Saturday, April 27, 2013


(posted late morning) 

We woke up to a windy morning (Laka hates it when it's windy - makes her jittery). I checked the CFA website and found that there's one more district labelled with "Very High" fire danger (yellow), but surprisingly, there's no fire ban today.

The smoke in the air y'day was just about unbearable. There's a good bit today, too, although not as thick - and that's most likely because the wind is moving it. Burning off isn't permitted on Sundays, so we'll get a break from all this tomorrow - sure am looking forward to that! In the meantime, my windows remain shut.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Not What You Expect in Late April

Stephen observed the other night that the CFA website is showing that Saturday is expected to have a fairly elevated fire danger rating. The weather predictions aren't calling for a hot day - the high is supposed to be around 25C - but it is going to be windy. It's surprising; I wouldn't have expected a rating of "very high" so late in April - but there you are.

The ban on outdoor burning was lifted last week - and so the hills have been smokey as people have been hurrying to clear their properties of dried debris from the trees. A friend who works for the CFA told me recently that most of their call outs are for burn-offs on private properties which get out of control. Saturday is normally a day when outdoor burning is permitted, but I almost hope the CFA will declare a ban - after the summer we've had, the CFA folks deserve to have a quiet, uneventful weekend.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bathroom Reno - DONE!

A couple of weeks ago we started our bathroom renovation. The last little bits are finally in place - yes we are DONE!  I'm delighted. Absolutely delighted. Have a look the before and after:

Before (standing in the closet door, facing the window) - what you see is an old dinosaur jacuzzi - which has been much more trouble than it was worth, directly under the window. Makes it REALLY hard to clean that window - plus takes up a huge amount of space. Note the tiny little sink/vanity - with virtually NO storage space. Just to the left, and out of the picture, is the grotty old glass shower enclosure - very small enclosure, hard to move around in and nearly impossible to clean.The floors are wood laminate - which has seen better days.

After (same view) - Lovely neutral tile all around, the jacuzzi is GONE and the toilet relocated, giving space for a vanity/sink that is well over twice the size of the original. In the left you can see the new class shower enclosure - much larger than the original and surely will be easier to clean. And as you can see in this picture, there's plenty of room across from the toilet to put a small cabinet - which is what I'm planning to do (for towels/linens - freeing up space in the upstairs hall closet). The medicine cabinet is the same (I was thinking of getting a new one, but the renovator recommended against it - I'm glad we took his advice).

Before (same room - looking in the window toward the closet) - now you can see that horrible shower enclosure - although it doesn't look as bad here as it really was.

After - The shower enclosure has roughly the same depth - but it's much wider (which you can't actually see from this angle). And there's a nice glass shelf on the opposite wall (inside the shower) with a bar underneath which will be great for facecloths. Again, note the spacious cabinet - and we replaced the towel bar with rings (left) - which I much prefer because towels always look fairly tidy with rings - no need to fold after using.
Wow, eh? Yeah... wow. It's all very neutral, of course - and a little bland. But bright towels and a couple of small pictures will change that in a flash - and I'll be able to refresh the look of the space just by changing accessories (that's the beauty of neutral fixtures, of course).

Once Trevor (our renovator) got underway with the bathroom, we had to use our guest bathroom. It didn't take long before I ended up asking him to quote a price to replace the vanity/sink in the guest bathroom. The quote seemed reasonable, so we went ahead with that, too.

Here's the "before" of the guest bathroom (below). Notice the same tiny, pokey vanity/sink - almost no storage and no counter space to set things on, either. Lots of wasted space on either side of the sink.

Voila! again, this vanity has twice the storage of the original - plus plenty of counter space. While he was at it, Trevor moved the old glass shelf that was in the master bathroom (and we didn't want or need in there anymore) and positioned it above the tub (just below the blue picture). It looks lovely - and with a couple of whatnots (maybe a silk plant?) on it, will really improve the overall look of the room. Of course, it would have been nice to replace the old tan tub in here, but we needed to keep to our budget.

