Cleaning a fence

Sometimes renovation just means cleaning.

On the weekend, my partner and I tackled the back fence. It had clearly never been cleaned in a long time. There was an old trellis supporting some scrawny, nondescript plants, and the wood was covered in green mossy built up from years of neglect.

I snipped off the daggy old metal trellis with a pair of bolt cutters. The cutters made short work of the old plastic-coated metal. Bolt cutters are one of my favourite tools – I always feel like a superhero when I’m bolt-cutting something!

My other favourite tool is a sledgehammer 🙂

Usually I like to salvage materials where possible, but the trellis was probably 30 years old, and no good for anything except disposal, being plastic-coated. It has gone to landfill now.

I left the old fencing nails that had been used to attach the trellis in the fence. They were well nailed in, and pulling them out might damage the fence. Besides, they blended in and didn’t bother me too much once the trellis was gone.

Sometimes it’s better to leave old nails in place. If I’d desperately wanted to remove them, a quick snip at the elbow with bolt cutters before teasing the ends out with pliers would do the trick.

The old plants were snipped apart with a pair of secateurs (they weren’t very big plants!), and went into the compost, not being large enough to burn.

One of the plants was a rose, so I cut it down to the base, and will dig up the root stock and transplant it.

A job for another day!

The rose bush and other plants hadn’t been pruned in a long time and were no good. I’ve saved the rose root stock though, and will transplant it elsewhere.

The water blaster was the perfect tool for the job of fence-cleaning and removing all the green built-up.It was pretty filthy!

Half the back fence done. My partner Matt got a bit bored and started “drawing” with the water blaster in the moss build up. Could’ve been worse – at least it was just a number!

There! Two hours later it’s much better!

Looks like a new fence now! So much better!

Just one afternoon of work can make a huge difference.

Looking after a house and garden and keeping them in good order is often just a matter of easy jobs performed regularly.

It’s also a matter of having the right tools. A water blaster made this job really easy, but if we didn’t have one, we’d have used scrubbing brushes and soapy water – plus elbow grease.

Over the next year we have our work cut out for us. We’ll be painting the entire house, inside and out, and remodelling a bathroom that is truly antiquated. Plus we’ll be doing a lot of gardening, making our outdoors a lovely place to be.

I’m looking forward to all of it!

Renovations – we’ve been busy!

We moved into our new home just over a month ago, and boy, have we been busy!

The house we’ve bought is an absolutely lovely old villa, right in the middle of Mornington, which is one of Dunedin’s oldest and most central suburbs. It’s a great place to live.

The home is on a double block – rare so close to town – with a lovely flat garden.

It’s a lovely flat garden, and will be easy to maintain. I just need to clear out the overgrown stuff first!

We have five bedrooms, one for each of our four kids. Also rare, in a town that is about 90% three bedroom homes.

It’s exactly what we wanted, and we’re very happy, but when I say it’s an “old villa” I mean OLD!!!

The home had been owned by the same family for about 80 years, and although basic maintenance had been done, little else had, for a long long time.

There was no heating at all, apart from old fireplaces that don’t work very well, and we live in a COLD climate. From what we can tell, the people who lived here either froze each winter or just used lots of little electric heaters they plugged into the wall and put up with a huge heating bill.

As for the bathroom, well! It’s original, in every sense, and the plumbing is antiquated.

The bathroom is antiquated. We’ll be gutting it completely, replacing the shower-tub combo with a glass-fronted walk-in shower. The vanity will be replaced with a much smaller model to take up less floor space. We’ve already purchased the 3 in 1 heater/extractor fan/light as well as a heated towel rail and will be fitting both over the next couple of weeks.

The kitchen is not much better.

When I said the kitchen was OLD, I meant it!

We knew all this, and it was reflected in the sale price, but what it all means is we’ll be doing a lot of renovations over the coming few years, and I’ll be blogging all about it here, as I think (hope!) it will interest you.

We intend to bring this beautiful old home kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Quality heating

Our first step was putting in two kick-ass heat pumps – one in the living room, and the other in the hallway. We also changed all the locks, as a standard measure moving into a new home.

The living room heat pump. We didn’t mess around, but bought a really powerful machine that would heat the room well.

The heat pumps we bought are a wonder, and over the first few weeks we could literally feel the home drying out and becoming warm and inviting. It was an amazing thing to feel. The old musty smells have disappeared, and the home feels comfortable, warm and dry.

The hallway heat pump is a slimline floor model and it works really well to keep the bedrooms warm and dry.

Insulation

The second step was to check our insulation. I called upon the Warm Up NZ initiative, a government scheme to get homes across the country properly insulated, and they did a check on our home.

