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Archive for the ‘Cool Things’ Category

Every day brings a new story…grab a cuppa and let me tell you about our Persian rug.

30 years ago, when we were young and stupid, we bought a deceased estate federation house. It was in a seriously dilapidated condition – no inside toilet, no hot water, no laundry, no shower. The tiny kitchen had just half a metre of bench space, divided into three sections. It was partitioned into pokey rooms for use as a boarding house and in such a state of disrepair that it had lingered on the property market for 14 months before we bought it. Even so, we could barely afford it – if it hadn’t been for my parents’ legendary generosity, we wouldn’t be here today.

We were coming from a little unit, so of course, we needed furniture. We borrowed an extra $3.5K to cover this, which in hindsight was a small fortune.

Anyway, we walked into a cool shop in Ultimo called Nomadic Rug Traders and…we both fell in love with this Meshkin Kilim runner from Northern Persia (Iran). See, it really IS a Persian rug. An antique, tribal, handwoven runner from circa 1900. At five metres long and over a metre wide, it fit our hallway perfectly…but it cost $2,500. Yup. Madness, I know. We had to furnish the rest of the house, including appliances, wardrobes and lounges, with the remaining $1,000. We sat on beanbags for a year!


But oh, how we LOVED our rug. It lived in the hallway for ten years and made us happy every time we walked on it. When the kids were little, they rode bikes on it and dropped crumbs all over it. Then Small Man developed severe eczema – at its worst, his skin was peeling off in sheets – so we had to roll it up and put it away. No fabric furnishings allowed, the dermatologist said. I sewed a cotton bag to store it in, then we packed it carefully in mothballs and crossed our fingers, hoping it would survive.

Today, more than 30 years after we bought it, we pulled it out of storage. I nearly wept when I saw that it was still in the same condition as when we’d rolled it up all those years ago. We washed the underlay and vacuumed the rug before returning it to its rightful spot in the hallway.

It’s amazing how much more I appreciate it now than I did back in the 90s! Over the intervening two decades, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with tribal and handmade textiles, but this is where it all began. And it speaks to the adage to buy once and buy well – it was an impetuous and mad purchase, but 30 years on, it still brings us so much joy! ♥

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Bone Conduction Headphones

I have a problem with in-ear headphones.

Specifically, an earwax problem. My brother-in-law CC (who’s an ENT surgeon) suggested I try bone conduction ones instead, and they’re the bomb. I bought them in Singapore for about $200, but I believe they’re also available here in Australia. I bought the lighter weight ones – the kids bought the titanium model which is about $50 cheaper.

As you can see from the advertising photo, they sit against the side of your face rather than in or over your ear, transmitting the sound via vibration. Monkey Girl told me that the technology was originally invented for folks with hearing loss, as it bypasses the eardrum completely. According to the AfterShokz website: “Transducers guide mini vibrations through the cheekbones to the inner ears, delivering sound without plugging or covering them.”

I’ve now been using these for a month, so I can offer the following personal feedback:

  • they don’t give me an earwax problem, which is fantastic. They also don’t get gross like earbuds.
  • the sound quality is astonishingly good. It blew us all away from the moment we tried it in the store.
  • the microphone is excellent and phone calls made on them are clear.
  • they don’t work well on planes or other places with lots of ambient noise unless you’re happy to use them with earplugs (which I’m not).
  • they cause my cheekbones to ache if I wear them for too long. The tops of my ears as well, although that’s probably because they’re sitting on top of my glasses.
  • they’re much safer for walking and exercising out of doors, because you can hear a bike horn or an approaching car.
  • they’re not great to use while eating, as the chewing disrupts the sound transmission.
  • they’re hard to wear lying down, as the band is solid, so when you lie on it, the pads are pushed out of place.
  • they’re quite discreet, so if you have long (dark) hair, you can hide them quite well and ignore boring conversations without anyone noticing (my niece taught me that one).

As you can see, I’m still quite excited about them! If you’re interested in these, I’d recommend trying them first to see if you like the sensation – it takes a little bit of getting used to!

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When I posted about my adventures at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, Claire left me a comment (thanks Claire!) to tell me about the Plants with Bite exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Pete and I popped in for an explore last week and it’s great!

