Outwitting the Cat

Exhausted after a hard night's hunting.

So cute and innocent…not.

It has been five years since I slept through the night. It’s no coincidence that it’s been five years since we got our cat.

Don Gato is a talker. He meows to come in, he meows to go out, he meows to be fed, he meows to be petted, he meows to be played with, he meows purely to piss us off.

In the middle of the night, he appears at my bedroom window and howls to come in. If I let him in, he waits until I’ve just managed to fall asleep again, then comes into the bedroom and howls to go out.

I’ve learned to sleep through the meowing at the window, but if I don’t let him in when he howls at the window, he hurls himself at the front door, rattling the door handle and loudly shaking the entire door. Repeatedly. For up to four hours (that’s the longest I’ve been able to stand it, though I’m confident he would have carried on as long as it took to get me out of bed).

When I tried to cure this behaviour by spraying him with water, rather than letting him in when he threw himself at the door, he learned to simply hit the door, then run out of range of the spray bottle.

A few nights, I’ve accidentally locked him into my office for the night, but doing that regularly would most certainly result in the total destruction of the office.

Last night I tried a new tactic. I affixed a string handle to a small plastic tub, filled the tub to the brim with water, and hung it on the front doorknob. If the cat tried to jump at the door, he would tip the water on himself (relieving me from the need to get up and spray him, and making the jump and run technique ineffective).

I slept all night last night.

Let’s hope the defences hold for tonight—I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Functional and Meaningful

2016-06-28 16.00.01The pattern weights in the slick sewing magazine were tempting, for sure—sleek brass cylinders that screamed ‘professional sewer’. Just looking at the picture, I could feel their delicious heft and smooth finish.

But my life is not one of polished brass. Though the fancy pattern weights were elegant and undoubtedly fit for the job, my beach rocks are, too.

Smooth greywacke cobbles I collected myself from the beach just 4km away beat out the fanciest weights. They belong here. They fit my hand nicely, come in many sizes and weights, and they speak to me of waves and water, sun and sand. Nothing purchased can do that.

My pie weights come from the beach, too, and work just as well as a fancy set of ceramic beads. More so, because they make me smile whenever I use them.

Objects that are of a place. Objects that belong.

In our global economy, with the products of the world just one click (and a credit card number) away on the Internet, it’s easy to forget that what is in our back yard may be just as useful, and far more meaningful, than anything manufactured and stamped with a brand name.


A Fondness for Finials

2016-06-05 10.31.13 smWellington is a city rich in finial posts.

And…um…what’s a finial post?

Finial posts are the ornamentation found on the gable ends of roofs. Roof finials have been used for millennia all over the world. They originally served the purpose of capping the point of a roof, where the tiles come together (think of the fancy post on top of a Japanese pagoda). You need something to cover the unavoidable hole where all the tiles meet. Many roof finials still serve this purpose, but they are also ornamental.

2016-06-05 10.29.42 smGable finial posts were popular in the New Zealand villas built between about 1880 and the beginning of World War I. They were just one of the many ornamentations (inspired by the new steam-powered woodworking tools of the time) used in these houses. The style (including the finial posts) was also popular during this time in America and England. Folklore in the eastern U.S. suggests that finial posts were not just attractive, but also prevented witches from landing their broomsticks on the roof.

At this point most of you are wondering why on earth I even notice finial posts. My appreciation of finial posts started when we did a major repair on our own house—a tiny villa built around 1880. The front gable was rotting and in need of replacement. It had been repaired in the past, and in one of the repairs the finial post had been sawn off at the roofline. This is a common fate of finial posts on old villas—re-roofing is much easier without finial posts in the way.

When we repaired our house, my husband insisted on restoring the house’s finial post, and this started a whole-family appreciation of finial posts. Now we can’t go anywhere without noticing good finial posts, or noticing when they’ve been removed.

And so, while in Wellington this weekend, I took several long walks, simply to admire the finial posts.

