Just in time for Christmas

The new deck is finished!

Let’s go back a little bit. We used to have a closed-in sun porch on the side of the house. It had a concrete floor, plank walls to hip height and glass louvres above. The compressor for the aircon was out there, and we scarcely used it except occasionally in the winter, because it was infernally hot.

You may recall I tried to beautify it a while ago with a large curtain which cut some of the heat by blocking off the compressor. That worked ok, but it didn’t do much for the fact that during the incredibly dry season we had recently, the ground under the concrete base started to shrink and the whole thing started to pull away from the house. A crack an inch wide appeared between the house and the porch. Something had to be done.

There was nothing wrong with the roof overhead. So I had fun removing all the glass from the louvres, the Husband and I demolished the walls, Bill the carpenter came and propped the roof, and Keith the excavator came and did his usual incredibly agile zooming around in his baby bobcat, and took out the concrete base. And then Bill came back and built us this.

Isn’t it lovely? As you can see, we’re ready for Christmas with a welcome wreath and twinkling lights. Such a change from that hot, dusty thing we had before. It’s cool, roomy, and has wide steps at either end. I can open the french windows in the living room and just step out. My 3 metre dining table fits out there. Which is just as well, as we’re 10 for Christmas breakfast, which is at Chiconia this year. The forecast is for pleasant, moderate temperatures, and I think it should be memorable.

It’s almost a shame we’re moving house early next year. I’m totally in love with this new deck….


Effort and reward

Yesterday, we got a Tardis pothole.

By this, I mean it looked small and innocuous but was e.n.o.r.m.o.u.s underneath. The visible hole was about the size of my head. The erosion underneath was the size of a big truck tyre. The cause was erosion from below, where water flow over time had eaten away the rocks and road base surrounding the two huge concrete pipes that form the span of the causeway bridge over the flood drain at the front of our property. Suffice to say that we needed quick-set concrete, chicken wire reinforcement, rocks and crushed concrete roadbase to fix it. There was grovelling on our stomachs in the dirt, and digging, and getting wet and muddy, and shovelling rocks, and yes, you guessed it, a sore back. It was urgent, though, as the causeway bridge is our only way in and out of the property. We’re due a big blow and very wet weather tonight and tomorrow thanks to the former Tropical Cyclone Owen weather system, so we couldn’t leave it or we might have lost the whole bridge from more erosion as the drain fills and flows faster. But we got it done this morning, and we’ve made a good job of it.

And then after that, there was quilting another row of blocks on Go Teal it on the Mountain. I’m really loving how the quilting looks on all those beautiful mountain blocks. Once I’ve sandwiched the front, batting and backing together, I just put my 60° triangular ruler onto the block, apex at the centre top, and draw a single line bottom left to centre top and down again to bottom right. I quilt that in, and then all subsequent lines are done by running the edge of the walking foot 3/8 inch from the previous line. No measuring, no marking. Quick and easy.

And our reward for all this effort?

Steak for dinner, and these babies. Not my most elegant baking result, but the taste is what matters, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m going to get a lot of satisfaction driving over our bridge in future, knowing it’s full of rocks and concrete we put there ourselves, and is nice and solid 🙂

Hammers and whacking things

Great fun, bad timing….

OK, let’s start at the beginning with this story. The sun porch on the side of our house is starting to pull away from the rest of the structure. We’ve had years of much lower than average rainfall, and this year has been particularly bad. The ground below the porch has contracted and shrunk to the point where it has made the brick and concrete foundation tilt. It’s no longer merely a bit wonky. It’s now starting to get structurally dangerous. Something obviously had to be done.

See how the floor’s tilting down away from the house?

We decided that the simplest and safest solution was to prop the roof, which is all of a piece with the rest of the house, and demolish the rest of the porch out from under it. Turns out the porch isn’t properly attached to the house anywhere except by the roof… which is bad. But that makes removing it easier, which is good. Once it’s gone, we’ll replace it with an open wooden deck with railings and steps down at either end. Same size, same footprint. Bill the carpenter has installed acrow props along the beam supporting the roof. But now the sides and ends had to go…

I’ve been a serial renovator all my adult life. Buy something ugly and tired, do it up and sell it on at a profit. It has meant that I’ve mostly lived in ‘works in progress’ and have a closer acquaintance than most women with tools, studs, noggins, plasterboard/ drywall, filler, sandpaper, paint and so on. Oh, and The Tools of Destruction. One of the things I brought to my marriage was a better stocked and larger toolkit than the Husband’s own. Including sledgehammer and crowbar. In a previous life, my nickname was Thor-a, Goddess of Hammers and Whacking Things. Because, you know, I did that stuff. A lot.

Today, Thor-a rises again. The porch roof is propped, and before we can have the base demolished by Excavator Keith, we needed to remove the glass louvre windows and the walls. Big hat, check. Gloves and mask, check. Long sleeves, long pants, check. Sledgehammer and crowbar, oh yeah, baby! But wait… the weather forecast for today is for a top temperature of 35°C/95°F, UV index 15 (extreme). So, not ideal weather. But unfortunately, we have to do this stuff now to clear the decks for the next stage.

