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
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 Big Reveal

Yellow chrysanthemum

Well, it is finally here – the new kitchen is finished (more or less). We had a bit of a setback when the tiler rang to postpone his visit. You have to give it to him though – his customer care couldn’t be faulted. He actually rang me from his hospital bed, after he had been admitted as an emergency, to say he wouldn’t be coming. The poor man – the last thing we wanted was him to be worrying about our kitchen until he was well.

Anyway, he turned up last week, still recovering but able to work and I think it was a relief to him to find that our kitchen was smaller than he had feared, so he could take his time over it. He has done a fab job, as I am sure you will agree.

Duck egg tiles in a grey kitchen
Looking good …

It wasn’t our only hiccup of course. You may remember our beautiful light fitting from previous posts. We took the delicate shades down while we painted and the tiling was done and then we set to work at the weekend to put the finishing touches to the room, including putting the shades back up. Sadly, although we did our best, there was a sudden lethal crunching noise and one of the shades was broken. Crisis! We are trying to track down a replacement but, in the meantime, we have a bare bulb.

3 glass and opal downlighters in a row
This is what it looked like in the shop

Finally, we decided to give it some yellow accents to brighten the whole scheme. Have you ever tried to buy yellow things in October? It seems it is a spring colour – everything in the shops at the moment is purple. So much for being on trend! I did manage to find a hand towel and a beautiful chrysanthemum pot plant but sadly, I didn’t have a nice yellow pot to put it in. “We’ll pop out and get one,” D suggested. “It won’t take long”. After 2 hours of trawling round home shops and garden centres, we had to admit defeat. Apparently, pot plants are also a spring affair – the shops don’t stock them in the Autumn, they are too busy setting up Christmas displays. (Christmas? Nooooo … )

It does mean we have the pleasure of collecting items as and when we find them though, and we are looking forward to some exciting new finds over then next few months. D has already found a rather lovely bowl and I have all sorts of ideas for blinds or pelmets for the windows.

The cats are totally unimpressed, of course, although the Calamity Cat is desperate to explore the kidney-shaped pull out magic corner cupboard. It has nothing to do with the fact that the cat food is in there, of course …

So, here’s a reminder of what our kitchen used to look like:

L shaped kitchen
As it was

And finally – drum roll please – our sparkly new kitchen that we love:

Modern grey kitchen with duck egg tiles and yellow accents
The finished kitchen

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments!

New beginnings

Bee in Goldenrod flower

Since D and I don’t have children (apart from the furry kind, of course), September doesn’t necessarily mean back to school for us. And yet the lengthening nights, the cooler air and the autumnal changes in the garden still bring a sense of new beginnings, new possibilities, just as it felt at the start of each new school year all those years ago.

It was September three years ago that D and I embarked on the adventure of our new relationship. Last September, almost a whole year ago, we completed on the purchase of the house and started putting into motion the move to Yorkshire that would lead to our new simple life beginning together. This September feels almost as momentous, at least for me, as it marks the start of my new journey and literally a new school term. I have enrolled on a diploma in curtain-making and soft furnishings and next week I am heading off to Nottingham for the first of two residential weeks which form part of the course. I am excited and terrified in equal measure. The online part of the course has already started and I am learning about colour theory, about different fabrics and where and how they can be used and about different periods and styles. It has been years since I have undertaken any formal learning that required more output from me than multiple choice exams, so writing essays and reports and preparing presentation boards of samples and ideas is daunting, to say the least and I am worried that I will not be able to keep up. However, D is supporting me all the way in his usual practical, unswervingly committed manner and the cats, of course, are desperate to help. I am just as keen to keep my precious fabrics and boards away from their mucky paws and the fur that floats in the air, especially during this season change, when they are moulting in preparation for their winter coats.

