Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The kitchen - plea for help! The Pink House by Amy

So as you will have seen from my last post, we are about to launch headfirst into some serious decorating! Usually the 2 of us have very similar taste on pretty much everything (lamps and light fittings being the notable exception) but we are really struggling to decide on how to style the kitchen. Luckily this is going to be pretty much the last room we do (living room and downstairs hall will probably be the last) so we’ve got plenty of time to decide what we want but I’m totally stuck. We have a completely blank space to play with as we’re relocating the kitchen so literally anything goes. Key features to take into consideration are a red brick fireplace (which I’m going to paint wash to a more natural brick colour and open up a bit to put a BRIGHT PINK range style cooker in), and some beams which are currently really dark but we’re going to strip back to a lighter wood.

My all time favourite kitchen style that I keep coming back to is modern white gloss units with wooden worktops but I’m really nervous about the wood because in my experience it marks and stains really easily, especially around the sink.  J is leaning more towards a shabby chic country kitchen style but I don’t feel as though that fits with our overall style. Other styles we both like are either a really modern industrial type vibe which I like but worry I’d get bored of, or brightly coloured units with a light stone worktop which are really fresh and funky but might look a bit garish with our brightly coloured appliances and utensils?

I’d honestly welcome any thoughts and also any top tips on kitchen shopping as it’s our first time!


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Garden Patio Makeover - Home by Bex

We decided we needed to do something with our patio area at the end of summer last year, we thought a deck would be the perfect solution to hide the ugly paving and planned it for spring but have only just gotten round to it (and saved the funds) and we are thrilled with it!  I can't recommend Mark from Allsorts Property Maintenance enough!

It's a small area of our garden but  has made such a difference to our enjoyment of it, not to mention the twins' ability to get in and out independently!  They often fell off the step as they prefer to hold on to the side of the door frame when going down and it didn't stretch across the full width.

Our patio was ugly, grubby and uneven with huge spaces between slabs.  It was tricky for the twins to walk on, the table & chairs are unstable and difficult to push back when sitting down or getting up.  The step also got in the way of our table and chairs.

We had to keep folding the chairs out of the way to get around the table.

Our plan was to get rid of the step, have the decking be at the level just under the patio door and to cover the whole main square of patio with a slant across the corner to spare the tree.  We decided to leave the path area along the side of the kitchen because of the drain, tap and hose.  We also planned to have it overlap onto the grass about a foot on each side to give us extra space for our table and chairs and we decided to have a step along the front edge and the side of the path.

I asked around for local recommendations for someone to build it for us and booked in a few quotes.  Our choice was then easy - only one turned up when he said he would and gave us a quote the very next day, laid out with costs for each and every material, labour and listing exactly what he'd do.  The others either never showed at all or showed up late and sent us quotes WEEKS later!!  (One was actually a complete joke giving all kinds of excuses for being late and increasing the quote 3 times because he got it wrong!)

Anyway, Mark turned up bang on 8am and got to work without even disturbing us until he needed electricity and he did an excellent job.  The whole thing was done in fewer than 3 days to an excellent, sturdy standard and is exactly what we hoped for.

He left the place tidy every evening and made sure it was perfectly level (meaning he had to dig out and level part of the lawn as it's on such a slope!)

The twins manage the shallow steps so much easier than previously.  Their confidence has improved massively as they wouldn't go up steps before without being on all fours or holding on to something/someone.

Although we'd opted for pre-treated wood, we decided it just looked unfinished in the raw wood so decided to paint it.  After much deliberation/searching for inspiration, we opted for Cuprinol decking stain in Silver Birch.  Nik did a fab job painting it with a couple of coats and it looks great!

Perfect for early morning Duplo in pyjamas!

It looks great with my pots and hanging basket back up and we have so much more space for our garden furniture without the step getting in the way!

We already use the patio area a lot more now and have enjoyed a great BBQ with plenty of space for the high chairs too.

She was hungry!

I love my melamine plates (not least because they go in the dishwasher which a lot don't) which I got from M&Co with a gift voucher I won on Instagram!

We are so happy with Mark's work, we've already booked him to come back and build the twins' playhouse for us!  (When it arrived it became apparent that it was going to take us days to complete!  Not your standard flatpack!!)  It's their early 2nd birthday present from both sets of grandparents which we're hoping they'll get to enjoy this summer before the weather turns colder again.  (Although that is now looking unlikely thanks to quite a few issues with it but that's a story for another post!)

Monday, 22 August 2016

Book reviews by Amy

I'm delighted that Amy wants to share some of her own thoughts on books here as I have been reviewing a lot more books myself lately too.  I already have all of these on my "to read" list, I'd actually heard of  The Essex Serpent as Sarah Perry's sister is a friend of a friend but I'm very excited to read it now after reading Amy's review.  I'll also be posting about the books I'm reading for book club soon in case you'd like to read along with us.

After two weeks off work to start our renovations in which we didn’t get as much done as we wanted but still achieved a lot, including my first attempt at plastering, it was back to work as usual and settling in to our new routine as long distance commuters after 12 years in zone 2!  I decided before we moved that I would not be a miserable commuter and would use the time wisely - on books.  Last week I read three books that I loved.  The last time I read that much was on our last holiday so although our new long commute is tiring, I’m really enjoying the me time of music and reading and glancing out the window as the fields roll by. 

Anyway, the books. 

The first was The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith which I’d had on my kindle for yonks but never got around to.  I really enjoyed it although couldn’t help picturing Cormoran as DI Sleet from Murder in Successville which was a bit off putting.

