Sunday, January 29, 2012

Goodbye 2011. Hello 2012.

Twelve months ago, we set out our dream list of projects that we hoped to complete during the year. It was a big list but we got stuck into it and are happy to report that most of the projects were either completed, or at least a start has been made.
The new steel garage is up, but still needs a concrete apron to make it easy to get into it (there is a 100mm step up which needs fixing). However, even if we did this, we would still be unable to use it as intended (to house our car) because as soon as it was built, it somehow managed to fill up with a whole lot of other stuff (mainly materials for building and future projects). It seems that there is some law of nature that says “create an undercover area and it will be filled”!
The garage has the new woodshed built on one side and this is not only finished, but we have started filling it up with firewood. We have divided it into four bays. Two are for short lengths of wood for our wood fired stove and two are for longer pieces for the heater and steam engine (when installed). The two bays of each, allow one stack of wood to be built up and seasoned while the other bay is being used. Usually we don’t start filling the woodshed until Easter, but because we have to fill the lot from scratch, we are getting an early start this year. This woodshed is also about 50% bigger than our old shed so it will take longer to fill.

Our seedling white sapote in front of the hothouse has put on a lot of new growth
We managed to shift the hothouse to its new location and used the opportunity to improve the design at the same time and change the layout. One improvement was sitting the walls on top of some free pavers that we picked up. This stops weeds from growing against the metal walls and should reduce corrosion at the base.
Our solar system batteries and inverter are now much more accessible in their new location in the house. We also made some minor changes to the system to boost output. Unfortunately the shift gave our old petrol generator a “heart attack” and it “died”. The good news is that we are now 100% solar (at the moment).
We put a new access track in to our solar panels, which also provides a firebreak to southern side of our clearing. This project still needs a fair bit of work because the wet weather earlier in the year made it impossible for the machines to do their thing. Hopefully we’ll finish it off this year.
After a seven year break, we finally managed to get back to house building. We put down a concrete patio, added a verandah and have now completed painting and staining a third bedroom. This room, which is a spare room for visiting friends and family, looks so good we may even spend some nights in it ourselves. They say a change is as good as a holiday!
So, what have we got lined up for 2012? For a start there’s dozens of smaller finishing-off jobs like drainage pits that need to be built, more tree planting, bird netting to go over the orchard, seven more rooms of the house to complete, some fencing and some more pipes and taps to go in. Plus there is our bed and breakfast building to finish, the steam engine and boiler to install, as well as a new doorway to be cut through the garage mudbrick wall. We’re exhausted just talking about it.  I don’t think we will be getting bored for quite a while yet.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Helpers from China

We recently joined a website called Helpx, which links people who need volunteers, to other people who are prepared to offer their help in exchange for board and cultural exchange. Since joining just over one month ago, we have received many requests from travellers visiting Australia from around the world including France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Taiwan, Spain and China. The process involves trying to coordinate dates when we need help with the dates that the helpers are available.  
Jodie, Valencia and Tia having a break

Our very first Helpx friends came from China. Jodie, Valencia and Tia originate in different parts of China but are all students at Hong Kong University. During their term break they decided to see a little bit of Australia and contacted us through Helpx. (

Checking for eggs
After a short stay in Sydney, then Melbourne, they came out to our place. We all got on really well right from the start. Our place must be the complete opposite of Hong Kong. We are relatively isolated, surrounded by bush, and at night time it is very, very quiet (when we are all in bed). It must have also been a bit scary with large and strange insects, the occasional growl from a wombat, croaks from frogs, shrieks from parrots and being surrounded by evidence of our recent terrible wildfires. Then there were our stories about snakes, crocodiles (not around here) and swooping magpies.....

Cooking a barbecue
Most of our meals were typical Aussie meals and the girls happily ate these, even though the food was often different to what they were used to.  However they were not keen on porridge (oats) and that Aussie favourite, vegemite.

Collecting firewood
One of the highlights of the trip for them was seeing our wildlife. We managed to catch a glimpse of a wombat and a couple of kangaroos, but it was not until the night after the girls left that those “devious” animals came out into the open. That night we saw half a dozen kangaroos and two wombats, including one near our house.

The girls spoke English really well, which was fortunate because we have no knowledge of Chinese at all. The only tricky bits were our crazy sayings like “we all got on like a house on fire”, which must sound like a very weird thing to say if you are unfamiliar with Australian idioms.

Tia weeding the celery
The stay was not all play of course. The girls were excellent workers and eager to do whatever jobs needed doing. They helped us get what would take us a week to do, done in two days. They weeded most of our main veggie patch, carted firewood, fed the chooks, decorated the chookpen, cleared a mass of vegetation that was growing over the driveway, helped remove a large fallen tree that we had sawn up and they joined in the preparation of meals.
Jodie weeding the carrots

It must have been a big adventure into the unknown for these three 19 and 20 year old young ladies. Travelling outside of Asia for the first time all the way to the other side of the world to a strange land, dealing with the complexities of a different culture, staying with people they didn’t know and coping with our boisterous dog, Bluey.
Valencia weeding the celery

Apart from benefiting from the work they did for us, we gained a new insight into life in China that is quite different to the view we get in our mass media and most valuable of all we got to spend some time with three wonderful people who we hope to remain in contact with in the future.
Leaving messages on the chookpen wall

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