The bee fabric feels very appropriate
I just loved this printed design
Fabric samples on card
My first sample board

Aside from starting to study, this week has continued the march into Autumn for us. One minute, the weather is beautiful and I am watching bees getting drunk on the beautiful Goldenrods that are fully living up to their name in the garden (as you can see in the photo at the top of the post) and the next we are lighting our first fire since Spring. Since moving here and starting to learn about the garden, I find I have been much more conscious of the seasons. Perhaps that is partly because Yorkshire has all four, unlike Aberdeen, which either jumps straight from spring or summer to snow or, if the four seasons are on show, they all seem to happen in the same day.

Grey and white cat on rug by an open fire
Calamity basks in the warmth of the fire

The cats are also staying much closer to home than earlier in the summer. The Calamity Cat can usually be found lounging in a sunny spot in the garden and even the Princess is spending more time with us, the hedgerow and its wildlife appearing to have lost some of its appeal. Mind you, that may be less down to the weather and more to do with whatever mishap befell her last week, when she came home so filthy I had no choice but to sponge her down with a damp flannel. I keep telling myself it was probably only mud, but I can’t shake the feeling that she got a little too close to a cow with a dodgy stomach – yuk!

Grey and white cat on hind legs by hedgerow
“Now where are those cows … ?”

We are still picking tomatoes faster than we can eat them – a bolognaise made with fresh tomatoes was a revelation, I can tell you – such a different colour, flavour and texture than using tinned. The summer house is rapidly filling with the stored apples and we keep meaning to take a walk down the lane to see what we can find in the hedgerow ourselves to bring home to go with them, although we are thinking more of blackberries than the mice and shrews the Princess has been snacking on! After next weekend, we will finally have work surfaces and a sink, so it should be easier to be more creative in the kitchen. By the end of September, the room will be tiled and then all that will remain is blinds at the windows. Hmm, now what I need is a trained curtain and blind-maker …

There won’t be a blog next week – I will be knee-deep in curtain samples and all my creative energy will be going into the sewing. I am looking forward to sharing the experience with you all the week after though. If you can’t wait that long to see how I am getting on, check out my Facebook profile or follow me on Twitter (@watsonlisa2002) as I will be popping in there daily with a quick update.


What a difference a week makes!

Large purple cup and saucer

I’m afraid this week’s blog will be quite short again – I don’t know where this week has gone! I wanted to show you all the progress that has been made on the kitchen, now my head is better and I’m feeling much more like myself. I can’t praise the kitchen fitter and his people enough. They worked hard, did a great job and it was so nice to have people to talk to on my tea break! Most of the niggles from last week got sorted. The cooker, which worked fine before the fuse-box was changed, now needs a new element in the oven, but the engineer is coming out to look at that tomorrow and, best of all, having to go back to them made us realise we have a care plan on it that entitles us to an annual valet. So I’m looking forward to having a cooker that looks like new when all the work is finished.

The cats had nearly as stressful a week as me. They were locked upstairs out of the way when the workmen were here – I could just imagine the chaos the Calamity Cat could have caused if she had gone to ‘help’. As soon as they left each day, they were desperate to get outside and stretch their legs, as well as inspect the work, of course!

So, where are we up to? The presentation below shows a day by day account of the work last week and then, at the weekend, we ordered the tiles (the duck egg ones, which we loved and everyone else seemed to prefer as well). They are going to look fab against the grey units and black work surface. We also bought the paint for the walls and D put a first coat on them (not a fun job!). We had originally thought a warm cream, but everything was either too yellow, too pink or just not right. We were both surprised when we chose a pale blue, but it seems to work with the units and the tiles will warm it right up, especially with those sunshine accent pieces I have planned. It is fresh and bright and walking into the kitchen in the morning is starting to make me smile, even with cardboard in place of work surfaces and no sink.

