Monday, 29 December 2014

Le grande weekend dans Paris

I was lucky enough to go to Paris a couple of weekends before Christmas. It was freezing. I wore by massive fux-fur coat, brought Christmas gifts for others and maybe a few too many for myself and I became re-acquainted with Martini Bianco.  

Thanks to Les Jardins du Marais for the photo.

We stayed at Les Jardins du Marais which is close to the Le Musee Picasso Paris (Picasso Museum). We were lucky enough to get a great Black Friday Special on the room booking. I thought the hotel was great value and if you book online you also get breakfast included. For us lazy birds this was an added bonus and by French standards the breakfast was a feast. The hotel is made up of lots of small buildings centered around a courtyard which is super pretty at night. Double bonus the hotel is right around the corner from the Metro.

My pre Christmas trip to Paris is becoming a bit of an annual tradition with a dear girlfriend. We start planning our trip around August or when we get an email notification of a EuroStar sale. Even though it is only one night away we always have an absolute blast eating, drinking coffee, maybe enjoying a few cocktails and just watching the world go by. The older I get I really appreciate spending time with friends with no compromise or complications. 

My weekend in pictures......

We walked and walked around Marais.

A Parisian haul.

I finally got off auto and used the manual settings on my camera!

Coming to a picture frame in my living room soon.

Ahhhh Paris, is always a good idea and well worth saving up for.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Our Santa from Lisbon

For those who follow this random little blog thank you. Your comments and encouragement do make me smile and when this house is finished you're all invited to the party!

I hope you have the Christmas season you want with those you love. But mostly I hope you have some rest - we all work too hard and think too much don't we?  Yes my greatest wish for this festive season is sleep.

Bonne Noel et Bonne Nuit xx

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

An actual living room is finally in sight.

I am dreaming of a living room that is stylish and not full of boxes and after Christmas that will actually be a reality.

Currently thinking blues, lots of velvet and vintage gold. In our living room we need to work around our brown sofa, our fake wooden floor and that's about it. If we were flush and time rich the living room would get the wood chip removed and the ceiling replaced but we're not so all that is happening is the room will get a paint job in January. Cheap and cheerful but maybe with a few vintage finds along the way.  Here's a little summary of what my rummage around Pinterest found that looks like what is inside my head. 


Mostly I will be shopping what we already have to pull the living room together but there is some Ebaying and vintage shopping to do.  

I think I am shopping for vintage sky blue curtains to turn into cushions and seat covers.  A pale blue Persian style rug.  I have a Louis XVI style chair in the basement it just needs updating with some black paint me thinks.  I've got a fab three panel mirror, one of the mirrored panels is broken so I paid the princely sum of £1.00 for it. I just need to pop along to the glazier to get that sorted.  I will have to buy some lamps and maybe a side table or two and we definitely need some new blinds - grubby brown is not a good look. 

Overall, now the boxes are finally, FINALLY diminishing I think we will have a proper living room by the end of January, a perfect start to 2015.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Done, a 30 day DIY challenge

November was all about a 30 day DIY challenge to focus our minds and get some jobs completed. I was totally fed up with only seeing things that needed doing and not spaces that were decorated. Apart from five days where a leak, yes, a leak, stopped play (we won't talk about that) we did a little bit of DIY every day and I am so happy with the results. Of course there is still a lot to do, everything took longer than I expected but having a challenge really does focus the brain on getting the big jobs done. 

BEFORE - plaster walls and doors that need sanding and painting after having beading added.

I wanted to get the upper landing walls painted. The three doors on the upper landing painted, along with their frames and the banisters sanded and painted. The boiler cupboard needed a whitewash and a new floor covering and some proper shelves. And then there were the pictures, we have lots of pictures, none had made it safely onto a wall. The little loo as we call it needed a blind making and finally the upper landing needed it's light updating and fitting. So did we do it all? No of course not! But we came close, the only things on my (our) list that didn't get done were making a blind and putting a new floor in the boiler cupboard. If the Husband hadn't tidied away the fabric for the blind, I actually have no idea where it is, I just might have got that task done. 