We’re fully insulated, top and bottom, and on all accessible side walls.

While here, the Warm Up NZ guy recommended our next step should be thermal curtains on all windows, starting with the top storey.

Thermal curtains

This week, I ordered new thermal curtains for all windows on the top storey. These were easy, as I could just buy ready-made curtains, then I’ll re-hem them over next week. Two sets had to be ordered online, and should come in the post in the next few days or so.

This will make our house look better and stay warmer.

My partner’s daughter chose ivory curtains, his son chose plain black, and my son chose black with a pattern. For the landing, I chose grey with a vine pattern.

I’ll take “before and after” photos when these are all fitted.

Replacing light bulbs

We’re going through the house and replacing all standard light globes with ultra-efficient LED bulbs. This is not cheap, as the bulbs retail between $7 and $13 apiece, and we have about 20 bulbs to replace!

We started with the living areas and hallway, and are gradually working our way around the house. This will cut our power bills significantly.

New smoke detectors, and a fire blanket in the kitchen

The house had old-style smoke detectors, and not enough of them! We’ve replaced these with modern fire detectors that only need replacing every 10 years.

We also bought a fire blanket to keep near the very old stove, in case of emergency.

Fibre!

Within a week we had a fibre connection to the internet installed. The kids were very happy about this!

Where to next?

Our next steps will be replacing the hot water system with gas, and getting started on the bathroom renovation, as it’s more necessary than the kitchen. We’ll be completely gutting both, so this is not small tasks.

In the meantime We’ll also be working on the garden, clearing away overgrown plants, and putting some new fruit trees in.

Widening the driveway will happen in a year or two, but first I’ll be clearing all these overgrown plants away!

Blended families, minimalism and compromise…

I’m a busy mum with two kids of my own – a son (12) and daughter (10).

And kind of like The Brady Bunch, I’ve inherited another two kids with my partner, who has primary custody of his son (16) and daughter (11).

Four kids. Yikes! I often wonder how on earth this happened to me. But it did!

Mixing families is never easy. Over the last few years, as we’ve introduced our kids to one another, we’ve all had our share of ups and downs, and we’re doing pretty well, I think.

But with mixing families, we also have to make some concessions. One of the concessions my partner and I decided we wouldn’t make was on giving the kids space of their own.

Our options, when we first moved in together, were as follows:

a) Put the boys in together (16 and 12) and the girls in together (11 and 10, but from different families in each case, and my daughter has special needs and doesn’t sleep well)

b) Put his kids in together (a 16 year old boy with an 11 year old girl) and my kids in together (a 12 year old boy and a 10 year old girl with special needs)

c) Give the oldest (his 16 year old boy) a room of his own and make the others share in some way

d) Give the youngest (a girl with special needs a room of her own) and make the others share in some way.

None of the sharing options worked well. So we settled on a different option altogether, and decided that all of the kids needed their own room. Their own space.

It was hard finding a home that was big enough on our particular budget, and in the end, the home we’ve found is beautiful and in an ideal position, but it does need some work. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and get busy! That was the compromise we were willing to make.

The compromise we made also meant that my dream of owning a smaller home went out the window. I’m now the minimalist with a five bedroom home!

I’m the minimalist with the five bedroom home!

What I’ve learned from this is that people are more important than ideals. The house is bigger than I wanted, and I feel like an old fraud, preaching minimalism while living in a big house. But it is what we need, for our particular circumstances, with four kids from two families and one of those kids with special needs.

The truth is, minimalism means own what you need, and nothing more. If you need a big home, then buy the big home and don’t feel guilty. I need a big home, every square foot of it will be used.

My version of minimalism might be different from yours, and yours might be different from the next person’s. Have what you need, and be content. We’re looking forward to moving into our new home, and everyone having space of their own.

Sometimes space is a good thing. Especially when you’re blending families 🙂

We bought a new house!

I haven’t posted for a while, as things have been so busy. I guess that’s what happens when you BUY A NEW HOUSE!!!

Yay!!!

It’s been a hard slog to find what we needed. My partner and I, bringing two families together – and four kids of different ages – felt that it was very important that our kids didn’t have to share rooms. So we needed a FIVE bedroom house, on a fairly tight budget.

Five months of searching later, in a market which is going crazy with prices rising so fast we were wondering if we’d be priced out before we could find something suitable, we managed to find and secure a home. Everything was finalised on Friday, after weeks of worry, and settlement is in about a month from now.

