We finished the Pool off around a month ago, but I haven't posted pictures until now as there are almost always small children and an awful lot of fluorescent pool toys in it. It's getting a lot of use, and it's been fantastic to have friends over these Summer holidays using the outdoor entertaining spaces to their fullest.

If you're interested in details on the pool, it's a concrete pool that has been fully tiled in the standard range of pool tiles (Antique Aqua). I'd have loved the glass mosaics, but they were going to cost 3 xs as much, so as it was already expensive we decided to go with the normal range. I really wanted green tiles, but unfortunately I seem to be in the minority, as you literally can't buy a standard green pool tile. Any shade of blue is fine, but green… no. So the colour I chose was a muted blue, and looks good with the bluestone paving surrounding the pool, and the rendered grey wall behind.

The wall is around 1.8m high at the highest level, and meets up with our boundary wall. In effect this encloses the pool on two sides. The back wall was designed to screen the utility area behind the pool, and the future garage (currently a very ugly, very large and nearly falling down brown tin shed and carport complex - this is my new project this year).  The other two sides have a glass pool fence (it is law in Australia that all pools are fully enclosed). We looked at a couple of options, however the visibility was the deciding factor. With small children we decided it was safest to have unobstructed viewing from the Outdoor dining area.

The Outdoor dining area has really now come into its own. When the Swing chair was first put up it had a picturesque view over the remaining building site, skips and builders port-a-loo, so naturally the improved view has made this a prime spot to swing with a drink. It's particularly nice to spend time there in the evening when we're having a spectacular sunset. The back of our house faces West, and prior to building the extension we'd never see the sunsets or get the benefit of the light in the late afternoon. 

The pool is in full shade after 1pm, as the sun moves behind the tree. This is the biggest benefit of the tree, as the kids love being in the pool for hours, but I worry about their sun exposure as they're all very fair skinned. 

The garden has come along and is growing in well (as are the weeds!). We still have a lot of planting to do - we've probably put in 2/3rds of the planting, but we have more to go that will have to wait a few months until the really hot weather has waned somewhat and we have milder days. 

view from the Bocce court

Some of the round topiary balls are starting to get their form, filler plants starting to fluff up a bit

I do have an unfortunate problem with Nut Grass. It's a lot like Onion weed in that it comes from tiny bulbs under the ground and has to be carefully lifted by shovel so that you get the bulb up and destroyed. Despite having spent hours doing this, it pops up again within a week - obviously a single tiny bulb left behind. I'm about to go to the last resort - Roundup, which will definitely kill it. But I do hate using non organic pesticides on the garden. Unfortunately though it is insidious and fast growing, and I've not been able to get on top of it in the past 3 months.

Cycad, Crepe Myrtle and Japanese Box topiary with Start Jasmine ground cover 

I've included some photos taken in the evening to show the lighting that we put in. Lighting is hands down the cheapest way to improve anything - a bit of inventive and dramatic lighting will go far further than expensive furniture or finishes. Eventually the back wall of the pool will have Boston Ivy growing over it, which will look spectacular. At the moment it's a tiny plant so we have a long way to go!

 And for a bit of contrast, here is the back garden in its before state

Before we started renovations when it was a neglected lawn tennis court

The old rotary clothes line and the big tree behind - this is where the pool is now.

This time last year - View from the Outdoor Dining, to a building site 

 Side view of the enormous brown shed and the tree. The trampoline is approximately where the pool is now

 Rubbish and the outdoor dining area

 one of our boundary fences with weeds and the trees struggling in the Summer - these are now garden beds that I've pictured above. 

Apologies for the quality of the photos - unfortunately my generally terrible photography is worse for this post as my DSL camera charger has stopped working, so the battery is flat. I took these with my phone...
I think I might write a smilier post on on this theme each year at the same time, but I think with a New Year I tend to do a stocktake of my wardrobe purchases and my existing wardrobe from the past year and think about how I'm going to proceed in the coming year. I'm nothing if not a planner.