Ahh black doors.

The challenges were few but major. The biggest pain was painting the frames. The first paint I used was crap (DIY store brand) and even though I sanded down the frames they just looked poop and the paint was much to shiny for my liking. More filling and sanding was the only way forward. Dulux trade satinwood was matt enough for me. Nothing like doing a job twice, but better now eh?

Shiny satinwood paint is not an option in our house.

Matt is where our paint is at.

Paris is always a good idea.
This Paris print was sat in an envelope waiting to be framed. Not a big job but another on the list that I was glad to do. Now it sits on the floor. When I have wallpapered the bedroom wall it will find it's rightful place. Everything is a chain reaction isn't it?

This little picture fell off the tiles a few weeks ago and every time we pushed the flusher it squeaked against the tiles. Again, not a big job but something else that needed doing. I stuck the picture back on the tiles with command strips so nasty holes in the new tiles. 

Back to black.

White walls, black doors, black banisters, pictures on the walls and a rewired vintage light fitted. What do you think of my pictures?  I have imagined these up on the wall for months, another Ebay bargain. The brass handles came via Ebay too.

AFTER - black,black and black.

Black banisters, I actually,love them. We used Wickes grey undercoat and Little Greene Furnace black to paint on the doors and the banisters. Have you been tempted to paint your doors black?  And can we just take a moment to appreciate how the doors have been transformed from nasty flush to smart paneled ones?

By days 29 and 30 I have to admit I was a bit bored of painting so I decided to treat my jewllery to not being in a pile on top of the dresser.  I found this great arrow jewellery holder tutorial from Lemonade Making Mama via Pinterest and it is sooo simple to make. I got the wood from Hobby Craft and the hooks from the pound shop and surprise - I had the paint. The whole thing cost less that £6.00.

Decorating around children, running businesses and putting in the hours at the day job has certainly slowed down the progress in our refurbishment so for me setting a short sharp challenge was a really good way of focusing the brain on getting some work done.  We are lucky to have so much hall to decorate and it is going to take us a few months to get the whole thing done, but breaking such a massive task into manageable chunks is certainly the way forward for us. And it beats giving £7,000 to a decorator. Do you set yourself short challenges to complete big tasks? I think I am going to tackle a double height wall next, I hope it doesn't take a whole 30 days to complete!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Update on my My 30 day DIY challenge

On 1 November I set myself a 30 day DIY challenge. The aim was to power through some of the decorating jobs that had become too much like chores to be interesting.

16 days in and I have surprised myself on two counts. One I wasn't sure I would last the challenge and two, the little single jobs are starting to make a difference and just having a record of what has been done puts the vastness of our decorating challenge into perspective. When you think about painting a door frame you think it will take a couple of hours. Then there are the door frames in our house that haven't seen any love for the past 20 years.

One really bad paint job after another means our door frames really do need stripping down but, well, who has the time. My first attempt of painting the door frames was a bit of a disaster.  I had sanded the frames and painted them with a DIY store satinwood we had left over.

I may as well not have bothered as the door frames looked like someone had painted over a hole in the road. Add the bonus of the boy choosing those nights to wake up to pee and putting his little hands on the frames. Anyway, the door frames were horrible and way to shiny. So I sanded them again. 

The DIY store paint looked yuk and was way to shiny.
I filled in the cracks and the gaps and I sanded them again before painting with Dulux Trade Satinwood duly purchased from ScrewFix (I love that place nearly as much as I love Wickes). These are semi trade stores, they are not fancy, they are where you go not to pay over the odds for DIY stuff. 

The result, not 100% perfect but definitely acceptable and worth the extra effort. So instead of one frame taking a couple of hours to paint they are each taking a couple of evenings to pass the acceptable test. I guess that acceptable test is quite high in our house but you know it's true, if a job is worth doing at all it is worth doing properly!

