Sunday, 19 February 2017

Decorating Progress

It felt a bit like spring this weekend. The sun had a little warmth in it and we were hot in our coats when we walked down to the woods with Molly. There was a moment yesterday when all the windows were open and washing was flapping on the line (the first time this year!) and I felt so happy. I've been busy - with a lot of help from my lovely parents - working in Angus's bedroom over the last two days and I thought you might like to see a few photos of our progress.

Angus's bedroom was emptied and the carpet pulled up and taken to the tip where it belongs. The floorboards are in much better condition that I could've hoped which bodes well for my plans to paint the boards in our bedroom later this year.



Small parcels have been arriving through the post over the last week  - prints, stamps, felt balls for a garland, sheets of wool felt to make a wall hanging.

Bear print from here, pine forest print from here

I'm really pleased with this stamp from here and it will come in very handy on Christmas labels. 


For now, I am experimenting with using it on fabric. It doesn't produce the solid black colour on fabric that it does on paper, but I still love the look of it. I put a piece of cardboard inside this pillowcase, to prevent the ink seeping through to the other side. Then I heat sealed the ink with a hot iron and now, apparently, it should be washable. I haven't tried yet. I'm a bit nervous to be honest.


The urge to stamp everything continued with Angus's plain white roller blind, a potato, and some fabric paint. 


Again I sealed the paint by pressing down with a hot iron onto a clean tea towel over the blind. I'm not sure if I think this semi-circle pattern is brilliant or terrible. There was a horrible moment when I dropped the ink-covered vegetable right onto the middle of the blind and thought oh bugger, I'll have to carry on with it now. We'll see what it looks like when it's back up in Angus's window. If it's terrible I'll just keep pulled up at all times and he can enjoy looking at the moon....


While my parents were painting the cream and blue bedroom walls white, I was busy working on the bed in the garage. After my experiments with chalk paint on my dressing table a couple of years ago, I decided to do this properly, by sanding and undercoating before applying a top coat of eggshell paint suitable for wood. (I am still yet to be convinced by chalk paint - that dressing table has worn so badly and chips almost every time something is knocked against it.)

I was dreading sanding the bed but it took very little time at all and wasn't nearly as caked in varnish as I'd thought it would be.


Molly came out to investigate.


 She's sniffing above the fridge and freezer because that's where we keep her sack of dog food. 


Then I applied two coats of grey undercoat.


And, so far, one of top coat. I'll see what it looks like tomorrow morning in daylight and probably do another.


Tomorrow afternoon the carpet is being laid, then we can start to move some of the furniture back into Angus's bedroom. At the moment he is sleeping on his mattress on the floor of Bella's bedroom, where he is very cosy but you can't really open the door very far so it's all a bit squashed. But, so far so good. 

It's half term for us now and we'll be spending most of it with family, so I don't think much will happen now until next weekend, but there's no rush. Happy half term to those of you on holiday, and have a good week back at school/work to those of you who've already enjoyed your break. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Decorating Again


I'm really ready for our half term break. It seems like everyone but Hampshire is already on holiday and I'm in need of a rest. Of course when I say rest, I mean decorate Angus's bedroom, which I'm actually quite looking forward to doing. I like nothing more than tinkering and pottering with things in the house, much to John's sincere joy. 


Now, I am aware that Angus's bedroom was only decorated two years ago and so arguably doesn't need doing that badly. In fact we decorated almost all the rooms in our house in the time between us buying and moving in in spring 2015. The good thing about this was that we were able to paint all the rooms quickly at the same time and without tripping over furniture. The downside to this kind of decorating is that we hadn't lived in the house and didn't really know how the rooms were going to feel, or whether or not a certain idea was going to work. We guessed where most furniture might go but things like paint colours, feature walls and furniture arrangement all need adjusting. 


Upstairs we painted walls, ceilings and woodwork, but left the floor coverings in place and hired a carpet cleaner to clean them up a little. But the carpets really are in a terrible state and I will be overjoyed to rip up Angus's bedroom carpet on Saturday and take it to the tip where it belongs. Everything was quick fix and make do, from the rugs positioned to hide stains to the sheets of gift wrap hung as a cheap and easy print on the wall. There's nothing wrong with any of this, of course, but I think it's time for something a little more thought out. 


Some of his bedding he's had since he was a toddler, and the brightly coloured wooden toys dotted around the room are more there for my benefit than his, since he will be eight this summer.


While all our upstairs bedrooms have large windows and a good amount of natural light, they are all tricky shapes and sizes. Angus's room has a reasonable amount of floor space and a lot of storage, in the shape of cupboards built into the sloped roof. It also has a very odd layout and there is only really one place the bed can go, which is under the window. But I think that the bookcase, desk and chest of drawers - which are all fairly similar sizes - could be better arranged to suit the way Angus reads and plays in his bedroom.