We gave ourselves two hours. It was hot, sweaty and fairly strenuous work. We were doing it at perhaps the worst possible time of year and day. But we got most of it done; just the two end walls to go. We have to take out the screen door at the road end, and the two uprights at the yard end. Everything we’ve removed is already stacked in the trailer, waiting to go. Go us!

Once it’s done, we’ll need Keith and his bobcat. But that’s fun for another day!

A whiter shade of pale

A while ago, I spotted a ‘recipe’ on Pinterest.

But no, this isn’t a food post. It was a cocktail of products intended to deep-clean bed linen. Now, I dearly love good bed linen. Crisp, always white, and 1,000 to 1,500 thread count. I have three or four sets, all 100% cotton apart from my bamboo set. The oldest set is well over 15 years old, but the pillowcases are all, even the newer ones, getting a bit, well… dingy. I know why, and there are two main reasons. The first is my dedication to washing everything in cold water for environmental reasons. Most of the time, it’s perfectly fine, but it doesn’t get bedding that gleaming white-white of new sheets. The second reason is our climate. It’s hot. We sweat at night, even with the aircon running. So even pillowcases that are washed once a week very quickly get dingy.

See what I mean? The pillowcase at left is extreme, and I’ve increased the contrast in the photo to illustrate my point more clearly. The only reason I hadn’t thrown it out was that it was fairly new and of very good quality. It still did the job, despite its sad appearance. In the middle is one of my oldest, and at right is one of my newest ones. Below is a new piece of white fabric, for contrast. Yes, I’m airing my dirty laundry, but I am not ashamed…

And this is all my pillowcases, after treatment, sitting on a new white sheet for contrast. A good bit better, wouldn’t you say? The oldest, and yellowest, ones are at the bottom. I think further treatments would produce even better results. In case you’re interested, the extreme one I showed above is third one down in this photo.

This is the ingredient list:

1 cup laundry detergent powder, whichever you prefer (NOT liquid)
1 cup dishwasher powder (NOT tablets)
1 cup borax
½ cup bleach

Another time, I’ll try hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach. I think it might be even more effective. But for that, I’ll need some more grubby pillow cases, and right now, I don’t have any!

If your washing machine has a soak cycle where you can set the temperature, add all ingredients to the drum, add the laundry, and run the cycle on the maximum temperature the fabric will take. If the pillowcases are a cotton/polyester mix, this will be 60°C/140°F. For pure cotton, you can go up to 90°C/195°F. Rinse, and then run a wash cycle. If your machine has no soak cycle, fill your largest cooking pot with extremely hot water from the tap. Add the ingredients, stir well and then add the linen. Put on the stove over a low heat, so the water stays hot, stirring every 5 minutes or so to circulate the solution. Leave for a minimum of one hour, more if the linen is very dingy. Remove items from liquid with tongs, put into a bucket and then the washing machine and run a normal wash. Once the liquid is cool, throw it down the sink. Don’t try to move the pot while the water’s hot.

I don’t have a soak cycle on my front loader, so I used my 30 litre stock pot. The house was filled with the most nostalgic steamy laundry smell… a reminder of my childhood wash days. I’m pleased with the result: it was simple and I didn’t have to do anything apart from stir it occasionally, and then wash it as I normally would. Personally, I think it would also work well for vintage linens, which in their ‘working life’ would always have been washed hot and with strong soap or detergent, maybe even boiled. I’m going to give it a go with my grandmother’s damask tablecloths, which are showing yellow along the folds. But I wouldn’t do this every time, because I still think it’s not necessary to wash everything in warm or hot water every time.

Once in a while, though, a really hot soak in some carefully selected ingredients will just get things whiter.

UPDATE: I tried this recipe again with hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach. The results were even more impressive. A lot whiter…

The paint job

It’s done, finally.

For such a small amount of paint, it was an amazing amount of work. You look at one wall and think “yeah, couple of hours’ll see it right”. Wrong. You sand, and fill, and sand again. You mask, and undercoat and prime. You cut in (oh, that one’s endless!), and then, finally, you get to paint. And then you remove the masking tape and the dust sheets and clean up and put everything back. Now you’re done. Thing is, it was a wall with the loo, vanity, mirror, power points and bath with shower over. You have to cut in around all that stuff, some of which requires grovelling on the floor, lying on your side trying to squeeze yourself between the wall and the pedestal of the loo so you can reach the wall at the back and work around the waste pipe.

I have to say, though, that I’m pleased with the result. Here are the befores and afters so you can see for yourself the difference it has made.

