Where There’s Smoke.

Chapter 22
Where there’s Smoke…
I really love the onset of Winter here in Queensland.  We have nothing much to complain about because the days are still so beautiful, temperate and sunny, and the nights though colder are just cold enough to be an excuse for ugg boots, fleecy jackets and an open fire.    Just outside the overhang of the roof line of the performance stage/deck, we have a patch of dead grass, which over Summer months greens over just in time for Winter to hit again and then become singed with the heat of the open fire pit. The part of winter that no one looks forward to more than my husband is making an open fire. A boy scout at heart if not in reality he loves nothing more than to scrunch up the newspaper into tennis ball sized clumps and neatly, nay symmetrically construct a kindling tower that any Jenga player would be most proud of.  It’s a point of consternation with Brent when I out of necessity am given the opportunity to construct the fire.  In my typical haphazard fashion the kindling is placed indelicately in a kind of teepee construction into the drum, in no way akin to the symmetry of its usual design.  Still works though doesnt it!    
But there is a bit of a problem this Winter.  After being here for almost three years now, if you look around our two acres you would be hard pressed to find another dead tree.  Benny has systematically chainsawed every last one of them into manageable sized logs and further chopped many into rough hewn kindling.   There is one tree that still stands proud if presumably hollow, but its very size is daunting and he hasn’t yet summoned the courage or planned an adequate escape path, should the whole thing not go the right way when the first cut is made.  Who knows, maybe this will be the Winter that the tree comes down.  In the meantime he has hopped the fence (only a metre or so) and taken down a couple of trees in the back acre of our neighbours rental property.  Lets just call it mitigating our fire risk.  
 
Then, as if on cue a second problem arose, because one problem is never enough, the trailer trash half forty-four gallon drum on study welded legs, collapsed and folded right in half.  So another fire pit had to be sourced post haste as the cold winter nights were coming on thick and fast.
In our household whenever there is a purchase to be made of any significance for the home we tend to email each other, not really to ask permission but rather a “two heads are better than one” scenario.  This day Benny who had obviously been hard at work (not) sent me a picture of a fire pit he had found on the net that he thought would do the trick, for my approval and whats more it could be here in just a couple of days!  You know how we have grown up with the saying “You get what you pay for”, well for $125 plus delivery I looked at this little decorative fire pit and commented that I really didnt think it would be big enough for the size and intensity of fire Benny loved to build.  But of course if he thought it would be adequate then go right ahead and order it in.
Before that weekend it arrived at Australia Post and I went to collect it.  I was able to pick up all 18kgs of it and pack it into the back of our little four cylinder sedan, giving me some kind of clue as the the sturdiness and strength (or lack thereof) of the pit, therefore justifying in my mind that perhaps I may well have been correct.  That evening (being a Friday) Benny put the erector set together and stood back looking admiringly at the somewhat attractive stand and tray.  He stacked it gently adding his usual ten to twenty kilos of fire wood and although it overhung the tray a bit it seemed that the pit might just do the trick.  We called Lawson to come outside and admire the new fire pit and after much coaxing he inevitably pried himself away from the internet and opened the back door.  Just then an almighty crash and a shower of sparks went up as the bottom tray and fire fell straight onto the ground to a chorus of uproarious laughter all round. “Great Fire Pit Dad!” said Lawson jokingly as he turned on his heel and walked back into the house.
Well, two weeks later we are still using the frame to contain the wood akin to a brazier, and the tray remains on the ground to collect the ashes.  A new fourty-four gallon drum is yet to be procured but we think that this is quite possibly the best way to go.  After all, the since deceased one lasted us for two whole years and the weight of countless dead trees.  It was one that our mate who was restoring his boat had used to hold up the hull while he worked underneath it.  A drum that had once contained thinners, when Benny went to cut it in half with the grinder he told everyone to stand well back.  Just another occasion when I have been glad we have him covered by adequate life insurance!  Now bring on the dead tree I say!
 

D.I.Why?

Chapter 21
D.I.Why?

