Friday, 16 November 2018

The Hallway So Far

I thought it was about time I shared with you how the renovations in the hallway are going. Due to working full time, and the fact that it's barely light when I leave for work and dark when I'm home, I'm afraid these photos aren't great, but hopefully they give you an idea of where we are. I will take lots of beautiful photos on a sunny weekend when it's all finished. 

It's been a long, drawn out affair because we are doing all the work ourselves and, as John works alternate weekends, we have limited time to get jobs done. I am still, always, astounded at how long jobs take. Hang a curtain pole and curtains, twenty minutes surely? No, more like two hours of faffing around with drill bits and spirit levels and hooks. Fitting the skirting took John longer than laying the floor as it was so fiddly. It's frustrating because we are almost there but still have quite a few days of work ahead of us. Happily though, we are finally at the stage where the worst, the messiest, jobs are over. Floors have been pulled up and re-laid, plastering done, skirting boards fitted, sanding and decorating done. 

We decided to strip the wallpaper as it was torn when we removed the old skirting boards, and for now I like the plain, light wall at the end of the hall. I may hang something there or not, I don't know yet.

The stairs have gone from this:

to sanded treads...

to freshly painted metal work and clean white walls.

We have given the stairs one coat of oil deliberately chosen because it doesn't darken the wood and has a non-slip texture. They needs a second coat, and the sanded pine banister needs a couple of coats of Danish natural wood oil.

This is the space by the front door, where the porch used to be. 

We've hung the curtain but as you can see we need to change the light fitting and I need to make a tie back for the curtains to pull them as far away from the window as possible. They were chosen partly for warmth as, despite having a upvc door, we lose heat through the glass, partly for privacy as our bathroom is at the end of the hallway, and partly to add texture as the space still feels big and echoey.

John is going to build me a bench to put along that wall to the left of the window. We have wood and legs, we are just waiting for a certain tool to arrive. I don't know, don't ask me.

Under the stairs, we need to fix the shoe rack to the wall, and the cupboard needs new doors. This is probably the last big job to be done. 

Again, I'm really sorry about the photos. I promise I will do better next time!

The console table is where it was before, but we've changed the mirror and put the previous wooden one upstairs. I have tried, as much as is possible, to "shop from my own home", finding lamp bases that were in other rooms and lamp shades in the loft and swapping things around from other parts of the house.

At the moment it still feels really bare and boring. It needs more wood, plants, texture, fabric, photos, pictures - all the things which make a room come alive - and I am dying to play around with all these things when it's finished. I cannot wait to show you!

Monday, 12 November 2018


:: Enjoying :: Bonfire Night, one of my favourite nights of the year. We went with friends, met up with family, drank hot chocolate while chatting and watching the fireworks. There is something so nostalgic and warming about Bonfire Night for me, much more so than Halloween.

:: Eating :: cinnamon french toast with fruit compote, among other things.

:: Reading :: this (yes I caved and bought it) and Cover Her Face, because I do like a bit of PD James and, now that Bonfire Night is over with, I have a pile of Christmas themed chick-lit novels on my bedside table and I'm going to enjoy each and every one of them. 

:: Crocheting :: a blanket for my friend and colleague, using six strands of Stylecraft Special DK together and a 20mm hook, to make a super chunky throw. She loved it. 

:: Watching :: lots of true crime documentaries. It's not usually my thing but we have recently watched on Netflix The Staircase (excellent, gripping) and Evil Genius (very good). I have recently discovered the joy that is Fixer Upper (how had I never heard of this?! It's on ITV Be for British viewers) and hurrah, a new series of the magnificent Escape to the Chateau just started! It must be autumn because all the good TV is on, and a new series of Luther later in the year too. 

:: Gardening :: in the late autumn sun, cutting back, tidying up, planting bulbs and just generally putting the garden to bed for the season.

:: Walking :: in the woods at every opportunity because, when the leaves are as they are now in early November, why would you not?

Ziggy has calmed and settled down so much in the last few months, I almost dare hope that the tumultuous puppy phase is behind us. He is a joy. A chewer, yes, but a joy.

Our weekend walks as a family, especially when we're all so busy doing this and that, continue to be one of my favourite ways for us to spend time together without any distraction. I love it.

