Regular rocks

We’ve been making rocks for a week now, and finding a rhythm.

I work in Canberra all day, then drive home.  Allison gets a kiss and a quick conversation, then I drop my dacks at the front door and put on my ever-more-fragrant concreting gear.  Ally has her own work gear but she’s more modest.

We move the rocks from two days ago onto pallets, then Allison removes yesterday’s rocks from the moulds, cleans the moulds and paints them with face dye while I get the first concrete mix on.

We pour the mix into rectangular buckets – anything more than a third full is too heavy to manoeuvre – and then Ally pours them into the moulds while I get the second mix going.

After the second mix, I clean the mixer and we pack up.  Currently it takes more than an hour, but that will come down as we become more efficient.

We then have to remember to go out in an hour or two to put some grooves in the back of the stones; that will help them attach to the wall later.  It’s a quick and easy process with a gardening tool.  Sometimes we remember just before bed, and it’s more like scratching grooves in.

The new (giant) mixer may allow us to do just one concrete mix a day, without the constant monitoring of the mixer, which will save more time.

We received some colour recipes from the US, but they use quaint imperial units like ounces and cubic cubits or something.  They refer to colours of oxides that are different from ours.  Australian cement bags are 44.1 pounds in the old measures.  I set up a conversion spreadsheet for all the ingredients, and was very pleased when it turned out that two bags of Aussie cement gives us enough coloured concrete to exactly fill our moulds.

Our first couple of runs gave us rocks that were a bit washed out, with the cement colour predominant.  We doubled the “sandstone” oxides and improved our application methods for the “marigold” face dye.  That’s now our main mix, using some “light terracotta” oxides to give a bit of naturalish variation.

Getting our rocks off

We’re going to build a new house, out of giant polystyrene lego blocks.  It will have an early-1500s medieval manor vibe.

Several people at my work have built houses in this way.  Most people just render the polystyrene, and some put stone veneer on it.  That’s what we’ll do, as it helps with the medieval look.

You can buy the stone veneer commercially.  As a cost-saving measure, we’ve decided to make our own.

We’ve imported some rubber moulds from the US and we have started casting our own stones from concrete.  We’re still at the stage of experimenting with colours.  We have 14 standard moulds; each makes 3-4 rocks about an inch thick.  We need to do this every day for a long time.

Some of the moulds produce stones to go around corners – they take a little more effort, and the results are good.  We have 4 of the corner moulds; in theory we only need 2 for the right proportion, but got extras so that we shouldn’t notice duplicates.

The concrete gets a base colour, and then we paint them with some “face dye” (cement + colouring oxides).  That gives it a more natural variation, and we’re still experimenting with application techniques.

Our friend Mog has lent us a concrete mixer, to help us work out what size mixer we need.  His is not really big enough, so we’ve ordered a bigger one on-line (cheap, so we hope it lasts).  Each mix uses a bag of cement, two big buckets of aggregate, colouring oxides, and various additives.  The good news is that two mixes fill all our moulds quite neatly.

The moulds are quite heavy, and there’s much lugging of packets of cement and buckets of concrete.  We’re getting a regular workout, and for about the cost of gym memberships we’ll get the rock for our house.

Hello? Does this thing still work?

2018 was a year of culminations.

Our big event was getting married, a country-style wedding in our local cathedral.  A few weeks later we went for a holiday to Fiji.  It all went very well, and many thanks to our friends for their help to put that together.

For the last couple of years, Allison has been working as a services co-ordinator for the elderly and disabled.  The business has transitioned from government to private, with more work and less money, so Allison was content to leave when her contract expired at the end of 2017.  She’s taking a break then will be looking for a new role.

Steve (Allison’s brother) and his wife Lavender have been living in our cottage for the past three years, and running a growing meadery.  They recently bought a property near Braidwood and moved there over Christmas.  Their pigs moved last weekend, which involved us running around the paddock for hours lugging heavy folding tables to guide them, excellent exercise I have to say.  The meadery is still at Cockatrice Farm until they get Council approval to move it, and a big shed built.

Between Christmas and New Year, Allison and I took advantage of the empty cottage to paint it throughout.  We’re setting it up as comfy guest accommodation.  Possibly some more wwoofers down the track.

In late 2016 we got a new granddaughter, courtesy of Jess and Phil and some over-indulgence in Steve’s excellent mead.  Elyssa’s now just starting to walk, and adores her brothers Deacon and Alex.

My son Owen is now 18, and after a couple of false starts has commenced an electrical apprenticeship.  It is working out very well and currently he is working long hours at Parliament House where they have major security renovations.

Just before Christmas, Council gave us development approval to build a new house on the farm.  More on that in due course.

Best wishes to all,


A haggis in reserve


Recently I read over the blog entries from our early years.  Many magical things, as we did everything for the first time.


We’re a little older and a bit more cynical, but more than our fair share of magic still happens.  So back to the blog, with occasional entries from now on.  The entries may be a bit shorter.  I used to wait for Ally to check them first, so that I didn’t say anything too dreadful, but it’s more likely to happen if you get the raw unadulterated blog and I apologise afterwards.

Last week, the neighbour’s son appeared at the door with a barrel full of sheep’s innards.  And we had indeed asked for them, just not been very precise as to when.


A few weeks ago, Allison had granted Owen’s wish for a haggis.  That was a bit of a horrifying ordeal, though the results were surprisingly edible.  And somewhere along the way, I’d mentioned to the neighbour that we’d like to do it again for our medieval group.



This time we were a bit more organised about it.  The “pluck” (heart, lungs and liver) were efficiently cooked up and minced by Allison.



The part she hates is cleaning out the sheep’s stomach.  I don’t have much of a sense of smell, so it was OK to do, just time-consuming.  You have to wash out all the partly-digested grass, then scrape off the brown inner coating — some came off easily, and for other bits I had to add boiling water.



