Thursday, 26 May 2016

Kitchen Update 4

Thank you for the compliments you paid my napkins, and more importantly for your supportive words about my misplaced crafting mojo. It will return, it always does. I am actually feeling quite chipper tonight. I went on a very long and hilly run with my sister this morning and I felt so good about it afterwards, felt a real sense of achievement. It was my first run in about six weeks and I was worried about how my fitness might have suffered, what with all the crap I've been eating lately, but it was good. Hard, but good. I know I will be very sore tomorrow but it felt great to move and stretch my muscles and feel alive. The weather was lovely and the everything so green and pretty. I took this photo when we got to the top of the hill.

I'm also upbeat because tomorrow we break up from school for a week long half term holiday. We have no plans, just a list of house and garden jobs, but John has most of the week off and I'm looking forward to some family time and some lazy mornings.

It's been a few weeks since I showed you any progress in the kitchen but I have been snapping away here and there, recording the developments, and have some here to show you tonight. 

The worktops were fitted. It's really hard to see what they look like in a photo but they are grey quartz and flecked with a lovely sparkle which catches the light.

The cupboards and doors still wear their protective plastic coating and will do until the floor is down and the last of the dusty jobs are over.

The tap was fitted and we now have hot and cold running water, and a plumbed in dishwasher. Amazing! An integrated dishwasher would've looked better but we only bought that one you see above a year ago and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, so it stays.

The cooker is in it's place. I'm really happy about the amount of worktop we have either side, which I hope will make baking and food preparation much easier than before. 

Various panels and covers and whatnot still need to be attached to the front and top of the cooker but we can do that later. The kitchen fitters are coming back tomorrow to connect the electrical supply to the cooker and also to fit the extractor fan that will sit above it. We opted for a "dual fuel" cooker - gas hob and electric oven - and so we still need to arrange for a gas person to come out and connect the hob.

We finished all the painting, including the grey dining room wall and the radiator. (We had radiator paint mixed in the same shade as the wall, Valspar Empirical Grey.) My hope is that, once the furniture and pictures are back in the room, the radiator will kind of disappear.

And then the most exciting thing ever happened - the overhead light was fitted. 

Deliberately positioned low, it will hang over the table and gives off the softest light. No angles. I think it it one of the lovliest things I have ever seen or owned and it makes me smile every time I see it. 

The last job is the flooring, which we hope will be laid next week. Then, I can take off all the plastic layers, clean the room, wipe out the cupboards and drawers and, with the radio on, slowly potter about putting all our things in their new home. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Cross Stitched Napkins

Lately I've been feeling a bit uninspired with all things crafty. I am between crochet projects and can't settle on what my next one will be; I started a blanket for Angus three times and then unraveled it and my sewing machine sits in the cupboard under the stairs, dusty and very possibly in need of a service. I need space - head space and physical space - to start any project on the sewing machine and I don't have either of those at the moment. It seems that all I want to do is cross stitch, and I don't really know why. Well, it is incredibly soothing. 

Work on the kitchen limps along, grumpily. We've had a few set backs which mean that nothing has happened for the last week or two and that's been incredibly frustrating, but hopefully they will be resolved this week and things will start to come together. We really are only waiting for two things to happen - the cooker to be fitted and connected, and the floor laid. 

This disruption makes me feel fed up and not at all creative or inclined to make anything lovely, but out of no-where I became obsessed with the idea of cross stitching some Orla Kiely-inspired napkins. I have always loved her very well known multi-stem pattern (and don't appear to have tired of it yet) and I thought it would be fun to stitch. I plotted out the pattern on some graph paper, chose some of my favourite colours, imagined using them in our new kitchen, and off I went.

I stitched the blue, pink and yellow ones first and was going to sew the last napkin in grey, but at the last minute changed my mind and the colours. I love it, it's my favourite. 

Now, cross stitching onto such closely-woven cotton would've sent me mad but I had heard of a product I wanted to try called Soluble Canvas. It's like aida but disappears when it's wet, leaving the perfectly spaced stitches on the fabric. It's amazing - you could cross stitch onto virtually any fabric with this stuff without giving yourself major eye strain. I chose a set of four white cotton napkins but I could get pretty excited about the thought of cross stitching onto sheets, pillowcases, jumpers or cardigans, just for starters. 

It's really easy. First, cut a piece of the soluble canvas to roughly the size you need and baste it in place on your chosen fabric with running stitches.

It looks and feels like plastic; a little stiff, but bendable enough to work with. Stitch as you would normally, following your pattern.

When you've finished your work, unpick the running stitches and snip the canvas as close to the cross stitch as you safely can. 

Then, following the instructions on the packet, immerse the fabric in a bowl of warm, soapy water for five minutes or so, swooshing it around once of twice.  When you pull it out, the canvas has completely vanished. It's weird. It's like it's melted. Rinse the fabric with warm water then leave it to dry.

