Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Monday, August 31, 2020

What a difference a week makes

Last weekend was snowy, rainy, windy, squally, stormy, cold.

This weekend wasn't exactly hot, but it was sunny

These are views from the laundry door, the front door and dining room door.  We live in a suburban area in the semi rural outskirts of Ballarat.  I realised yesterday that if I am sitting on my couch and looking out the windows, all I can see is trees.  Jim, on his couch, can see the house next door, but no other buildings. We hear very little in the way of traffic and not much in the way of human noises (we do hear the children playing in our cul de sac, but you can't complain about happy noises). We hear lots of birds. The kookaburras and cockatoos are our noisiest neighbours - and they can be very noisy sometimes 😂 We are very fortunate to live here.

While I was at the mushroom farm on Saturday, I noticed the house across the road had bags of horse poo for $2 each.  I happened to have some change in my wallet so picked up some bags.  I took advantage of the pleasant weekend weather to tip a couple of bags into the garden bed I am planning to plant asparagus in.  That bed now has a layer of home compost, a layer of horse poo and a couple of layers of garden soil. I think one more layer of garden soil and it will be good for planting.  I have three minute asparagus plants ready to go. I think I might be able to fit two more in. The plants are really tiny so it will be a LONG time before we can harvest asparagus, but gardening requires a good seasoning of patience and the asparagus we grew in Tupton was always very much tastier than shop bought produce. I can wait.

Speaking of waiting, the lemons on our little lemon trees are nearly ready to pick. I use a lot of lemons. It will be good to have my own (small) supply. I am hopeful that one day the little lemon trees will grow into big, fruitful lemon trees - although the one I planted second isn't looking as happy as the first one is. 

Otherwise, things have been fairly quiet - as I suppose they should be under stage 3 lockdown restrictions. The days are getting noticeably longer (in terms of light, not perceptions of time). We are looking forward to some spring warmth. Won't be this week, though. The forecast suggests that winter hasn't given up on us. Yet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Wintry weather

Well, they promised us a return to wintry weather over the weekend, and that was exactly what we got.

I don't think the temperature rose much above 5 or 6d on Saturday.  We had snow flurries, sleet, hail, rain, wind.

Sunday was a bit better but definitely not a picnic outside kind of day.

When I went to the mushroom farm and to Elaine on Saturday morning, there were large puddles of water on the roads.  There was standing water in the paddocks. The drainage channels on the side of the road in Smythes Creek were flowing.

We had over 30 ml of water in the rain gauge over the weekend.

The Bureau of Meteorology official rain gauge at the airport read zero!!!! As if someone had put an enormous umbrella over the airport.  It seems it's broken.  I'm not sure why they couldn't have just got another one, but officially, on the wettest weekend for weeks, Ballarat had no rainfall :D

Sunday was the fourth anniversary of our arrival back in Australia to live. We celebrated by me baking and then us eating apricot rolls from an American recipe for lunch and a British style Sunday roast for dinner. I had made a Japanese style noodle soup for lunch on Saturday and a Lebanese style lamb dish for dinner.  A truly multicultural weekend for food.

The weather has picked up again now. It's a beautiful morning. Still cold, but at least the sun has come out.

I braved Bunnings yesterday.  If you go in the afternoon during the week it's not too busy.  The tradies have been and gone, the weekenders are busy doing other things, the oldies are wearing masks and physically distancing. Safe enough given the low levels of diseases in Ballarat. I have now got most of the things on my Bunnings list, including a large plant pot for the patio when it is finished and larger brackets for the shelf I want to put up in the laundry.  I didn't get a wheelbarrow. I decided that a wheelbarrow and a large patio pot might be asking a bit too much of little Ziggy.  I'll get the wheelbarrow next time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


There are definite signs of spring round about.

The wattles are in flower

The deciduous trees are beginning to show leaves

The tarragon in my herb box is starting to regrow.

Jim has been digging the broad bean and pea beds, ready for sowing.

The Diggers seeds have arrived.

The soil is beginning to warm up.

And the Ballarat paper says we are expecting freezing temperatures and possibly even snow over the weekend!!!

Perhaps I will hold off planting the tomato seeds for a bit. (Yes, I know it's too early where we live, but it's very tempting.)


Monday, August 17, 2020

Curtains and blinds

 You may remember that I have mentioned that our windows are mostly long and quite narrow and that the curtains take up so much space that it makes the house quite dark.  We have had them tied back as much as we could, but they still covered quite a lot of the window

Dining room

Lounge room, before the couches came


Pretty much the first thing I did, once the house became ours, was to order blinds. Then, I took all the curtains down, apart from the ones in our bedroom.  It was surprising not only how much more light was let in, but also how much bigger the rooms looked. I hadn't realised quite how bulky the curtains were.

