Sunday, October 20, 2013

Summer's Doorstep

Our house is over 100 years old. For more than a century it has had to endure a lot of weather, but nothing as hot and as extreme as last summer. With the BoM predicting a repeat this coming summer, we have been busy trying to come up with cost-effective and energy-efficient solutions to stay cool during what looks to be another extremely hot and prolonged summer season. The thought of having to run the air conditioning for weeks on end - yet again - troubles me.
Our house already provides us with many advantages: The original part of the house is made of stone and each wall is approximately a foot thick. Combined with high ceilings and small windows, it takes longer to heat up than its modern counterparts. On days like today, where the temperature is expected to near 40 (degrees Celsius), we shouldn't have to turn on the air conditioning. It's only when we experience successive days of extreme heat that it begins to penetrate through to every corner of the house.
I have been told that the trick to keeping an old stone house like ours cool during the hottest part of summer is to keep the stone on the inside of the house cool to the touch. Our biggest challenge, however, has nothing to do with stone: The back of the house (where the kitchen, laundry and bathroom are located) is a weatherboard extension with paper-thin walls and a low ceiling. A galvanised iron veranda then extends out from the back door, which bears the brunt of the sun from dawn until mid-afternoon. It gets hot under that veranda and in those back rooms very quickly during a hot spell. This heat then moves through the rest of the house making it warm and stuffy, and quickly heating the interior stone from the inside-out. It is at this point that the air conditioning is switched on in order to try and cool the house back down.
It got Shane and I thinking: If we can keep the heat to a minimum at the back of the house, it should be a lot easier to keep the rest of the house cool. The easiest, most cost-effective solution was for us to erect blinds around the edge of the back veranda. They do not block out the light entirely, but the light colour helps reflect the sunlight, the fabric allows for airflow, and the blinds themselves provide ample shade.
The seasons have been warmer than average all year; it has barely rained at all since the end of winter, humidity is low and every few days we are cursed with a burst of heat and northerly winds that have the potential to make things very uncomfortable, very quick. The blinds have been up for just over a fortnight, and already they are proving far more effective than we could have hoped. This past week we even remarked that it was quite chilly indoors.
But then again, it isn't summer just yet. It shall be interesting to see what difference these blinds make to the conditions on the inside of the house when summer is at her peak.

How do you combat the summer heat?
What tested and tried methods can you recommend for keeping a house cool?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A hoarder of books...

I read a lot. On average I probably get through one to two books a month, but due to lack of space I am unable to keep them all. One day I hope to have somewhere to keep all my books, when we finally finish the renovations and I get my long-hoped-for floor to ceiling bookshelves.

In the meantime, however, I have one bookshelf (which I've had since childhood) and all the books that didn't fit have been randomly piled and placed wherever I could get away with putting them. Far too many recipe books have been mixed in with gardening books, magazines and novels. Nothing made any sense, and trying to find a particular book and/or magazine was a frustrating exercise.

In addition to the random piles of books about the place, there are boxes of books in storage, most of which I have read, but many which I'd be quite content to browse again at leisure (such as my copy of The Norton's Anthology of Poetry - love it!).
So, since the weather has been absolutely atrocious today (not even the Bailey-dog could stand to be out in it), I figured it was the perfect opportunity to satisfy my OCD cravings and re-organise my books (well, most of them, anyhow), and to make room for the selection of new ones that will be arriving in the post over the coming weeks (Yes, I have ordered more. I was bored and it couldn't be helped!).

All the practical books - recipes, gardening, travel, reference texts - are now altogether on the same shelf.
The magazines are stacked and packed neatly away in a cupboard, and the novels and history books are set out (according to size) in the main bookshelf.
Easily accessible, ready to browse.
It's like having my very own, extremely quaint personal library.
Do you like to read, and are you a hoarder of books too?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

365 Mail Art Project: Weeks 51 & 52

So, how did I spend the last two week of my 365 mail art project?
Week 51:
I spent a whole week writing and putting together a letter in a book of postcards...
Which is on its way to Laura in the UK.
Week 52:
Then I used copies of the old Certificate of Title for our property and made envelopes. This CT is a good example of how they used to look before they were/are converted (only people familiar with Torrens Title will know what I'm talking about here, so everyone else just go here) and sets out the historical ownership for the piece of land that we now call home.
These particular sheets set out the names and occupations of every owner, the dates of every transfer and discharge of mortgage from 1891 until 1982.
It's a neat piece of history, if you ask me.
And it seemed apt to send them both to the UK since the property first appeared on the Register in 1891, when Victoria was on the throne and we were still known as the Queen's Colony of South Australia...
#185: For Louise in the UK
#186: For Rachael in the UK
And with that, the 365 mail art project I started 12 months ago is now officially at a close.
Unfortunately, I was unable to make and send 365 pieces of mail art within the 365 days as I had planned. However, I did not have 365 days to dedicate to the making of mail art. In hindsight, I would be lucky to have had a third of that, so I am perfectly content to have made it to 186 pieces within that timeframe. It equates to 3.57 pieces of mail art a week, and I certainly can't be disappointed with that effort.
A 365 mail art project is certainly a project that can be quite time-consuming, and it has been a challenge to come up with new ideas each and every week over the past twelve months. However, I still heartily recommend it for anyone who wants to have a go, because even if you don't make the 365 pieces, it really is a fun and inspiring creative pursuit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Two words best describe Kate Morton's novel The Forgotten Garden: Family intrigue.

And intriguing it most certainly is!

In 1913 a small child is found abandoned with nothing more than a small suitcase of belongings on an Australian wharf. Taken in and adopted by a local family, the girl grows up as Nell, who believes she is the eldest of four children. When she discovers that her actual origins are unknown, she embarks on a journey to discover where she came from, who her parents were and how she came to be all alone on a ship bound for Australia when she was barely four years old.

Upon Nell's death her grand-daughter, Cassandra, takes it upon herself to continue her grandmother's search for the truth. The journey takes her all the way to Cornwall in England, and to a little cottage on the grounds of an old estate. There she uncovers a hidden garden that once belonged to an Edwardian authoress named Eliza Makepeace and her childhood friend, Rose. But how are the two women connected to Nell, and what role did they play in her fate? The truth will alter the course of Cassandra's life forever.

The Forgotten Garden is a delicious novel filled to the brim with secrets. As a reader it is hard not to feel sorry for Nell, and even more difficult to ignore Cassandra's enthusiasm for discovering the truth. Even though I was able to figure out the "big secret" fairly early on (and could not fall for the author's deliberate red herring), I still immensely enjoyed the story, and whose characters I became invested in as I followed them on their respective journeys of discovery.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Recipe: Banana Choc Muffins

Not a lot has been happening around these parts lately. The weather has been somewhat inconsistent and rather awful (hot. Windy. Dusty. That kind of thing), so a lot of time has been spent inside.
I received this recipe for Banana Choc Muffins from my penpal, Ursa, in Slovenia sometime ago and I finally got around to making it.
It has been awhile since I've shared a recipe, so here's my (slightly altered from original) version:
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large bananas, pureed
1/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs
* Preheat oven to 180*C. Line 12 muffin cups with paper cups. Set aside.
* Add flour, cocoa, sugar, soda and salt in a bowl and mix together using a whisk.
* In a separate bowl mix bananas, oil, eggs and vanilla.
* Add the wet mix to the dry mix and using a wooden spoon, stir until combined.
* Use a large scoop to fill the paper cups with batter and bake in oven for 30 minutes (or until done).

I like to eat them warm with a bit of butter.
Shane likes to smother his in chocolate icing, which I contend turns them into cupcakes, but either way they are simply delicious.