:: Working :: still, every weekend, on the hallway. We are now at the interminable "finishing off" stage, full of jobs which you think will only take twenty minutes but take two hours, like hanging a curtain track. But when I look at the difference between the stairs before and after sanding, I know that it's been worth the hard work. 

Thank you for your sympathies, get well wishes and cold remedies. I am feeling much better this week, and hope I stay germ free until Christmas, at least....

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: October

Hello friends. Everyone ok? I am currently in the throes of a really nasty, heavy head cold, my third this autumn. I had full blown laryngitis the week before half term, did I tell you? On one day, I had absolutely no voice at all. None! It was actually funny, I was squeaking. I always thought I had fairly good immunity, but no, two months of working with those seven year olds every day and I am suffering. I feel like my head is in a vice, there's so much pressure in my sinuses, and am currently buried in a nest on the sofa with tissues and hot drinks within easy reach. I am, belatedly, taking the vitamins I found in the back of the cupboard and will be buying echinacea and manuka honey too. I'll try anything. Other than that we're good, enjoying autumn and bonfire night and all the rest of it, and I'll share more of what we've been up to soon. We're really getting there with the work on the hallway too, it's coming together!

But today it's time for my tenth Cookery Calendar Challenge post, and for October I chose The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater. Most of you probably have this book, and if you don't, I recommend buying or borrowing a copy as it's just a gem of a book. A classic, even. He really is one of the best food writers, so beautifully able to catch the feeling of a day or season in a couple of sentences, as well as in a perfect recipe. The Kitchen Diaries is s book I get down from the shelf and flick through a lot, always going to the corresponding month, when I feel in need of a bit of inspiration, but I don't actually cook from it a lot, and I've no idea why. Just browsing online, I realised that he has many other books following on from this first, and last year The Christmas Chronicles was published. I fear it may find it's way into my shopping basket sometime soon, it looks like the perfect thing to read in the lead up to Christmas. Hygge, but the British way.

Anyway, the cooking. I felt it was in the spirit of this monthly challenge to try some new recipes from the October chapter so, upon discovering some frozen haddock fillets in the freezer, John and I tried Haddock with Crumbs and Tarragon one night when the children had already eaten. It's so simple, just fish dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then pan fried. But the addition of tarragon and anchovies to the breadcrumbs is what really makes this dish special. I couldn't get fresh tarragon and I think the dried stuff in the cupboard that I used may have been a the anise flavour of that herb didn't really come through much, but the mild salty-fishiness of the anchovies elevated some bland supermarket fish to something better. Plus the breadcrumbs were really crispy and lovely. The recipe seemed to imply you served it alone (whaat??) but I didn't want to be hungry an hour later so we had it with roasted potatoes and butternut squash and some green beans which I overcooked.

I'm afraid that, as the clocks have now gone back, it's orange electric light photos all the way. Sorry.

Our second meal was Ham and Butter Beans. This is the most perfect kind of autumnal comfort food, and the kind of thing I usually cook for a Sunday evening dinner. It's a brilliant recipe; easy, thrifty, delicious, plus lots leftover. 

It is very easy. You fry some onions, thyme and garlic, add carrots and chorizo sausage, then the butter beans. Nigel suggests using dried beans which are soaked then boiled, but this is beyond my capabilities at the moment, so I bought two tins of cooked beans from Asda. You put the beans and the liquid from the cans into the pot along with two tins of chopped tomatoes and a little stock too, add the ham/gammon joint, bring to the boil then put in the oven for an hour and half.

I removed the lid for the last half hour as it seemed that there was too much liquid, and it didn't dry out at all. You remove the ham to carve then return the meat to the pot to serve, which I did with baked potatoes and greens. 

John and I loved it, the kids found it a little salty and weren't sure about the butter beans (me: "they're just big baked beans!!") but ate it all and seemed neutral about it. I'll take that as a win. Definitely something I'll make again, and I'm just wondering now if I can reduce the liquid and do this in the slow cooker? I'm sure I can.

