Friday, August 31, 2012

Our neck of the woods: Friday

Today was cold. Really cold. Luckily for me I had some thick hand-knitted legwarmers on, and I didn't actually ride down the hill this morning because Pearl was working at the markets so we all drove to town together.
On the ride home though, I was in love with the light falling on Pappy's farm.

Pappy's is a reasonably large vegetable, honey and egg growing operation, just down the road from us. They used to sell out of a little roadside stall, which we frequented quite regularly, but they've now moved into town and, along with their own stuff, they also stock fruits and vegetables from other local growers. The thing I really like about Pappy's is that it's all really well labeled, so you know exactly what you're buying and where it came from. I think that's a good thing to know.
Olive's quite taken with the Pappy's neat rows, and wants to know if our vegetable garden is going to look like that. We don't really know how to explain that our new garden is going to be just like our old garden - rambling, overgrown and crowded, with not a row in sight. Just the way we like it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Our neck of the woods: thursday

Another thing I'm really loving about this riding shenanigans is that the light and the ride and the temperature is all a bit different depending on the time I leave. This morning I left a little later than usual, because Pearl had her regular little spot on the local ABC radio talking about the SCPA markets (of which she is the most delightful and skilled co-ordinator). It was still frigidly cold riding down to the river flat, but there was no frost waiting for me, as there normally is. 
When I reached the bottom of the hill, I took this photo.

Then I started on my long flat ride along Buckajo road, which snakes along beside the river, and looks a lot like this.

Both legs of my journey - to and from work - are facing into the sun, so this photo is really reminiscent to me of my riding experiences in this later wintery time. But it's changing every day, and I know that in 2 weeks time the sun won't be so much in my eyes, and there probably won't be any more frost. I won't miss the cold, or arriving at work with my face so frozen I find it kind of funny to try to talk, but I will miss the sparkle, that's for sure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For the love of Black Betty

When we were thinking about where we'd like to buy our land, my hermit tendencies were eventually overruled by Pearl's pragmatic ones, so we didn't buy acres in the middle of nowhere. We have 2 kids who go to school, have friends and will probably do some kinds of sport and/or music and/or circus activities. We have to work. And we occasionally don't mind socialising with people, going to the markets and various other fairs and festivals. So being a million miles from anywhere was going to involve some regular long-driving activities. When we found our little block, we knew it was "the one" pretty much straight away. A north-facing slope, for the right price, only 10 minutes drive out of town. And the best thing about this last bit is that when you're here, it actually feels like you could be in the middle of nowhere. Win-win-win-win. My favourite kind of win.
I never really thought I'd be up for walking to town, but I knew I could bike it.
Black Betty's pannier was adapted from Pearl's old work-bag
Enter my new and beautiful friend Black Betty. For the past 3 weeks she's been happily conveying me to and from work, 10km and 30 minutes each way. We're having a ball. 
I got Black Betty from Sydney Electric Bikes, after talking to a local dude here who has an electric bike for his commute to work. I thought it seemed like an excellent idea for me. I really wanted my daily ride to be a sustainable thing that I would enjoy doing for years, as there is no way we want to get a second car. But our road ain't called "Peak Hill" for nothing, and I knew that my end-of-the-day hike was likely to be a killer. So I emailed Jake at SEB. I said "Hey! I'd really like to ride a bike every day to and from work. It's a lot of country unsealed dirt road and some killer hills. About 10km each way. What can we do?". He customised an Apollo bike with some internal hub gears, some front suspension and a pedal assist/throttle, and sent  her down to me. What this all means is that I can ride pretty much all of the way to and from work, but when I'm coming up to my Peak Hill, and I get to that bit when you're pedalling up a hill and you're getting really tired and you're almost about to get off and just push the bike, I turn on the throttle, and Black Betty helps me up the rest of the hill. It feels goooooood, and means I get home in time for dinner.
Peak Hill Road, around 5pm
Before Black Betty arrived, pretty much every time I drove to our land from town, I thought about what it would be like to ride, how it would feel, whether I'd make it up the hills, how long it would take me to ride to and from work. I can safely say I had no idea about any of these things, and I can also safely say (as most of you avid cyclists will already know) that nothing feels the same as riding your bike. I am noticing things on my daily ride that I never noticed before. I am experiencing our neck of the woods, rather than just seeing it, as I would if I were passing through in the car. On my bike, I have time to notice the animals and the trees and the temperature and the weather and the sun at different times of the day and the river and even the different parts of the roads I travel on. And I can actually feel and smell and hear as well as see all of the things as I ride on through. It's beautiful, and I notice new things every day. I notice new blooms on the trees as they ready themselves for spring. I notice baby foxes frolicking on the road-side (yes I know they're pests that will eat our chickens but that doesn't make them any less cute). I notice the way the temperature drops at certain points in certain little valleys. I see the frost sparkling on the grass. And I know that as the seasons progress and change, my daily ride will change too, and that's pretty exciting.

