Rats!

Blackbird amongst greenery

Last week I spoke about the birds enjoying a winter feast of windfall apples. It was fascinating to watch them gathering in groups to feed throughout the day. We don’t do much to encourage birds in the garden – the last thing we want is the cats to be hunting them, particularly during the spring and summer, when there are young ones about, perhaps less streetwise than their parents. So it was a joy to feel that we could help them through the winter, when the cats are out less and the birds may struggle to feed themselves.

All this came to an end, however, when our neighbour saw a rat in their garden, carrying bread put out by their neighbours on the other side. Now I quite like domesticated rats and I firmly believe that all wild creatures need to eat, whether we consider them socially acceptable or not. However, I do understand that wild rats can’t be encouraged in an area where pets and children play.

The crunch came – quite literally for the poor rat – when our neighbour caught one in a trap, clearly on its way under the fence from our garden to theirs. Reluctantly, I accepted that windfall apples will feed rats just as well as birds, and collected them all up for the compost. The blackbirds started to gather on the fences as I worked, watching with interest, not realising that I was clearing away their food source. Once I had finished, they hopped down to inspect the orchard, even before I had moved away, and I had to leave, unable to bear to watch them hunting hopelessly for their meal. By the time I reached the house, there were several on the ground but sadly, they didn’t stay long. I can only hope that the decaying fruit was also feeding insects and the birds can at least eat those for a while.

So this leaves me wondering where we go from here. How to strike the balance between supporting the bird population through the winter, without encouraging them to nest in the garden for the cats to enjoy through the spring, and at the same time avoiding the rat problem? As a new gardener and an animal-lover, it is a real quandary, and a distressing one at that. 

And what of the poor rat that met its end so suddenly whilst going under the fence? This is the biggest mystery of all. My neighbour left the body in the trap during the day and, when her husband came to dispose of it on his return from work, it was gone, trap and all. Calamity and the Princess were soon cleared of suspicion – they had alibis for most of the day, as they had barely set foot outside the door – and even a cat as bright as the Princess may have struggled to carry a large rat in a metal trap over the fence to bring home. Other suspects include the neighbour’s dog (but how would he dispose of the trap?) or a passing bird of prey, although they usually respond to movement on the ground and there was no doubt that the rat was dead. We may never know …

Grey and white cat stretched on rug before open fire
“It wasn’t me – honest! I haven’t budged all day … “

We have picked up the apples. We have blocked up the access under the fence. We plan to move the compost bin out of the orchard to somewhere less accessible. Have we done enough to prevent a return visit? I hope so – for the rats’ sakes as much as for ours.

Winter beauty

Cobweb covered in ice crystals

I said back in November that winter had arrived and it is now reigning supreme. I will confess I am not a winter person. My most positive memories of winter are of being in the car as a child, pretending to be the ice queen, locked in her frozen palace until I was rescued by my mother, who broke down the palace walls to reach me (or, more prosaically, scraped the ice off the car windows so that she could take me to school).

However, I have been swayed recently by the beauty to be found in winter. There is nothing more inspiring than the winter sun fighting its way through the early morning mist to make the frost sparkle. I went for a walk through the garden on such a morning recently and was struck by how different, and almost magical it felt. Although in deepest midwinter, there was a choir of birds singing in the bare trees, on the frozen rooftops and in the hedges that surround our plot. We are repaying the birds for their song with the last of the windfall apples, which we left under the tree. They are now feeding a range of birds from crows to blackbirds, who we have noticed arrive in groups, first the males and then the females. All that is left of the apple after they have finished is the base and the core – the rest has totally disappeared.

Windfall apple eaten by birds
This apple was very much enjoyed by the blackbirds

We have a lot of evergreen foliage in the garden – more than I had realised last year. The frost gives the leaves a new texture, making the photinia and the hebe in particular look almost like fabric, as if touching them would feel warm and soft, even though the reality would be the opposite. Cobwebs, always a work of art if you look closely, become almost chandelier-like, the ice crystals forming fragile diamonds on their lacy structure. The lawn crunches underfoot and the pampas grass flowers push ever higher into the sky, unaffected by all but the windiest of weather.

