Archive for the ‘Renovations’ Category

Winter News

June 23, 2018

It has been 2 months since I last emailed, so I assume we should have some more news to share.  🙂   We have been doing more upgrades on the manor where our eldest two boys sleep.  Firstly we used our new platform arrangement on the tractor to put the flue up for the replacement wood heater that we installed.  Those flues go really high!

ManorWoodfire copy

Then we put in some second hand floating flooring which I had found on Gumtree. It looks quite nice and should be tougher than the yellow tongue flooring we put in earlier. Also, since it has underlay underneath which should help to insulate the building as well.


We still have to do the area under the beds, but apparently we took too much power out of the manor’s batteries using the power saw so we will have to wait a bit before finishing the job. Everyone came up to admire the progress though. 🙂


I also did some more experimenting with cheese making while Twinkles was giving us 5L a day. (She is down to 3L a day now, so the cheesemaking has come to a halt again.) The red waxed one is a parmesan, but the other two were made using a fairly basic recipe from my favourite house cow book. I even made my own culture from Kim’s favourite cheese, and I think the flavour was better as a result.

Home made cheeses

After that Kim and I took off for two weeks away in sunny Perth. The timing was organised so that we could attend my nephew’s wedding. It was a lovely wedding held in a beautiful garden in Swan Valley, and the weather was perfect too.


We had a lot of precious family time while we were there, especially with my parents and both of my sisters. My uncle also had his 80th birthday celebration while we were there and so we got to catch up with a lot of my extended family as well, with some folk coming from as far away as New Zealand.

Trevor Banyard's 80th Birthday

Kim tried to reconnect with his father’s side of the family as well, but he had no success. It looks like it might take a bit more chasing around to find any other Howe’s. However he did catch up with one school friend (when did they get so grey haired???) …

Kim with Robert Keller

… and got to go out and take some photos with another good friend who shares his passion for bird photography.

Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

We were blessed to find the time to have a quick peek at the progress our good friends have made on their straw bale house. They are doing a truly amazing job!


And we shared a meal and good conversation with some other good friends. Sadly we didn’t get to travel down to Albany this time, but the focus of the visit was my immediate family and we got a lot of lovely time with them.


When we got back home Kim took the bus down to Hobart to look at an automatic car for Lydia. Lydia only drives automatics and unfortunately the one that we have keeps having minor problems which mean she cannot take her driving test in it, so we decided a second one might be a good idea. After looking at the car Kim decided that it needed more work done than he really wanted to do so he said he would not buy it. However it turned out that the guy selling it was pretty desperate to get the sale and the long and the short of it was that he talked Kim into buying it at a good enough price that it was worth doing the work on it. They got the paperwork done and Kim filled the car up ready to drive home, then he jumped in and turned the key and the car went “click” and just would not go! A few hours later the RACT gave up trying to get it going too, and they hired Kim a car to drive home in and organised to tow the new car up the following week. We really got our money’s worth on the ultimate roadside assistance this year! On the way home in the hire car Kim stopped by and took a night shot of Richmond Bridge.


Since then Kim has replaced the starter motor and the car is now going again. It is a 2007 V6 3L Citroen C5, which makes it our most up to date car yet. The other required parts, a steering tie rod end and timing belt kit, arrived this week so now the work can be done. Kim is not looking forward to doing the timing belt as it requires special tools and is rather complicated, so he plans to do it with the help of his Citroen mechanic friend who now conveniently lives just over the mountain and has a nice new cement floored shed with a hoist! We are looking forward to having this car on the road as it has lots of safety equipment, plenty of power and headlights that turn with the steering. The headlights are really brilliant for driving through the twisty mountain pass in the dark, which Lydia has to do twice a day at this time of year.


The last car we bought was also a Citroen. We very much like the hydraulic suspension. We were buying it as a spare parts car for Kim’s Xantia as it was so cheap ($350), but in the end we decided it was too good for that so we fitted it with a new set of suspension spheres and it is now a daily driver for us. I really like it!


