Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

43 Cover
but the fire is so delightful!

We woke up this morning to a thick frost on the ground, a deep mist in the air and a temperature of -4. It’s dark when we leave for work in the morning and it’s dark again by the time we arrive home in the evening, and with the exception of walks around the park during my lunch break to get some fresh air and absorb some much needed Vitamin D from the sunlight, life seems to move indoors at this time of year. Over the last few weeks, time in the garden has been reduced to crunching across the frozen grass to deposit kitchen waste and wood ash in the compost bins, and refilling the bird feeder, but we’ve been enjoying lots of cosy evenings in front of the wood burning stove with our cat stretched out across one of our laps or in front of the hearth.

It was just under a year ago that my husband and I moved into our little house, since then we’ve been gradually transforming it into our dream house, and I thought I’d share a few before and after photos of our living room.

I think it’s fair to say that the house wasn’t exactly a blank canvas when we moved in, and I suspect that the bold colour schemes, imposing floor-to-ceiling furniture and odd DIY features probably put other prospective buyers off as it made the rooms looks cramped and dark.

The previous owners had bricked up and plastered over the old fireplace, but we’d always dreamed of having a wood-burning stove, and although the stove we chose is small it really packs out the heat. Opening up the alcoves on either side of the fireplace gave us plenty of space for our books and a shelf for the TV, and I even re-purposed some of the toadstool decorations we made for our wedding as cupboard door handles. I’m a late convert to white paint, but I can’t deny that it makes the room look much brighter and more spacious.

43 LivingRoom4

We knew it would be a bit of a project, but it’s been wonderful to see our ideas come together, and we feel very lucky to call this little house our home. We still have a long list of DIY projects to complete, but for now we’re savouring the warmth and cosy glow of the fire on these long, dark winter evenings. Have a lovely week!

Little Home Comforts

HomeComforts1

It was six months ago today that my husband and I received the keys to our house (though we delayed spending our first night here until the 30th of December when we were ready to move our cat Mara across) and with our downstairs renovations finally nearing completion, we are all feeling very settled in our new home.

As much as I have fond memories of the little flat we rented, which was the first home my then boyfriend (now husband) and I shared together, after three and a half years we had outgrown it and were ready to move on. Over the last six months in our little house, it has often been the simplest things – easily overlooked and taken for granted – which I’ve noticed and appreciated the most.

The novelty of being able to park the car outside our house every day instead of circling round our old street searching for a space to squeeze into has not yet worn off. It has been a relief to watch Mara adjust her old routines to the new location without any fuss or distress, and she seems to enjoy having more space to play and explore. The washing line in the garden and the pulley we fitted above the stairs seem like luxuries after so many years of trying to dry clothes on radiators and clothes airers in rented flats. I enjoy drawing the curtains open every morning to check the weather outside and watch the seasons unfolding in our garden. I love the sunlight streaming through the South-West facing windows, bathing our home in warmth and light from dawn until dusk. Our little garden is a constant source of delight, from al fresco breakfasts in our pyjamas at the weekends to weeding and watering our raised beds, making salads with the lettuce, spinach and radishes we’ve grown, and sipping refreshing gin and tonics with friends on warm summer evenings.

HomeComforts4

After renting for so many years, we also appreciate being able to make changes to our home without having to ask the landlord for permission, and every change we’ve made – from hanging a key rack by the front door to installing a wood burning stove in the living room – has made our house feel more and more like our own.

The first half of 2017 has been turbulent, but whenever world events or personal struggles and upheavals seem overwhelming, I’ve been grateful to close the front door at the end of the day, to enjoy the simple comforts of our home and immerse myself in the easy intimacy of my little family and all our daily routines together.

Happy summer solstice and have a lovely week.

Pottering in the Garden

image1

Over the last few weeks the weather in our corner of the world has been warm and sunny, and we’ve been spending lots of happy hours working and relaxing in our little garden.

Since my husband and I moved here five months ago, it has been a pleasant surprise whenever flowers planted by the previous occupants have emerged, like snowdrops in January and most recently a cluster of bluebells, but in many ways the back garden was a blank canvas and we’ve been steadily transforming it into our own.

