Friday, December 9, 2011

Our new little Haus-mate


This is our newest addition to the family.  As I mentioned in the month in review, we had been talking about a puppy/dog for a while.  We came across the ad for Cooper and made some inquires.  The owner/breeder was located in regional Victoria and he was the last one left in his litter.  We asked for some photos of the parents (they owned both parents) and were happy to oblige with any information we wanted.  We fell in love with him at first sight so we agreed and picked him up.  He travelled well in the car the 1.5hrs drive home - in his carrier on the back seat between the girls - and slept most of the way.  He seemed to fit right in when he got home despite us having him inside most of the time, whereas he had been raised outside with his parents and litter.  We are using his carrier as his crate, which is where he sleeps when we are out or at night.

He has only had a few accidents inside but we are learning his signals better and with the weather warm we are leaving the sliding door open a bit so he can roam in and out as he pleases.
His favourite spot is on someone's lap.

He has had a few trips in the car - the first after coming home was to the vets to get his last vaccination and microchip which wasn't a very pleasant experience so we are trying to show him that the car can be fun.
He is a typical puppy and loves playing in the backyard...

And who could resist a face like this?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A MONTH IN REVIEW - November 2011

A MONTH IN REVIEW - November 2011

What books and/or magazines did I read this month?
On my Kindle I have been reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austin for what feels like for-ev-errrrrr.  In reality I did start it about 2 months ago.  Not being a hard copy I had no idea exactly how long it was... my lovely husband informs me that he saw a hard copy and it was some 500 pages, which might explain it.  Thank goodness I'm somewhere in the chapter 40's and passing the 80% mark.  My aim was to have it finished by the end of the month.  I think there are 8 chapters left and only 4 more days... close, but I don't think I'll do it.
The girls and I also made a trip to the library where they borrowed 4 picture story books each, while I borrowed a slow-cooker cookbook (because I don't use it enough and wanted some new ideas), a idiots guide to sewing (with some cool projects I want to make), and a book on cupcakes to get some ideas for an upcoming High Tea I will be hosting.

What movies, television shows, plays, etc. did I watch this month?
To be honest, not a lot.  I like Parenthood but that seems to have finished it's season now.  House is a continual favourite but I need to catch up on the last 3 episodes. I also have a bunch of Amazing Race episodes to watch when I get a chance.  We downloaded a rental of Cars 2 that we watched at our friends' house in their home theatre.

What fun things did I do with my family and/or friends?
At the start of the month Emily had 2 weeks of swimming with her class, walking to the pool everyday.  The second weekend this month was spent at our friends' house. We even had an impromptu visit to Ikea (when is that ever a bad thing).  The weekend after (as well as numerous afternoons) was spent staining and constructing my sisters' side fence.  This weekend is being spent doing family things - playing games, reading, etc.

What gifts did I give and/or receive?
Hmmm, does my time count?  I purchased some chocolates in readiness to give to Emily's teacher for the end of the year.  I also gave a box of chocolates to some friends who had us over for dinner.  The girls received some gifts from 2 ladies at our church for being such well behaved girls - which was a very nice compliment.

What special or unusual purchases did I make?
At the aforementioned Ikea trip I managed to buy sheer curtains and rods to hang in the front 2 windows - to block the UV rays and stop it fading our couch as well as us being able to see out but others not being able to see in.  I also purchased 2 stainless steel lanterns to hold a tealight candle each that will be nice for outdoor barbeques this Summer.  I also visited a local nursery where I purchased a Crimson Seedless grape vine to go in our backyard.
I also bought some dog related paraphernalia including a pet carrier (more on that later). 

What illnesses or health concerns did I have?
We heard from a few people that there is Chicken Pox doing the rounds at the moment.  At some stage this month we have all managed to come up in one or more itchy red spots but nothing developed beyond that so perhaps it was just a coincidence.  Emily was a bit off-colour the weekend we spent at our friends' but we put that down to a full week of swimming and exhaustion. Emily has a very wobbly top tooth - front right - so much so that it is starting to stick out as the new tooth is pushing it out of the way.

What were my accomplishments this month?
Consistently walking at 10:30am to the pool and returning home at 12:00pm each day for 10 days (with Sophie).  Setting up a reward chart to encourage Sophie with her toilet training.  I planted out the grape vine, some pansies, some strawberry plants and trimmed the apricot that was beginning to get overgrown looking (despite it not being the "right" time to prune).  The grass is looking awesome and is proof that my watering efforts (while we had the exemption to water) are paying off.

