Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Old Year: 2014 in Review

You’ll have to excuse me while I panic at the thought of 2014 being over – I was just getting into the swing of things, and last I heard, it was September!  Time it is a-flying.  It has been such a lovely, if challenging year.  It started by joining a gym and taking up swimming again, which I really enjoyed.  I took a lot of power-walks along the rivers of Cambridgeshire, we had an amazing weekend in Southwold at the beginning of March, and then we were thrust into the rush of packing up and moving in March/April.  Before we knew what was happening we had found a delightful rental house, moved, Mr VP had changed jobs and we were ‘back’ into our new and exciting life in Northumberland.  We arrived just as the last of the blossoms in Cambridgeshire were fading and the first of the cherry and hawthorn blossoms were beginning to flower up here – we had the longest, most luxurious spring in my memory.

Summer was a holiday for both of us, and just what we needed after a stressful move.  We visited Coquet Island and saw puffins and seals, we spent our wedding anniversary picking strawberries, we walked for many miles along our favourite beaches old and new, and we made the most of every spare moment we could.  At the beginning of September, we began the mammoth task of house renovation.  This turned out to be not only extremely stressful and difficult, but also very educational and I know a lot more about things I didn’t even know existed (like building regulations and how best to choose decent workmen).  After three months, we moved in to an almost-finished house and that’s where we are now.  We’re still mostly living out of boxes as we’re still waiting for the floor to be laid, but with the lights on, candles lit and the fire going, it is very homely indeed.

If 2014 was about movement, then 2015 will, I hope, be about growth.  Moving house twice in seven months is unbelievably stressful and having to pack-up one house and oversee works in the other is tear-your-hair-out worthy, so I would like to settle down in 2015, yet still grow and develop. At some point I plan to return to my studies, either this year or next, and I would like to increase the time I spend doing good and useful things.  It sounds obtuse, but it means me taking on more challenges and making more committments to myself and the life I would like to create.

I always have a bit of a panic at the end of the year, as I worry about the future and what is to come.  I suppose it’s the not-knowingness that New Year represents that worries me the most, but each year I keep trying to let that worry go a bit more and spend a little bit more living as in-the-moment as I can.  I have had such a glorious year in 2014 that I am eager to see how 2015 will pan out and how we’ll grow and change to meet the year.

So that’s it for 2014.  Here we sit watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Mr VP’s pick), having nibbled at some of the buffet food I’ve made (the homemade sausage rolls and olive palmiers have gone down a treat!) and toasting ourselves in front of a warm fire.  We might not be awake come midnight, but we’ll usually be woken long enough to welcome the new year by the fireworks going off around and about!

To all the lovely blog readers who stop by, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 for you and yours.  Thanks for reading and see you in 2015! :)

Wednesday 24 December 2014


Is it just me, or has Christmas suddenly crept up on us?  This year has been a whirlwind anyway and suddenly the end of the year is nigh and it’s Christmas Eve.  This last month or so I have struggled with the lack of traditions that I usually adhere to at this time of year.  Traditions are something that requires familiarity and given that the house is still a work in progress and we’re still living out of boxes, it is no wonder that decorating the tree and making Christmas puddings have had to take a back-seat to the busyness of life as it is now.  That’s not to say that I didn’t make a Christmas cake two days before we were due to move (crazy, I know) or spend a very late night tending to my Christmas puds as they steamed away – but it means that this year is going to have to have a slight change in traditions while we’re adjusting.  I’m adamant that we’ll have a nice Christmas – and it will be lovely, because it’ll be family here.  After all, isn’t that what Christmas is about?

Today, after a hectic day for Mr VP yesterday as he decorated the dining room in order to make it less building-sitey, we went to one of our favourite places in the whole world.  We greeted the icy-cold winds and the rising sun with a gladness that filled me from top to toe.  We walked arm-in-arm and revelled in getting to spend a little ‘holiday’ time together alone, as we have both spent every spare moment for the last few months doing things around the house.  I lingered in the avenues of beeches, birches and spruces and looking at the different barks, trying to identify the woods that we have on our own log pile.  I managed to ‘do a Delia’ and make mince pies (yes, they’re Dala horses!) and sausage rolls as the Nine Lessons and Carols were coming from King’s College Cambridge.  We ate cheese and crackers for lunch, with lots of cups of tea and homemade Christmas cake.  We had Mum round for a small dinner of sausage rolls, pickles and mince pies.  We watched Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Polar Express.  I still haven’t wrapped any presents, but there’s at least an hour until midnight, right?  It’s one day and it’s not worth stressing out over (I’m getting Zen in my old age!).