There are loads of running jokes in our family as you are probably beginning to realise.  One that doesn’t fall on me this time but on my husband happens whenever we go to home wares shops, garden centres and the like and look at things for the house, furniture, gadgets, outdoor decorations etc.  When I find something that I like (invariably with a hefty price tag), he usually says “I can make that!”.  After which we have a laugh, because we know that whilst he probably could make it, he most likely wont get around to it.  And although its admirable to be that crafty and willing to have a go I tend to think that our house is more of a lesson in D.I. DONT, rather than D.I.Y.  Now before you think that I am casting aspersions on my husband’s abilities, I am in fact referring to the couple of previous owner geniuses and their dodgy jobs around the place.

Our friend Mike the electrician can attest to some serious scary wiring acts that have been performed around the house by one previous owner.   Using lighting cable to carry power, double dipping on the cabling to run multiple appliances etc.  Which of course have since been or will be rectified to code as we uncover them.  Also each of our sinks in bathroom and kitchen are leaking due to “do it yourself” plumbers and drainers.  In our laundry, which is another blog in itself, the plumbing there is so flung together that we cant even buy taps to fit the outlets and so have resorted to using a shifting spanner to turn the taps on and off!  
There are home made shelves that bow in the centre, home instal jobs on wall mounted air conditioners, the outdoor spa is actually an “indoor” spa set into a deck with the motor underneath the deck to supposedly protect it.  He even set it into the deck so crooked that seriously every time you look at it makes you cringe.  
 
But I think by far the best of the worst D.I.Y jobs is the ceiling insulation.  Talk about cringe worthy!  It is constructed of hundreds of styrofoam squares that are all through the bedrooms, hall and lounge room, all of them stuck with liquid nails directly to the gyprock.  They also lined our closet until we decided to remove the cat scratched panels, homemade shelves, bent rails and replace it all in a DIY job with a Bunnings modular shelving kit.  One of the jobs I am pleased to say that we had a bit of success with! 
In the office from where I operate the business one previous owner used the previous kitchen cupboards and drawers for storage, and benches as a desk.  Thankfully they employed experts to do the kitchen reno and didn’t do it themselves, as it is quite neat and tidy and well made, even if not entirely up to date.  The walls in the office are another home made job made entirely I feel out of recycled bits and pieces that he must have collected along the way, and when he ran out of bits… well, he just left gaps.  Cornice on three sides only, no skirting boards and a big hole in the wall (which I covered with a large whiteboard) where I figure he ran out of wall paneling.
We on the other hand have had some great successes with some of our do it yourself projects which ultimately give us a lot of satisfaction as well.  They never work out as smoothly as you would hope however and most of that is attributable to the things that are uncovered (caused by previous owners) once you start the demolition, and sometimes our lack of prior preparation and planning as we tend to jump in headfirst and fix the issues as we trip up on them.
When it came to the pool fencing for example, we paid a guy to come and do the timber fence running the entire length of the pool because we really didn’t know much about concreting in the posts and with such a big expanse we couldn’t afford to get it wrong.  A couple of thousand dollars later we have a lovely neat pool fence on one side.  As our aim now that the palm trees were gone was to be able to see the pool from the back yard, it seemed like the best most aesthetic option that gave us the desired effect was glass pool fencing and stainless steel bollards.  There was already a strip of concrete at the edge of the pool so we didn’t need to have that concreting skill nailed yet, so we figured we could do this bit ourselves.  Another trip to Bunnings and a couple of thousand dollars or so later and we had the materials needed for the project.  What we didn’t anticipate is the depth of the concrete being minuscule and therefor the bolts not getting a great amount of purchase.  But it is now in place and looking beautiful.  The pool itself is not glamorous but the view from the backyard is exactly what we were after.  So now when families come to play at our place while the parents are having drinks on the deck they can keep a lazy eye on the kids in the pool.
I think that what we have learnt over the past three years of renovating is that you need to know with every project that you are thinking of attempting, what you think you are capable of doing and what it will cost someone who knows what the heck they are actually doing to do it for you.  Then weight up what it will cost you to fix your efforts if they go very very wrong.  You do the math!  Also, get some quotes so you can plan in advance and save for the projects that you want to see done.  Sometimes the experts aren’t as expensive as you may have first thought.
 

The Crematorium.

