Bathroom renos: Before

4 02 2023

Our bathroom renovations are getting closer…

We moved into our current house 13 years ago, and, right from the get-go I’ve had issues with aspects of the en suite bathroom, initially related to the stupid and monstrous corner bath (not even a spa bath) that was already there, and that we had to climb into and out of to open the window. Then as we’ve got older, it’s become more obvious this bathroom is not accessible or useable if one of us was incapacitated for even the short term. We have a second bathroom, but that’s even harder to access if you were on crutches, using a walker, or in a wheelchair as it’s down a narrow passage.

Ten years ago I decided the en suite bathroom (including a separate toilet with a door within the en suite) needed to have wider doors and no corner bath, but my DH wasn’t too keen as he didn’t want the disruption, and besides ‘it’s fine’. But after a couple of small falls (bruises only) for both of us on the shower hob and getting into/out of the bath, about 5 years ago he finally agreed to get the bathroom done. I didn’t do much about it (work, life etc.) but I did start collecting ideas and writing up a spec sheet of what was absolutely necessary versus what would be nice to have, including what we didn’t want—no bath!). Then in late 2020, I contacted the only 2 bathroom reno companies in my nearby town. Both came out within days to take a look, talk through my needs, and take a copy of the spec sheet with them. Both promised me a quote either ‘just before or just after the Christmas break’. Then… nothing!

I called them both again in February 2021, leaving a voice message with one and leaving a message with the receptionist for the other (she promised he’d get back to me within the week). And then I got ghosted. I’ve heard absolutely nothing from either of them from December 2020 to February 2023.

We had continual lockdowns for COVID, supply chains were disrupted, housing was going through the roof, and the labour market was really tight. I thought we’d wait it out until things had settled down a bit, but I certainly wasn’t keen to try the 2 local companies again. Fast forward to 2022 and I was having a chat with my cleaner who mentioned she was getting her bathroom reno’ed. I asked her who she was using and it was a different company to those I’d contacted—it was a company that was an arm of the tile and bathroom fittings retailer, and as the owners had plumbing and building skills and as they saw a huge need for a bathroom reno company, they set up their own reno division in the height of the pandemic.

I contacted them, and the lovely Tony came out to take a look, talk with me about options, etc. And he got back to me promptly!! After several weeks of back and forth via emails and a visit to the showroom to look at options, we finally had a firm quote. On payment of the deposit we’d get a firm start date, though he did warn me that it would be several months away. Not a problem—I’d already waited 13 years! I paid the 30% deposit on 13 September 2022, and got a start date of 13 February 2023. Meantime, my cleaner’s reno had been finished and she LOVED it. She especially loved how the tradies cleaned up after themselves and how professional they all were (she loved it so much she’s already booked her own en suite bathroom to be done!).

So here we are, about 1 week out from the renos starting. Tony came out yesterday to mark walls and discuss final logistics. We’ll sleep in our bedroom for the last time on Thursday night, then Tony and a couple of others will come on Friday and get some prep work done (e.g. pull back the bedroom carpet, drop off the skip bin, isolate some electrical points and light switches) before the bathroom demolition starts on Monday 13th. Because we have to have doors widened (double-brick house, with single-brick internal walls), they’ll be a lot of noise and dust, which they’ll try to minimise as much as possible. Tony said the worst of that will take 1 to 2 days (brick saws make a helluva noise, as do machines and tools to lift tiles from walls and floors!). He also said it’s a 3-week job, so we’ll be sleeping in the spare bedroom and using the other bathroom and toilet for that time—fortunately, we have that so we don’t have to move out. The 3-week time frame is just small inconvenience, I hope.

I’ve already taken the ‘before’ photos—the one below shows most of the issues.

