Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Huh. That was busy.

So, I've been migrating my 'puter and software to a new machine. That always takes longer than you think, and there are all kinds of little quirks you have to iron out. Credit where it's due, though: the tip from the retailers about the usefulness of Windows 7 was on the money. It's sort of a stripped-back, low-bullshit version of Vista. Hasn't crashed on me yet, and it's running quite nicely, now I've stripped out most of the proprietary 'add-ons' from the hardware supplier, and shut down the usual range of totally farking unnecessary 'services' that Micro$oft jam into the startup.

Meanwhile: turns out the Big Big Blackwood in the back yard -- the kid swing tree, the big beautiful verdant beast that overlooks the cubbyhouse -- is terminal. And I'm completely distraught. I love that tree, and I have no idea where I'll find another one on this property which is anywhere near as good for rope-swings. But down it must come, or it will come down of its own accord, crushing the cubbyhouse and taking our electric cable with it.

Thus the tree-docs are due, sometime in the not-too-distant future. And there will be many trees felled (along the power line, mostly!) and much production of mulch. A few tonnes, I'm told.

I'm looking forward to the mulch. My efforts at above-ground strawberry growing didn't pan out, probably because the pvc-piping troughs I used were too shallow. But with the blackberries and raspberries producing more than we can eat, I'm more determined than ever to get strawberries in. And of course, that means I have to overcome wallabies, rabbits, slugs, grasshoppers, birds, field mice, and the dog.

Birds I can exclude with netting, but that makes the berries all the more slug and grasshopper vulnerable. But if I have many tonnes of sawdust mulch, I can make the ground very slug-unfriendly, and inhibit the growth of any greenery other than the berries, which will help discourage the 'hoppers. And if I use a bit of decent fencing to keep out the mammals, I can also put a layer of shadecloth to about 1m height all the way around, which will further discourage the hoppers. And if I put a reasonably fine wire mesh all the way around on the inside of the fence, to about 50cm - well, between that and the shadecloth, I should be able to keep the field mice at bay.

As you can see, this is no light undertaking.

Natalie succumbed to the threat of winter this week or so last, and we've finally installed a reverse-cycle AC system: what they call a 'Heat Pump' down here. The techies say it costs about the same as a refridgerator to run, and should render the old - rather inefficient - radiant heaters around the place redundant. More to the point, it should also make redundant the now 25-year-old cast-iron firebox in its inbuilt brick casing. Much as I like the old fire-box, I'd love to break it down, remove it, and replace it with a much smaller, much easier to maintain wood-fire heater. I'm concerned that the old one has some sprung joints. Last thing I want is a houseful of carbon monoxide courtesy of a decrepit fire-box.

The weekend was all over the place. Natalie was on call for much of it, seemingly from Thursday onward. And on Saturday, she phoned me and told me I should rescue one of the med students who was in town. The lass in question had turned up for her very first night of 'on-call' stuff, and walked right into a tragic, fatal, utterly depressing situation. Kind of overwhelming for somebody just 20 years old, first time off the rank.

And so it was we acquired a house guest for a couple days. I plied her with gin and decent food, and the kids played Wii-games with her, and the Mau-Mau adopted her and had tea parties with her in her room, so Miss Medical recovered in reasonable order. She was helpful, too -- I had to zip into Launceston on Sunday morning for some reason (can't recall why, now. That's weird. I know I came back with some timber to help insulate the shed, though. What else did I go there for? Must have been something. Oh, yes: to drop off the DVD player for repairs, and to return Natalie's little flatscreen TV to Dick Smith for exchange on warranty) and the boys were off Cleaning Up Australia with the Cubs. Another of the Cub Scout Parent Network collected 'em and took 'em to the cleanup site, but it was good to have Ma'amselle Medical here, awaiting their return, since I was off running errands. Besides, it gave her a chance to have a long, therapeutic soak in the tub.

Meanwhile, a friend of ours confessed she'd never had a birthday party. She also rather sheepishly asked me if I could maybe make one of those chocolate mousse-cake arrangements for her (the dessert recipe I built for Natalie this year.) Once Natalie overheard, there really was no way around it -- so Monday was party day. (It's a public holiday here in Tas. I think it commemorates the Eight Hour Day. No, really.)