Dressing room inspiration via

I don't subscribe to any particular theory (such as Project 333 or the Ten Item Wardrobe etc), although I do enjoy reading about how others approach their wardrobes as you can see from my blogroll - a few of the blogs relate to wardrobe purchase/ organisation, and I probably favour the quality over quantity theory in general. While I am not a minimalist, some of the images I see pinned on Pinterest of closets stuffed to the brim with the gaspy comments of awe beneath them leave me a little cold - all the waste! The vast majority of the contents would never be worn, or worn only a handful of times. Somewhere in-between is a healthy medium - a wardrobe where things are worn often, give options, suit  your lifestyle, are comfortable, and you look reasonably polished. I have been trying to adhere to quality over quantity, ethical production (not sweatshop), and purchasing for my actual life (rather than my fantasy one of constant cocktail parties). I also don't like having things hanging around too long in my wardrobe that I don't wear for whatever reason. I quite like a clear out.

the now famous three storey closet in Houston with its own built in bar via 

This time last year I identified that I was purchasing far too many party clothes. It was likely due to an element of escapism from our rather unpleasant renovating and living circumstances at the time, and probably the additional emotional stress of the death of my Mother and Grandmother in fairly close succession that year. It's very easy to find pretty evening dresses heavily discounted online, rather than the wardrobe basics (which tend to look fairly dull by contrast, and will often sell out at full price). And as my Grandmother was fond of saying "There's nothing like a new frock to cheer a girl up".

So this past year I tried to buy clothes suited for my actual life (which I'd say would be more like 70% casual everyday, 5% special occasion, 15% dinner/ evening out, 10% dressy day ware) and replace some of the basic foundation items/ classics that were wearing out and looking tired (like a black pencil skirt that was 16 years old, knit ware developing those annoying holes at centre hip height where jean buttons rub etc).

corner of my dressing room (shared with Mr AV)

If you were reading the blog this past year you would have seen that I did a few nip and tucks of existing things also - I had my lovely classic 12 year old Max Mara coat shortened (I had stopped wearing it as it was so long it swamped me), dresses altered to fit my frame better, shoes reheeled and resoled and other general wardrobe maintenance. The things that were good quality to start with I've been able to wear for years - as long as it's maintained properly.

revived 12 year old charcoal coat with half a metre cut off the bottom of it.

I wrote a list of everything that I purchased in 2014 at the end of December. From scarfs and jewellery to bags, shoes, jackets, dresses and everything in between. And I was quite pleased with what I had on the list. It wasn't excessively long, and it definitely emphasised quality over quantity. 1/4 of my purchases directly replaced something that had worn out and needed replacement and updating (example: nude coloured heels, a black pencil skirt, a black cardigan). Half my purchases involved some form of discount - I had a mental list of what I needed to replace or was looking to fill a gap in my wardrobe with so searched during the half yearly sales for those things (thus avoiding impulse buys).

New shoes this past year that replaced another pair of now tatty black patent heels with an old clutch bag

In analysing what were the more expensive buys - well, of course I put money into shoes (I really do think they make a difference to your outfit) there were three pairs purchased that directly replaced other pairs that went to the shoe graveyard in the sky (or my daughters dress up box). Some of my most worn every day purchases included items such as a black faux fur and merino wool Gilet from New Zealand brand Sabatini - toasty warm and worn constantly through winter over my existing knits. An oversized grey cashmere Sweater from Brora was also an expensive purchase, even at a very reduced price, but I wore it constantly through Winter with skinny jeans or stretchy leggings and knee high boots, having taken inspiration from this image I found on Pinterest below. Mr AV started referring to it as my Uniform. I'm not sure he liked it as much as I did…Oh well, he'll no doubt be very excited to see me pulling that outfit out again this Winter.