I would like to wish all of my blog readers near and far, a very Merry Christmas and an extremely happy New Year.  May you all have warmth and happiness and love.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Stove Life: Esse 200 review

As we have had the stove for just over a month now, I thought I’d do a review of it and what it is like having it as our main source of heating.  We’ve discovered a lot about fires, fuels and heating since we got the stove and we’re still learning.  I thought it’d be a good place to share some thoughts and advice that we’ve picked up since ours was installed.  This might not seem interesting to those with no interest in stoves, but it would’ve been very useful to us when we got ours, so I’m going to put it out there!

The stove:

As I mentioned in a previous post, the stove we settled upon is an Esse 200 XK SE and is rated at 8Kw, though the heating output depends wholly on the type and amount of fuel being used.  We chose this model not only because it is large and we had an inkling that we’d have a large space for it (we ended up with a full inglenook), but because it is one of the only Defra-approved stoves that would allow continuous burning and that was very important to us.  Most stoves will say in the manuals somewhere that they’re approved by the manufacturer for occasional use only, which means a couple of logs in the evening rather than a belly full of fuel going day in and day out.  As we were looking to the stove to replace almost all of our gas use, this was a necessity for us.  I also particularly liked the look of the Esse as we wanted a traditional stove rather than a modern one.

The airwash of any stove is important if you’re wanting a stove to provide ‘entertainment’ as well as heat.  The general gist is that the more you pay for a stove, the better its airwash will be.  Esse stoves are definitely not cheap and thus the airwash is second to none.  The glass does fog up when left damped down overnight with solid fuel, however a quick wipe over with a damp kitchen towel and the glass is like new again.  Even burning wood, which is notorious for sooting the glass, ours is as clear as a bell, which is something that other stove-owning visitors have commented on.

Lighting the stove is really easy and, after a few abortive attempts at the very start, I now have it sorted.  Depending on what’s being lit, you need different ratios of kindling and scrunched-up newspaper.  Because of the size of the stove’s fuel-box, to light a smokeless fuel fire I use almost all of a tabloid-sized newspaper (the free local ones they stick through the door are ideal!) and quite a bit of kindling.  If you don’t use plenty of kindling when lighting a solid fuel fire, it simply will not get up to temperature and will smother the fire out again.  Wood is much easier to get going and needs only a handful or so of the kindling with plenty of newspaper.  Remember the task is to get the flue gasses it to their best operating temperature (on most stoves between 115º and 245ºC) to avoid creosote/tar deposits on the chimney.

Our stove did come with an official Esse mitten, however because it is a mitten, it doesn’t work very well to pick big logs up with or do many of the tasks that I need it for.  I thus bought a pair of £3.50 welder’s gauntlets online and have been very pleased with how well they have worked for loading coal and protecting me against the fierce heat of the embers.

I can’t recommend stove thermometers enough!  It will make sure that you’re on the right track when it comes to starting a fire and getting it up to temperature.  There are three zones for stoves: ‘too cold’ – your wood will form creosote in the chimney; just right – your stove is operating at the best temperature; and ‘too hot’ – you’ll either cause a chimney fire or disfigure the casting of your stove.  It is vitally important that you pay heed to your stove thermometer as it is the only way you can know that you’re burning efficiently and safely.  For around £10 it is an investment that will last indefinitely and will save you time, effort and money in the long run!


Over all, we have been using a roughly half smokeless solid fuel (a 25% petro-coke 75% anthracite fuel) and half kiln-dried wood (hardwood and softwood*).  This was mostly because the place I was buying my wood from was fairly expensive, however I have just found another local company online which sells excellent quality kiln-dried hardwood in bulk at a much better price.  Since finding a good source of wood, we burn mostly wood and a little bit of the smokeless fuel when we need a long-lasting fire at night.

