a fabulous day for wallpaper

We went to look at two houses today. One I saw saw thursday before last. It's a total cutie. Nice street, good area. Beautiful diamond paned windows in the front, lots of charming (and some not so) period features, wide hallway, a linen press, cladding (protecting the weatherboards) and tin roof tiles (which mean that the house hasn't cracked under the weight of cement tiles). There's also several sheds, an adequate sized concrete backyard (blech) and central heating (first house we've looked at with such a convenience). It also has rather spectucular wallpaper, different in every room. The kitchen not only has wallpaper, but tiles and a wooden feature wall. And the bestest light fitting I've seen so far. This house comes across as a warren of rooms and some people just freak out, but I love it.

 The kitchen is on the small side and the bathroom has no bath, which would require some thought, but there would be all sorts of possibilities for tweaking these things in the future. There would however be  two small studies.

But wait there's more... Another house, also in a good area for us, but with a better floor plan. Didn't make sense on the internet, but once we walked around and saw where the light came from, it did. Unusually for the era, it seems to have been sited to allow northerly light into the kitchen and dining area. The lounge is a little dark but that's OK. And the linen press is in the bathroom, which is not ideal, but the bathroom does have a lovely deep bath. Also a house with two studies.Touch and go as to whether it will be in our price range, but.... takes a deep breath, it could be.

The killer is, it goes to auction on the same day as, but after, the other one. Which is probably more likely, but this one is slightly better, especially as it is now. With work and a small extension, the other one could be better in the longer term. But they're both good. Of course, we may get neither.

In other news, I seem to have developed a twitch in my right eye. Can't see it, but if I put my finger over my eyelid, I can feel it. Which means I probably should be avoiding computers and television. So I had a nap this afternoon, but I wasn't really tired. Maybe a little nervours about work next week? I put my hand up to do higher duties while a colleague is on leave and am one of three in my office to take a turn at this role. A little taste of where I might go in the next year or so. I have all sorts of ideas about what I'd like to do in the job, but it's only two weeks. Of course I'm nervous. I always turn into a little bundle of anxiety about things like this. 

in catering mode

SpcIn a previous life, I worked as a cook. We had a cafe. Me, my mum and my sister.  I had planned on becoming a writer, but one day I found myself in front of a big stove with four burners and a side grill and there I was managing a kitchen, dealing with suppliers, hiring (and firing) staff. With no commercial training or experience. Just blind faith and some very firm ideas about food. To say that the next year was a learning curve is a massive understatement, but learn I did. We all did.

And one of the things I learnt was how to cater an occasion. You start with a reason, a time and a place. Numbers, how many vegetarians, vegans, rabid meat eaters. And a budget. Then you talk with the client. Work out a menu, maybe an alternative menu. A shopping list. Refer back to the the budget. Make a plan of when you will do various bits and pieces. Who will help and when. Back and forth, time permitting, until everyone more or less agrees. Because on the day, there's no time for democracy. If I've planned well, it will go smoothly. And I do plan well, even now, because otherwise it all ends in tears and chaos.

In this photo, I'm icing some yo-yos I made the night before. G is out dropping Grace at Nana's. I'm working methodically, listening to Endorphin and thinking about the afternoons event. Thinking about our friend Steve who won't be there. Steve, Gerard and I organised this event months ago. Steve insisted on giving us cash to buy the food. I remember I tried to convince him that a simple funeral followed by the wake would be a good idea, but he wouldn't have it. He was adamant that he just wanted a party with all his friends and family there. He requested a cake and I wish I'd had time to make it myself, because the bakery really didn't get the colour right. I knew they wouldn't. Still, even organising a cake was touch and go at such short notice. We couldn't find a set of miniature drums to put on top. So G went out in the shed and made some. Steve would have liked that, I think.

Of course, when we rocked up with the big esky of sandwiches, the other esky of antipasto type things, the fruit platter, the bags and boxes, I thought I had massively overcatered. Eventhough I knew I hadn't. There just seemed so much food and there was a peculiar intensity in the atmosphere. All the emotion that people express together at a funeral just seemed to be leaking out at the sides. More than one person had a cry in the laundry. An hour or so in, I put the sausage rolls out and bang, people started eating. After the speeches, we served the cake and then as we were re-organising the food table and cleaning up, we sent out the rest of the sandwiches. By the time we were ready to leave, there were just a few people left. Someone started a fire and it looked like the night was just beginning again.

