All Hail the Bucket

2016-10-14-10-44-19-hdrsmWhere would civilisation be without the 20-litre (5-gallon) bucket? We own seven of them, and it’s common for all of them to be in use simultaneously.

I can’t look at a 20-litre bucket without seeing a…

  • Washing machine—In Panama, we washed our clothes in a 20-litre bucket.
  • laundry-smShower—The bucket was also our shower in Panama. We would fill it with water and haul it out to our “shower” enclosure. Half a coconut shell made a scoop for pouring out the water for washing.
  • Brewery—Panamanians brewed and served the local corn alcohol in 20-litre buckets, and my husband brews beer in one.
  • Punch bowl—We used a bucket as a large punch bowl for parties in Panama.
  • Diaper pail—With tight-fitting lids, 20-litre buckets make great diaper pails for cloth nappies. They were an essential part of our baby gear when our kids were that age.
  • Watering can—Several of our current buckets have holes drilled in the bottom, and we use them to provide drip irrigation for the fruit trees.
  • Wheelbarrow—We use buckets to haul everything from rocks to weeds in spaces where the wheelbarrow can’t go.
  • Measuring cup—The 20-litre bucket is a handy unit of measure when mixing concrete.
  • Rubbish bin—A 20-litre bucket is the perfect size for a rubbish bin in the shop or shed, and it’s tough enough to handle the rough treatment a shop bin gets.
  • Grain bin—Tough plastic and a tight lid keep mice and rats out of the grain.
  • Stool—I regularly turn our buckets upside down to use as stools for reaching items on high shelves in the shed. I suppose you could also sit on them, if you were inclined to rest.

I could lose a lot of tools and get by easily without them, but I’d be hard-pressed to do without my buckets.

A Concrete Solution

2016-10-04-12-35-55Whenever we mix concrete, we’re always left with a little extra. What do you do with half a bucket of concrete?

In the past we’ve made the odd decorative paver with the leftovers—scattered a few pretty shells in the bottom of a plant pot saucer and filled the saucer with concrete. But we don’t have many saucers, and they really don’t use much concrete.

Last time we poured concrete, however, we came up with a perfect use for the extra—garden weights.

It’s windy here. Very windy. I was forever grabbing rocks, firewood, and broken bricks to weigh down tarps, frost cloth, bird netting, and everything else light enough to blow away. But they’re inconvenient—awkward to handle and often not really heavy enough to do the job.

These garden weights are perfect, though.

I filled cheap plastic flower pots (from plants we bought at the garden centre) with concrete, but before it hardened, I added a handle made of high tensile fencing wire. The first batch I made, I just used the wire. They’re nice, and very useful, but the wire is tough on the hands when you’re carrying them. This time I added a short piece of irrigation pipe to the wire to make a comfortable handle (you could also use a bit of old garden hose).

The best thing about them is they’re entirely made of ‘waste’—leftover concrete, plant pots that would have ended up in the rubbish, wire salvaged from some other project, and used irrigation pipe.

No, that’s not true. The best thing about them is that they work great—they’re nice and heavy, uniform in size, and easy to lug around.

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?

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.

An Orderly Work Space

My "new" 125 year-old garden shed.

My “new” 125 year-old garden shed.

With my husband’s new shop all but finished, he’s been shifting all his tools from the old shop. The shift prompted the shuffling and rearranging of not just his tools, but also my gardening tools and supplies, and my teaching resources and crafts in my office. A shelf unit from my office went to the new shop, and a cupboard went to the “new” garden shed (the old shop). I got new cupboards for the office that are a better fit for the space, and we all spent the entire weekend rearranging and organising stuff in all three work spaces. Cleaned out things we don’t use anymore, discovered things we thought we’d lost, and arranged work spaces so that the tools and materials we need are easy to find and convenient to use.

After nearly ten years saying we were going to do this reorganisation (and being sidetracked by more important issues like leaking roofs, rotted house piles, and disintegrating weatherboards), I’m thrilled to see our work spaces coming together the way we’d like them to. There is still a lot of work to do to finish the job, but I can already see I’m going to appreciate having my seed-starting trays and pots in an enclosed space so they don’t blow off the shelves every time we have a storm. I’m going to enjoy having my garden tools neatly hung on the wall, and my pots and potting mix arranged for efficiency, not just stashed wherever I could make them fit.

Makes me want to go out and plant something, just for the pleasure of using a well ordered shed.

Renovation reminiscing

DSC_0002 sm

Stripping the old…

I love my kitchen, but it wasn’t always so. When we moved into our house, the kitchen was appalling. What little cabinetry was there was obviously taken from some other kitchen—it didn’t particularly fit the space, and had clearly been cobbled together. In the spaces between cabinets, crude wooden shelves had been tacked up. A tiny sink and an ancient electric range (with a bare wire inside that regularly electrocuted mice) completed the kitchen’s amenities. The kitchen had obviously been built as a lean-to many years ago. Later, the roof had been lifted somewhat to improve the space. Still, that part of the house is well over 100 years old, and little real repair work had ever been done to it. The floor had dangerously soft patches, where you felt that the only thing between you and the ground was a 50 year-old sheet of linoleum. The walls behind the cabinets were largely unlined, and in the winter, cold wind poured through the cracks, chilling everything in the cabinets. The previous owners had weather stripped the cabinet doors in an unsuccessful attempt to reduce the freezing gales whipping across the kitchen floor. Mice scampered in and out through myriad holes in the floor and walls.

Something drastic had to be done.

Enjoying the new.

Enjoying the new.

We set up the toaster and an electric hot plate in the living room and completely gutted the kitchen. Two weeks of hard work, and the room had a new floor, new walls, new cabinetry, a big double sink, and (the big splurge) a beautiful 5-burner gas range. The hideous, unusable space had been transformed. We use the kitchen so heavily that, five years on, we can begin to see wear and tear on things, but I still love the space. It was worth every blister to create it!