Let the Essential Oil Distilling Begin!

Fox Hill Hollow Eucalyptus Oil

We had to trim a termite infested branch of one of our Blakelyi Red Gum trees the other day and rather than waste the leaves by using them as kindling I really wanted to make essential oil. Being a cosmetic chemist whose been keen on making their own ingredients since I was about 19 this day has been a long time coming but finally I got to cook up some oils!

I wrote all about the experience on my Realize Beauty blog here and am now inspired to try more and learn more about the distillation process as I think it would bring a great new dimension to the lessons I plan to teach out at Fox Hill Hollow.  I’m sure that everyone will appreciate the chance to go home with their own little piece of aromatic heaven, fresh from the farm and I know I’ll enjoy cooking it!


Dogs and Logs on a winters day.

There is nothing better than seeing the excitement on the dogs faces when we arrive at the land.  The only down side is that Maisy started to get a little too excited a while back and her killer instinct kicked in thanks to our lethargic local Kangaroo and Wallaby population who seem to take rather a long time to come up with an exit plan when we arrive, no matter how slowly we arrive!  Rather than end up with Maisy having to be tethered up during our non-walking time I looked into getting her a backpack that I could use to weigh her down a bit with the hope of slowing her down.  I’ve been using the backpack on her walks back home but have not been putting any weight in it as I don’t really want to beef her up any – I’d struggle to hold her back if she got much stronger, she’s already pretty sturdy – but today was the first time using it here and using it full!

Into the backpack went 2 x tins of diced pineapple and 2 x tins of soup – just under 1Kg of weight into each pocket. Not enough to stress her but enough to slow her down and allow any curious Kangaroos or Wallabies to hop, skip and jump away in time.  Maisy did jump a bit at first when the tins clattered together and I could see that she was a bit miffed at having to carry the extra weight around but within about 10 minutes she seemed to just get on with life as if nothing had happened and I could get on with stacking up the wood that Aub had chopped.

A good day all round, no animals were harmed and the food tins lived to be eaten another day 🙂

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House plans in, site office construction starts

There’s nothing quite like a full moon on a crisp winters night to get you in the mood for some thinking and that’s exactly what we were out at Fox Hill Hollow to do. Our plans have gone into council now and hopefully (fingers crossed) within three weeks we will know if we can get started or not.  We are both so excited even though it might take some time to finish as we plan to build this step-by-step with money saved along the way rather than taking out a loan.  So, in light of that we need to think about our immediate comfort and ability to work and that’s where the site office comes in.

The site office was chosen a little under two weeks ago, a 20 foot shipping container that we now just have to decide where to place.  We have somewhat outgrown the small caravan now that our children are taller than me (that’s not too hard though) and with nowhere to house granddad when he comes to lend a hand this container office/ spare room can’t come fast enough!  We opted for a 20 foot rather than another 40 foot container as we didn’t want to over-containerise the block (our permanent house will be made of 4 x 40 footers).  Also we didn’t want to commit to having to ‘do up’ a massive space.

The plan is for this 20 foot container to be split into two rooms,  one site office with a sofa bed and the other with a double bunk on the bottom and single bunk on top (or something similar).  That way we go from one to three bedrooms if and when we need it – we might even be able to start our retreat venture early!

After a bit of puzzling it was decided to place this new container out the front of the 40 footer which has become the garage/ shed really.  There will be a walkway between the new and old container that ends in a small portaloo style toilet facility (for night-time emergencies, our proper loo is a pit toilet further away) and the bush shower which we are about to plumb in heating for – can’t wait for that.  So all up it should be quite flash in a glamping kind of way.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the space we cleared for the new container.  Come next weekend it should be all placed and ready for us to start the building work.

