to be increasing, but I fully expected her to improve with a couple of days of rest and return to school. 

Two days later, Olivia developed a headache. It was frontal, extending across her forehead. Again, it was unrelieved by paracetamol or ibuprofen. While the tummy pain was recurrent, the headache was new. 

Multiple visits to our GP ensued. Blood tests and a breath test for a possible stomach ulcer returned normal. Abdominal ultrasound returned normal findings other than some inflammation of lymph glands in the abdomen, suggesting mesenteric adenitis. This is a common childhood complaint, often a reaction to a virus.

Farm garden, early spring 2012

Olivia's abdo pain and headache continued unabated for weeks and she was unable to attend school. Further visits to the GP and two late night trips to Emergency yielded vague suggestions of possible hormonal change. At no point did she show a temperature or vomiting. There was some dizziness, and a couple of instances of aura, suggesting migraine. In an attempt to relieve her pain, Emergency administered endone. This gave her a nice sleep, but had no effect on the pain. We tried migraine pain medications to no avail.

Rosa 'Reine des Violettes'
Three weeks into May, we were able to see a paediatrician. On examination, he felt that Olivia's perception of her abdominal pain (at 9 out of 10) was inconsistent with her physical presentation. This was the first suggestion that Olivia's illness may have a psychological component. I was confused about this, and defensive. I couldn't understand how pain could be anything other than a physical reality. Olivia, not missing a trick, said, "Mum, he thinks I'm faking it"! Hmmm, we had a lot to learn at that point!

The paediatrician scheduled an abdominal x-ray, which revealed significant constipation. This had never been an issue for Olivia, and her toilet habits had been daily and normal (yes, I'd been checking ;). She was treated with increasing doses of Movicol to clear her bowel. Her tummy pain was relieved a little, and we thought there may be some light at the end of the tunnel - so to speak! However, her abdo pain resumed soon after and the headache continued. 

An MRI of her brain in June eliminated any sinister causes of her headache. We joked with her that at least it confirmed she had a brain and that it was normal - she couldn't see the funny side of things by this point! The headache pain began to predominate, and moved to above her left eye.

We had her eyes tested - you guessed it, normal!

In mid-July, with no definitive answers, I tried Olivia on a strict gluten-free diet for two weeks. This made no difference to her pain.

Clematis montana
Olivia missed almost all of the nine weeks of Term 2 at school. When Term 3 rolled around (mid July), all medical advice to us was that she MUST return to school and learn to cope with the pain; that the routine of school was important to her recovery. Every morning was a struggle, and I felt cruel making her attend school. However, I persisted. Olivia battled through each day, her headache constant and unrelenting. She was having trouble concentrating on her work, but bravely toughed each day out.

We sought some psychological help at this point. It was deemed that Olivia needed to learn to relax and to try to get back to creative pursuits that previously made her happy. It cost us a lot of money for that advice, and I was pretty cranky and frustrated. 

I took Olivia to a physio several times to ensure her headache wasn't related to muscle tightness in her neck and shoulders. Pain remained unchanged.

Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill'
Olivia's headache was now four months old. It was with her day and night. There was nothing I could do that would help relieve the pain. You can imagine, she was becoming increasingly frustrated and worried that perhaps she would never get better. Our family worked hard at staying positive for her, and maintaining patience and gentleness. But it would be a big fat lie to say we managed the situation faultlessly! Olivia's illness was testing us all.

We continued to see our paediatrician at regular intervals. As a personal friend, he was very concerned for Olivia, having not seen a childhood headache that had endured so persistently. He scheduled a lumbar puncture at our local hospital, to test for a condition called intracranial hypertension. This is essentially an overproduction of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which can manifest itself as a headache. During a lumbar puncture, a measurement is made of the CSF pressure. Olivia's procedure was not conducted by our paediatrician. Lumbar punctures are difficult, and unfortunately for Olivia, after three failed attempts, the procedure was aborted. This was a horrible day.

Prunus 'Elvins'
On Monday September 3rd, Olivia was admitted to the Neurology Department of a well regarded Australian Children's hospital for further investigations into her headache. I spent 11 days with her there, camping next to her bed. The staff were professional, careful and thorough. Day 2 of our stay saw a repeat of the lumbar puncture. As you might guess, Olivia was terrified. Thankfully, the staff had success on their second attempt. Her CSF pressure was normal. Many more blood tests were analysed, serious possibilities such as Wilson's disease were eliminated.

After 11 days of testing, discussions with neurologists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and pain experts, we returned home with a diagnosis of 'chronic daily headache'. We returned armed with a specialist neuropathic pain medication called gabopentin, which we hoped might break the cycle of chronic pain that Olivia seemed to have developed.

I also returned home with my head spinning with doubts that came from the psychology sessions: that perhaps I had a 'depression-prone', high-achieving daughter who was internalising her feelings; that perhaps she was being psychologically challenged with something that was outside her control and was overwhelmed with a sense of failure because she couldn't get herself better; that perhaps my close relationship with Olivia was a big part of the problem, and that I should distance myself from her. So many questions, so few answers.

Arums, lime kniphofia and snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum)
from the farm garden

At this point, we felt like we'd tried every trick in the book. All hope was hinging on the effectiveness of the gabopentin. However, Olivia's pain was now only a portion of the story we were dealing with. Olivia's stay in hospital had taken a serious toll on her state of mind. She was significantly affected by the lumbar puncture. I think an 11 day stay on a neurology ward shared with three other children did her no favours. At the age of 11, she was well and truly able to understand what was happening to the other patients, many of them babies and many of them with tragic prognoses. On returning home, there was a new problem to deal with - she was not eating or drinking. 