Cows, and a view over Springvale
For the next week I'm going to post a couple of photos each day, to record some of the things I'm seeing and enjoying on my daily commute, to share some of the things I'm discovering. I'm not going to get off my bike to take the photos. I want the angles and the views to be reflective of the glimpses I get as I'm pedalling along. And I also want to give those of you who've never visited us (or who've never ridden up Peak Hill Road on a bike) a little feel for the lay of the land in our neck of the woods, on the cusp of spring/summer, though still sparkling with frost. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tale of a table..

It's been three weeks since we moved into our little tiny unfinished strawbale. And while there is still so much to do, we're feeling pretty good about where things are at and how we're settling into this new place of ours. It's been quite the flurry of painting, planting, erecting, barrowing and digging with plenty of laughter, tears, singing, dancing, eating and stories amidst. 

Before we moved in, we were fixated on how little the space would be. We meticulously planned our furnishings and "storage solutions", certain that, try as we might, we couldn't accurately envisage living in such a tiny space. But then the strangest thing happened. As we started to move stuff in,  the space seemed to grow…. to the point where it all felt a bit cavernous. We had a cosy sitting area on the eastern side and a makeshift kitcheny area on the western side with a big wide empty area in between. The big empty earthen floor area was a boon for the passive solar qualities of our little house but it felt a bit strange, and the "kitchen" just didn't work as a kitchen. The bench spaces were too small and constantly seemed cluttered and pretty much useless. One day last week I mumbled something along the lines of how it would be good to have a bit more bench space and within the week Annie had created quite the most magnificent bench/tall table I could ever hope to see and use. Those of you who actually know Annie will have born witness to her astounding productive capabilities. Others may have caught a glimpse through this blog. Within two days Annie had transformed our old dining table into a long and tall bench with shelf  that now runs part way down the middle of our tiny house. 

What a thing of beauty! Oh and note the glorious Winter sun streaming in..

You may recall Annie discussing the making of this dining table some five years ago. It was our dining table for our last five years in Sydney and it saw a lot of good times. Yes it was a little wobbly on account of the maker's burgeoning carpentry skills. Yet we so loved our dining table made from floorboards we carted the tabletop down when we moved. And so certain were we that we would not be needing it in our tiny strawbale we parked it at the very back of our storage container. Ah, but we were wrong and it is not the first time, nor will it be the last time we are wrong on this house and land creating project/shenanigan we've embarked on. 

Annie took extra special care with this bench building, planing and bevelling the legs and really utilising all the carpentry skills she has acquired since her first foray into table building. Like much of our house the legs are made of old bits of fence. Yes it is a bench comprised entirely of old floor and fence, and gosh how beautiful it is. 

And so now we have a glorious bench that is ostensibly for food preparations (of which there are very many in this tiny house of ours) but it's also a storage space, a "cubby" for Oscar, a place for leaning, a place to hold cups of tea, a place for books and a place for collecting all the joys and detritus of life with two little kids. And miracle of miracles it is tall, like me. Yes I am a tall lady and find many parts of life require some stooping but not so this table/bench. Joy of joys, thank you Annie you clever, industrious, generous lady friend of mine...

