Garden work

In the wind-down to Xmas I have only one teeny paid job to do, plus my tax (I hate doing my tax, even though I always get a little tax bonus). This wind-down has been perfect for my mental health as it allowed me to slow my work down gently, and not crash me into boredom and frustration – is anyone like me, and very goals-focussed? If I don’t have something to work towards I’m a screaming wreck. Meanwhile, before we head south for the summer (I know, who goes south when the heat is in sunny Qld?) there are still plenty of things to do in and around the garden.

Tropiscapes have been and gone, not without some dramas for them regarding our recalcitrant arborists, who caused no end of delay and frustration. Landscaping is not cheap, let me assure you, and I made the hard decision to do the remainder of the work at the front of the house myself. I moved some granite rocks to improve the size of the garden beds at the front of the house. As previously mentioned, this is the area that gets nearly all day sun, so I wanted to put in mostly food plants with a couple of decorative bushes for funsies.

On the most humid and hot day of the year, prior to a rather large rain cell developing in the afternoon, I personally moved three cubic metres of soil off my driveway onto the waiting garden beds. Oh! And I did sweet FA about preparing the beds. The earth was so compacted I just gave up and decided to lay the soil straight over the top. Of course there was rather less fresh soil on the old bed. Y’all, I had to fill that new bed! I survived the day – just.

This was at about midday. I thought I would never finish the job, and because rain was forecast, I had to get that dirt off my driveway before it ran off the driveway into my new garden beds….
Surprising how far 3 cubic metres of soil can go – for a hot minute I thought we’d ordered too much. Amazing what a bit of rain can do to damp down the beds. As it turns out we had too much cypress mulch so we used it to spread over the rest of the front garden on the chookie side. Cypress mulch is amazing as it repels termites and keeps the earth super cool and damp.

Once I had laid the soil I went and bought some plants from our local Bunnings. Turns out they’re low in stock right now, so I ended up buying lots of different thyme, some rosemary, lemon verbena and lemon balm, a perennial basil, some oregano and sage, a chilli plant, some curry plants, even some samphire. These plants act as ground cover and low bushes and make great cover for the beds, and all are great herb plants that love full sun. For small trees I planted a miniature lime, a rosella hibiscus and a warm climate nectarine. I do not believe for one minute we will get any fruit off them before the possums chomp them, but it’s an ecosystem. Gotta live with the little beasties. For decorative plants I bought two different Coleus (love those leaf colours), some Dragon’s Breath, Dichondra, a Persian slipper and a hot pink hibiscus. Hubby was getting a little too eager to spread the remaining mulch and I had to get the plants in the ground before he went psycho with the shovel! So I flung them into the ground at speed. I removed all the Brazilian wandering iris and the grass plants prior to digging up the beds, so I put them all back to grow amongst the food plants, and I can safely say nothing has died yet. The persian slipper plant had to be moved last week – it was in full sun, and its leaves were literally burning, but even that has revived nicely now that it is in the shade. The wonky hedge thing on the right of the image below is a fun white Powder Puff tree. It was already there and makes a super cute flowering hedge, sitting in between two mature golden cane palms.

We need now to do something about the chookie side, but we’ll leave it until next year, once we have done some carpentry work to keep them confined to one section of the garden. The basic plan is to move the rocks out from the left side by about a metre, build out the bed there and plant some basic bitch plants there to support the chookies and give them some fresh plants to eat and shade under. This side as you can tell is rather rudimentary but now that the Waterhousia tree (from the Lillipilli family) has been trimmed, the Murraya hedge is going great guns and even my lemon tree (not shown) is fruiting like crazy. Let’s also of course assume the possums will eat all the little lemon buds. This is not as awful as it sounds as the plant is not yet big enough to support all the lemons it has already budded. We also have an azalea or rhododendron in the corner nearest the house – not my favourite plant – but it thrives and we’re keeping it for now.

So two weeks later and I decided to buy a blueberry bush because 1/ it was available and 2/ it’s not a raspberry bush with prickles and spikes. I planted it where I had left a big clear patch at the front in preparation for a rubbish bin plinth we hope to build next year. We have just had a week of torrential rain and it looks like summer will be cool, wet and super steamy. It was so wet that the rain moved some of the mulch away so this weekend will be about moving the mulch back where it came from and sugaring the nut grass that has decided to spread amongst our Little Dugald side hedge. I tell you what, though, the plants have grown like CRAZY since we planted them – with the the native thyme and lemon verbena more than doubling in size and the rosella hibiscus the same. Amazing.

Still too wet to mow the lawn! We will be replacing some of the lawn with stepping stones but again that’s a job for 2022. The powder puff bushes need some pruning and it’s amazing how messy it all looks after a week of rain, but also how heartwarming it is to see all the growth.

Out the back all the major work has been done, but the hubby and I have decided to expand one of the garden beds as we can’t grow lawn there – which was made very clear when the rains came this week – the area turned into a mud bath. We will be moving the smaller rocks out by about a metre, filling the expanse with new soil and cypress mulch, and moving some of the smaller plants forward. We’ll also add some more of the plants Tropiscapes selected to give that bed more consistency with the other side. We also bought a few metres of grass/ sod that has really taken, so I think we may end up adding more once all the building work has finished and all the water tanks and veggie beds are in, etc.

See the bare patch on the left of the picture above? That’s where we will expand the garden bed. Shade loving tropicals will love it there. The grass in the foreground is lovely thick sod, and the remaining grass you see (same colour, different grass, plus weeds) is probably not actual grass, so we’ll lay some more sod next year once we’ve done the building work.