Of course, the question I have is, with so many finial posts in Wellington, do witches need to land at the airport instead?

Confessions of a Packrat

2016-06-01 15.19.52 HDRWhen the kids were young, we used to regularly visit Creative Junk, a place that sells all manner of industrial off cuts, overruns, and misprints, along with household ‘junk’ like plastic tubs, fabric scraps, broken tiles, and empty jars. It was a great place to get cheap materials for the kids’ creations (you know, those 3-year-old constructions of dubious artistic merit—the ones that end up in the rubbish a couple of days later).

On one of those trips, I scored a roll of heavy clear vinyl for myself. I didn’t know what I’d use it for, but it struck me as a handy thing to have.

That vinyl has sat unused in my office for eight years. It’s always a little too heavy or a little too small for anything I might want it for. More than once I considered tossing it (or donating it back to Creative Junk). But getting rid of it required more work than just leaving it in the back of the cupboard, so it just stayed there.

This past weekend, I noticed that rain was getting into the chicken coop. A crack at the back of the hinged lid over the nesting boxes had gotten wider with age, and was now letting water stream right into the nesting boxes.

I needed something to block the crack without preventing the nest box lid from lifting. Something waterproof, stiff enough to not blow in the wind, but flexible enough to bend with the lid.

My roll of vinyl was exactly the material for the job.

I worried the piece wouldn’t be long enough, but found it was exactly the right length, and exactly twice as wide as I needed, so after cutting it, I had a piece to put on the coop, and a perfect replacement, if the first doesn’t hold up long-term.

And this, of course, is the reason I have a cupboard full of little bits of this and that in my office; and a pile of leftover bits of spouting, flashing, and pipe out behind the shed; and a stack of not-entirely-rotted fenceposts; and three rolls of used deer fencing; and an old bed frame; and…

Eventually, nearly everything comes in handy. Nearly everything can be reused, often more than once. There are half a dozen boards under my firewood right now, keeping it off the wet ground, that are on their third lifetime—they were once a porch roof, then a tree house, and now protect the firewood. Between uses, they were slated for the rubbish, but ended up being reused before we got around to hiring a trailer to take them to the tip.

I’ve grumbled more than once about the lack of rubbish pick-up here, but I often think it does more good than harm. The more difficult it is to get rid of things, the more creative we become in reusing them.

That’s got to be good—for our finances, and for the environment.

Still life with nails

still life with nails smWhen the work is done
The tools

They do not worry
About the quality of the job,
Or whether there is enough paint
To finish it.

They are not concerned
About tomorrow’s to-do list.

They do not ache the next day
From having used muscles
Heretofore unknown.


They repose
With the relaxation of babes,
The languor of ladies
Who lunch.

Managing Water

2016-04-22 15.51.16 smMake hay while the sun shines, they say.

They could also say fix your roof while the sun shines.

The sun shone so much over the summer (and now well into autumn), that it would have been easy to forget the leaky roof and broken gutters. And we did manage to ignore them both all summer, but one of these days (hopefully very soon) it’s going to start raining again. It was time to get the work done.

I enjoy being on the roof. But roof work is never fun—wrestling sheets of corrugated iron roofing around in the wind, pulling rusty lead-topped nails, dealing with rotting roof beams, and doing it all on an angle four metres above the ground.

Still, it is good to have roof and gutters repaired. And after we prepared for rain, I weeded the artichokes.

2016-04-22 15.50.14 HDR smIt was a lesson in dry—the ground was dust, and the poor water-loving artichokes were suffering. So I turned the sprinkler on them, dealing with an extreme lack of water after preparing for an overabundance of it.

Some day I do hope it begins raining again. It would be good to know if the roof and gutters are properly fixed, and it would be nice if we didn’t have to water the garden all winter. Either way, we’ll be managing water—either too much or too little of it.

When it rains, it pours, as they say.