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On Monday, the granite people came out to measure up for the quartz work surface. What a job that was! Ours is not a large kitchen but he was here for literally hours. I am so excited about seeing the result, hopefully next week. He was a lovely chap, but not a cat person. He left the side door open, and I thought I saw a flash of grey out of the corner of my eye when I was helping him man-handle the sink. A quick look around the house confirmed that, although the Princess was safely asleep on the bed, the Calamity Cat was nowhere to be seen. She doesn’t usually go out at the front, where the road is, so there was nothing else to do but grab the Dreamies and go for a walk down the street, calling her. No sign. I was surprised she had got so far so quickly in a space she doesn’t know, so I returned to the house and double-checked everywhere again. There she was, looking quite comfy, curled up under the washstand in the study. Why do cats like to make you look like a total idiot? The fitter clearly thought I was a totally neurotic pet owner. Oh, hang on a minute – I am, aren’t I?

There are so many other things I want to tell you, not kitchen-related. Tales of leeks, of apples and tomatoes, and of me starting on the next phase of my New Simple Life journey. But, for now at least, the kitchen is taking priority over everything, even in my head. Hopefully by next week, we will be nearly there and I will be able to talk about something else!

In the meantime, I will leave you with a picture of the Princess, out for her morning stroll yesterday. Until next week, folks!

Grey and white cat walking along a hedgerow
Hmm, this looks interesting …

The Descent into Hell

Cat sitting in new kitchen

Ok, that is probably an exaggeration, but kitchen fitting is never fun. Add to that a week-long migraine and you have a bad week – and,I’m afraid, a short blog post.

Day One of the kitchen fit went well. Everything was ripped out by lunchtime and the cats, who had been expecting a whole day locked up in the bedroom, were out basking in the sun by midday. Day Two also wasn’t bad in terms of the work. The electrician did his first fix and most of the base cupboards ended up in roughly the right place. It wasn’t totally straightforward – the dishwasher wouldn’t fit where we had planned without hitting the radiator, but our fitter managed to squeeze it in somewhere else so that, for the first time since we moved here, we can actually open it properly. The novelty of the rest of it was already starting to wear a bit thin, though. We have put the kettle and the microwave into the dining room but we can’t really cook, or sit at the table and we are having to wash up in the bathroom. I do remember all this from the last time I renovated a house, so it wasn’t totally unexpected, but I had forgotten what a pain it can all be.

It was today (Day 3) that it became harder. The plasterer came and, although he did a good job, and they cleaned up after themselves, plastering is always going to be messy. A leak on the stopcock added stress to everyone but it was soon fixed. We won’t talk about the plasterer going through a floorboard, which has led to a hole in the floor that the cats are finding fascinating. The big headache (quite literally for me) is that the granite company can’t take their template for the work surface until next week, which will delay its fitting until the following week and the fitting of the sink until after that.

Leaving all that aside, though, it is quite exciting. The cupboards that are in are looking good, especially my Magic Corner pull-out cupboard. I’ve narrowed the tiles down to two options and, by the end of tomorrow, it will all be taking shape.

So, keep everything crossed for me and, hopefully, by next week’s post, it will all be looking much better!

In the meantime, here’s what it has looked like so far:

Dawn of a new era – well a new kitchen, anyway!

L shaped kitchen

Next Saturday is a red letter day. You will remember the day we ordered our beautiful Shaker new kitchen in pale grey – it seems so long ago now! Well, next Saturday it is finally arriving. I’m sure the following two weeks will be hell, but I am confident that it will be worth the pain. The plans have evolved a little since we placed the order and may well evolve again before we are finished!

I was adamant that we weren’t going to change the sink. I liked the ceramic sink we have and there was nothing wrong with it. Well, there was nothing wrong with it until we had the bookcase painting disaster that resulted in us pouring straight vodka on our hands to get rid of the paint, that is. It also got oil-based paint all over the sink. We got it all off in the end, but somehow, we never quite felt the same about it after that. So – we are going bold. We are going black.