Pinterest inspiration via

Bargain buys included a floral Zara shirt that I wear quite a bit with skinny jeans and ballet flats and my J Brand jeans (purchased from Gilt online for $70 compared to $250 locally and replacing another pair that have been reclassified to gardening jeans after they developed holes). Due to the fact that having now worn nicer designer clothes (and not wanting to go back to relatively expensive yet poorly cut and finished synthetic fabric mixes in garments at full price), I instead made a few purchases of second hand designer dresses via eBay. Things that cost $2000-3,500 new and have been worn maybe a handful of times (if that - one dress appears to have never been sat in according to my alterations lady) are instead sold very inexpensively on eBay, and I picked up a few things this way from Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta.

second hand Oscar de la Renta heavy wool tweed dress

The dresses were to add to my existing dinner or lunch out dress category. I attend a reasonable quantity of these sort of events with Mr AV for his work, and need to dress in a slightly conservative and dressy way. Definitely no jeans, no skinny leggings, nothing too obviously trendy...I am generally the youngest female at these events by quite some years. I also have difficulty outfit repeating too much - there tends to be a cross over with some of the same guests at different events, so I try to rotate things a little so that they don't end up seeing the same thing constantly. It ends up being a reasonably specific category of clothes that I like to have a few options for.

The category that received the least attention from me was that of scarfs, accessories and bags. I tend to rotate wear through the same jewellery (real and costume), same belts etc, and I haven't purchased a day bag for 4 years.

What writing it all down does is to make me aware of wastage - I can see exactly what I spent my money this past year, and what has worked out to be the things I've worn constantly and what I haven't. The other thing it does is to show up gaps in my wardrobe, and when I get those inevitable sale notices in the inbox (or if I do happen to be in a shop) I will instead hone into what it is that I require, rather than be distracted by all the other things that are 70% off and that I really didn't realise I needed until that very moment.

So I suppose in a nutshell my approach has been to replace the tired, maintain the existing, and identify the gaps so that I have more options from what I already have. And I think it's worked for me this past year. I've never subscribed fully to any one of the wardrobe theories that float around (no matter how interesting I find them). I lived with a true minimalist capsule wardrobe for a year in London 16 years ago, and was sick to death of it by the end (one suitcase full of clothes for both Summer and Winter when I moved there, and student life and then work induced poverty as an Interior Design Slave meant I didn't buy much additional clothing or shoes for that year).

Do you have a wardrobe theory you subscribe to? I'm always interested to hear how other people approach it… or even if you have a plan at all? Do you purchase at the start of each season, or only on sale, or buy lots of things on impulse then return most of them? I think the thing this has shown me is that we're all a work in progress, and I most certainly am!

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll know I'm quite fond of a cup of tea, and Morning or Afternoon tea parties in general, and love nothing more than the ritual of making and drinking a cup of tea at home. It's a bit of a mental decompress for me during the day, in the same way a coffee is for many others.

Most people don't know that Tea is actually a fragrance, rather than a taste. I once watched a BBC program in which they found people with heightened senses in all different areas who were experts in their fields - so the sense of smell and taste was for the wine taster and smell for the perfumer (Nose), taste was for the tea taster (professional job at Twinings) and Chocolate tester and after that I have forgotten what the other people were there for (or the name of the program - sorry to be so vague). The idea was that they analysed their taste buds and ability to smell scientifically to show what it was that made them good at their job - did they have more taste buds etc than a normal person.

The surprising part of it was that they found the tea taster had a normal number of taste buds (others such as the wine taster had an actual increase in taste bud numbers), but had an extraordinary sense of smell to match the Perfumer. They then analysed tea and said that it was in fact a scent, rather than a taste. But your brain is tricked into thinking it is a taste.

my tea table

For me, this suddenly all made sense. Whenever I have a head cold, I don't remotely feel like a cup of tea. When I do have one it is not at all satisfying. This is no doubt because I don't smell anything, therefore it's just a cup of hot water.

 via Lady Sarah in London's blog in which she has a section on places to have Afternoon Tea in London

Now to the question of milk. If you want proper tea, you drink it black and without milk, and this was the way it was always drunk in Asia (where tea was first drunk), and initially how it was drunk in the West when it reached England and France. However, the English added milk in at some point in the 18th Century, and of course elevated the whole thing to performance art with an etiquette associated with it. In this way they are not dissimilar to the Asians - the Tea Ceremony the Japanese have always associated with the ritual drinking of tea, and which comes with specific utensils, ways of pouring, presentation of certain foods (tiny cakes etc) to eat with it.

family for afternoon tea on a Sunday

The English invented their own version of taking tea too, and the etiquette associated with it. So the tricky question now is how to put in the milk. I am going to state right now that I don't personally care how you take your tea at home. I don't actually add milk to mine so it's a moot point at any rate. But if you wish to follow correct etiquette and tea making it is milk in last, not first. This is for a few reasons. From a taste perspective if you add milk in first you can't judge the strength of the tea poured from the pot and therefore may have added too much milk initially.