This Old House

2016-01-24 17.36.20The next time someone gushes about how they’d love to live in a quaint old cottage like ours, I’m going to make them do the maintenance on ours for a year. I reckon they’ll stop wishing for a quaint cottage pretty fast.

Yesterday I washed the outside of the house (because if I don’t do it once a year, the dirt and spiders claim it as their own). When I wash the house, I always check for spots that need repainting or repairing. Most years, I can get by with limited painting on the worst areas of the house.

This year it was clear the entire house needs to be scraped and painted.

And there are some weatherboards that need replacing.

And some windows that need a bit of glazing work.


Where’s Bob Vila when you need him?

Actually, forget Bob–I want his staff.

While some of them are painting, the others could be fixing the leaky roof, replacing the rotting piles, and doing something about the damp floor in the dining room. Insulation would be nice, too.

Oh, and while they’re at it, maybe they could build us a big new addition.

Then we could bulldoze the old part of the house, and…


The Evil of Summer Vacation

Who can resist when summer calls?

Who can resist when summer calls?

I know that many of my readers are in the Northern Hemisphere, and they’ll play their little finger-violins for me as they muddle through another dreary January day, but I’m facing the problem I face every year during summer vacation—I can’t go inside.

There is so much to do outdoors—weeding, unending DIY on this wreck of a house, mowing, animal care, harvesting—that I neglect indoor things. The weather doesn’t help—blue skies and warm breezes—because I think I need to take advantage of the good weather while it lasts.

And if by some miracle I feel like I’ve caught up on the outdoor tasks, well, that’s just an excuse to go to the beach!

So the house gets messier, the bathroom remains uncleaned, I forget to pay the bills, I ignore the shopping.

I blog mostly after dark (which is difficult, because the days are so long), and only read the news or check social media at times when I have no choice but to be indoors (like when I’m pasteurizing the day’s milk).

I actually look forward to days when the weather is poor so I can catch up on the indoor chores.

And so I was secretly pleased when the wind shifted this afternoon, and the hot sun turned to chilly drizzle. I retreated to my office to deal with paperwork, get the day’s blog finished, check my e-mail, and maybe (if the clouds remain) eve do a little sewing.

The house cleaning?

Well, I doubt I’ll get to that…it is still summer vacation, after all!

The hills are alive with the sound of music

I was in the garden, weeding as usual, when I heard the Star Wars theme wafting across the yard. It was my daughter, testing the new low register she was making for the flip-flop-o-phone.

What’s a flip-flop-o-phone, you ask?

It’s one of a number of musical instruments scattered around our yard. My husband believes in tantalizing all the senses in the garden. Music is an important part of that, so he builds instruments everywhere.
tubophone smIn the herb garden is the tubophone—galvanized electrical conduit cut to a C-major scale and played with a mallet—a DIY glockenspiel.

musicalbench sm



In the pond garden is a bench strung with strikable and pluckable piano strings—sort of a jug band sound.




drumkit1 smAnd nestled among the plants in the native garden are the garden drum kit (complete with wheelbarrow bass drum, bucket snare, and tyre hub high hat), and the flip-flop-o-phone.
flipflopophone1 sm


The flip-flop-o-phone is a set of pvc pipes (salvaged plumbing) that are struck on the end with an old flip-flop to make a (sort of) musical note.

The outdoor instruments are fun, interactive garden elements we all enjoy—one of the many elements of whimsy my husband adds to the landscaping.

Best Christmas Gifts

bagholderThe best Christmas gifts are made by hand and predicated on an intimate understanding of the person receiving the gift. My husband is supremely talented at these sorts of gifts.

This year, he made for me a clever rack for drying zipper bags. We use these bags over and over, washing them between uses. But the drying bags take up space on the kitchen counter and blow around the house on windy days. Not anymore! This lovely rack holds the bags open to dry. It is bolted in a convenient, but out-of-the-way location, and has arms that move independently and fold out of the way when not in use.

It’s a gift I know will get near-constant use for a very long time.