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Covering it all up, and a dad joke

Well hello there…glossing right over my long absence from keeping you updated on our progress, I have progress to share with you in spades. Or shovels actually – square front, because they’re the best for this job so I’m told.

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The last I clued you in on what we’ve been up to in the backyard, was when we transplanted the plum tree from it’s corner of the odd little triangle of deck, and up into the more deserving and lofty place of the biggest planter we could heft down the stairs and across the backyard.

I’m pleased to say it survived, and I had high hopes when we got to enjoy a good spring bloom, but sadly there were only a small handful of meagre plum offerings. Uprooting an old tree definitely interferes with it’s nervous system. Hopefully next summer it’ll be feeling more up to production tempo again.

Pretty ain’t it?

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But not so pretty… the weeds growing in every nook and cranny of the patchwork of old and new concrete, and ugly stained timber decking.

What to do….? Clearly laying ready lawn over top is not a good idea.

While we didn’t hate the concrete part, the odd triangle of deck in the back right corner really didn’t fit in with my vision of a comfortable, cosy, and relaxing back yard. What I really wanted to do was turn the concrete into crazy paving, and then cover up the deck. But apparently this was not achievable without seriously annoying the neighbours with a concrete saw for weekends on end, and the result unpredictable at best but leaning heavily towards disaster.

Would you believe we even contemplated ripping out the decking and filling the void with concrete so at least we’d be back to one simple surface? But that would have brought all sorts of retaining nightmares and probably have involved talking to the council. Not ideal.

So. “Cover it all up!” was the cry. White pebbles was the answer.

Until we saw the price. And realised that to do it properly we’d need to first invest in what the kids have deemed “honeycomb”.

“Honeycomb” is otherwise known as Natural Paving. There are various versions of it, and I forget quite why we chose this in the end, although most were priced pretty comparably, and do the same job. Which is to provide stability for a large area of pebbles. It holds them in place, and makes them easier to walk on. An added bonus is that it makes it hard for kids to dig around in them and throw bucket loads over the back fence and generally create havoc after you’ve gone to great lengths to rake it all out nice and smooth and level. Yep we’ll have some of that.

At $32 a sheet, and needing a total of 31 sheets, it got us almost to $1000 in one transaction. Scary stuff. But at least it was straightforward.

Pebbles was not so much. First there was giving up the dream of white pebbles, because that was looking like a few too many digits after the dollar sign. But mainly because once I got beyond that by telling myself they’d only be hard to keep looking good anyway, I couldn’t for the life of me make comparisons between pebbles and prices and suppliers thereafter. I was good at maths before I divided my brain in half twice by producing two offspring (leaving me with a quarter of my original… just enough to work that one out) but trying to compare these pebbles priced at so much per m3 with these different but supposedly the same pebbles at so much per tonne… way too much.

So what is one to do but go by looks then..?!

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Exhibit A: 4 different pebble samples from 3 different suppliers

I liked the look of the “Hoki Poki Small” from Daltons, and within days a truck dumped a 1.5m3 mountain in front of the garage door.

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But meanwhile… we laid all the “honeycomb” and congratulated ourselves on moving one step further so efficiently (it was super quick to lay), only to spend the next few days wondering if perhaps we needed some kind of drainage underneath…

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A wash down of my pebble samples left water sitting in the matting, with nowhere to drain to, and a quick phone call to Natural Paving confirmed that yes it was absolutely necessary to have at least 50mm of drainage metal underneath. The webbed material on the underside of the honeycomb is more for weed control. Nevermind that we’d edged off the entire yard allowing only for the thickness of the matting plus 10-15mm for pebbles on top of that. We didn’t have 50mm. At least not without copious frustration.

Andre’s day time job came in handy once again as he sussed out more advanced drainage materials than GAP 20, eventually coming across some kind of geotextile called “bidim” from Geofabrics. It has hydraulic properties which makes it ideal for use for drainage and filtration applications. Oh really? And how thick is it did you say? Oh about 2mm. Give or take 1mm!!

Laying it meant taking up the honeycomb row by row and replacing it over the top as we unrolled the bidim, so we didn’t mix up our jigsaw and get ourselves in a complete pickle.

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With that done, I spent most of a precious childless Friday moving barrows of Hoki Poki from here to there. Blisters and splinters aside, it was a good feeling to get to this point.