The blinds were due to take 4 or 5 weeks to get to us, although because of Covid delays it might have taken longer. They took three or so weeks to get to us.  Now we had a problem.  Jim, who would have had them up in no time a year or two ago, would struggle to get them up now and in any case can't balance on a ladder or stool any more.  I probably could have installed them if need be, but would definitely have had to go up a ladder or stand on a stool, and anyone who thinks I am going to do either of those things while in charge of an electric drill/screwdriver has another think coming.  I decided to get a Wo/Man in.

Then I ran across our next door neighbour who reminded me that her partner is a cabinet maker who also does lots of carpentry.  She volunteered his services to be my tradie.  He came around on Sunday, and had the blinds up and the redundant curtain rails down in about 45 minutes.

We almost never closed the curtains in the dining room.
It was lovely and quick to drop the blinds down yesterday evening

While I was about it, I ordered a blind for the bathroom, which had a net curtain when we moved in which I promptly took down, folded up and put away ready to reinstall it when we moved out.  I put a beach house poster up in its place, for modesty's sake.  The poster has come down now and the new blind has gone in.

I completely forgot about the study, which has had its curtains removed but no new blind. It doesn't really matter for now. And I didn't get anything for the big patio window-doors.  I'm not really sure what to get for such a large space. We never closed the curtain that was there so there is no hurry, but I will get something. When I think what!

Jim and I are very pleased with the new blinds. They have subtly modernised the place.


We have been quite busy lately.

Out the front of our bedroom window there is a small garden bed, which had a bush and some spiky, grassy things.  The bush was quite pretty but the spiky things were ugly, and spiky.  And it was all quite inconvenient for getting in and out of cars

 So Jim dug them out.  I bought some weed mat and some pebbles.  Alas, it turned out that the pebbles would cost in the order of $1000 if I bought enough to completely cover the now empty garden bed.

I can think of many other things to spend $1000 on instead of pebbles, even though the pebbles are rather lovely.  So I ordered a metre of gravel from the local gardening rural supply place for $110.  Then I shifted the pebbles, covered the bed with weed mat and shovelled gravel all over it. Then I scattered the pebbles over the top. And then my back, knees and ankles stopped talking to me.  Loudly!

Now the little garden bed looks like this

We had no idea that drain (at the front, to the left)
was there until Jim dug out a load of spiky things!

And we still can't use the front bit of the driveway properly:

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all that gravel, although we might dig out the agapanthus by the front gateway and put the gravel down there. It would make getting to the letter boxes much easier.

It was a busy day on Saturday too.  Lindsey and I made our usual morning visits to the mushroom farm and to the Elaine Farmgate Shop, travelling in separate cars so as to be compliant with the current Covid restrictions. Then we returned to our respective houses and got ready for a Zoom lunch with Freyja and Simon to celebrate her birthday (which is actually today, but Saturday was more convenient for having lunch).

I have never had a Zoom lunch before, and only a couple of meetings/conferences.  I was not especially happy about having a Zoom lunch, although in the event it was a very pleasant hour. It was telling that Lindsey and Ian and Jim and I were wearing winter woollies and sitting inside in our Mount Helen abodes, while Freyja and Simon were sitting outside in t-shirts in their Westgarth courtyard. (Westgarth is an inner suburb of Melbourne). They had sunshine. We did not. We did, however, all have lovely lunches. 

I think my lack of enthusiasm for a Zoom lunch was born from being scarred for life by Christmas video calls when I was in England and video calling was in its infancy.  I would call someone who would then plonk me in the middle of the Christmas dinner table, where I couldn't see anyone much and couldn't hear anything over the hubbub that is our family Christmas dinners.  Nobody plonked me on a table at Freyja's birthday lunch and I could see and hear perfectly.

After the lunch finished I made my way out to Delacombe to collect my supermarket order. I haven't done a click and collect supermarket order before, although I have for other things. I got there to find that my order wasn't ready and wouldn't be for at least an hour and probably longer. So I went to Dan Murphy's instead and bought plenty of wine supplies (Just In Case) and went home. I went back when I got a text message telling me it was finally ready.  But next time I think I'll just go and collect it all myself.  If I go mid-week and not at lunchtime the supermarkets aren't particularly busy. And usually the local IGA fills most of my needs. I don't often have need to visit the big supermarkets

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Early Morning Light

Looking down the driveway 

Looking across, over the fence

Ten minutes later

Rupert and Hugo, after a hard day on the hill


Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Melbourne has been put into Stage 4 Lockdown. There is a curfew between 8pm and 5am, limits on what people can do and where and how they can do it. Country Victoria has moved back into Stage 3 Lockdown. The limits aren't quite as onerous and there is no curfew.  Not that a curfew would affect us. We are seldom out between 8pm and 5am anyway.