So here’s the thing I’ve discovered about myself: that I really enjoy working in my garden, creating a beautiful, welcoming tropical vibe there. Here’s an image of the garden at night – we had set it up for a birthday do just a few days after finishing the front garden:

I think once all the main work is done I will buy some festoon lights and have more garden parties like this one. It looked perfect and even though I knew the grass was patchy and the working side of the house was ugly, this still looked just sublime on a perfect summer’s night. And isn’t that exactly the point of a beautiful garden?!

the garden is on its way!

There is some massive plant action on the way! The folk from Tropiscapes are here this week, building steps into the garden, planting beautiful tropical plants and preparing the garden beds. We will have to keep on the watering duties over the next few weeks while the plants establish – something I’m not really very good at, so please Rain Gods, rain every day for at least an hour so that I don’t have to water the newbies!!

Here’s some images of what the garden looked like before demo day: very pretty but full of weeds and rather poor soil. And, typically, the agent hid all the leaf litter on the ground in the photo to pretend that it actually had a lawn. Not true. Too much shade from the very important enormous tree on our boundary, which we have just had trimmed by an accredited arborist. When I say trimmed, they removed most of the satellite branches and all of the lower leafy cover, to satisfy the urges of our neighbour, who wanted it removed entirely. Which we entirely disagree with, because of the important ecological benefit it provides for the wildlife, not to mention that the world is heating up – you don’t remove mature trees from yards unless they are DEAD. There is much more light into our yard now, and certainly more viewing spots for our neighbours into our bedroom πŸ˜‰

Here are some images from when the garden had undergone Demo Day:

These images are a bit fuzzy because I had to reduce their size to get them to upload to my email account. Yes, I could use Google Drive. No, I’m not going to. Tropiscapes removed most of the weeds and nearly all of the non tropical plantings – which weren’t thriving in any case, and we’re in the process of making the garden a truly tropical paradise. I can assure everyone that this is an enormously expensive proposition, but IMHO worth it. We’re not doing the front yard yet, because we have a few things to complete before we tear up the ground, so the house will have this rather odd selection of perfectly planted beds and several scrappy ones!

We had a few scrapes to get to this point – our arborist is the worst communicator ever, and had booked in to do the work just when some massive storms were predicted. Obviously they cancelled, then wanted to come in on the Monday, when our landscapers arrived – after also delaying their start, for the same weather reasons. Some minor argy-bargy chest beating ensued, complaints were made, but in the end, it all worked out, except for the bit where they need to do some stump grinding and haven’t booked that in, even though it could have been done at any time in the last month. SIGH. Here are some shots of the work at the midway point:

I love that the garden beds look so much nicer than the rest of the “lawn”… so, don’t ask me to name ANY of the plants that have just gone in – it was hard enough working out the name of my Waterhousia tree at the front of the house, which has also been trimmed beautifully and now everyone can see into our house.

In other news: have you ever thought that you’re really over social media and that you’d be very happy never looking at Facebook ever again? Well, I’ve had enough, yet again. I enjoy seeing what friends and family are up to, but most often nowadays people don’t post at all and it’s only the pages you follow – such as news and infamous folk – that are the consistent posters. Every now and then I purge myself of FB and have a long hiatus. I can’t remember the last time I deactivated my account, but it’s all there in case I need to access it again. FB and other socials are not always the best vehicle for developing good mental health – or even healthy online habits, so I’m ready to take the step and remove myself from it for a while.

That’s enough for now – we’ve lots more to do and I’ll show you the “finished” sections when they’re fixed.

Drumroll….wait for it…KITCHEN AND BATHROOM UPDATE!!!

On the weekend hubby and I took stock of our lovely Queenslander home in SE Qld and decided enough was enough. The never never plan will probably NEVER happen because it will no doubt cost a million bucks of money we don’t have and will literally be 10 years off, by which time we’ll either have moved or died πŸ˜‰ . So we’re renovating our upstairs bathroom and kitchen! My old mate who did our last set of brilliant renovations has said she thinks she might be able to squeeze in this job, so off to the bank we go to see if they’ll chuck us another bit of $$.

I’ve not shown images of these areas online because it is just too traumatic – the kitchen is a mostly useful space but the bathroom is terribly inefficient in the use of space and needs a complete gut job – the last time it was renovated would be easily 25 years ago and while it was probably good at the time, it’s not a happy place for me or the hubby. So I’ve sent a bunch of images and footage to my mate, to see what she can come up with. I know her style and it’s perfect for the house, so I might even leave it up to her to design me something. I know, WHAT AM I THINKING. But I think her knowledge is so much better than mine these days and she has a great way with choosing cheaper cabinets and benches and making them look amazing. The only thing I will really really want to discuss is the stove and oven – I love the space they are in at the moment, but she might have other ideas. Also, I want a Falcon brand stove/oven. One that has both electric and gas hobs, because I’m no longer a great fan of gas, due to its earth-killing properties, and also because the gas stove we own is awful: doesn’t work properly. The oven door doesn’t close all the way and the handle is missing. This free-standing stove from Falcon is GORGEOUS – 110cm wide with a ceramic hob alongside the gas hobs, 2 ovens, a grill and a warming tray. But there are other fab styles too. Of course, this one is the EXPENSIVE model. SIGH.

Here’s a picture of our current crappy bathroom, which even the real estate agent didn’t really want to show, and our kitchen which has issues:

The toilet, located in its own WC next to the bathroom, has no sink, so its separateness is moot. The entryway to this bathroom is appalling – you have to sidle in sideways if you don’t want to bump into the shower door AND you can see right into the bathroom from the street because that is where the door was cunningly placed. The shower door is etched with limescale that cannot be removed – I’ve tried the magical CLR and it did nothing – and the bath, which we just don’t use, takes up all the space. I want to remove the bath, replace the awful vanity and sink with a LONG single-sink vanity (we don’t need 2 sinks – we need 2 prep areas!) and reorganise the space so that the toilet sits within the bathroom. There’s at least 4.5 square metres of wasted space in these 2 teeny rooms. There HAS to be a great solution.

