Wednesday, December 29, 2010

When Home is... Kevin McCloud’s Principles

What was a favourite present under the tree for you this year? One of mine would have to be the book by UK Grand Design’s presenter, Kevin McCloud’s 43 Principles of Home.

In his introduction he calls this book ‘something of a manifesto for how we can live’. There is a lot in here on eco-living and elements of modern living but the principle I relate to the most would have to be the one that is printed on the back cover:

“Choose the architecture, garden, decoration and furnishings around who you are, what you dream of and what has made you. The most interesting and enriching homes are those that are full of autobiography; those that are maybe a bit cluttered, feel lived in and are delightful for it; those that have a mix of new and old, borrowed and bought – and not those that resemble furniture showrooms.”

I’m looking forward to writing more about the ‘autobiographical clutter’ of other people’s homes in 2011.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When Home is... Reindeer Food

It’s been a busy month at my home – like all homes at this time of year. There have been preschool nativity plays, ballet concerts, school parties, final assemblies, and for me, a commission to write a piece about the history of our house for a magazine... all of this coinciding around the same time.

But now school and preschool are over, my article is with sub-editors, presents are – nearly – all bought and we have time to just ‘be’ at home. Everyone is exhausted and the weather is warmer so this week has seen the re-emergence of our blow-up pool, staying in pyjamas all morning and not thinking about what to have for dinner until... well... dinner time.

The tree is decorated, our wreath on the door and stockings by the fireplace. Almost all our Christmas preparation traditions are complete. Everyone has different traditions, some handed down through generations of family and some begun only in this generation.

For my children, a new tradition began two years ago when my son came home from preschool with a bag full of ‘Reindeer Food’. On Christmas Eve the children scattered it across the grass and out of their bedroom window ‘so the reindeers could see our house from the sky and have something to eat while Santa filled the stockings’. It was much more exciting for them than leaving the carrots next to Santa’s biscuits and whiskey by the tree.

The following year they asked to make it for friends who we spend Christmas ‘Eve Eve’with, whose children they have known all their lives. It worked well for these friends, that Christmas the reindeer left a trampoline as thanks for the treat.

This year, they also made a jar for friends to take interstate. Hopefully it travels well.

It’s become a pre-Christmas ritual they enjoy as much as decorating the tree. It’s family rituals such as these that make a house a home and there are never more individual family rituals than at Christmas time.

Merry Christmas to all. I will be writing many more interviews in the new year and thank you to everyone who has left comments, sent emails, suggested interview subjects and actually reads what I write! It’s been a fun six months and I look forward to growing the blog in 2011.

And, if you’re interested in the ingredients of Reindeer Food, a recipe is below...

Reindeer Food
6 tbsp natural oats
4 tbsp red lentils
A handful of shimmery stars
A dash of gold glitter
A smattering of red and green glitter
A sprinkling of 100s & 1000s

Place all ingredients in a jar or snap lock bag. Seal and shake.
Leave in a cool, dry place until Christmas Eve, then spread evenly over the garden / lawn / courtyard.
Listen out for reindeer bells.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Home is... a Blueberry Farm in Canada

Eleven years ago, Heather Cameron was a florist living in Vancouver watching organic farming shows on television and dreaming of becoming a ‘country girl with a veggie garden even though I only had one plant out on the deck.’

Today she is a magazine stylist who, along with her husband, runs an organic blueberry farm 40 minutes outside of Vancouver and sells her own line of jams.

Heather’s story is one of taking the opportunities life throws at us, following those opportunities down a path and then following other paths never before considered that open up along the way.

‘I am exactly where I am because of my choices – I could be anywhere if I had decided to stay in the city. I know I always felt I was a country girl at heart. I love the city, but I’d always rather explore the outer areas. Beyond the city, where the calmer folk are.’

Heather and her husband didn’t set out to buy a blueberry farm; ‘it came with the property that we liked. We had no idea what we were doing.’

‘The house was hideous inside. UGLY!! But, I could see good bones, and knew I could fix it. Eleven years later, we are still fixing it – but it’s awesome and it’s ours. The farm was overrun with stinging nettles and blackberries; very neglected.’