Frosty photinia leaves
Frost on the photinia “Pink Marble”

Not that everything enjoys the frost quite as much as I did that morning. Our winter salad, which has thrived up until now, is definitely feeling the cold although, again, the frost enhanced its beauty. The leeks and the sprouts appear to be surviving, but we will need to eat them soon I think. The cats prefer the radiator or the fire to going out and, when they do feel the need to patrol their territory, do so with a funny, bouncing gait, as they try and cross the lawn without getting their paws cold or wet. One day last week the Calamity Cat sat outside with one of her front paws in the air – clearly minimising its contact with the ground. If we leave them outside for a moment longer than they consider absolutely necessary, we are told in no uncertain terms when we let them in that they expect better from their door staff.

Frosty salad leaves
The winter salad in the frost

D also fell foul – quite literally – of the weather one morning when venturing out to put out the bin. He slipped on black ice on the step up to the porch, landing on his back with a crash that frightened both me and the cats inside the house. Although he was bruised and shaken, it could have been worse – all those years curling had at least taught him the safest way to fall on ice and his training kicked in as he went down, protecting his head from injury. As ever, he has been stoic in his pain, and continues to do whatever needs to be done, such as chopping wood for the fire. Hopefully, he will have a little time now to rest and recuperate and will soon be back to full strength.

 

 

 

A new year begins

Laptop with blogging mug of tea

And so that is Christmas over for another year. I hope, like us, you enjoyed a fulfilling break, however you chose to celebrate it. My gifts this year reminded me that the aspiration to a simple life is right for us. We were very lucky this year – we had some wonderful presents from our friends and family and each other, but the ones that stand out for me are the simplest: a new pair of slippers to keep my feet warm while I work; a mug which makes me feel like a real blogger and chocolate puzzles which kept me, D and my sister entertained and frustrated in equal measure for ages on Boxing Day. Even my cracker gift was perfect – a tiny stainless steel ruler, useless for most people I suspect but ideal for measuring curtain hems for me. Mind you, everyone has to have a bit of luxury in the simplest of lives and the Prosecco O’Clock clock makes me smile every time I check the time. We very much enjoyed the bottle that went with it on New Year’s Eve with our cheeseboard supper.

Cheeseboard and 2 glasses of Prosecco
New Year’s Eve supper

We started Christmas Day, as many families do, opening stockings, including one for the cats. They were very taken with the idea of having Dreamies on the bed before breakfast and it kept them interested while we opened the rest of their presents on their behalf. Their new toys (3 toy fish in a sardine tin) went down very well and we had a good game together before getting up. After a special treat breakfast for us all (Gourmet for the girls and pain au chocolat for us), we left them to settle down for a busy day sleeping and headed off to my extended family. We spent Christmas Day eating good food in good company (my gravy and stuffing and D’s clootie dumpling were all well received), telling daft cracker jokes and playing charades. A good old-fashioned Christmas that the post-ghost Scrooge would have recognised and very much appreciated.

And so I am beginning 2017 feeling refreshed and inspired. Inspired, not least by another gift from D, Monty Don’s latest book Nigel, which is beautifully written and is the canine version of the book I would love to write. It is, as the blurb says, a love story, the love of dogs, of gardens and the relationships that interweave them all. Nearly everything we have learned about having a garden over the past year, we have learned from Monty Don, through Gardeners’ World and through the magazine that goes with the programme but this is the first time I have read any of his books. The writing feels effortless (although I am sure it wasn’t!) and, although it sounds clichéd to say, it really did make me both laugh and cry. Cats and gardening perhaps don’t go hand in hand with gardening in quite the same way as dogs, and we will never have the 2 acres of garden he has, or the ability to tend it if we had, but that book epitomises everything I am aiming for in this blog. If you haven’t read it, I cannot recommend it highly enough – it was truly inspiring.