The lady in question has simple, Old Australian tastes in food, so I produced a pumpkin soup, charcoal roasted lamb, roast new potatoes, corn, a green salad, and of course the chocolate mousse-cake. Cheers once more to Nigel, the King of Lamb -- I'm going to have to give him a buzz, and see if he's got any more of the little bleaters for sale. Best... goddam... lamb on the planet. I used a leg roast and a rolled roast; scored the surfaces, rubbed 'em down with salt and minced garlic, stuck sprigs of home-grown rosemary into every crevice I could find or make, and roasted 'em in the big kettle barbie, with a handful of good-quality sawdust to make for some fragrant, smoky flavours.

So - between the hats, the party favours, the presents, the roast dinner and the chocomoussecake birthday thing (complete with electric singing candle, courtesy of Natalie) the party went off just fine. Certainly, the guests left very late, in fine fettle.

Meanwhile: I've finally moved my little lime tree from its pot to a new position by the fence in the front yard. I dug it in well, with mushroom compost to keep it company, and the inevitable wallaby/rabbit proof fence. It's had a couple years on the deck in a big pot, hardening it to local conditions. I don't suppose it's ever likely to produce a tonne of fruit, but I think it's ready to handle actual dirt, and I want to get that pot off the deck. Besides, I need the pot for parsley, I reckon. I've stuck basil and mint into the half-barrel by the lemon tree. I've got rosemary, vietnamese mint, dill and sage in the fenced herb garden. But I'm greedy, and I like cooking with herbs, so I'm planning to add more.

Meanwhile: chainsaw's working nicely now. And I've just spent a half-day trimming back the Blackwoods we planted seven years back, so they don't grow up with the kind of disastrous problems that the Big Beautiful Doomed Tree has got. I'll have to wander around the property and check on the wild Blackwoods which have come up, too. They're a beautiful tree, and a native, so I'd like to give them the best possible options for survival.

Meanwhile: the water pump is working okay, but it's about time for a total service. I'll have to top up the water tank, and then go through the routine of disconnecting the pump and taking it off to the maintenance johnnies.

Meanwhile: caught up on my slushreading. Wrote a review. Wrote another review. Did an indepth analysis of a novel-length MS for my sister. Falling behind on my own writing at the moment, though. Every time I turn around, seems there's something else that demands my attention. Have to fix that situation, somehow.

Eh. It's autumn, isn't it? The first sou'westerlies came through yesterday, chill breath of the Antarctic. Little enough time left to be outdoors, planting and fencing and mulching. Best to do it while I can.


  1. Heat pump - that's interesting, I'd thought that was a NZ-specific term (it's the only term used to describe reverse cycle air conditioners over here) but it's clearly jumped the southern Tasman.

  2. Oh how I envy you FH - we don't get autumn here until winter.
    Wood fire -mmm wood fire. The best slow TV you can watch. There are monsters in my fireplace, dragons, Dante's inferno, Bosch's hell - the works.

    The heat pump sounds cool, but for the two and a half seconds of winter we get up here, probably not worth it. I'm going solar soon - any recommendations?

  3. PS
    Feel your pain about the tree. Go get some seedlings and ask the kids where they want their kids to build a tree house and get them to plant them. Reinforce the hundred year plan and get them thinking about their future, that way all the care and attention to the place you're putting in won't be wasted. One of them will want to keep it going. Young nephew is devoted to the trees he planted with grandpa.

  4. How do you get all of this crap done??? Are the days longer in Aus or what?? It boggles my mind. And your Mrs. is like an angel or something the way she cares for those med students. Makes me wanna kick myself and my husband in the ass. :)

  5. Heidi -- that's my rural-Dad/writer life, y'see. And don't give Nat too much credit for the Med students. She does indeed lead 'em a merry dance around the hospital and the surgery, but I'm the one that does the feeding and watering!

    Hughesy -- looking to get a 'Black Cottonwood', otherwise known as a Carolina Poplar. Apparently they're fast-growing but long-lived; a big, beautiful, spread-canopied tree. Not the same, but what the hell. And you're right: it's got to be done with the kids.

    I don't know what to recommend on solar. There are so many different variables -- and frankly, the best options haven't reached the market yet. The recent MIT work on a system that probably qualifies as artificial photosynthesis... that stuff looks really, really promising, but it's probably ten years off reaching our market.

    I reckon just look for affordability. I suspect that if you get ten years out of a system, the options available for replacing it will be mind-boggling.

  6. Nice thing about a heat pump is that of course it works as an aircon on shit-hot days, which is something burning dead tree isn't going to help you with.

  7. This mousse cake of which you speak. Is there a recipe?