Life in the Countryside · renovation

The little quirks

Today I just thought I would share some of the little quirks which have been uncovered through the stripping back of the cottage. So as I’ve said before our cottage was built first and next door (which is semi-detached) was built on at a later date. As there were no original deeds for the houses we don’t know exactly when the properties were built and we don’t entirely know our cottage’s original layout, we do know though that the kitchen was a post war extension. Obviously when our cottage was built it was detached and as such had windows on all four outside walls. So when the cottage next door was built some of these windows had to be blocked up. So we have one downstairs and one upstairs blocked up window. When all the plaster has been hacked off they have been fully exposed. Unfortunately the downstairs one will have to be blocked up as the stairs will go right through it, but the upstairs one will be right at the top of the stairs and we are planning on making into a nice feature.

The downstairs window to nowhere
The upstairs window to nowhere

The other feature which I just love is our extra fireplace. In our lounge we have one fireplace which last winter we opened up and installed a log burner into. That still needs finishing when the work is completed but already is a lovely feature in the room. At the opposite end of the room there was a chimney breast which had been sealed up a long time ago. With the work beginning we have taken off the plaster and opened it up. In fact with the stripping out of the ceiling upstairs we can see how this chimney extends right up to the roof.

As lovely as this is we have decided to remove it and flatten the wall both down and upstairs. Downstairs it should give us better space to put a sofa in the room and upstairs the chimney breast is so curved that it is really hard to fit furniture around it. So as much as we are trying to keep some authentic features in it, we are trying to make practical decisions for our future home.

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Life in the Countryside · renovation

Our new living room cabin

So we are now completely moved out of the house and are living between the caravan, my craft cabin and our new living room cabin. This will eventually become J’s home office once the work on the house is complete but for now we are using it as a kitchen/living room/dressing room/playroom. For now we refer to it as our living room. It’s a 10 by 12 foot simple wooden cabin with double doors and a pent roof. J will paint it and we will put down a floor similar to that in our cabin when we’ve moved out but for now it is bare wood and chipboard floor (though we do have a random square of cast off carpet from my father in law in the middle to help keep our toes warm).

On the bank holiday weekend we spent time moving some furniture into it. In it we currently have:

  • C’s chest of drawers which is filled with mainly J and my clothes as C’s clothes are mainly in the caravan.
  • Our television and DVD player on top of this.
  • A small white table from our kitchen which has our coffee machine and table top cooker on it.
  • Our fridge
  • C’s princess castle and dolls
  • C’s plastic table and chair set
  • Our pop-up wardrobe
  • Two armchairs
  • There’s also an electric radiator and some lamps, as the cabin does not have it’s own power supply and relies upon extension leads from the garage and sheds.
  • Now I’ve taken some photos of it but please don’t judge us by the mess as we’re still trying to find a home for everything. It’s quite cosy and provides us with a nice bit of extra space.
  • Craft · Life in the Countryside

    Sew your own wardrobe

    As you know I have a lovely little haven in my garden, my sewing studio. I really enjoy my sewing and am improving in skills with time. I have taken a few sewing classes locally with Sodbury Sewing School and have learnt some new skills. So I thought I would share some of my recent makes and favourite patterns.

    This is a pattern that I’d been looking at for a while, the Ogden Cami by True Bias. I love wearing little cami tops and although you can get them fairly cheaply in most shops in fairly plain colours, I fancied something a bit nicer. This cami pattern has been recommended by several people so I thought I would give it a go. I chose a mustard material from my local fabric shop and I’m really happy with the end result. I’ve since made the pattern in another fabric and intend to make lots more.

    This is my summer beach bag made from a free pattern in a magazine (though I can’t remember which one). I have previously made small matching beach bags for C and I which were fine to use if we were just wandering around a town but aren’t really big enough to carry the extensive beach equipment that our little family seem to require. This bag has a small pocket inside (useful for a phone and a purse) and a simple magnetic closure. The sides are lined with foam so it holds its shape well and the handles are reinforced with chord. It has served us well this holiday, large enough to hold everything we need for a day at the beach and yet still stylish enough if you end up shopping instead.

    This lovely button back top was made at one of my sewing classes. It is fully lined and taught me a lot of new skills. The pattern is individually designed to my measurements so it fits really well. Although it involved lots of steps I have since made another version in a white fabric with navy anchors on and it sewed up much quicker second time around. I’ve had several compliments on this one and will probably make another couple in the future.

    This dress is one that I made for my and J’s five year wedding anniversary. The pattern is called ‘Joni’ and it’s from the Tilly and the Buttons Stretch book. The fabric was so silky and was a nice challenge to sew, as was the pattern but I was really pleased with the end result. Not an everyday dress but certainly one to wear for special occasions.

    Life in the Countryside · renovation · The cottage

    Stripping out the house

    Well we can’t go back now. The builders first job has been to strip out our house completely. Bear in mind that we had already moved all our furniture etc out so it was looking pretty empty to begin with. Well even in a day it looks totally different. Carpets are gone, doors are gone, bits of walls are gone. We needed to start by stripping back to see if we were able to keep certain things namely the supporting timbers and floor boards. As we suspected they were all pretty rotten and need replacing. Some supporting beams seem to actually only just providing enough support its a miracle the cottage hasn’t collapsed before now. Walls that will no longer be needed have been removed upstairs and it’s looking a lot more open. In fact you can now see up to the roof from the ground floor in parts. The upstairs bathroom is gone. The airing cupboard is gone, the third bedroom is gone. There’s still more stripping out to do and I’ll do a proper round up of each room once that’s done but here is where we are at so far.