Cover of book "Nigel" by Monty Don
An inspiring read

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I do have goals this year to follow my dreams as a writer, as an amateur gardener and, of course, as a maker of soft furnishings. I look forward to sharing 2017 with you all – the successes and the inevitable disasters, and I wish you all a happy and fulfilled year to come.

 

 

 

We wish you a Merry Christmas …

gravy-ingredients

Yes, I know it is still early, but we are in full swing here. Tonight, I made the gravy for Christmas dinner, which will be frozen and then taken with us when we go to visit family on Christmas Day. It is a vegetarian gravy recipe I have never used before but I’m hopeful it will be perfect on the day. I nearly fell at the first hurdle though, when I realised I needed leeks for it. It was 6pm and dark. “D – I need a leek” was always going to be an interesting conversation. Five minutes later, we were both tramping up the garden in the rain, so that I could hold the torch while D located suitable leeks in the veg patch, pulled them up and trimmed them, putting the waste straight into the compost bin. The rosemary also came from the garden, although sadly we had to buy thyme and carrots. Our own thyme has not survived, being totally trampled by the chocolate mint, which grew like crazy throughout the summer. It’s a cut-throat world, that herb garden!

The kitchen soon smelled beautifully of roasted vegetables, garlic and fragrant herbs, which I then simmered in stock and cider. Once strained and reduced, it suddenly became a delicious gravy. It is now tucked into the freezer, waiting to be joined tomorrow by the cranberry and chestnut stuffing.

In spite of all the “help” from the cats, most of the gifts are now wrapped. We made sure we waited until they were asleep before we wrapped theirs. Just for a second, common sense prevailed. “Am I totally daft, wrapping presents for the cats?” I asked D. “Maybe”, was the answer “but let’s do it anyway. It wouldn’t feel right when we all open our stockings together on Christmas morning if their presents weren’t wrapped.” We remembered that last year, our first in the house, they received a toy that they both wanted and there was a real battle on the bed. We have learned this year, and have enough of the same toys to hopefully keep them both happy. Cats and small children – there are lots of similarities.

Mind you, the Calamity Cat is still keen to earn her keep. The logs have been inspected and the coal bunker is so full, she can’t get into it to check that is all satisfactory, so she has had to look for other employment. She has been catching up on the blog and was fascinated to hear about Sonny, Nina’s feline office assistant, who dropped in as a guest some weeks ago. “Hmm,” she thought, “that’s a job I haven’t tried yet”. She gave it a go, but supervising D all became too much quite quickly.

Grey and white cat asleep on a laptop
“It’s hard work, this …”

Next week, I am up in Scotland, enjoying an office Christmas with a Secret Santa and undoubtedly enough decorations up to make our twinkly Christmas tree look dull. My colleagues really know how to do Christmas! And then once I am back, it will be Christmas Eve and I will be all excited, waiting for Father Christmas to come down the chimney. We are hoping he’ll pick the dining room one, or it might be a bit warm for him! We have hung the stockings in there so hopefully he will know where he is going. We’ll be leaving a mince pie or two for him too, and a glass of home-made bramble wine. If anyone follows my Facebook page, you will know that we visited D’s family last weekend and one of his sisters gave us a bottle of wine that she had made. It seems fitting that even Santa will be getting home-brewed wine from us, even if not made by us.

So, I will be taking the next two weeks off from the blog, and I will see you all again in 2017. On behalf of myself, D and both the cats, I wish you a very happy, peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Bottle of homemade red wine, a full glass and an angel tealight holder
Merry Christmas everyone!

 

 

 

 

Advent antics

Christmas tree with bright coloured lights and gifts underneath

So December is here and Christmas is peeping round the corner. I am feeling particularly festive this year. Last year, we were so busy with the move that Christmas was just a chance to catch up on our sleep, so this year I really want to make the most of it.

