Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thinking of Kitchens, Part 1: Style

Well, it's kitchen time. Despite the fact that I hated my old kitchen's inconveniences for years (and the inconveniences of the previous two kitchens!), I've not had a really good picture in my mind of what I do want.

Klopf Architecture - Remodeled Kitchen eclectic kitchen
Klopf Architecture (I could live with this one!)

Following the advice of Modern Country Style, I pulled out my clippings file and narrowed it down. One advantage of having spent years thinking about redoing the kitchen is that I have a lot of clippings! Then I went through my Houzz kitchen file as well.

But it's turned out that I don't have a huge range of ideas when it comes to finishes, colours and the like. Having looked through my collection of kitchen images, there are two combinations I like. The first is white cabinetry with timber countertops. They make me swoon.

Farmhouse Kitchen Style In Your Home | Apartment Therapy San Francisco

But timber countertops are pretty high-maintenance. If not sealed properly, they can rot around the sink. Guess how you find out it's not sealed properly? When it starts rotting around the sink. And white cabinets? For a garden-to-pot cook with two boys?

That left my other option: timber doors with something more durable on top.

But this is my favourite colour combination so far: timber doors with a white countertop and green tiles. Pity that architecture firm is so far away.

So when it comes to thinking about elements of my kitchen, my list is:
  • Ease of cleaning and maintenance
  • Very simple door profiles
  • Timber and other natural or natural-looking materials
  • Solid colour, no patterns
  • A leaning to green and blue colours
  • Elbow room for cooking
  • No glitz, no tizz!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Exploring King's Tableland

On a nice clear Easter afternoon, we headed out to Wentworth Falls for a short bushwalk with the boys. Unfortunately, so did everyone else -- so we went to a less well-known spot not far from there.

King's Tableland was named by Governor Macquarie for its sublime views.

It's fascinating for some other reasons. The top of the tableland is a tesselated sandstone pavement. Smooth pavements are far more common.

Where some areas have worn away, little pools form (with tadpoles!). These pools were used by Aboriginal people long ago for sharpening axe heads: they would dip them into the water, then sharpen them on the stone by the pool. Here are the results:

These are supposed to be 150 grooves or other signs of Indigenous use of the area, but we didn't see that many. We spotted this wounded Praying Mantis instead, out in the open, perhaps dropped by a bird.

Below the tableland is an overhang with rock carvings. Carbon dating has established Aboriginal use of the area to 22,000 years ago. The carvings that we found were small and very faint indeed, just a few pairs of kangaroo footprints. There are many more, but the area was in deep shade. A morning trip might have allowed us to see more.

Down the slope was this lovely young Sydney Red Gum, which had just shed its bark, as they do in Autumn. Rain has turned the shed bark a glorious deep orange. The Twig was fascinated by the little pool inside the trunk.

Nearby, these spectacular mushrooms:

And yet more orange tones in this Banksia spinulosa var. collina. I sound very knowledgeable, don't I? Banksia spinulosa holds its flowers above the foliage, making it quite a distinctive species. It is a probable parent of the 'Giant Candles' cultivar, which does the same thing. There are two variants: B. spinulosa var.spinulosa has black styles, for which reason it is sometimes called Hairpin Banksia. B. spinulosa var. collina has orange styles.

I am sure a botanist will turn up and tell me I have this all wrong now. In the meantime, let us look again at the view:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lots of 'Making Good'

Lots of good things happened this week.

Firstly, our loans officer rang me at 8:25 on Monday morning. The poor man had been sick for a week, which is why he hadn't returned our calls. I had another talk to him later in the day, when we spent a while at cross-purposes before discovering that the payment permission slips should have gone straight to him, not to the solicitor's. We had been given two envelopes addressed to the solicitor, so naturally had sent everything there. My builder reported at least four apologetic calls from the loans officer, who must have worked very hard indeed that day to get everything done.

The next morning, at 6:30, I received an SMS from the builder. "Just to let you know that the payment arrived in full." It was worth being woken up a bit early for that! We were approved in principle for a loan and signed up for the building contract on the 12th of February, and here were the first two progress payments on the 12th of April. I don't believe this was the fault of our loans officer: we sent our initial loan application in on the 23rd of February, but didn't get the legal stuff until the 24th of March -- and that's the loan salesman's fault.

