HelpX Review

Well, our first experience with a HelpXer is over and this evening we are welcoming our second lot.

Last week we had Juliane, from Germany, stay with us for one week. She was lovely, did all we asked, worked independently when we were gone all day at work and didn’t laugh too loud at our attempts to speak German with her. I must say that I found it a bit awkward to give orders and delegate jobs I’d usually do, but damn it was nice to come home to a vacuumed and mopped house!  Juliane also started on the painting that needs to be done.

On the weekend we took her to New Farm Park and Mt Coot-tha: she helped Ralph write a piece about it on his language-learning website. During the week she took herself off into town and was always back for dinner.

Juliane and the boys rock scrambling up a dry waterfall at Mt Cootha

Juliane and the boys rock scrambling up a dry waterfall at Mt Coot-tha

This evening we’re having a Spanish couple from Barcelona come to stay for 12 days.  Hopefully they’ll be able to get the painting done before Christmas!

Book Review: ‘Blue Skies and Black Olives’

I recently read a book called ‘Blue Skies and Black Olives’ about a house in Greece a couple of guys built. A father and son. No less a figure than John Humphrys from TV, and his son!

The most interesting thing about the book for me was that it was mainly written by a person who is more-or-less a household name in Ireland, or was when I was growing up. John Humphrys read the news at night on BBC, when he wasn’t roughhousing (‘interviewing’) with politicians, or hosting Mastermind. When he wasn’t doing that, turns out he was building a house in the Peleponnese. This book, which chronicles that long – and at times quite hard – erection, is actually co-written with his son Chris, a musician, married to a Greek mob, and a lot more docile than the old man, who can always be relied on to be as colourfully exasperated with Greek people as he is with equivocating Tory backbenchers.

As a book it wasn’t bad at all. There was the usual cast of oddball locals, not all of whom were favourably treated in the book, giving the tale some drama. Greek stories never want for drama. There were some useful insights into the Greek mind from Chris, who at this stage is a more-or-less naturalised Greek citizen after living in the country for 15 years. While John himself remains a cantankerous outsider throughout, Chris is the acme of stoicism during the inevitable delays and stuff-ups and mellows to the task of building the house like a true local. John, in other words, never resets his watch to island time.

Stunning view of blue skies over Delphi, 2003

As an aside, the first thing I didn’t like about the book was the lousy title. It doesn’t tell me anything about them, or their situation, or the way their story might be different to anyone else’s. It’s a placeholder name. It’s like one of those stock photos of a family with perfect teeth on the beach, their trouser legs rolled up with just the right amount of carelessness. I do acknowledge that good titles are hard though. My own current best candidate for our own book about Greece is “This is a book about Greece”, along the lines of XTC’s “This is a record cover” cover.

Another thing: the book that this most reminded me of, Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence, also featured a cast of misfit local workers, which is a bit of an ol’ cliche at this stage: sure, you can find cowboys everywhere, especially if you don’t live in the country in which the house you’re trying to build does. Reading the book, you can see these tragi-comic situations coming from a mile away once they introduce a builder into the story. Who’d be a house builder in an expat’s ‘building-my-dream-house’ book? As the man says: avoid clichés like the plague!

Also, tasers are stunning; views aren’t. They’re just nice, or nice and relaxing. Or maybe, if you’re really lucky, they’re so nice that people will stop talking for a few minutes to look at them and you can get some thinking done. By the way, I feel bad raising all these objections to what was a mostly enjoyable book: I’m just on the qui-vive for the types of thing I wouldn’t want in our book on Greece. But in any case, isn’t there a writerly edict that says “show, don’t tell“? To me that means by all means describe the view from your house of the bay over the Aegean at sunset, go into great detail if you want; paint me a picture, but don’t tell me it’s a masterpiece.