What were my disappointments this month?
I'm a bit disappointed that Sophie hasn't really gained any ground on the toilet training front.  She doesn't alert us she is needing to go.  Despite going a few hours dry, and sitting on the toilet regularly, it always ends in wet pants.

How did I do on my goals for the month? (Or any current short or long term goals)
Craft-wise, I made the invitations to the High Tea.  I managed to do no scrapbooking and not much photo taking.  Something to improve for next month.

Anything else noteworthy to include?
We (well, me at least) have been looking for a dog recently.  I normally do a search online while I'm waiting for Emily to finish school. I found a 3yr old King Charles Cavalier advertised as free to a good home, which I enquired about and we all went to meet.  We found he was a gentle natured dog (very happy to see us and no barking at all) but he was quite boisterous jumping up on the girls and unintentionally scratching them.  We are looking for a dog with a quieter nature that will happily let us and the girls pat him/her without getting too excited and are definitely looking for a small dog.  I have always liked the Cavaliers but they can have some health problems common to the breed as well as being anywhere from $600 - $1000+ to buy a puppy.  As mentioned above, I purchased some equipment in readiness should we have adopted the dog (bowl, toys, food and hard plastic pet carrier) which didn't happen, but we are pretty set on the idea that we will get a dog (or puppy) some time soon, so the equipment will be useful anyway and I'll just get a refund on the food for now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Starting From Scratch

No, we are not selling, although we did very seriously contemplate it.
Back at the time I posted about my shopping challenge I decided I could no longer ignore the fact that we were spending more money than we were bringing in.  Credit cards had become our reliance when we didn't quite have enough to buy something (or pay for such and such bill) and they just began to grow out of control.  Trust me, I'm glad we had them when we needed them, but I will gladly take scissors to them.  The point was we couldn't continue the way we were going - we already were digging our hole deeper each month without paying much more than the minimum balances.  Something had to change.
Hubby and I decided that one option - which also seemed the easiest - was to sell our house, pay out all outstanding debts and buy another (lesser) house we could pay off in 10-15 years and build a "rainy day" savings fund in the process.
We decided that we should get our house appraised by a local real estate agent and look around for a "renovators delight" that we could buy cheap, do a fair bit of work on it ourselves and fix-er-up.  We were satisfied with the price they advised, but to make it worthwhile selling we would have to buy back in at a much lower rate to account for all the costs involved in selling and buying houses.  We looked through about 8 houses in a period of 2 weeks and decided that the ones in our target price range (the cheapest of $270,000 to about $320,000) all had so much work to do on them we could easily spend another $100,000 and be back where we started.  Don't get me started on the house we saw that had a dead rat on the patio and a dead cockroach in the meals area, or the house that had a squeaky floor like you wouldn't believe - you could not take a step anywhere without a huge creak, which meant goodness knows what was wrong with it under the flooring.
In the mean time we spoke to the "olds" (parents) and they tried to talk us into a way to stay put - even offering to help us out financially (which, of course, is the equivalent of selling your soul to the devil).  Everyone else that we told thought we were mad wanting to swap a 3 year old home for one 30 - 50 years old that could potentially be a money-sucking monster of it's own.  I still had the reasoning in the back of my mind "you can't eat a house; it's just a roof over your head" - trying to talk up the idea.
After our fruitless search we decided that we should talk to our bank and see if we could refinance to annihilate the credit card monster, and at the same time fix our interest rate for the next 3 years - let's be honest, who expects things to get cheaper?  So, after our negotiations we have signed up and are staying put for another 3 years at least.
Hopefully Friday we will be taking scissors to the credit monsters cards and closing the accounts, so we will be starting with a clean slate so to speak.  We have drafted both a yearly and monthly budget and intend to stick to it, meaning we will still be creating that "rainy day" savings fund too.  I have been, and intend to, stick as closely as possible to my grocery challenge - I have been averaging about $130/week for food for our family of 4.
It truly is a weight off our minds.
Oh, and there is still a lot to be done around the house and I will post our progress as it happens.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My $100 Grocery Challenge