Picture of bathroom showing shower with a hob and large corner bath and step

Other than the ‘as is’ mess, there are a LOT of things wrong with the design of this bathroom that make it inaccessible and unsafe. In the photo you can see:

  • Raised hob in shower (yes, we’ve both tripped on it at least once in 13 years).
  • Stupid corner bath that’s useless for anything (I tried to run a bath the first year we were here—the hot water ran out before I had about an inch in the bath!). But its biggest problem is that you have to get into it to open/close the window! (DH tries to lean over it!) And see that little step? You can’t use it as it’s too narrow, and it’s an impediment both climbing into and out of the bath. You have to be super careful (slip hazard, trip hazard, no handholds for 2+ points of connection), and yes, we’ve both slipped at least once, and had bruises to prove it.
  • You can’t see the doors in this picture, but the door into the en suite is about 720 mm wide and then into the toilet is 620 mm wide. The MINIMUM requirement for wheelchairs and other mobility aids is 820 mm (preferably 850 mm).
  • There’s a gap between the vanity and bath where the dust bunnies lurk (too narrow for the vacuum cleaner head).
  • There’s wasted space on the vanity—the plinth and the top are both deep nothingness spaces.

In addition to solving all these issues (wider doorways, no bath, walk-in shower), we’re going to be getting a set of mirrored overhead cupboards to replace the large mirror that just sits on the wall and has no other function than a mirror, and a smart toilet! I figured we’d only do this once and none of us is getting any younger, so why not?

BTW, Tony’s company has been so busy he told us on Friday that they are now booked all the way to the end of the year, and starting to book for January 2024!





“Just the one zucchini, please”

14 01 2023

My neighbour texted to ask if I’d like a zucchini or two as she had heaps spare in her garden. We’re not big zucchini eaters, so I thanked her and said I’d take just the one. We just met at the fence, and this is the zucchini she gave me — it’s HUGE!! I’m now looking up zucchini recipes and tips for freezing it.

Edited to add: It’s 3.5 kg (3500 g or almost 8 lb for those in the US)

Update: I got 22 cups of grated zucchini (11x 2-cup Ziplock bags) plus a heap of pith that was quite furry and full of very big seeds (I tossed that out). Full size carving knife to show scale. All now in the freezer for later use.

A very big zucchini being held by my neighbour

Zucchini cut in half showing a full-sized carving knife for size comaprison

Grated zucchini and in ziplock bags, with the cut ends and pith on the cutting mat





Laundry observations in an Australian summer

24 12 2022

There are a LOT of things I hate about an Australian summer, not least of which are the relentless heat, the hot easterly winds coming from the inner part of the continent, the flies, and the always-present threat of bushfires. But one of summer’s joys is hanging the washing on the line and it being dry by the time the second load is ready to go out. Then bringing in the washing and smothering your face into the smell of the sun and fresh air that lingers for hours in the towels etc. Burning your hand on the metal spring in the pegs isn’t so wonderful, however! (guess who left the peg bucket outside in the sun for 30+ minutes this morning?)

For those living in other climes, nearly every Australian who lives in a house with a backyard has a clothesline, even if they also have a dryer. And when the weather’s fine and if we have the time to do so, we peg out our laundry to dry in the sun. I realise this may seem like an old-fashioned novelty to many of my friends and family in other parts of the world, and it certainly isn’t recommended if you live in a cold climate (when I lived in Canada, I recall naively pegging out my clothes on the outside line when it was -5C — they didn’t dry, instead they froze 🙂 )

I also remember living up north (particularly the Pilbara region of Western Australia) and there we had two big issues with laundry. One was that the cold water was often hotter than the hot water! (In those days, the cold water was piped to the town across about 20+ miles in aboveground pipes.) And the other was that in the hottest time of the year we had to hang our laundry out at night to avoid bleaching and rotting from the harsh sun.

BTW, we’ve never owned a dryer in the house where we’ve lived for the past 13 years—we hang out our washing all year round. There’s rarely a run of more than a few days a week of wet weather in the middle of winter. The clothes take longer to dry in winter, but invariably they do, or we help them along by hanging them over a portable clothes rack in the house.





Firefighting aircraft call signs (southwest Western Australia)

13 12 2022

It’s bushfire season and already the firefighting aircraft have had their work cut out for them.