So today, day 16 was fab. The light, pictures and mirror went up. I have worked out that at the speed I am going it is going to take me about nine weeks to finish the whole hallway, but you know what, it's worth it. And I am loving Little Green paint, we chose intelligent eggshell in Furnace Black for the doors and banisters. It's lovely and flat and best of all the paint washes out of brushes with water so no nastiness doing down the drains. 

Having a 30 day challenge is really working for me. I make sure I do my DIY everyday and we are really getting through the jobs. Simply not thinking about the whole task and just what I am doing today is much better for my head space.  I know I 'should' be doing all the preparation in one go and not putting up pictures and stuff until the whole job is finished but that is just too stressful on something that is taking so long. I need my emotional state managed and this is sooo much better and woop only three more landings to go.

Friday, 31 October 2014

30 Days of DIY - a personal SMART challenge

Refurbishing a house yourself around kids, doing your day job and running a business is not something I would recommend. We managed to refurnish out last house from top to bottom in six months (I was on maternity leave and the house was only 10 years old) but this house, with it's wonky floors and high maintenance roof, is taking forever and I am fed up with it.

The main issues, well there are several. 

The mess! I cannot stand it much longer, then there are the days we seem to spend hours working on something and there is no visible difference at the end of the day so the house looks exactly the same. And the little finishing off jobs that now seem like one big job - urgh - they truly make me want to leave home. 

The solution, well part of the solution is a little DIY challenge.  What can I get done in 30 days? We will see and I am making no promises but I have a long list of jobs to complete in my self set #30DIYdays challenge.

So what needs doing. Lets see, there are more doors to be undercoated and painted. White on the room side and black on the hallway side - getting the line straight is so much fun. I have more lights to hang, mirrors to put up, door frames to sand and paint, there is a chest of drawers needing a makeover, wallpaper to hang, the beading on the bathroom floor needs finishing off, and the radiator needs painting, the bathroom fan needs replacing, the hallway cupboard needs re-configuring so our vacuum can actually fit in it. Then there is the blind I need to make and the Boy's built in cupboard needs finishing off properly. So basically I have loads to do and I want as much of it done in the next 30 days. There is no way I will finish everything but focus is good right and even if I only have time to work on a project for 30 minutes it will all makes a difference.

Turning flush doors into smart panelled ones is defiantly worth the effort
There is of course a serious side to setting a SMART challenge. Seeing your goals written down has a powerful effect on the brain and setting goals helps to organise your time and your mind. Plus a goal broken down into smaller chunks makes achieving the goal less challenging, physically and mentally. 

Do you set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals? I am amazed by how many people I know who don't and then wonder why their efforts didn't achieve the outcome they wanted.
  • Make your goal as specific as possible.
  • Use completion dates, benchmarks or measurable milestones to evaluate your progress.
  • Make sure your goal is attainable; create a target date that is achievable but won't allow you to become complacent.
  • Set a goal that is relevant and meaningful to you and be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve it.
  • Explore opportunities to create a team of people who support your efforts.
  • Your goal may reflect other's input, but it should be closely aligned with who you are and what you want to contribute to the world.
So at the end of my 30 day DIY challenge I will be able to look back and take in the progress made and being able to see at least four totally finished rooms will make me so very very happy.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

What I want right now, an eternal wish list

Do you have things on your eternal wish list that you never get round to getting for yourself? 

There are two things I want, a bottle of Hermes Faburoug 24, there is a reason it is nearly £100 a bottle - it smells devine. I totally fell in love with this scent in Paris last year and now I go to department stores to get a little complementary spray during my lunch break. I loooove it but can never quite justify buying it when I look at the long list of DIY tasks we still need to complete.
The second item on my eternal wish list is a new drill. The husband has got a dodgy elbow which seems to play up when he uses a manual screwdriver and considering I brought my drill about 15 years ago when my daughter was 5 I think it's time for a new one.  This Bosch Uneo drill is exactly what me and the husband need, it's light, cordless and powerful enough for serious jobs like installing a new kitchen.  I think £140 is good value for money - especially if the drill lasts another 15 years. 