Such a sad time, but it was good to feel like we could do something useful. I'd also like to thank everyone who's commented or emailed. It's very much appreciated.

More food here.


Our friend Steve passed away on Tuesday night. We knew he was sick, but we thought he'd be around for a while longer. Long enough for a few more conversations about art and music and life, long enough for a few more afternoon parties with kids romping around, with food and wine; all the important things.

Steve, your departure feels quite sudden and shocking, a reminder that death is absolute, no matter how forewarned you are. People might say, and with kindness in their hearts, that with an illness like cancer, it's a blessing that you didn't linger at the end. But I know that you would have liked to have been around for a bit longer. You still had plans. And a wicked sense of humour.

You and Gerard go way, way back, to a life in Tasmania I only know about from stories. Even so, we had our own conversations. Something to be cherished with a friend of your partners. I'm doing my best with the tasks we talked about, although I worry that the bakery won't get the shade of pink you asked for on your cake: the palest of pink, you said, a lustre rather than a colour.

I hope it's a drummer's heaven on the other side, full of interesting people to talk to. And music. Lots of music, especially the weird stuff. 

after shopping

Spc Doing the weekly shop is of those household tasks that I've been trying to offload, without a whole lot of sucess. It's not my favourite thing, going to the supermarket. And week after week there's a sameness about it that bores me senseless. Yet, it's a task that seems to keep coming back to me. G's good at doing midweek shops for bread and other supplies but I seem to have the knack of the big shop. I'm pretty good at choosing the best fruit and veg at a price, and I seem to buy just about the right amount of food. Not so much that we waste it, enough that we don't run out of most things. It drives me batty when we run out of everything all at once during the week and then have to go to the shop before making dinner everynight. Eventhough there's a supermarket and fruit shop within walking distance.

I'm very particular about how I unpack the groceries and stack the fridge. Afterwards, I really enjoy the sight of a freshly filled fridge and a sweet canteloupe on the shelf waiting to be cut up for after dinner. Quite apart from the satisfaction of a neat fridge, it makes me feel very fortunate that we can just go out and do the big shop, without thinking about whether we can afford it this week. At work there's a box in the tea room for us to donate shopping items to send to familes in rural areas affected by the drought. There's been some heartrending accounts from rural colleagues of just how hard people in some areas have been hit. Kids going to school with headlice because there's not enough money for treatments and shampoo. Lots of other stuff too, but for some reason that got to me.

We might complain about how the cost of food is rising every week, but we are still very lucky.

More food for thought here.


pleasant sunday at home

We didn't buy the house this weekend and apart from attending two auctions with mum for a look see, I took the weekend off. The last house put me (and us) in such a state of tension and anxiety that I really didn't feel I could think straight. Let alone make a sensible decision about something so big. It's OK though, I think we've narrowed down the area we're looking in. We'll be able to look at fewer houses in a more relaxed and ordered state of mind. It still astounds me the price that a modest house on a smallish block will go for in these parts, but looking at the newspaper, I realise that it's not quite as crazy as on the other side of town.

Today I relaxed, took Grace to the park in the morning which was fine. Only three tantrums, including a really good one on the service station floor because I bought her a lindt ball rather than a sherbet lolly as part of the deal for walking all the way from the park. Then on the way home she told me how much she likes chocolate, yummy. After lunch, G went to visit our friend Steve in hospital and while Grace was napping, I bumbled around doing the odd chore, put a whole lot of Grace's soft toys from the opshop through the washing machine, tidied my desk a bit and cleaned out my sewing area alot. And then started a project. Fun sewing, rather than the boring dark grey work pants I was planning to make. This photo made me realise how tatty the cushion on the chair of mank had become. But I'm rather partial to this cushion cover and had been in denial about how bad it was getting.

So I decided to use some material from my second stash, the unofficial one in the laundry, and make old into new. I'm rather pleased with how it's turning out. The light went before I could take a picture of all the over sewing, but it has a roughly quilted like effect. I'm going to use some red buttons I bought in a garage sale about ten years ago on the back and I'm hoping there will be nice frayed edges once it goes through the wash and that the effect will be restrained and deliberate tatt rather than lazy/slack tatt. Or I could call it shabby chic, I suppose.