0504_145748I left off with it all dumped in piles where the wheelbarrow got the better of me and tipped off my wobbly ramp, too exhausted to rake it around, and definitely not able to manhandle that half-built playhouse structure around to finish off the job.

0504-03.07Andre got it done the next day, and after a good wash down of the dusty pebbles, it was looking pretty fine!

0504_4354We over ordered by a small pile of pebbles, and these have been fun for the kids (to throw around by the bucket load) but will get bagged up and used for top ups when necessary.

0504_4358 0504_4359Besides this “cover up” we’ve been busy in the backyard for most of the summer with adding timber to the front side of the planter wall on the deck, and to the side alongside the stairs. I’ve spent a bit of time in the garden up the side, trying to get some shade loving plants established, and helping the jasmine along with a better growing frame, and a couple of extra plants. We also filled in and painted the “half wall” at the garage side of the backyard.

Busy. But these leaps of progress are so worth it!

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Once you can stop and look back… and once you know there are just a couple more things left on the list. We have a playhouse to finish obviously, and then a line up of more concrete pipe planters waiting to move into position along the back fence and break the monotony of brown with some much needed green!

I’ll leave you with this:

After 5 years of fatherhood Andre is getting pretty heavily involved in the Dad-joke Club, but one of his latest (pilfered from somewhere no doubt) is actually not bad: “Did you have a good weekend or do you own your own home?”

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Merry Christmas and a bit more

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I feel a bit of a fraud – writing on my own blog, after ignoring it for so long!

But I do have to check in and say Merry Christmas and thanks for being here. And in case you get all nostalgic at this time of year (who doesn’t… just a little bit?!) here’s how we did Christmas last year, the year before, and back in 2011. As the years go by it gets a little more… well… Christmassy!

It’s been a year and a half this one. Lots has happened that wasn’t supposed to happen, and not much has happened that we thought might happen! But we are looking forward to “big things” next year, and I have my fingers crossed for a little more time to myself, with one off to school and the other to kindy. I may even get back into blogging regularly?!

But for now, just have yourselves a merry little Christmas!

Thanks x

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A little light makeover

Following on from last weeks bedroom reveal-of-sorts I thought I’d cover how we went about replacing our wall lights.

While shuffling things around in our bedroom was definitely talked about (mainly to accommodate a larger wardrobe) we ended up sticking with the current layout, because we didn’t want to turn a fairly simple reno into something major involving moving electrical stuff and patching big holes.

So, that meant utilising the current wiring and dimmer switches for some new look lighting over our bed. Cue a sad face when I knew I wouldn’t be following the trend for plug in pendants wound artfully around a bracket on the wall. But I consoled myself with knowing that is likely just a short term trend, and that my “statement making cord”-free wall lights were probably safer with kids around anyway.

That was the easy bit. I spent months keeping an eye out for a pair of good looking mid century wall lights. It seems fixed lighting was something of a novelty then, because there wasn’t much to be found.

But eventually I came across these ones on Trade Me.

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They’re by Beamalite, made in 1963, and were advertised as needing some restorative love. Fine, we can do that! We can do that with some glossy white and gold!0814_1889 0814_1894 0814_1898 0814_1914Over two or three days I painstakingly masked off each part and sprayed happily. Gold was a whole new experience for me and while it admittedly made me nervous, it was a fun kind of nervous!

Until I undid my “last” round of masking. Ooooh not good. Despite using proper painters tape (which I’ve not bothered with before) I had parts of the gold come off. It’s the worst to get to the end of a project and get yourself pumped for the big reveal, only to find you have to start almost from scratch again. There was feet stamping, and maybe tears.
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But I got over that, and went for round two. A little wiser maybe… So I tried taping first to get a smoother edge to my mask, then layering the foil over the top and taping it down. (You can get a glimpse of this in the back light, far right.)
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My trigger finger was a little lighter this time, and I left loads of time for drying. So the result was much, much better, although not perfect. There were some jagged edges of bleeding paint that still made me cross. But not cross enough to deal with it. I was over this project and considering other options…

But Andre assured me those little imperfections were not going to be noticeable to anyone else, so I handed them over to him to get them installed.
0814_1952 This is where things should have ended happily ever after right?