It starts, of course, with the Advent calendar. I’m afraid I am a bit of a traditionalist, and there is no chocolate in sight in our calendar. It’s part of our family tradition that our dad sends us all one each year, always from the same range and I look forward to it every year. This year I have a house, and each window shows a family preparing for the excitement of Christmas. It is a real treat opening the window each day – one of the simple pleasures that epitomises the life we are creating here.

Advent calendar of a house
Phoenix cards advent calendar
advent-calendar-2
Detail of calendar

We couldn’t decide what to do about the tree. We have one in a pot that I have used for several years – it came down with us from Scotland and lives on our patio. Over the years, though, it has got bigger and heavier, and is in sore need of a bit of a prune to bring it back into shape. Reluctantly, we decided that bringing it in this year and getting it into the living room wasn’t an option. We had it in the dining room last year but it wasn’t the same somehow as having a tree twinkling in the corner of the lounge. So we went out to buy one instead. I’m not sure I have ever done that before and it was very exciting! We ventured into a village we had never been to before (which was beautiful. If we win the lottery, we may have to move …) and chose the perfect tree from the collection sitting in the corner of a farmer’s field. The car smelled gorgeous all the way home!

I thought the cats might be vaguely interested in a tree in the house but, after a quick sniff, Calamity decided it really wasn’t worth her while, at least until we had put some breakable ornaments on to it. The Princess barely even noticed it was there.

Grey and white cat by a Christmas tree
“So, where are the decorations then?”

There is something really special about bringing the Christmas boxes down from the loft, rediscovering lots of things from Christmases past. The nativity sets are always the first to appear and take pride of place in both lounge and dining room. And then the lights go on the tree and suddenly everything feels Christmassy. I have never had a themed or elegant tree – I believe Christmas is about fun and family, not looking like an interiors magazine. However, I would usually put plain lights on a tree and let the ornaments and the star shine through. D, on the other hand, had other ideas. He suggested buying new lights this year and picked up a set of multi-coloured lights with 8 different flashing sequences. Not quite what I had in mind but, you know, they make me smile every time I look at them, flashing away in the corner. We used the plain ones around a picture in the dining room to give that room a bit of sparkle as well. (Apologies for the size of this video – I can’t resize it!)

 

Putting the baubles on is my favourite part. We try and buy a new one each year (a Scottish Father Christmas was last year’s treat) but there are so many from previous years too that I love. We have one each for the cats, with their names on, and one in memory of my previous cat, who died at a ripe old age several years ago. A Christmas tree is so much more than just a tree – it contains so many happy memories and soaks up new ones, storing them for future years. A new star was the final touch (although it is a bit heavy and is currently sitting at a jaunty angle, as if it has been hitting the Christmas Baileys).

The only thing left to make it perfect is, of course, the presents. We had a lovely day last week with a friend who was down from Aberdeen, exploring the gift shops in York and buying gifts that are hopefully a bit different from the norm. We also sampled the mulled wine and cider at the Christmas market – well, you have to, don’t you! After the tree went up, we had a frenzy of wrapping and suddenly the cats started to see the point of Christmas. “Ooh, can we help? Let’s just sit here on this crinkly paper and supervise … ”

Grey and white cat sitting on Christmas wrapping paper
“What? I’m supervising!”

Having a pile of gifts for those we love under the tree gives me such a warm, happy feeling – it makes me smile almost as much as those crazy lights. We aren’t completely mad though. The cats’ present is well hidden in a cupboard – we wouldn’t put it past the Calamity Cat to find it and open it if it was under the tree. As it is, she keeps sitting outside the cupboard and letting us know she isn’t stupid and she knows it’s in there. Little does she know that we will be sending it to Father Christmas any day, so that he can deliver it safely into their stocking on Christmas Eve. She, like the rest of us, will just have to wait!

 

The Arrival of Winter

Close up of a sunflower

Officially, Winter doesn’t start until 21st December but I always feel we are well into it by then, with the shortest day just a few days later. So, for me, my birthday usually marks its beginning. Especially as I refuse to even think about Christmas until my birthday is over.