In my last post I mentioned that we had trialled cutting back on our weekly food/grocery bills.  Tough times call for tough measures.  I am totally guilty of normally wandering the grocery store and placing whatever items take my fancy into the trolley and at the cash register handing over my credit card as I stare at the (what seems like) 4 bags of groceries and wonder where the $250 is going - every week! ... but I'm happy to say I think those days are over.
Since I posted about my mock up Great Australian $100 Grocery Challenge I have tried to put it into practice.  I have now kept my records for the last month and on average we have spent $133.40 per week at the supermarket/greengrocer (a total of $533.57 over the last month).  This includes $45 worth of baby nappy supplies, household items like toilet paper and cleaning products and even the occasional indulgence item, so it comes pretty close to the $100 per week for food only.
I have had to scour the fliers and choose meals based on what meat/vegetables/items are on special that week and I have had to visit 3 different supermarkets plus the greengrocers each week to make the most of the specials they have on offer, but seeing as at some point in the week I am already driving past them I am not making special trips - it's more of a time assigning issue (e.g. calling in after swimming to the supermarket near there).  I would definitely say that rearranging my schedule and spending some time planning my shopping and meals is worth the $500 saving for just one month.
The bonus is that we have a home-cooked meal each night without me staring into the freezer and pantry mid afternoon and not having a clue what to cook, the kids have been loving the food, we have less wasted produce because I only buy what I have planned to cook, and the hubby has nothing but praise for my shopping/cooking efforts, so for me that's a win-win all around.
Have you tried something similar or are thinking about how to cut back but aren't sure how?  Leave a comment :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's been happening around the haus

*We tried picking 2 of our corn cobs last week, but they were not quite ready - mostly still white kernels with a few yellow ones.  I'm not sure if they will ripen or if it is now too cold and wet.
*The main project of the concrete patio was achieved last month with mixed results - more to come on that.  Let's just say it's done.
*We hosted a farewell party for our friends who are moving, which included having 21 (25 if you count the kids) people over for dinner.  Everything went surprisingly well.
*I promptly fell in a heap after the previously mentioned farewell and spent the next week battling a throat infection.  The girls are now sick with colds - presumably with the same virus I had.
*We helped my sister build her side fence (read: Matt helped, I watched and held up the occasional piece of timber).
*We are trying to stay warm because winter has certainly hit.  With the wind chill at the moment the outside temperatures feel like 0 degrees Celsius even though the actual readings are more like 8 degrees (still freezing to me).
*Oh, and I have been trying my challenge of $100 per week in groceries and surprisingly I am making it work - more on that to come too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Australian $100 Grocery Challenge

Recently we have been working though our budget and looking for areas that we can cut back on without it hurting too much.  One area that I noticed perhaps I could cut back (even though I have already) was in our weekly grocery shopping.  I've already mentioned that every time I visit the supermarket the bill seems to be larger than the time before and I seem to be leaving with less and less...
So I thought what better way to test this than to do a mock shopping trip in the convenience of my own lounge room.
I started with what I consider the most expensive part of the shopping trip - the meat section. Our family of 4 has definitely cut back on the amount of meat we consume - going from around 200g each to more like 100g each for Matt and I and 50g each for the girls.  Instead of 500g for dinner I am now using more like 300g.
So, to start the trip I thought about the cuts that are cheap and can be used in numerous ways.  I came up with:
*Mince beef - a regular in our house for meals like spaghetti bolognese, soft tacos, and hamburgers.
*Chicken thighs (bone in) - can be used in casserole, pasta bake, and soup.
*Beef chuck steak - can be used in casseroles and curries.
*Fish - there was a while when we were eating no fish at all, but the kids seem to like having fish and I know it is good for our bodies so I decided once a week would be a good aim.
*Bacon - we use bacon in lots of things and while it's not technically a 'meat' it can be used in quiche or soups, on pizza or in hamburgers to add a bit of flavour and extra protein - and if there are any bacon and eggs left you could fry up the ultimate indulgent breakfast.
I then added in the dairy part of the menu.  This is where things start to get tricky.  Some weeks we use more milk than others.  Butter and yoghurt generally last longer than a week - more like 2.  Eggs get used at different rates depending on what dishes (or baking) is being done.  Basically I stuck to a fairly minimal list of one of each, with 4 litres of milk.
Then came specific items for dishes I would be cooking - as mentioned spaghetti bolognese, another pasta dish, rice with curry, wraps and seasoning for tacos and pizza, any other ingredients that were 'must have' like stock powder (which worked out cheaper than cubes and way cheaper than the liquid stuff) and bread and crispbreads that get used for lunches and snacks.
My only 'indulgences' were the 3L orange juice and the 2L Lemonade.  The juice isn't so much of an indulgence but some can go without, while the lemonade (at $2 for 2L) could be swapped for sweet biscuits or a chocolate treat instead.
By the time I finished the 'grocery' items my total was $101.55 - $1.55 over my aim of $100 for a weeks food for a family of 4 with 2 small children.