Finally, we tried the My Very Good Chocolate Brownie Recipe. Now, that's some title, but they did completely live up to it and are some of the nicest, fudgiest brownies I've had in a while. We ate them first warmed for pudding with vanilla ice cream then the rest went in about twenty four hours. Taking one to work on Monday in my lunchbox was a treat. But yes, they are very good, with the right amount of crusty outer layer to gooey inner, and not overly sweet but sweet enough, and without the dry, cocoa bitterness that some brownies can have. I will be making this again, too.

All of this, the stews and cake, is the kind of food I want to eat when the clocks have changed and it's cold and wet outside and I just want to hibernate. Carb loading has commenced. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Making the Seasons: October

Can I just start by saying a heartfelt thank you for your comments on my last post. As always I am bolstered and warmed by your friendship, support, encouragement and interest. Thank you.

Ok, it's time for the final Making the Seasons post, the end of the most wonderful year long partnership between myself and my friend Lucy of Attic24. The initial aim of Making the Seasons - to find a little time and space in a busy life to spend on something creative and seasonal - has never felt as relevant to me as it does at the moment, as I juggle work, family life, blogging, friendships, housework, cooking and craft. Oh, and the whippet. Focusing on the seasons brings me so much happiness, whether it's getting out my crocheted pumpkins to put on the mantel in the autumn, making Christmas presents, or bringing bulbs and greenery into the house in the new year. I find it grounds me somehow, connects me to the month we're in, to what's going on outside, the weather. 

This month's project is a wall hanging, woven on a small loom that I bought about a year ago. I don't know that there's anything particularly October-ish about this project, but I do know that as the weather gets colder and the days shorter, I find I want to work with yarn more and needle and thread less. I was a little apprehensive when I finally unpacked the loom, opened the book I bought over the summer holidays and actually engaged with it all, but once I got going there was no stopping me. I cannot recommend this craft highly enough, I think it is just a wonderful way to create something unique and personal. 

Once you've purchased (or made) your loom, it is a very thrifty craft and a fabulous way to use up yarn scraps, especially very small amounts of nice, expensive yarn that you don't want to throw away but don't know what to do with. I didn't buy any yarn for this project, but just used a mixture of cream acrylic DK, cream aran weight, and leftover chunky yarn in mustard, pink and cream, and a very small amount of roving wool that I bought some time ago.

Providing you are making your wall hanging this size, and you are using a fair amount of chunky yarn in with your DK, it's very quick to create. I started and made the whole thing in just two evenings, although it did seem to take a while to darn in all those ends on the back.

It's also exceptionally easy. There is a reason why looms are often aimed at children - all you have to do is weave over and under the warp (vertical) threads and tie the odd knot.

The most fun part was hanging the weaving on a small piece of wooden dowel and cutting the long threads at the bottom. Sooo satisfying. Snip snip.

I've hung it in the living room for now, and I like the way it adds texture and warmth to an otherwise stark white wall 

I bought this loom which I think it sometimes called a "lap loom" since it's about 30 cm x 40 cm so can sit on your lap while you work, although I found it much easier to sit at a table to weave. The area of woven work is slightly smaller but you can make the finished piece as long as you want by adding tassels. I would very much like to make a large wall hanging, and am toying with the idea of turning an old picture frame into a loom by removing the glass and banging nails into the top and bottom of the frame. 

The overall size is 24 cm wide by 52 cm long, but at least half that length is the tassels. 

There are many books on weaving out there, but after a long browse in Foyles in London, I bought Modern Weaving and thought it was very good. There is a lot of inspiration, and it's not just wall hangings but all kinds of other projects like cushions, mats, coasters, bags and phone cases. I didn't follow any one pattern to the letter and made up my own wall hanging as I went along, but I think the instructions on how to prepare, start and finish your project, as well as different types of stitches, are very clear.

I absolutely love it. It's very soft and tactile, and I love the imperfections and the way the different types of yarn are so distinct. I am already planning two more like this, as gifts, and then I might pluck up the courage to make my own large weaving. 