Someone has definitely notified the Powers That Be that I am right and that winter is upon us. There has been snow on and off for a couple of weeks now and this week has brought high winds and torrential rain. We haven’t had anywhere near as many problems as down south of course, but there is flooding in the fields up off the main road into York and we had a miniature paddling pool in our hall this week, where the rain had come in under the door. We dried it off as best we could and put cardboard down under the mat to try and soak up any more. Of course, wet or not, the cats thought this change in décor was just for them and we have found them both sitting on the cardboard at various times through the day.

Snow in a garden
Our first snowfall of 2016

You may remember our expertly fitted water collection system that D put in earlier in the year. It has been a little too efficient recently and the butts are totally full. We have had to drain some of it off, to stop the water getting too stagnant at the bottom. It feels totally wrong to be wasting water but one thing is sure – the garden certainly doesn’t need it at the moment! We had good intentions about putting the garden to bed properly for the winter – forking over the lawn to improve the drainage, tidying the leaves and fallen apples and replacing the plants in the pots. However, we were overtaken by events (and the weather) and now it all feels too late. It appears so far still to be a very green space, with the evergreen hedge and the Pampas grass, which burst splendidly into flower one day last month to bring us some pleasure over the next few months. And the beech hedge and the hydrangea have glowed in their autumn glory colours  – I intend to make the most of them until they drop their leaves altogether.

Hydrangea plant with autumn leaves
The hydrangea shows off its autumn foliage

Perhaps the most poignant sign for me that we are heading into darker months was watching my neighbour putting their sunflower in the garden waste bin to be taken away. For months that sunflower has smiled at me from their front garden every time I have walked past and it made me happy just to see it. Now it is gone, until they and their children plant another in the spring.

We still have leeks and sprouts in the veg patch to keep us going, although we have hesitated to plant any other late veg, as D has grand plans to redesign the space in the spring. Our late salad has gone totally mad, though, and appears to be surviving the weather so far. It’s a shame it’s too cold to eat it! I am constantly craving mashed potatoes, hearty soups and hot chocolate at the moment – salad doesn’t really figure. It was a good lesson learned for us though – salad sown straight into the ground has done far better than any that we tried to nurture in the greenhouse.

So I can definitely feel hibernation mode coming on. We have logs in the woodstore, coal in the bunker and the oil is being filled this week for the boiler. The cats agree – we offer them an open door in the mornings but they usually head straight back to bed instead. They pop out later, just to check that all is well in their empire and then come quickly back inside for a warm-up and another nap. The radiator bed is in constant demand, as is the rug before the fire. They definitely have this new simple life stuff cracked and, at least through the winter, I intend to follow their example as much as I possibly can!

Grey and white cat asleep on a brown blanket
Cosy in the living room

 

Musings on life

Street sign for Cafe Concerto, York

It was my birthday this week. D treated me to a meal out and then we hit the pubs in York for a drink or two, for probably the first time since we arrived here. Reaching a new year of life is always a happy event, but this year it has left me a little thoughtful as well. This time last year, we had bought the house but hadn’t moved down from Aberdeen. We spent my birthday week here though, unpacking, sorting out utilities and generally starting to prepare for moving in. It was a strange week, as I recall. As we were driving down from Scotland, news of the Paris attacks had started to filter in and somehow, the world felt like it had shifted a little and not in a good way. The house didn’t feel like home at that point, the cats were still in Scotland and, if I had any doubts at all if we had done the right thing in relocating, it was that week, where nothing we did felt quite safe or normal.

A year on and the outside world doesn’t really feel any safer. The Brexit result, the US election and the rest of the world news that hits our TV and Internet screens daily confirm that for us. And yet, in just one short year, the world and life we have created for ourselves here feels safe and right and like we have never been anywhere else. We have achieved so much this year – all the veg we have grown and eaten, the territory the cats have made their own, the way we have decorated, built furniture and changed the house into our home together. We have truly become a little family unit and, every morning, as I look out of the bedroom window to greet the cows and admire the view, I say a quiet thank you. To D, for building this home and family with me; to the cats for the endless pleasure and entertainment they bring; to family, friends and colleagues who have supported our move and to those who are no longer with us and are missed every day, who gave us the emotional and financial security to lead our lives in the best way we can. And also, of course to you all, who have shared this journey with us through the blog. I hope we have made everyone proud.

