Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Bedroom Makeover 2. Let there be light

What would a bedroom makeover be without a bed! For years our guests (and before them, us) have been sleeping on just a mattress, with the top of an old desk acting as a headboard. This has done the job admirably, and no-one has yet complained of a dodgy nights sleep, but time has come to spruce things up a bit.

We picked up a simple TARVA bed base to fit the current mattress (though I'm sure in years to come the mattress itself will get an upgrade) and then set about accessorizing it with a couple of JANSJO lamps. The idea was to mount the lights to the bed frame itself  (quite high on the sides to minimise the structural impact of the big holes). We also considered mounting them to the bedside tables but this would have left them a little low for sitting in bed reading.

These lamps arrive in two pieces - the flexible arm and a heavy base which meant we didn't need to modify them at all - we only want the flexible arm for this build. They would have been held to the base with two screws - perfect for refitting to our bedframe. After a careful bit of marking on the side struts of the bed frame Joe then set about the drilling. Firstly two pilot holes all the way through the frame. Then he used a flat drill bit to cut a recess for each hole from the back of the frame, and then finally widened the hole a little from the front. This left us with a narrow hole at the front that was a tight fit for the screw mountings, which then opened out at the back to a wider hole that allowed for the washers that were provided.

Adding a depth marker to the flat drill bit - this was one hole that didn't want to go all the way through!
Piloting first.

Drilling out the widest holes to allow for screw heads and washers.

We then assembled the bed frame before finally screwing the lights to the bed (with the help of some blutack to keep the screws the right way round in the depths of the holes we'd created).

What do you think?

p.s. we're not being paid by Ikea for all these furniture mentions - they're just a convenient fairly local store! 
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Sunday, 27 April 2014

April in the Chicken Coop

This month in the chicken coop...

... it's birthday time. Our girls were born at the end of April 2012 and came to us in August of that year. We helped them celebrate with an extra handful of corn or two.

Early days with the hens - Pepper in particular looks decidedly young.

... Lemon decides spring is here and has had her first broody bout of the season. Funnily enough we've never had problems with any of the others but for Lemon it was a regular occurrence last year. It becomes quite a battle to persuade her to stop sitting on nothing and literally cool down!

Yes, she's even neglecting to sit on the egg that Frog kindly laid her.

... the sparrows are back. Both years we've lived here we've had nesting sparrows, followed by a dozen fledglings hoping round the garden. They make extensive use of the bird feeder and the girls love pigging out on their discards. We have great fun watching them charge across the garden every time they see a bird.

... and of course it's been a sad month with the loss of Fizzy. The other three have showed no signs that they've even noticed, but we've found it very strange to see them wandering around as a trio.

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Friday, 25 April 2014

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A Bedroom Makeover 1. Decision Making

On Sunday we spontaneously decided to rearrange what furniture we have in our guest bedroom. Its a simple room and this didn't take long, but it did start off the conversation. You know the one. Its starts with "maybe one day we should find a better place for these printers", follows up with "perhaps we should replace this desk with a more suitable table" and ends up with deciding to do a complete overhaul of what this room contains.

The facts. This room is 3.1m x 2.9m, and looses a small box section to the airing cupboard in the corner. It currently contains a kingsize mattress, a large desk, some printers and a couple of storage boxes. The desk never gets used as a desk. It is a hangover from our student days, whereas now we favour the kitchen table when needed. It does however provide a useful place for guests to put things - but takes up lots of space for this use.

The plan. Firstly, we wanted to get a bed frame for the mattress. This is long overdue and comes with also sorting bedside tables and lamps. Secondly we wanted to replace the desk with something more like a dressing table, sort out a nice mirror and make that a smaller but more usable space. Finally, we wanted to add some storage. This would ease the pressure on the box room which - while containing a bed - is mostly just stuff!

The big question has been what sort of storage as this will very much dictate the look and feel of the room. Our aim has been some sort of units with a gap in the middle that we could fill with the dressing table. We've been spending quite a bit of time browsing Ikea's website looking for ideas.