We're still doing all this on a budget though. We have been given a second hand carpet (from my parent's bedroom - good quality wool and in fantastic condition) but need to pay a fitter to lay it. I think a carpet is needed in this room as Angus spends a large amount of time sitting or lying on the floor to read or play with his toys. I want him to feel cosy, much as I would like to paint the floorboards white. We'll also need to buy paint and I have treated Angus (ok, myself) to a couple of prints for the walls. I hate the orange pine bed with a passion but we can't afford a new one so I'm going to paint it. I would love to buy him this bed linen but again, the budget doesn't allow so I've got plain a white duvet cover, a fir tree rubber stamp and some black fabric paint.... 

Badgers will feature too. Nothing too themed, but a fairly monochrome palate with lots of textures and natural touches here and there. 

I will keep you all posted! Also, sorry these photos are so grainy - it was a very gloomy day indeed but the only one where I had time to take any photos. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

February Things


Lately I feel tired so much of the time. I sleep for eight hours a night, but struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I have dark circles under my eyes and yawn all day long. I can only really put it down to Winter. January and February, I am coming to realise, are my dormant months, for sleeping and resting, well, as much as modern life allows, which is not much. I am doing all the right things, taking regular exercise, eating well. I possibly eat too much cake and drink too much caffeine but I think, overall, my diet is pretty balanced. I think it's just what winter does to me, and it really feels like winter here at the moment. We've had snow flurries all weekend and, while none of it has settled, it's finger-achingly cold out there. A reminder that although the days are steadily lengthening and bulbs starting to poke their shoots up through the earth, spring is a while off yet. 

But I don't really mind the cold, I actually quite like it when the seasons behave like they should, and there are lots of things making me happy at the moment.

:: Spring flowers. Bunches of white tulips, fistfuls of £1 daffodils, pots of tete-a-tetes, I love them all. Instant cheer on the greyest day and one of my favourite things about late winter.



:: Time to bake. The week before last, Bella had a couple of days off school when she was unwell. My mum looked after her the first day but couldn't on the second so I took the day off work. (My boss, such a lovely person, said "don't worry, we'll be fine, go and be a mum.") It was like being a stay at home mum again, pottering around clock watching till 3.15pm, getting on with jobs. I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom, caught up with the washing and ironing mountain and then baked lemon nutmeg madeleines from the excellent book Scandilicious Baking. Madeleines are a bit of a faff, what with having to chill the batter first, then cook them in batches in my madeleine tin, but so worth the effort. Little clouds of warm, lemony deliciousness, they were. Just the kind of baking I love to do but rarely have time to indulge in.


:: Surprise post. Almost nothing is more delightful than receiving an unexpected parcel or card through the letterbox. My dearest friend Abigail, on reading my post last week about cookery books, sent me this as a little treat. (The card will make sense to Game of Thrones fans.)


:: Molly. Not, ahem, the perfect dog, but goodness we do love her an awful lot. She makes me - well, all of us - very happy.


Bella is her favourite person. As soon as Molly hears sounds of movement upstairs in the morning, she comes upstairs and sits on Bella's bed until it's time to go down for breakfast. Angus suspects that Molly prefers Bella and is quite disgruntled, but we all lie and so no, don't be daft, she loves us all the same.


:: A little trip to IKEA with my mum. When we lived in Leeds we'd visit IKEA regularly as it was only fifteen minutes away. Now it's the best part of an hour to battle through traffic to visit the Southampton branch, so I go rarely. The trouble with that is that I get quite excited when I do go. For example, here, this is what happens when I only need wine glasses.


:: A new food magazine to browse. 


Recently, the gorgeous Winchester-based shop The Hambledon asked if I'd like to try one the magazines they are stocking as part of their newsstand promotion. I was kindly sent (more happy post!) a copy of Lunch Lady, an Australian food quarterly. It's more of a book than a magazine, solidly bound, beautifully produced and with virtually no adverts. Being Australian, it's the summer edition I received, so I am not in a rush to make any homemade ice lollies, but there are some tasty looking weekday pasta recipes that I'd like to try, plus a great feature on no-bake cake bars.


My only gripe with Lunch Lady - larger and clearer type please! I'd love to read your delicious recipes without squinting. Perhaps I am getting old.

Last of all, can I tell you about a brilliant new website called Agnes. My blogging friend Sam at A Coastal Plot has, with her friend Charlotte Ford, been working away on this for months, and it's finally up and running. It is the most wonderful thing, a website aimed at helping girls find their way through their teenage years. Practical and useful, but fun and inspiring too, Sam and Charlotte have created something really special and, in my opinion, necessary. Please do click on the link above and have a look.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Crafting When I Want To Be Painting


Winter crafting continues in much the same vein here; my Wool and the Gang Rose Cardigan, Angus's blanket and my long forgotten (I think it had a cobweb on it) My Sweetiepie ABC Sampler.