Alas, no. I’m going to summarise this quickly for you because it still hurts. We ended up with a hole in the wall (just days after we’d finished painting it) where Andre had plastered over the hole left by the previous fitting. Which meant more plastering, sanding and painting. Yes it was just a hole a few centimetres across, but at that point in the whole scheme of things the thought of just getting the plaster back out was enough to make us give up for another couple of days!0814_1965

 

So onto the other light. It was successfully installed in minutes. But then I get another shout – “the light is melting!” Sure enough the paint was starting to run, as it was warmed up by the bulb.

We quickly turned it off, and left the whole sorry mess in a huff!

Turns out that all we needed was a couple of smaller, lower wattage bulbs, and a few more days drying time. No more melting lights!

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So that’s how we came to have “new” lights that match the character of our scuffed up floors. (That is my excuse for everything that turns out a little imperfect in our house!)

Really, they’re not so bad. They’ve just lost a little of their shine, and have some dull patches where they were handled during the melty paint stage.

Time heals, and I’m back to thinking they look pretty awesome actually! Agreed?!

Transplanting the plum tree

So, for better or for worse, we’ve done it. A quick reread of some online advice on transplanting fruit trees and I realised we’d better get onto moving our beloved plum tree. Apparently it’s something that should be done in early winter when the tree is at it’s most dormant. The next best time is late autumn, and I wasn’t planning on waiting 11 months for the next one of those to come around! Plus, it was a dull but warm day on Saturday, with no rain coming, and at this time of year you need to take those and make them count!

You can just see the tree we’re talking about on the far right of this picture (taken before we put up the screen and pergola on the deck), and that giant planter (temporarily filled with daisies) in the middle is where we’ve shifted it to.

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This plum tree is pretty small really, and unassuming, and I even used to call it ugly before I truly came to appreciate it’s inner beauty. It produces the loveliest plums in abundance, and I will have my fingers crossed until I see it looking once again like it did last summer!

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To get in the mood I started by weeding every other garden and doing my best to tidy up the vegie patch.

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First I removed some weedmat that had been stapled around the inside edge of this planter box, and did my best to loosen things a little, wishing the whole box would just disintegrate. It sits under this odd little triangle of deck in the back corner, and has always been an eyesore. We are still trying to figure out what to do here to replace it or at least cover it all up.
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When neither the tree or the box were budging, I gave up for a bit and turned to the planter. There were some wintering daisy clumps in there that I hauled out and replanted in various other spots in the garden as fillers. And there was dirt to remove.
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A certain small guy was keen to help. You can see here how huge the planter really is – you can lose two or three small children at once!
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Then it was time to enlist Andre’s help in the form of ingenuity and brute strength. He rigged up this levering system, then with a bit of spade work, and some good old-fashioned hauling…0610_1850 0610_1851 0610_1853 0610_1856 … it was out!0610_1857 Here’s the planter ready and waiting. We painted on some waterproofing stuff in the inside of these to help keep the moisture in.0610_1863 Then I had to down camera to help lift the tree up and up and into the planter.0610_1864 It’s a sweetly lopsided ol’ tree so it took a little spinning to get the right positioning in order for us not to fight with it every time we walk around the front side of the deck.

Although it’s not intended to stay here – at this point we’d like to fill in that old planter box with concrete and roll the whole tree plus concrete planter right back over top of where it began. That way it will allow the neighbours to come and go without us keeping tabs on them!

Eventually I’d like to have planters right across that back fence, both for privacy, and to hide the fence and it’s awkward change in height. Plus we desperately need to add as much green as possible back into this concrete filled space!0610_1867 0610_3747

So, grow little container orchard, grow! (And enjoy all this rain you are getting today…!)

The curtains that nearly weren’t

 

 

 

These curtains. They’ve been a long time a comin’.

So first the pictures, then the story…

0527_1153-(2) 0527_1232-(2) 0527_1241 0527_1244-(2) 0527_1249-(2) 0527_1255 0527_1257 0527_1259 Starting way back when I first eyed up this fabric, in… August 2012. Gulp!

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Then we DIY’ed some curtain rods a year later. And they stayed bare for many more months, while I shopped around, and around, and around. Call me thrifty, call me cheapskate… but I didn’t want to spend over $1k on one pair of curtains. One summer passed by and I missed the special deals. Another summer came… and I juuuuust scraped in, with a few lessons learned along the way.

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After hosting a few big brand curtain consultants who offered only scary quotes and less than helpful advice, I decided to trust my own judgement on the fabric and style I’d had plenty of time to mull over, and hunted down a smaller scale curtain maker.