This post is for me to save me having to click on all the call signs on FlightRadar24:

  • BDOG125, BDOG642, BDOG646 – spotter planes?
  • BMBR132, BMBR139 – Hercules C130 (the big ones!)
  • BMBR605, BMBR608, BMBR611 – yellow air tractors
  • DUJ – yellow air tractor
  • EGU – helicopter, possibly a spotter
  • FBIR661, FBIR662 – helicopters
  • FCO, FCU – yellow air tractors
  • FNE – yellow air tractor
  • N260UH – Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopter
  • NID – yellow air tractor
  • PEK – yellow air tractor
  • PKAR644 – spotter plane?
  • SPTRxxx – state government (spotter?) planes, likely used by the DBCA and/or DFES

Other aircraft:

  • FDxxx – Royal Flying Doctor (planes and helicopters)
  • RSCxxx – RAC rescue helicopter




Directory of Western Australian teachers, 1900-1980

9 12 2022

As part of researching my family history, I use quite a number of online resources (this post on my professional blog lists the main ones: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2022/07/24/family-history-resources-i-use/).

One I’ve used a lot is a digital database of Western Australian teachers from 1900-1980 (https://www.carnamah.com.au/teachers). Why? Because quite a number of my extended Western Australian family were teachers, including me and my mum. Back in the day, this directory was published each year, with several copies delivered to each public school in the state. We called it ‘the stud book’! And we used it back then to see where our colleagues had been posted, check their qualifications and years of service (if we were competing for seniority-based promotion), even their middle names and the married names of the women (many married locally and didn’t leave the town, so they’d appear in the stud book the following year under their married name). It was a valuable resource then, and it still is. Either in the 1980s or by the early 1990s the Education Department of the day either decided to no longer publish it as a printed book, or not distribute it so freely to schools, or went digital with this information (if it was digital, it wasn’t available to teachers in schools). Whatever the reason, the stud book seemed to disappear from schools. I taught until early 1992, and as I was a teacher-librarian, I was the custodian of many years of stud books in my school (available to the staff only, not to students), but I know in the last few years I was there we didn’t get the annual stud book.

So I was delighted to discover a fully searchable database of all the stud books from 1900 to 1980 on, of all places, the Carnamah Historical Society and Museum’s website. Why was this surprising? Well, for those who don’t live in Western Australia, Carnamah is a dot on the map in the central wheatbelt (the town’s Wikipedia entry is correspondingly tiny, but the link from there to the Wikipedia entry for the historical society uncovers a wealth of information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnamah_Historical_Society). Carnamah is about 200 km north of Perth and has a population of around 400 people. So why did Carnamah do this and who was the driver for it? It would’ve taken many many thousands of hours of scanning and typing and editing the data—there is no easy way to get those hundreds of pages (all in a tiny font size and with deep gutters in the books) each year into a digital form, and I’m sure the state Education Department wasn’t willing to share any digital information, assuming they had it.

I still don’t know who the driver is for this most useful website (they aren’t resting on their laurels either—they recently added 80,000+ records of Western Australian car registrations from 1915 to 1928: https://www.carnamah.com.au/car-registrations), but I had occasion to contact them recently. Back in the late 1940s my mum was a ‘monitor’ at Carnamah Primary School and she had some photos from that time that I shared with the person who looks after their Facebook page and website. In my email to him I congratulated him and the historical society on making the old stud books available as a searchable database. He shared back this information:

The school teacher index was a slow burn but we got there. We were assisted by Work for the Dole participants at a number of locations across metro Perth.

What a fantastic use of resources! And what a fantastic resource freely available to anyone in the world. Well done, Carnamah Historical Society.





Goodbye, ancient one

28 10 2022

We’ve had an old peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa) growing on our property, likely for many generations. But it’s had, and has caused, some problems—the most recent was a tree limb snapping off without warning and landing on the driveway, and previous to that, termites, and branches overhanging the house. We’ve had the overhanging branches lopped several times and had treated the termites. This is the only tree close to our house and it’s many tens of thousands of dollars cheaper to lop a few limbs every few years than to replace an entire smashed corner of a double-brick house!

But with the latest unexpected branch drop, we realised it was time for the tree to go. Who knows what would happen in a big storm with gale-force winds coming from the north-west as they do? Or in a bushfire (the oil in the leaves is highly volatile)?

I contacted the people who’d previously done our lopping, but 2 months after accepting their quote, they still couldn’t give me a date when they’d come. I found another company and the owner came out the next day, gave me a quote on the spot ($400 cheaper than the first quote) and told me it would likely be done within 3-4 weeks. Two weeks later I get a text to see if 7:15am in a couple of days time was OK—sure was!