The kitchen, constructed about 25 years ago, doesn’t even have space for a microwave oven – on the bench it goes, along with our kettle, toaster and coffee maker and bang bang and coffee grinder and compost bin and regular bin and letter holder and everything else I squeeze on there. The pantry door opens the wrong way. There are 2 corner cupboards and I can’t access the rear contents. The sink is misaligned with the window (due to the dishwasher position, no doubt), and has no stacking space for dirty dishes. The stove is nearly dead, and the dishwasher only likes the top drawer, not the bottom, so we have to rinse everything, wasting even more water. UGH.

If my mate can come up with a great design that’s reasonably priced I will be beside myself with excitement. I bet you’re asking now – where do we prepare food if the kitchen’s out of action? Well, we have a good sized laundry with a great sink, and a portable electric stove that we can use downstairs, which means we will actually USE downstairs…, and of course there is a working downstairs bathroom for our abluting needs…

Come to think of it, the kitchen and bathroom upstairs sit ever so slightly proud of the house – we might be able to extend this area a bit more if it still sits under the eaves…hmmm.

A bit of a bedroom update

Hubby and I went to Sydney a few weeks ago and enjoyed the most wonderful king sized bed sleeping experience. We decided then and there that we needed a new bed. My old Queen sized bed base was 30 years old and while I loved the 20s vibe it gave, we were overdue for a bedroom update. We decided to gift the bed base and mattress and accompanying bedding (I gave away my old doona, some sheet sets and doona covers) to a local couple who needed it for their son’s place in Toowoomba. I hope they get lots of use out of it! The mattress was a bad buy for us – far too soft and even though it had “pocket coils”, I don’t think there were enough of them. It was a poor experience all round.

We decided to buy a king sized bed. We had to decide between firm and medium – this is a major issue for us as our backs are not getting any younger! I reckon we tried every single brilliant mattress in SE Qld, until we discovered Hypnos brand from Beds ‘n’ Dreams. From there it was a matter of deciding firm or medium. A wise person on our travels told us that one can make a firm bed softer, but one cannot make a soft bed firmer. Well. That decided it. Firm it was. We had four weeks to wait while they constructed the ensemble which is made in Australia. Oh dear, what a shame that I had to immediately go out and buy all new bedding for the unit.

Here is an image of the bed we selected (headboard NOT included!):

It’s freaking enormous. I have to stand on my tiptoes to get in the thing. I laugh every time I do this, btw, because it feels so ridiculous, but I’m happy to say it does not overwhelm the room. I’m utterly thrilled with the ensemble as it comes with drawers for my shoes (huzzah!!) and it’s actually streamlined the look in our bedroom. Here are some shots of the new bed with accompanying bedding from Adairs, Pillowtalk, Bed Bath ‘n’ Table and the Coastal Cushion Company:

I’m still getting used to the firmness of the bed but it’s starting to soften up just a bit, and it has some memory foam too, which I normally don’t love but it’s fine in this instance. Hubby loves the firmness. I’m miles away from hubby in the bed, too, which is quite a blessing after 15 years of marriage!!! πŸ˜‰ I’m just loving our new all natural bedding – wool, feather and down, linen, cotton and bamboo. I feel like the sage green and olive green pillows were an inspired touch – they will work beautifully with our white linen doona cover. Now, of course, I’m eyeing off new lamps…

It’s the little things you do together (that cost a small fortune)

We’ve been doing a few things together and our bank balance is looking a little worse for wear. We finally had a HUGE timber boundary fence installed and it’s beautiful, but it was NOT cheap. We shared the cost with our neighbours with no dramas but I gave them a discount because their side was left with a portion of the old fence (on their side of the boundary actually) that was riddled with live termites… white ant for those not familiar. Given that both our houses are timber, we each shuddered. The fencing guys wouldn’t remove that portion of the old fence so I slightly reduced the neighbour’s cost of the fence cost to offset the nuisance value of getting the termites taken care of and the fence removed.

The doggoes were so good while the fence was missing – they didn’t try to go over to the neighbour’s yard once, except for the very last night before the fence was finished, when Dougal – who up until this point had resolutely refused to step over the mythical fence line – went INTO their open HOUSE and greeted the neighbour with a grin and a wagging tail. Doh! Mike our (rather grumpy) neighbour was not amused. Luckily his wife could see the humour in it… πŸ˜‰ I’m going to pull out some of the hedging at the top of the block and replace it with rosemary – it’s a softer plant and the car gets scratches every time I open the door onto the rather meh hedging plants there at present. Then right at the top, where the dogs lie in wait for other dogs, I’m going to plant either some lavender, or some woody herbs such as perennial basil, and ground cover plants like thyme or oregano. That spot gets heaps of sun and I’m a bit desperate for some good herbs. We will need to feed and rehabilitate that spot as the dirt is compacted and lacks nutrients, and we may have to pull out a massive concrete footer left from the old fence (apparently rather over engineered according to the fencers who came and DID NOT remove them – too huge to move!)

I know it looks kind of wonky at this angle but it’s not – we have a steep block and we had to move the boundary just a bit to keep a mature, gorgeous palm tree. Worth it!
Imma gonna clear off that leaf litter on the neighbour’s garage roof, I swear!
May have to plant around the old concrete footers if we can’t get them out…

In other news we’ve been investigating the idea of putting in a ducted air-conditioning system upstairs. Again, it’s not cheap but since we now have solar I feel better about using it during the day, and switching it off at night when we need it less – our carbon footprint isn’t as hellish with solar panels, and the ongoing costs aren’t as huge. Of course, we will only need it between October and April, but we’ve discovered this house is hot in summer and rather cold in winter. There are no window gaps or anything, it’s just a timber and tin home. With all the best will in the world, it’s impossible for them not to heat up quickly and cool down fast. I’ve not checked the roof cavity but I’m pretty sure it’s been insulated – we might even double down on the insulation if it’s the cheap, thin stuff. I’m not yet sold on the air-conditioning idea. We might put it off and then I may spend another summer sweating into my eyeballs – my study is the HOT room, but I spend between 4-8 hours in it most days.