So, with a hideous interior and an overgrown and neglected farm, how did Heather manage to make this property feel like home? ‘I painted almost everything white – including the oak kitchen, ripped off the wallpaper – found in every room, including a wallpaper border along the top of each wall. Ripped out all the carpet... Wait – it’s easier to say I gutted the place.’

Being a florist, she had originally planned to plant flowers on the farm and use them for weddings and events; ‘We were growing roses, hydrangeas, sweet peas, lavender, and snow ball viburnum bushes. It seemed like a clever plan – buy land, grow flowers, make lots of cash!’

But here was the first change of path; at one particular ‘very posh’ wedding little bugs came crawling out of the flowers onto the white tablecloths. ‘A nightmare come true’. Heather stopped using her own flowers and started buying them at auction.

To get more exposure for her floristry business, Heather decided to invite Victoria Magazine up to the farm; ‘I sent some images – and by images, I mean actual photos in an envelope. I think I even handwrote the note. No jpegs at hand back then. I said I make great pie, and if they come, I’d bake them one. They came. Seems rather easy, but I sent a lot of pictures of my work, our yard, my mom and me.’

During their afternoon of drinking tea, eating pie and sitting in the garden, the editor asked Heather if she had even considered a career in styling. ‘I had no idea there was such a job. Making things look pretty?! Seriously?! Seemed like a fun gig.’

And so began another path, working freelance for a variety of magazines setting up scenes and creating stories with pictures. In the meantime they cleaned up the farm and kept the blueberries. Having always enjoyed preserving food, Heather decided to make a few jars of blueberry jam to sell each year when the farm opened.

‘My jams are simple – not fancy, but memorable. I use old fashioned/slow cook/small batch methods, no pectin. This gives you half the sugar and twice the fruit. It’s like the Great Grandmother’s use to make, before we all got over processed and covered in sugar.’

Heather had been perfecting her recipes for years, originally taught by her mother-in-law; ‘She taught me what she knew, then I improved upon that. There was a lot of trial and error. I remember exploding peaches in our apartment in the city. I didn’t process them properly and they fermented. Not pretty.’

Then last year the freelance styling work dropped off thanks to the struggling magazine industry and yet another path opened; ‘A friend asked if I would make her jam for her new restaurant. The magazine industry had tanked, so I had a lot of time on my hands. It snowballed from there. Other friends with bakeries asked for it, then more shops, then I approached a trendy Vancouver grocery chain and they took it... It wasn’t my plan, but I love it.’

Today, Heather now has her Missing Goat jam label, ‘I’m not a serious gal, it had to suit me and be memorable’, their blueberry farm is now certified organic and growing and the family has grown to include three-year-old Lily.

They have ducks, originally bought to eat up the fallen berries at the end of the season, but now ‘part of the family’. In Spring there will be chickens; ‘I can’t wait to throw all my scraps to them.’

From all these unplanned paths that have been explored perhaps the biggest surprise is how much this farm feels like home to Heather in a way she never envisaged before her daughter’s arrival; ‘I thought of our home as a business, not really a family home. I always loved it but now it’s a real gift.’

‘Seeing Lily in the garden, grow pumpkins and sunflowers... Pick fresh berries and vegetables, camp in the yard with her dad... She’s so lucky – we are so lucky. I think I took it a bit for granted before she came along.’

For more information about Heather, visit her blog A Day in the Country
For more information about the Missing Goat Blueberry Farm, visit the

All images © Heather Cameron

Friday, December 3, 2010

When Home is... a Mud Room

What do you get when you mix rain and snow? Mud, apparently. In parts of America they even refer to this as ‘mud season’. This same season obviously applies to anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore houses on this side of the world often have an extra room to deal with such messy weather: a Mud Room.

Given the weather in Sydney at the moment I could really do with a Mud Room. Defined on the website as a room that ‘constitutes a clear boundary between indoors and out’; it is also there to ‘help keep the house clean’.

The only problem is that a mud room shouldn’t be your main entryway – which is really for receiving guests – it should be accessed from the side or back of the house. That could be an issue with our terrace house and its very narrow side passageway.

Given we are running out of living space, bathroom space and bedroom space I’m not quite sure why I’m dreaming of a room that’s sole purpose would be storage; a room that people are simply meant to drop their wet clothes, school bags and boots in and quickly leave.

But it seems there is no logic to the weather so I won’t analyse my daydream about the mud room either.

Images via


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