From an etiquette point of view it is thought that the milk- in- first came from the aspiring and rising middle classes in England, who acquired the new technology bone china tea cups and wished to protect them from the hot tea as they worried they'd shatter them (porcelain, and how to make it was a secret the Chinese controlled for a long time. Porcelain is fired at much higher temperatures, and is much stronger). So they'd put in milk first so that it would mix with the hot water from the teapot and protect the cup. Of course this meant that it became a symbol of affluence (and therefore a Class distinction) to put your milk in later, as you could either afford to break a tea cup, or you had the much more expensive porcelain to start with.

These days the whole thing is wrong from a point of view of shattering a teacup - the water should have already been sitting for 5 minutes in a tea pot brewing, so is no longer at boiling point, and the modern manufacture of China means you will definitely not shatter a tea cup from pouring boiling water in it straight from the kettle at any rate (given that most are now dishwasher safe, and experience far higher temperatures in a dishwasher).

So it irks me enormously to have read several times people categorically stating that the milk goes in first. If you want to drink your tea that way, it's fine… but it's not correct from an etiquette or tea drinking perspective, so stating it as fact is what irritates me. I read this from a former Editor of Australian Vogue Living who wrote in an editorial that his grandmother was insistent on milk in first (the implication being it was the correct form), and more recently in the book "Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm" (photo above with my cup of tea) in which Paul Bangay reminisced on Rattle's liking of the ritual of tea, and the fact that milk was always to go in first.

In recent years, coffee has been elevated to an art form (see Naomi's very funny blog post here on the Barista with attitude), and tea drinking has taken a back seat. So much so that my pet hate is walking into a Cafe and finding a gleaming and enormous coffee machine with a Barista with attitude manning it, and after I order a cup of tea being given a thick coffee cup with hot water and a tea bag in it and being charged $4.50.

Darjeeling tea leaves via

This is annoying for so many reasons. One is that tea should always be served in a tea cup. It has a wider surface area, and narrows at the base so that the fragrance is dispersed more easily and so that the water temperature can cool sufficiently. As I drink my tea black, I usually have to wait for it to cool to a temperature that I can drink as the lack of milk doesn't add a cooling element. Secondly being give hot, rather than boiling, water ruins tea. It should always be boiled first. Coffee machines do not produce boiling water as boiling water ruins coffee (it should be made with 96C water), so the temperature is never hot enough to bring out the proper fragrance of tea. Thirdly, the tea bag. I drink tea from tea bags at home, but if you're going to bang on about your special blend of coffee beans harvested by Vestal Virgins under a full moon, "house roasted" and then grind them separately for each cup of coffee you produce, then you can put some tea leaves in a small tea pot and give me a proper cup of tea for the excessive amount of money you just charged me instead of handing me a tea bag with tepid water I have to combine myself.

So these are the my components to make the best cup of tea, after this you can make it as complicated or simple as you like and you won't go wrong in my book:

  • Use real tea leaves. These will be actual shrivelled up little leaves, rather than looking like powdered dust (which is the cheapest grade left for tea bags). If using bags, the nicer upmarket ones that have actual tea leaves inside them are a good option (but I do drink Twinings at home - I would be bankrupt from the amount of tea I drink if I insisted on gourmet tea bags, and sometimes doing a whole pot-full is too much pfaffing). I like T2 in Australia for their enormous variety of tea selections. Darjeeling is generally regarded as the King of Tea. English Breakfast is the most popular and a safe bet. 
  • Use boiling water from a kettle. Zip taps in an office or Coffee machines do not produce hot enough water.
  • Use a tea cup. You want surface area, much like a wine glass, to disperse the scent.
  • Put the milk in (if you take it) last. Once tea is poured you can better judge the strength of the tea by the colour.
  • Lump sugar is aesthetically nicer in a sugar bowl than fine white powder. I like La Perruche (warning: link has jazz music if you're in the office) which I buy in my supermarket.