That’s not all. Told you we were being spendy! Two or three years ago we bought a new mattress and realised once it had arrived that it was far too soft for our poor ancient backs. Instead of sending it back, we’ve made do. Our backs have not thanked us! So we made the rather huge decision to buy a king sized bed and mattress ensemble, repurposing our old queen sized bed for the guest suite, and selling our newish, rarely-used double bed (or giving it to our daughter who still sleeps in her single). Again, this was not a cheap endeavour. Luckily, beds are ALWAYS on a 50% off sale, and this one was no exception. We could have bought a decent second hand car with what we paid, but sleeping on a bad bed has taught us that given that we spend fully one third of our lives prone, the lying down bit should always feel good. First world problems, for sure. Of course, this now means I have to spend lots of money on new bedding, because it’s a king-sized bed. This means king sized sheets, doonas, mattress protectors, and even a mattress topper if that’s needed. We bought a firm mattress, because as I’ve been told, one can always soften a firm mattress, but one can never firm up a too-soft one. And, for the first time in 30 years, we will not have a bed with a footrest or headrest. This is new to me – where will I hang all the not-quite-dirty-but-not-freshly-clean clothes? How will we cope? I do have a lovely camphor-wood chest we can place at the foot of the bed but I’m tempted to get a narrow padded bench instead and totally make over our room with new furniture.

We bought a Hypnos Balmoral bed ensemble. Not the most exxie bed, but not the cheapest either! We bought a base with 4 drawers in it so we have somewhere to put our pillows at night (yeah, sure) or my shoes. Probably my shoes. Definitely my shoes. The bed head was NOT included. Can you imagine…

In other news, we’re finally painting the front walkway, bannisters and deck! Old mate Robert, who has a thick Scottish accent and says “ooh aye” a lot, has been painting our fence and deck this week. I’m basically paying for his 2-month grey nomad trip around Uluru in June, but I have grown to hate painting with a passion and am ready to let it go to someone else. He’s better than me, and worse than another guy I’m hoping to employ once Robert has scarpered. The new paint looks a treat, and he’s also painted the batwing doors. It’s so fresh! I won’t show you all yet, but I’m pretty thrilled with the result, because the cack green is finally going.

Oh! And I finally bit the bullet and have bought a new electric height-adjustable desk from Office National. Nope, I did NOT purchase it from Officeworks! Just for a change. I wanted a wide desk for my two monitors and laptop, so I’ve gone with a Rapidspan height adjustable 1800mm desk in white and black that should look very smart in my studio and be an improvement on the laminated wood bench top that I’ve had perched atop some bookcases for the last 4 years! I’m very aware of my health as I age and I wanted a desk that I could stand at or sit at as my body demands. I’ve actually sustained a SITTING injury – a sore coccyx – from sitting down too much. I think this will help with my weight and general improved freedom of movement. I’ll let you know how it goes….

This desk comes with a stabilising bar, which no others do, and is recommended for desks of this width.

Nearly May, which means Winter is here!

In South East Queensland, it is generally accepted there are two seasons: hot and humid, and not. Living in the subtropics as I do, I have to confess I really hate January through March here in Brisbane. When late April/May arrives, though, it’s the best place in the world. I’m in two minds about November-December. Sometimes it’s blazing hot, other times it’s mild and warm. Good for old bones at any rate. September is nearly always gorgeous but we usually get overrun by southerners trying to warm up after a long dark winter. They go to Noosa. Which is a little slice of heaven that I can never return to because it’s full of southerners. πŸ˜‰

Winter in Brisbane is like everyone else’s awesome Autumn. The days are mild, bright and sunny (mostly – it’s proving me wrong this week), the nights cool and crisp. The frantic never-ending heat and humidity of the last few months has ended, and I stop sweating into my eyes. Top temperatures are about 22 degrees Celsius, nighttime temps from 6 – 15 degrees.

That being said, of course, this is the first Winter in our new house, and we have a feeling it will be a cool one. Most Queenslander tin and timber homes are too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and even though I’m sure this old girl is insulated in all the new sections, the old wall sections can’t really be well insulated without a lot of retrofitting, which is difficult and expensive. So we make do with insulated ceiling cavities, warm jumpers and ugg boots, snuggly rugs and hope that there are no ill fitting windows. There’s no natural heating in the house – the two working air conditioners are reverse cycle, which means they can heat a house in winter, but I’m not really fussed – a little chill never hurt anyone, and the air is quite still in winter – very few breezes and we’ve fixed all the window cracks and creaks.

We’ve had a “little man” come round and do a few odd jobs for us. He’s not little, really, he’s Scottish and has a dear broad Scottish accent – oh aye, quoth he (like, literally, he says “ooh aye”. Never heard anything like it). He’s been fixing holes in ceilings from when we moved the light fittings, a bit of cupboard hinge repair work, and he’s been repairing and cleaning up our front fence. We do intend to replace our front picket fence in the next few years, but a good refresh with a coat of paint never hurt. Already the painted sections look brighter and crisper.

We don’t really have the funds to paint the entire exterior – I got a quote that was nearly $30,000!!! So we’re taking the much cheaper option of painting the trim, fence, rails, bannisters and decking posts a bright Dulux Natural White. This has a cream base but is much brighter than the current colour, which is a deep cream. And we’re looking at a lovely mid green called Taubmans Sweet Clover for the contrast colour, which we will use sparingly on the window trims. We’re playing with a strong black/brown Dulux Klavier for the decking boards – everything is a dreary, miserable dark green at the moment, so this will provide a much needed lift. At some point we will need to replace the boards but not this decade – when we do we’ll go with a natural timber colour. Silver paint will be used for all the window hoods – we could replace them but the metal is solid, so painting over them is better, IMHO. And finally, of course, we will be painting the front door a divine Taubman Sachet Pink to match its glass insert.