I did however enjoy the tale of the genuinely scary episode the innocent Chris had to endure at the hands of the Greek legal system as a consequence of being hit by a stoned ne’erdowell in his car. I loved the astute observations of Greek people and life that he wrote, those about Athens in particular, some of which were, admittedly, again a little clichéd. But his experience of life in Athens and long association with Greece in general gave the book depth, something entirely lacking in A Year in Provence, for example.

Finally, the book – naturally enough, I suppose – had photographs, but the photographs were an afterthought. Flat and boring, they conveyed none of the magic that the words laboured to conjure, and in the end just worked against them. I don’t think it was a case of bad luck with the printers – none of them looked like they were interesting to start with. If it wasn’t for the top of peoples’ heads actually remaining in the frame, they would have reminded me of the pictures my Mum takes. Why do people bother? It’s simply counterproductive. The ‘stunning’ view was pedestrian, and had I not been to Greece myself plenty of times and so knew what it would be like to be standing there among the olive trees I’d be yawning. Less is more, with photos. And there was no map. Books about places need maps. That’s just common sense.


I’ve recently developed a slight obsession with textiles especially handwoven and embroidered.  I’ve been drooling over Kanthas and Suzanis and spent hours trawling the internet and bemoaning the fact that I don’t live in the USA. – look but don’t attempt to buy if you’re in Australia.

Those few US stores that do ship to Australia charge you ridiculous prices – US$100 to ship a 1kg suzani throw!

Kantha from Etsy

The way to go, I have discovered, is Etsy.  There are some wonderful Etsy stores that sell suzanis and kanthas and you don’t need to sell your firstborn to pay the postage.  Wonderful.

While I was in Bali I visited a little shop in Ubud called Threads of Life tucked away up a narrow cobbled alley way.  Inside was a wonderful collection of Indonesian handwoven textiles.  As well as a shop it also offfers classes on indonesian textiles and tours.  The difference here was that each product had its own story attached so that you know exactly what the textile is, when it was made and its traditional use.

This is the textile I bought and here is it’s story…

Sayut, Jawa, Tuban 2011

This handspun, batik textile is called Sayut.  The cooperative, Sanggar Sekar Ayu, from Luwuk, East Java is one of the few remaining communities where natural dyed, traditional textiles are still being made and used.  The threads are spun from cotton and woven into a continuous 3 meter warp textile (gedog). After weaving, the motif are drawn with wax, and repeatedly dyed with natural dyes.  The motifs on this textile are referred to as Slimun (blanket) and are thought to have healing powers.


on my sofa

They even supplied a photo of the weaving cooperative so that you would know the people that handwove and dyed my beautiful textile.

The only thing better than a beautiful textile is a beautiful textile and its story.

Dining room done!

Well the dining room is finally finished.  I must admit that it took longer than I thought.  Mainly due to my procrastinating when it came to painting.
I’m pretty happy with the way it came together and as well as the more expensive items I managed to get some bargains and even some freebies.
Lovely Belgian vintage table from Collectors Corner.
 Pine dresser found in shed and painted Chalk Blue.
Japanese fabric bought on our honeymoon at Kinkakuji temple, Kyoto.  It’s taken me 11 years to find a place to put it!
My beautiful new sofa prize from Contempo furniture. So comfy – thanks Contempo!  The ready-to-hang curtains were purchased online from Pret-a-Portiere.  It was a bit on a gamble buying them unseen but they turned out perfect.
Our lovely bookcases were made by Maytain Cabinets.  Not cheap but definitely worth it and it definitely “makes” the room.
The jute rug, french oak dining table and cafe chairs were all puchased through Porchlight Interiors.
Dining room light from Pottery Barn.
Book case lights from Emac & Lawnton.
And finally we carpeted the stairs with jute that (almost) matches the rug.  This wasn’t so much a design thing but more practically to stop the boys from slipping down the stairs when running around in their socks.  Must say though that I’m happy with it now.
So the dining room is all done.  I’ve taken a few weeks off and recovered.  Now it’s onto the boys room….


The only thing I’ve ever won is an esky over 20 years ago, so you must excuse my excitement that I actually won something!

