First World Problems

Chapter 18
First World Problems
As many of you would be aware our family have an interesting living arrangement.We currently divide our time between the beach resort Benny manages and “the farm”, spending four nights at one and three at the other.  This arrangement hopefully will change in the future and we can live wholly and solely at our little slice of heaven.  But until then, we have the best and worst of both worlds.  This Chapter may appear trite but I wish to assure everyone that we are eternally grateful for both our living situations, its just sometimes…
Problem No. 1 – The Bush vs the Beach.
Many of our friends think that we are crazy to want to give up the apartment on the beach for a full time gig in the Hinterland.  Just recently whilst we have been enjoying the six am walks on the sand together we have silently been contemplating the same thing.  Why would you give up the proximity to the glorious sunrise over the ocean, and falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves?  The first glimpses of breaching whales in July.  Why give up the casual saunter to the local coffee joint and staggering distance from the Club?  Why lose the clean, cool, supplied for free (apart from Benny’s hard work, blood, sweat and tears), four bedroom apartment to live in a ramshackle, dusty, chook poo infested, suck every penny out of your bank account, mortgaged to the hilt home?  Crazy first world problem really, but the answer is in the last sentence, one of them is “home”.
And we aren’t really what you would call “beach people”.  When we were living in the Hinterland previously for seven and a half years only fifteen to twenty minutes away from the beach, how often did we go to the beach…. once a year on holidays!  Now that we live at the beach, only in the last month have we gone walking together on the sand, and we’ve been living there for four years!  To say we are not beach people is an understatement.  Even from a young age Lawson was genuinely disgusted by sand on his feet and even more than that hated the feeling of the salty water on his body so much that he would need to be carried up to the showers and cleaned off immediately upon exiting the ocean often in a flood of tears.  His father, I might add has also been that way for years, minus the tears (although I should ask his mother about that one).  In four years we have entered the ocean maybe twice as adults and perhaps an additional two times for the child.  So yes it is lovely to wake up to and go to sleep to and gaze out at and all that, but we only truly take advantage of the beach when we are in holiday mode.  At the ranch we are out in the open air every waking minute, soaking up the sun, or soaking in the rain, going about our various chores and projects, inevitably collecting fire wood for the evenings warmth and loving every minute of it, wishing we were there when we aren’t.
Problem No. 2 – Where did I leave the….
Two wardrobes full of clothes, two pantries full of food, two fridges full of perishables, two piles of DVDs, two washing machines full of dirties, two driers full of folding, two desks full of paperwork/homework, a million opportunities to leave something at the wrong house!  Ever go to make a lovely diner and open the pantry to grab the essential ingredient only to find it is at another house?  Definitely a first world problem I know but still bloody annoying.  “Mum,where is the thumb drive with my assignment on it that is due in today?”.  “Mum, where is that pair of shorts that goes with this shirt that I really need for the costume for the play that I am in today?”  “Mum, where is my script, mum, where is my iphone, my laptop, my school bag, lunchbox” etc etc you get the picture.  “Honey, where are my black socks?”  “Honey have you seen my sunglasses?”  “Honey, where are my shoes, boots, hat, iphone, credit cards” etc etc you get the picture.
Problem No. 3 – The animals.
Now I know that to some extent I brought this one on myself.  Once you get a pet or multiples thereof you are making a bit of a rod for your own back when the time comes that you have to be away from them.  Everyone who has a pet can appreciate that at some point they need to be minded, farmed out, put up in pet motels or you do what we do and get someone to house sit and mind the lock stock and barrel.  But during the week is a different scenario.  
Now you have got to realize that before we owned Scruffy our dog, he would stay over night at our place regardless of the fact that we weren’t living there.  He would be on our back door mat when I left at the end of the day and on our front door mat when I came to work in the morning.  Nothing has changed in this respect except that he now gives us this “look” that is almost disdainful when we pack up and leave for the night.  Now however, he has a full belly, a bowl full of water and is tucked in and wrapped up to keep him warm if he should chose not to move off his bed.  The look is a killer and tears my heart out but we know that he is safe and probably no different than loads of guard dogs that patrol premises over night.
The chickens, well, those have to be locked away to protect them from predators, so I coerce them into their run with the promise of a tasty treat and shut them safely in.  Because we free range them, I like to get back there in the morning and let them out again, but on the rare occasion that we don’t get back until later in the day they have sufficient space, food and water to be (less than) happy for the day.  On days like today however, a weekend, we’ve stayed at the resort because of a meeting and friends are coming to join me for coffee and it probably wont be until late that I get to the house, I’ve got to admit I stress a little about my babies.  Cant do anything about this.
There are plenty of other occasions where having two houses presents problems but I don’t want to bore you or least of all make you jealous, but as I sit here on the deck, log fire burning in the trailer trash, half 44 gallon drum, sipping my champagne, watching the chickens graze around me, laptop on my knee, dog curled up at my feet… you can keep the beach, I’ll be quite happy to have this every day thanks!