The colours we have chosen look like this:

Klavier is a bit darker and the Linseed is as close as I could get to the dreary main house colour – it’s a tiny touch more green – hence the green contrast trim colour, but these colours work well together. It’s been a bit of a sad journey to put aside the crisp white, grey and blue combo I was investigating, but these colours will serve us well into the future and won’t cost us all the monies, and the Linseed does not yet need repainting.

I promised months ago to show you another architect I’m investigating for our never never renovation. I’ve been looking at Alexandra Buchanan Architects. One of the reasons I like this architect firm is because it was started by a woman, and women have a pretty terrible time of it in architecture, as they do in many other fields. The designs are comfortable, bright and clean, and really well suited to our sub tropical climate, but I really like the designs that are more oriented towards a bush feel. In our back yard we have about 20 trees and palms, and it has a really cool, forested vibe out there. So I want to honour that look and feel, and include a lap pool at the back – I really enjoy swimming but the nearest public pool is a bit icky. Below are some examples of her work – all copyrighted to Alexandra Buchanan Architects, of course. The first three are of a house in Warrandyte, Melbourne. I love the mix of stone and wood textures and clever use of the butterfly roof line that enables a good clerestory window action. The final two are of a new build here in Brisbane. I love the use of white and natural stone, and the pale cement. We have plenty of room under the house to build – about 4 metres high, so I’m not worried about the light or anything. But like all good ideas, ours is super expensive as we need to upgrade the upstairs wet areas too. So this might be on the back burner for good! Argh.

Pros and Cons of travelling interstate

So I blithely decided to visit my extended family in Melbourne on the 24th January because the borders finally flew open and I hadn’t seen them for a billion years. I had a lovely time, hubby came south too and we had a few stunning days in Melbourne staying at a gorgeous boutique hotel, eating dumplings and yum cha, visiting some of my favourite places and seeing some wonderful shows before he returned to warmer climes. And avoided the border closures by 3 days. Because, drum roll please, I decided to stay an extra week, hanging with the fam and just being a bit helpful. And got caught by a COVID-19 quarantine breach.

I was going to fly out Sunday Feb 14, but I’ve gotten caught in a 5-day hard lockdown here – no leaving the house for anything other than exercise, work, compassionate/ health grounds or food shopping. And when we DO leave the house we need to wear a mask. In truth this hasn’t been too hard because it’s mostly what I do all day every day anyway, but QLD have SHUT THE BORDER! This means that until I hear otherwise, I have to assume I can’t re-enter QLD without 14 days in hotel quarantine that I have to pay for.

The very funny and highly appropriate Jimmy Rees posts YouTube videos about lockdown in Australia. He has numbered them because everything changes so rapidly. Video number 10 was published on January 19: watch it here. Another video was published at the end of January and now: video number 12. Take a look and you will understand what I mean when I yell in caps: SHUT THE BORDER!!!

I’m now waiting for news about the QLD border, because at this point I won’t get home until March, and will miss hubby’s birthday. I admire QLD’s conservatism and over-abundance of caution, but it is a bit grating experiencing this on the other side of the border line (also known as the Dark Side). I’d rather avoid hotel quarantine, because at least here I can go for walks and see my family, and from Thursday I have free movement around Melbourne. Mum and dad’s house is large, they have the world’s sweetest dog, they live by the beach and I have good internet access. I can work from here as I brought my computer, and there’s no excuse not to work on The Book or the research I’m actually being paid to do. This means I won’t be leaving until QLD release the border again, which could be 14 days (Feb 27), could be 28 days (forever). But anyhoo, I’m not complaining because I’m loving the weather here and Mabel the mini labradoodle is the cutest girl ever, and I don’t have to sweat all the time. But I DO miss the hubby and my dogs, and I know hubby is also finding life lonely without me.

While we’re waiting, though, I had a design epiphany. Anyone who follows me on Insta will have seen my posts about a couple of wonderful QLD architects: well, I’ve seen the light. I want to create a surprisingly different downstairs room that will function as the kitchen and family living area, and I want to do it in a modernist style. YUP. You heard me. MODERNISM. What IS the world coming to?!

The top floor of our house sits at street level, but there is an immediate drop of some 1.5 metres from the street, and a clever person built a gantry from the street to the house so that if one of us suddenly became non-ambulant that at least we could be rolled into the house without too many dramas. This of course also means that there’s heaps of room downstairs – with potentially nice high ceilings of up to 4 metres (16ft). Have a look at these images from Shaun Lockyer Architects to see what I mean. The ones I’m posting are from their website and this is in no way a paid endorsement, rather a chance to spread the love of this very talented company.

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So, what are we looking at here? Things of stone and wood, that’s what. I’m thinking a matte-polished concrete floor (or if not that, then a travertine flagstone – and while I hate the non-eco friendly state of concrete, the current area is already concreted, so it makes sense to carry this through), black aluminium-framed windows and doors, and a lined wood ceiling. There’s lots about this that is already a bit out of date (concrete floors are SO 2010, and wood-lined ceilings are not always well finished), but there are parts of these designs that are already 90 years old and have withstood the time test. Stone, for one. Or rammed earth. Not sure I’d get either of these in the design because expensive but at least this is an idea for me to grasp. Basically the room would be about 8 x 8 metres, with the kitchen and associated working areas along the south eastern side. There would be a step-down from the stairwell foyer into this large room. There would be windows on 3 sides and the kitchen backsplash would be a window to allow more light from that side. I would recommend a clerestory window system all around the room as it sits low on the block, and there would be an all glass sliding door system right along the wall facing the garden, that would lead onto the deck and the pool.