I'm sure like any shopping trip there are bits I have forgotten but with the addition of the fresh produce I'm sure I could make at least 7 breakfasts, lunches and dinners out of this list.
If I alter it and make it actual costs for what would be used (half the fish, half the yoghurt, half the rice, 1/4 the tomato paste and curry paste, and 1/4 the 'wheat biscuits' AKA breakfast cereal) the price for the above list should be $86.35.  Add to that my estimate based on last weeks spend of $18 for fruit and veg = $104.35.  Not too shabby.
Examples of meals using the above items:
1. Spaghetti Bolognese - 1/2 the mince, pasta sauce, spaghetti + portion of tomato paste, carrot, celery and onion ($5.94 excluding paste and vegies)
2. Chicken pasta bake - 1/2 the thigh cutlets, can of diced tomatoes, penne pasta + cheese, milk, onion, and any seasonal vegetables taste ($3.70 + portion of milk, cheese and any vegetables used)
3. Tacos - 1/2 the mince, taco seasoning, pitta bread + cheese, tomato and lettuce ($6.53 + portion of cheese and veggies)
4. Indian curry (could easily be made without meat) - Chuck steak, red lentils, curry paste + portion of vegetable stock, portion of rice and potatoes, carrot, pumpkin, etc. ($6.73 + extras)
5. Quiche or egg based bake - 1/2 the eggs, 1/2 the bacon + portion of cheese and various vegetables ($4.07 + extras)
6. Fish and chips - Fish, one egg + flour (to make batter), oil, potatoes and any vegetables to accompany ($5.77 + extras)
7. Chicken and Vegetable soup - 1/2 chicken thighs, 1/2 the bacon, packet of soup mix (lentils and beans), can of diced tomatoes + portion of chicken stock and lots of various vegetables cut finely ($7.35 + extras)
8. Pitta Pizzas - pitta bread + portion of tomato paste, portion of cheese, various vegetables and if excluded the bacon from previous soup you could use it on the pizzas if you prefer meat too. ($2.39 + extras)
Breakfasts - 'wheat biscuits' (Weetbix), toast and/or eggs.
Lunches - sandwiches with spreads (jam, vegemite, etc) or salad fillings, leftovers - esp. soup, crispbreads with cheese, and the choice of one meal above to be used as a lunch instead - e.g. chicken pasta bake.

Obviously this is a food only experiment and any household or personal items would need to be added.
I am kind of surprised that I could succeed with a figure of about $100 for a whole week.  Now the true test will be to put this into practice!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Project:// patio

When we built our house, the original plans included an outdoor room (a.k.a 'alfresco') where the slab and the roof line extended.  Due to the shape of our block, we couldn't build over the easement that runs along the rear boundary, so had to have the outdoor room removed.  We also changed the orientation of the sliding glass doors in the Dining room so instead of both sliding doors opening onto the same area (facing the rear fence where the outdoor room would have been), the Dining room doors now open towards the side, which is where the majority of our backyard space is.

Since we moved in we have designed what we wanted to do with the outdoor area but budget restrictions meant we couldn't actually do anything about it.  Our original plans were to build a deck to wrap around the house and join the areas out both doors.  After measuring the area we found that 31m2 of decking would be out of the question in terms of price (talking multiple thousand dollars) considering we would need joists, bearers and decking boards, and because the area isn't square there would be a lot of extra pieces needed for support.  Following the front deck experiment where we laid decking over the existing concrete slab, we decided if we were to deck out the back, concreting and decking would be a much cheaper option, because the concrete would form the foundation, and is a lot cheaper than the bearers and joists (and no permit is needed).  After debating about creating 2 separate spaces rather than the wrap-around single area we decided we would keep the original shape because it would be a more versatile area and solves the problem of what to put in the space between them.
I wasn't completely sold on the decking though, because I really like the look of sandstone pavers/tiles in a natural finish, and I think this option may work out cheaper and less maintenance than the decking.  Anyway, it was decided that we would put down the concrete slab and decide how to finish it later (if we ever get around to it).  With winter fast approaching we decided we would ideally like the concrete to go down ASAP so we reduce the amount of mud that comes into the house, and that the girls can go outside and play if the weather isn't too wet.  We've already been here for 2 winters with no ground cover out there so it's time to act.
This past weekend my dad and my better half dug out, put up the boxing and cut the steel ready for the concrete.  Here is hubby shifting some of the soil:

