Monday, 30 November 2009


Those stools, I had nearly written off, arrived today.

T.H Brown and Sons 1960s bar stools

T.H Brown was a South Australian furniture company establised in the early 1900s.

I like that they fit neatly under the island bench and do not take up valuable floor space. They are also in pristine condition for chairs of this vintage. I have an extra chair which I will be able to use on the deck where we have the kitchen servery.

After waiting almost three months, I can safely say they were well worth the wait. Phew!

Saturday, 28 November 2009


The believers in the household have made their written requests. We posted them yesterday.

Letters to Santa

So sweet and innocent. However, the contents of these simple white envelopes reveal requests for WMDs (weapons of mass destruction aka Star Wars clone guns).  Oh the contradictions of life!

Do you ever wonder, like me, how many of these clog up the global mail system? Next year we might email.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

An epic voyage

Melbourne may as well be on another planet as far as I’m concerned.

This is my tirade about the “in transit” bar stools for our kitchen. We are approaching the third month waiting for the courier to deliver these stools from Melbourne to Brisbane. And my low expectations have not saved me from, the word I hate using, disappointment...

I spoke to my mate Chris about his recent courier experience because he purchased two exquisite Robin Day plywood chairs from England. Some unexpected money came his way and what else does one do but splurge for one’s modernist chair collection?

I asked Chris how long the chairs took to arrive from overseas. He said it took one week from London to Brisbane. One week. From London to Brisbane. How does that work when I can’t get four spindly bar stools up from Melbourne?

Robin Day Plywood Armchair 1951
image from

That’s one bad, bad courier I used.

On the bright side, I’ve been told my stools are now in Queensland, languishing somewhere in Beenleigh (45 minutes away) to be delivered tomorrow. Ha! I’ll believe it when I see it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Homemade wreath

Queensland Silver Wattle Christmas wreath on our front door.

I always try to make my own Christmas wreath. Mostly because I am cheap eco-friendly. No, really I am cheap.

Now that we live in a new area, there is different foliage to experiment with. I was toying with the idea of using natives like the grevilleas in our garden, but then I remembered the lovely wattle tree on the street (this was incidentally inspired by a post on wreaths by Anna Spiro on her blog Absolutely Beautiful Things).

Boo Radley's footpath has the most glorious Queensland Silver Wattle tree which I have kindly trimmed back for him. The foliage is an amazing silver grey colour which I think looks good against the white lattice door.

I love that it is simple, wild and rustic. I'm not sure how it will dry but I figure if it starts to look uber ugly or we have guests coming around, I can replace it with Boo's endless supply of fresh wattle branches.

Do you think Boo will mind?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

It's beginning to

feel a lot like Christmas because it has been so hot and humid around here.

And I also succumbed to the nagging of little ones and dug out the Christmas decorations. I let the boys decorate the tree. There are a lot of decorations on the same branch and clusters of gold baubles in the one area. We really do have a lot of daggy stuff on that plastic tribute to pine. The boys are happy with it, which is the main thing.

Notice the cluster of gold baubles

I am happy that I sneaked a little bit of Danish into the Christmas decor. Some stainless steel angels dangling from some twigs on the dining table is my contribution.

Four stainless steel Georg Jensen archangels on some tree branches found from our backyard.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boo's House

What is it about old abandoned houses? For me, they conjure up thoughts of ill deeds, macabre plots and general all-round spookiness. I know next to nothing about the neighbouring house but because it is unoccupied and left derelict, my mind runs into overdrive.

The house next door obviously tickled our imagination because we told the children that Boo lived there. Although it has been years since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, the house next door instantly reminded me of Boo Radley’s house...hence, the use of the name Boo.

Eunice, the real-estate agent who sold us the Sow’s Ear, said it used to be a rental property but it was partially destroyed in a fire over a decade ago. Apparently the owner, rather than repairing the house, opted to do nothing and there it has remained - untouched, sad and dilapidated.

Boo's house - you can see the lovely fret work above the front door.

The old house is a smallish Queenslander cottage set quite back from the street on a massive two lot block. There used to be an open front verandah, however the railings and front stair case cease to exist. You can see it would have been a pretty little house in its day. Our view of the house is somewhat obscured by the enormous trees which line the perimeter of our common boundary – there is a giant mango, two large loquat fruit trees, a taller than tall eucalyptus and another big tree which I don’t recognise.

From our sunroom, I can just see the greying timber stumps and the glint of the aluminium windows where the timber casements once were on that poor cottage. The yard is full of building detritus – wooden palings leaning against the side of the house, rusted sheets of corrugated iron balancing perilously on saw horses which dot the property.