There are pros and cons to both and in general we prefer wood as it is a carbon neutral, locally felled (and a very pretty!) source of heat.  Wood also produces minimal ash and doesn’t need to be cleaned out of the stove like solid fuel does.  If you need instant heat, wood is your fuel, whereas solid fuel takes a good hour to start throwing heat out but lasts much, much longer than wood (~12 hours per load compared to wood’s 2 hours).  If you’re looking to burn wood, please make sure that it has a moisture content of less than 20%.  Buy a cheap moisture-meter online and test your fuel before you buy it and burn it.  Kiln-dried wood should be around 10% moisture, which is great and means a long-lasting, low-soot and high-heat fire.

On the other hand, solid fuel is good if you’re not around to keep chucking logs into the stove (out at work etc) however it is messy to clean out and difficult to get lit.  Solid fuel, depending on the type, can work out to be cheaper than wood, however it depends on what sort of wood and how much you use.  We’ve worked out that 1.3 cubic metres of kiln-dried wood is equivalent to the cost of the solid fuel and should last us 3-4 weeks.  If you can get a load of green logs, stack them and season them yourself for a year, then you will have a very cheap fuel source.  However, if you don’t have the space for that, then buying pre-seasoned or kiln-dried is the way to go.

Due to the Defra restrictions, no Defra-approved stove can be fully choked off as it increases smouldering and smoking, so fuel doesn’t last as well as it could, but solid fuel definitely does last until morning, whereas logs tend to last a few hours longer than usual and then burn out.

The average temperature of the downstairs is 25.5ºC when burning either wood or solid fuel.  If we were heating the downstairs to this temperature with gas, there is no way we’d be able to afford it at the price gas is currently!  I have never been in a house so warm, and the warmest we’ve got the living room is 26.7ºC – practically tropical!  Upstairs, the temperature happily stays at around 20ºC and the wall in our bedroom that the chimney passes through works like a huge storage heater and traps the heat, becoming toasty warm.

*The general consensus for many years was that softwood (pine, spruce, hemlock etc) were not good to burn because of the amount of pitch (resin) that they hold, which creates creosote in your chimney.  Whilst this is true if the wood is not dry, if your softwood is kiln-dried, you then have a fuel which is easy to light, burns hot and fast and creates no more creosote than anything else.  It is the steam that creates creosote, which is removed by kiln-drying.  Most stove manufacturers say it’s fine to burn softwood as long as it is dry.  All the Scandinavian countries use softwood as that is their main wood fuel type and they’ve been using stoves a lot longer than we have ;-)

Cleaning and Maintenance:

I have spent quite a while perfecting the best way to clean the stove and it seems that a good shovel, a Henry vacuum cleaner and a metal bucket with a lid is the way to go.  Be very careful lifting ashes, even if you think they’re cold, as they can retain their heat for more than 24 hours and remain a fire hazard.  I have a covered metal bucket that sits outside and gets brought in when I de-ash the stove, and even in the cold of winter after 24 hours outside, it can be hot to the touch!

I let the stove go out completely around once a week, so that I can give it all a proper going over.  Once cold and the ashes have been removed, I make sure the inside is very cold with my hand and then use a Henry vacuum cleaner to remove the trapped ash and charcoal/coal that I haven’t been able to remove by riddling or shovelling.  Don’t try to do this with a bagless vacuum as they simply can’t handle the small particulate matter and will clog.

I wipe down the glass with a damp paper towel and vacuum the outside of the stove with a brush attachment.  I make sure that the vermiculite bricks are all okay and in their proper places before laying the kindling for the next fire.  When not in use, make sure that you clean the stove out and leave the door cracked open, so that the chimney can breathe, otherwise you risk your stove rusting due to condensation.

For the sake of your house insurance, you will need to have your chimney swept at least once every 12 months by an accredited chimney sweep.  Do your research and ask around locally for one that is reputable and does a good job.  Ours came highly recommended from everyone we spoke to and having had my first sweep I can tell you he is worth his weight in gold!


The only downsides for me is the time that it can take to clean it out and the sooty hands you will get for the first few weeks until you perfect your own way of cleaning and de-ashing the firebox.

If the outright cost of buying wood every 6 weeks or so seems expensive, consider that you will only likely be doing this for the worst of winter (November to March or April) and during this time, you will use very little other heating.  This means that you control the bills and can alter your usage to suit your purse, though.  Other than that, there are no downsides for us.  The average medium-sized house’s heating bill is £954/year and we’re on track to be considerably less than that even with the cost of wood.