Black ceramic 1.5 bowl sink with fruit on drainer
The black sink will hopefully add a ‘splash’ of drama

The work surface is glossy black quartz so a cream sink may have looked odd anyway. If you are looking for a cream ceramic sink in good condition, watch out – it will be on Ebay very soon!

The other thing I had set my heart on were restful, grown-up sage green tiles. We bought a couple of samples (top image below) and brought them home. But somehow, we just couldn’t picture it. So, we now have more, slightly brighter samples (lower images) on order, that should be here in time for us to test them and make a decision before the kitchen fitter is ready to start the tiling.

The colour of the tile may also affect the accent colour. I was veering towards a vibrant tangerine, just to lift the scheme, but I think it might be a bit much with the bolder tiles. I quite like the yellow in the picture above as well so maybe …

Finally, there was lighting to consider. We have ordered task lighting for under the wall cupboards so we wanted something a bit more ambient for the overhead lighting. I was thrilled to find this in an independent lighting company in Knaresborough and I think it is a perfect combination of classic simplicity and modern style:

3 glass and opal downlighters in a row
Simple and elegant is the plan!

So, that is where I’m up to so far on the great kitchen revamp. Let me know what you think in the comments below and I’ll keep you posted on how it is going over the next few weeks. I have a feeling the cats are not going to be happy until it’s all over!

The Library

Bookcases and our books

You may or may not know that I am a librarian by profession. Over the years, I have gathered my own book collection and both cherished and yet ruthlessly edited it as only a librarian can, to fit whatever space I have had to store it. When I first met D, one of the things that reassured me that we were right together was the overlap in our books. Different enough to be interesting, similar enough to be able to share worlds and fictional friends that we had discovered during our earlier lives. Add to this a large combined DVD collection, though and it meant a lot of boxes in the move.

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The Princess showing off the boxes

One thing that we didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on in Aberdeen was suitable shelving for the books. D is, as I have said before, immensely practical so he had a range of mismatched and chiefly flat-pack shelving in his flat. I, on the other hand, had decided some years before that my flat-pack years were done and, if I couldn’t afford solid shelving, I would prefer not to have any at all. Fine ideals, but probably a bit silly, looking back, as it meant most of my books had been packed up ever since.

So, when it came to the Yorkshire move, I was adamant – the flat-pack bookcases were either binned or have been relegated to the shed. Equally, he very sensibly refused to pay hundreds of pounds for a bookcase, especially given the size and number we would need. He declared that he had always fancied getting back into the woodwork he had done at school, and that he would make the shelving we needed himself. He had already claimed the garage as a workshop, even before we had moved in, so he couldn’t wait to get started.

After a few nights of busy drawing and design work, he knocked up his first prototype back in January, before he was working and while I was in Aberdeen – a small bookcase for the kitchen, designed specifically to fit my cookery books. In the interests of economy and practicality, it was a mix of timber and MDF – not my favourite material, but I reassured myself at least I could paint it. (Several months later, it still only has undercoat on it – I was far too excited to finally unpack and made the mistake of putting books on it when unfinished. Never, ever put books on a bookcase until it is finished – you won’t be able to pack them away again once they have escaped from their box.) I had to admit that, not only was it made exactly to the size I has asked for, it was sturdier than anything you can buy, flat-pack or otherwise. The thing seemed to eat screws …

He then refined his design on a bathroom cabinet, tackling doors for the first time. Again, it isn’t perfect, but it is clearly made with love and both pieces makes me smile every time I see them, a solid representation of the home and future that we are building together.

More recently, we decided we really needed to tackle the study – the last room to be decorated and unpacked – so D started drafting his blueprints for shelving of mammoth proportions to house our precious books. Armed with his measurements and materials list, he set off for B&Q. Fortunately, it was a while since he had – erm – perfumed the place with the bags of manure he took all over the store, so it seemed safe to go back.