Granted there is a little bit of finishing required to some spots of the ground (take off some high points and fill in some low spots) but this is what the finished shape will look like.
Whole area:
Out the Dining room doors:
 Out the Family room doors:

Hopefully by the end of next week there will be crushed rock in the base and then a truck can come and deliver the glorious grey liquid.  I can't wait!!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cooking on a budget - Indian

I have been having a bit of a whinge lately to some of my friends about the cost of living and how much our weekly shopping bill keeps increasing, so after much talk I decided to search for some new recipes that are both easy and cheap.  Both myself and my hubby enjoy eating Indian food (he's more daring spice wise than me though) and while it may not seem like an expensive option for takeaway food (between $10-$14 per main), by the time you add the rice, the naan bread and times that by 2 (or more if the kids eat their usual of chicken tikka) you don't end up with much change out of $50.
In recent times I have been buying the Sharwoods pastes from the supermarket and using a lamb rump to make Rogan Josh, or chicken fillets for Tikka or Tandoori.  Yum.  Granted I don't expect the jar version to be on the same level as a freshly prepared curry paste, but in the scheme of things it's pretty close.  We eat a fair amount of chicken meals already, so we normally save the lamb for our Indian dish.
The crazy part it that our country was built on sheep farming (and largely still is along with cattle grazing), yet it has gotten to the point I have just about crossed lamb off our list.  It is so expensive - especially since most cuts include bones that you pay for in weight but can't exactly eat.  I used to be able to buy my lamb rump for $11 for almost a kilo, which I then diced into my RJ, but in the past month it has risen to $18.  No more Rogies as our once a week/fortnight.
Chicken breast is almost as bad - if not worse.  Unless you shop around and can get a special, the supermarkets are selling them for over $15 per kilo. Ridiculous.
During our conversation one of my friends said that they often have a meat-free night.  I don't think we had ever had a total meat-free night.  I would consider eggs to be non-meat, but even if I make something with eggs it usually also has bacon - which is meat.  So, of course I had to ask what she makes that is totally meat-free.  Curry.  Yep, no problems except one of the few things my darling other half won't eat is pumpkin or sweet potato - one of the usual main ingredients in a vegetarian curry.  I didn't give up though, so I searched for a curry that was potato based.  I came up with a recipe for Potato and Eggplant curry.  I don't think I have ever cooked with eggplant, but I decided to just work with what I had instead.

 Vegetarian Non-Creamy Korma

The ingredients included potato, carrot, zucchini and onion along with a tin of diced tomatoes... 1/3 cup red lentils + a cup of chicken stock (which I saw from another recipe and thought I'd add in too) and Sharwoods Korma paste.  I didn't have any coriander on hand so I just left that out.  The variety of potatoes I had/used were quite waxy which meant they needed extra cooking time, but curries always taste better the longer they cook.  I have to say, it probably doesn't win any points for being low-carb, but it was tasty and filling and I will be making it again.  I ended up getting 4 adult serves out of it and the total cost would have been no more than $6 including the steamed rice I cooked to go with it.  Not bad at less than $2 a serve.
Probably the only down side is you can't very successfully freeze potato, so I couldn't freeze leftovers for take-to-work lunches.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Interior experimentation

I have been thoroughly enjoying reading some interior design blogs recently.  I think if I were to change my profession I would like do study interior design and decorating.  All the colours, the styles, making everything work together - love it!
We have been in our house coming up 3 years now, and despite us choosing everything (from the floorplan to the wall colour) I still am not satisfied that it is done.  I think there is more for us to explore and experiment with in the way of finishes and furnishings.
Some of the items of furniture we own we bought when we moved into the house because there was a need (or a space to fill), others we have inherited along the way from our humble beginnings.  Take for example, our family room lounge suite.