Man Cave

Chapter 17
Man Cave
Do you have parents that have retired, decided to downsize and have moved house.  What that means is that everything they have stored for umpteen years and never used now gets transferred surreptitiously to your house, box by box, one per visit, usually accompanied by “We thought you might like to keep this…” and a trip down memory lane.  Most people with limited storage space in their suburban residence find this creates a problem, unless you have an attic, a roof space or like one of our friends, a container sunken under their floor (if ever any people go missing in their area…).  We however are lucky enough to have a good deal of storage space both at the house and at the resort so can manage to take most things that need to be saved for future generations to throw out.
At the farm we are spoilt for choice.  Up on the top level, there is the three bay garage, home to one car, some craft equipment slowly collecting dust and gecko poo, all my yard tools, mulch, fencing wire and my mobile potting trolley.  All within easy reach of the house yard and vegie garden.  This brick building was apparently built by one of the neighbours (since moved on).  The fact that this amateur builder cum brain surgeon laid the bricks on the ground outside the concrete slab means that the subsiding of the land has created massive cracks in both side walls that you can see the light of day through!  One day it will fall down or be pushed down by the weight of climbing cherry tomato trees, but for now we have painted it to look all brand new and it is quite a convenient storage space.
Traveling down to the block further there is a tall carport structure or covered area under which the previous owner stored his bob cat and excavator, but could conceivably be used to protect a yacht building project from the elements.  It stores our camper (currently for sale $7,500), occasional vehicles, random furniture and for the first year our friend Glen’s boat refurbishing project.
Forming the back wall of this space is an old, blue shipping container.  How handy are they to have!  It contains all my archived dress making patterns, half a dozen different industrial sewing machines, stacks of boxes of excess sample stock, and just recently Christmas Decorations and assorted memorabilia.  The container has a timber floor, light and power which used to connect to a heater because the previous owner used it to house his much loved motorbikes (which suffer from the cold apparently?).

To the right of the “boat port” is the Man Cave with full length benches, hooks and brackets, a pulley system for lifting and manoeuvring a car engine (not that we will ever do that mind you), more lights than Beacons Lighting and of course its own stereo system with speakers and amp (who doesn’t need that?).  There are steel racks on one side and a mobile timber rack on the other.  A shelf dedicated to camping equipment, plastic boxes on wheels and assorted crates full of who knows what.  There was once a bar fridge but when that decided to heat rather than cool it had to be discarded and so far has not been replaced.  Lets face it, it’s hard enough to drag visiting men away from Cave when it’s time to have dinner.  I sometimes think that if we just moved a bed in there Benny wouldn’t come up to the house for days!

So eventually when Brent’s parents decided that their yard was too much work and the house way too big for just the two of them we knew what was coming and instead of being dismayed at having to take on a whole heap of their stuff, we silently clapped our hands.  You see we already had a place in the shed set aside for a drill press, projects earmarked for a welder, and benches just waiting to be filled with bits and bobs and tools of every kind.  Bring it on!  So they moved to a smaller house with a teeny tiny shed and all the other tools that couldn’t fit in came to us over several trips in a trailer.  There was also a load of steel, some pieces of assorted wood, and duplicates for most of the tools Benny already owns.

Benny pretends that he doesn’t share his shed well.  The fact that he doesn’t allow any of my stuff in it (except some wood from picture framing and a drop saw that he gave to me as a present!) lends some credence to this.  But in reality he likes to show off this space and has done the typical Dad thing and helped Lawson build his first Billy cart, given some of his friends lessons in using the drill press to make candle holders for their Mums and every so often his Dad comes from Brisbane to use the shed for a project of his own.  On these occasions Mum packs Dad a lunch, his thermos full of coffee and a bottle of water and we don’t see him until five o’clock rolls around and its time to go home. We occasionally hear some sounds that lend us to think he is working but more often silence when we figure he is just chillin and watching the world go by, or more likely having a snooze.