Then, if you are so inclined, iron it, although take care to iron the embroidered stitches on the reverse or else you'll crush all that lovely texture. I do think they look better ironed

I deliberately positioned the stem slightly into the centre of the napkin, rather than in the corner, so that it looks as nice folded as it does laid out on your lap. 

And yes, they are to be used, or else what's the point? I deliberately chose a fabric that would launder well and could withstand a very hot wash if necessary, and I know from previous experience that brands of thread like DMC or Anchor are colourfast.

Now I just need a working cooker, a huge pot of spaghetti with ragu sauce and that napkin tucked into my collar ready to be splattered in sauce. And a glass or red wine.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

In My Phone

In my phone is a lot of evidence of a busy life being busily lived, lots of pictures of what we've been up to recently, where we've been, who we've seen. They are snaps, and not very good quality at all, but they are the photos I will want to look back on in years to come, those messy, blurry momentoes of home and family life. 

I have always had a sort-of rule that photos taken on my phone would stay off my blog, mainly because they just aren't very good quality, and I always use my DSLR for blogging because I want it to look good, to be the best that it can be. That works well up to a point, and my aging-but-still-working DSLR is perfect for photos like crafting or cooking, activities in or around the home. But I'm just not in the house much these days, not compared to before I went back to work, and I find that I am increasingly leaving the big camera behind when we go somewhere, mainly because it's just so big and heavy, and I get a bit sick of lugging it around. I want to take a good photo, but not so much that my shoulders ache. But my phone is always in my hand, my pocket or my handbag, and I use the camera on it all the time. I share some of the pictures on Instagram and Facebook and I use the app WhatsApp all the time to send free messages and pictures to friends and family (I have to pay to send a picture text on my current phone contract). And it occurred to me recently that if I only share those "good" DSLR pictures with you, then I won't have much to share and a large part of my daily life won't be visible here.

So, in my phone. Pictured at the top, hilarious fun in the park with something called a Stomp Rocket, a gift to Angus from my friend Abigail. You jump on one end and the rocket shoots off from the other. Not just for kids, and not bad photos for a phone either, although it did take lots of shots to get those and Abigail took half of them.

Also in my phone: memories of a wonderful weekend with friends, a visit to the Horniman Museum in London, trips to the park, lots of eating and drinking and Eurovision-watching and laughing.

Lots of eating.

Also in my phone: the signs of late spring I am noticing everywhere around me. Suddenly the grass is full of buttercups, the hedgerows frothing with cow parsley and the horse chestnut blossom is magnificent. I feel like this year is the first time I really noticed it. Glorious green May is brimming over around me and my instinct is always to look at it, then look at it again through a lens.

There are all kinds of other miscellaneous bits and bobs in my phone too, like this photo of the border in our back garden. That large-leafed green plant is a hollyhock and I took the photo to send to my sister Anna ("remember those tiny plants you gave me last summer??") because I have high hopes for my hollyhocks and am very keen to see if they flower and what colour they might be.

Last of all, a snap of some Orla Kiely inspired napkins I've been working on recently and have almost finished. 

So, that is some of the life in my phone, and some of what I have been up to lately which keeps me away from here and from all your lovely blogs. Kitchen work and work-work eat up all my free time and I can't wait for half term so that I can slow down and catch up with you all properly.

I have a lot of pictures I need to transfer to our external hard drive soon, as they are taking up storage space on my phone. I don't want to risk losing them. Tell me, do you use your phone to take most of your photos, over a compact or DSLR camera? How do you organise, store and save your pictures? I'd be curious to know.

Thank you so much for your warm birthday wishes for Angus. You are a really nice bunch of people, do you know that? 

Thursday, 12 May 2016


Well, the cooker didn't turn up on Tuesday. There was a mix up and a lonely extractor fan was delivered but no cooker, and so this is the first time ever that I have not baked one of my children a cake on their birthday. Never mind, my fabulous mum stepped in brilliantly and baked a frankly enormous chocolate gingerbread cake and - our house still in complete chaos - hosted a little family party after school today. Angus chose not to have a big birthday party this year, opting instead to have a day out with his best friend Jasper over half term (we're thinking HMS Warrior then Pizza Express) and so with no cake to bake and no party to host I am finding this birthday very different to previous ones, and quite a lot less stressful too. 

I do think that children's birthday lists (and Christmas lists for that matter) are a wonderful snap shot of what they liked and what they were like at a particular moment in time, and I wish I'd kept more of them over the years. I remember my niece's recent eighth birthday list; the front was the usual list of toys, dolls, books and various things, but the back said things like "get my ears pierced" "a puppy" and "a bigger bedroom". So funny. Angus's list this year contained books, "books about badgers", "fact books" and "small longbooks" which it turned out meant paperback fiction with chapters, rather than picture books. Other ideas included a globe, a really bright torch, an alarm clock, "a scooter like Bella's" and Star Wars Lego. Last weekend he informed me that he'd also quite like a microscope and some binoculars, thank you very much. Well, he didn't get everything he asked for but he did receive some wonderful, thoughtfully chosen presents which I know he loves and will read and play with and use for a long time. In a last minute panic that I hadn't made anything for his birthday, Angus received a little stitched embroidery hoop from me. I know a picture of a badger wearing a party hat wasn't technically on his birthday list but it made him laugh and it's hanging in his bedroom now, a little bit of handmade love for this bright, affectionate, serious, stubborn, book-loving, fact-collecting, badger-obsessed boy of mine.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Suddenly Summer