A Hazy Shade of Winter

Even on a damp and cold (by Australian standards) winters day Fox Hill Hollow still stretches out its warm embracing welcome to us, welcoming us into what seems like another world!  This world is mossy and quiet, every changing yet timeless and wise, a world that has tiny little eyes that follow you from behind the grasses and trees, like the Wallaby that followed up on our morning walk, stopping just far enough away to secure a good view for her and a too-distant photo for us.

This weekend the night was lit up by a beautiful full moon  – a strawberry moon apparently and one that sweeps its bath across the sky, starting its journey from behind our caravan window.  Mum tells me that one of her earliest memories of my first days on earth was of me settling to the glow of the full moon that illuminated the sky on my third day of life.  I have been smitten ever since and still find silver a peaceful and calming colour and the moons soft glow strangely comforting.

We needed to come out for some quiet time this week, a bit of a recharge of the batteries after a tough couple of months.  Stress places an immense toll on the body both Aub and I had been feeling quite sick on and off because of it.   Life can get heavy at times. One night of woodland peace doesn’t solve everything but it does create a pause and sometimes that’s all you need to feel like you have slowed the world down enough to step back onto it.

Here’s to tree therapy at Fox Hill Hollow on this hazy winters day and look, I even managed to find a mustachioed face made from poo with Donald Trump hair! I promise I didn’t touch a thing, it was pooped that way 🙂

Stinging Nettle Soup

Falling into stinging nettles was an occupational hazard of mine when I was 5 through to age 12. This was neither fun nor painless as I’m sure you can imagine but believe it or not every time I see stinging nettles now I am instantly transported to a happy place, a place where the tiny piece of wilderness that I used to play in at the top of my street was my own private universe!  I remember spying on the farmer as he tried to round-up his sheep,  collecting wool from the barbed wire fence to take home and spin, whittling twigs into arrows and spears and, of course, climbing up and jumping out of trees and into stinging nettles. Ouch!  But whatever happened, no amount of temporary stinging pain could take away the joy that I felt just being out there in the country, surrounded by trees. Oh how little has changed 🙂

Anyway, I saw these on the weekend and thought that one day soon I’d better cook up some nettle soup!

nettles large


I’ve never tried it as I assumed it would be either prickly (apparently not) or tasteless (maybe so according to this recipe from the River Cottage).  I think I’ll gather up the other ingredients and make some next time we are on the land, before the nettles retreat for another winter as no matter how it tastes it will be a free vitamin boost!  If the nutritional data on the interwebs is to be believed nettles are a rich source in vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and iron – I could always do with more iron!  I am just going to make sure I have some tasty stock cubes to put in there just in case it does just taste like boiled weeds.

On another note I should eat these to get rid of them as they are not even supposed to be here. I bet some English chap brought them over with the foxes, rabbits and feral cats back in the day.  By eating them I’d be doing the Australian bushland a favour probably although I’m not sure if eating the leaves kills the plans? Maybe I’d have to dig it up?  But then what if I like my soup?

Maybe I’ll wait and see how it tastes before I decide whether to exterminate my non-native green friend.

What do you think?



Starry starry night at Fox Hill Hollow

The nights out west can be pretty magical thanks to ultra-low light pollution and a horizon that stretches out in all directions as far as the eyes can see. One night Aub and I were awakened by a light so luminous and silvery that we thought it must be someone up against the caravan window with a powerful flash light!  Needless to say there were a few tense moments of deciding who should go and look before we both realised that we were being spied on by the biggest, brightest moon I’d ever seen in my life!  Absolutely breathtaking.

This weekend was no different in the magical skies department.  We don’t seem to get as many rainy days out this side of the dividing range and so most evenings are clear and relatively cloudless.   I must admit to being an absolute novice when it comes to star-gazing in spite of it being a childhood hobby of mine but even I was able to make out the milky way wrapping its way over head. Magical!

Milky Way from Wikipedia

The above image is of the Milky Way and it was sourced from Wikipedia.