So we’ll be extra busy over the coming weeks. We have to organise new heating for the home, and get that sorted, and we also need to do a lot of painting over the coming few months, as the house needs a lot of updating. It’s a fair amount of work. Luckily I’ve done most of that sort of thing before, and am not new to pretty much any of it.

We’re really pleased, and can’t wait to move in. At present we’re all stuck in a tiny little rental, much too small for six people, so it’ll be nice to have room to move at last.

New pathways, and a new home ahead…life will be busy!

Minimalism: the space between the lines

You’ve cleared the clutter, dumped the junk, ditched the rubbish in your home.

Now what?

Minimalism isn’t just about stuff. When we take our first steps on the minimalist path, it seems all about consumerism, saying no to all the stuff we thought we needed but really don’t, and finding the space between the lines.

Minimalism

Minimalism: The space between the lines.

It’s a good place to start, but once the junk is gone, and the habit of unnecessarily buying replacements is dead, it becomes glaringly clear that often our actual lives need simplifying too.

Sometimes we’re doing too many activities. We’re spreading our talents too thin, trying to be experts in a number of fields, struggling to be interested in everything.

Other times we find we’re stretched too thin by others.

Our partners need us, our kids need us, our ageing parents need us, and we’re meant to fit it all in on top of a full time job and a part time job on the weekend. Oh, and there’s that volunteering we do as well!

Minimalism asks us to breathe. To ask ourselves: what serves us best? What makes us happiest? What gives us the most value in return for our most precious asset, Time?

Once you start to see that space between the lines, what is important becomes obvious.

What is essential is invisible to the eye. Only with the heart can we see clearly. Clearing the clutter away opens our eyes, minds and hearts to the truth of who we truly are.

If we don’t have such a big house we won’t need that second job.
If we don’t take those extra classes in a hobby we really don’t enjoy all that much, we’ll have more time to spend with our partner and kids.
And our ageing parents? They won’t be around much longer. Perhaps we should consider spending quality time with them, over volunteering our time with strangers.

Everyone has choices.
So choose wisely. Choose well.
And be happy.

happy beach

Runaway teens…and how to cope

My partner is dealing with a very hard time at the moment. His son has run away from home, back to the ex-wife’s, and we’ve received nothing but hurtful, nasty texts from the boy since he left two weeks ago.

I’ve found it hard to deal with my anger at the situation. I’ve tried to stay calm, but seeing my partner and his daughter in such grief and loss is hard-going for me. It hurts, more than if I were hurt myself, to see the man I love struggling with this.

Neither of us know what to do or how to cope, so instead he’s been saying little in response to the vitriol coming over the phone, hoping that his son will calm down and return to his normal, kind, cheerful self. The boy we know and love.

When this sort of thing happens, the grief can be overwhelming. We’re struggling to stay afloat. It probably comes across to the boy as gruff and silent, but it’s grief and misery. My partner has been hurt. He feels like he’s losing his son. He’s wondering if the loss will be forever.

So last night, when my partner and I were lying in bed, holding each other, and his face was so blank because he couldn’t even feel any more over all this, I suggested something to help us cope.

How to cope with runaway teens.

Find a clean, empty jar. Then, when you’re ready, write down something wonderful about the person you’re missing.

Maybe it’s a memory of a great day you had together. Or something kind they did for someone. Maybe a bad joke that made you all laugh. Or a time you were proud of them.

Maybe it’s the fact that they care for their younger sister. Or that they make great gourmet noodles, with an egg on top and Moroccan seasoning. Maybe it’s that horrible hair style that you don’t understand but you love them for anyway.

Write each thought down on a separate, small piece of paper. Fold it, and put it in the jar.

Write about the fact that you’re the stepmum, and you had such worries that they’d hate you when you came into their life. Write about the first time they hugged you and it was uncomfortable as hell.

Write about being their dad, and how you do everything you can to care for them. How sometimes that means making decisions that don’t make them happy, but that are for their well-being anyway. How being a parent means sometimes saying no, and teaching right from wrong. Write about how you have tried to do that. Write about how you care.

Write about how honoured you felt when they shared a secret with you, When they trusted you. Write about how you love having them in your family. Write about how you miss them. Write about how you worry about them.

Put each and every thought in the jar. You don’t have to do it all at once. Just one thought a day or so, whenever you remember something, when you think of something you miss, and the gap in your family that is empty because they’re not there right now.

Try to add a new thought, or memory, or feeling, every day. Just keep adding. In doing so, you honour the love between you and the bond you share. You help keep it whole. You heal what is damaged.

Ask every family member to do the same. Put their thoughts in the jar. All the things that make the runaway special and loved and wanted. All the reasons the runaway probably doesn’t understand. All the things they’re probably not aware of, or that you haven’t ever mentioned or talked about.