Chapter 20
The Crematorium
I love to cook.  Some of you will know that I was once, a lifetime ago, a High School Home Economics teacher.  Cooking and sewing are some of my favorite things to do and hand in hand with the cooking is the entertaining, which I know I have talked about previously.  Every weekend (bar very few) we have people over for one meal or another and I, given the required amount of time on my own, love to research the recipe, shop for the ingredients and if the ingredients allow it, harvest from my own garden to prepare an awesome meal.  These are usually meals I couldn’t make unless other people were coming over as the two fussy eaters that I live with wouldn’t be happy being served it as a regular meal.  Now whilst most of my creations revolve around the glamorous six burner barbecue which allows me to be outside and surrounded by friends as I cook, some accompaniments are best prepared in the oven, otherwise referred to as, you guessed it The Crematorium.
When we bought the house we were so pleased to see that the kitchen had been remodeled, whilst not in our style it was to say the least serviceable.  It contained the basics of cupboards, drawers, a large pantry with a light that comes on as you open the door (gotta love that), more cupboards, an oven, cooktop, more cupboards and a dishwasher.  Whilst the cooktop isn’t gas as I would love it to be, it does the job and whilst the oven is there in its little niche in the wall, it is constantly on duty.  Yep it doesn’t turn off.  Here we are approaching the end of our third year of ownership and we STILL have an oven that is hot all the time.  Whilst this works well to dry the tea towels that are hung on the door and to keep rust away from the oven trays that live in it, it really isn’t ideal.  Downside number one is cleaning an oven that you cant touch the inside of for fear of singeing off your arm hairs.  Therefore it remains uncleaned (I swear thats the reason!).  Downside number two   is the amount of electricity that it must be chewing up remaining ON all the time and its total non compliance to everything safe to do with electrical equipment, especially things that are hot.  
The worst downside though is the oven’s complete contravention of the international table governing appropriate cooking temperatures and recommended cooking times for various dishes.  When it comes to baking I need to do a conversion of my own, not from imperial to metric but from metric to volcanic!  Divide cooking time in half and adjust temperature down by 100 degrees, and even then stand by the oven in the last third of the cooking time peering through the grease laden glass to observe the colour of the dish before it goes from golden brown to black in a matter of seconds whenever it feels like it.  I have literally cooked a quiche without physically turning the oven on!
Some of our poor friends who to their credit are always polite have had to endure the most beautiful homemade cheese and pesto bread, but soft fluffy insides only because the cremated crust was inedible, garlic toast which once again has to be eaten inside out, muffins that look like spewing volcanos because the outside crust cooks first and the molten inner pours out of the conical fissure to harden as a strange protruding.  Just weird believe me.  This week it was corn muffins or johnny cakes, a packet mix I spied in a shop full of USA produce and reminded me of my time in the States on student exchange.  I made up the very simple recipe, loaded the muffin tray into the oven, set the timer and walked away (and now you see my folly) for just a minute to have to race back when I smelt the black smoke billowing out of the cracks in the oven door.  
The only dish I seem to not have any worries with is the potato bake (old fashioned I know but goes well with a big juicy steak on the BBQ), which because it is covered in foil and quite liquid for most of the cooking time, can withstand the torturous temperatures and doesn’t blacken as other things would.  Every other dish is either a labour I don’t have time for or brings a disastrous result.
Now I am aware that we have many priorities in this house all of which require time and money.  Of course we need to have chains sharpened at $30 a pop, new chains for $45 (almost two a month), petrol for the mower, engines serviced, mowers replaced, pool water tested and litres of acid and kilos of salt bought every week, bigger better chainsaws, compressors that are newer than the one we bought two years ago… but look, if I am to cook spectacular dinners every weekend I must be given the right tools to work with, any tradesman worth his salt would have to agree.  
So now, we are on the hunt for a new oven as it has finally taken on the priority it deserves and I swear when the installation of the new oven and the exorcism of the old one is complete, I am going to give it a bit of its own medicine and throw it into our weekend bon fire and incinerate the volcanic beast good and proper!
 