In other news I was delighted to find out that the rather unassuming neighbouring village of Darbys Falls hosts an observatory which its self is home to one of the largest telescopes available to the public. Having only just read about that today I’m now itching to get back out there and see what I can see.  How amazing to have all of this on our doorstep and to have those un-filtered skies for free.

Derby Falls Observatory page can be reached here.

Let me know if you have been and what you think!

Death at Fox Hill Hollow

When looking out for a lovely country property to buy it always feels like a bonus to find a piece you like that is fully fenced.  This is particularly important if you plan to keep livestock on your property OR you want to secure your pets within your boundaries.

We purchased our land fully fenced but it was while doing our farm planning course last year that we realised our fence type was not great for Kangaroos due to the twin layer of barbed wire plus the metal wire underneath.  This can and does cause a trip hazard for young, old or panicked Kangaroos and Wallaby’s who, on becoming entrapped have to just hang around waiting for death to set in.

I have to admit that we had one such incident about a year after we purchased the property but by the time we turned up and found the leg remnants it was pretty easy to put the whole incident to the back of my mind and just get on with prioritising another job.  Sadly this weekend I saw disaster close up.

I’d only been on the property about 20 minutes when a walk down the fence line presented Maisy and I with this:

femce issueleg in the fence

Although I’m not overly sentimental about things like this I did feel sad when I thought of the pain and confusion the animal must have felt as it lay their trapped.  I only hoped that it wasn’t suffering for too long but really there is no way to tell, I wasn’t there.

I wonder if the fence situation has been made worse by the fact that in an attempt to deter the pigs we’ve closed off many of the routes out underneath the fence? I actually don’t know if the Roo’s ever creep under but maybe they and especially the little ones do…  In any case I have decided that next time we are out the fence wire is to be re-worked to make it more ‘roo friendly as while I’m going to probably regret being so Kangaroo loving when it comes to planting my tree saplings (the ‘roo’s do tend to make short work of eating them) I really don’t want to be confronted by death alley each time I rock up to the land.

So, that’s another job to add to the list and hopefully we can get to the fences before the fences get to any more Kangaroos oh and with regards to the pig barrier work we did, that looks to be working only now I’m slightly concerned that we may have trapped some pigs into the land – I just can’t find them yet…..

That’s country living for you.  Some good, some bad and some a little bit sad.


Making Plans for the House

Having declared 2017 as the year when we get our house plans sorted and submitted (have to really as there is a sunset clause on our block that runs out in Jan 2018) that’s exactly what we have been doing and this weekend it was measure out time.

We had already marked out where we want our modest container home to be situated within our building envelope but somewhere along the line we had forgotten to measure that building envelope out and apparently measuring it is a very important thing to do!  So, this weekend we got on with that little job.

So out of our 50 acre block we have just under 1 acre of building plot on which to place our home.  That means we have lots of space to play with and can avoid having to clear any trees and can select the easiest building spot without much to constrain us.

Our chosen spot is towards the top of the hill facing towards our dam and the gum tree forest area as this is the prettiest outlook.  Having already staked out the container footprint a few weeks ago we wanted to double-check our original ideas and get GPS co-ordinates for the exact spot so we can pass those on to our architect and then onto the council. I must also point out that before getting to this point we have already had a geological survey carried out by Macquarie Geotech whose work has enabled us to decipher which sewage system to go with, where to locate it and what footings / pier support the house will require.

Aub measuring out

And so to the house.

So this is what we are looking to make – 4 x 40 foot containers arranged in a sort of T shape. We want four so we get the double width and can then make better use of the inside space.  We’ve also opted for containers for many reasons including their termite resistance (very important),  their low price and durability and the fact that as we are travellers we like the idea that our house has travelled too (and served a useful purpose during that journey).  Aub has modified containers into homes before so knows what is required and his welding skills are also very handy as we are going to be doing quite a bit of that.