They turned up at 7am with ALL the regalia—about 4 trucks, a big cherry-picker crane, the wood chipper, a small piece of equipment that could pick up big logs and put them into the back of a truck, etc. By 7:15 they were into it, and within 2 hours they were all done, had cleaned up the site, and taken all bits of the tree away. They also poisoned the stump to hopefully prevent new shoots from forming. They couldn’t grind the stump because of its location on a narrow retaining wall at least a metre off the ground, and they couldn’t cut it down too close to the ground as the base of it was way too big for their various size chainsaws.

I was particularly impressed with their professionalism—using a cherry-picker crane to get to the high branches instead of shimmying up the tree with ropes and leaving chainsaws hanging in the air, using chains and a small loader thing to lift the large trunk piece, and cleaning up. The boss was also training a younger chap, and he spent time showing the young bloke the right way to do things. And they all wore the appropriate safety gear.

From beginning to end…

 





My first house

10 04 2022

This was not the first house I purchased, but the first I ever lived in! I’ve recently been in touch with someone from the historical society for the Western Australian country town where I spent my life from birth to the day I turned 13, and she just happens to work for the local Shire and has access to old building plans. And she found these plans of the first house I lived in (until I was about 7 years old), which was commissioned by my grandfather to be built for my parents just before they got married.

These were certainly simpler times, as evidenced by the degree of ‘detail’ in the plans (just the 2 pages to get approval to build!) and the design of the house—a simple 4-room house. The price of 2000 pounds (equivalent to $4000) seems ridiculously low, but for the time it was a lot. However, using an online inflation calculator (https://www.inflationtool.com/australian-dollar/), that $4000 is equivalent to around $80,000 today, a vast difference to the cost of building a house in Western Australia today. That said, today’s houses have a LOT of bells and whistles—and rooms—and this one certainly didn’t.

Take a look at the materials used in the building—compressed asbestos board was used for the inner and outer walls of the timber-framed house! And according to Mum, lino was the floor covering of choice for the kitchen and later the living room. Lino in those days was full of asbestos too. Mum remembers the other floor coverings in the house too:

    • Kitchen – lino on the floor (more asbestos!)
    • Lounge room – wooden floors until my sister and I started crawling, then cheap lino; no furniture in this room bar a radiogram and my other nana’s treadle sewing machine, which mum would put the playpen over when she’d finished using it to stop us from crawling into the mechanism!; the fire surround was brick (likely red brick)
    • Main bedroom (front of the house) – Feltex carpet (very cheap)
    • Our bedroom – they think it was a wooden floor (and by wooden, probably not polished boards, but plain wood, perhaps oiled)
    • Bathroom – they couldn’t remember, but likely concrete
    • Laundry – red concrete; copper in the corner (the round thing in the laundry); back steps – no handrails
    • Front verandah – red concrete.

 

The same house after it was built and after I was born—I believe that’s me in the pram on the front verandah, so I was likely less than 12 months’ old, just a tad younger than the house.





Water purifier and softener system

19 02 2022

We had a water purifier and softening system installed earlier this week. Our water here is really hard and full of chemicals such as copper, calcium, and lime, which cause all sorts of scale issues in the pipework, the HWS and other appliances, as well as unsightly blue/green and chalky residue on porcelain, taps, showerheads etc. But you can’t just buy a system and install it—there has to be drainage for the monthly purge of the system, which meant a soakwell and a new drain under the concrete slab, plus all the pipework to route the water from the mains point into the house through the filtration and softening system, and a new electrical point for the pumps for the monthly purge. The plumbers and electrician did a great job in the stinking hot weather!

 





The great experiment is nearly over

13 12 2021

See most recent update, dated 21 Jan 2022 (below)

Our protected status is likely to be lifted soon (the actual date is expected to be late Jan/early Feb). From our state’s newspaper a few hours ago:

Mark McGowan is set to announce the date WA’s border will reopen to the rest of Australia and the world at 2pm. WA first introduced a hard border on April 6, 2020 – a measure described by Mr McGowan as “turning WA into its own island within an island” – meaning border controls have now been in place for 616 days and counting.