And Oscar says "thank you for creating more rampaging opportunities..."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Introducing the inaugural Bothy skirt

About a week after we packed 99% of all our worldly possessions (including my sewing machine and fabric collection) tightly into a bright yellow shipping container in the top corner of our block, I got a skirt order through Georgie Love. There was a very brief moment spent considering how I could dig into the container to retrieve my sewing paraphernalia, but the moment was quickly ended by memories of hours spent meticulously packing every nook and cranny in the container to ensure everything would fit. I emailed the skirt-ordering-lady and explained our predicament, and she was happy to wait until we were settled into our little house. How nice!
Now we're in, and the container is a little less tightly packed, having been relieved of some items of furniture and a few boxes, so I thought it was time to get started on aforementioned, Georgie-Love-ordered Australian-flora-themed skirt - the first skirt ever to be made in the Buckajo Bothy! Lovingly cut from a gorgeous linen wattle and carnation (!) print tablecloth and a sweet 'Australian wildflowers' teatowel, it was assembled at night, by head-lamp, sitting on the couch using the kids' toy basket as my 'sewing table'. 
Life in the high-tech P&E sewing space

I had originally planned to make it outside on our new multi-purpose yeller-box table, but the fact that it's technically almost spring has yet to impact upon our Began climes, so the nights are still a tad chilly out of doors.
The first interesting obstacle to be overcome was our lack of electricity. That's right. Our solar system is still under construction, so no power is to be had inside the bothy. I'm actually really enjoying the no power thing. We cook with gas, use a small camping gas lantern and beeswax candles for lighting, and charge things like our phone and computer at our places of employment (hence the slow rate of blog posting - computer power is oh so precious these days!). But the sewing machine, lacking a rechargeable battery, as it does, was different. 
Then someone reminded me that we do actually have a generator, which we bought to run our power tools while building. I've always thought of it as a strictly out-doorsy kind of thing, only to be used with out-doorsy kinds of things like circular saws and angle grinders. But of course, a generator can also power a sewing machine.
So, in addition to being the first Bothy-produced P&E, Siggy's skirt is also the first (and hopefully the last) fossil-fuel-powered P&E. Sorry about that.
If it's any consolation, I sewed it really quickly, and it's quite lovely, if I do say so myself....
Inaugural Bothy-made skirt has a little lie-down on some newly-laid straw mulch (there's a bit of that around these days...)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bottles and bathtubs

One of the really great things about a fire bath (and believe me, there are a great many wonderful things about a fire bath) is that, unlike a normal bath, which gets gradually cooler unless you keep topping it up with hot water, the fire bath just keeps getting hotter and hotter, until you almost start to feel a bit like the proverbial frog in the saucepan and decide you'd better run the hose for a little while.
There's something pretty magical about bathing outside, in the open air, under the beautiful late-wintery blue skies, wedge-tailed eagles soaring overhead. We have all been extremely pleased and indeed surprised at just how bloody good it is.
And this sunday, after we'd all had very very extended periods of wallowing and lunch-eating and dozing and washing and playing in the bath, we used the (still very hot) water to soak the labels off our ever-increasing collection of empty wine bottles.
These will soon be used to build a bottle wall on the eastern side of our dunny shed. Multi-tasking: love it.

Things to keep in mind when fire-bathing:
1. If you don't keep splashing the water all around the edges of the bath, the sides get VERY burny-hot.
2. Bum area can also get quite toasty, so we used an old wooden bath mat, but other people also use towels and/or blankets. Swooshing water regularly also helps to disperse the heat.
3. On a windy day, it can feel a bit like sitting smack bang in the middle of a bonfire/campfire, with attendant ash/smoke issues.
4. Newspaper logs perform quite well!

Would also love to hear from any of you folk with fire-bath experience as we're always looking to refine our technique.