Boo's front verandah and one of the saw horses

There is a corrugated iron front gate which is padlocked shut. To walk past the place, there is a tendency to walk on to the road. You can only just access the footpath because there is an overgrown collection of bushes which runs the entire width of the property. One of the bushes is a healthy wattle which blooms its golden magnificence for a couple of weeks during our mild, mild winter.

Boo's front fence

Where the mail slot is on the gate, you can just see a hint of the yellow lid belonging to the recycling bin, sitting behind the fence ready to catch the incessant stream of junk mail.

I am completely and utterly fascinated by Boo’s house. Who lived there, who owns it and why leave such a house go to ruin? There are so many unanswered questions.

The children are mildly curious too, although they have a ready acceptance of such things. It’s also a fun game wondering about Boo’s world.

As far as we can see the house sits vacant and then, one day, the boys found little treasures left under the side stairs and said they saw Boo...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Where we came from

I was looking at some of the photos of our old home this morning. I took a few parting snaps on the last day after I had given it a final clean.

Exterior of old Qld Housing Commission home. It was painted white with contrasting light grey trim.

It was a 1950s former Queensland Housing Commission home  (subsidised public housing) in a cul de sac next to a  bush reserve. It was a typical weatherboard home of that period with fibro internal walls, hardwood floors, timber casement windows and tin roof. The home had been transformed a few times with the addition of a sunroom, deck and extra bedroom - unfortunately, it was these additions which required attention because they had been built badly.

Kitchen - it was mostly original 1950s cabinets and sink. It was ultra cute.

The hallway to the bedrooms

View from front entry


It was getting to the stage where we would have to spend big dollars on the house for a major building renovation (like move out for a few months because of all that asbestos) or finding a new house. We were getting plans done when Jason found the Sow's Ear (which is in a slightly (just) better area) and fell in love...

Although our old home was not grand, it did have such a homely feel and I have fond memories of that place. We had the most wonderful neighbour whom I miss greatly. (Our closest neighbour now is the Boo Radley house and no one lives there...I think...).

We also had a crazy alcoholic Rumanian dude across the road who would periodically knock himself out on cheap plonk while cooking chips on the stove...the number of times we had to drag him out of that smoke filled house...Well, I don't miss him at all!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The gimp room

Every house we have owned has had a dodgy little room under the house. The Sow's Ear has one too.

For some reason, Jason has always called these rooms the gimp room (he likes Tarantino films). And the name has stuck, even if the room is not as decrepit as our very first gimp room. You see, our standards get higher with each move...

The gimp room

I never venture down into that room, so it is a sty - with a spare bed, our camping stuff, toys (Jason's and the boy's) and general stuff that doesn't have a home upstairs. It's basically a disorganised storage room and the door is always locked shut.

It's painted yellow and blue which would have been fun, gay and cheerful in the early 1990s - it just looks tragic in 2009. It also has blue spongy carpet. Ooh...and another light fitting that will find its way to light heaven.

The blue and yellow walls

It's got great potential to be a separate guest room. There are nice French doors which lead out to under the deck and there is spare toilet right next door. It will also need some sort of window covering to give, whoever is game to sleep there, privacy.

The bare windows

The gimp room is on the list of projects in the next six months. It will mean I have to sort through all that crap down there rather than ignore it!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Six months

It's our six month housiversary. And I nearly forgot.

So, six months on, how are we feeling?

Jason still loves the house and is as keen as mustard to keep doing the renovations in his spare time.

The kids - they're just going along for the ride. Let's hope there's no irreparable damage.

Me, I'm a tiny bit happier about this place. It helps to have a fully functioning kitchen...but it's still not the retrolicious Brady Bunch house of my rancho relaxos are getting me through it though and this blog has been good cheap therapy.

My rancho relaxo

And what's changed?

We've sanded and re-oiled the back deck during the wettest weather Brisbane had seen in years.

We replaced a portion of the deck roof which leaked into the kitchen ( I don't think I ever mentioned that as all that was pre-blog).

We repaired and re-painted the front entry.

A new kitchen was installed and we repainted the entire kitchen.

Jason repaired the linen cupboard which looks great.

Jason has also completed countless other smaller jobs to make the house function smoothly (bread and butter stuff like fixing door locks, making windows open and shut...)

It doesn’t sound a lot when I write it down...but throw three kids, a stolen car and no extra cash into the renovations, then we are doing okay.