I really hope you've enjoyed these posts. I know I've loved the challenge of creating something each month, whether is sewing or dyeing or gardening, or weaving. Please do pop over to lovely Lucy's blog to see her final Making the Seasons post

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Self Care

Hello! Everyone ok? Thank you for your comments on our newly decorated living room, I am glad you like it. We're just coming to the end of our week long half term break here. It's been busy and inevitably dominated by the decorating which is progressing slowly because we are doing everything ourselves. What was just "knocking out a wall" has turned into quite a major renovation project involving plastering, laying a floor, restoring a stair case and a lot of painting. I heartily wish we could have just paid a builder, carpenter and painter-decorator to do all this, but never mind. the feeling of satisfaction will be immense when it's finally over!

DIY aside, it's been a lovely week. No big, expensive days out or trips to theme parks, but lots of pottering around at home, walks in the woods, baking and catching up with friends. The weather has gone from one extreme to the other over the week; last weekend it was unbelievably warm, still t-shirt weather, and on the beach on Sunday people were actually swimming in the sea, whereas today we woke up to a hard frost and 2°C temperatures. I think there may even have been snow showers in the north! It meant that it was finally cold enough to light the wood burning stove last night though, and we all cosied up on the sofa to watch old Pink Panther films.

I've been thinking a lot about self care lately. By that I mean deliberately and consciously making time to do something for myself, for my mental, physical and emotional well being. It's something I am really bad at - I'm sure most of us are - but it's incredibly important so, over half term, I have been trying to do something for myself each day, big or small. It can be as simple as getting outside in the fresh air or going to bed early, something I am hopeless at doing. 

I have gone back to bed with a cup of tea and book on the occasional morning. Just making time to read in the day feels like such an indulgence. Whippet optional, but he is very good at cuddles and very happy when he's allowed on the bed. 

I am still crocheting this Goldenrod Sweater. I crochet almost every day anyway, but in the evening and usually when I'm tired. It's nice to work on a project in daylight.

I have made time to bake, then sat down with a cup of coffee and a magazine to enjoy what I've made, rather than cramming it in standing up in the kitchen while rushing on to something else. (These are pumpkin and carrot bars from Have Your Cake and Eat It. I do like a bit of seasonal baking.)

I have made time to get outside, every day. Walking Ziggy makes this a necessity but our daily walks in the woods have been delightful over the last week. 

I have also made time to learn a new skill: weaving. It is hugely enjoyable, quick to do and very addictive - I predict that wall hangings will feature heavily in my handmade Christmas gift repertoire this year. 

Add to the above: coffee and laughter with your dearest friends, sitting in front of the fire in your slippers, playing monopoly with the children, painting your nails, reading crime fiction novels....

In other news, a couple of things have happened lately which, while wonderful, have pushed me way out of my comfort zone. Our home was featured in November's issue of Home Style magazine, which went on sale at the start of October. I am so sorry that I forgot to tell you about this sooner (this is indicative of the usual state of my mind, ie, very forgetful and distracted) and I think it's still on sale, but I have photographed the pages and included them in my Press and Sponsors page for those who might like to look.

Yes, I am on the cover. No, I'm not very comfortable with it.

The other thing concerns the Amara Interior Blog Awards, for which I was shortlisted for a fourth year in a row.  I decided this year to attend the awards ceremony as, for the first time, we were actually able to make it. I didn't win (I am forever to be the bridesmaid as far as the Amaras are concerned, I suspect) but John and I got dressed up and ready for an evening in a swanky venue up in London. It was all a bit of a mad rush, not helped by South West Railway's industrial action resulting in packed trains and a reduced, late running schedule, and we got lost and were almost late, but it was so much fun. I got to meet a couple of blogging and Instagram friends in real life, always a treat, and avail myself of the free gin bar, not to mention the goody bags handed out to John and I on the way out. I felt a bit lost amidst all the London marketing and PR types but after a couple of G&Ts it was all good.  But, while I was there, it hit me like a ton of bricks that nights like that are most definitely not the reason I blog. I do it for the connection with you lovely lot.  I like the idea that I am just sitting here at my kitchen table, sharing my thoughts and makes and family life, and that there are others - bloggers, readers, friends - who might sit at their own kitchen tables and read it and smile, and that's the connection, right there. Thank you all so much for reading. I know I blog infrequently, answer emails tardily and comment sporadically, but my heart is still definitely in it.