Meanwhile, the builders continued to turn up each day and work hard. You might remember they took out some sections of internal wall. In a full-brick house, this leaves you with something like this at floor level:

So you have to insert something to make it flush with the floorboards:

Then there were some major cracks to be dealt with. A combination of drought and the two giant wattle trees gave us one crack in the house that was big enough to see from one room into another. With the return of the La Nina, the crack had closed up -- but not exactly aligned, so some of the plaster had lifted. The loose sections had to be removed.

Moreover, a previous owner had left paint peeling all over the house. Subsequently, the paint was inexpertly scraped back, but the irregularities weren't filled -- they just painted straight over the surface. You can see it below, under the cornice (well, the cornice has been removed, but you know what I mean!). More light in the house has shown exactly how bad it all is. The cornice is gone because the builder isn't satisfied with the state of the hall ceiling .

The builders have skim-rendered almost every wall in the house because of the irregularities and cracks. This is what it looks like -- everything's a rather fashionable off-white!

I presume the painter who went right over the holes and scratches was also the one who didn't prepare the woodwork before painting it with cheap acrylic. The woodwork would have been stained and lacquered, so the acrylic paint chipped off as soon as you looked sideways at it. I don't like the wall colour on the skirting board, either.

You can also see remnants of the original floor stain above: Aussies had japanned floors between the wars, with rugs -- wall to wall carpets were almost unknown. Postwar shortages and restrictions put carpet out of most people's reach, so it was back to hard floors, especially for public housing like ours. Our house had wall-to-wall carpet when we moved in (a bit is just visible at left, an impractical too-pale beige), but it's nice to see the original finish here.

We will be recarpeting, however. Our experience in the next-door rental, which has painted floorboards, is that they are tremendously noisy * -- and this end of the house is bedrooms.

Lastly, this item is the lintel for our back doors. Of course, we still lack the bricks!

* I suppose it could be something to do with my boys' big Aussie feet...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Of Welding, and Various Problems

Just to keep you all fully informed, this is what the electrowelding unit looks like. It is in the middle of a weld here. The weld just to the right of the current one has already been done. If you enlarge the picture, you might be able to make out the little yellow tab that has popped up between the contacts to indicate that the welding is complete.

In the past week, we've also had the load-bearing steel beam put in to hold the roof up -- the builders installed it before we were even ready for school last Monday morning. When we asked how they'd managed it, they told us they'd had some strong men in who'd had lots of Weet-Bix for breakfast. Or maybe it was a chain block.

Then the concrete edge needed trimming.

Next came plumbing and gasfitting. Here is the gas bayonet for our barbecue. We won't be slinging gas bottles around!

And here is my new garden tap. The line to the old one was leaking. This tap will be out of sight from the patio but because it is at the end of our future garden bed, it will be handy for watering anywhere in the yard, as well as being close to the barbecue.

The drainage trenches are gradually being filled in, and we have talked about surface preparation for painting the interior. Unfortunately, the house was painted in cheap acrylic with no proper preparation of the surface, which was in poor condition to begin with. Beware the house that is "freshly painted" for sale!

Of problems we have a few. The Hereford Bronze brick we selected is no longer available as the clay colours have changed. We understand that Austral Bricks staff are physically going through a similar colour brick to find those that are a close match to the Hereford Bronze (but a bit darker) to fill existing orders, and we may or may not get some of those.

Secondly, we have been having trouble with our bank. Our builder is still waiting for his first two progress payments, and is now talking about charging us interest for lateness. I will keep you posted.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Requiem for a Garden

When we first moved in, our next-door neighbours were an elderly Scottish couple. They had lived there for many years, with vegetables and fruit trees filling their back yard, but as Bill's health declined it had all gone a bit wild. A giant plum tree bloomed that first spring we were there, filling the air with petals that whirled like snow in the breeze. A mulberry tree overhung our yard, and I could see citrus. Cath gave me bags of her own home-grown oranges from time to time. "If you let the frost get to them, they're sweeter," she'd say, in her Edinburgh accent.

Cath and some other girls had been singing in the street to encourage people to attend a World Evangelisation Crusade event when Bill saw her and thought, "I want to meet that girl!". They eventually married and came to Australia, where they raised three daughters. Bill asserted that they came to Australia to get away from the rain!