Idea 1: IVAR

We already have some of the IVAR system. With a bit of expansion we could have a narrow set of shelves up each side and a couple of shelves across the top. It would be quite open, and so we'd sort most of our things into boxes to keep things tidy. These boxes could be boring or a colourful and eclectic mix to make them a feature in their own right. Unfortunately these shelves don't fill the gap as nicely as some of the others, but would be quick and easy to put together.



This is simply two bookcases on each side, however the widths available mean that the space in the middle is rather squeezed. This has the advantage that we can use doors to hide all our stuff, though we've wondered whether solid doors would be more imposing on the room. Of course we could leave them without doors and use boxes as above.


Idea 3: PAX

These are wardrobes and fall somewhere between ideas one and two in terms of size, layout and that doors vs boxes question.


Now all we need to do is make a decision...
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Sunday, 20 April 2014


As part of our ongoing desire to change our garden for the better we've long been planning to get rid of a large evergreen "ball" from the front garden. It blocks quite a lot of light to our living room and, if we're honest, it's just plain ugly! We're not sure on its original purpose but it's only redeeming feature is that it offers a little privacy. For this reason we've been waiting to take it out until we could replace it with something.

Our criteria for that replacement has been rather broad. We wanted something that would flower at some point in the year, would provide some greenery, would let light through and would reach a manageable final height. A couple of weeks ago we purchased a magnolia 'susan', which we felt meets all these requirements rather nicely (if pushing it a little on the height). What better than a bank holiday Friday to make the swap...

One big ugly green ball!
Cutting it out, one stem at a time.

Last one....

Just the stump to go

Digging it out, cutting through the roots and it's gone!

Deciding where the magnolia should go....

Planting the magnolia

And all done. The grassless area behind is where the old bush was. 

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Friday, 18 April 2014

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Great Swift Bake Off: 3. Breadsticks

This month the bake off coincided with the Easter holidays. With several colleagues away and others busy at the weekend it was a much reduced field that tackled bread sticks. I did manage a victory but the smaller number of entries diminishes the feeling somewhat!
My entry for this round was tomato and herb bread sticks (the tomato not only adds flavour but also a delightful orange hint to the sticks). I started with a basic bread stick recipe I acquired from my parents and modified the recipe to include flavours. The ingredients are as follows:
Batch 3? Too many sheets for our oven!

  • 500g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 250ml Water
  • 90ml Oil
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tbsp Yeast
  • 1 tbsp Finely Chopped Rosemary
  • 100g Tomato Concentrate
  • Grated Parmesan to Decorate
Parmesan Failure. Enough Said.
The ingredients all went into the bread machine on a knead cycle (pizza dough works for us) before being kneaded again and rolled into a thin sheet (5mm thick). I used a chopstick for a guide and sliced strips off the sheet with a plastic dough scraper before rolling them slightly to round the edges and placing them on a teflon baking sheet. My slab of dough ended up too big for my sheets so I could cut my sticks to be identical lengths. 

After a 20 minute rise they went in the oven for 7 minutes at 180 Celsius before I sprinkled the grated parmesan over the top and returned to the oven (turned around to try and get an even bake) for a further 7 minutes. I started trying to put the parmesan on before baking but it didn't seem to stick very well! I could have used an egg glaze to try and get more to stick but I liked the unglazed finish.

Next month - Battle of the Victoria Sandwich: Revenge of the WI.

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Tangle of Ivy

When we moved in we loved the way that our new garden contained all sorts of mature plants. It meant we could start enjoying the seasons of the garden while debating what changes we wanted to make. In this picture taken just under a year ago you can see that we have a long border running the length of the garden along the fence line, full of shrubs.

What you can't see is that the whole border is a tangle of ivy, and that a lot of the shrubs have been neglected over the last few years leaving them straggly, out of shape and overgrown. In the end we decided we'd need to be harsh with this area, leaving only the bare minimum and starting from scratch. 

Last summer Joe made a start at the right hand end, removing two hebe that were very woody stemmed and overflowing the lawn, waging war on the ivy and discovering that there was a beautiful peony hiding behind them - an excellent find. He did manage to take a runner from one hebe which is now flourishing in a pot and can go back into that border.

