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! :)

Sunday 9 November 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014: Day 9. A Sunday.

It has been a long time since we last had a lie-in, as I usually have to open up the house at 7am for the builders.  So this morning I decided that I would have one and luxuriated in semi-sleep until the late, late hour of 8:45.  We had a lazy breakfast and headed off to a DIY shop to collect the remaining wood necessary to finish one of our DIY projects (all will be revealed soon!).  On the way back, we listened to the Remembrance Sunday service on Radio 4.  We got home and had lunch and then headed off to the house to get to work.  The first thing I did once there was light the fire, because it has not only become a welcoming sight but also warms the house through and through.  I removed all of the ash from yesterday’s fire, gave the fire box a good clean and then lay and lit balls of newspaper and kindling sticks.  The flames quickly took hold and warmed the flue, which in turn increased its draw, until it was merrily blazing away.  As soon as the kindling was glowing, I put on a couple of small logs and then increased their size as they began to blaze.  The thermometer on the flue went up, as did the temperature on the thermostat (within half an hour the room was a balmy 22ºC) and the flames were licking the glass.

After a good many hours of work on our DIY project, and a good bit of cleaning-up the place, we headed home.  As soon as we got back, I had a shower to remove the film of cement dust and grime (how am I ever going to get the house clean?!) and began cooking dinner: panhaggerty.  I layered potatoes, onions, carrots and cooked bacon in a pan before covering with a bit of sherry and good beef stock.  I covered the pot with a cartouche and let it bubble while I began making the chocolate cupcakes for the builders tomorrow.  By the time they’re out of the oven, the panhaggerty is cooked.  It is the first time I’ve ever made this Northumbrian delicacy, but it is in fact one of the most delicious meals I’ve made in ages – and so cheap and easy, too.  Once we’ve had dinner, it is almost time to settle down in front of Downton, so I nestle down in my gliding chair and type this post out and begin to plan the week’s to-do list out on paper.  After Downton I ice the cupcakes and flit round the house one more time before getting an early night.  Tomorrow?  More DIY, painting, overseeing, phone calls and cooking on the to-do list.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014: Day 5. Home Fires Are Burning

Remember, remember the 5th of November: logs, woodburners and soot!  Today is the day I have been dreaming about since Mr VP and I first got our house back in 2005: a wood-burning stove.  When the house renovation was in the planning stage, one thing that we both knew that we wanted to include was a wood-burner, mostly because we wanted to heat the house for less money than using gas.  It also means that we’re less reliant on other companies providing our fuel source and we can be happy that our fuel consumption is less harmful for the environment.

The fireplace was another task in itself.  We knew from seeing a neighbour’s fireplace that it might be an inglenook, but when we came to chip away plaster, we couldn’t find any sign of it.  It turns out that the stone had been smashed and the rest had been bricked up.  Our stove fitter (if you need a good one in Northumberland, let me know!) studiously took the time to unearth the whole original fireplace, brick by brick, and we discovered the original Edwardian inglenook along with hooks for hanging pots and plenty of soot.  Whilst it might not sound interesting to most people, it has been like being an archaeologist on Time Team as we dig through the layers of history.  The living room would originally have been the kitchen, and the inglenook would have contained a large stove for cooking and heating purposes.  This would have provided all of the heating and cooking for generations of families who have lived and worked in and around this home.

As for the stove, I spent about three months researching all of the options.  The criteria were that it had to allow continuous burning, it had to be made in the UK and it had to have good reviews.  There were very few that matched these criteria, as most were either very cheap but had awful reviews or nice reviews but didn’t allow continuous burning etc.  After a lot of umming and ahhhhing, and visiting the finalists in person, we settled on the Esse 200 and I am very glad that we did.  Today it was finally installed (after a couple of hiccoughs about the wrong stove being delivered!) and commissioned, so I got the opportunity to give it a go.  After a bit of a false start (my own fault for not using enough kindling), I re-set the fire and started again, this time achieving the roaring, flickering flames that heated the house splendidly.  After a long day that started early and included a lot of lugging heavy things and running errands, I was very glad to relax in front of the fire for a couple of hours (even though everywhere else is a building site!).