Field with cows and Autumn trees
This view reminds me daily of how lucky we are

We observed the 2 minute silence in the supermarket last Sunday and I spent it hoping that it wasn’t just a nation going through the motions of remembrance – that we will use it as was intended, to ensure that such a tragic waste of life will not happen again. It feels now, as it must have felt just over one hundred years ago, that the world is on the brink of great change, but we cannot change what is happening out there in the world. What we can do is make the most of the life that we have, appreciate every day and all the small beauties that it brings, something the cats are particularly good at reminding us. As I said after Brexit, they don’t care what is happening, as long as the Sheba keeps on coming!

I certainly made the most of my birthday celebration. We had tried to visit Café Concerto last year when we came down but, for some reason, it wasn’t open on my birthday for the evening. So I have waited a whole year for this! It was a favourite many years ago, when a friend lived in York and we used go whenever I came to visit, so this was a way of revisiting my youth as well as celebrating my (more mature) years. It still had exactly the same laid back feel that I remembered and the food was pretty good, too.

Sheet music used to paper a wall
Café Concerto interior – the walls are papered in sheet music

Who knows what will have happened by this time next year. Maybe I will be running a soft furnishings company. Maybe we will have a greenhouse and have grown even more veg. Maybe the cats will be happy to chill in the garden, rather than feeling the need to explore and hunt (somehow, I doubt that one). As long as we are here in Yorkshire, and together, that’s all that matters.

 

Curtains, everyone!

Collection of samples of window treatments

I hope you all enjoyed meeting Nina and Sonny last week – aren’t they both lovely. I’m back this week and totally fizzing with enthusiasm for the world of soft furnishings. Last week I was introduced to making Roman blinds, cushions, padded pelmets and swags and tails. I was really nervous about the last two – they always look so elegant in beautiful Georgian interiors and must be impossible to make, surely?

Whilst fiddly, they turned out to be great fun to make. My tail, particularly, was a more modern take on it but I hope you will agree that the lovely fabric worked really well.

 

Curtain tail in blue horizontal striped fabric
No, cats – not that sort of tail!
Curtain swag in a green and pink fabric
My swag would look better hung but you get the idea

Talking of fabric, you must all be wondering what I did with the James and the Giant Peach fabric – I turned it into a Roman blind and it was a perfect choice, even if I do say so myself!

Roman blind in white fabric with a peach design
I’ve laid it out as a cascade blind here to show off the fabric better

Surprisingly, it was the cushion where I really struggled – who knew that putting in a zip could be that difficult! Fortunately, the tutor was on hand to show me where I was going wrong – again and again and again. Then, at the end of the day, she showed us an alternative way to do it which looked a whole lot easier and I can’t wait to try it for myself.

Padded pelmets were also quite straightforward (the one in the picture is a half-pelmet sample). The hard bit would be cutting the shape from plywood with a jigsaw. Fortunately, as you all know I have a very handy, practical and supportive chap at home, who is on the case, researching chamfered edges as we speak. He’s such a star.

Padded pelmet sample in white fabric with stars
Half a padded pelmet

It was great to see everyone again on the course, too, and catch up with what they had been doing. They were a supportive and incredibly talented bunch of people and it was a privilege to learn with them. There were a couple of trainee tutors there as well, one of whom took a group picture of us on the last day. She suggested we all wave our swags (not a phrase you hear every day), but we decided we preferred to keep it simple!

Group of 8 women outside a building
Here we all are, on our last day together

It was good to get home, though. D was waiting with a big hug and a glass of wine and Calamity was glad to see me (until she realised I hadn’t brought her treats, anyway). The Princess, however, appears to have totally switched loyalties during my time away and keeps walking straight over me to reach D’s knee instead. I confess to being a touch jealous – the Princess and I have always had a special bond. I have to hope that she remembers that too over the next couple of weeks and I can have my regular cuddles again.