Entry is free and even though it’s not a huge space, there are oodles of carnivorous plants on display. Including lots of very robust Venus Fly Traps (anyone who has ever tried to grow these at home will tell you how easily they die off)…

Tiny, sticky sundews, with sparkly globules that catch bugs like superglue…

Butterworts and bladderworts, although I didn’t take any photos of the latter…

And the most wonderful array of pitcher plants, both the North American ones that grow on the ground…

…and my all time favourites, these Nepenthes or tropical pitcher plants. Known colloquially as “monkey cups” (as monkeys have been seen drinking rainwater out of them)  the pitchers form from the end of specialised leaves.

Apparently there are 170 different varieties currently known…

The exit is guarded by Audrey II, straight from the theatrical production of Little Shop of Horrors…

I always try to buy something in support when I attend a free exhibition, so I came home with a Gardens magazine and stick-on tattoos, because I’m a child…

I was told the display will be open for at least the first half of this year. It’s based in the Calyx at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney and well worth a visit if you get a chance. Make sure you have a good look at the green wall while you’re there – it’s the largest in Australia!

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ThinOptics

I’ve worn glasses since I was eleven years old.

Pete, on the other hand, has always had excellent eyesight, so he’s found his aging vision particularly frustrating. I’m finding it difficult to be sympathetic, but given my truly appalling sense of direction, we needed to figure out a way for him to read GoogleMaps on his phone without constantly having to rummage around for his reading glasses.

After some research, we discovered these brilliant little lenses by ThinOptics in California.

They’re super lightweight and thin without arms, and fold to fit into a compartment on the back of his iPhone.

I’m not sure how they stay on his nose (apparently that’s the patented technology bit), but Pete says they’re comfortable to wear and feel reasonably secure. They won’t stay on if he shakes his head around too much, and if he smiles too broadly, his cheeks can knock them askew, but they’re certainly fit for purpose. He can now read small text on his phone and order from restaurant menus in dim lighting.

We paid A$32 for the custom iPhone case and A$19.88 for the reading glasses. Shipping was free from the US because we spent over A$50.

After purchase, ThinOptics sent us this discount link which we’re allowed to share with friends – if anyone is interested, it should give you 15% off and free shipping. I don’t think we get anything out of it, other than the same 15% discount, but as the glasses come with a lifetime replacement warranty, I’m not sure why we’d ever need to purchase another pair…

And as an added bonus, I think they make Pete look adorable! ♥

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Do you have time for a cuppa? I’d love to catch you up on what’s been happening over the past couple of weeks. I should warn you though – this is a loooong post!

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Firstly, an update on our attempts to try and reduce our household waste. It’s been four weeks now, and we’ve filled our first bokashi bin. It will sit on the back deck under cover for a further three weeks, during which time the contents should ferment into a compostable form.

I’ll let you know how it goes, but we’ve been really pleased so far – it does smell a bit, but not nearly as much as I thought it would, especially given the fish heads I put in there a fortnight ago. And the smell is more of a fermenting odour rather than a rotting one. I think the bins that we bought – Maze 12L Indoor Composters – are particularly good as they have a rubber seal which keeps them reasonably airtight. Some of the others (including the larger Maze one) just have a loose flap on top.

Using these for a month has led to a huge reduction in the amount of waste we have to throw out each week…

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We’ve made a concerted effort to reduce our use of paper towels as much as possible. The family are loving the cloth napkins – I’m not sure they’ll ever go back to paper! I’ve found that we needed a lot more than I thought we would – we’ve currently got two dozen on rotation, which means I only need to wash once every five days or so.

I’m also making more cotton dishcloths – not wiping up spills with paper towels means we need more of these as well. I’m trying a crocheted version this time, but it’s been twenty years since I last picked up a hook, so there’s a bit of relearning to do. By the way, if you’re making these, Bendigo Mills has the most gorgeous seasonal colours on sale at the moment (link is here). The 200g balls are $12 and equivalent to four regular balls in weight. I get about ten dishcloths from each one.

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The mesh bags are working a treat! I know it’s not essential to colour match the veg to the bags, but it did make for a lovely photo…

Last night, I plugged in my headphones, listened to a James Herriot audiobook, and whipped up a stack of these for family and friends…

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We’ve repaired our laundry basket for the umpteenth time. Every six months of so, we talk about replacing it, but we can never figure out what to do with the old one…

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I’ve picked up a big batch of socks from Richard the podiatrist – unfortunately the sockless scanning technology didn’t work out, so he still has oodles to get rid of. If you’re new to our blog, you can read the whole story here and here. I’ve washed and sterilised them all, and will donate half to charity this winter.

