Saturday, 31 January 2015

Making a refillable traveler's journal

As most of you already know; I am a witch. I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, I follow the basic commandment of 'An it harm ye none, do what thou wilt', I believe in the three-fold law and I collect information. Being a witch is (for me) about learning new things and exploring new ways of looking at life. Being a crafty witch, I make my own tools.
One of the most important tools a witch has is her (or his) books, they hold the tiny crumbs of wisdom and knowledge we manage to gain in our life and can be passed on to another witch to use once we die. I make my own books; one for every new 'subject' (although they all interlock in some way); I made a massive, red leather, hard covered, parchment filled tome for my Book of Shadows (tools, correspondences and rituals); I made a cute little upholstery fabric covered book to record my life changing journey through the Sacred Cord (sort of like a rosary that takes two and a half years to complete); I made a black suede, hard covered slim lined book to record my divinations and dreams (Tarot, runes, iChing, scrying, etc); I made a decorated hardwood, post bound tome for my Tarot learnings (meanings, correspondences, Kabbalah and, layouts, etc) and now I have made a versatile, refillable, black leather traveller's journal for my Kabbalah learnings.

My first Book of Shadows

My Sacred Cord book

My divination book

The cover of my Tarot book
Inside my Tarot book

Because I used what I could find about the house, my journal is a rough item, but I am fairly pleased with it. The first thing I did was; make a cup of coffee (essential to the creative juices), then I got down to business. I wanted the pages to look old and worn so I found a ream of photocopy paper, carefully folded each page in half (not the whole ream, only about 32 pages), dipped each one individually in strong instant coffee and laid them out on a towel to dry. This makes the pages unpredictably brownish yellow with blotches (perfect for that aged look).

My instant coffee bath

Some of the pages laid out to dry

You can see the difference in colour between the new paper on the left and the coffee stained stuff on the right.

While the pages dried, I dug out an old leather skirt (it was the eighties OK) and cut a piece that was  2 cm or so higher than the folded A4 paper (A5 size page) and 6 cm or so wider than an open sheet of A4 paper (A4 size page). The leather was fairly thin and would have been too floppy for a book cover on its own so I also cut a piece of heavy duty interfacing and some pretty orange material the same size as my leather.

Old leather skirt

Heavy duty interfacing on top of the material square

These three sheets were glued together with the interfacing in the middle, clamped and hung to dry for a while.

My cover drying in the breeze.

While the cover dried I began making the note book to go inside this cover. I followed the clip below to the letter, but my finished print block was much messier than hers. Undeterred, I decided it added to the antique-y charm of the project and used it anyway. Unfortunately I didn't take photos of this step (I got lost in the process and forgot what I was doing).

I then trimmed the outside edges and punched some holes in my cover and threaded hat elastic through them in the sequence described in the clip below.

Here is the inside of my cover with the elastic in place.

Next I simply threaded my text block into the elastic holders and it was finished.

Spot the dog loved it; a leather paw rest, how innovative.

Then I started filling it up with collected bits of understandings and knowledge.

The three elastic bits mean I can add another two text blocks as I fill the original one up.

I loved making this project, I think I will make some more soon.

Somewhere down the track, I have plans of making my two daughters a book each and fill them with little snippets of information I think they may need, the sort of thing you ring your mum;
'How do I unplug the bathroom drain..without putting my fingers in there?'
'How do I make pancakes?'
'Is it better to close the windows in a wind storm or leave them open?'
'Where do I go to register to vote?'
'How do I make soap?'
'What herbs are good for a cold?'

and many others.

Maybe one of these journals would be appropriate for that, new books can be added as more questions arise.

