Wednesday, 19 July 2017

All white

Well, it was going to happen. I have been itching to begin decorating our bedroom for months and months, and it finally happened at the weekend. I am not entirely sure of the wisdom of undertaking such a decorating project a week before the end of term and in the midst of a few seriously busy and pressured weeks at work, but I can't moan because it was all my idea. John (who actually quite enjoys decorating and is very good at it although he'd deny both accusations) sweetly indulged my ideas and conceded that there were things he'd also like to change. 

There was nothing especially wrong with the room, just a collection of lots of things that weren't working. The awful, awful carpet - with a pile so ruined that you could run the vacuum cleaner over it for half an hour and it still wouldn't pick up the hair on it - had to go. The blue paint colour wasn't working for me anymore, nor was the position of the bed in relation to practical things like plug sockets. I have learnt that decorating an empty house before moving in, while time-saving, isn't a long-term solution. There were other smaller details; a falling to pieces laundry basket, too-small mirror and furniture that had seen better days. 

I was - and still am - excited about transforming our bedroom on a limited budget, as I did with Bella and Angus's bedrooms. There are things we would love to do to this house: rip out and replace the bathroom, replace the flooring in the hallway and living room, fit a new front door etc. But these things run to thousands, not hundreds of pounds and take serious and lengthy saving - especially if we want the odd holiday too! - and so for now I am enjoying refreshing our bedrooms on fairly small budgets, around £100-£200 per room.

So on Saturday morning, and with the help of my parents, we emptied the room (sleeping downstairs on the bed on the spare room for the next three nights) and lightly sanded the floorboards with a handheld sander.

Overall they were in great condition, apart from a few boards that had been damaged by a long-since-fixed leak. My dad (he's ace) replaced them and the rest we painted with some of that Damp Stop stuff before applying the floor paint.

We managed to paint the ceiling and start the walls that afternoon too.

Poor Angus had to put up with a room full of furniture for a few days.

 On Sunday John and I finished the walls, applied two coats of floor paint and undercoated the skirting boards. It sounds like a lot of work but there was lots of time for crochet and watching the Wimbledon final between jobs.

 Then on Monday, while I was at work, John gave the floor two more coats of paint and finished the woodwork.

It was hot over the weekend and the door to the balcony was open the whole time we were in the house.

It's just gorgeous when the sun streams in, bright and clean. Not everyone likes pure white, and some find it cold, but this room faces south-west and the light is warm. Too warm sometimes. I know that some also find floorboards cold and draughty. But this house, built in the late sixties, is warm and well insulated. I might feel differently if we lived in a huge Victorian pile. And, as John said, the carpets were going either way. If in a few years we decide that, actually, we'd like carpet again, then we'll fit carpet. Nothing is forever.

 This was the room last night. Very bare and empty, but beautifully calm and cool. Of course it needs pictures, plants and rugs, and there is more furniture to move back in, but I love it so far, especially the position of the bed under the picture rail. 

So far, any money spent has been on paint. Around £60 on two tins of floor paint and £30 on white wall paint. I intend to re-use as much as possible  - furniture, prints, lamps etc - from other parts of the house, even re-painting drawer pulls rather than buying new ones, and will re-paint my dressing table this weekend. I'm not sure what to do with the chest of drawers yet. I may paint it, or swap it with the one that's currently in our living room. I have ordered some lovely shelves though. And there will be plants - lots and lots of plants. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Two Chairs

A couple of weeks ago I bought a pair of spindle backed chairs from eBay. I'd been looking for one chair for months, to sit at my dressing table, but single chairs don't come up for sale very often. Eventually I found a pair, and not far away in Winchester. Solidly built and sturdy, they were a bargain at £15 each, but pretty bashed around the edges as you can see below.

But the poor state of the veneer and horrible orange colour meant they were perfect for sanding and painting.

I remain unconvinced by chalk paint, and so did this the old fashioned way; sanding the wood then giving the chairs two coats of undercoat and two of eggshell, with a light sand between coats.

I think the white paint transforms this chair and enhances the lovely shape of the spindles. It will stay here in the hall for now, against that colourful Marimekko wallpaper.

The second chair got a coat of paint too.

I had always intended this one to be dark grey or black and in the end used Empirical Grey interior metal and wood paint by Valspar, mainly because we had an almost full tin of it in the garage left over from when we painted the radiator in our dining room a year ago.

This chair sits in the living room for now but eventually this one will go in our bedroom, in front of my dressing table. I think it will look good on the soon-to-be-white floorboards.

I didn't intend for 2017 to be the year I painted all our furniture, but I'm really enjoying it. Two beds and two chairs later, I'm working my way around the bedrooms in our house. My next project will be a chest of drawers and my dressing table. I know I only painted it two years ago but it's in a terrible state - the off-white colour has faded badly and I've never known paint chip like it. I can't wait to sand it back and do it again properly.

Monday, 10 July 2017


Hello friends. How was your weekend? Ours was packed full and in danger of being totally lost to chores and commitments, you know how it is. My Friday night mood (tired and grumpy with a dash of resentful) carried over until Sunday afternoon when I thought bugger it, bugger the ironing pile, the homework, the gardening, the emails, all the things I need to do - we're going to the beach. And we did, and it was the best decision of my whole weekend.

It wasn't all bad; Saturday morning's 5k bike ride/run was fun, if swelteringly hot, but I spent most of Saturday afternoon in the car ferrying small children around while sulking to myself. Honestly, I'm just too much fun. Sunday morning was lost in M&S (returning a swimsuit) and B&Q (buying plant pots) and in between all that I sanded and painted a chair. John was working all weekend. Weekends when he works can go one of two ways - brilliant fun, when the kids and I do what we want, or really hard work. 