real tea leaves in tea bags via

Some aspects of the tea drinking etiquette I tend to ignore when hosting people for morning or afternoon tea - I personally prefer to hand around the milk jug and sugar bowl so that people can help themselves. Some people like a dash of milk, others half the jug full and I think it's actually nicer for people to be able to make it the way they like, rather than how the host judges it, but this is not technically correct etiquette, and I do know that!

gratuitous cake photo of my kitchen

There are rituals around tea and coffee drinking for a reason - it affords a relaxing break during the day. I know when I worked in a fairly intense office environment for 10-12 hours a day, I viewed it as a mental decompress, in much the same way a pre-dinner "sharpener" (a Gin and Tonic, glass of bubbles etc) does at the end of the day.

Are you a coffee or tea person? And how do you take yours?

This is hands down a crowd pleasing dip to serve when you're entertaining. Best of all it's easy and tastes so much better than anything you could possibly buy in a ready made pot (gourmet or not) that you have no excuses to not make it from scratch.

I'm always asked what is in this guacamole (as the eaters shovel more enormous globs into their mouths), and so I feel like I'm giving away one of my biggest culinary secrets by writing it here. But I like to better mankind, so here it is for you to enjoy.


1 Avocado
2 Tbsp Sour Cream or plain Yoghurt (if you want the health option)
3 Tbsp chopped Coriander/ Cilantro
4 cherry tomatoes cut into 1/8 sized pieces
1 spring onion/ scallion finely sliced and chopped into small pieces
3 Tbsp Sweet Chilli Sauce
1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice

Mash the avocado up with a potato masher or fork and add in the Sour Cream, Lime juice and Sweet Chilli Sauce. Stir until smooth and evenly combined. Add the other chopped ingredients, stir through and serve with a side of corn chips.

Easy! It's the Sweet Chilli Sauce that is the secret ingredient. People are always thinking it's the coriander, or the tomatoes… but it's the sauce. For a larger crowd I double the recipe (as shown above in the photo) and it always disappears quickly.  I like to make the base smooth and have the chunk from the vegetable additions.

For any overseas readers who are unsure what Sweet Chilli Sauce is, it's commonly found in Australian supermarkets now, but you may well find it in your supermarket in the Asian sauce aisle, and it's worth hunting down as it's delicious.

I awoke this morning to find a smokey haze hanging over our house, and the distinct smell of bush fires in the air.

We have had some extreme heat the past few days - yesterday was 44C, and with not a lot of rain for the past few months the grass and bush is tinder dry in the Mount Lofty Ranges, which fringe the city of Adelaide.

My Dad lives in an area that is currently under thread from an erratically burning bushfire, not that close but close enough to cause anxiety and for him to have to action his bushfire plan. Hopefully the township of Stirling will be OK - the big Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 reached the bottom of the garden before the wind swung around and the house and garden were saved. But wind changes can also cause devastation and destruction, so this afternoon may bring relief to some, and disaster to others when the expected cooler change arrives with its huge wind gusts.

Hopefully there will be no loss of life - already homes have been lost in the North East of the city in the semi rural areas there. Fires are also burning out of control in Country Victoria. It's not going to be a good season this year.

As you can imagine we are all feeling somewhat on edge, sitting at home in our air conditioning and waiting to hear if things are ok. I thought I'd post some photos I took of Dad's home and garden last week. It was green and cool and verdant.

Update: the cool change has led the fire in a direction away from my Dad's and was thankfully always a reasonable distance from Stirling although due to it burning in all directions was a concern. It's still burning out of control and is expected to continue for the next week with more high temperatures in the latter part of the week. 
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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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