So there you are - two greatly-improved bathrooms.

A side note - we taught both Laka and George to enjoy taking a shower in the old master-bathroom shower. It's hilarious to watch them splashing around - but I've not shared photos or video of that because, quite frankly, I was ashamed of how the shower looked. Now I'll be able to do that - once we get them used to the new equipment (which may take a while...).  Stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


In the post-atomic aftermath of WWII, Sci-Fi film makers delighted in producing movies which cautioned us about the terrible and un-forseen after effects of radiation. A whole lovely batch of otherwise harmless creatures, fueled and fed by radioactivity, grew to gigantic proportions and went on rampages in small-town America (or Tokyo, in the case of Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan).

One of these, one of my favorites, was "Them" - a movie about gigantic ants. It was silly, hokey, and all that, but I loved it anyway. I suppose it was the sound effects (when the ants were about, you'd hear a high-pitch tree-frog sound to warn you). Just something about it - Ah... I loved that goofy film. I searched and searched for a YouTube video I could imbed here... but the videos I found keep getting pulled due to copyright violations... *sigh*

I was in the garden looking for the right place to put some flowering bulbs I recently bought. I walked around one side of the Secret Garden and noticed that some Jack-Jumper ants I (about half an inch long) had started an ant hill around one of my edging rocks. Not being a great fan of these creatures (they do jump, they're very aggressive, they bite, it's nasty, and many people have severe allergic reactions) decided to treat them to some ant sand. I pulled the rock back, sprinkled the poison as the ants boiled out to defend their new space, and then left it.

Later I went back to see if the sand had been effective. I moved the rock - yup.. no sign of activity. I was satisfied, but thought I should check a couple of the slightly larger edging rocks along the same area. And I found them.

THEM! (cue the screechy tree frog noise, please..) 

Not Jack-Jumper ants, but BULL ANTS!  Yikes - these guys are huge!

Here's a photo of one that I found climbing on the deck rail (not a place I normally find Bull Ants). It's a shame I couldn't get video of this guy, because as I moved around him to get a good angle for the photo, he was turning his head, watching my every move. Afraid? Not on your life. He was calculating how to get to me (yes... they are very aggressive).

And here, for the sake of scale, is a photo of him with the tip of my index finger. I've seen slightly bigger Bull Ants, so I'm not sure if this one was a young one or not. They are generally about an inch long - you can see those wild mandibles - they grab and won't let go. And there's a stinger on his backside, too. These creatures are more like flightless wasps than ants.

Like Jack Jumpers, Bull Ants are incredibly aggressive. Weirdly - the two species are known to co-habitate, and if you find one, you'll most likely find the other nearby. I think the Bull Ants like the Jack Jumpers because they (the Jack Jumpers) move a lot faster and will drive off anything threatening them. I guess Jack Jumpers make good guard dogs.

We often see individual Bull Ants walking around on the driveway. If they see you (and they have great eye sight), they will come for you. Totally freaky...

For the most part I see them on the ground, but occasionally I spot one climbing a plant. Once, as I was walking toward my car, one fell from the roof of our house right into my handbag! He was clutching a large beetle and as they struggled must've rolled off the roof. I'm certainly glad I saw him drop - it would have been a nasty surprise to reach into my bag for my wallet and be attacked.

I've been stung by Jack Jumpers. It's not pleasant, but it doesn't hold a candle to a bullant.

In the years before we bought the raintank, I used to haul water from the final rinse of the washing machine out to the garden. One afternoon I was doing this - wearing "flip flop" thong sandals. I remember walking into the garden on my 3rd or 4th trip and thinking I should probably not be out there trotting around in sandals. Just as that thought passed through my mind.....