The major activity for this last week was turning Twinkle’s last calf, now a 14 month old bull, into beef in the freezer. It is always an ‘all hands on deck’ job despite our local dairy farmer doing the slaughtering, dressing and butchering. He is trying to get us more involved in the process these days so that he can go home earlier. As a result we ended up cutting a lot of the steaks ourselves and did all the mincing with our own machine as well. Then there are the fatty offcuts to trim dog food from, the bones to select for dogs, soup bones or burying, the fat to turn into tallow and everything to clean up after the work is done. It generally takes us a few days before everything is sorted. We filled our freezer as well as Paul’s after putting everything into meal sized portions. It is delicious to have some cuts of meat, like eye fillet, that we would never normally buy for ourselves. We got about $2,500 worth of meat at supermarket prices this time so it makes rearing the calf, which is really just a byproduct of having a milking cow, feel worth the effort. If we had more pasture and didn’t have to buy so much hay it would be even more profitable.


We have given up on doing more to micro hydro for now until the warmer weather arrives.  Kim has heaps of mechanical work to do which is taking priority, and it is often just too cold to work outside for more than a few hours each day at this time of year.  The heated workshop that Kim has planned will definitely come in handy when we get it done!  Maybe next year?

Well, that is all the news I can think of at the moment.  Wishing you all the best.


Projects Underway

March 13, 2018
It seems like it has been a fair while since I wrote, so I thought I should send a catch up email with the happenings at the Howe’s.  We had a lovely time in January with some friends of our boys who came to visit from Albany.  It was a blessing to spend time with them and their little ones, who were a delight, if rather exhausting.  🙂  Caleb and Sam are still struggling with health, but Sam is on some new medication and treatments that are helping with his anxiety issues, and he is working on his major aim to get his car license this year.  Lydia does not have her licence yet either, so we are still running her back and forth to her work where she is an old hand now.  Hopefully she can go for the driving test this year too.  To be fair we are mostly waiting for a couple of small things to get fixed on the automatic car before they book the test.  Now Josiah is able to get his learners license too.  Yikes!
The garden has been going well.  I have been bottling tomatoes, munching on cucumbers and cooking raspberry sauce as well as freezing and giving raspberries away too.
I weaned Smokey the calf (well, he can no longer really be considered a calf at 10 months old and as big as his mum!) which means we are generously supplied with milk at the moment too.  The milk is nice and creamy too.  We only got 8 rolls of hay this year from the friends paddocks we harvest, due to low rainfall in November.  Still, that was better than the original 3 we had back in the drought but not as good as the bumper crop of 16 last year.
We installed a nice big reverse cycle air conditioner in February.  The old small one had cracks in the plastic and leaked, so a new one was in order.  It is much more powerful than the old one and quite economic on electricity usage once it gets going.  It is a good feeling to cool the building down using the power of the hot sun outside!  We have also been clearing up around the place.  In particular we moved all the tractor implements up the back next to the wrecking yard.  The area they had been in was very overgrown with sedges and it was hard to find the things you wanted!
Implements - slasher and grader blade