Recently in order to sort out our fence issue we made some progress clearing out the left hand end (so much easier while the fence panels were down) and last weekend we continued with that further meaning that this:

May 2013
has become this:

April 2014

and this:

May 2013

has become this:

April 2014

There's a little bit more to be done, but what we've cleared so far has left us with a blank slate. We've started to use the space to plant up things that needed it, but we're now at the point where we need a plan. This is our first garden and so far all our major changes have involved vegetables and chickens, and so we're really excited to have a large area of flower bed to work with and to start to truly make this our garden. 
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Friday, 11 April 2014

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

And then there were three...

It was a sad day yesterday. I got home from work and found three chickens waiting for me on the back doorstep, not in itself unusual. However when I went outside, started handing out corn and Fizzy was still conspicuous by her absence I began to worry.

I found Fizzy in the coop where she'd quietly left us at some point in the day. While we'd always said that we felt Fizzy would probably go like this one day, the shock was no less. She'd never been the model of a healthy chicken - never laying, slower off the mark, and sometimes sounding a little wheezy - but she was as happy as the others and made us smile just as much. She will be very much missed.

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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Life's a Game: 4. Cribbage

This year we're sharing with you our game of the month. These are all favourites from our collection, or ones we play with our friends.

April's game is Cribbage.

Looking for  cards that add up to fifteen...

This is one of those games that, for me, goes right back into my childhood. I have distant memories of being taught to play by my Dad, but feel like I've always known it. We played card games a lot as I grew up, often as a family activity; my Mum, Dad, brother and I sitting down on a Saturday evening for round of whist, bridge or canasta and this is still a well loved way to pass our time when we all get together today. With cribbage though, typically a two player game, it was game for mostly just for Dad and I.

As time went on I taught Joe how to play, and also discovered one of my university friends knew this game. Between us we taught another of my housemates and cribbage has become a favourite once again. We nearly always play when the four of us are together.

Crib scoring board. 

There are many quirks to this card game. It comes with it's own special scoring board to help you keep track of your points and the game is broken into two different sections in each round, both of which can score you points. As well trying to find the classic runs and pairs of many card games you're also on the look out for cards that add up to fifteen and every player starts by donating one or two of their cards into the crib, or box, which the dealer gets to treat as an extra hand at the end of the game to score bonus points - and this is what gives the game it's name.

Section 1: Play out your cards one at a time trying to make combo's
with your opponents cards; here we have 15 on the table, 2 points. 

Simple enough to learn, reliant on the luck of the cards, but with the chance to become skilled at spotting the best combinations to score you points this is a game that can be enjoyed by the young and old on different levels, and I'd recommend you give it a go.

Section 2: Add up the points in your hand. This person scored 6; two fifteens (K+5) and a pair. 

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Friday, 4 April 2014

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A love of double pointed needles....

About 18 months after I learnt to knit I decided to try socks. I had been given a ball of sock wool and that seemed as good a reason as any. What I found was that dpns can be really fiddly, and when knitting with 4ply each inch of knitting seems to take forever. I spent most of 2012 avoiding this pair of socks that, quite frankly had me beaten. Every now and again I'd pull them out, add a couple more rows, remember how adding just a couple of rows meant nothing and put them away again. Being someone who likes method and order I couldn't bring myself to start something new with these socks staring at me from the bottom of my knitting bag. I was going to win - except all that meant was I did no knitting.

Just before Christmas that year I finally finished sock number one, and then to my surprise finished sock number two only a couple of weeks later. I was hooked! Since then seven out of nine completed projects have used double pointed needles, from hats to socks to sleeves. Even Hoot was a dpn project (albeit with 5.5mm needles). 

I've just finished these stranded mitts, my first attempt at fair isle knitting. While the tension was definitely not perfect, you can't tell that at a distance and I'm really happy with the overall effect. I've been wearing them the last couple of weeks and the stranded knitting makes them nice and warm. 

And then I've started on a few new projects :

these baby socks (smaller than the last so hopefully they'll be a better fit for the next newborn)

and untangling this microfibre yarn ready to make a mobile phone sock, which I might make flat and seam... just for a change!

Finally back into a ball after a couple of years tying itself in knots in the bottom of our yarn box

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