They appeared professional, with a simple website, some good reviews, and plenty of helpful advice. Not to mention a 30% lower quote than the cheapest of the big names.

Things were looking rosy and I had high hopes of hanging some curtains before winter began. Deposit paid!

And then… a few weeks later I thought “hmmm, looks like autumn is arriving, I wonder how my curtains are going?”

My emails bounced back, phone numbers were disconnected and a getting desperate phone call to the fabric supplier came up with “oh, they closed their account with us about a year ago”.

I felt pretty scammed. I felt a little silly, and a whole lot disappointed. I felt annoyed and grumpy. I felt like I’d just lost a few hundred dollars.

Then I got mad and hunted down the guilty party. I found an alternative email address in the depths of a business listing website, and my firm but friendly email didn’t bounce back!

But who knew if it had been read…

Then a few days later, a reply! Woohoo! They’re alive! But all it said was the fabric had just been ordered. Not so promising but at least a response and a way of contact was formed.

Days passed before another reply to my “where are my cuuuurtains?!” and apparently there’s trouble in the small-scale curtain maker camp. So my hopes were low.

The next email got a little more threatening and I did feel bad about that but Autumn was well and truly settled in and I just wanted my curtains! Or my deposit back.

I didn’t get a reply to that one. But eventually I got an email to say “your curtains are ready, where shall we send them?”. What? Really? My hopes rose a little but the fingers were still well and truly crossed.

Until a week or so later and just as I was walking out the door one morning, a courier van pulls up with a big box?! Noooo… it can’t be?! I told the kids to stay in the car, and ran back in with my box, grabbed the scissors and opened it just enough to peek in. Hallelujah!!! We have curtains!

I half expected spiders or mice or something to jump out at me too, but no. I just got my curtains, as ordered and as lovely as I hoped! Relieved and a little bit wiser, but I took a few days longer than I would normally to pay the balance. Fair’s fair I say.

And now these are my favourite curtains to pull every night and morning, and we can enjoy dinner without the cold draught through the french doors. All is well!

Especially now I’ve adjusted the hooks and they hang just right. I snapped these photos below before I fixed them up so ignore their bunching at the bottom, and just admire how they look from the living room (I forgot to get more photos from this angle after I’d adjusted them).

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The fabric is Pegasus EMI Imperial, in Duck Egg. My fave!

And the curtain rings come in packs of 10 – Nusa, in pewter (but I sprayed them the same colour as I sprayed the rods) by Windoware, from Bunnings.

I’m not naming the curtain maker because I believe they are/were genuinely in trouble and did their best (the curtains are well made and their advice in the beginning while we sorted the details was appreciated) but in future I will make sure to have a physical address for contact because phone numbers, email addresses and websites can disappear in an instant!

 

A few weeks in an “insta”

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Progress has been making slow headway around here, which makes for little blog content. But there’s always little bits of projects on the go that end up on Instagram (@duckeggblueblog). So I thought I’d share them here in case you don’t catch them there. And there are a few bonus pics that haven’t yet seen the light of day!

So… starting out the back which is our current priority, here’s progress in pictures:

0410_0208 0410_0213 0410_3149 0410_3158 0410_3195 0410_3198I’m aware that not much of this will make sense right now, but you have my promise it will in a few more weeks (here’s hoping the weather holds to and beyond Easter!).

Much to my delight we’ve also made a start on the master bedroom, finally replacing the cranky old sliding door with a more pleasant hinged option, and the nightmare of wallpaper stripping has begun…

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Besides this, I’ve set myself another six year deadline to get our travel albums completed. A few short weeks away is the day that six years ago we headed off on the adventure of our lifetime.

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As we lived the nomadic life there was a lot of talk about kids and houses and settling down – and suddenly here we are and I’m wondering if that “big OE” was really the adventure of a lifetime?! Every day is the adventure of a lifetime is it not?! In another six years, who knows… I might even be missing these days of endless demo and painting?

 

One brick at a time

A few days ago I showed you our brick wall out the back, but I wanted to also share the process, in case you’re considering something similar. Because it was a little more of a process than we thought it would be, even though this was a rare project we decided to bring in a pro for.

Starting months ago, while the deck was under construction, Andre cut and removed the concrete where the wall would stand. A whole lot of drilling out the rock followed a while later, before it was ready to get a solid footing in place.