Implements – slasher and grader blade

Once we had moved everything we were able to use our new (to us) slasher to clean the area up.  Kim also took the time to slash the reeds on the western lake area, the lower paddock and across the creek.  That gave him a good opportunity to get experienced at slashing!  I wish I had taken some before and after photos, because it felt a bit like land reclamation.  We also bought our most expensive tractor attachment so far – a backhoe.  I think it is Kim’s new favourite, and it has been used pretty extensively already.  Unfortunately it developed a bit of a leak in the hydraulic hoses when it was last used, so we have to fix that soon because we have even more jobs lined up for it!
We have cleared up the edge of Lydia’s arena in preparation for making a shed to cover some of the cars.  The shed will encroach on her arena about 8 metres, but we have promised to clear an equivalent amount at the other end to make up for what we are stealing.  The shed will consist of two 20’ containers with a roof between them, and also a 40’ container as a back wall and workshop.  That should give us a nice chunk of rodent proof storage space as well as a nice dry area for Kim to work on cars during winter.  In the long run we will enclose it as much as possible, cement the floor, and put windows, doors, shelves, benches, a wood heater and running water etc. into the largest container.  Kim would love a hoist for the cars sometime in the future too.  At this stage only the 40’ container has been delivered, and the 20’ ones should be coming this week to be offloaded onto the levelled blocks we have ready.  The roof pieces will be inside one of the 20’ containers and then we will have the fun of assembling and mounting it.
We have also been making progress with the micro hydro power plans.  Firstly we had to rig up a box and filter for the water intake and installed it onto the pipe.  The new backhoe came in useful in an unexpected way for that particular job.  We extended the arm down into the water so we could use it as a hand rail to stay steady while thigh deep in water on the slippery slopes of the water pickup area.  It worked a treat.
The pipe then comes out of the other side of the bank and we had to get various adaptors joined up, along with a big butterfly valve, so that it could be hooked up to the 5” irrigation pipes we have bought.  Finding the best options for the pipe adaptors was a major achievement in itself, with options and prices varying wildly.  We are pleased with the end result though.
PipeConnections copy
There are now another 52 pipes waiting for us to join up and test the seals for leaks.  I imagine it will take a while.  🙂  Then we will want to fill the trench back in to protect the pipes.  Originally we planned to ask the man with the excavator to do that, but we should be able to do it with our backhoe now.  It may come down to a choice between spending time or money.
At the far end, down near the homestead, the pipes (more adaptors required) will connect up to the turbine that Kim managed to pick up second hand.  This will turn the water coming out under pressure into electrical power.  Kim has been organising a way to mount the turbine and allow for the run off to go back into the creek.  It takes a lot of time to research various options, make decisions and finally get around to implementing them.  We were hoping that the shed and micro hydro could be mostly in place before winter.  Time will tell!  Just at the moment all of the family has been coming down with a particularly nasty cold, one after another, which will no doubt delay our progress for a while.  (As I write Kim is propped up in the lounge room, feeling miserable and having regular coughing fits, some of which leave him feeling like he can’t breathe, and he is hardly able to talk without coughing.  His chronic fatigue will no doubt kick in with a vengeance if he doesn’t improve quickly.  Sigh!)
Lydia and I have been attending some local dog shows again, which has been interesting.  We had been told that we were on a waiting list for a pembroke corgi puppy with a breeder in Hobart, but when we checked again we discovered that the breeder had forgotten to add us to her list which was now so long she didn’t want to add to it.  It was pretty disappointing, but it was hard to be annoyed with the lady who was over 80 after all!  However at the shows we made friends with another lady who bought a pup from a breeder in Queensland, and we now hope to have a pup in less than 6 months from that same breeder.  This breeder seemed somewhat more organised at least, and prioritises people who want to show the puppies.  Fingers crossed.
SheffieldShow1 (1)
Meanwhile old Lupo continues to astound us by still being with us.  She is largely blind and deaf and her back legs are quite wobbly and I really, really can’t imagine that she can last much longer!  Okami adores her and will miss her terribly once she is gone, so I rather hope that we have the new pup arrive about the same time as Lupo goes.
Lupo asleep

Lupo asleep on the ramp

Kim has not been getting much time to take photos lately, even when he has been more healthy.  He hopes to find the time to do some more once his “to do” list gets a little more under control.  Along with the projects we have undertaken, he still has to spend quite a while maintaining the vehicles.
He tries to take whatever opportunities he can to enjoy his hobby, even if it is just snapping a scene he passes while running errands,
…or the bug he sees while waiting for an appointment.  🙂
Green Bug
A rather major decision we recently made was to pull away somewhat from our local church.  We will still be attending the Sunday services at least once a month, and going to the local Bible study and I will continue to run the craft group.  However the rest of the time we will be going to the larger and more active church in Launceston that we went to when we were living over that way.  We feel the need to have some deeper teaching and wider fellowship than we are able to have closer to home.  It was a really hard decision to take, but has so far been working out well, and things have been organised so that the services at Mole Creek are still able to run without us.  Our new church is conducting a kind of survey at the moment, with people asking their friends how they would finish the comment : “Maybe I’d be a Christian, but….. “.  If you are willing, I would love to hear how you would finish that comment.  If not, that is fine too.  🙂
Kim and I have plans to make a quick trip to WA in May for my nephew Luke’s wedding.  We are looking forward to spending time with my mum and dad while we are there, but are not sure if we will be able to catch up with many other folk at that time.
Anyway, I think that is most of the news for now.  I hope you are going well.  Blessings to you all.

Getting a Few Things Done

January 14, 2017

We have had a few things happening since I wrote last September that I thought I would share.  The most important has been the fact that we finally became fully off grid last Spring.  We had a couple of weeks of ‘heads up’ before the power pole was disconnected and cut down and we were on our own!  We scrambled to mount and wire up more solar panels on the roof ready to be connected.  Our little roof is now crammed with solar panels!  There are 3kW of solar panels at the house and 1kW at the caravan with another 1kW awaiting connection there.