Then there’s lots of connective tissue to clean away.  I’m not sure how much is strictly necessary, but I took some care.


The stomach lining has now been frozen too, and we’ll assemble and boil haggis #2 at a later time.  Coming to a Pot Luck near you!




The farrier was here this week.  Things have been soggy here, and two horses (Paulie and Chad) have some rot in their feet.  They need to have their hooves painted every couple of days.



My favourite horse Gawaine has been off with our jouster friend, Sarah.  The plan was for him to learn jousting, but lots of wet weather and some unscheduled life events have meant that he hasn’t yet done much.



We still have the miniature horse Jasmine, but the food here is too rich so she spends most of her time at Jan’s farm.  Despite getting almost nothing from her paddock there, she’s still on the edge of foundering so she’ll just have to be locked up.
Another week has gone by without actually posting. Oh well.
Soon after we moved to Yarra, I joined the local Landcare group.  Lots of really wonderful locals, many of whom are 70+ and capable of a producing a rather excellent cake or slice.  Not that any of that motivated my attendance, of course.
We’ve had lots of wonderful times, but we’ve just had the AGM and several of them have been unwell or no longer willing to take an office.  In fact there were no nominations except me (Treasurer again).
We’ll put out the call for more volunteers, but I doubt we’ll get any.  In any case the Government is no longer going to subsidise the insurance costs, and we’re a pretty small group so we won’t be viable soon in any case.
I expect we’ll stagger on till our Christmas party (always mid November; they’re early birds) and wind up after that.  We’ll transmogrify into a monthly social gathering.

Some weeks ago the Sydney medieval club somehow bought a three-storey terrace’s worth of leather very cheaply, and we ended up with an X-trail packed to the gunwales with hides of coloured leather, for $100 and the petrol cost.  Plus we got some shelving for the shed too.  We’ve sold maybe a quarter of it (still an awful lot of leather) cheaply to our local medievalists.

Anyway, last weekend we ran a leather crafting workshop.  We had four leather-working experts, and about 25 medievalists learning how to pattern and make all manner of things.  A most enjoyable day at the Goulburn Club.
That night, we had a bonfire and pot luck dinner at our farm.  Truth to tell, mostly we spent the time around the wood fire in the wwoof house, but it was most convivial company including a few new faces and some recent friends from Sydney.  Not all the dishes were super medieval, which was fine in the circumstances.  On the night my favourite was the bread-and-butter pudding, but I have to say that the next day I had some of the sticky date pudding with (now cold) caramel toffee sauce and it was pretty amazing.
Next week I hope to tell you that I’ve been getting to the gym more often!


Happy christmas

Sorry, it’s a long time since I posted.  Here’s our christmas newsletter.

xmas 2013

Snowflake part 2

Snowflake the orphan alpaca will now take a bottle directly, so we no longer need to jam it between our legs.

Once she’s finished, she will still nuzzle at your crotch or armpit.  She won’t take any more milk, so I guess it must be a comfort thing, a kind of alpaca cuddle.

We try to give her some closeness, but it does mean getting her brekky leftovers all over your clothes.  It’s not so bad on my jeans, but wwoofer Toby only has the one pair of black casual pants.  If he’s not careful he goes into town with milk encrustrations all around the crotch, which isn’t a good look.

Snowflake now has a friend, Squirt.  Squirt lost his mother at a similarly young age, and in a large herd this wasn’t noticed for some months.  He survived on grass, but is severely stunted.  Squirt has great genes, but he’s tiny and can’t be shown, so his owner lent him to Jane to be a companion for Snowflake.

They are both living in one of our chook runs.  We have several other options, but this pen does have good shelter.

Our Indian Summer is now over, a couple of days ago.  So we had glorious weather almost to the end of May.  But now there is snow in the mountains, and a chill wind from the Antarctic.  (That’s overly dramatic — the mornings aren’t even frosty at present — but you definitely need a coat to be outside.)

A visit from Snowflake

My friend Jane has bought a little farm not so far from ours.  She runs some alpacas, geese and chickens.

On Tuesday she awoke to discover that an alpaca she’d just bought had died, leaving a baby, Snowflake.  It’s not clear why the mum died; possibly snakebite.  Snakebite in May seems bizarre, but then it’s three weeks away from winter and we’re having our nicest weather all year.

We helped Jane catch baby Snowflake, and brought her over to our farm where we can feed her more regularly.

At first, Snowflake showed no interest in the bottle, and getting any formula into her involved two people wrestling her, and half the mixture ending up over us.  No fun for anybody.

Then one time I had to feed her by myself.  I gave her a couple of minutes to get used to my presence, and then she came up and nuzzled my crotch.  Being a quick-thinking kind of guy, I fed the bottle between my legs from the back, and Snowflake got the idea and drank furiously.

So this was inelegant and possibly illegal, but it worked.  And when you’re a parent, you go with what works.  We’ve subsequently discovered that it goes best when she comes in from the back, and we’ve all had turns being mama alpacas.  Glad there’s no photos.

Snowflake still hasn’t worked out about the bottle yet, she just probes about until she finds some sustenance.

She’s much more comfortable with people now (since we’ve stopped wrestling her) and she’s decided that humans are better than abject loneliness.  So we give her as much attention as we can.

Toby (our only wwoofer) took Snowflake for a walk around the house paddock, and showed her the Wwoofer house.  He then curled up with her and a book in the glorious sunshine.

We joined him for an impromptu picnic, and Snowflake had a lovely day.

Our friend Jan warns that getting too friendly with farm animals can cause problems later.  But I think that Snowflake is a gentle soul who will end up as a lovely pet for Jane.  She goes back in a few weeks, once she can get by on two bottles a day.