Not exactly what I would describe as "modern", "streamlined" or even "nice", but it has served it's purpose by providing us a place to rest our behinds (all be it a little too low to the ground for some) and it has been in a total of 4 houses (3 of them ours, the other my parents') over a period of approx 20 years and sadly (or maybe not so sadly) I think it is time it retired from service.  It really is too large and overpowering for the size and shape of the room, the leather has given way in parts of the main couch seat revealing the stuffing, and truth be known I've never liked it (shh, don't tell my mother - she loved it, which would be a good reason why she bought it in the first place).  The 3 seater couch is as big as the 2 armchairs, and the room is thin enough as it is without making it feel even smaller by having a 3 seater couch span the width, which incidentally the back of the 3 seater is towards a double sliding door - not ideal in trying to get the whole inside-out/outside-in.  Currently the computer desk is living in the empty far corner next to the glass sliding doors, and the PS3 drumkit thing has found a home in the corner there too... both of which will have to find a new home soon.
The only problem with getting rid of furniture is the fact that unless you are downsizing your living space you need to replace it with something else. Sure, I could go out and pick a new lounge suite that would suit the space perfectly, but I wouldn't get change out of $2K and we just don't have that sort of money to spend.  Goodbye chocolate leather lounge with chaise.
I am willing to experiment though.  Who knows, I may end up with something better.  The experimentation part will mean I will have to suppress my inner snob.  Ok, let me explain.  I am not a snob - I promise, but I've never had any desire to shop at op-shops or flea markets, I've never picked up someone else's hard rubbish from the kerb, I've never visited an auction house - unless you count the Bargain Hunters TV show.  Don't get me wrong, it intrigues me, but from my limited exposure it seems like a whole lot of junk - 80s clothes and knickknack's that are cracked or discoloured.  Ok, so maybe a couple of visits to the local oppie aren't a true indication of all of them, but when I think of buying furniture, I think of going to the department store and picking the one you like.  Perhaps the thing that disturbs me most is who/what the piece has been used for and how clean it is.  Although, I think I have found the solution.  I have a vision of buying a new Ikea style 3 seater sofa in a neutral fabric (preferably with removable covers having 2 young children) but then pairing it with a couple of reclaimed armchairs.  Yes, second-hand, although reclaimed or up-cycled are much trendier buzz words.  And I'm prepared to do a bit of DIY to make the piece fit in our home.  My only requirement is that the back of the armchairs need to be nice, because they will be visible.
The look I'm after is kind of like this:

or this:

Or this:

I should probably add that this last image came from the website and is priced at a mere $18K for the sofa and 2 armchairs - yes, eighteen thousand.  I have no idea who could/would buy it but I love the look except I would prefer darker timber.

The Danish designers (or their knock off versions) are really attracting me at the moment.  I like their clean lines, their curves without overdoing it, and their sense of minimal.  Pretty much everything our current lounge is not.  Perhaps I should just say Scandinavian - after all, Ikea is Swedish, the next door neighbour of the Danish.
I've seen some really nice Danish style armchairs (wooden framed with a cushion back and seat) advertised on ebay that I reckon I could try to recover with new material (and new foam), which solves my problem of the who/what.  The only issue is getting the chair for a reasonable price (i.e. less than $50ea) and the cost to have them reupholstered (I have no idea what this would be), but I'm willing to experiment.  I could even attempt to sew some cushion covers in upholstery fabric, or try my hand at a staple gun.
Did I mention that I am hopeless at bargaining and haggling?  Ok, baby steps... first, to tell my husband what I have planned.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What was happening in the garden last week...

I have never been an avid gardener. It all began when I was a child.  My dad gave me a small plot to plant some things - little violets, some freesias and a cactus.  I soon lost interest in maintaining it so it became an overgrown space - mainly with the violets.  On the plus side is the fact that the cactus is still alive and well - but it's no secret that they thrive on neglect.

My new found interest started when we became home owners and we had a space that was ours (does anyone ever do more than the bare minimum to maintain a rental garden?).  Actually it was about a year after we moved in when we had all the fences put up and the garden beds edged.  I started doing a lot of research of low-maintenance and water-wise plants that would suit our locations.  I've always been a lover of nature though, so a native style garden appealed to me.  Considering we are on a compact block we can't exactly recreate a forest in the backyard, but we have selected plants that would be ok in our smallish space.  The main idea was that we have a "for looks" garden out from our sliding glass doors of the dining and family rooms, a screening garden down the side of the house to hide the fence, and an edible garden in between. 