  1. Research, research, research before buying a stove.  Use the wonderful WhatStove website to read reviews from other owners before you decide on your model.  Prioritise what is important for you – cost, type of fuel, continuous burn, cast iron, good airwash, smoke exempt?
  2. Find a reputable dealer of stoves.  Not all sellers and installers are equal and it will save you a LOT of headaches if you find a good one.  Ask questions and ask to see examples of their work.  Search online for reviews and ask people who have used them for their thoughts.
  3. Remember you don’t have to line your chimney.  If you live in a house with a patent chimney, and as long as you don’t have any draw problems, you should be fine without a liner (this info comes from both installers and chimney sweeps!).  Any good sweep worth his salt will be able to do a smoke test for you for very little money.  At best, liners last only the amount of time they specify then you will have to replace them, however they can control a chimney’s draw if that is a problem.
  4. Make friends with your local chimney sweep.  They are the most wonderful source of knowledge for all things chimney and stove.  If you’re new to the stove lark, ask advice and if they’re as good as mine, they’ll spend time explaining anything and everything!
  5. Find a good source of fuel before you get your fire.  If you’re planning to season your own wood, consider buying some well in advance so that you can begin the process cheaply.  If you want ease, look for recommended suppliers of kiln-dried wood or people who have seasoned it themselves.  Never buy without testing it with a moisture meter (it must be less than 20% to burn) and never buy wood sold by weight – it is illegal for merchants to sell by weight as weight is usually water.
  6. Buy a stove fan.  They work by the heat of the stove causing the blades to turn, which convects hot air and draws in cold air.  This moves air from your chimney nook and raises the efficiency of your stove for very little outlay.
  7. Consider buying some spares for your stove.  Vermiculite baffle bricks, baffle plates, door seal ropes and door glass are all ‘expendables’ and not covered by the warranty.  For our Esse, to replace all of the above, would cost about £130.  This isn’t something you will have to do regularly, but make sure you know where to get your spares from and buy official parts when necessary.

Most of all, enjoy it.  I guarantee that as long as you get a good stove, you will love it for many, many years to come.

Friday 28 November 2014

Home Renovated Home

Well, we moved.  Again.  It was a frantic run-up to the main event, as our moves usually are.  It seems that as often as we have moved (5 times in 11 years), the amount of stuff we have accrued has increased and each time we seem less prepared for the move itself.  Thankfully, we haven’t had to give the keys back to our rented house yet, so I’ve been able to clean it and also go there for meals and such as the new kitchen is still covered in a layer of ever-present brick dust and renovation crud (despite numerous cleanings).  Due to unforseen circumstances, the downstairs flooring has been delayed and isn’t due to be fitted until early next week.  This is fine, except that we’re living on very grotty (again, despite being cleaned to within an inch of its life) laminate in one half and bare concrete in the other!  Argh!  But this move has reinforced to Mr VP and I that we won’t be moving from here for quite a while and that suits us stability-craving homebirds down to the ground.

It is odd being back in the house, as it is familiar and yet completely new all at once.  The noises of terraced life are back; road noises, now much reduced thanks to new windows and doors, are a familiar rush-hour reminder and the sound of our neighbours’ plumbing going every now and then is also something we’ll have to get used to again.  I haven’t had much time to sit and get my head around the whole thing yet.  I spend my days running in circles, trying to avoid tripping over the bags and boxes and trying to get things done as quickly as possible.  The move has made me realise that we have a LOT of stuff and that we desperately needed to thin belongings out and de-clutter.  We have to clean and clear so that we don’t get bogged down by objects that we no longer need or want.  That will be my New Year task.

The stove is going as I type and the living room is a balmy 24ºC – we haven’t had to use any central heating yet.  I have been amazed at the change in our lives that having a stove has brought about.  Every single tradesman (including all of our removals men) have stopped to make comment and even the surliest, un-talkative tradesmen become nostalgic chatterboxes at the sight of licking flames and glowing coals.  We hadn’t anticipated this effect, but it is a welcome one indeed and I have learned a lot from people giving advice about the best way to light a fire or keep one going.  Yes, I have to spend time cleaning it out and lighting it (and there are occasional moments of kippering when the house smells of smokeless fuel or wood smoke when I re-fuel it), but the heat and the joy it brings is second to none.