Now, I should warn you that if you suffer from “shed envy” then best you don’t come and visit our house.  You will no doubt be taken down to the Man Cave for a tour and if your lucky a sneaky beer.  Benny will tell you about all the equipment and even the history of some.  He will also inevitably proclaim that in his shed he could almost mend a broken heart!

A Queen Has To Have a Throne

Chapter 16
A Queen Has to Have a Throne
I’ve always loved swinging.  No! Not that type of swinging, get your mind out of the gutter.  The swinging you do on a swing, on a tyre suspended from a tree, on a hammock, on a piece of board suspended from a rope, that type of swinging. Phew.  So one of my prerequisites for a home on acreage was a great big tree swing.
We once fell in love with this quaint little house half way up Tambourine Mountain off Henry Roberts Drive, which went to auction.  It was vacant for most of the time that it was on the market and it had THE BEST tree swing ever!  This swing was a board suspended from a magnificent ancient gum tree.  Nothing unusual in that I guess, but this swing started on the flat, but when you swung you flew out and over the precipice of a bank that made you feel suspended over the biggest gorge ever.  Well at least the first couple of times that you swung on it, it did.  I owned that house in my mind.  I could see me swinging on that swing for the rest of my life and enjoying every minute of it.  I could see my son and his children and their children, etc etc etc enjoying that swing.  Unfortunately so could the granny that beat us out at that auction, who had her grandchildren at the auction and they were SWINGING ON MY SWING!  Retired and more money than us and a builder husband… anyway dont get me started.  We vowed after that experience that we wouldn’t go to an auction again.  Soul destroying.  Anywho… 
So, now we have this place and there are two magnificent gum trees.  Majestic, white trunks, big thick limbs… and they are in totally the wrong place for a swing.  One is to the side of the property, surrounded on one side by a bank, the other side a shipping container and the other side our water tank (see picture from last Chapter).  The other gum is over the compost heap and surrounded by weeds, hemmed in by a stand of banana trees and in fact the opposite end of the block not overlooking anything.  None of the other trees are big enough or have those amazing limbs that gum trees do to support my weight!  So we have this lovely property and no tree swing.  Good feeling gone.  You know even with all the palms we have on the property we don’t even have two palm trees that are spaced the right distance apart for a hammock.
So when my birthday was approaching and I noticed all these lovely egg shaped hanging chairs available at all my favourite home decorator stores, I put in my request for one.  Together as a family we went around one weekend and sank our derrières into every ovoid or otherwise hanging chair that we could find.  Some were frightfully expensive, some were frighteningly claustrophobic, some were not quite the size to curl up in, and one was juuuuust right.  I decided upon a chair that was splayed out at the seat, rather than an egg it was more of a scoop.  It was difficult to contain my frustration when I found out that the ones on the floor were already ear marked as SOLD and the next container wasn’t going to come in until late March!  So with gritted teeth we paid the nice lady and set a reminder to check back in six weeks time.
Birthday came and went and while it was lovely and I received loads of gifts I still didn’t have my swinging chair.  Easter was approaching and we had planned to go camping with some friends for an entire luxurious week at Ballina, right on the beach.  We would take our camper (currently for sale $7,500) with massive tarp for shade and shelter and they would take their tent, trailer to carry extra stuff including bar fridge and we would use combined facilities to make meals and chillax in.  Bring on the Easter weather… wet as usual!  
Now just a day before we were due to leave we got the call about the swinging chair.  It was here!  Benny suggested that since I had waited such a long time and we would be away for a whole week and Glen had the trailer and all… maybe we should take it with us!  Yeeeeha!  So while it was still wrapped in its transportation packaging we used all our Tetris playing skills to maneuver it into position around the bits and bobs that were already so neatly stacked in the trailer.
It usually takes us about two hours to set up camp the way we like it after which it is time to crack a beer or wine and let the mellowing out begin.  Well, it was the best chill out time ever swinging in my new chair swing, glass of chardy in hand to the admiring and somewhat jealous looks of other weary campers.  Some stopped to ask about it, comment on it and so it became somewhat of a conversation starter.
Of course I had to fight the kids for it most of the time, but I did get my fair share of time curled up on the cushion immersed in the serenity of suspension.  In fact the gentle rocking must set my creative juices flowing because on that trip, in that very chair, many of the first chapters of this blog were written, as have many since from its current position as Throne of the Deck.