The second was the Cursed Child script book by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. I won’t give anything away here #keepthesecrets and all.  I’m not one of those numpties you see moaning about how they didn’t realise it was a script, but I do think you could inevitably sense something missing from this story, and the lack of scene setting made for a couple of confusing moments and some of the new characters being better rounded than others.  I loved part 1 and the first half of part 2 but didn’t love the last section.  Having said that I really want to see the play now. 

But the main reason for my writing this post is to recommend a beautiful, luscious novel – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  I bought this a few weeks ago, attracted by the gorgeous cover art and the fact it’s based in my new manor, but had been saving it, and boy was it worth the wait.  Set in the late 1800’s a few years after the earthquake (yes, the same one that my house withstood!) it tells the tale of a young widow who moves from London to deepest darkest Essex (i.e. up the road from me) with her son and female companion, intent on becoming a renowned naturalist and discovering a new species, living or dead, but ideally that of the Essex Serpent – an old mythical creature believed to have been re-awoken by the earthquake.  The story takes in love, friendship, feminism, sociology, medicine and much more along its many twists and turns but the thing that made it such a joy to read were the characters who were so wonderfully formed they leapt from the page.  I loved it so much I even overlooked my offence at one of the characters describing ‘the pink-painted Essex houses’ as ‘the dwellings of half-wits’ and I urge you all to seek it out and read it.

Next up - Pimp State by Kat Banyard.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ruby Wedding- the flowers, the venue and the decor - Anniversary Inspiration by Bex

As you know, I LOVE planning and decorating events.  When our parents' 40th anniversary was coming up, we made sure we could get both sets in the same city at the same time in order to throw them a joint party.  Not as easy as it sounds with my parents living in Malaysia and Nik's in London but given the awesome coincidence of them having married on the exact same day all those years ago, we made sure we planned it nice and early and last Sunday, we had a wonderful day of celebrations all together.

We opted for London as we thought it would be the easiest place for our relative to get to rather than somewhere near us in Sussex.  Lots of Nik's family are in London anyway but my family up north would find it much easier to either fly there or get the train.  I wanted somewhere near the in-laws place to make it easier for me to get there to make arrangements etc. and it also meant we could invite everyone back after for cake and bubbly.  I recruited Gemma as my local London expert (she lives near my in-laws) and she gave me a great list of potential venues.

In the end we plumped for Bianco 43, a beautiful bright looking Italian restaurant, it's all white washed so the perfect blank canvas.  They were very helpful planning with me over email about menus and what exactly we needed for the event.  Not only that but they let me turn up early, two hours before they were open on the day to set up and let us take advantage of their birthday party offer of a free glass of fizz for all our guests!  I went to visit the venue the evening before the party and was delighted to see where they planned to have us, with two long tables below the mezzanine which meant I could hang my banner, garland and photos!

Of course the first thing I do when planning anything is to make a Pinterest board, imagine if I'd had Pinterest when I was getting married!  I had to keep this one secret as Mum's on Pinterest but here are a few of the flower inspiration images I saved:

I wanted to have clusters of little vases along the centre of the tables, filled with ruby colours, lots of greenery and a few white touches.  I had hoped to get some deep red Peonies, Dahlias and Ranunculus among other things.  I thought these were all in season in the summer and made plans to head to the famous Columbia Road flower market before the event as the anniversary was on a Sunday.  I headed off bright and early to arrive when it opened at 8am and found some free parking nearby.  Luckily it was still pretty quiet so I had a lovely time wandering up and down exploring what was on offer.

Sadly it turns out that Peonies had just finished and Dahlias were just starting so no-one had any of either.  There was actually a lack of red in general, other than roses.  Luckily I found some of my favourites, Celosia in the deep ruby colour (they also come in orange and green, I actually had green ones in my wedding bouquet) as well as some gorgeous fluffy dark pink Astilbe and another pink one with teenie flowers on each stem which I don't remember the name of (update: I saw these in a florist today and asked, they're called Veronicas).  I had already bought some gorgeous dark red roses from a supermarket too.  As there weren't as many large red blooms as I hoped, I did buy a few more white than I planned, some of my other favourites - Freesias and Lisianthus with a little bit of baby's breath and some greenery and again some others like the pink ones with lots of little flowers which I can't remember the name of.  I wanted to make sure I had enough and spent £50 plus the roses.

Off I went with my armful of flowers (and a bag full of a few extra vases I did some great haggling for in a junk shop) and Nik came with me to the venue to get everything set up.  Most of the vases were also from our wedding, I'd collected a few cut glass bud vases from various charity shops and had a few little jars left over from our jam wedding favours.  I also managed to sneak a couple of small vases out of MIL's house that morning too!

In addition to the flowers, I had made a pom pom garland, a photo banner and had painted a 40 and RUBY letters to add to the decor as well as a little lovely company letter banner to spell out Happy 40th Anniversary.  I made some tissue paper poms to hang back at the house as well and had some framed wedding pictures of both sets of parents (the same frames I used to display them at our own wedding).  I have to say, I am really pleased with how everything looked in the end, especially the flowers!  (I often picture ideas in my head but have trouble executing them to the same perfectionist standard I stupidly set myself but I was SO happy with how the floral arrangements turned out, exactly as I wanted!)

As you can imagine, I delegated childcare to Granny & Grampy while I painted and glittered little hearts, cut ribbons, fluffed tissue paper and trotted off to the flower market.  The twins got some special extra time with their grandparents while I got to enjoy secretive crafting in the garage!

I'll share the actual event photos soon and show you how we re-arranged all the decor back at the house with the cake (and recipe)!

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