Anyway as I was sewing, the lovely light came in through the sunroom windows and Grace played on the floor, feeding dolly a pinecone and giving a newly clean tinky tinky his medecine from something she found in the wastepaper basket. It was rather lovely and I reflected on how much I sometimes enjoy quiet domesticity on the weekend. Today, even hanging out some washing and doing the dishes was pleasant. It isn't always, of course, but today it just was.


There's been this dream I've been having lately, in which I discover an overlooked but really cool suburb, somewhere between Brunswick, Coburg and Pascoe Vale. Where the blocks are huge, the houses compact but charming and there's a funky neighborhood feeling, strip and supermarket shopping. It's really close to a frequent tram, bus or train on which I could travel work in about half an hour.  Always getting a seat. Of course, the schools are second to none and there are sunset views from all the front porches, but northern light into the living areas and linen presses in every hallway. The dream comes from a fragment of a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with a real estate obsessed work colleague and the relentless viewing of houses every weekend. I thought the name Neverwhere came from one of Grace's story books or a song, but no, it's the title to a book I haven't read. Mentioned in a meme last week, but I only realised this when I saw it over at Bec's tonight. Pfft, I wouldn't know my own hand if I saw it in the supermarket.

Yesterday we saw some mindblowing carpet and some wallpaper I quite liked. In a house that I loved last Saturday, when I saw all sorts of possibilites for reworking the floor plan to provide a larger lounge room adjacent to a kitchen meals area all opening out to the backyard. My dream layout, for so many reasons. Which has sparked all sorts of
discussions about renovation versus living in a house as it is. And I discovered that a larger lounge isn't necesarily an attractive proposition if it means forgoing the idea of separate studies. Although we manage to share one quite well now. Even though I am massively irritating, what with not wanting to listen to music all the time. Grrr.

It's not like I don't find the idea of a little room of my own appealing, but you can't have everything and it hasn't come up as an issue with three bedroom houses. Just with houses that have four but would be much nicer with three. And this house, despite being butt ugly from the front (brick veneer over the original weatherboard, roller shutters on the windows, concrete garden edging) has a lovely interior. Especially at the front which is mostly thirties and has nice high celings, original door frames and a wide hall. There are fifties light fittings and a seventies kitchen that's pretty OK. Not a large block, just sufficient really, with a shed and a rear lane. Close to transport. And a school down the street.

Quite nice really, but in my opinion, it needs work and would be a goer for us at a certain price (laughs nervously, the auction is tomorrow). Grace liked it too, she's been talking to me about broken houses and fixing broken houses. Some of them have obviously upset her quite a bit. This one didn't and there was a room which she quite obviously saw as hers. We could definitely live in this house while we planned and waited for permits, but a lounge at the other end of the house to the kitchen seems daft to me. It would drive me batty in the long term, I'm sure. Still, we need to talk more. Because I'm big on ideas but I'm not the buildery one. I bet this house will slip away into the land of could-have-beens. Grrr.

p.s. I'm really starting to enjoy the new camera, especially for some reason, the sound of the shutter which is super fast compared to the brick. Still haven't figured out the buttons, but it's fun.

RIP, the brick

So, my old camera really is gone and I miss her terribly. In a really sentimental way too. I knew without thinking where all the buttons were and most likely how to take a particular shot. I miss the flip out LCD screen (so handy for self portraits and so amusing for the child), how you could turn the flash off in any of the automatic modes and I miss the single autofocus point. I miss knowing what I could and couldn't do. And I miss how the old brick was already a bit battered and seemed to survive all sorts of indignities, like rattling around in the bottom of my bag and being grabbed (and dropped, more than once) by Grace.

Which might have something to do with why she stopped working, why she wouldn't charge up anymore. But she's worked really hard, probably taking at least 150 photos a week for the last year and a bit. And I've taken her nearly everywhere. Just in case there's a few minutes to spare and the urge strikes me. Especially relaxing when I'm tense, like smoking used to be. In a fit of nostalgia, I went back over my archives and found the entry I wrote when I finally figured out how to use the auto focus. What a revelation that was!

This camera became part of how I see my world. A way into a mostly urban landscape that's different everyday eventhough I've been there more than a hundred times before. Something that turns a boring tram ride, even when the camera is tucked away in my bag, into a feast of light and detail.