By the time he returned, he was on first name terms with the staff that operate the automatic saw. They had been fascinated to see the plans – ‘you want it how big??’ There was still fine tuning to be done though when he got home, and he set to with enthusiasm. I was again away but got regular updates through the day and he created the most solid, enormous bookcases I had ever seen in record time, all under the supervisory eye of the Calamity Cat who added Quality Control to her many job titles.

Calamity inspecting D’s handiwork

When I got home, the sheer scale of them took my breath away, especially when my thoughts turned to the work involved in painting them. After the kitchen experience, I was determined that these would be finished before we unpacked a single box but it was a daunting task. Undeterred, we popped back to B&Q (rapidly becoming our second home) and quickly picked up a tin of undercoat and some satin in the same colour as the walls. Have you noticed how, these days, most undercoats are water-based? Gone are the days of paint so noxious it stinks the house out for days, giving off toxic fumes, and that was before you consider the chemicals you needed to get the brushes clean. Or so we thought!

After 3 solid hours of painting, tired but happy, we took the rollers and brushes covered in paint, dumped them in the bathroom sink and started to wash them in running water. Before we knew it, both hands and sink were covered in paint that was, most definitely, not water-based. What a rookie mistake from the son of a decorator and a woman who has renovated several houses to different degrees. Of course we had no turps or anything similar and, as it was the day before D started a new job, where he wanted to make a good impression, we were desperate. As usual, he found a practical solution. It was a waste of good vodka (I could hear all my sisters in my head, saying ‘Noooo! You can’t pour good vodka literally down the sink!’) but it worked. Oh well, I never liked the stuff much anyway …

The important thing is that we now have a library and nearly all the books are finally unpacked. There may even be a little space left over (and if not, he has this off to a fine art, not to mention the staff at B&Q who want updates on the library whenever we go in. Surely he can just create another in a spare hour here or there?) Maybe it’s time to start adding to that collection again – now where did I put that book token?

The finished painted bookcases in the same space as all the boxes


Wildlife adventures

In spite of dire warnings about Arctic winds and a return to frost, this week has stayed warm and sunny. The dandelion wars continue, but I seem to be slowly wearing them down and the cats are spending as much time as they can outside, especially the Princess, who considers it her divine right to be out patrolling her kingdom during all daylight hours.

The downside to this is, of course, that they are attracted to any passing wildlife and I don’t mean in a fluffy, ‘come and say hello’ sort of way. In particular, our house and garden attract a lot of birds. Earlier in the year, the tits and finches stripped the pampas grass bare in their search for nesting material. It was like cat TV – they were fascinated (as was I if I’m honest – it vanished before our eyes). Then one of our neighbours mentioned the starlings nesting in our eaves, which we hadn’t even realised at the time. We have at least 3 nests, and we are going to have to do something about it later in the year when they have gone, but for now, we are doing our bit for the declining starling population. And at least they are safe from the cats up there – even the Princess hasn’t made it on to the main roof yet – although they are both often to be found a-quiver on a windowsill indoors, watching every bird come and go as they feed their chicks.

We take such pleasure in watching the cats play, but we try to forget that all play is merely practice for their hunting instinct. Sadly, we were reminded this week, when the Princess proudly came home with a poor sparrow, which counted as our first (known) death. This is the distressing side of sharing our lives with outdoor cats, and one I am keen to minimise if possible.

I was less than impressed, then, when I saw the Calamity Cat watching something on the lawn which I hoped and prayed was just a leaf. On closer inspection, however, I realised she had found a frog. Unsure if it was still alive,  and hoping that it was just being clever enough to be playing dead, I removed Calamity, to squawks of indignation, and called to D, who was busy up at the working end of the garden.

“What do we do with it?” I asked. “We can’t leave it  here for the cats.” D wasn’t sure either, particularly as we have no pond and we didn’t think our neighbours had either. We gently touched it, to see if we were too late, then jumped nearly as much as the frog, when it leapt away from us. In the end, we managed to put it in some dense, ground cover plants to give protection from both sun and cats, and hoped for the best. I really hope it got home safely, wherever home is.