House with 3KW Solar Panels and 24V Batteries
We struck a problem when the new deep cycle batteries we had ordered did not arrive as promised, so we had to rely pretty heavily on the generator for a couple of weeks.  Finally, after being messed around way way too much, we cancelled our battery order and bought a second hand, but very good, 36V forklift battery pack.  We pulled all the individual batteries out and set up a 24 volt set at the main building and joined the remaining 12 volts with our old 12 volt set to create another 24 volt system over at the caravan.  These batteries have actually worked out better for us than the ones we had been going to use as we got more storage capacity. The batteries are very heavy, so we moved the old ones using the tractor. 
We were able to change from our original 12V plans to two 24V system because we managed to pick up a brilliantly priced secondhand 24V 3000W Latronics inverter for the house and a 1800W one for the caravan.  A bunch of GSL MPPT controllers manage the solar panels.  Both Latronics and GSL are Australian brands and seem very good.  It is all working well so far, though Winter will definitely challenge us, but we do have the generator for just such moments.  Kim has plans to buy a Victron 24V 100A charger which we can use to charge the batteries from the generator, which should help too.  It is all a bit of a learning curve having to be careful with the use of the power at times, but Kim bought some Victron battery monitors that are a real help for monitoring how the systems are going.  It is rather nice having the two separate systems as we can draw power from either or both of them, which gives us the option of resting one if it’s battery power is getting low.  There is still more work to do before Kim will be happy with it all, but the house system is almost done and the caravan system is working, though Kim wants to move and modify the inside wiring somewhat.
We want to put in a micro hydro system as well and now have plans for the water pickup spot for that, and even a man with machinery lined up to do the work, but that is still a job that must wait for the future.  Meanwhile it is nice it think we will never have another bill from Aurora Energy!
You may have heard that my lovely Mum gave us all a fright last year when she became very unwell.  We thought she might have had a stroke as she had developed neurological symptoms, but it turned out to be caused by high calcium levels in the blood.  After a few weeks in hospital she returned home much improved, though still weak.  My sister from America, Linda, was able to travel over and stay with Dad and Mum for a few weeks and help them out during this period, which was a real blessing.  The folks are back on their own again now and are managing fine, though my other sister, Alison, is keeping a close eye on them.  
I managed to get a picture of Kim with our current fleet of cars.  We have gone very French with one peugeot, two citroens and the VW caravelle van.  We still have the VW beetle too but it does not get used very much.  Kim does all the maintenance and repairs which consumes a fair bit of his time.  In the last few months he has had to deal with a broken windscreen, a chipped windscreen, re-gassing an air conditioner, fitting an air flow meter, replacing an alternator, replacing a starter motor and replacing a fan control circuit as well as oil, filter and tyre changes.  With all the travelling for Lydia’s work and other things we do an awful lot of kilometres!
Lydia recently had local man do some clearing so she could have a nice level area to ride her pony on.  Rod spent two days in his little excavator pushing down trees, cutting off the tops and roots and putting them onto a burning pile.  He also dug out some large stumps and buried them, then roughly levelled the whole area.  He did a great job and having all the branches, roots and scrub burnt at the same time was a bonus I was not expecting.
We dragged all the logs away and lined them up to make it easy to cut them into rounds and split the rounds into firewood.  Another bonus of the job.  Sadly the tractor blew a tyre in the process, rather terminally – another repair job for Kim to add to his list!
The area cleared is about  25m wide and 42m long.  Lyd finds it good to ride on with plenty of room for circles and jumps etc.  There are a few small roots and things sticking up but they don’t seem to bother the pony at all.
We have set up a small soccer goal at one end for the boys to use (if they ever get a few minutes when they feel up to it!), so they can enjoy it too.
Immediately after the new year we had my sister Linda and most of her family come to visit after spending Christmas in Perth with our folks.  They did a bunch of touring around and we tagged along as best we could.  In this photo we were doing the Dove Lake circuit at Cradle Mountain. It was really lovely to spend some time with them all and the time passed all too soon.