Maybe when I complete my 30 Day DIY Challenge, which I am starting on 1 November, I will have earned some treats. I have reached the point of not really being motivated to tackle any more decorating but I literally hate looking at what still needs doing even more. The solution is I am setting myself a #30DaysOfDIY challenge to power through a few of the smaller jobs like finishing the beading on the bathroom floor and sanding door frames - joy! I think setting a SMART goal is the only way to get stuff done some times.

SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. 

Right then, going to Lisbon to drink coffee and NOT think about DIY, see you when we get back.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Riverford Organic, a veg box review

We have taken the plunge and have started ordering a weekly vegetable box from Riverford Organic and so far I can totally recommend it.

I can't remember if we got a leaflet through the door or an marketing email but we have been thinking about getting back to basics with our fruit and veg for a while so whatever the offer was it came just at the right time. 
Every week for £13.50 we get a box of seasonal organic vegetables dropped off at the house. This week our box was filled with carrots, potatoes, leaks, a cucumber, mushrooms, a cauliflower, a savoy cabbage and a romaine lettuce. 

I thought buying organic would cost us a little bit more on our food bill but actually - by not going to the supermarket and over-buying the box is saving us money as well as time. Plus we quite like not really knowing what we are going to get in the box each week - its just a little bit like Christmas with the added bonus that we are supporting the little guys who are getting a much better deal through Riverford than they are with any supermarket. And do the vegetables taste better than ones from the supermarket? Yep, they are totally yummy and they have dirt on too, you know that stuff from the ground they grow in, yeah that.

Riverford are really building up their customer base at the moment and they have lots of special offers on the website for new customers. This week we got a free fruit box - I have never even seen a green satsuma before so that was a great surprise plus we got a free cookbook - packed full of - surprisingly - vegetable based recipes. 
If you fancy trying getting a box delivered you need to check out if Riverford has a route in your area and give them a call or order via the website. The website also lets you know how much you are saving each month compared to buying the same produce in a supermarket. The vegetable boxes start from £10.35 a week and the deliveries are flexible so you can cancel or amend your box depending on your plans for the week. Best of all for us, you don't need to be home when your box is delivered - if you have somewhere for the driver to stash it. Each week you do need to leave your empty box out as of course they can be re-used, we aren't so good at remembering that bit yet.

Caring is sharing and Riverford are sharing the veggie box love for new customers with this voucher. If you are already a customer make sure you give your code to friends and family giving the delivery option a go. Totally new to Riverford? Here is my code 540434, as you can see I get a little kick back on new customers too - bet you can guess where that money will go - yep the house and I do have my eye on some amazing dining table chairs....

Friday, 10 October 2014

What's good in Lisbon?

I am getting excited, we are heading to Lisbon for a few days soon and I literally cannot wait. No emails, a big event with the day job will be over and I can spend time exploring a new city with my boys. It is a real treat to look forward to. I have been pinning like crazy.

I haven't found at much about visiting Lisbon, I have a guide book and have read a few blog posts but there really isn't a lot around in the way of what's on or recent reviews for restaurants. So what must you absolutely see in Lisbon, with a kid in tow?

So far my list of must visit includes.

Casa Pasteis De Belem reportedly they make the best Portuguese custard tarts in the city.

Feira da Larda, Lisbon's flea market in Alfama - like of course we are going here. Never one to miss a vintage shopping opportunity.

The boy is totally thrilled by knowing he can ride the old trams, wheels they never get old when you are seven. 

What to do, where to go, any suggestions? What to pack - we are doing the whole carry on luggage only thing, not scared at all but I must check the carry on restrictions.

All images via Pinterest this time round, when we are back I will post my own which I will be taking on my compact Olympus Pen that I haven't had the chance to really experiment with yet.

Lisbon - have you been?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The other dreaded c-word....Childcare

The husband has got a day job! Now I know most husbands have jobs but it really has been a while since this husband had a day job, which means when the little gets out of school Dad will be at work. So yep, we need help with the dreaded c-word - childcare.  