Here are two images: the first is the current layout, and the second is the proposed mud map:

See? Very simple. The new room would extend to where the main bedroom ends, but that’s it. The current “car port” is just a concreted space under the house, mostly useless as we don’t really use it for anything other than temporary storage. And puhlease, I’m using a really ordinary drawing program that sucks, hence the crappy design – and I don’t know how to use CAD or anything like that – don’t hate me! The GBs are vegetable garden beds, and the pool is blue. The downstairs bathroom would stay in place but made slightly smaller and updated. We would need to demolish the upstairs deck and install a gorgeous gable-roofed covered deck that would reach to the back of the master bedroom. We would then change out the windows in the bedroom for louvred glass French doors so we could have the doors open all night in the summer, as we do with our windows. Yes, it gets dusty and noisy, but it’s worth it. And, of course, upstairs would not only get a new deck but a new family bathroom, and an ensuite and WIR in the main bedroom. It would also get a sweet little drinks area/ kitchenette for when we’re too blah to go downstairs for the coffee. Here’s its current plan:

Imagine that deck extending to the back bedroom wall, and then removing the kitchen and reorganising all the wet areas…!!! We’d have to replace some of the upstairs windows as they are wonky, but other than that the bones of the original house would stay exactly as we found them. They are lovely. In terms of the external appearance of the extension – well, again I think I’d prefer to surprise people and keep it wood siding like the original. Three sides would be glass, of course, but the remaining wall would be hidden by the car port too. Maybe a stone pillar on the south western border… and I’m no fan of the black kitchen, so I’d have to come up with a gorgeous alternative. Lucky me!

Next post I’ll show you another architect that’s got people talking in QLD.

All things solar and save-the-planet related!

Here comes the sun, doo dn doo doo! I write this on the first day of Biden’s US Presidency. The US political system I can assure you has affected every single Australian since late 2016, so Biden and the Democrats getting in is a blessing. So, because this is SO NOT a political blog – I save that for my Facebook rants πŸ˜‰ I thought I’d talk to you about our new solar electrical system and the ways we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint. I keep going to write solar system, but that’s a little too celestial, dontcha think!

Just over a month ago we had solar installed through GI Energy – a nice little company that gave us a reasonable price, but more importantly, suggested we install our solar panels in the very best roof sections. The sales representative for GI Energy was lovely, very laid back and thoughtful – a touch tired and aged in his late fifties, in truth. So I liked him! He recommended we install 17 QCell 385W panels with 17 Enphase IQ 7A microinverters, with the Enphase Envoy monitoring system:

The two other companies were competitive, but recommended we install our panels in the weirdest way that in the end made no sense given our roof size and orientation. The other company who sent out a rep, sent us a person who was super intense and cheerful and about 20 (to my jaded eyes – she was probably in her mid 30s!), but the product was $1000 more expensive because of doohickey attachment thingies and they couldn’t install until late January. So we went with GI Energy.

See the price on the right of the image in green? That’s the price of solar WITH the Australian Government rebate of $3600. It’s expensive installing solar, okay? Don’t believe the other people when they say they can install solar for only $3000 – the system will be a shoddy, cheap system with very poor installation and poor customer service. GI Energy gave us the option of Hyundai panels, but went with QCells as they have a proven track record and the Hyundai brand are quite new, and again, not available until 2021. Why the hurry, you ask me? Well, we just wanted to start the new year off well, as it has been a shit show 2020. So no reason, really.

Here’s an overview of our savings potential:

We in Australia have a very crap feed in tariff as electricity companies and our stoopid federal gummint try to haul back some money from those who’ve taken the solar plunge. We get pretty poor return on our investment for 7-odd years. But after that, we will have paid off our system (we’re paying up front so this is all somewhat hypothetical) and will start to come out in front. But the financial savings is not what we’re about. I’m going to get a bit climate-y now – look away if you’re squeamish about the climate or money or saving the planet.

We (the residents and custodians of the only planet we live on) have about 9 years to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and start re-vegetating the planet before we enter slow death by planetary cascade (a cascade is when one thing fails, then another, etc until it reaches tipping point and nothing can stop it: for example flying insects are in steep decline, which will reduce populations of all things that eat them, which will reduce our ability to fertilise crops, which will reduce our ability to feed our populations of all sentient beings, and then death. So, quite a big thing, those insects dying). As one of the 1% world’s wealthiest population – see this website to do your own sums here, hubby and I have a duty to reduce, reuse, recycle, and to DO OUR BIT for the world. The world’s wealthiest people use most of the world’s resources and it’s getting worse:

https://www.sciencealert.com/we-just-used-up-all-of-earth-s-resources-for-the-year-and-it-s-only-july

Oh my god, Australia! The only country to require less than a planet and a half is India, at 0.7, but I do NOT want to live like the average poverty stricken Indian. ANYHOO. What can I personally do to reduce my weighty Australian footprint on the planet? I can install solar, I can drive an electric car/ take public transport. I can drastically reduce my intake of meat products and I can plant a vegetable garden and food plants, I can buy fewer things, I can spend less. I can stop flight travel. I can choose to support companies with excellent carbon footprint emissions approaches. I can reduce my reliance on plastics and fossil fuel.