This week I've been using my Dad's DSLR and that's pretty exciting. It feels pretty special too that he would lend me his camera in such an open ended way. The timing is proably about right too, and there's no doubt that I'll keep seeing new things, but it's harder than I expected letting go of the brick (a theme here? difficulty letting go? hmm?). Anyway, I've been dissappointed with most of the pictures I've taken so far. The new camera is lighter overall than the brick, but bigger and the lens is quite heavy. So there's been a bit of camera shake as I learn how to hold it properly. Not to mention feeling like a dork behind a big camera. And I'm still finding my way around the controls. It's annoying me at this point that I can't turn the flash off in all the auto modes, so I can't do an automatic macro with no flash. And I'm a way off understanding how to use the camera in manual mode.  And you know, it's a bigger, better, much more impressive looking camera, so I expected my pictures to be better. Automatically. When I caught myself thinking that, I laughed inside and relaxed a bit. Learning to use the new camera will be fun if I let it.

So what to do with the brick? It doesn't work anymore and would cost more than a replacement camera to fix, so I can't pass it on or give it to the opshop. Can it be re-cycled? I can't just put it in the bin... poor old brick, she deserves more than that. 

take me to the kittens

Four houses today. Including the stinky house, which Dad went through with me prior to auction. He has an approach to houses which is very detailed and practical. It's the first time it's just been me and him and I learnt alot. All week, I've been flip-flopping about this one. Great location, nice aspect, much potential. Haunting me was the thought it would go really cheap and I'd read the result in the Sunday paper and kick myself. The auction was slow but went well over the reserve and well over the price we could pay for it and realise the vision splendid. It was all a bit shocking really, that people would pay that much for a house probably built during or around the time of the war (an austerity house) with bad plaster work, a crap kitchen and an unbearable odour. So bad that my jacket is still hanging out on the clothesline waiting to be washed tomorrow. It will be interesting to see whether it's pulled down or renovated. And it was a relief to hear my Dad say that it was a good house to consider but I'm also a bit relieved that it really wasn't the one.

There weren't many houses to look at this morning and the first one up was delayed by an hour. So we drove around looking at the other houses on my afternoon's list and visiting garage sales. Getting an idea of the neighborhood, you know. It sounds like an excuse, but you do get to talk to people and hang out. It's also a break and a pleasure in a day that has lots of driving around, the odd tantrum and some quiet bits that aren't really worth going home in. We let Grace choose one or two little toys and some videos, if they're cheap. Today there was one sale that was mostly kid stuff and she scored bigtime, heaps of new books (I chose these), three (!) new videos, a Thomas the Tank engine thing-a-ma-jig and a green dinosaur from the Wiggles. Obviously we're going to have to do a big return to the oppy trip soon. At the next garage sale, G found a very cute tin.

Once Grace settled, I bought a picture which she subsequently decided would be nice in her room. Kittens. And knitting. 

And a book about the history of gardens and plants, full of gorgeous photos and writing that I'll go back to again and again. 20cents!

And, and, and I now have the use of a very flash camera for a while. To see whether I like using a DSLR. It might still be a while before pictures appear here because there's going to be a big learning curve as I've never really used anything other than a point and shoot before, and there's software to set up etcetera. It's very exciting though!

Oh, and one house I saw today is pretty nice. With very special and very brown carpet. In a good area, but maybe not too good. If you know what I mean. And it doesn't smell. Not one little bit.

Once upon a time I used to read books

Whew, I've just finished my list of houses to inspect tomorrow, eight in total, but I think we'll only make it to three or four. Which is more than enough. I've been thinking and talking about the stinky house quite a lot this week and I'm planning to go to the auction as well, just to see what happens. We're not afraid of grot, and there's part of me that thinks that if we got that house (or one like it) for the right price, it'd be worth doing up and we'd end up with a nice house to live in, in a good location. But not this one, we haven't done enough homework and it's not something you'd want to go into unprepared.  Enough about houses.

Anyway as it's Friday night, I did the unread book meme, which I nicked from only books all the time . Not that I really read novels at the moment. When I thought about it, I realised that I'm still reading, but it's books about photography, or websites about house design. And blogs of course. There just isn't space in my head right now for more. Not until the holidays, when I'll trawl the internet for the hot books of the year...   