We encourage the cats to stay in the gardens at the back of the house (good cattage, remember?) as there is a road at the front (albeit a quiet one), which is quite often used by a local farmer with a passion for speed-racing in his tractor. Calamity is happy to oblige, as finding her way to the front would take more energy and brain power than she is prepared to expend. Sadly, the Princess has other ideas and has discovered she can reach the top of the wall linking the house and garage, fit through the gap and out to the big wide, dangerous world at the front of the house. One day we had opened the garage door, blocking her exit, so she had to think a bit harder and work a bit more but, after the cogs spinning so hard you could see it on her face, she found a solution. She jumped as far up the wooden shed as she could get, climbed the rest of the way like Spiderman and then sauntered over the roof on to the roof of the garage. From there, it was easy to jump from the front of the garage on to the fence and away. Whoever said that cats aren’t natural problem-solvers clearly never met our Princess. The other day, though, we spied a baby sparrow through the front window sitting on the road and, still distressed from her kill the day before, I put my foot down. 3 times I brought her in and 3 times she defied me and went straight back out there again. The fourth time, I had had enough. This was a sparrow I was going to save. I hardened my heart and, no matter how she cried, I kept her inside. The following day, the sparrow had gone and I am choosing to believe that it survived to rejoin its family.

I have a feeling it is going to be a long summer …

But the Prosecco is free, darling …

With the focus on the garden so far this year, the refurb on the house has slowed right down. When we first moved in, before D was working, he painted several rooms, bringing some much needed colour to replace the dirty magnolia that was everywhere. However, once he started work, we accepted that the magnolia would be staying in the hall, kitchen and study for a while.

However, I am excited to announce that it is soon to be banished forever in the kitchen, as we did the traditional Bank Holiday weekend thing this week and trawled the local retail park, looking at kitchens. We had originally thought we would keep what we had for a year or so and this was just supposed to be us seeing what was out there but, once we had started, we were swept away by the excitement of the whole thing (well, OK, I was anyway), and we are now the soon-to-be proud owners of a brand new kitchen. I could bore you for hours about what is wrong with the current one – its age, the cheapness of the cabinets, the awful tiles, how the solid wood worktops are sticky to the touch through lack of care, the lack of storage space, the dishwasher that won’t open properly as it hits the cooker … you get the idea. There are a couple of things I do like (which we will be keeping) – the ceramic sink, the flooring and the pantry, where we can store everything we can’t fit in the cupboards –but that’s about it.

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The existing kitchen – it looks better in the picture somehow


It’s not a big enough space to eat in and the fridge is kind of abandoned on the opposite side to the cupboards – there’s not a lot we can do about those things, but we are hoping that we can improve the flow of the room by turning around the sink and making use of a whizzy magic corner cupboard (I’m all for a bit of magic in my home!) Before we moved in, I nursed a dream of a free-standing kitchen, furnished with dressers and butchers blocks lovingly sought and found in charity and second hand shops. Sadly, this is another dream I had to let go, a bit like the glass greenhouse – the room simply isn’t big enough to take it. So I was determined that a fitted kitchen should still look traditional, but with a modern twist and I’m hoping that is what we have chosen.

I’m sure you will believe me when I tell you that our choice had nothing to do with the offer of a free bottle of Prosecco with any quote from this particular store – honest! To soften the blow of parting with so much money at once (and undoubtedly to encourage us to spend even more), they even gave us a glass while we were there. A glass of Prosecco at midday on a Bank Holiday Monday? Sounded good to me. Mind you, we nearly had to rethink at one point – I wasn’t sure we would be allowed back in after our initial visit the day before. After browsing around the kitchens, tucked around a corner we found a bench, made from kitchen-type material (it was nicer than it sounds!) It looked like it should have been a storage bench, so D decided to see how it worked. I’m not quite sure the front panel was supposed to come off in his hand though, and of course, he couldn’t put it back. “I’ve broken it – quick, run before they see us!” he hissed. Oops … and that was before the Prosecco. I just hope their cupboards are a bit more robust!