What do you think of this project?
Do you like the old and battered look for books and journals?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Mowing the lawn with sheep

The lawn has become a bit wild over the last storm season; with waist high grass in some places. In contrast outside the home yard is mowed like a bowling green to a distance of 30 metres or so. The reason for this is sheep. My girls (and now three boys too) mow the fire breaks for me by simply doing what sheep do; eat, poop and do complex mathematical equations in their head while chewing cud. The sheep have not been allowed into the yard for months because when they are in there they eat everything they can get their hooves on; the vege bed in an old trailer, anything in pots, fruit trees and I have even caught one licking the rabbit (she looked very guilty when I caught her). However, the lawn needs I have put wire covers around the trees, moved the pots and let the vege bed go to seed, something may survive.

This is the edge of the driveway outside the yard. You can see how low the girls keep the grass (except bladey grass)

Kraken hiding by the pond

Yes, it's a mess. No excuses, I just got lazy

Using sheep to mow the lawn is hardly a new idea; lawns were around long before mowers were, in fact lawns were created by the grazing of animals around a building. There is even a landscaping feature designed to prevent livestock from straying onto the garden while they mow the lawn, called a Ha Ha wall. Paris (the city in France, not the socialite) began the move back to sustainable lawns last year by introducing rare breed sheep as lawn mowers in some parks, if it proves efficient, the system will be extended into the city (and beyond).

Woodrow Wilson used sheep to mow the White House lawn during World War 2

The girls look a bit ragged at this time of year, they are in the process of shedding their wool.

So I am continuing, or rediscovering, an ancient practice which feeds the sheep, trims the lawn and fertilises the ground. If only I could train them to stay away from the garden plants all would be perfect.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

local insects and animals- Stinging flies

It's summer, you can tell by the buzzing noises all around. Flies are a common problem in Australia, especially in rural areas where livestock are kept. Here we have three sources of fly attraction; the sheep, the chooks (and other sundry poultry) and the toilet. The most common flies are the stingers, they feed on blood and lay their eggs in poop, so they have a double incentive to live with us.The most common stinger we have here is the horse fly (Tabanidae species) there are many different species but they all share common behaviours.

Around the humpy there are two main times when you will probably get bitten by a stinging fly; early morning and early evening. These flies seem to swarm together to feed before and after the sun hits the ground. They buzz around the sheep when I let them out to graze in the mornings and come back to the paddock with them in the evening, luckily the buzzing sound attracts the guinea fowl, who see them as an 'all you can eat' opportunity. The guinea fowl parade around the sheep making squeaky wheel sounds in an excited fashion as they snap up flies by the dozen. The chook pen is one place I rarely find stinging flies but not because they don't go there; they are attracted by the smell of warm blood and chook poop. I rarely find stinging flies in the chook pen because the chooks love to eat them too, in fact one source of constant amusement here is watching the young chickens catch a fly then run away with it cheeping like a maniac while all the other chicks give chase (also cheeping maniacally).
The toilet is the other place where you will probably encounter stinging flies; not only are there warm blooded animals holding relatively still, but nearby manure in which to lay's a stinging fly paradise. In response to this over-abundance of flies several bird species have taken to loitering around outside the toilet (and sometimes inside it too). The fairy wrens (both blue and red) always build nests on grass clumps or low shrubs nearby and are a source of entertainment as they hop about chasing flies and other insects. The welcome swallows swoop around the little tent that is our toilet building catching flies on the wing (and swooping very low to do it because stinging flies stay close to the ground). Our two old ducks spend a lot of time sitting in the toilet (well, beside the pedestal) because at their age they prefer food to come to them. They snap flies up as they buzz by.

Taken in balance, stinging flies are not such a problem for us, they provide a supplementary food source for both domestic and wild birds (and reptiles, I didn't mention the lizards and small snakes who eat them too) and a constant source of laughter and entertainment for us. All for the cost of a few drops of blood now and then and an itchy lump or two.

Do you have stinging flies?
How do you think of them?