All the family members, all writing thoughts, adding to the jar.

Keep the jar in the runaway’s room. If they ever come back for their belongings, give them the jar along with everything else.

Don’t say anything about it. Just give them the jar.

Healing

I’m not saying this will do anything to heal the relationship. But sometimes relationships get broken not just for the things that were said, but because of the things that should have been said, and weren’t.

It could be that the runaway will ignore the jar. Or throw it away. Or laugh at it. Or get angry and abusive. They might mock it. But they need to know how you feel. That’s what the jar is for.

And those of us left behind? We need to express how we feel too. We’re hurt, and we’re angry, and we’re confused, but we need to remember that we love those who have left us, despite everything, and that our love is not going to disappear even when our children do.

jar

Healthy breakfasts: Don’t be a cereal offender!

Anyone who has ever had to clean a stuck-on, dried-out, dirty cereal bowl will understand why we don’t eat cereals with milk in our house.

Apart from being messy to clean up, cereals are also expensive, and not particularly healthy. Some are ridiculously high in sugar. I don’t think they’re good for our health or our budget.

We’ve moved back to older, basic breakfasts that people ate traditionally, before Mr Kellogg started selling his corn flakes a century ago. We’re also trying some foods that have never been a part of a traditional breakfast, at least as far as I can tell!

So I’d like to share with you some great breakfast ideas all of which I think are better options for families. All are budget-friendly, and easy to prepare.

Because life should be an adventure. And that includes breakfast!

  • Eggs. Two eggs per person, cooked any way. Add some toast if you want. You’re done! My son likes soft boiled eggs and soldiers, while I like my eggs poached (you can poach in the microwave in a mug of water) with a little table salt for flavour. Eggs are also great as omelettes, or scrambled on toast.
  • Vegetable tacos. Why not? Tortillas with cheese, cucumber and tomatoes in winter, plus a dash of salsa. In winter, we replace the cucumber and tomatoes with carrots, broccoli and fried onion. Yum!
  • Toast. My kids like toast for breakfast. My daughter has strawberry jam, my son has chocolate spread. I like vegemite. We keep our spreads limited to one choice per person – any more, and they’ll start cluttering up your pantry. Feel like something different? Try someone else’s choice for a change!
  • Porridge. The old-fashioned stand-by. Warming, filling and economical, there’s nothing better than a hot bowl of porridge on a cold winter morning.
  • Milkshakes! Breakfast doesn’t have to be solid food. Sometimes we like to just make up chocolate milkshakes and go. Add a scoop of protein powder or psyllium husk if you feel you need more bulk added.
  • Green veggies. I cook frozen spinach in a pan with some garlic salt and pepper. It’s delicious, and a really easy way to get my greens right at the start of the day. Green veggies are a great accompaniment to eggs too! Other options for hitting the green in the morning are broccoli florets steamed in the microwave with a teaspoon of sweet chilli sauce, or cucumber wedges raw, cold and fresh out the fridge in summertime.
  • Pancakes. Pancakes on a Sunday morning are one of our family’s traditions. Make them a tradition for your family too. You’ll find my pancake recipe at the bottom of this page. Pancakes are cheap and quick, and they fill my kids up until mid-afternoon.
  • Soup. Soup is a great breakfast food. We keep a stock of tinned soups to hand, and I also make soups from scratch and freeze them into portions. Either option works, and both are great for breakfast with some toast to dip.
  • Fruit. You can’t beat an apple or two for a portable, easy breakfast. Bananas and mandarins are great too.
  • Greek yoghurt with scroggin or trailmix. I like to put a spoonful of dry scroggin or trailmix into my fresh Greek yoghurt. The combination of textures and flavours is lovely, filling, and perfect to start the day.
  • Last night’s leftovers. We commonly eat last night’s leftovers for breakfast. Leftover pizza is my favourite. Yummmmm!

What’s your favourite non-cereal breakfast? If you’ve tried something new and wonderful, or you eat something comforting and traditional, let me know in the comments!

cerealoffender

Pancake recipe

Ingredients:

Serves 4.

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cup milks
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup self raising flour.
  • Spray oil.

Method:

  • Put frypan on medium heat and spray with oil.
  • While pan is heating, combine sugar, plain flour and self raising flour in a large bowl.
  • Add milk gradually, stirring to a smooth paste.
  • Crack eggs into mixture, and stir until the egg is well mixed in.
  • Pour a large scoopful of mixture into pan. Flip when top of pancake is dry. Continue cooking until done.
  • Serve and cook remaining mixture into pancakes.