OUCH!! I looked down to see a full-size bullant hanging onto the tip of my toe, his mandibles sunk into the flesh just past my toenail. He was hanging on for dear life and stinging me repeatedly.  I jumped and flipped the sandal off and tried to knock him off. He stung me 3 or 4 times before I finally managed to scrape him off. Once I knocked him off, he just looked up at me and came at me again. Not quickly, but tenaciously.

I've read that they make a "large and easy to spot" mound. Our's don't. They nest in the ground and don't seem to mound at all (the Jack Jumpers do, however). You can be standing right on a nest opening and not know they are there - until, of course, they decide it's time for you to move on...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bathroom Reno - Week 2

After that first day of bathroom renovations, things have been considerably quieter. The horrible war-zone noise of hammers (accompanied by frenzied parrot screeches) wasn't repeated after that first day. The bathroom was stripped pretty much bare in that one day - and after that the noise was construction, not destruction. Laka and George were considerably better behaved from that point on.

We hired a 2-square-meter bin from Kalorama Bins and y'day loaded it with all the rubbish from the job so far. Everything fit except one long pipe (seen on the ground behind the bin above). The bin will be taken out today.

Trevor finished hanging the tiles and did the grouting yesterday. They still have to be wiped down which Trevor said he'd take care of  (and I'm glad, as it looks like a lot of work to me...) - but other than that, we're all ready.  Here's the view facing the bathroom window: 

And here's the view from the window toward the closet.

The tiles look dark in this photo. In real life, they aren't - they look like light-coloured sandstone - very soft and natural effect, and goes extremely well with the white walls above them.

The vanity, toilet, and custom-made shower enclosure are on the way. Trevor expects they'll arrive a week from today.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream For...

Our house is approx. 28 years old - and we've been here for 6. In "Flying Over the Rainbow", I described a few of the upgrades we made here, including the new ducted heating and restumping. Yes, we've spent a small fortune on this beloved house, but for the most part the things we've done have not been cosmetic, but safety-oriented.

At last, however, we have managed to set aside some money to upgrade something for the sheer beauty of it. Yes, we've decided to upgrade our bathroom.

Here's the "before" photo:

I laugh a little when I look at this, because in this photo, the bathroom looks OK. But, trust me, it doesn't look good in "person". That glass shower stall in the far corner was pitted and scummy - although I'm sure the previous owner did her best to clean it, well, it was just beyond redemption - oh the hours I spent on my knees trying to scrub and polish to get it looking nice. I never succeeded.

The original tiles in the shower, around the tub, and over the sink, were tan with brown decorative trim around the edges. Really dated. The previous owner painted over them with a special white paint - but inside the shower, that paint started to peel off and flake away a long time ago (made worse by my scrubbing the tiles in my continuing war on mold):

What's that you say?  Eeeeeewwwww!?  You bet.

The toilet is relatively new - in our first year here we replaced the old "one flush" toilets with new "dual flush" ones. But the sink is old, with a tan basin that looks pretty icky on the white vanity, and with an aging, pitted gold tap and handles. There's not much storage in that vanity - and it's, well, just cheap and grotty-looking.

The final beast is the jacuzzi tub (immediately under the window) which I only tried to use once - and quickly came to realize it was too much work to deal with.

Yeah - this bathroom is a beast and it's time to do something.

We called in a local tradesman to have a look - and he had lot of ideas about how to tart the old bathroom up - so away we go. Trevor and his son Ralph arrived y'day and the demolition began at mid-morning.

Here's how it looked when they left:


The noise was deafening - with hammers and saws and... ...well... Trevor and Ralph cut up the tub and lowered it and other bits from the balcony outside the bathroom to the deck below - RIGHT IN FRONT OF LAKA AND GEORGE'S WINDOW... If you think saws and hammers are loud - well, wait till you listen to macaw-meltdowns happening about every 20 minutes for several hours.

Laka and George went to bed last night tired, but happy in the conviction that they'd driven off those nasty men making all the noise.

I've got bad news for them. Trevor and Ralph will be back today - probably with earplugs.