Lying in bed reading with the balcony doors open and the breeze blowing in. Breakfast in the garden. Weeding and cutting, potting and planting, tidying and sweeping outside. Everything in the garden suddenly green and growing fast. Lunch in the sun. Drinking tea with my sister in her garden. The children playing outside all day long, scooting and cycling and running around. Paddling pools. Cutting flowers to bring indoors. Walking barefoot on the grass. Long, cool baths for the kids before bed to wash off the grime and sun cream. Gin and tonic. Sleeping with the windows wide open.


It's hard to believe we were experiencing snow showers just ten days ago. It seems that we've gone straight from winter to summer without a proper spring, not that I'm complaining. These fleeting warm days are such a blessing and we have to seize them - especially when they fall on a weekend - because you never know when it will be warm and dry next.

I've had the loveliest of weekends. The weather has been completely and utterly glorious. We abandoned plans to go the beach today (the queues!) and hung out in my parents' garden instead. They have a superior paddling pool (they really do) and the kids set up a run and jump thing with a trampoline which kept them entertained for hours. I've worked really, really hard in the garden lately; sometimes it dawns on me just how much garden I have to keep up with now, but I persevere. I've spent a lot of time working on the border my mum and I created this time last year. It's looking really established considering how new it is, full of colour and variety, and I'm delighted. 

It's not very tidy, as there are daffodidils and hyacinths dying down here and there, but it's full of purple tulips (Queen of the Night I believe - their purple-black colour is wonderfully dark and dramatic), red wall flowers and hot pink azalea japonica just for starters.

 All those shrubs I transplanted from my sister Katy's garden have taken beautifully. I can't remember what half of them are but it will be fun to watch them flower. Also, my other sister, Anna, gave me two tiny hollyhock plants last summer, bought for pence from a stall at a local fete. I forgot all about them but noticed today that they are currently about a foot wide and as high and in full leaf. I really hope they flower this year. I just love hollyhocks and they would provide so much colour and height against the wooden fence. I'm so excited to see what the garden does this year. 

I hope you've all had good weekends, wherever you are, and that the weather has been kind to you. Thank you for your words of encouragement on the kitchen - I can feel you all cheering me on and it's lovely. Not long now. The cooker arrives on Tuesday. To say I am looking forward to that would be something of an understatement. 

Have a great week. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Kitchen Update 3

When I last wrote about the kitchen two weeks ago, the builders had left and we had an empty, freshly plastered room, ready to paint. We were really keen to get at least the kitchen half of the room painted before the units and worktops were fitted. 

We started with the "mist coat" (half water, half white emulsion), then gave all the walls a couple of coats of pure white paint. Previously we had painted the dining room an off-white colour, but didn't think this would work with the white kitchen cupboards. White is an easy choice for now and we can add more colour later.

Already we're getting a sense of what a bright room this will be, even without the glass window from the old kitchen door. 

The kitchen fitters arrived and the room started to take shape very quickly.

 The doors went on.

Then door handles, spotlights in the ceiling and under cupboard lighting. I know it looks really stark and cold at the moment but the flooring will really help soften all that white. 

This space between the cupboards below is where the cooker will go when it arrives next week.

The worktops have been measured and were fitted yesterday, although I haven't had a chance to take any decent photos yet. 

The dining room half of the room feels a lot less finished. The channel is still in the middle of the dining room floor, although the plumber has now sorted the radiator pipe issue. It now needs to be filled in with concrete then we have to wait a couple of weeks - at least - for the concrete to dry out before we can lay the floor. This is by far the most annoying thing about the whole project. We'll be lucky if we have flooring before June at this rate.

We chose Empirical Grey by Valspar on the one big wall in the dining room. It looks darker here than it actually is, but this is a bright room and it can take it and I think our dining chairs and new white lamp will look fabulous against it. 

Here it is drying after a first coat. It needs a second and the radiator needs painting too. 

I can imagine that it's really hard for you to tell how that grey is going to look just from this one photo. You need to see other colours against it so you have a point of reference. Trust me, it looks amazing. We chose a grey with slight brown tones, rather than blue, so it's very warm even though it's quite dark. I didn't have a moment's wobble with this colour - we just chose it, started painting it, and loved it. I like it when that happens. 

The dust in the house at the moment is spectacular - like, we leave footprints in it when we walk - but tomorrow I'm going to blitz the house before I go to work. The temporary kitchen is really depressing.  I miss cooking so badly. But when I look at the photos above I start to get a feel of how it's all going to look when it's finished and it's so exciting!