We've been pretty haphazard with how we've been doing renovations to this house; following whims more so than an actual plan.

As the year's end draws closer, we are going to have a plan. Yeah, like a strategy. Military in precision type plan (I knew that useless business degree would come in handy one day).

Here are the five major areas I'd like to focus on:

1. Fixing the front yard. There's an awful lot of clearing to be done, and my efforts the other day only just scraped the surface. I'd really like to get a garden happening to take advantage of the summer rains. I'm thinking about planting agapanthus, agaves and dracaenas...low maintenance and relatively drought resistant.

2. Making those built-in cupboards in the boys' bedrooms more useful. They just have hanging space - a few shelves would make life easier (can't get my head around hanging every item of clothing that they own). And doing something with those louvre doors...

3. Painting the lounge room, so that at least the main living/thoroughfare areas are done.

4. Fixing the spare room downstairs which serves as utility/storage room. I'd like to get it into some kind of order so it can double up as a guest room (no photos yet - it's that bad!)

5. Painting Number 1 son's room.

There you have it. A short list which is immensely achievable. They are all relatively low cost things too. I wonder how we will fare?

As I lift up my rancho relaxo, cheers to the next six months!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Tahitian* Banana Cake

Number 1 son is celebrating a birthday. Again, I was open to the idea of making a fancy cake but Number 1 requested...banana cake. Who knew it was his favourite?

It is all about the taste rather than the aesthetics with this boy.

Banana cake done badly can turn you off; when done correctly it is all you could ever desire in a cake (according to Number 1). It is light, it is fragrant and it is delicious.

So, here is my Tahitian* Banana Cake recipe. It is really simple to make.

1 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp softened butter
4 tbsp milk
Dash of vanilla extract (or half a vanilla bean)
3 eggs separated
4 or 5 very ripe mashed bananas (makes 1 Cup approx)
1 cup of self-raising flour
1 tbsp bicarbonate soda

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until combined. Add milk and mix well. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. It should be a light smooth mixture. Add vanilla and mashed bananas. Mix well.

The trusty Kitchen Aid doing its thing

Sift flour and bicarbonate soda and gently mix into the batter. Whip egg whites until firm peaks form.

Whisk egg whites

Gently fold into the cake mix until barely combined.

Fold in egg whites

Pour mixture into 20cm greased cake tin and place into a pre-heated moderate (180 Celsius) oven. Bake for approx 40 -45 minutes or until firm to touch.

We like to eat this cake un-iced. To decorate, perhaps a dusting of icing sugar would suffice. For Number 1 son eight candles should do it.

p.s. I was also asked if I could make a batch of profiteroles for his class. I've been up way too long for my liking!

* The only thing Tahitian about this recipe from what I can gather is that my Tahitian aunt, who lives in Aix en Provence, France, was the one who passed on this recipe...and to her, we are forever thankful!

The finished product

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Since moving to the Sow's Ear we have barely touched the yard. Our attention has been diverted to other areas such as the kitchen. It has also been incredibly dry the last few months, so it has not been an ideal time to plant.

But in the last week or so we have had substantial rain. Now is the time to think about the garden.

A few years ago, someone gave us great advice,"Do your garden first. It will grow while you do work on the rest of the house.  By the time your renovations are finished, you can enjoy both the house and the garden."

And what pearls of wisdom those words were. We did precisely that with our second home. We gutted the garden beds and planted a  mock orange hedge on the front fence line and a lily pilly border for the side. The plants were very small but seven years down the track when we sold that house they were lush and well established.

The gardens at the Sow's Ear are okay. Someone liked their Australian natives because we have beautiful mature bottle brush trees, grevilleas and lilly pillies. They are lovely because when they are in flower they attract the rainbow lorikeets and other native birds.

Front garden bed - view from front stairs

However, there is an over abundance of sword ferns and bromeliads growing wildly in the front and side garden beds. I hate sword ferns. (They grow like a weed here in Brisbane and the only thing going for them is that they are green and indestructible). You can also have too many bromeliads.

This morning while Number 3 son was sleeping and with the ground still wet, I got stuck into the sword ferns. Two hours of solid work and I have the front bed free of sword ferns. They're stubborn bloody triffids, though! I left the bromeliads for now - their day of reckoning will come.

A pile of sword ferns and assorted greenery for collection

The Brisbane City Council schedules free kerbside green waste collection every two years and this is collection week for our suburb. Yay! One less job I have to do!