The picnic table that pearl and Oski are sitting on in the bath photo was newly-delivered to us on sunday morning by its maker, Allen. Allen lives and works in Bemboka, just up the road from us, and makes furniture from fallen trees that he cuts up using his Lucas Mill in people's paddocks. I reckon if I was rich, I'd probably buy a Lucas Mill. The thought of being able to turn a fallen-down branch or bit of tree into a piece of timer is a little bit exciting.

Our table is made from Yellow Stringy Bark (Eucalyptus muelleriana). It's raw timber at the moment, though we'll probably finish it with our good friend Bermagui oil to avoid it getting stained by dinner and drink spillages. We've installed it on our new sleeper deck, and we're loving it. Our dining table has always been pretty central in our world, having always been big eaters, entertainers and socialisers, so we often had many many various lovely people gathered around it drinking, eating, debating and celebrating. But now that we're living in a tiny house with no kitchen, our dining table is set to become a whole lot more of a focus in our live as it will now also perform the functions of a desk, craft-space, eating-place, washing-up-place and general hanging-out-and-revelling-in-the-northern-aspect-place.

Olive enthusiastically welcomed the new table into our lives by installing her afternoon tea (a little treat we like to call an egg in a nest AKA a dried apricot with a macadamia nut in it) into a potted succulent 'tree' on the table. Beautiful!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Birthdays and DIY landscaping and re-using more old stuff

Olive and I are fully feeling the love this birthday season. A few months ago, I said that all I really wanted was to be living in our little house in time for Olive's and my birthdays. I'm not sure how many (if any) people believed this was going to happen, but I'm sure glad it did, because it's been pretty lovely. Olive's birthday started with a family viewing of sunrise from our cosy loft, followed by a visit from 11 kangaroos drenched in just-dawned sunshine, followed by presents, then pancakes cooked on our shiny new barbecue. As usual, one of the highlights of Olive's birthday morn was the unveiling of the Little Rosie Book - the birthday scrapbook I make for her each year.
This year's book was an extra-special collaborative edition, and boy is it lovely to see the things that all of Olive's most special people love most about her, and what they've observed in the past year. A whole lotta love, that's for sure.
Hot on the heels of this glorious day came my own birthday, which was also a most lovely day, not least of all because it was a Very Productive  Day (my favourite!) filled with various handmade delicious morsels and treats and an outrageous selection of very exciting books.
Top left is The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (somewhat photo shy). All other will appear in our reading list soon!
After a spot of breakfast and some lovely birthday cuddles, the work began!
Due to the very small nature of our little home, we've always planned to have a nice, covered outside area where we can eat and cook and sit and enjoy the sunshine and general loveliness of our land. Thanks to Peps, the former slope-y quagmire/dustbowl that was immediately outside or front door has been transformed into a (relatively) expansive level bit, held up by our tyre retaining wall. As in all Peps-related activities, he did a really good job, and it's made a world of difference to the way we can get around and work on our little house.

Now that we're living here though, we were really feeling like we needed to do something about the dirt. The time had come to cover it up and make the space more beautiful and liveable.