Thrills and Spills

Chapter 19
Thrills and Spills
There is a running joke in our family that every 99 steps that I take, I trip up (funny for some perhaps).  So every time I catch my heal on a floor board, twist my ankle on a rock, go off the edge of the concrete path onto the sand and stumble, my beloved mumbles under his breath “99”.  The fact is that I do trip up quite a bit.  I’m not really sure why, perhaps it is my love of heals , even on work boots, or weak ankles or a balance issue but I am definitely more than a little accident prone.  Living on any property with hidden rocks, holes, drop off points, bits of unseen fencing wire, rough and tumble modes of transport, weeds that lasso you like ropes, and all manner of trip and fall hazards means that I come undone quite often.  Here are just a couple of examples…
When we bought the house Benny was soooo excited because it came with his very own ride on mower with trailer and two acres of potential grass to mow.  After much use and abuse the poor MTD, broke some whiz bang component that was going to be horrendously expensive to fix.  So the decision was made to purchase a new, second hand Husquvana ride on because they are big and orange and a lot more manly don’t you know!  As Lawson had become quite a hit at school with all his mates because he would tow them around in the trailer for hours on end when they came to visit, we didn’t dispose of the old mower but just removed the scary blades and voila it became a useful transportation vehicle.  I have myself used it on many occasions to move mulch and dirt and tools from one spot to the next and sometimes had fun being towed around in the back of the trailer too, until one day…
Benny and I usually walk the property at the end of every weekend and take a look at whatever we have achieved or talk about things that we would like to do in the future.  For some reason this one Saturday afternoon I met Benny on the MTD and he offered me a lift.  It is noteworthy to point out that some visiting kids had been playing on the vehicle most of the day without incident.  I hopped in and he took me for a spin around the Secret Garden and then proceeded up the hill towards the top house pad.  About one metre from the top something happened that seemed to play out in slow slow motion.  The seven centimetre long pin that held the trailer to the tractor came out and let go!  Seems the jiggling over rocks, the angle of the slope and my weight put the centre of gravity to the back creating enough angle, just enough that the pin fell out!  
I screamed nay shrieked as the trailer with me in it began to roll (slowly at first) backwards down the shale and gravel covered hill.  I can tell you I have had all sorts of nightmares about what could have happened if I had stayed put and it had picked up speed.  But I didn’t, I jumped out while it was moving which once more changed the centre of gravity tipping me out.  I fell, rolled and slid on the gravel on my forearm and thigh finally stopping on top of a sharp rock, and to add insult to injury the trailer rolled and tipped straight on top of my head! Now I don’t know how kids do it, fall down, get straight back up again, no tears.  Not me thats for sure.
Meanwhile Benny was oblivious to a point until he heard the scream.  He parked the vehicle and came down to inspect the damage.  One thing that Benny has on his side is his extreme calm under emergency situations.  He assessed that I hadn’t broken anything although it felt like it to me, and told me to just sit there until I was ready and then he would help me to get up.  I was soooo sore and sorry for myself.  I’m sure adults aren’t meant to fall out of trailers, heck they probably aren’t meant to be in them in the first place!  
So I have some scars to add to my collection and for a while it was a recurring nightmare, and quite frankly I have not been in the trailer since.  The lost connecting pin has now been replaced by a pair of pliers, the handle of which is much longer than the pin.  Still not sure it complies with any OH&S regulations, but it has been holding things together just fine now for over a year.
I’m sure that Lawson has had many more lessons on how to use the machinery around the place than I have.  Just recently h

owever I found out for myself one important rule with the ride on mower.  While I was coming down the steep section of the second driveway collecting the branches that Benny had cut with his chainsaw and piling them into the MTD’s trailer I decided to just put it into neutral and roll forward just a tad.  Big mistake, HUGE, the vehicle has no control in neutral, no brakes even!  As I careered down the hill picking up speed and screaming “HELP!” like anybody could do a thing, I took a corner way too fast and headed to the water tank on the flat hoping that I could just jump off it if I couldn’t get the thing to stop.  All of a sudden though my reasoning kicked in, I turned the key and put it in gear (which nearly bucked me off the thing) and I had control again, just seconds away from crashing into the trunk of a huge tree.

One evening in front of some guests I stepped off the deck, my hands full of plates and cups, straight into a hole dug out by the chickens, twisting my ankle and falling in a heap.  Not graceful at all, I lay there swearing and cursing the chickens and the pain and the fact that I was going to have to spend weeks with it taped up and loads of money in physio to get it to work not as well as it had in the past.  And this would be weak ankle number two after breaking a minor bone in the other ankle in a similar stair incident two years prior.
There have been many other minor incidents at the farm and now that I think of it, all through my life, so many it seems that I am starting to think that maybe I should take a new nickname from the piece of machinery that has been the cause of so many of my thrills and spills-  “MTD”, which I have since been informed stands for Made To Destruct!  Guess I am!