So we’re starting with solar. This should reduce our footprint a smidge. This is our footprint that I calculated for 2019 (2020 has reduced our footprint considerably), using the following very basic web carbon footprint calculator:

The CNCF website states: “According to the World Bank, in 2019 Australia’s emissions per capita was 24.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person – almost five times the global average!” So as individuals we are each contributing more than the average Aussie, which is pretty terrible, and since this was a quick and dirty calculation, I’m pretty sure we use more (my hubby travels business class for work and that adds 16 tons CO2 per return flight – ugh). Now, I did the calcs again, this time with reduced air travel because we’re not flying anywhere overseas until 2022, and changes to our vehicle (we’re buying a hybrid next month), and fewer “events” (I’m not actually sure what these are but I suspect includes things like birthdays, holiday accommodation, shows, parties etc?):

Well, that’s better. By drastically reducing our air travel, swapping out our car and reducing our electricity by half we can get down to a coo-ee of the the planet average (still not great though). I’ve halved the electrical output but I can’t know how much we will be using until we add the hybrid car electricity usage, and when we get the changes to the feed in tariff etc for the electricity. Once batteries are more affordable we’ll probably go completely off grid and reduce our CO2 use even further. We swapped out all our electric lights for LED – there are still several low energy fluoro ones about but as I’ve owned them for years it would be worse to throw them out and start again than just use what we have. We live in QLD so we rarely heat the house (I think this new home will get a little chilly in winter but that’s what jumpers are for), but the days get hot in summer. Luckily that’s when we can use the air conditioning!

The next, and hardest thing to do is change our dietary habits. This is harder than it looks, given that hubby would be perfectly happy eating only meat, potatoes and sweets. How do you change the habits of a lifetime? πŸ˜‰ Whenever we have anything with mince I always cut it with heaps of veggies or legumes, but we don’t live only on mincemeat. We eat lamb, and pork, chicken and beef, duck and sustainable fish too. It’s the other things that contribute wastage, too. The snack foods wrapped in plastic. Rice, spaghetti, any dried food product is wrapped in plastic. The cans of tomatoes, the shrink wrapped meat, the veggies wrapped in soft plastics. The drinks in hard plastic containers or glass. The condiments in plastic or glass.

Notice I’ve only added 1.4 Tonnes of waste to the mix? That’s because we recycle 95% of our normal waste – I’m not sure if it’s actually happening because I’m a cynic and latest figures on recycling in Australia don’t fill me with confidence, but all our hard plastics, cardboard, glass and metal waste goes in the recycling bin, and we compost 99% of our food and paper waste. We save our soft plastic waste and drop it at Coles or Woolworths’ bin for the Redcycle recycling company. Our normal rubbish – the stuff from the vacuum cleaner (combination of dirt, dust bunnies, dog toy detritus and plastic), thermal paper, small bits of plastic from bottle tops to twist ties, bathroom waste etc, is less than a small waste paper basket’s worth per week. Our normal bin (either with a red or dark green lid) is mostly empty, while our yellow-lidded recycling bin is nearly always full. We’ve had a rather busy few months with lots of new purchases due to our move, and subsequently heaps of waste but I’m hoping that our future spending will be much less. I do prefer antiques to new, so when I buy something new it’s often because we can’t get the vintage option.

The next thing to do will be to reduce our reliance on plastic products. I’ve already swapped out most of our plastic wrap for beeswax cloth covers, or silicone sheets (silicone sticks REALLY WELL to itself and REALLY BADLY to anything else, but I persevere!). It took hubby 10 years to come around to my way of thinking, but he’s here with a vengeance now, bless him! QLD is about to vote on a bill that would ban all single use plastics including cups, straws, YAY, and hopefully ban those awful foam trays that some meats are sold on – they are not recyclable at all. I keep most of the plastic containers that our take away meals come in and reuse them until they break, so they have quite a long life cycle – up to a year or more. I reuse most of the plastic bags our fruit and veggies come in as freezer bags and recycle them once they become too icky to reuse.

In terms of clothing, I have been buying cotton, wool and linen clothes for years, plus now I buy bamboo, tencel and modal clothes because they are all wood by-products and apparently can be recycled too. I can’t actually cope well with polyester and plastic clothing in the heat of a SE Qld summer so this was a no-brainer for me. I guess the hardest part for me is the move from plastic bottles that hold personal hygiene products or cleaning products, to a more sustainable option. I’m always looking for recycled plastic or plastic alternatives. Expensive and boring but worth it.

And finally, our new hybrid car. In February we’re purchasing a new Volvo XC40 Recharge, which has lots of recycled plastic and other materials in it, and the stats on it are impressive. Here’s a picture of our new Volvo: πŸ™‚

Most of my travel is during the day and I doubt whether I drive more than 40km per week, since I work from home. This means I can drive entirely on the electric engine for all city driving. Now that we have solar the cost of charging the engine should be close to $0 and our CO2 emissions likewise nearly zero.

The next thing I want to do, and I confess I’m a little late getting started as I meant to do this late last year, is to create some vegetable garden beds in the working section of our rather gorgeous tropical garden. I’m not a great gardener, and I have zero experience keeping a garden alive but it’s time now to do this. The previous owner planted the most gorgeous tropical garden and we have so many wonderful birds here, taking advantage of the flowering trees and lovely shade. I’d like to continue her efforts and plant some fruit trees including avocado and another tropical fruit – maybe even a passionfruit vine or two. The birds and bats will love it, as will the insects, possums and other beasties but I think it’s worth it.

If we can grow more things from scratch at home I will finally reach peak Karen smugness, and feel just a bit better about my heavy tread on the planet.

So that’s me saving the planet, one expensive thing at a time.

A very COVID Christmas! Also expensive.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Today’s events on the eve of Summer Solstice include installing solar panels on the roof (saving the planet, not our wallets!) and 2 beautiful stained glass windows to match our rose by the front door.

I’m stoked.