So the children and I packed the lightest of beach bags - just swimmers, towels, bottles of water, a mat to sit on - and jumped in the car. I'd barely put the bags down on the sand before Angus was running into the sea and I had to have words with him about not going into the water without me. It's a sheltered beach with little surf, but still. It was beautiful down there and the water was warm and clear. Later on my parents and sister and her family joined us for a while and we all swam and splashed around, it was so lovely. Of course now I'm all out of kilter with my week, and will also be working full time I suspect, but it was so worth it. 

Other highlights: 

:: The sweetpeas  - it's true, the more you cut them the more they grow!

:: A happy hour spent repotting all my pilea babies, which grow almost as fast as my children.

:: Cherry clafoutis for dessert after dinner on Sunday evening. Light and sweet and summery.

:: Realising that this shelf is the best place ever to display the large amount of shells and pebbles we seem to collect every time we visit our beach.

:: And finally, finally, the best thing ever...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge

Well, cutting up vintage embroidered tablecloths is proving to be a little more divisive and controversial than I thought. Who'd have guessed? I'm still going to do it, although I may keep one of the cloths made by women of my family intact, and leave it folded in a drawer where it will never be used because it's too nice, and perhaps once every twenty years or so someone will look at it then refold it and put it away.

It's been a long old week here. Work is very busy, school is the same, and we are all tired and looking forward to the end of term in a fortnight. The weather has been glorious again, warm and sunny, although the garden would benefit from a little rain. I spent a frustrating hour in Marks and Spencers earlier in the week trying to find some new swimwear for our holiday. I just want a bikini or swimsuit that is really nice and well designed, makes me look amazing, supports my boobs (tricky given my cup size is the same as my initial) and doesn't cost the earth. I mean, I'm not asking a lot. Many have suggested Bravissimo swimwear so I may have to try that. But it's shopping at it's worst, swimwear and bras. I loathe it. I'd much rather be doing, well, anything. In other news I have started running again and I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. More than bra shopping.


My chosen book for June's Cookery Calendar Challenge (hosted by Penny at The Homemade Heart) was Kitchenella by Rose Prince. Isn't the title lovely? And the fabric cover? And the colour? I bought this a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend and those factors did sweeten the purchase somewhat.

This is a reader's cookery book, one to take to bed and read propped up on pillows with a cup of tea. It's premise is based around the line of women who have shopped and cooked and served food to their families throughout the generations - both in Prince's family and mine and probably yours too- and what they can teach us. It moves away from the slightly showy, chef-y male style of cooking and is all about practicality, economy and flavour. It's about the kitchen as a place - in the home and heart - as much as it is about cooking food. Full of memories and observations about cooking and family life, it has few photos and is more of a conversation between author and reader. Method and quantities given often rely on a certain amount of knowledge from the reader, but never in a way that is intimidating, more friendly. It is, frankly, just a wonderful book.

I dithered around for ages planning what to make and decided eventually on Special Fried Rice and pasta in a tomato and anchovy sauce. With each passing month in this cookery book challenge, I think that what I am really looking for is more recipes to call upon for rushed, weeknight dinners. I have no problem deciding what to cook at the weekend, but trying to think of something easy, relatively economical, tasty, healthy-ish and which everyone likes on a Tuesday night when I am tired is always the challenge. We do plan our meals, yes, and shop for them accordingly, but sometimes I can't even be bothered to think about the planning, never mind the cooking.

The Special Fried Rice doesn't look much but it was good. You cook some rice, and fry chicken with pork and prawns. You can use up leftovers or cook from scratch with this, it's very easy. You add a little stock (I also added Chinese Five Spice just because I love it) to the meat then tip it into a bowl and wipe out the pan. Then you lightly scramble the eggs before adding back in the cooked rice and meat, throwing in peas, bamboo shoots spring onions and mixing it all together until it's piping hot. The one thing this dish lacked was the flavours I associate with Asian cooking. Where was the ginger, chilli and garlic? But actually this worked so well because everyone did their own thing. Bella enjoyed hers plain, as it was, while Angus drowned his in soy sauce, his new favourite thing. John and I added soy sauce, Sriracha hot chilli sauce and edamame beans. Everyone was happy and everyone liked it. It was all cooked within under half an hour and was an economical dish. Big ticks all round.

The next dish is called Aunts' pasta with sweet cooked tomato and anchovy. First you need to make a vat of sweet cooked tomato sauce, which involves mixing tinned and fresh tomatoes together with olive oil, water, basil, garlic and a little sugar, then simmering for an hour or so, before pureeing with a stick blender and storing in portions. The kind of cooking that is, frankly, zero effort, but leaves you feeling a bit smug and domestic goddess-y afterwards. 

To make the pasta dish, you cook some tubular pasta (we had rigatoni), while frying some garlic, capers and olives in a little oil. Then you pour a portion of the tomato sauce into this pan, adding seasoning and the anchovies, and heat it all through. Then stir the sauce through the cooked pasta adding cheese and chopped parsley.

I loved it, John thought is was merely ok. I love things with a strong salty flavour, so the anchovies and capers are just my sort of thing, but I don't think John would jump at the chance of eating it again. We still have loads of the tomato sauce left but it will get used up in all sorts of meals.

My choice for July is Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson. I don't think I've ever cooked anything out of this book, despite having owned it for at least a decade, and that's odd as some of her other books (How to Eat, Domestic Goddess, Nigella Express and Nigella Christmas) are some of my most frequently used books. I'm looking forward to trying some new recipes, and hopefully the weather will stay suitably summery too.