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[Tuesday, 2015-01-13, 22:48]
Happy New Year!

It's only one week until the 2015 Tour Down Under ride which this year is about 150Km. I'm sure I'll be fine, but I must admit I'm a bit out of practice. With moving house I havn't been riding to work as much as I'd like and I haven't done much in the way of social riding for a while. A couple weeks back I arranged to go for a ride with Matt, we went out through Stirling, then Piccadilly, Ashton, Cherryville and back via Mount Lofty. We did a little over 40Km, a long way off the 150Km TDU but still a very enjoyable ride. I did the same ride on New Year's Day with Eli, someone I know from high school (18 years ago!) but haven't seen since high school.

I mentioned recently that we'd been doing a few things to the house, namely roof restoration, solar power and solar hot water. The roof restoration went well, done by a company called Local Roof Care. It's not quite as nice as a brand new Colorbond roof however since it's a paint job I fully understand it won't look the same as what comes out of a factory. The roof looks good now, a million times better than what it was and our colour choice (Woodland Grey) goes nicely with our surroundings and even goes well with the Heritage Green gutters and verandah posts.

The Solar Depot 5kW Solar Power is done and we're getting good results. I got a Steplight EW4009 Wireless Energy Meter for inside the house so we can see how much we are generating versus how much we're using. This is actually quite important with the changes in Solar rebates because we really don't get paid a lot for power we export to the grid. These days it's about using your appliances wisely as to ensure the power you consume is the same power generated by the solar. So that means look at what you're generating versus consuming so you don't end up using more than you're producing. Of course any excess still gets a credit, but not much. The meter will tell us if we can use our washing machine + dishwasher at the same time, or whether we aren't producing enough to operate both together for free.

Solar Depot also installed 3 panels of Evacuated Tube Solar Hot Water system for us. It looks awesome, and works really well. We had to drain the system to install the panels and it was refilled and commissioned somewhere around 2pm. By 5pm it was hot enough to have a shower. I now have the electricity switched off to my water heater, it's running on solar only. The water is now so hot that it would actually cause a serious burn. Even on a hot day the water coming out the tap is steaming, and during strong sunlight sometimes we can her the hot water tank boiling in the roof. Our house being 20 years old does not have a tempering valve which means tap hot water is direct from the tank - very close to boiling. This could cause serious burns so I'll have to get a tempering valve installed. For those that don't know, a tempering valve mixes some cold water in with the hot, as to ensure the water coming from the hot tap is hot but not to the point of being dangerous.

Here's some photos of our Solar stuff ...

The latest thing at the house has been tidying up the orchard where we have a several fruit trees including apples and cherryplums. The birds have already been having a feast so we have been trying to get nets up. We have of a bit more of an idea now, but at first it was really challenging.

We're also on a mission in the orchard to get the blackberries under control. There are lots along the fence which I'm OK with, but we all dislike the little ones that pop up all over the ground and make it difficult to walk around without catching a thorn.

When we bought the house, the previous owner Gary offered me a tractor and slasher at a decent price. So I have this as a toy and it's fun to use plus also eats everything in its path really quickly. But it's a monster to get out, and while it cuts nicely it doesn't cut all that low. I wanted to cut really low in the orchard so we can start discouraging blackberry growth - my regular lawnmower did a good job but the area is too big for a push mower. I did a bit of looking around at ride-on mowers but that quickly got up to a proposed spend over $6000. Considering the work that the mower would have to contend with, I thought I might try my luck with a cheapie from Gumtree. I saw a few, but then this old-looking one was there for $1000 including a trailer and a 'dozer blade. On the one day I went to look at a John Deere for $2500, then this Rover Rancher for $1000. I settled on the Rancher mainly based on price but in hindsight there are a lot of other benefits. Firstly it's all metal - the John Deere 'shell' was made of plastic. Secondly it's an auto-drive which means I drive with the heel and toe of my right foot - heel for backwards, tow for forwards. This was great when doing around the trees, whereas the other one I would be constantly shifting the gear stick to achieve the same result.

I mowed half the orchard last weekend using the Rancher. It was good fun, and the machine did a wonderful job nice and low to the ground. Something else too - the girls love the machine. They climb on it, pretend to drive it, and of course go for rides in the trailer.

We have nets over two apple trees and those apples will be ready soon. The plums are about done, we've picked sevreal buckets-full and they are just lovely. Once the fruit has finished we'll have to prune the trees - they have been ignored for a long time and ar a bit scraggly and a bit too big.

In signing off for this entry I'd just like to say that I'm really enjoying living "out here" and I'm realising more every day that it's a wonderful place. We are only 25 minutes from town yet we have a freeway almost to our door, we have a big block with lots of trees and plenty of wildlife every day.

And compared to suburban living, it's all about the things I *can* do. If I want to jump in my pool naked, I can (not that I do, but I could). If I want to make noise such as vacuum the car at 11pm I'm not going to annoy my neighbours. I have enough space to drive both cars onto the lawn and wash them. If I want to have a campfire to keep warm and/or cook food and/or toast marshmallows, then I can (but not during fire danger season).

Here's a couple of random photos to finish off.

Anyway that's all for now - hope we all have a good year ahead for 2015.

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