Until now we haven't needed childcare. The Boy used to go to nursery school, we were really lucky it was for fun so he could play with other kids. The Boy's old school, Walthamstow Montessori,was lovely and small so we knew all the parents and everyone took everyone's kids home all the time. But now new local school and new playground rules. I can't complain, we've had a good run, we just need to find a cake loving local childcare professional, who doesn't mind dodging paint pots, to take care of our little Jedi while we are both at our day jobs.

We have posted an ad on and let everyone in our network know that we need some part time help.  I hope we find someone who gets us as a family without too much bother but oh how I have been reminded of how stressful getting childcare can be.  
When the daughter (nearly 21 now) was a little I was a single mum, I used to do that walk-run move to get her nursery the moment it opened so I could get to work on time and then do the same little walk-run shuffle going home to pick her up on time. I am sure that stress took years off my life!  When my daughter started school I used a combination of after-school clubs and childminders for childcare. Neither was ideal but mostly I remember the constant running and dread of being late. I hear after-school clubs now charge £1.00 a minute now for late pick ups. I guess it's the only way to discourage lateness and the staff have to be paid, but wow that's like a premium rate phone line.  
Parents juggling full time childcare really do deserve a medal, it isn't easy, ever.
How hard was it for you to find the right childcare for your littles? Have you used  I'm really interested to know if you employed a man? I would love to hear your story.
Should you know anyone in gentrified Clapton, London E5 looking for a part time childcare job we are looking for someone who is obviously caring, reliable, honest and patient with oodles of common sense, all attributes which will be reflected in their references. Of course they will also like cake and baking them!
Clapton in Elle Decoration, yep we are officially fancy now.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

It's been like forever!

It really has been forever since I last put up a blog post! Real life has been traumatic, stressful and just a little bit busy. 

Yep, real life has not offered the perfect combination for thinking beyond the next five minutes let alone writing anything sensible anyone might want to read. One of my lovely Uncles has been critically ill. Thankfully he is now home and on the mend but there were a few weeks when I did nothing much but cry and it really takes a lot for me to cry so you know it was bad.

In between crying we did some decorating. We have sanded the floorboards in our bedroom and fitted out the guest bathroom. We are of course still living in chaos but that's OK. We are living, we are healthy and we have a great family who have proved when the shit hits the fan we pull together, do what needs doing, without complaining I should add, and get on with making things better. Medicine and wonderful healthcare professionals obviously played a major part in my Uncle's recovery but I am convinced that him being loved and totally taken care of gave him the inner comfort he needed to get stronger every day.

If it wasn't so sad seeing my Granny sit and sing to her unconscious son the same way she probably did when he was a little boy it would have been one of the nicest moments I have ever witnessed. I have also realised that to my family I will always be seven years old. Seven! Yep, they all think I am a kid, and need dropping safely to my doorstep at three in the afternoon.  It's a lovely to be loved.

So I am back, I have lots of decorating successes and challenges to share and loads to update you on including finally being able to install some proper lights.

I have realised I have issues when it comes to lighting; I cannot tolerate bare bulbs. I literally turned the bedroom light on and off for about ten minutes when we put this cracker of a basket chandelier up. Excited doesn't come close! Yep, that is where I am, excited about light fittings and of course having my blogging head back.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Making over the smallest room in the house

Finally, after a very little emotional blackmail - yep I had to go there - the Husband has ripped out the nasty loo and sink in our cloak-room, the smallest room in our house. I couldn't take looking at it anymore. No one used this loo as it was sooo gross and it has been weeks and weeks since I asked the Husband to get started on making the room over. So after a little silent treatment, it did sadden me to go to those extremes but on Friday I came home to find the offensive items in the front garden, so job done.

Ready..... this 'before' picture comes with a warning! As you can see someone clearly smoked on the loo! Gross, gross, gross. Underneath that nasty torn vinyl floor was some quite nice vintage lino, but that currently is in the front garden also waiting to go to the dump. Yipee!!

You may remember a few months ago I was collecting white tiles from Freecycle, I figured everyone with a garage has standard square white tiles hiding somewhere in their garage so why buy them? One man's trash, is a creative woman's treasure etc and when off-set like subway tiles and finished with grey grout I think bog standard white tiles can look pretty cool. We have enough tiles for the walls in our cloak room now and we even managed to score grey floor tiles and some tile adhesive too.