So, I suppose the question is, where next? I should finish the course totally before Christmas and then, apart from waiting for my certificate, I will be a fully qualified curtain and soft furnishings maker. I am making tentative explorations into setting up a business but it is a scary world out there (especially today, in light of the results of the US election) and it takes more than being handy with a needle to be successful. Will I be brave enough to jump in with both feet? Who knows, but I certainly wouldn’t mind at least going for a bit of a paddle …

In the meantime, I am looking again at our own curtains and feeling ever more certain that I have a lot of sewing to do. A blind for the landing, a curtain for the door, pelmets in the kitchen and curtains in the living room and bedroom bays. My biggest problem is where to start! So many exciting projects, so much beautiful fabric to choose from and so little time …

New Simple Life Mark 2…or, a cautionary tale of one woman and her tabby office assistant

Logo for Nina the Writer

So, as promised, this week I am delighted to welcome Nina Jervis as my very first guest blogger to talk about her own version of finding a new simple life. Without further ado, I give you – Nina the Writer!

Hello, please allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Nina, and I’ve been an avid follower of the lovely Lisa’s blog since she started it back in March, so when she asked me to write a guest post I jumped at the chance (rather like a cat onto a comfy sofa!).  I’ve started a new simple life too, you see, albeit a dissimilar one to Lisa’s.

One of the biggest differences between Lisa’s and my new simple lives is that instead of the natural, pastoral beauty of North Yorkshire, my story is set in the heart of TOWIE-land – Southend-on-Sea to be precise. That’s where I live, and I make no apology for it…most of the time.   It’s got a beach, and the longest pleasure pier in the world, and the cast of EastEnders go on holiday there a lot.  Come for summer!

Anyway, Southend just happens to be an hour or so’s commute from Central London.  I spent the longest fifteen years of my life travelling back and forth on the zombie commuter train to my rather uninspiring job as an HR Manager, before deciding I’d had enough, quitting in June, and starting my own business as a freelance writer.

Now I know what you might be thinking; that doesn’t sound very simple – and you’d be right!  But there are some aspects of my new working life that have a touch of genuine simplicity about them.  Such as my shopping habit, which has had to be deftly curtailed since I’m not earning the money to cover it so much, or keeping myself warm by wrapping myself in woollens and a hot water bottle to save money on heating bills (I knew there was a reason I started this business in sunny June!)  There’s also my new office assistant, otherwise known as my tabby rescue cat, Sonny.

Tabby cat sleeping on a blanket in a home office
Sonny “supervising” in the office

I’ve started to think my transition to a new simple life has affected Sonny more than it has me.  The biggest challenge for him has definitely been getting used to having me around all day, when he’d been used to having the entire house to himself until the early evening – and when I suspect he spent lots of time lying around on all the furniture he shouldn’t have been anywhere near, judging by the little tufts of fur I’d find on my ‘nice’ armchairs!

And it’s not true, I’m afraid to say my dear Lisa, that cats sleep anywhere.  At least, not in the plush places specifically designed for them.  Sonny sleeps on various mats and teatowels, or the space on the sofa next to me where my boyfriend also likes to sit (very often, there are battles). But not, for example, the cosy hooded cat bed on which I spent my last £25, because it was getting cold and I wanted him to be extra-warm as winter comes.  I tried putting treats inside it, like the nice lady at the pet shop said to, but this only earned a “Sonny just thinks of that thing as a giant food bowl, now,” from my boyfriend.  Which was true.

 

Tabby cat sitting next to an igloo-style cat bed
Cat bed? You mean the giant food bowl?