At the moment there is no pressing need for me to go to work at the surgery. I do have a permitted worker's certificate which allows me to physically go to work if need be but at the moment I can do what I need to do from home and someone else is doing the scanning.

Fortunately, one of the permitted reasons for travelling, wherever you are in the state, is to provide care for  the elderly, frail, infirm. It was our weekend to go and visit mother.  Ordinarily we go on Saturday morning and return on Sunday afternoon.  This didn't seem appropriate just at the moment. Stella lives in the Greater Metropolitan Melbourne area so is subject to the Stage 4 Lockdown. So I spent part of Saturday preparing food and doing the shopping and we went down on Sunday morning.

People are obviously taking the restrictions seriously. There was almost no traffic on the roads. It was all a bit spooky. The Burnley Tunnel was pretty much empty. The freeways had almost no traffic. It was a bit like being in a post-apocalyptic film. I quite liked the ease of movement but I didn't much like the lack of traffic.  It was quieter than it ever is on Christmas morning! Eerie, I tell you.

It did, however, mean that there were no hold ups getting to Mount Martha. 

I took with us some of the food I had prepared on Saturday, plus a couple of pies I had bought at the mushroom farm. The pies come from a small bakery in Ballarat and you really can't complain about the amount of filling you get. I took a family size steak and mushroom pie. Lots of big chunks of steak and mushroom and a lovely rich gravy.  I also took some scalloped potatoes. I bought some from a takeaway food shop the other day and was reminded how much I like scalloped potatoes. No need to pop out and buy them, though.  They are simple to make and I had everything needed. I think Stella was pleased to have some home made meals ready for the week.

There was more traffic later in the afternoon than there had been first thing in the morning but still not as much as usual.  We were stopped at Checkpoint Charlie at Bacchus Marsh. The nice police officer asked for my driver's licence and my reasons for travelling. The reason for travelling was satisfactory and we were sent on our way. The couple of cars behind us were also sent on their way. Not many people out breaking the Lockdown Limits, though you get reports of some people doing ridiculous things.  I know it can be frustrating but if people bunker down it should only be for six weeks - and one of those weeks has been done already.

We are occupying ourselves by messing about in the garden on days when it isn't raining.  Jim is slowly laying a patio outside the dining room door.  I have ordered the spring and summer seeds from Diggers and am filling the new garden beds with potting soil.  But I have decided that getting gravel, potting mix, sand etc in little bags from Bunnings and the local garden centre is a very expensive way of doing it.  I am going to contact the local garden and farm supplies place and see about getting stuff delivered here in bulk.  And then I need to steal, I mean borrow Lindsey and Ian's wheelbarrow for shifting it.

Monday, August 03, 2020


I have been collecting the scrag ends of soap for quite some time.  All kinds of soap.

The jar I've been collecting them in gradually filled up.  At the weekend I decided it was time to do something with them.

So I tipped them into a saucepan and put a gentle flame under them.

Nothing much happened.

So I put them in a plastic pot in the microwave, with a bowl of water on the side.  

Nothing happened.

So I did what I should have done in the first place and looked up how to melt soap.

It seems you are supposed to add water to your saucepan.  This seemed slightly counterintuitive to me, but I gave it a go.

And lo - the soap started to melt!

I hadn't put enough water in, so I topped it up with water from the kettle, which I had just boiled to make cups of tea.

Allow me to warn you, should you ever be minded to melt soap, that adding boiling water to melting soap is a Very Bad Idea.

It frothed up and went everywhere, even as I hastily moved the saucepan to the sink.  I ended up with soap all over the stove, all over the floor, all down the cupboard doors and in the sink!!  I now have a lovely, clean kitchen which smelled of soap for a very long time!

But I also ended up with useable soap.  I put some in a silicone mould, and some in a sandwich box.  When the soap in the sandwich box had set, I cut it into squares. I also had little soap Scotty dogs

Scotty dogs waiting to assist visitors to wash their hands
Scotty dogs waiting to assist visitors to wash
their hands

It was kind of fun, making little hand soaps from soap scraps. I must do it again.

Usually when I take photos of the morning light, I take them from the front porch, looking down the driveway.  I took these looking over the fence from the backyard. We still have lots of trees around us, even after they cut down the trees on the far side of the reserve

It was a beautiful morning, but it was definitely on the cold side.  I think it was about 5d when I took these photos!