The remaining half I’m turning into a sock blanket and oil bottle drip savers…

I cut the top band off the socks I’m using for the  blanket, but they were too good to waste, so I zigzagged the raw edges and we now use them in place of rubber bands…

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Our lovely neighbour Ellen gave us a couple of rolls of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper to try. I’m sure they’re a great organisation, and the paper is fine, but after much discussion, Pete and I have decided that we need to buy Australian made.  Pete has concerns about the environmental cost of shipping toilet paper from China, whereas I feel that we have so little manufacturing left in Australia that we need to support locally made wherever possible. Obviously this is a personal choice, and I have a lot of friends buying from Who Gives A Crap who are extremely happy with their service and product…

For what it’s worth, I’ve done a bit of research, and our big producers – Kleenex, Sorbent and Quilton – all source their fibre from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) accredited forests. They all manufacture here. Quilton is fully Australian owned; Kimberly-Clark (makers of Kleenex) now have the Greenpeace seal of approval and donate to the World Wildlife Fund (this article by the Guardian is particularly interesting).

All of the above come in plastic wrap, but if you buy in bulk, there’s only one piece of plastic packaging to REDcycle every six weeks (as opposed to individually wrapped rolls or two-packs).

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Our rubbish going into the red bin each week is now down to just half a kitchen bin bag. We’ve found these plastic-free Maze bin liners made from starch. They’re expensive, but we only use one a week now, so that’s not a problem…

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Small Man was immediately on board with our waste reduction attempts, but Big Boy has taken a little longer to get his head around it all. So I was very chuffed this week when he packed himself a pita pocket for lunch, wrapped it in a beeswax wrap and then a furoshiki. Success!

And on the topic of the beeswax wraps, they’ve been the bee’s knees (ugh..sorry). We haven’t used a single piece of clingfilm or a new plastic bag in over a month (we have used recycled bags though). If you haven’t made any of these, I’d encourage you to have a go. And for what it’s worth, we tried adding a little jojoba oil to them, but I really can’t notice a difference, so I’d suggest you save the dollars and just use the wax sheets. Our tutorial on making them is here.

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Moving on to other things…

Dianmari left me a comment last post about substituting leftover sourdough starter for yoghurt in cakes. It worked! I tried it in the blueberry coffee cake – our starter Priscilla is never particularly acidic, but the cake was delicious nonetheless. Pete thought it tasted a bit like berry pancakes. Worth experimenting with if you have leftover starter! The tip was originally in this post by Chocolate and Zucchini…

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Our neighbour Mark allowed us to raid his fig tree this year, and Pete turned the surplus crop into amazing fig and nectarine jam…

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We visited Carriageworks a couple of weeks ago to view  the Katharine Grosse installation. It was magnificent, but we were all troubled by the massive amount of fabric used – 8,000 metres of super heavy duty canvas. And given that the work was spray painted after the fabric was hung, it would be impossible to rehang it anywhere else. One of the volunteers told us that the fabric was all going to be unpicked and then shipped (!) back to Germany to the artist. I hope she turns it into something else…

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A cooking class update on lovely Stephen, who nearly set fire to his kitchen baking his first solo loaf of sourdough. His second loaf was rustic but serviceable.

His third loaf was unbelievably good – it looked like the product of a fancy artisan bakery.  He told me he’d “done some reading” and that because he was adding rye to the mix, he’d had to judge the water quantity “by feel”. Watch this space, folks. I’ll let you know when he opens his microbakery…

. . . . .

I placed my first online order with Harris Farm and was delighted with how my goods arrived. Apart from the carrots and onions (which I’d ordered in bags – obviously I still have a lot to learn) and the half a celery, the remaining veg were all loose in the cardboard box. They’d clearly made an effort to carry through their plastic-free stance to home delivery.

A tip – if you subscribe to the Harris Farm newsletter (at the bottom of this webpage), they’ll email you a barcode that will give you 5% off all vegetable purchases in store. And the first time I used my code, they emailed me a $20 introductory voucher for their online service…

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I finally tried Emilie’s sourdough pita breads, and they’re fabulous! It’s from her book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple – have you picked up your copy yet?

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Last Sunday, I baked three burnished loaves of sourdough…

…and traded them with Tom of Living Fossil Gallery for a $15 discount on this 400 million year old orthoceras plate. If you ever want to get into fossil collecting, orthocerases are a great place to start. They’re very affordable, and highly underrated in my opinion…

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Finally, let me end this long-winded ramble with a couple of photos from yesterday morning’s walk. The sky was filled with the most amazing cotton wool clouds…

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If you’ve made it all the way to the end, thanks for reading! It’s been lovely having a cup of tea with you! ♥

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