Rose window, probably created in the 1920s.
One of 2 new stained glass windows, replacing the old clear windows and giving us some much needed privacy from our lovely neighbours (they really ARE lovely, but we don’t need to see their TV from our dining room window!).
Here they are in situ. Just gorgeous. Made by Michael, @theglassmandala

I love how the artist Michael has made this new creation look old, by the use of some old stained glass he has retrieved over the years. This has been a VERY expensive month, but as I’ve said to hubby more than once: we can afford it right now – we may not have the chance in future. Let’s show some largesse and help the economy back on its feet. I think hubby and I are the actual main people helping the economy back on its feet πŸ˜‰ ! Here’s basically a long, long list of how much we’ve bought over the last 3 months.

We have just installed a billion lights, new fans, and electrical power-points to the house at enormous cost. I organised a locksmith to install a bunch of new locks for the house as it felt rather easy to access and even though I work from home, I often don’t go downstairs and there are a number of windows allowing easy egress from the garden – new keyed locks on them all, now! Of other electrical things we’ve also bought a new coffee espressso machine – a low cost version to take the pain off the one we’ve been using, because the one we use has been slowly dying and has already been serviced once (this will be our fourth in 14 years). We bought a new smallish fridge just before we bought our new house as our other one died right before our selling campaign!!! and we weren’t able to check the size, and subsequently have had to buy yet ANOTHER small fridge to fit the overflow – ugh. We bought a stick vacuum cleaner for upstairs – not that great, truthfully, but I can’t be bothered lugging old Henry up the stairs more than once a month so small mercies I guess… and we’ve bought various small devices to support our extravagant lifestyle. First world problems indeed.

A couple of days ago I bought outright a new iPhone – 12 Pro Max – my 8+ was great but just starting to stutter a bit, and I’ll gift that to mum as she has my old 7+ and needs an upgrade. I told her today and she was super happy! Seriously, she can afford to buy new but just hasn’t, and complains about my old phone ALL THE TIME. Last week I bought a portable air-conditioner – noisy but good for my hot box of a study while we wait for more split-system air-conditioning stock to come in in February – we can then move it to the downstairs bedroom for when visitors stay. We’ve spent at least $500 at Bunnings hardware on itsy bitsy stuff, and triple that on clothes since September. I rarely buy very expensive clothes (high street only) and I try to buy made-in-Australia, but the truth is SE Qld is very hard on clothes – one spends most of the day sweating and so the garments are frequently washed (not by me, gosh I’m lucky). And I really needed, reeeeaaaallly neeeeeded 2 new pairs of Birkenstocks (classic version) because I wear them for about 10 months a year and I’ve been without for a year now and it’s slowly killing me!

The chickens are the most expensive chickens in the world – we have just bought them a new coop and run to stop Randy the Rapey Bush Turkey from getting to them. Seriously, it would be cheaper not to own chickens and just buy eggs every now and then, but in truth I’d love more chickens: I just love the silly creatures. We also spend a stupid amount of money on the dogs, on their snacks, and beds, and grooming. More expensive than children but at least they don’t talk back! πŸ˜‰

We’re keen art lovers and have just dropped a serious bundle on some very lovely pieces for the few remaining rooms that have empty walls – hubby said it was for Xmas so I said yes, and then he said he wanted to give me “something extra on the day”. GAH. We buy only Australian art, so our collection now includes David Bromley, Matthew Johnson, Charles Blackman, Ray Crooke, Davida Allen, Yvonne Mills-Stanley, Toni Bucknell, Susan Romyn, Constantin Popov, Sokquon Tran, Ben Lucas and works by indigenous artists Gloria Petyarre, Lily Kelly Napangardi, Polly Ngala, Evelyn Pultara, Betty Mbitjana, Nellie Marks Nakamarra, Patricia Kamara, Rosemary Pitjara, and Jeannie Mills Pwerle. We literally have no room for more stuff, so the collectible house-and-scenery images we buy when we travel have been relegated to corners and bookshelves.

Today we have had solar installed – with micro inverters so that any clouding on one part of the array doesn’t affect the other part. It’s the more expensive option but worth it! The installer has already connected it to the mains so our old rotary electrical reader is actually now turning backwards – we’re feeding straight into the grid, no throttling until the power company comes (probably in mid January) to install the new digital meter. Heheheh. I’m thrilled that we can finally stop adding to the earth’s woes, even just a little bit.

And of course there’s all the stuff we bought for the new loungeroom – cushions, couches, coffee tables, credenzas and carpet. For the back deck: new couch and lots of new plants, and some lovely festoon lights we installed ourselves. It’s so pretty there now. But I think I’m finally done.

So I’m pretty happy that we’ve supported local and international business this month – in truth, we made some money on the sale of our home, enough to buy all these things that we love and use regularly, and the spending will have to stop soonish as I want to plan our next holiday! I think we will probably get a new hifi system for the lounge room for our birthdays. I want one with bluetooth but no Alexa or anything that listens in to my conversations. I’m old fashioned that way.

In the new year we will be doing a bunch of small but necessary house upgrades: new front and side fences, a spiffy new paint job, some carpentry for a storage unit and some gates for the stairs so that the dogs don’t go careening around the yard looking for people to bark at. We’ve lived here now for 3 months and we’ve worked out what works and what doesn’t – and it’s better than we thought, but there is a long term plan to move and improve the kitchen, add an ensuite and family bathroom upstairs, and extend the deck. Oh! and install a pool. Really neeeeeeed a pool.

Finally: Xmas. This year has been a big one as we had two children graduate from uni and so we wanted to give them a bit extra, and my son and his wife are saving for a house, and I’m doing a big gift for him instead of lots of small Xmas and birthday gifts. In the end, though, as my mother says: it’s only money. And that is the truth. Oh! And we’ve put a little aside for the charities we support. They need our help more than ever this year. If you’re interested: The Smith Family, International Women’s Development Agency, The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Red Cross, and probably Bush Heritage.

So if I don’t post again, have a wonderful Xmas and safe and careful New Year. Wear a mask, wash your hands and let’s beat this insidious disease.

Merry Xmas from the green room!