In terms of the design although we are massive fans of the TV show Grand Designs we are not wanting to send ourselves broke or take thousands of years to make this. The idea is for us to construct a solid, low maintenance home that has a little bit of design flair but is ultimately practical and cost-effective.   We have decided that three bedrooms is enough in the main house as we can always add little pods of temporary accommodation later down the track for guests but need to ensure the main house has enough room for our family of four or for when we are a family of two for overnight guests.   Both Aub and I really wanted an en suite as not having to queue up for the loo in the morning when the house is full of visitors is really important to us and another thing we both wanted was an open plan living area that had a great outlook to the land. I think we’ve managed to achieve all of that – on paper at least! In terms of design flair Aub and I were both taken by the guttering we saw when we visited Mossman Gorge in Queensland last year.  It was an open stainless steel central gutter perfectly suited to tropical rainstorms.  Now Cowra isn’t exactly tropical but as the climate has shifted we have tended towards huge down-pours which would be well served by this type of roof.  We also liked how the roof will look with a central open gutter running through it, this design also allows us to place our water storage tanks neatly along the side of the property meaning minimal guttering is required between the roof drop and the tank!

Otherwise we are keen to hold onto that feeling of living outdoors that we love so much by building verandas around the property – a private one for Aub and I off our bedroom and en-suite and a larger one for the living area.

How exciting!

Home againHomeWe’ve still got about a months worth of planning to do before we are ready to submit to council but it really does feel like things are starting to come together.  Then, like many people on Grand Designs we have a long road ahead of us to get building this thing.  Aub and I are (at this point) hoping to save up and build this out of our regular incomes rather than borrowing lots more money to get it done.  As a consequence it may be several years before it is totally finished.  The good thing with being a container home is that it can be at lock-up stage and actually semi-liveable well before it is actually finished so hopefully we can enjoy the process rather than wishing we’d never bothered (we have completed 3 fairly large building projects already in our 19 year life together…..)

So that’s what we have been up to at Fox Hill Hollow, we can’t wait to show you more!

Shower Improvements – Hot and Cold Water System!

One of the first things we did at Fox Hill Hollow was to purchase ourselves one of those weed killing backpacks and fill it with water before hanging it out under the sun for it to heat the water for our showers.  This system has served us well over the last two-and-a-bit years but now we are ready for something more!

During last years build-fest we erected a structure to capture water on top of the container and store it for a shower.  Under this new roof-let we placed an IBC and thanks to the copious rain we received on the land in July it was soon filled to the brim with water. However, thanks to the sun that water soon became murky and putrid looking (photosynthesis at its finest) making the water look somewhat less than shower-ready!  To add to our woes we (or rather I) kept forgetting to get a tap for said IBC so the shower never really did get much further until now….

Here is the blog post we wrote about the plans and showing the tanks that we are now using to store our water.

So here we go!

First up we had to cut down the replacement tank so it fits  under the roofline or snug against the down pipe – I can’t remember what we opted for to be honest as it isn’t quite finished. As you can see here it is clearly too tall as it is 🙂


Re-fitting the top to the bottom!


Making sure the rubbish from the roof doesn’t fill the tank and block the pipes – this filter will come in handy!


Aligning it with the down pipes.


The shower will be gravity fed – 2.7 metre drop to the floor.  We will put a tiled board underneath and a privacy screen around so we don’t shock the friendly neighbourhood Kangaroos when we get our kit off!


And that’s all we could do here as next we needed a trip to the hardware store for some plumbing supplies!


Back at home and the plumbing is done and been tested in our garden!   We are going to work out how long the hot pipe has to be to give a couple of good, warm showers – the pipe will be weaved around the container roof where it will heat up in the sun and thus heat the water.  As the sun can get very hot we also have a pipe coming straight from the tank to the ‘cold’ tap (although in the middle of summer cold will be more of a luke warm!).   So far so good and we are looking forward to completing this little job and making Fox Hill Hollow even more sophisticated and homely than it is already.

Update: April 2017  The working shower head – now all we need is a little gas heater as it is currently freezing 🙂

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