Hello world!

Welcome to Within these Walls, my blog about family life, homeschooling and starting over in a new country (again).


Laundry sink, before-and-after

The laundry sink in our house is horrible. Nasty. Icky. Although AnoneeDad said that it looked like cement had been poured down it, I always assumed it had done the rusting equivalent of stainless steel. On a whim one day I took a pot scourer to the sink, and found that the “rust” did indeed peel away. I am really struggling to maintain enthusiasm for pretty much anything right now – it’s my end-of-year energy slump, I think – so this was an obvious quick-and-easy morale boosting project. Hmmm. Not so quick-and-easy. I tried my old stand-by, paint-stripper, with no results. Scrubbing with a pot scourer was only effective when working from the edges and chipping the layer of cement off the stainless surface. Rough sandpaper and my electric sander helped, but I eventually brought out the big guns – my drill (I got custody of the power tools as part of my birthday gift) and a grinding attachment. In retrospect this wasn’t the brightest idea, as it left some marks on the sink, but the end result is a sink that looks clean and useable – a huge improvement.  

Once I’d started, it seemed silly to put up with the ugly black paint that had been slapped over the splash tiles behind the sink, so some paint-stripper and scraping later I had the tiles back to their original gray. It took another 10 days before I got around the repainting the wall that had been damaged by the masking tape I’d used, but here it is: Project 12, completed.

I have somehow ended up on two committees for next year – one for Chick’s homeschool class, and one for Bugsie’s playgroup.

What was I thinking?

I think this counts as a Project, don’t you?

It’s been a lousy week. Like any great idea that works, keeping up with the Project-a-Week plan has hit a wall, and seemed to be going to same way as Early-Bedtimes, Monday-is-for-Housecleaning and Freezer-Meal-Planning. I finished the wicking beds at the beginning of last week, and it is now the end of this week, so I have had two weeks where it’s been back to aimless web surfing and TV watching…

But I’m not ready to give up yet! On Thursday I went and bought a pallet from $5 from The Dump, and on Friday I found another that had been put out for the bulk garbage collection. Friday afternoon and this morning were spent demolishing the pallets and by midday I was looking at my version of Ana White’s Pallet Shelf. As a bonus, I cut pieces for three smaller shelves which I will finish less “rustically” and fill with plants for Bugsie’s three playgroup teachers as year-end gifts.

It goes without saying that I’m smiling from ear-to-ear, and all ready for Project 11!


After the weeks and weeks it took to finish the storage bench, I was keen for something that delivered quicker results!

Project 7: Chickpea’s Arabian birthday tent

Yes, you can make an Arabian style tent for your daughter’s 10th birthday party with a cheap gazebo frame from Bunnings, 60 metres of white muslin, two elastic bands and a couple of packets of safety pins.

Delay the tree lobber who was due to remove the palm trees on the day of the party. Throw down some carpets and cushions on the grass. String up some fairy lights inside the tent. Make houmous, felafel and an Arabic honey cake. Hire someone to do henna designs. Happy 10th Birthday Chickpea!


Project 8: A wheelbarrow garden bed

Bugsie investigates...

 As the next post will show, we have been busy building a wicking bed. I wanted to transplant some butternut seedlings that had grown in the compost AnoneeDad used to plant a couple of grape vine cuttings in. Butternuts take up lots of space though, so after some investigation (and a very brief look at the finances), I decided to make a cheap raised garden bed for the two seedlings.  

I picked up a wheelbarrow for $5 from the Balcatta Recycling Centre (more descriptively known as “The Dump”).  At home I drilled half a dozen large holes in the base of the wheelbarrow, and threaded lengths of muslin through the holes. (You will recall the 60 metres of white muslin from the previous project!) The bottom half of each “wick” is left soaking in a bucket of water, the theory being that the water will wick up to the bed as needed – butternut are thirsty, and I am a lackadaisical gardener. The top halves of the wicks where spread inside the barrow, buried in the soil. I filled the barrow with a mix of compost and manure, and sent AnoneeDad off on a mission to find the old clothes drying rack I had noticed outside someone’s house in advance of an upcoming bulk waste collection day. That was added as a trellis for the vines to grow along.

Frugal wicking wheelbarrow bed

I am very interested to see how this experimental bed works. Some issues to consider:

  • Will it actually wick?
  • Does “likes manure rich soil” mean “use 50% manure 50% compost”?
  • Will the plants survive transplanting (umm, no – one has died already)
  • Will the extra butternut seed I planted germinate?
  • Is one wheelbarrow enough room for two butternut plants?
  • Will the rusty barrow lead to iron poising?