Once the excitement wears off, I know I will remember just how much mess fitting a new kitchen makes – Heaven knows what the cats will make of us disrupting their dining room but I’m sure they will tell us when the time comes. For now, though, I can still enjoy planning the rest of the space – the tiles, the lighting and what colour to paint the walls. With pale grey cabinets, we are aiming for a tranquil space and we are already thinking of perhaps sage green for tiles but I’m open to suggestion for the walls. Answers on a postcard (or the comments box below of course) …

Chim-chimeny, chim chim cheroo

One of the things I love about our new home is the fact that we have 2 open fires. There is nothing cosier than snuggling up in front of a real fire – just ask the cats. It was a whole new experience for them – and for me. It did, however, come with a whole raft of things to think about that had never occurred to me before.

Firstly, there were new responsibilities for the cats. The Calamity Cat immediately adopted the important role of Chief Log Inspector and every piece of timber that comes through the door has to be carefully sniffed and approved before it can be used. She takes her Coal Inspector job even more seriously and regularly appears covered in coal dust from the bunker. The first time she did that, she had so much dust on her face, it changed all her markings and I genuinely thought we had an intruder in the house. It was only the indifference of the Princess and Calamity’s indignant yowl when I tried to evict her that made me realise my mistake. It took 3 full days to get her clean again. The Princess, predictably, considers a job of any kind beneath her, but she makes sure that she gets the prime spot on the rug once the fire is lit, sometimes deliberately lying right in front of her sister to ensure she gets the full impact of the heat.

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Calamity the Coal Inspector


Then there are the trades associated with a fire. We officially employ a chimney sweep, a log man and a coal merchant. I was particularly fascinated by the chimney sweep. There is more skill involved than I ever would have thought. He produced a cloth with a flourish that would have impressed most magicians, swathed the fireplace in it and then seemed to know by hearing alone when and how to wield the brush and what was happening to the soot it was dislodging. I could have watched him all night – it was better than the telly. He was a mine of information too – full of suggestions for where D could wine and dine me. Hmm, that’s a point – it’s been a while since I’ve been wined and dined. Maybe we should get the chimney swept again so D can have a refresher?

Log deliveries are less fun, I have to say. It sounds so romantic, having logs delivered to the door. What I hadn’t bargained for was that they are tipped on to the drive loose and then need to be barrowed through the garage and right up to the woodstore at the far end of the garden. And I also hadn’t realised how big some pieces of wood are – less a log, more half a tree. I never expected to own 1 axe, never mind 2 but the one time D was mad enough to encourage me to try log-splitting, it didn’t end well, so we both now accept that chopping wood is, at least in our house, better done by a man.

After some trial and error, I have finally learned how to light the fire. With me working from home and D sometimes in late, I had no choice. If there isn’t a roaring fire lit before 6 o’clock, you can guarantee that the Princess will be telling me – loudly – what she thinks of the cold. I learned the hard way that success (for me) depends on long matches (burned fingers being all too common), lots of newspaper (the Sun burns better than the Sunday Times I find) and understanding that some types of wood burn better than others. I have learned why people hold newspaper up to cover the fireplace once the fire is lit, that it does matter where you hold it and that, if you let it get too close, you will set the paper on fire as well (probably the scariest experience I’ve had in a while and I advise anyone in the same position not to scream and throw the burning paper away unless it is into the grate).

I have never actually had a fire go out on me yet, but only because D has stepped in to save it on several occasions. But when it goes right, and I create a fire that fills the room with warmth and light and love, a fire all four of us can gather round together, then I know that it is all worthwhile and I am content.