Our life seemed to be spiralling out of control, downward and quickly. Our previously happy-go-lucky, easy-going, always-hungry girl, had declined over the months to a shadow of her former self. She was sullen, quiet, irritable, sensitive to touch and noise, and depressed. It was heartbreaking to watch. She was struggling to sleep, fearful and plagued with horrible nightmares.

Ballerina crabapple 'Maypole'

We are a Christian family. I came to an understanding in my Uni days of my  wretchedness before God and of His gift of forgiveness to me. My husband and I have sought to live lives worthy of God, and to raise our children under Him. We fail miserably at this at times, but a desire was given to us all those years ago to remain faithful to God and to His teachings. So we have prayed ... and prayed, and prayed for healing for sweet Olivia. We have a community of wonderful friends who have earnestly prayed, many of them Christians, and even some who are not! It has been difficult, especially for Olivia, to understand why our prayers were not being answered.

Last Monday morning, both Olivia and I were at our lowest ebb. I had hit the wall emotionally, having no idea which way to turn. The medications from our hospital stay were proving ineffective. Olivia was in as much pain physically as she'd had in the last 6 months, and her mental state had deteriorated to a point where she didn't feel she could keep going. She had said to me, "Mum, I wish I didn't exist so that you didn't have to go through all this". Heartbreaking and very scary.

Too many flowers, no vases big enough. Solution? Use three small ones :)
On Monday night, in sheer desperation, we took Olivia to a Christian naturopath/kinesiologist/prayer healer, Yvette, who one of Olivia's teachers had persistently recommended to us. Up until this point, I had doggedly followed the conventional medicine path. My education has been rigorously scientific. I have a PhD in biochemistry and my education has endowed me with a healthy scepticism about natural therapies. 

On Monday night, Olivia, my husband & I spent an hour and a half with Yvette, and sweet Olivia walked away with NO PAIN, after 5 1/2 months and a smile on her face like we've not seen for a long time. Yvette used a combination of techniques including kinesiology, iridology, and prayers of confession and forgiveness. She quickly assessed Olivia as having an issue with her 'gut-brain connection' and further, that many of Olivia's organs were struggling to function. She used a technique which involved Olivia holding onto two metal rods which were connected to a computer. She was able to run some software which apparently pinpointed where Olivia's 'energies' needed to be realigned. She also prayed Olivia through some fear that she felt was burdening her. It was the strangest most confronting experience we've ever had, and has turned our thinking upside down. Thankfully my husband was there or he'd have thought I'd lost the plot! He'd never have believed me. The pain, both headache and tummy, left her in a particular instant, right at the end of the session. 

It is nothing short of a miracle. We have been praying for one, and on Monday night it was delivered! We are in complete shock, astonished by the transformation, and to be truthful, worried that it is too good to be true. But it would seem God has brought us from a point of complete desperation, to now bless us with a miracle. We are dumbstruck and enormously thankful. 

Seventeen 'Double Delight' roses from the farm for my newly 17-year-old eldest daughter.
I have spent much of the last week unable to function, such is the level of shock! If you'd asked me before last week if I believed in miraculous healing, I would have said yes, having heard many a testament to it over the years. But it obviously had not occurred to me that it might actually happen to us! It would seem my 'sensible' Sydney Anglican/Presbyterian sort of christianity had subconsciously set some limits on God's goodness to me and His power to heal. We are left reeling, confused, but awestruck, humbled and thankful.

Thank you to everyone who has endured this storm with us; for your many thoughtful messages, for kind gifts sent from afar, for your prayers and unending support. I have laid myself bare with this post. I'm not sure how long I will keep it online. I have been honest in the hope that our story might help others in a similar situation.

OUR GIRL IS BACK! She is back, as if a switch has been flicked. It has been such a long journey that we'd almost forgotten what the 'real' Olivia was like. She is happy and silly and making jokes; she is eating, drinking, and sleeping. She has maintained good health for the last week. I have been carefully watching the change, eager for it to continue. We are praying that this transformation for Olivia is permanent and that we can put the pain and suffering behind us. And that we can go forward, armed with a most astonishing story to tell!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Reap What You Sew seed wallet

I am back home after 11 days at Westmead Children's Hospital with my daughter. We have returned with new medications to try, and a diagnosis of Chronic Daily Headache. The bottom line is that we have long term chronic pain to contend with, and that there are no quick fixes. We are worn out with it all, but determined for recovery, however long it takes.

The last few months have seen very little stitching from me. However, the companion project to my garden apron has just been published in Australian Homespun magazine.
I made a fold-up wallet for storing seed packets. It can be hung in the garden shed for easy access, or stored folded.
There are four sets of pockets, one set for each season. My idea is to store seeds according to the season they should be sown. When that season rolls around, I can quickly find the appropriate seeds and get them into the garden. That's the theory anyway :)
Below the pockets, there are 5 small elasticised keepers for storing pens and pencils, and a larger keeper for a garden notebook.
The weather is slowly warming here in Australia, and with it, the incentive to get out in the garden is building.  
The stress of caring for my daughter has taken its toll on my enthusiasm for stitching, gardening and even blogging over the past few months. But the concern and warm support expressed to us through this blog have sustained me, and I'm sure my mojo will return soon! Love to you, Bloom x
P.S. 'The Pink Issue' of Australian Homespun (No. 112) is available in Australian newsagents now, and a digital version can be purchased from Zinio.
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