Of course I have been collecting everything we need to complete this little vintage inspired cloak-room renovation. We have had the sink for ages but it's a wall hanging one and we have established the wall it needs to go on is not strong enough to hold it. Like I needed one, this problem offered a great excuse to visit the reclamation yard.  A super quick visit to south London's Aladdin's Cave managed to throw up the base of a metal table which almost perfectly fits the dimensions of the sink. The table is a little too tall but nothing a hack-saw can't fix.

I am loving the idea of using a vintage door knocker as a towel rail and Pinterest is of course giving me more and more helpful suggestions. I hadn't thought of placing vignette on a toilet cistern before but even the smallest room needn't be boring.

I am hoping the Husband has time to get the tiles done and the fittings installed in the next week, in time for my birthday. Yep, where did the last year go. I'm thinking a new camera would be the best birthday present but a gift wrapped short projection toilet is far more likely.

Monday, 16 June 2014

When in doubt, bake an emergency cake

On Sunday I was feeling a bit down, I was wallowing in too much to do, not enough time to do it in and wondering when the decorating will ever end. Two days of prepping the hallway walls hardly made dent in what needs doing. Then I got a phone call letting me know my favourite uncle was rushed to hospital on Sunday morning. Not really knowing what to do with myself I decided the best thing to do was bake an emergency cake and eat it. I made a classic Victoria Sponge, using the same recipe I was taught at school. I am actually mortified that 'domestic science' isn't taught in schools anymore. Knowing how to bake a cake is, in my opinion, a life skill.

Just in case you didn't learn it, or you have an emergency, here is a fool-proof Victoria Sponge cake recipe.

225g/8oz butter (room temperature)
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 medium eggs (beaten)
2 teaspoon (tsp) vanilla extract (about a cap-ful)
225g/8oz self raising flour (sifted) - I add a 1/4 tsp of baking powder to the flour
a milk bottle cap-ful of milk to loosen

Cream the sugar and the butter. Then add the beaten eggs slowly, making sure they are fully mixed into the mixture to avoid curdling. Add the sifted flour and mix until totally smooth. Add the vanilla and the milk, give it all a final mix and you're done. Really what could be simpler?

Split the mixture across two butter greased cake tins (lined with grease proof paper is better) and bake for about 25 minutes at 180C (350F/Gas 4).

Check the cakes are done by sticking a skewer into the cakes - the skewer should come out clean and once cooked leave the cakes to cool on a wire tray. I tip mine out of the tins after around 10 minutes.

When both the cakes are cool load with jam (I used Bonne Maman Raspberry Conserve) and freshly whipped double cream, sprinkle the cake with icing sugar, cut yourself a large slice, pop the kettle on, make yourself a cuppa (Twinings English Breakfast for me) and enjoy.

My uncle is in the best place and while we wait for news I will eat cake. And yes, I have stopped feeling sorry for myself.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Who gets excited about scaffold?

Who in their right mind would get excited by scaffold? Well, erm me. This is our scaffold. It took all day to put up and had the scaffolders throwing some interesting moves to get the poles over the fence.

I was worried the scaffolders would be rude oyks but no, they were polite and got on with the job, they even moved my plants off the fire escape for me. 

Random fact: You have to go back to 1913 (just 30 years after our house was built in 1883) for the last major facelift on Buckingham Palace, when it gained its familiar white stone fa├žade. The facelift came because the original soft French stone had decayed due to all the pollution.

Buckingham Palace's last major facelift was in 1913 [GETTY]

Anyway, back to me. I am really liking this orange ladder against the natural colour of the scaffold planks.  I had a little rummage around Pinterest and I am now rethinking our planned colour scheme. Maybe some orange in the bathroom would be cool?

Here's hoping the roofers are as nice as the scaffolders and they do a proper job fixing the rood as there is no way I want to go through these access negotiations again. I have a new grey hair affectionately called 'scaffold'!