I'm hoping the rain will keep up and the milder temperatures stay for a while longer. It would be good to clear more of it and then get to the fun bit - planting!

Sunday, 8 November 2009


I need a nicer pot.

I do like the Mother-in-law's Tongue, though.

(As an aside my butterfly chair was bought a couple of years ago on eBay from Katherine at theold boathouse. She is now one of my blogging friends.)

Potting about

Mother-in-law's Tongue plants are a noxious weed in Brisbane. It used to get dumped in and around the Brisbane River and bush areas when people were re-doing their gardens. As these West African natives grow for nothing, they suffocated the native flora.

Now that I have given them such a bad rap...

Today, I 'm going to dig them up and put them in a pot for the front entry (we have quite a bit growing in our yard).

I don't mind the look of the old plant. There is something structurally striking in the way they grow. I guess, you are either a fan or not. I am, but I do prefer them to be indoors rather than out.
And we need hardy greenery that can survive my black thumb...even if it is a weed!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bi-fold windows

I had very little idea  about what we would do with the windows for the kitchen.

We were originally planning to leave the old casement windows but I liked the idea of bi-fold windows opening onto a servery on the back deck.

My main concern was whether we could get windows to match the same hopscotch profile of our other windows. I didn't want another set of different profile windows in the Sow's Ear.

I also didn't want them to look too out-of -place in an old Queenslander house and I was afraid they would look kind of cheap.

Jason wasn't terribly helpful because he wasn't keen on the bi-fold window idea at all, for exactly the same reason. So he was left out of the discussions...

Anyway, the point of this post is there wasn't a lot of information about how the bi-fold windows would look on an older home and how they would work. I'm a very visual person and a more personal account would have been helpful.

So, here is the low down. We had the windows custom made and it took approximately six weeks from when we ordered them. They came in one piece (frame and all), it is made from hardwood (can't remember which type, sorry!), all the locks, hinges and handles were already integrated therefore it was just a matter of fitting the entire frame into the space.

Windows are partially opened - integrated bi-fold locks

Bi-fold hinges

bi-fold track

View of closed bi-fold from the back deck.

The windows also came unpainted. Jason was so over painting when it came to the window that we decided to just give it a coat of oil. The jury is still out as to whether it stays like this or gets a coat of gloss white. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated...We will also be re-painting the exterior of the house, so the cream colour weatherboards will change eventually. Not sure what yet...

Before shot - vale to the old windows

I'm enjoying the windows particularly when we entertain - I'm still part of the hum of conversation when I am slaving away at the sink!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Timber and Tin

Original worker's cottage nestled in Stones Corner, Brisbane.

Queenslander homes have a distinctive style and are characteristic of Queensland’s architectural landscape. They were even voted as an icon for this year’s Queensland 150th birthday celebrations (Australia has a comparatively short history to most other nations).

With a tin roof, timber hardwood frame and timber weatherboard cladding perched on tall timber stumps; this style of housing was perfectly suited to Brisbane’s sub-tropical climate.

Queenslanders often had some form of open or semi-enclosed verandah to capture any breezes on a hot summer’s day. Being built on stumps prevented the homes being inundated in flood prone areas (and there are many areas in the older Brisbane suburbs).

Internally, the walls were normally lined with vertical join (VJ) boards; the flooring was tongue and groove timber boards, while ceilings soared to 12 feet. The grander the home the more flourishes it had – decorative door breeze ways, pressed metal ceilings, ornate cornices and archways – while the humbler homes such as the worker’s cottage had smaller rooms with no extra trimmings.

Our breeze way separating the lounge room from the kitchen. Simple traditional tulip design.

Before the advent of sewage in Brisbane (it was not completely sewered until the early 1970s), backyards were punctuated with little out houses, colloquially called “thunder boxes”. When internal toilets became the norm, they were generally tacked on to the very back of the house near the back stairs. Toilets were considered too dirty to have in the house and therefore embraced begrudgingly by their owners. Times have undoubtedly changed in this “two toilets or more” society we live in!

I grew up in a 1926 Queenslander in East Brisbane (my parents are still there) and lived in a worker’s cottage in Highgate Hill during my student years. For me, there is a certain charm to these old homes despite the lack of modern creature comforts (no ensuite, no walk in robes, no upstairs laundry). They are immensely likeable and liveable.

From my experience, they can get bitterly cold in winter because of the all the draughts blowing through the gaps between the floorboards, doors and windows. Alternatively in summer, they can get stifling hot if you don’t have an open veranda (many, like the Sow’s Ear had the old verandah enclosed to provide more internal living space).