Options for flooring an outside living space are many, but unlike some of the other decisions involved in this house-building shenanigans (insulation??!!) this decision was pretty easy. 
We had decided quite some time ago that we wanted to use recycled crushed brick instead of gravel for our outside living space. It's pretty good-looking, and ticks our re-use boxes, and it's also locally processed (apparently some dude does it using an attachment on his excavator). It's not the cheapest thing in the world, but, in addition to the aforementioned pluses, it's also pretty nice underfoot, and it's still cheaper than pavers or timber. And crikeys did it transform t he space. It now seems heaps bigger (what is with that?) and it means that we're not walking dirt and/or clay dust inside all the time. Yay and yay.
Our original plan was to gravel the whole front area in preparation for our new dining table. But then something made me think of a picture I'd gotten out of Country Style a couple of years ago and stuck into our house scrap book, of old sleepers laid directly on the ground like pavers. I really loved the look (and recycled-ness) of this, but Pearlie wasn't so keen so it went onto the backburner.
Luckily for us, there is a place in Bega that sells heaps of old timber, railway sleepers, telegraph poles and the like, so the sleeper option was again revisited and was this time met with enthusiastic approval from Pearl, who sometimes just needs a little while to get used to things.
With the combined power of me, one of my buddies from work, his ute, and our lunchbreaks, we picked up and delivered 10 ex-railway sleepers for a neat hundred bucks. Can't go wrong with that, I reckon, especially given our apparently unstoppable penchant for various recycled hardwood items.
So much character!
We laid them exactly like pavers: a bed of mostly-raked-level sand, then sleepers laid on top, with some minor adjustments to make sure they're level and even. There are a few little gaps, which we're going to fill with soil and plant out with creeping thyme, but for now we've got what kind of looks and feels like a deck, but for heaps less money and effort. Yay for saving money and effort, I say.
And what a way to spend my birthday! Nothing I like more than making stuff (aforementioned can't-believe-it's-not-a-deck, combined dunny + tool/generator storage shed) and enjoying beautiful foods and hand-crafted gifts and words of love from loved-ones near and far.

Ogga in the tool shed bit of his "toilet train" (in Oscar's world, pretty much anything is either a train or a cubby)

Monday, August 6, 2012

"It's not called 'the land' any more Oski - now it's called 'our home'!"

On our first night in our little tiny home, we all lay in our "roof bed" and watched the moon rise. It was a big, orange full moon, and it seemed to be saying "welcome home". We were snug and exhausted. 
After the kids were asleep Pearl and I put in a few hours carrying furniture from the storage container up on the hill down into our little house, just to make it feel a bit more like a home. The next morning, when we woke and saw the sun rise in the exact spot we'd watched the moon the night before, then climbed down our loft ladder into our little 'lounge room', Olive explained to Oski what was going on, and they played with their newly-rediscovered-toys. It felt like christmas.
That day, Brett and I had tackled the not-insignificant task of hoisting our king size 100% organic wool futon mattress up into the loft. I reckon the thing weighs about 80kg, and it's pretty bloody unwieldy, so we were pretty stoked with our efforts. 

Cap'n Brett - heave ho!

Our hoisting rig, partially inspired by my ever-inspiring friend Vanessa, involved ropes, the rafters and a whole heap of "heave ho". We felt like modern-day pirates (for some reason) and were very excited when the mattress finally made it into the roof.
Other than the mattress the move in's been pretty easy, mostly on account of the fact that the house itself is so tiny, and has very little furniture or other fillers in it. 
So far, we're loving it. We're enjoying the no-power-or-running-water scenario (yes - I know - it's still a novelty which will inevitably wear off), and the white-washed walls and cracked earth floors and washing in a hand basin and drinking red wine out of little glasses are making it feel like we're living in a 15th century french peasant house. Or a bothy, whichever you prefer.
The major coup so far has been the transformation of our butt-ugly LVL trusses into 'hardwood' beams, thanks to a thin coat of Porter's Palm Beach Black.
'hardwood' on left, LVL on the right, on the underside of the "roof bed"
Also loving our new storage solution, a set of shelves made out of a ladder from the tip and more and more fence palings. Seriously you can do ANYTHING with fence palings. They're hot. Easier and cheaper than Ikea, for sure, and much more suited to a French peasant cottage/bothy any day of the week.
In any small space you need to carefully plan your storage solutions to accommodate all of your storage needs, such as cast iron cookware, art supplies and cats
Work-related craft learnings continued this weekend with a mosaic workshop, where I took the opportunity to make a top-of-the-door-dodgy-bit-coverer out of a broken plate, a broken teapot and a broken mirror. 