Attempting Sustainability

Chapter 15
Attempting Sustainability
Managing a rural property on 90 acres in the Hinterland had given both of us, particularly Brent a greater understanding of sustainable living.  The resort had its own water treatment plant, sewerage treatment plant and was in its own way trying to be self sufficient.  Over the seven and a half years we spent there Benny was able to learn how the intricacies of each of these things worked and so had a store house of information that was inevitably going to be of help to us in the future.
Several years ago now we lived up the Sunshine Coast and hung with a progressive bunch who clearly knew more about sustainable living than we did.  Since we had always lived in resorts that provided us with roof over our head, our power, phone, in some cases food and drink, we had lost the understanding of how much all of these things cost, until we went back to fending for ourselves.  A rude shock!  So when we went into debt for this property and started to run the business out of it, received hefty electricity and water bills coupled with ever increasing cost of living expenses we started to rethink how we could not only ease the financial burden but also stand alone if things around us went to the dogs.
With the house already decked out with solar hot water and a septic system, storing rain water was our first priority.  You may know only too well how much water has fallen in the great south east over the last three years.  That first Christmas was the big flood of 2011 and whilst our property, in order to flood would have to endure a major tsunami tantamount to a meteor hitting the Earth (as per that Bruce Willis movie), it was so sad to watch all of that wonderful water come out of our downpipes and leaky guttering and flow into the creek.  When you have had the taste of rainwater and have to endure the swimming pool water that comes out of our taps here on the Gold Coast, you know what you really want for your family. 
Benny will hate me telling this story BUT, that Christmas I bought him a  surprise gift of a Macbook Pro laptop computer because I thought he deserved it.  Anyway, Christmas Day he seemed stunned when he opened the gift and asked straight away if we could take it back.  Why?  Because the same amount of money could buy us a water tank!  Okey dokey then.  Luckily we could and we did ,and several months later the excavator leveled the pad, the truck came with the cracker dust base and the big blue tank was rolled into place.  Not quite the same expense as a lap top computer after the pump and the plumber and the pipe locating guy etc but that first rain we danced in!  Since then we bang on the side wall of the tank to note the level after every heavy rain storm.  We have the luxury of being able to go back on to mains if we run out of tank but we all hate doing that.  We are planning a second tank as we hate to see the tank overflow and all that precious water go to the creek again, but we’ll need to save up another couple of thousand before we can get that one happening.
Next on the agenda was photo voltaic panels to produce electricity from the sun.  Our electricity bill was enormous ($750/quarter) and we weren’t even living at the house full time!  So when we felt we could we called up our lovely friend Michael from Australian Solar Installations and asked him for a quote.  We had become friends relatively recently in the grand scheme of things because the boys were mates at school and attended the same after school activities, but he was kind enough to give us a “mates rates” deal on a 5 kwt system which to the layman is 20 panels and a 5kwt inverter.  The slope of our metal roof meant we needed some brackets to get the panels at the right angle, but with the deal done the guys came and installed it in just two days!  Now we watch the meter with delight as we produce almost as much as we use on average.  Cant wait for the next bill.
Once a few years ago, I remember one of my other Sunny Coast friends saying that food shortage was going to be a real problem for us all in maybe not ours but our kids life time.  That really stuck with me and even though at this point in time my crops couldn’t sustain us for a day let alone a year, I’m giving it a go and learning more about it as I plant each seed.  Last year we had a rush of excrement to the brain and decided we should plant an orchard….US!  So we bought enough pipe and fittings and fixtures to take water from the tank up to the back house pad and put it in place.   Even whacked in a star picket with a tap attached.  Stage one complete we went to the Nursery (can you see our folly) only to find that to buy the sorts of plants we wanted was going to cost us as much as it would to buy the second water tank!  Okay so now a year later we haven’t done anything up there, not to say we wont but it may need to be done in stages when there aren’t more pressing priorities, like leaking gutters, falling down fences, rendering and painting the house….but ah, that’s for another blog.