Every now and then I enter an online competition as long as it doesn’t involve the dreaded “In 25 words or less…”.
This time I actually won a gorgeous chair and sofa from Contempo Furniture.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with it. The chair is no problem, there’s lots of places for that but the sofa could be a bit trickier.

It’s a wool-blend in a natural creamy colour – not the best for cat hair and little boys. So I’m really hoping that it’ll fit in our bedroom. It’ll be great to have somewhere to escape to when the boys are watching TV or have their friends over for light-saber fights.

Big thank you to Contempo Furniture and Style Magazines!


Beach Boys

It was off to the beach today. I hadn’t really done anything special with the boys over the school holidays (I’m still working) so I though I’d get in a day trip before school started back on Monday.

So together with the Grandparents we headed off to Broadbeach.

First stop was the awesome kids playground. Crowded (due to its awesomeness) and LOUD as usual.

Looking south from Broadbeach

Escape to the beach where the only noise was the surf and seagulls.

Alex braved the wintery water and had fun jumping the waves. He was on his own as none of the rest of us were brave enough to keep him company.

Eoin sensibly stayed on dry land.

We don’t often get to the beach in winter but today was wonderful. Sure, it was a bit too cold to go swimming but the plus side was that you could sit in the sun and play in the sand for hours without it being unbearably hot and constantly worrying about getting burnt. I love being able to enjoy the winter sunshine rather than having to scurry for cover in the summer.

But most of all, I love seeing the boys running around on the beach, healthy and happy.

Furniture Painting

When we moved into our house we found this old pine buffet in the shed. I must admit that I didn’t give it much thought at first except as a place to store the gardening tools.

excuse the horrible photo..

But I was soon inspired by all the wonderfully talented bloggers out there, especially by Paint Me White. I figured I had nothing to lose but the cost of the paint and (quite) a few hours.
So here is the finished result. I left the original handles on except for the drawers which needed replacing. I painted it ‘Chalk Blue’ by Dulux.

Its new home in the dining room

I’m quite happy with the way it turned out even though my painting left a bit to be desired. I was going to leave the interior display in its natural pine but now I’m having second thoughts. It makes the interior very dark so I was thinking maybe just paint it white.

 Or should I be very daring and paint it a contrasting colour? Any suggestions?

Fabric depicting Kinkakuji temple from Kyoto


Love the ugly

In a previous post I bemoaned the fact that we have the world’s ugliest gas heater and I longed for one of those sleek gas fires.

These last few days however I’ve learnt to love the ugly. It’s been cold and wet and every evening we turn on the heater for a warm and cozy room. Admittedly the rest of the house is still freezing but that doesn’t matter. I can enjoy my cup of tea on the couch toasty warm and bathed in an orange glow.

I feel so shallow for judging my heater for its (lacking) looks. It really is what is inside that counts!


Wintery days

Well, winter has definitely arrived in Brisbane. Cold nights and chilly, windy days have got us all scrambling to find our scarves and jackets.
My slippers fell to bits yesterday and they were only two months old. I suspect the fact they were only $8 had something to do with it. I couldn’t resist this pair yesterday.

Expensive but at least they’ll last a season (and how can you resist leopard print slippers?)

Our new house also has the world’s ugliest gas heater that I’ve had covered up with a beautiful hand woven fabric since we’ve moved in. But I must say the weather has suddenly made it a lot more attractive and is keeping me toasty warm at night. I think we’ll hold onto it and maybe in a few years we can upgrade it to one of those gas fireplaces.

It’s a long weekend this weekend and we’re off for our annual weekend in the countryside. We’re staying in the most beautiful spot in SE Qld (seriously) and I’ll share some photos when we get back. It’s totally secluded – no mobile or tv reception, no neighbours and the nearest shops are 30 mins away at Beaudesert – forced relaxation!

 This is a photo from our last visit there exactly two years ago.  I find it hard to cope with how quickly the boys are growing