It was super-fun, and I'm pretty keen to embark on some more mosaic action, though we probably don't want to overdo it given that French peasants were probably not so into mosaic - don't want to ruin our themed decor…
While it has been awesome to reunite with our special things that had been in storage for the last few months, a few new arrivals in the bothy are also tickling our fancy, most notably this AMAZING crocheted rug I found in the dog blanket section of Merimbula Vinnies for 2 bucks. 
OK so I realise that there are in fact several crocheted rugs in this picture - I'm talking about the main, big one that Olive is sitting on. It had a few squares missing, which my ma lovingly replaced for me, but it's pure wool, and it's enormous and beautiful. When I bought it, the woman who sold it to me said "Oooh… your dog's going to love that". Ahem. Yeeeeah.....
Mummy also made us this super-spesh torte. Old-school baking learned from my Oma. LOVE it.
Nothin' like a piped-custard-cream rendering of a little love-cottage to brighten your day.

So yeah. We're in, and even though it's kind of overwhelming to be living in an unfinished tiny cottage surrounded by dirt and building rubbish, we're in our little house. And it's cosy and warm (freakishly warm!) and we made it ourselves, with people we love. How could we not be happy??

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On move-in eve

It seems unreal. The last week's flurry of night-time, last-minute painting-and-finishing by torchlight is finally over and we're sitting here for the last night in Vickie's lovely warm house drinking wine and thinking "wow: Tomorrow we're in". Sure, tomorrow will be a 'soft' move-in. Mostly just our bed into the freshly-painted loft, a chest of drawers to store our basic essentials and, if we get to it, maybe a couch. There is still a bit to do - painting and finishing-off, mostly, and a whole lot of tidying up and arranging.

Freshly Porter's-painted recycled corrugated iron, hardwood fence-palings and beautifully oiled wide boards.
Last night, I sealed the floor with our Bermagui oil - a combination of beeswax, citrus-based solvent and linseed oil. It's the same oil we used on our upstairs loft floorboards, and while they turned out quite beautifully, our debacle of an earth floor still leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, it cracked. Quite a lot. At first, we filled the cracks with cement, but then the cement cracked. We spent a heartbreaking few days trying to reconcile ourselves with ripping the whole thing up and concreting it. This was quite devastating for us, and more than a few tears were shed as we faced this reality. The compromise was about much more than the question of the embodied energy of concrete. It was about the work that had been put into that floor by so many people. It was about our vision of what a beautiful earthen floor could be. It was about using natural, mother-earth-made materials from our very own neck of the woods. It was about softness underfoot. It was about saving money. And it was about pride. More than a few people had told us we'd be better off with concrete, so digging up our earth floor and replacing it, before we'd even moved in was going to involve a big bit of word-eating.

But after some sage counsel from our beloved hostess Vickie, a few words from Leonard Cohen courtesy of beautiful Nessie, we realised that the floor is functional, and it is there, and, while it is significantly less beautiful than we first envisaged, we've decided to rug it up and live with it. 

Thank goodness for the recent rug-making workshop!

The cracks have now been sturdily filled with a mixture of bondcrete and river sand. Some of the cracks were pretty hefty, so they got a pre-fill with swept-in sand, then bondcrete was poured in on top, then the whole lot was dusted with sand. There are still a few gaps (the worst cracks were more than an inch wide and probably 3 inches deep - right down to the gravel substrate) but it's good enough to work with.
Yep, it's hideous. But it feels nice under foot and it'll store heat when the sun hits it so it's gonna stay.
On this building journey, I have learned that when you are a home builder who doesn't really know what you're doing, products like bondcrete, liquid nails, expanding foam and caulked-in gap fillers are, while decidedly unnatural, pretty much your best friends. I'm cool with that. The bondcrete has worked wonders as a floor-crack filler, and it's allowed us to make a pretty buggered-up floor into a functional floor and, while it's still a little painful for us to look at now, we know that in a few months' time when it's covered in hand-made rugs and furniture and toys and books, and our spring garden is flourishing and our little cottage is filled with all our beautiful pictures and treasures, we're probably not going to be thinking too much about it.
Old-school brand-stamping. We just couldn't paint over it.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There's a crack in every thing

That is how the light gets in.