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. So, the books I've read are in bold, the ones I started but couldn't finish in italics, what I couldn’t stand has a strike through.  Those I've read more than once have an asterisk*. I'm meant to underline any on my to read list, but that seems a little futile at this point. It comforts me that I've read more on this list than I would have thought. Although some of them were school reads.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and punishment
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The name of the rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice*
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife (I read about it on the internet and it ended up being my favourite read of the year)
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin*
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The historian : a novel
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A clockwork orange
Anansi boys
The once and future king
The grapes of wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & demons
The inferno
The satanic verses
Sense and sensibility**
The picture of Dorian Gray**
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s travels
Les misérables
The corrections
The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
The prince
The sound and the fury
Angela’s ashes : a memoir
The god of small things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
A confederacy of dunces
A short history of nearly everything
The unbearable lightness of being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon** (I love this book)
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit, but I quite liked the movies
In cold blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White teeth (this was great, on my re-read list once it comes back from Mum)
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The three musketeers

So there you go. Reading. Once upon a time.

In other news, my camera has finally died. Sob. I took it into the city this afternoon to see whether it was the recharging lead or the battery but the repair man seemed to think it was something in the camera. We tried new leads, new batteries and the old brick just wouldn't fire up. He seemed to think it would be very expensive to fix. It's not all bad news though, new camera plans are in the offing but it may be a week or two. So no pictures of houses, or wallpaper... for a while.

in which we decide that the stinky house is not for us

And not because of the smell, because that could be fixed. So I am told. Not because of the utterly disgusting condition either. Although that was a factor, both Gerard and I had nightmarish moments about that. But mainly because of the room size. I find it hard to judge room size without furniture, but these were definitely very small rooms. Dad took one look at the plans and said, those rooms are a bit small. I agree, you can't fix small rooms. Small bedrooms we could live with I think, but we would like a bigger living area and I couldn't get my head around a good extension either, not without moving the position of the kitchen and the laundry. Or substantially altering the nature of the house. I quite like this style of house (especially with the additon of a front verandah which the neighbours had done to great effect). Melbourne suburbs are full of houses like this. I'm wondering about the history of this design, there's a site about small houses in Australia but this style of house isn't on it. Anyway it's a pity about the room size, because the location was good, the street was nice, there was good access to transport and it had a north-easterly aspect at the back with a side drive along the north of the house. And I think the stench will lower the price somewhat.

There were some nice features and I quite liked the tiles in the bathroom and the originally cabinetry, even if it was a bit mouldy.

The light came into the bathroom from the north side of the house, which is where the driveway was. It glinted onto the seventies blue plastic taps. And the blue bath. I'm not afraid of using paintstripper and white king, it would be amazing to see the transformation some paint and patching would bring about. The bathroom I could see. But check out the kitchen....

It is hard to describe how bad this smelt. And this room didn't even have carpet. Just unsealed floorboards. G was undeterred and had some pretty good ideas about how we could live in the house, stage one. He could see it, bless him. We had a chat with the next door neighbour and I asked him if there were animals in the house and he laughed. What sort, I asked? She had all kinds of animals, he replied. That along with the paint spattered bedroom with the northerly aspect made me like the house a little bit more, peversely.

We looked at three other houses. One that backed onto the railway and a reserve, but that looked as though it had been quickly renovated. It was light and airy but the polished floorboards were rough, the doors didn't close properly, it needed restumping and as G said, you'd be scared of what you might find once you got into the guts of that house. It had that dodgy feel. Then there was a big post war house out near Fawkner, but it was a fair walk to the station, quite a bit along a big main road. Then there was a small house on another block abutting the railway line further out, which G liked but I didn't. I saw it a couple of weeks ago and the owners glared at me as I walked through. G said that it wasn't a share house interview but I found it hard to get a good look at the house. What I did see, I didn't like anyway. Then there was another house which I saw by myself in the afternoon while Grace was napping and G was watching the footy. Pretty from the outside but dark and gloomy inside, with an odd shaped back yard filled with the sound of trucks on the way to Sydney. But it did win wallpaper of the week award....

The missing sheets were on the dresser. It was a bit sad really, because it looked as though this was once a family home and now just one person was rattling round by themselves. The backyard was full of squiffle from a while ago and I could see a young couple with a baby getting excited about this house, the man was showing the woman how he would lay out the garden.  In a different location, I would have seriously considered this house. But it wasn't the one for us. No doubt there will be a whole new batch of houses to look at next week. Now that the footy is over. Right, off to bed. Actually, I'm quite relieved that we're not going for the stinky house. Although I think it might end up being quite a reasonable buy...