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Local insects and animals - Garden orb spider

While tidying up a fallen branch recently, my daughter came across a pretty little spider. We had no idea what kind of spider she was (or if she was male or female, I'm just opting for female) so we did a quick search for a name. After a few hours of searching through sites and being gob smacked by the huge variety of spiders I decided to send the picture to an expert.

The lovely man from emailed me back within the hour with an identification. This lovely girl is a kind of garden orb spider. Apparently there are lots (100+) of species in this family of spiders (Araneidae) and her particular species wasn't known to him.

Orb weavers are spiders which build the traditional orb shaped web, they are non-venomous and generally beneficial to have around. The females lay their eggs in late autumn then die, leaving the next generation to fend for themselves through the long winter.

I am so glad I got the chance to meet this pretty spider and hope to see more of them in the future.
What spiders are common at your place?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Happy Litha to everyone.

 It's Litha...summer solstice, time for solar symbols, fire and water. We honour Apollo; one of the sun gods, he is at his height at this time of year, as is the sun itself. At this time of year the grass seems greener and the flowers more vivid, sounds carry further and everything is so alive it vibrates.This point marks the middle of summer for us as the sun reaches it's southern-most position in the sky and begins the journey back to the north.

It also brings with it the usual pressure to conform to the Christmas madness.

I don't do Christmas now my children are adults; when they were young we bought them presents and dragged them around to see relatives only glimpsed at this time of year, but now my partner and I are happy to sit back and relax a bit. I am the sort of person who likes to understand the symbolism of rituals and Christmas always confused the Hel out of me.

On one hand we are told that the date marks the birth of the SON (you know, the messiah, saviour of the universe) and asked to be kind to our fellow human in his name (and make your way to church too). On the other hand we spend our hard won cash on plastic presents for people we only see once a year (if at all) and hang bright bits of plastic on a tree (also plastic) in preparation for the arrival of an inappropriately dressed fat man. The symbolism escaped me as a kid and for many years of my adulthood, until I attended my first Yule celebration (in August). Here were all the traditional symbols; decorated tree (real), solar symbols (shiny golden balls and candles), presents, spiced mead, stories, feasts of heavy foods and a shaman dressed in red and white, in a setting I could understand; winter solstice. The meaning of the symbols were explained to us as we decorated the tree and held the ritual, it all made sense to me. So I choose to celebrate the height of the sun's strength and it's inevitable wan at this time of year rather than the birth of the sun and it's inevitable waxing (as does the Christmas crowd).

On my Litha altar I have oak leaves, candles and solar symbols, to me they represent the height and strength of the sun and the recognition that the sun's strength will begin to wan from this point onwards (until Yule). This year we were to meet up with friends for a Litha picnic, but an inconveniently falling branch kept us home to clean up. We held a small family ritual instead.

Inconveniently fallen branch

Our downsized Litha altar

What do the symbols of Christmas mean to you?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Living without the car addiction

I don't own a car, not having a licence it makes perfect sense. My partner has a car for work and he occasionally gives me a lift somewhere, but mostly I take the school bus or arrange a lift with friends. Over the years this has led to many comments;
"I thought you were an independent woman"
"But you don't have any freedom"
"How do you get anywhere, it must cost you a fortune"
"What will you do if something happens and you need a car?"

In answer to these comments I usually answer that I am independent and free as I go where I want or need to and don't require a car to do it. It costs me very little to take a bus and if I catch a lift I try to offer some fuel money (and a hearty thanks). I don't have the added cost of keeping another car for the odd times it might be handy, not that we could afford to have a second car anyway. If an emergency arises, I call someone for help, but if there were no other choice I would drive any nearby car to get help (don't drive doesn't mean can't drive).