In the coming weeks we can start to go through things properly and unpack, but for now, with all of the chaos, it is nice just to be home…

Monday 3 November 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014: Day 3. Comfort and Joy.

Mr VP and I (okay, I admit, it’s mostly me) have wanted a chair in the living room for quite a while.  We have a large three-seater settee, and an ageing Ikea Poang chair which has definitely seen better days, but I have always hankered after a rocking chair.  This was brought up again recently when my Mother came up to visit and found herself not only her dream sofa, but also her dream rocking chair too (a beautiful Ercol).  Knowing that budgets are extremely tight for such things, Mr VP and I scoured eBay and Gumtree, looking for the right chair.  We kept finding ones we liked but not in our price range, or in our price range but too far away to collect.  That was, until we found this chair and promptly fell in love with it.  Immediately we contacted the advertiser asking if it was still available and whether we could come that evening to look at it, which we did and having tried it out, bought it on the spot for a teeny-tiny sum indeed.

The chair itself is a Swallow glider, originally an Australian brand I believe, and I think we’re its third owners, but I am sure that we won’t be parting with it ever.  It is the most comfortable chair I’ve ever come across and though we had one heck of a job getting it into the car (think of a particularly challenging Tetris puzzle!), I love it to pieces.  Once we have moved back to our own home, it will take its pride of place by the fire*, but until then it is nestled in a light and airy corner, which makes it a perfect reading spot (when I’m not working at the house).  As the blog title suggests, it is bringing nothing but comfort and joy.

*Yes, it’s true!  I can’t wait to spill the beans about it – it’s not been fully installed yet, but it will be soon!

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Clouds with Silver-Linings

Thursday 19 June 2014

In the (Midsummer) Kitchen

I have been pretty apathetic in the kitchen recently and I think it’s because of the heat.  Not that it has been very hot, I hasten to add, but when the mercury hovers over 15ºC and stays there pretty much both day and night, I drop all pretense and desire to cook and instead would much rather have someone else provide iced delights at regular intervals. Most of our meals recently have been quick, oven-free affairs, so that I can get out of the kitchen and into the cool garden instead.

However, last weekend, I pulled my socks up and made a really nice, proper Sunday roast.  I like the rhythm of preparing a Sunday roast; doing the veggies while listening to Radio 4, preparing the meat, making stuffing and all the other accoutrements that go with it.  Last weekend, I chose pork leg and decided to do it pot-roast style, in my antique enamel pot (love).  I have a love-hate relationship with pork leg because it often turns out so dry.  Doing it this way, you not only get moist, tender meat but it self-gravies too!  I put a couple of small Bramley apples, one onion, a couple of bay leaves and seasoning in the bottom of the pan and added a little slosh of cider to it.  I took the crackling off the joint before cooking and put it onto a tray, dried and scored, so that we’d get the best of both worlds – moist meat and still get crackling.  All of it went into a moderate oven for a couple of hours and was served with a host of summery veggies (Jersey Royals and little Chantenay carrots) and skirlie.

Other kitchen-y things…
*  A made-by-someone-else blackcurrant cheesecake. These cheesecakes, a ubiquitous supermarket freezer staple, are much-loved in a sort of nostalgic way. I remember having these occasionally at special events as a child and have loved them ever since. To save myself having to make a dessert, I bought this to go with our Sunday roast.
*  To use the pork up, I made a take on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s mustardy beef with lentils and mint.  However, I used homemade yogurt (yum!) and wholegrain mustard, as well as some of the left-over gravy as the sauce.  I served it with lentils, baby potatoes and little gem lettuce.
*  A doughnut-peach, apple and blueberry pie.  Made out of necessity because the peaches were going a little over-ripe, it was the most lovely thing I think I’ve made in a long while.
*  Kanelbullar – not made by me, sadly, but from Ikea.  It’s Midsommarhelgen this weekend and it is also Mr VP and I’s wedding anniversary, so we’re celebrating in typically Swedish style with gravad lax, cardamom rolls, kanelbullar and Farskpotatissalad on the beach.

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