I hope someone does a case study of what our state did—we have 2.5+ million people living here (more than 2+ million just in the Perth metro area alone), yet we’ve only had just over 1000 COVID cases in almost 2 years, and fewer than 10 deaths from COVID in that same time. We’ve hardly ever worn masks, except for a few lockdowns when we went hard and fast to minimise potential exposure. Our hard borders have WORKED, and our day-to-day life within the state has been ‘normal’ for the past 2 years compared to many parts of the world. The time it brought for us was to get 80%+ of the population over 16 double-vaxxed, with single dose numbers up around 90%.

Our protected status will likely change once the borders reopen and COVID is allowed in. But with the vax rates we have, hopefully, the impact won’t be too dire.

Update: 5 February 2022 is the date we reopen to Australia and the world. From Mark McGowan, State Premier:

This is an incredible milestone for our State. We are one of the most vaccinated societies in the world and we have achieved this without having extended lockdowns, virus outbreaks or any community spread of the virus. We followed a different model to the others and it has worked. We have been able to get through the last two years safely because of the efforts of West Australians.

There will still be quite a lot of travel and large gathering restrictions around vaccination status, testing etc. But it’s a start.

And no, I won’t be getting on a plane to go anywhere in the foreseeable future!

Update 13 Jan 2022 from a press conference by the State Premier, Mark McGowan:

(from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-01-13/wa-expands-proof-of-vaccination-requirements/100754194)

West Australians will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access a wide range of venues and events from January 31, Premier Mark McGowan has announced.

Mr McGowan said proof of double-dose vaccination would be required for those aged 16 and older at hospitals, aged care facilities and all hospitality venues, including restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars, taverns, nightclubs and where dine-in fast food is available.

The requirement will also extend to indoor entertainment venues including play centres, gaming and gambling venues including Crown Perth, theatres, concert halls, museums, cinemas and live music venues.

Bottle shops, gyms, fitness centres, health studios, amusement parks and the zoo are also encompassed by the new rules, which already apply to events with more than 500 people, including music festivals and major stadiums.

There will not be many public places unvaccinated people can visit, but they will be permitted to get takeaway food and visit roadhouses and petrol stations.

Community sport and school-based events will also be exempt, unless at one of the specific venues listed.

Mr McGowan said life would become very difficult for the unvaccinated from January 31.

“No pubs, no bottle shops, no gym, no yoga classes, no gigs, no dancefloors, no hospital or aged care visits.

“If you choose to remain unvaccinated, you are choosing to put yourself at risk, you are choosing to put the people around you at risk, and you are choosing to increase the burden on our health staff.”

Mr McGowan said the proof of vaccination requirement would apply statewide and he expected the requirement would be in place “for years to come”.

He also flagged that he expected the vaccination requirement would be expanded to three doses in the future.

Update 21 Jan 2022: Our hard borders are to remain in place for the foreseeable future. Some conditions of entry have changed. On a personal level, I’m happy with this decision, but I know it will cause hardship for some industries and families. But then so would an uncontrolled outbreak of the Omicron variant, as evidenced at the moment in the eastern states where hospitals, supply chains etc. are under extreme pressure because of staff off sick. Full details: https://thewest.com.au/news/coronavirus/mark-mcgowan-delays-wa-border-reopening-indefinitely-over-omicron-fears-c-5387219 and https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-01-20/wa-border-opening-delayed/100771492





My #1 role model — Mum

12 12 2021

My mum has her 90th birthday around Christmas, so we had a family get together this weekend so we could celebrate this milestone without the madness of Christmas commitments getting in the way. Dad (91) asked me and my niece to say a few words. I knew my niece would talk about Mum in her roles as mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, but Mum’s influence on me was different. Here’s what I said (some identifying info has been removed/changed).

***********

Others will talk today about Mum as the best mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. But I’m going to take a different tack and focus on how she influenced me.