Bill was from Glasgow. Both Bill and Cath had the Two Tongues, so I don't think their families had been in towns very long. In its heyday, Bill's garden must have supplied them with most of their fruit and vegetables. But I must not let you think they lived some kind of suburban idyll in the Lucky Country. They had first landed in Rockhampton, a real shock to people used to a much cooler climate, and there had been years of hard work and little money. They had the grief all migrants know for relatives sick and dying far away. While I knew them in their serene later years, their lives were made hard for a long time by serious persistent sin by one of the couple. Devout Presbyterians themselves, it was bitter to find that their daughters were not believers, perhaps due to that sin.

My abiding memory of Bill is of him smoking his pipe and reading Berkhof on his front porch. He died clasping his wife's hand, bidding her, "See you!" in Gaelic, as he slipped into Heaven. Cath was heartbroken, but she continued to love the people around her. She knew everyone in the street and cared about them all. Colour, creed and lifestyle were never a barrier to a woman who wanted the world to know Christ. Two years ago, she was reunited with Bill.

And the garden? It deteriorated gently but inevitably, along with the health of its owners. The plum-tree blew down in a storm after we had had a few springs to enjoy it. Some of the other trees were taken out over the years, but there were still half a dozen citrus left when Cath died. The mowers kept coming, but they don't look after fruit trees. Finally, the house was cleaned up and sold. The owner readied it for rent through a hot summer, after which all but two of the trees were dead. The rest was grass, humps in the lawn indicating where fruit trees had once been tended.

Now we are renting Cath and Bill's old home while our own is extended, and I have very little to garden with -- just my herb troughs,

and the two remaining fruit trees, which were definitely the worse for wear.

The lemon tree had a healthy population of stink bugs (the only healthy thing about it), and both it and the orange tree had dead branches, and grass growing right to their trunks. You can see I'd started mulching them here.

Isn't it satisfying to get rid of stink bugs?

Pruning is pretty good too. Here's how things looked after mowing, mulching, and the heavy pruning had been done.

But it's not the garden Bill and Cath knew.

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Drainage with Nerd Cred

This last week has been all about drainage. I didn't catch any photos of the little trenching machine, but it was about the size of a ride-on mower. Here is some of the work it did:

Drainage pipes aren't terribly exciting, of course, though important. Most of them look like these -- PVC pipes, which are here connecting to the sewerage line from our future toilet.

I asked for polyethylene pipe to be used instead of PVC where possible. PVC, though it is ubiquitous, creates dioxin during the manufacturing process and requires the use of poisonous "blue glue" at the joins. It is also hard to recycle, as it is a thermosetting plastic, and releases chlorine when burnt. However, I was surprised to learn that as they are brittle, PVC pipes are usually only guaranteed for 10 years. We have mobile clay soil, so even at a practical level PVC isn't suitable for stormwater here. Polyethylene is considerably more flexible (Vinidex assert that PE pipes were the only ones to survive the Kobe earthquake! I suppose clay soil will be all right, then) and even better, can be recycled.

What I hadn't realised was how you join PE pipe. See the O-rings in the picture below? And the two protrusions on each one?

These pipes are electrowelded! On Monday, a little electrofusion machine is arriving from Melbourne* to put a current through wires in each ring. The inside surface of the O-ring melts, fusing the join, and a yellow tab pops up to indicate the weld has been successful. After the job is complete, the machine will print a list of the welds performed and whether it thinks each was successful (the rings are barcoded). We feel that the amount of technology used to nuke solve a simple problem gives this method real Nerd Cred. (And while using HDPE pipe doesn't cost much more than PVC, the O-ring electrofusion couplers are expensive.)

Of course we also found a minor problem this week. Our gas line is too close to the surface to meet the current code, and it's got at least one bend in it, like this one. This section of the pipe was attached to the concrete driveway -- another no-no these days -- and broke when the concrete came up. Our builders suspect that there is more gas-pipe snaking around in peculiar places, and they are planning to hand-dig the driveway so they don't hit it.

* Melbourne seems to be way ahead of Sydney in the green building area, which is TOTALLY absurd. Where are the green builders in Sydney?