“Home-maker” is not a term I’d willingly use to describe myself. At least, not until I stumbled on Ana White’s website. She adds a whole new meaning to the word.

Earlier this year I saw a post on a homeschooling website that spoke about Ana’s site. The poster had made a school table for her family. She said something along the lines of “I’ve always wanted to try woodworking but I was too scared of power tools. Then for my 40th birthday I asked for some tools.”  Her words described my feelings exactly. The difference was that the poster had stopped talking, and started doing.

Week 1

Months later I went back to Ana’s site, did some research, made a trip to Bunnings with AnoneeDad, and came home with timber and a mitre saw, which seemed like the least deadly of the wood-cutting power tools. I got a few kids’ woodworking books to get familiar woodworking terms. But the saw sat in its box until AnoneeDad next left town. This was my adventure, and I needed to do it alone. I spent more time online in the first week than I did building. How did anyone do anything new before YouTube? I watched videos on how to use a mitre saw, and how to change a jig saw blade and how to use the Kreg jig. Then, of course, I found a specialist woodworking shop, and bought a Kreg Jig, because pocket holes look really cool. Bunnings became my second home as I bought set squares and clamps and counter sink bits and learned how to use them. I learnt how to use power tools in the presence of a 3yr old boy without losing any fingers. I tried stuff. I held my breath and closed my eyes and tried stuff.

Maybe I can do this...

After two weeks I had something resembling the storage bench I was trying to build, but it took another month and a small fortune in stains and varnishes before I finally finished the project.

Despite plenty of flaws (and a slight wobble) I’m prouder of this bench than pretty much anything else I’ve done in my life.

Yes, I CAN do it!

[If you’re still reading – my Master’s degree, home birth, staying on my feet with complete placenta previa – and not letting the subsequent C-section slow me down – and coping with the moves to Oman and Australia respectively are the other achievements that make my list!]

Project 4: Stripping and varnishing a counter


Although I had several projects underway, my goal is to complete one project a week for 52 weeks, so I was forced to pick a quick-and-easy project for Week 4. The striking feature of the house we bought is its colour scheme. Apart from very bright colours in the children’s bedrooms, the house is decorated in black and white. The floors are (were, but more about that later) black vinyl, there are 3 charcoal-grey wall, and the woodwork is all painted black.  

As my 4th project I decided, on a whim, to try to strip the black paint off the counter separating kitchen from living area. I used the fantastic Citristrip that I was in the process of using on the floors (more about that later). The black paint peeled off, revealing what I think must be jarrah underneath. I coated it with three coats of a water-based satin varnish, and the finished result closely matched our Indian Rosewood (shesham, sheesham) TV cabinet.  Definitely a success!

Project 5: The floors!

Before: Black vinyl to left and right of shot.After: White ceramic in the centre.

When we first saw our house offered for sale online, the floors looked like black slate. On our first inspection it was clear that they were black vinyl (rather more in keeping with the house price). Once we moved in it became clear that there was something under the vinyl – we could see the imprint of slightly smaller tiles under the vinyl tiles.

Soon after I was bitten by the project bug I decided to take the leap and try to pull up some vinyl tiles. It didn’t really occur to me that there would be no turning back – once up, a vinyl tile could not be replaced, and formed a rather stark contrast to the white ceramic tiles I found underneath.

This was definitely the most demanding of the projects I have undertaken. It was a hard, messy work. Each tile would have to be ripped off using a paint scraper and brute force. After clearing as big and area as I could practically access without making contact with glue-covered ceramic tiles I had to apply Citristrip paint stripper, and leave for at least 3hrs. The resulting gooyey stripper-glue gunk then needed to be removed using a paint scraper. Next I scrubbed off any residue using Citristrip paint remover wash. I then washed the floor, before using a normal cleaner (usually Easy-Off Bam or Sugar Soap), then washing again. After a few days any glue I had missed would collect enough dirt to become apparent, and could be removed with paint stripper. And all this had to be accomplished making sure no-one came in contact with nasty slippery chemicals.

The results were somewhat mixed. The house looks much bigger and brighter without the black flooring, but it’s also clear the ceramic tiles were covered for a reason: the top coating of the tiles has eroded, so they dirty quickly, and a few tiles are irreparably scratch. Still, despite the blisters, chafing, head-aches and sore arm muscles, this project was a success – we’re happy enough with the current state of the floors to delay replacing the floors for a year or so, which will have major financial implications over the life of our mortgage.