I always knew Mum was pretty special just because she’s my Mum, but I only recently found out some more things about her life, before Dad and us. Mum gave me her old high school yearbook, and I found out she’d been a sports house captain in Year 12 and an outstanding netball player. I already knew that she was a bit of a pioneer because not only did she go on to Year 12 when it was very unusual for women to do so, but also to teachers college. In those days, maybe 10% of ALL 14-year-olds went on to tertiary education, and very few of those were women. This was the late 1940s and the [Australian] government was bending all the rules to get returned WW2 servicemen back into the workforce, so for her to get a place at teachers college wouldn’t have been easy. But the [state] government wasn’t so friendly as to let her keep teaching, and she was sacked at the end of 1953. Why? Because she got married! It was Education Department policy that as soon as a female teacher married, they lost their job!!! Not the men… just the women. I think the moment I found out about this, I became a feminist, so I have Mum to thank for that.

Mum has been the best role model a girl could have. She didn’t just say we could do or be anything we wanted—she showed us by her actions. At a time when most women were forced to abandon any thought of a career and live out their lives doing unpaid housework and child rearing, Mum was running businesses with Dad and, for a while, his parents. In [town], she was front of house in the bakery, she looked after the accounts, and she learnt cake decorating. With Nana B she decorated countless wedding cakes, dipped hundreds of thousands of lamingtons, and filled countless cream puffs (those Italians in [town] had BIG weddings!) Did I also mention she ran the house, did all the cooking (most on a wood stove) and laundry (by hand, in a copper also heated by wood fire, until she got a washing machine), and reared 2 children? And that she likely didn’t get a salary?

When they were in their mid-late 30s, she and Dad upped stumps and moved to [larger town] to start a new completely different venture in the [name] shopping centre—a newsagency that wasn’t allowed to sell newspapers! After 7 years, they had one of the biggest newsagencies in [the state], based on turnover. And after many years of fighting bureaucracy and local newsagents, they finally got the OK to sell newspapers. Again, Mum quietly ran the business and money side of it all (buying stock, doing all the accounts, dealing with the reps), as well as being behind the counter with Dad. Later came [another town] and [a caravan park], which they ran for 8 years, turning it from a run-down caravan park into a thriving business. Again, Mum ran the business side of things, from bookings (often getting a phone call after 10pm when someone decided that they needed to book right now for the Christmas holidays) through to everything to do with the accounts. In all of this, there were no computers, just an adding machine, ledgers and booking books, and pens, pencils, and erasers, lots of erasers as bookings got changed around and vans and campsites got shifted around on paper—everything was done by hand and it all took a lot of time and nous to juggle it all.

After they retired, Mum and Dad were very involved in volunteer groups. Mum continued to look after their finances, and she still does. She was born in the Depression and lived her early years in what we would now term extreme poverty on a farm in the middle of nowhere at the back of [town in the wheatbelt]. Her South African parents had migrated just a few years before, and Nana P (her Mum) spoke almost no English when she arrived. From Mum’s experience growing up in the Depression years came a deep-seated belief in never wasting money—if you couldn’t afford it, you couldn’t have it. Speaking of frugal, in the early days after the [Australian] $50 note was released in 1973, it was very rare to see one, possibly because Mum stashed every one that she found in the businesses into a sanitary napkin box under the bathroom sink! There were no point-of-sale machines then to track what money came in and went out! She did the same with the early 50c coins, which were predominantly silver until the government realised they cost way more to produce than their face value—she had a stash of those too! I told you she was my role model!

Because of Mum’s business acumen and astuteness with money, their retirement years (until COVID hit) have been filled with travel all over the world and they’ve never wanted for anything. Despite paying untold taxes all their lives, they’ve never received a pension or government concession card. And Mum still watches the pennies, sniffing out things on sale.

Through all of this, Mum and Dad have stood together like a rock. I’m sure they had their ups and downs, but as kids, we never got to see that (except one time with the lemon meringue pie! [and no, I won’t elaborate]). They were a united front in everything and a formidable force as a couple. They love each other deeply, and have loved all their family as deeply, and they’ve been very proud of us all.

So, Mum, you’ve been the best role model a girl could have—you’ve walked the walk, not just talked the talk, and I’m very very proud when people say ‘you’re just like your Mum’, because while, for them, I may look like you, in my heart I know that it’s much more than that.

********

More information on coppers and other laundry paraphernalia, most of which I remember from my childhood in rural Australia (by the time I went to university, washing machines were common, typically a Twin Tub):

The wood stove Mum cooked on was a Metters No 2: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-22/the-enduring-charm-of-metters-wood-fired-stoves/8117478

[Links last checked December 2021]