On a blustery day back in February, my husband and dad built three raised beds for us to grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, and another for flowers. While they prepared the ground and built the frames, I rescued earth-worms and relocated topsoil (which is currently sitting at the bottom of the garden in an unsightly mound, but will hopefully mulch down). We had four tonnes of topsoil delivered in March to fill up the raised beds, and we finally started sowing seeds in April, when the risks of late frosts had reduced in our part of the country. It’s so rewarding to see the first shoots and seedlings already peeking up out of the soil.

(Before and after photos of the garden from above)

Both my parents are avid gardeners and when I was growing up they always encouraged me to help in their garden, and I’m so grateful for their help and advice as we cultivate our own little garden. As a child I planted a bed of strawberries in my parents’ garden, that still produces fruit well over a decade later, and I’ve taken runners from those same strawberries to plant in our garden now.

Our garden is too small for us to ever be self-sufficient but my husband and I have longed for a little kitchen garden for years, and it’s lovely to see our ideas becoming reality. We’re both novice gardeners but we’re eager to learn and excited to see what – if anything – grows this year.

image4

The previous owners of our house planted an ornamental cherry tree that we’ve relocated, we were worried that the roots might have been damaged when we dug it up but we were relieved when delicate white blossoms started to appear. We’ve finally planted our spindly, little Acer, which was surviving in a half-barrel planter until now, and it seems much happier being able to stretch its roots into the soil. I look forward to watching both of these trees change through the seasons and grow over the years.

We treated ourselves to a companion set, and we’re looking forward to spending lots of time in the garden over the next few months, and on days when it’s too cold or wet to sit outside, we can still enjoy the view of our back garden from our living room window. Have a lovely week.

At Home with Mara-cat

13 the Love of a Cat1

Our evenings and weekends lately have been spent at home as my husband and I tackle various projects around the house and garden, before changing out of our muddy, paint splattered clothes to play games on the rug with our cat Mara or snuggled up on the sofa with her stretched across our laps. Mara is recovering well from her recent operation, and is almost back to her scampering, chatty and cuddly self.

So many of our daily rituals revolve around Mara: our mornings invariably start with the sound of her plaintive mewing for breakfast, and our evenings end with her wishing us “goodnight” in her own way by nuzzling her face against each of ours in turn before she settles down to sleep by my ankles. Mara is almost always there waiting behind the front door to welcome us home when we’ve been out, and she often follows us around the house like a little shadow as we go about our routines and chores.

I’ll never forget the day we brought Mara home from the rescue centre: When we released her from the cat carrier into our bedroom, after a quick exploration of the room, she jumped up on our bed and began affectionately butting heads with us. Mara was timid and unsure, but seemed overjoyed to be out of the cattery and eager to bond with us. Since then, our home has very much become her home with all her countless toys, dens and miscellanea scattered everywhere, and scratch marks on the upholstery to prove it. Many of our friends (even those with pets of their own) think we spoil Mara, but from the moment we adopted her, she has given us so much love, affection and companionship that it always seems like a fair trade.

13 the love of a cat2

Hanging in pride of place on our living room wall is a framed picture of the three of us drawn by web-comic artist Li Chen. My husband commissioned it shortly after we adopted Mara and it was our Christmas present to each other that year. To us, it represents that no matter what happens or where we go, Mara will always be part of our little family and home.

We often lament that we have no photos of Mara as a kitten, though we imagine she must have been very cute given how kittenish some of her mannerisms still are. We knew so little about her when we adopted her, only that she had to be rehomed because her previous owner died, and even her age is estimated.

FullSizeRender

Mara has had such a lot of upheaval over the last couple of years from losing her previous owner and everything familiar to being adopted by us, moving house with us at the end of last year and most recently having her tail amputated after we found a malignant tumour near the base of it. Yet throughout everything, Mara has shown such bravery and resilience, and given us her unwavering trust and unconditional love. Whatever the future holds for us all, I’ll always be grateful for Mara, and I’ll cherish every moment we’ve spent together. Have a lovely week.

Home Sweet Home

We recently moved into our new house and the last few weeks have been spent repainting, unpacking, exploring the local area and making sure our cat Mara is settling in.