Down the side of the house that faces east (and gets very little sunlight except midday) I planted some camellias and gardenias in the hope they would grow to make a screen of green to hide the fence.  I may have underestimated overestimated the growth time of camellias because a year on and they have only grown about 10cm from their tiny tubestock start.  Never mind, I'll focus on the positive that they are at least still alive.

The highlight was Thursday morning when I walked into the bathroom and noticed this beauty out the window.

Again, lets focus on the positive that it is a beautiful flower that is the first of the camellias to flower this year and it is right outside our bathroom window (rather than the fact that the camellias are all supposed to be pure white and all the others are white, making it the odd one out).

I have been totally blown away by our apricot tree.  We planted this back in November (spring) and it was half the height it currently is.  To be honest, I doubted that it would even grow where we live so it was a total shock when it started shooting new growth and it grew so much over summer that I tip pruned the taller branches on the weekend to try and maintain it's height to not much higher than the fence.  I wonder if we will get any fruit next season or if it is still too young?

Our veggie patch has had a slow start.  We planted our seeds for lettuce, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, pumpkin and corn.  All that remains is the corn.  The lettuce survived the longest (the seedlings got to about 5cm tall) but even that succumbed to whatever we have that mows then down overnight.  The corn currently looks like this:

I have scattered some slug/snail pellets in the hope that they may still be around and will pay the price for eating our vegetables before we did!  I will plant some more seed soon, but it is starting to cool down so it may be a bit slow in the veggie patch until spring returns.

We also have some interesting life appearing in our garden. We have left this guy alone in the hope he may eat all the little pesky bugs.  He is actually quite pretty.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vacuum Cleaners Suck!

Image from Get Price

Yes, they really do.  We were given our ladybug (Red Electrolux Oxygen) as a wedding present some 7 years ago, and unexpectedly last week it died.  Just stopped.  Then after unplugging it, checking everything and plugging it back in there was success - until it stopped about 2 minutes later, followed by some electrical zapping kind of noises. Yep, dead.
We had been quite fond of the vacuum cleaner - well, as fond as you can get.  It did it's job and that's all you can ask for.
The problem then came that I had to replace the beloved (ok, not quite) vacuum.  Hands up if you have just tried to buy a vacuum cleaner. No? Well, let me tell you there are about 50 brands each with about 20 models (ok, maybe not) and they range in price from about $100 to over $2000.  That's a big difference when essentially they should all suck.
Apparently some do it better than others.  The first thing I learnt was that power does not equal suction.  A 1600w motor can be more efficient and suck better than a 2200w motor - but not necessarily (do you see where this is going?).  Bags vs bagless.  Upright or barrel.  Length of cord.  Length of hose.  Turbo heads.  Power heads.  Crevice tools.  Filters.  Urgh!
I spent nearly a whole day researching online the different makes, models, price ranges and product reviews.  It pretty much boiled down to picking a price range and working out which of those models had the features I desired.  For me, I started with vacuums that were $400-$500 knowing that I wouldn't pay that much and would end up paying around $300 with store discounts or for paying cash (never pay retail, right?).  For me I needed a cleaner that worked equally well on tiles as carpet, seeing as the majority of our house is tiled floors.  This meant I wanted variable suction and possibly a dedicated hard-floor head (the one with bristles) for when I'm using it under the dining table and sucking up all that lovely greasy/sticky fallen food that I don't then want to smear into my carpets.  The fact I need to clean under stuff also meant I was sticking to a barrel vacuum - not an upright.
I narrowed it down to 2 models - a Bosch and an Electrolux.  Both had almost identical features, and both were very similarly priced.  I searched for internet prices on both models so I had something to go off and then hit the shops.
My first stop was The Good Guys.  In the past I haven't been impressed with them for lack of service (read: standing in an empty store for 10 minutes without anybody asking if I needed help) but when I'm talking money I'm prepared to give them a second chance.  As it happened, the Electrolux model I had shortlisted was on display marked as clearance with an additional 10% off. Sweet.  The salesman rounded it down to $240 and I called it a deal.  Do I care that there is a newer model about to be released? I think not.
Ideally I would have liked to not pay for a new vacuum cleaner, but because the house would have become like a snapshot from the show Hoarders without one, I very much liked paying about half the retail price.
The verdict: It is very similar to our old vacuum cleaner, but I suppose that's a good thing because I did like it - it sucked.