I didn’t spill anything, or drop paint on surfaces where it couldn’t easily be removed, or fall off the stepladder or side of the bath. I cut in nicely, masked the dark brown metal of the mirror frame properly so there are no stray bits on the glass, and the tiles have gone from an unpleasing liver brown to a more pleasing sand-colour to match the walls. The drippy bits have blended in nicely with the textured tile surface too 😉

I’ve got plans for the floor. I have a jelly roll of aqua/white/ coral print strips with which I’m going to make a mat for the floor, in the style of those oval braided rag rugs you see. Only mine won’t be braided. I have a pattern booklet for it (shock horror, I don’t do patterns normally), which I saw in my LQS, and thought it looked just the thing for the bathroom floor. If it works well, I’ll post about it and tell you what the pattern is. If it doesn’t, I’ll let it die an anonymous and silent death and pretend it never happened!

Time to get on with mending more of the Husband’s work pants, which are suffering from excessive rear ventilation…


Mending: A challenge

It’s a dying art.

I’m talking about mending clothes. In my experience, many of the generation of women before mine made it a point of pride to regard the gentle domestic arts as beneath their dignity as liberated women, describing domestic skills as being under-valued ‘women’s work’ and taking no pride in practising household economy. I come at the end of a large family, and my mother was older than most. She’d raised children in the dark days of wartime Holland, when food and clothing were terribly scarce, and she knew these skills were not to be despised, but rather treasured. So I learned to cook and sew and mend, and stretch what I had, rather than throwing away, buying new and wasting resources.

I snort with disgust when I hear anyone, male or female, declare with pride that they can’t cook and don’t know how to sew on a button. Good grief! Imagine being so helpless! I do concede that it’s only partially their fault. They weren’t taught how. But these things are not hard to learn, and knowing how is so much cheaper than paying someone else to do it and quicker than waiting while they do.

So, I’m issuing a challenge to everyone who’s reading this. Mend something. It doesn’t have to be sewing. Fix it instead of throwing it out or putting it in the shed for Ron (That’s Later Ron, you must have met him). Sew on that button, stitch up that loose thread, put a bit of glue on that flappy thing, screw that other loose thing back down. Save the cost of replacing it, and feel a bit clever as a result. It doesn’t take much to make a start: a few simple tools. Once you’ve done it once, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. There are a thousand YouTube videos and blog posts and online tutorials for mending things. Go and find out how to do it. People who mend are neither crazy nor geniuses. We’re just ordinary people who don’t believe in throwing stuff out when all it needs is 15 minutes of your attention.

And when you’ve mended something, let us know. Write and talk about it. Encourage other people. Be proud. If you’ve written a post about mending things that you think will help someone else, send me a link and I’ll add it below.

Maybe we can revive the dying art of mending. What do you think?

NOTE: I have edited this post since I first published it, hopefully making it clearer that the opinion expressed is based on my personal experiences rather than a sweeping generalisation about the attitudes of women in the 1960s.


Mending torn seat of jeans:

Mending old torn shirts:

General mending:

Mending a quilting hoop:


Mending a torn down-filled jacket:

Mending a leather purse:

Mending a swing seat cushion:

Mending a fabric purse:

Still making herself felt

Cyclone Debbie, that is.

Those brown marks are residue from where we taped the windows to try and keep the water out. The heat has baked it on…

Last year, nearly a year ago, she hit our coast and did damage all up and down it. We were lucky and got off pretty lightly, but the front windows didn’t withstand the force of the wind and rain at all well, and water poured in around the edges, down the wall and puddled on the floor. Well, eventually things dried out, but by then rot had set in, and in some areas and it was clear the old wooden windows would never be the same again. Not that they were so very brilliant to start with; in this hot climate, and east-facing in our very hot sunshine and high humidity it was a constant cycle of shrink in the heat and expand in the wet. But after the cyclone they dried warped. With a strong onshore wind and heavy rain they might as well not be there. And the wood has given up. It’s cracked and gaping, rotting, blackened and peeling. Enough was enough.

Would you look at the difference the tinted sunblock glass makes? On the right, glass, on the left, still just the flyscreen, waiting for the sliding panel to go in.

The insurance didn’t want to know, since the windows hadn’t been in great shape before the weather event. So we bit the bullet and got quotes, and gasped and went pale when those quotes came in. Then we got other quotes, until finally there was an option which we could manage. And today’s the day. The weather forecast, although windy, is moderately hopeful. The Husband is off work for the next 4 days. Two men are on the job, and boy are they speedy. I reckon we’ll be putting the blinds and curtains back up tonight.

It’s wonderful not to have the full glare of the sun coming into the room. From the outside, the windows look very dark, from inside, you hardly notice.

It’s not too noisy, but it is a bit messy and disruptive, with doors banging and framed glass panels being trooped through the house. But when the work is done, we’ll be watertight once again, and our new windows will be sleek, narrow aluminium, not nearly as susceptible to cyclone damage. Best of all, the glass is toughened, tinted, UV and heat resistant, so our bedroom and spare room will be cooler – and safer – than before.

I won’t tempt fate by saying ‘bring on the next cyclone’. But next time (God forbid!) we’ll be in better shape to face it.