(Surprise snowdrops in the garden, and Mara making herself at home)

My husband and I rented together for three and a half years but longed for a house and garden of our own. For many people in the U.K., home ownership represents security and an escape from the competitive rental market. We’ve been lucky that our landlords were decent, we’ve never had our rents increased or tenancy terminated at short notice like some of our friends, but we’ve had our fair share of maintenance issues from damp in the bathroom to mice in the kitchen and a broken boiler that left us without heating or hot water in the middle of winter.

We started looking for a house in winter because the housing market seems to slow down around Christmas, and we thought it might be harder to hide leaks, damp and drafts in the colder months of the year. We spent hours scrolling through estate agent sites, comparing floor plans, analyzing street maps and studying what often turned out to be misleading photos before we even started arranging viewings.

Eventually we chose the house we could imagine ourselves living in, which happened to be the first house we viewed and the yardstick against which we measured the others. It was a cold, rainy Saturday in November when we first visited it, yet this particular house still seemed light and cosy to us.

We worried about outgrowing the house before we owned enough furniture to fill one room. We were anxious about the stress moving would cause our house-cat. We brooded over repossession and negative equity. We worried until we ran out of things to worry about, yet both my husband and I are decisive by nature, and twenty four hours after visiting the house, we made an offer.

We had a few restless nights waiting to find out if the owners would accept our offer, then waiting for the building society to approve our mortgage, and the conveyancing caused everyone involved considerable stress as the solicitors wrangled over reports, fees and deadlines. Fortunately, it all proceeded smoothly and was finalised on the 21st of December, making our new house seem like an early Christmas present.

(The keys to our new home, and a little gift from the previous owners)

We’re relieved by how quickly Mara has settled into our new home; she can be very timid, but we tried to make the move as smooth as possible for her by making sure there were lots of familiar furniture, rugs and blankets, as well as all of her own toys and things.

I was sad to say goodbye to the home we rented for three years and seven months, but I’m so grateful for the shelter it provided, all the memories made and lessons learned there. My sadness is softened by excitement about our new house though, it is ready to live in but will be a bit of a project to make our own as the previous owners favoured dark colour schemes and added some odd features. Yet even with boxes to unpack, walls to repaint and mismatched furniture, it already feels like home sweet home. Have a lovely week.

A Safe Haven

img_4080
Mara helping us pack

We are in the middle of moving, and as we pack up our belongings, I know I will miss this place. The little home my husband and I rented for three years and seven months was our first home together and the setting of so many memories and milestones in our relationship. It seems to me that a home is whatever you make it: it could be a battleground, a dumping ground or a safe haven. Our home has been all of these at different stages of our relationship.

Our home was a battleground as we clashed over money, housework and competing priorities when we first moved in together. Although we have resolved most of those early conflicts, whenever we have something contentious to discuss now, we find a neutral space like a café or a park, and the discussion ends before we step through our front door.

We used to wipe our feet on the doormat, but tramped the day’s emotional dirt through our home. It became littered with the ghosts of all of our stresses, sorrows and frustrations. Now we understand that we don’t have to bring these issues inside, and our home can be a safe haven away from our troubles. As well as the emotional detritus, we treated it like a dump for our possessions. Our home was already furnished when we moved in, and once we’d squeezed our own things into it, the cupboards and drawers were bursting and there wasn’t a single clear surface to be found. It took us a little while to realise that we didn’t need more space but less stuff, and we have been gradually downsizing and decluttering over the last few months.

We’ve become more intentional about what we keep and what we buy now. When our electric kettle broke, we replaced it with a stove-top whistling kettle; it’s a little reminder to slow down in an impatient world. We also treated ourselves to a few house plants (after researching which plants wouldn’t poison our curious house-cat); I don’t know if they purify the air but having greenery around is calming.

It seems odd, but what I’ll miss most is the scratched, old dining table (featured in many photos on this blog), around which my husband and I shared meals, wrote our Christmas cards and wedding invitations, played board games with friends, and where I typed most of these posts. I suspect our landlords would let us have the dining table and chairs if we asked, yet I’m leaving them behind, because I’m keeping all the memories.

A roof over our heads and walls to shelter us is something many of us take for granted, but others are not so fortunate. Over the last three and a half years we have learned to protect our home from physical and emotional clutter in return for the safe haven it provides from storms of all kinds, and these are the lessons we’ll take with us wherever we live. Have a lovely week.