Saturday 1 November 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014: Day 1 – Catching Up

It’s that lovely time of year again, full of promise and calm and also NaBloPoMo; the chance to sit down and fall back in love with blogging once more.  It seems like it has been ages since I last had the time to properly sit down and blog, so I thought I’d write down everything that’s been happening and do a bit of a catch-up.  October ended up being the busiest month I’ve had in a very long time.  The house took up most of my days and now I can officially say that I have been properly project-managing this renovation, which is a bigger task than I had envisaged.

Most days start early, as builders like early starts (when you can get them to turn up! I’ve had no end of no-shows..), and between running backwards and forwards, doing the decorating and visiting DIY shops often, I come home in an exhausted state and sit comatose, before falling into bed.  What I have learned about the whole process is that, minus the stress of finances and time, I am actually quite enjoying being a project manager.  I think it’d be more enjoyable to do it as a job rather than on my own house, per se, but I am learning things that I had no idea about before.  I can now tell you about the applications you have to make to the council for buildings control permits, assured persons schemes, how to apply a damp-proof membrane and also how the general flow of contractors works.  It has been one heck of an eye-opener, but now I can come in and know that I know what I’m doing and thus can arrange everything else to happen as well.

What else has been going on?  Not very much!  Cooking has gone out of the window a bit of late, but that was to be expected.  I hope to make a big pot of squash soup tomorrow, so that our lunches this week will be healthy and taken-care-of, so that I don’t have to think about it.

Mr VP and I do manage occasionally to get out and have a day off, mostly at weekends as I am needed at the house most weekdays now.  I woke up early one Saturday morning and (having dragged Mr VP from his cocoon) both hopped into the car so that we could watch the sun rise on the beach.  It was a glorious, solitary (except for another couple walking their dogs in the distance) expedition that we’d been meaning to make since we moved back up.  We watched oyster catchers bob along the surf line, whilst gulls and cormorants flew overhead.  I’ll share those pictures in another post.

There have been a lot of ruminations on the house we’re moving back into and what our future will be like.  It feels full of hope and yet scary all at once.  I have peeled back layers of wallpaper and unloved plaster from the walls and have replaced all of it with love and a sense of wanting to do things right, so that the house is a home and somewhere we’ll both be happy living in.  To top it off, this week we found out our moving date, which is in a few weeks, and which I have been putting into the very back of my mind because it will entail more grey hairs and how-will-I-ever-get-all-of-this-done panicked moments.  But we will.

So that is where we’re up to, roughly speaking.  Welcome November, farewell October and hello NaBloPoMo!


Saturday 4 October 2014

Patience, Persistence and Panic

Renovating a house is a test of all sorts of things, but mostly the three Ps.  Persistence and/ or perseverance (because without it, there won’t be a house to move into), patience (with builders who don’t turn up when they say they will – it’s like herding cats!), panic (lest you end up with a migraine from the stress – like I did the other day), a sunny disposition (to deal with it all) and most of all, your wits (to avoid being conned into something ridiculously expensive/unnecessary etc).  September was a whirlwind of quotes, phonecalls, panic, stress and plaster dust and it looks like October will only be dustier and more expensive than September.

Whilst I have got a lot sorted on paper, with appointments from tradesmen looming, as yet only the roof tiles and flashing has been completed.  This is good as we got it done in time for the rains that pelted the house last night.  However, this reminds me that there is still a lot to do and time is marching on.  The stress has been quite a problem for me, as there was much more to do with the kitchen than we had anticipated, which meant that the budget is being squeezed from every corner.  The kitchen as it exists currently is not functional as a kitchen, so we can’t move in until it has been sorted out – particularly as it is an epic job, which involves removing ceilings and (load-bearing) walls.

Today started off well: Mr VP and I donned our ugliest clothing and decided that we would try to save ourselves some money by doing all of our decorating.  This is a HUGE job, simply because every single bit of the house needs doing, and some walls need levelling and ideally skimming, which one decorator quoted so much money for, that I thought he was skimming the walls in 24 karat gold.  Unfortunately, whilst trying to take some control of the walls upstairs (filling, priming and painting), I had nothing short of a complete panic attack when I found what could be a problem that will possibly require expensive remedial works.  I cried, because it has all become a bit much and I am feeling a wee bit fragile at the best of times recently, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.