But I call Sonny my “office assistant” because while he doesn’t actually help me with my admin (perish the thought, with those claws!) he makes my working days a lot more calm and happy than my old office colleagues ever did.  Sonny spends most of his time these days curled up next to me on the sofa, or on his fleecy mat in my makeshift office, and if I start to worry about my uncertain working future I only have to look over at him purring away in his sleep to know that not only did I make the right decision to work from home, but also that my lovely cat chose me to live with – hooded cat bed or no hooded cat bed – and so everything will be OK in the end.   In a lot of ways, I like to think Sonny has chosen a new simple life too.

Thank you, Nina. It’s great to hear that your new simple life is working so well for both you and Sonny – he is a very handsome chap! To find out more about Nina and follow her own blog, go to www.ninathewriter.com

It’s a big wide world out there …

Aberdeen rooftops in the sunshine

As regular readers know, I love my home. I love the cosy house, the garden and being with my little family and I need some pushing to get me out, even for an evening. We have had a few social events recently – a friend’s birthday party up in Scotland (good excuse to catch up with some old friends and wow people with our dancing) and our semi-regular visit to the village club for the quiz night. Don’t be too shocked but last week, we actually won! For a team called “Bottom Again” (as that’s our usual finishing point), we were pretty impressed. It was probably down to the music round, which was TV theme tunes and sounded like a musical romp through our weekly viewing – Antique’s Roadshow, Grand Designs, Countryfile … You get the picture. By the time we got to Gardener’s World I think we had lost any credibility with the two twenty-something young women who were on the team with us, but how else are we supposed to learn how to manage the garden? Monty Don – my hero! (Not to mention Nigel and Nell, the dogs, the real stars of the show).

I do have a couple of weeks away now anyway. This week, I am on my monthly pilgrimage to Aberdeen to go into the office. It’s a warm, sunny Autumn up here as well and it reminds me just how beautiful this city can be. The view from my bedroom window up here is a bit different from the fields at home (the one at the top of every blog page) but I’m sure you will agree no less impressive:

Rooftops view of granite buildings in the sunshine
View from my bedroom window in Aberdeen

Then, once I get back from Aberdeen, it’s down to Nottingham for the second week of my curtain-making course. I am so excited! I have been practising hard, matching patterns, finishing valances, creating another curtain sample and now I am ready to go and face Roman blinds and swags and tails. Last weekend, we went to Waltons Mill (http://www.waltonsfabrics.co.uk/) in Boroughbridge to buy what I needed. I was like a child in a sweet shop – I have never seen so much fabric in one place. They had a range of Roald Dahl fabrics that caught my attention (once a librarian …) and I was so tempted by the one covered in scary black spiders. In the end, though, I decided that probably wouldn’t be good to include in my portfolio, so I went for the Giant Peach fabric instead. So, this was my collection for next week – what do you think?

Collection of fabrics on a table
I can’t wait to transform these!

For now, though, I am looking forward to being back at home with D and the girls. He is in charge down there at the moment and it sounds like, with the weather wetter than here, he has two grumpy cats on his hands. “We want to go out” they keep telling him. Not that he is stopping them but they don’t like the rain. “Make it stop” they wail at the patio door, as if it must be his fault. In the end, they go upstairs to sulk. D has a particularly challenging jigsaw to do and for some reason, they both seem to think it makes a cosy place to sleep (Cats sleep anywhere, remember?) The Princess was particularly disgruntled at being moved the other day and poor D got bitten for his temerity. Not that she hurts – but she certainly makes her point. It’s amazing how quickly they forget the great outdoors once that fire is lit though, and I miss my evening snuggles in front of the TV with them all when I am not there.

So, as I will be away on my course next week, I won’t have a regular post for you. However, I am very excited to announce that I will be hosting my very first guest post instead. I will be leaving you all in the very capable hands of the lovely Nina Jervis (https://www.ninathewriter.com/) who has been successfully pursuing her own New Simple Life and is dropping by to tell you all about it. I am sure she will keep you all entertained and I would ask you all to give her lots of support as she is fab at what she does. And by the time I am back the following week, I will be a nearly fully-fledged curtain and soft furnishings maker!