In order to accomodate an extra 5 people I had decided we needed to get busy working on the old bus, so we towed it up close to the house with the tractor, which was fun in a hair raising kind of way.  It was actually quite uneventful to get it roughly to the spot we had planned, but trying to get it sitting exactly where I wanted was rather a challenge with no brakes to speak of in a 6 tonne bus.  There was only so much control that the tractor had with just a bar between them and when the bus started to roll down the slope past the tractor I confess I was a bit concerned, and Sam and Josiah, who had been watching from the trampoline in front of us, sensibly took off.  It might have been my shriek that made them do that!  LOL.  The bus did stop okay though and we managed to back it up again and decided that it really didn’t have to be exactly where I had planned – close enough was good enough after all.  🙂
Then we did some scrubbing and re-flooring and general prettying up.  We did not have the time or funds to line the walls properly but managed to pick up some wallpaper at a charity and temporarily covered up the walls with that and made some curtains to keep out the 5am morning light.  Then we jury rigged some fly screens to the large gaping side and front windows and made some drop down blinds from greenhouse plastic.
Inside the Bus - ready for visitors
Finally we moved some beds into the main room, made a custom fitted narrow bed for the back room (the old smoking compartment), ran a power cable across and it was ready.  The reports were that it worked well, and since the visitors left our family have been using it quite a bit just to hang out in.  The large open windows make it quite airy and pleasant in the late afternoon/evening of a warm day.  It still does leak in a heavy rain though, so we need to do more riveting on one of the sides.  Ultimately we hope to install proper windows on the side and front and some floor coverings would be nice too.  One day…..
Inside the Bus - ready for visitors
We have also just had some hay baled.  We do not have enough grass to do it on our own property, but a friend of a friend has some pasture land with no animals to feed on it.  He had been just slashing it down but last year he offered it to us to make hay, since hay was so very scarce, and we were keen to have it.  We only got 3 rolls of hay last year with the bad conditions after the drought so we had no idea what to expect this year.  It was a pleasant surprise to get 16 rolls.
Then we had the challenge of getting them all home.  Last year we used a hand winch to pull a bale up some car ramps and onto our small trailer. Then we tied the bale down and drove it home.  That was okay for just a few bales, but 16 was going to be an awful drain on our time and the hand winch is not easy to use.  A more polished plan was needed.  In the end we borrowed a friend’s large trailer which has high sides and proper loading ramps and we set up an electric winch on it which could be run from a spare battery in the back of the van.  We can now winch the bales in with a minimum of effort, and it was great to find that the trailer fitted 2 rolls per trip.  It is much easier to find time to do 8 trips rather than 16, especially since we still have all the running back and forth to Lydia’s work to fit in.  So far we have moved half of the rolls home before being interrupted by 23mm of rain.  Now we are waiting for the paddocks to dry a bit before getting the rest as the caravelle’s traction on hills of wet grass would be a bit challenged, especially towing such a heavy load!
Meanwhile I have tomatoes, cucumber and corn coming up well in this year’s vegetable cages, and more corn planted at Paul’s place.
We may have mentioned before that we need cages to protect the plants from cute fiends like this possum!
Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus Vulpecula)
Pademelons are happy to eat their share too of course.
Bennett's Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus rufogriseus)
The cold frame worked well for raising my tomato, cucumber and corn seeds to a good size in time for planting.  Hopefully the warm weather will last long enough this year to get plenty of produce ripened – but over here you just never know.
Kim has done some wheeling and dealing on the second hand market to upgrade his camera again.  He now has to learn how to to get the best out of his new camera.  Also the programme that he uses to store and edit his photos is no longer supported and he has had to change to a different one, which is being even more of a steep learning curve to learn how to use.  However he still manages to get some great shots in my opinion.  Just the other day the insects were busy at Nawawntapu National Park near Lydia’s work and he got some lovely shots of a butterfly
Yellow Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa itea) on white flowers feeding
 and dragonfly.
This coming week the pastor’s wife and I are organising a Kids Craft Day at the church.  The main crafts will be jewellery making for various ages, cactus planting in cups and an adaption of marshmallow shooters that I am calling Sheep Shooters, as well as general paper craft and play doh.  It is the first time we have done anything like this and we have no idea at all how many children will turn up.  It will be interesting to see.  🙂
Well, I think that is most of our news for now.  Best wishes to you.