At the end of the day, I know it’s only a house and such, and at this point we’re not even going for a Country Living Magazine-cover kind of finish, we just want it done well, so that we can move back in and begin enjoying the house again.  Right now, I can’t see the wood for the trees or the light at the end of the tunnel, but I know it will come.  Heaven knows it will take a heck of a lot of patience, perseverence and a hefty dose of (unintentional) panic too.

Monday 8 September 2014

The Best Laid Plans.. (Did Not Include Hospital)

Oh dear – so much for our weekend of heavy graft at the house!  I’ve been having a recurrence of the problems that sent me into hospital and surgery last year, even though having surgery was supposed to have sorted it all out.  Anyway, it turns out that taking one organ out is not as simple as that and other problems, which may or may not lead to more trips to hospital, are possible side-effects.  It goes without saying that one’s internal system is a very complex thing, and one that, more importantly, the medical profession don’t have all of the answers for.

After having spoken to my GP on Friday, when I woke up on Saturday morning in pain, I knew a visit to A&E was imminent.  So at 8am, we tromped off to hospital.  The nurse who triaged me also seemed to think I was fairly urgent as I only waited a record 10 minutes before being whipped into a proper bed and having my work-up.  Thankfully after last year, I am now more accepting and calm in the hospital environment, but when the (really nice and chirpy) A&E doctor said that I might need surgery once more, my heart rate did leap a bit.  Eventually, after painkillers, blood-draws, IV fluids, antibiotics (as well as an x-ray) and a spell on the surgical ward, I was told that I was a bit of a mystery.  The consultant agreed that there wasn’t need for any immediate surgery, however he did say that it was probable that I could end up back in hospital if my condition deteriorates or I need pain management.  Thus I am in a kind of painful limbo, neither sure of the cause or course of the pain.  We had to cancel one of the contractors coming to visit and also the skip we’d booked to put the carpets and kitchen units into.  The house has had to take a bit of a back seat for a while.

On Sunday, I was more accepting of the pain and not feeling quite as dire as Saturday, though still obviously uncomfortable.  We didn’t do much, just pottered around the house (Mr VP has been an absolute star through all of it) and visited an organic farm for a walk in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, I spent most of the early hours of this morning (the worst time to be awake), awake and in pain, wondering what I should do about it.  The most worrying thing for me, I think, is not knowing the reason behind it or what will happen next.  I am coming to realise that in the great scheme of things doing the house isn’t as important as one’s health, it picked one heck of a time to flare up!  If you could send good mojo and/or prayers our way, it’d be gratefully received.

Friday 5 September 2014

The Process of Making a Home

Oh where to begin, dear readers?  It is September all of a sudden, which means that the Big House Renovation can begin.  You see, our lovely little almost-Victorian (but technically Edwardian) terraced house, which we love with all our might, has been rented out for the last four years and it is in a bit of a sorry state.  Whilst we have lived in rented accommodation and have always left it tidier and nicer than when we found it, it appears that we are in the minority and the house is now looking very much like it needs a (complete and utter) good going-over.  We got the keys back the other day, and almost immediately calls to and from workmen, decorators, builders and window fitters has been constant.  My day yesterday was full to the brim, so full in fact, that I fell asleep as soon as my rear end fell onto the sofa.  It is only a few days in and already I feel bushed and a little overwhelmed by the whole thing, as well as having to deal with day-to-day things around the house.

So this is my project for the next three months and it is quite a project indeed.  Having watched an inordinate amount of Homes Under the Hammer (compulsive viewing!), I know what we want to do is absolutely possible, but it just seems very overwhelming, particularly as I make big decisions about the fabric of our house (what exterior doors do we want? what kind of window fittings? will I really hire someone to knock a load-bearing wall out?).  Obviously, there are some wildly fun parts, like ripping out the old kitchen (this weekend?), stripping plaster off a hidden chimney breast (we’re going for an ‘English Cottage’ look and hopefully the brick will be in good enough condition to make a feature wall) as well as ripping up the carpets and having a look at the original floorboards for the first time.  We’re trying to do as much of it ourselves (mostly just minimal DIY stuff, like hanging doors and clearing jobs), to keep costs down.

I will get around to posting photos of progress eventually, once we begin work.  This blog will be a place for me to document all of this for posterity, so I’m going to try to keep up to date with the whole renovation.  Here goes!