My cardigan is a pleasure to work on (that dreamy cotton!) but it does feel a lot like making a blanket. Long rows, up and down, all the same. But I know it will soon be finished and the thought of wearing it motivates me.

I continue to plod away with Angus's Granny Stripe blanket. I think he'd actually forgotten I was making it, poor love, and so the other day I showed it to him. He looked crestfallen. "I was hoping it was going to be black and white." he said. "But it's not. I suppose I can cope." Great.  Crochet blankets take a really long time to make. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I find that I get bored and lose interest, to the point where I no longer like the yarn, colours or pattern any more. It turns our Angus does too.

The cross stitch sampler can wait until spring. Every now and then I pick it up and half heartedly stitch a little, but I'm never in the mood, I'm too tired or the light isn't right. I'm not worried though, I still love this piece and I know I'll pick it up again and enjoy the stitching when the time is right.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I've fallen out of love with my winter projects, with crafting, but I haven't at all. It's just that I am completely consumed by thoughts of decorating and painting. It's all I can think about and I am obsessed with redecorating all our bedrooms this spring and summer. I have virtually no budget but a huge amount of energy, ideas and enthusiasm. I want to rip up our hideous, stained carpets, paint walls and floorboards, give orange pine furniture a new lease of life with a lick of paint, move things around, refresh and renew. It's the time of year. I always get like this when spring is round the corner. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Cookery Calendar Challenge


This year I am joining in with Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge. Penny began this idea when she found herself surrounded by cookery books but cooking the same old meals without enjoyment night after night, and hoped the challenge would reinvigorate her repertoire of family meals, encourage her to revisit her cookery book collection, and to plan and shop for meals in an organised way. I really enjoyed reading Penny's blog posts about her challenge last year and thought it sounded fun and simple; choose a book a month and cook two meals from it which you've never cooked before. You can choose any meal but not cakes or bakes, although puddings are included. (Oh good.)

Now, I don't think I am particularly in a cooking rut, but John and I do tend to cook the same things in a fairly cyclical way, depending on the time of year and how much time we have. We both enjoy cooking a great deal and do it to relax, although in different ways; I love to bake at the weekend, whereas John is much happier cooking a big dinner, and hooray for that. And regarding shopping and planning, I think this is something that we do quite well. The day before we go to the supermarket, or before we place an online order, we sit down and plan the meals for the coming week. This is often painful. How do you know what you fancy eating next Tuesday night, for example? But it does work, and we try to decide on four or five meals, the rest being leftovers from the freezer or nights when we might all be doing different things at different times so it's pasta pesto all round. This habit is ingrained and goes back to when I was a stay at home mum and money was tight. I'm sure I'm not the only person who's spent over £100 in Sainsburys then got home to realise there isn't actually anything for tea.

But we do have a large number of cookery books. I love cookery books, of any style or age, and often read them in bed at night. I've never regretted buying one or felt it was money wasted, but I have regretted giving them away (I'm thinking of that copy of the Wagamama cookbook I gave to a charity shop some years ago - I still kick myself.) Many came to us via our jobs in bookselling years ago, some are gifts, some just bought because we liked the look of them, and we've found some excellent bargains on Amazon over time. We probably use about half of them regularly, but the rest not so much. So, over the next twelve months, I will deliberately choose my least used books and hopefully discover some new meals which will become family favourites at the same time. 


My choice for January was Diana Henry's Simple: effortless food, big flavours which I was given for Christmas. I suspect this might become a real favourite and there are many recipes which I think really suit the way we cook and what we like to eat, and I like the way the book is broken down into chapters like Pasta & Grains, Fish, Chops & Sausages, Chicken etc. The photography and styling throughout the book is beautifully done and it has - crucially - one of those ribbon bookmarks which are attached to the spine of the book. I love those. 


My first choice was "merguez with sweet potatoes, beans & chermoula" chosen because any sausage/beans combination is going to be good, and I didn't know what chermoula was. It turns out it's a kind of marinade/relish/salsa, made from oil, garlic, chilli, coriander, spices and lemon juice.


I couldn't find merguez sausages so I used some spicy Toulouse ones, but I think merguez would have had more flavour. The result was hearty and warming, perfect January comfort food, and the chermoula was fantastic dolloped on top, adding a needed punch of pungent flavour.


Our second choice was "Tim's parmesan chicken"; chicken thighs coated in breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan, then rolled and baked. 


We ate it with roast potatoes and green salad and loved it, although the kids were less keen. Bella found the crust a little too garlicky and Angus protested about the "weird green bits". But for me it felt like more of a spring or summer dish, and would go better with new potatoes and some nice green veg, asparagus maybe, or a salad. 


My choice for February is Leon: Family & Friends. I think this is one I saw for £5 somewhere and just bought it because, for that price, it seemed daft not to, and I really liked the look of it. I've used my Leon: Baking & Puddings book loads but this one gets ignored for some reason. Not this month!