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In the meantime, I’d posted the job on Builderscrack, but it appeared there were no willing bricklayers out there. I followed up with a few calls to local bricklayers but noone was interested in a one off, small job like this. So… we resigned ourselves to doing it the DIY way and finally finishing it somewhere in the next decade!

Our attention then was on sourcing some bricks. It took a loooong search on Trade Me, but we finally snapped up one lot of 400 bricks. Loading them up, with the help of the sellers, was the easy bit!

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Unloading them, we realised we were going to need to clean them. They’d been inlaid into the ground as a patio. So thankfully, they’d previously been mostly chipped of their mortar, but a good waterblasting was needed to clear them of dirt and moss.0322_9239

Hours later, we were still going. 6 sides of 400 bricks is a lot of laying them out, turning them, cleaning them, turning them, cleaning them…. and stacking. Over and over!0322_2417

On the same day we picked up the bricks we got a recommendation from friends who’d just had a guy lay some blocks for their own outdoor space. With that came a whole lot of luck in the name of Bob the bricklayer! Semi-retired, he likes the small jobs, and is happy to fit them around his family and other job requirements. With an appointment made for him to come and take a look, we stacked up a couple of options to confirm what we liked best.

As we assumed a one and a half width layout was far too chunky.0322_2441

But this single brick width didn’t give us much room for reinforcing and concrete in the middle.

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The advantages of hiring a professional were evident right from this point because Bob suggested we use a narrower (modern) brick on the inside of the wall, below the stairs where it wouldn’t be seen, so we could have the look we wanted with the strength we also wanted! It’s a little hard to explain, but you can see a few pictures down how it worked.

With that confirmed, Andre knew where to put the reinforcing steel and got to completing the footing a few weekends ago. Starting with some steel epoxied in, then some boxing, and finally the concrete.

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So the finished footing ready and waiting for the bricklayer, looked like this (there’s a step in it to account for the slight slope in the ground):

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Bob set up shop in our backyard for what he assumed to be 3 or 4 days. I was very impressed at how organised he seemed to be with his set up, and despite having no backyard (or clothesline) for the duration it wasn’t at all tedious. He even swept up after each days work!

Day one got us to just a few small “courses” up. Below you can see how Bob used the narrower bricks (stacked at top right) on the inside of the wall below the stair level. And above the stair level he cut each old brick to the narrower width to match. You can also see how he tied additional lengths of reinforcing steel in as he built the wall up, and filled it with concrete too of course. In addition, he drilled into the block base of the house and set some steel into there too, so this is one super solid brick wall!
0322_2915Unfortunately for Bob, he picked some of our hottest days of the summer to work out here in this sweltering backyard with no shade and no breeze. Combining that with the amount of cutting he had to do to ensure all those old and mismatched bricks would fit into the wall, I’m thinking it wasn’t his favourite job to date! It also took a lot more time than he estimated so it wasn’t until two weeks later (with a couple of days off in that time) that he packed up his brick saw and took our money!
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Incidentally, our estimate of 400 bricks wasn’t nearly enough (due to quite a few of them being too beaten up for Bob’s liking), and Andre spent a few more hours hunting out another 100 or so from every demolition shop around Auckland. And Mum and Dad saved the day with the last 10 bricks we needed, which they’d just found around the back of their shed during a massive tidy up before they move house!
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I’m very thankful that we did hand this job over to someone who knew what they were doing, not only because it happened much faster than we could ever have done it (even though it took twice as long as estimated!) but also for the peace of mind that it’s done right.

To be honest, we wouldn’t have been nearly as fussy with the bricks as Bob was, so we might have saved a bit of money doing it ourselves, but the finished product would have been a little dodgy! And that’s really not how you want a brick wall in your backyard to be!

All up, this one cost us around $1600 – ouch! But the pain was very short term and all over once the cash changed hands and I turned around to take another look at the wall!

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The old bricks we bought ourselves came to $364, reinforcing steel a mere $52 and the labour, mortar, builders mix and handful of narrower bricks Bob supplied was $1192.

So to DIY this would have cost us around $800 in materials anyway. Which means for only $800 we got the job done within two weeks. Definitely worth it!

I’m just hoping this amazing autumn-but-more-like-summer weather will hold so we can get the pergola done soon. Because we’re definitely DIY’ing that one!