My reasons for not driving are many, but the main one is that I am not a good driver, in fact I am a dangerous driver, In the past I have tried to learn to drive; my first experience involved a tractor, my father and an inconveniently placed building, after the convergence of these three things (and myself as driver) it was unilaterally agreed that I probably should stick to horse riding. As an adult I have driven into gate posts, scraped the side on trees and fallen over the edge of the road (which was a spectacular achievement as I was travelling at about 50 km per hour). I lack spatial awareness (dyspraxia); the sense of knowing where your body is and what it is doing at any given time. I don't have severe dyspraxia; just a mild case of clumsy, but this lack of awareness makes it hard for me to walk through doorways or beside people let alone drive a car. I am also easily distracted and likely to forget who is in charge of the car and become fascinated with things on the road side or the conversation going on in the car (although this does tend to cease as the car veers towards oncoming traffic). These things have led me to decide that the death toll on our local roads will be lower if I take the bus.

By not driving I am doing my part to reduce Australia's carbon footprint. In 2010 41.7 Mt of carbon were released in Australia due to road transport, mostly passenger cars; by not driving a car and minimising my travel I am helping to reduce the effects of climate change (in a very small way). It also frees up a lot of my 'brain space' for thinking about other things as I am not comparing my car to others, worrying about what that clunking noise is or searching for fuel money. I am happy to be car-less and fancy free. There will probably come a time when I need to have my own transport as the school bus doesn't run early enough for school teachers, when that time comes I will probably get a bike.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Local insects and animals - goanna

It's summer time again (almost Litha as a matter of fact) and we have hens hatching chickens here and there. This always seems to draw the goannas in. 
The goanna, or lace monitor, is a very large lizard which grows up to 2 metres long. They eat pretty much anything they can catch; baby birds, eggs, mice, rats, frogs, snakes and carrion. 
There are several species of goanna in Australia, but here in Northern NSW we tend to find the common Lace monitor (Varanus varius) and the Sand goanna (Veranus gouldii). It is the Lace monitor who comes to visit the humpy most often, due to their liking for young birds and eggs.

A well fed Lace monitor

Once our hens begin to hatch their eggs around Ostara (spring equinox) the goannas begin to visit; stalking up and down the fences looking for a way in to the newborn chicks. At times it seems that we are under attack from them as it isn't uncommon for two or three goannas to be trying to get in at the same time.
The lace monitor is territorial and the same three individuals come back to our yard year after year. There is the big male (goannas have an internal penis which extends out of their cloaca when they pee, which they do by lifting one leg slightly off the ground, like a dog. Which is how I know he is a male) he has a shortened tail due to some long ago accident. There is a big female (I think) who has smaller than usual pattern bands and a young female. We have not named any of them as names have not occurred to us yet.

Stag; the ram guarding a treed goanna.
When a goanna approaches the yard fence our galahs (two car accident victims who can't fly) give a screech or two, which starts the chooks off cackling, triggering our three dogs protective instincts and causing much barking. If the sheep are close to the house they join the chorus as well. As you can imagine, this din makes it impossible to continue studying, so I go out and release our goanna dog; Spot.
This is Spot; our goanna dog
Spot is 15 years old and since he was a puppy his job has been to escort goannas away from the chook pen. He does this by running towards them growling profanities until they turn tail and run for the nearest tree. He occasionally catches up to them before they get to the tree, but he doesn't bite them, he just bumps them with a closed mouth (to keep the panic level up), we didn't train him to do this, but we're glad he doesn't do any lasting damage. Once the goanna is climbing it's chosen tree, Spot sits at the base for an hour or so then comes back to the house for a pat, leaving a relieved goanna to cautiously climb down and sneak away. Stag, the ram will take over guarding a treed goanna for Spot as he prefers to be king of his paddock.
On the lookout for dogs and rams.

A lot of people kill goannas on the grounds that they eat the eggs and chickens if they can, to which I usually reply "So do we". We don't resent them, and I refuse to kill an animal simply for trying to survive. We lose most of our guinea fowl eggs and all the duck eggs to the goannas, even the occasional chick which strays through the fence, but that is the way of nature. I shed a tear for the mums who lose nests and babies and we move on.
How do you react to goannas?