Fortunately today, with good insulation, better building products plus the affordability of air-conditioning, this is a thing of the past.

Their major downfall is due to ongoing maintenance issues. Timber attracts termites, it weathers, it needs to be re-painted regularly and if they are neglected they will deteriorate beyond repair.

Queenslanders are also notoriously expensive to repair and renovate.

The Queensland Museum has an interesting website here if you would like to know more. The Cairns Regional Council also produced information about caring and maintaining a Queenslander, which I found insightful. Here is another link about a Queenslander home in the Brisbane suburb of Annerley, which documents the changes made to the home since it was built early last century. And for some further reading materials, Ian Evans is a prolific writer of books regarding the care and restoration of old Australian homes and this website lists some useful publications .

I haven’t done the research on the Sow’s Ear yet. It's on the cards though.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


What does a nearly five year old ask for as his birthday cake? It's usually cupcakes, chocolate cake or a cake in a fancy shape like a pirate ship or fort, right? I was really pushing for this type of cake. A good friend even lent me a kid's birthday cake recipe book!!

Nup. Not Number 2 son.

For Number 2 son, it is profiteroles. Or "pwofitawoles" as he likes to call them.

Life is a bowl of profiteroles

Last night I was up late making the choux pastry, to have it ready for the next morning to take to his kindy.

Number 2's choice of filling is a creme anglaise with the choux drizzled in 70% cocoa dark chocolate. All this was assembled first thing this morning because I would be on parent roster today.

I'm home now and man, I'm tired. 

The profiteroles went down a treat with the other children and the teachers. I was told it was a welcome change to the norm of cup cakes (the kids tend to eat the icing and ditch the cake part - such a waste).

If cup cakes leave you ho-hum (not me, I'm a sucker for a home-made cupcake), here is the recipe* I use for choux pastry.

I've used it, so it is fool proof:

Makes approx 30 small profiteroles

75 g butter
1 cup plain flour
1 cup water
4 eggs

Place butter and water in a saucepan. Bring to rapid boil. Add sifted flour all at once (when still on the heat) and stir quickly so that it forms a smooth ball. Remove from heat and put it in a mixer. Add one egg at a time until the mixture becomes thick and glossy.

Use a teaspoon to drop mixture on to a greased baking tray (I use baking paper). Bake in a very hot oven (around 220 celsius) for 10 minutes, turn heat down to moderate (180 celsius) and bake for a further 15 minutes. Take out of the oven and cut a slit in each profiterole to let out the steam. Bake for a further 10 minutes or until crisp/light brown.

*(courtesy of the Australian Women's Weekly French Cooking - an oldie but a goodie)

The secret to getting this right is having a very hot pre-heated oven. The heat is what puffs out the profiteroles. If it is not hot enough they do not rise and are just flat pieces of eggy dough. Proflateroles.
When they are ready, make sure you remove the inner dough from the centre and then you can fill with fresh whipped cream or Number 2's favourite - vanilla custard.

I generally drizzle the profiteroles with toffee (love the texture of the hard outer shell with the soft centre), but it seems chocolate is a safer option for the majority. It should be dark chocolate because milk chocolate is just too sickly sweet.

As this was my first batch of profiteroles since the new kitchen, I was very happy with the results, as was Number 2. The oven performed magnificently yet again!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Bold as

I like chrome, Jason likes brass.

I expressed my wishes, but still the polished brass (and plate brass) is infiltrating the Sow's Ear at an alarming rate.

Polished brass handle on side kitchen window

Polished brass catch for the linen cupboard

Polished brass window stay

Magnetic plate brass door stop

Plate brass dead lock on front lattice door

I officially give up.

This Christmas there will be a tube of Brasso in Jason's stocking.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Diversionary weekend

I am very hard on the Sow's Ear but after a nice long weekend away, I can officially say that I missed the old place (for those not in the know, I'm not particularly fond of our house).

We went camping with some friends in Brunswick Heads which is on the coast of Northern NSW. It was our first family mini-holiday since we moved here in May.  We had a mixed bag of weather - hot and sunny, cold and wet, windy and stormy - which made it hilariously memorable. All in all, we had a good chin-wag and lots of fun with some great friends.

The Chateau with decorative shoe feature to prevent wild children and absent-minded adults tripping

Fishing for flathead on the Brunswick River

Camping truly makes you appreciate the creature comforts that four solid walls provide...especially during inclement weather.
Now we are back home. It's nice to be back to the little piggy.
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