    Upstairs

    Downstairs

    Exciting isn’t it? I know with the stripping out you see big changes fast and that the rebuilding will be a lot slower, but I can’t help but love how we see so much change everyday. I promise not to bombard with constant cottage updates though!

    Life in the Countryside · The cottage

    So the house is empty

    We’ve spent the last few days/weeks/months slowly emptying our house and it finally clear ready for our builder to start. It has been quite a challenging process at times, actually a very challenging process but we finally have the house empty and ready for work to start this week. It just feels so bare and old and incredibly dirty. The first task for the builders is stripping back as much as possible so we can see the state of the timbers (not looking good) and get the steel ordered as required. So all the photos below are of the cottage in its current state – empty, dirty and falling to bits. Looking at it I can’t believe we were actually living in it. One of the first jobs the builder is planning on doing is stripping it back completely so hopefully this weekend I can post some photos of the cottage in an even more stripped back state!

    Upstairs

    Downstairs

    Lazy beds · Life in the Countryside · Vegetable growing

    Potatoes…what went right and what to change

    We have now harvested all of our Spring planted potatoes and so I thought I would do a quick review about what went well and what to change for next year. So this year we grew our potatoes in growbags as opposed to last year when we used lazy beds. We had five different varieties:

    • Red Duke of York: we grew these successfully last year and they were just as good this year. My only complaint was they weren’t as large as I would have hoped but still a good size. This is probably due to harvesting too early but I was just so keen to get some potatoes. We’ll probably still grow these again next year.
    • Cara: these were our most prolific cropper this year. A really good harvest of decent size potatoes which taste amazing. A definite one to do again next year.
    • Pentland Javelin: our most disappointing crop this year. A small harvest both in quantity and size. Whilst it could have been down to the weather I don’t think we’ll do these again next year.
    • Charlotte: a good solid harvest. Decent size potatoes with good taste these are always a favourite in our house. We’ll do these again next year.
    • Pink Fir Apple: our first time growing these but we had them at a fellow gardener’s house and they were delicious. They have given us a really good crop of nice sized potatoes. Perfect just boiled and topped with butter. I think we’ll try these again next year.
  • Overall a very good year potato-wise, we barely lost any to pests or damage which was a big improvement on last year. The individual potatoes weren’t as large as last year which could either be down to being in bags as opposed to the ground or due to the weather. Our Autumn sown potatoes are in bags so they can be moved inside to avoid the cold (more about that another time) but next year I’ll have to work out whether to go for the ground or bags. Does anyone else grow potatoes? How do you grow them?
  • Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Raised beds

    Just look how crazy the garden went when I was away…

    We recently came back from being away from the cottage for almost three weeks and I have to say that although I loved our holiday, I was really glad to be home. Our garden was watered whilst we were away but any gardener know that no one looks after your garden as well as you do. It was so lovely to see how the garden has come on whilst I was away, and even better to started tending to it.

    We had a courgette that had kept growing and growing, look how big it is compared to a normal sized one!

    So now I need to find a good way to use up a marrow.

    The plums weren’t quite right when we left for holiday and by the time we came back they had all ripened. We had lost some to insect activity and some had gone over but I managed to harvest a good amount.

    Because of how ripe they were, those that weren’t to be eaten straight away were halved, de-stoned, vacuum sealed and frozen. That way when I have some more time I can use them up.

    Some of our turnips and beetroot have also grown a bit ginormous. Hopefully they still taste alright.

    It also looks as though somebody has been exploring our asparagus bed. Hopefully whoever it was (C suspects Peter Rabbit) hasn’t done any damage to the roots.

    chickens · Life in the Countryside

    The death of a chicken

    As you may remember we have six chickens who are all about 18 months old now. Once they started laying they were pretty consistent although have been less so recently. We suspect that Dorothy has been eating her eggs and we think the girls have been a bit put off laying by their home being moved about a bit and some of the workmen and machinery that we’ve had around recently. Anyway whilst we were away in Cornwall we used the services of a local lady to come and water the garden and tend to the chickens for part of the time as my father in law was away as well. She contacted us to let us know that Henry didn’t seem quite herself. Henry has always been the runt of the group really. She had a poorly leg not long after we got her which took a couple of weeks to heal and she had always seem the weakest. Well to cut a long story short, she died.

    The chicken lady said it seemed like she had respiratory problems and was egg bound but whatever it was she didn’t survive. Whilst it is really sad to have lost one of our girls, it is all part of life in the countryside. In fact we’ve been lucky not to lose any of the girls before now to foxes. Chicken health care isn’t exactly available and aside from some home remedies, chickens are generally expected to either make a recovery or not. Simple as that. We have debated whether or not to replace her but have decided not to immediately. Chickens can be rather bullying to newbies and as such it’s best to introduce them to an existing group slowly and in pairs. So we’ll leave it for now as a family of five and may add to our brood in the future.

    The big thing that we’ve had to do is to explain to C about Henry. She understands the idea of death but hasn’t had any direct experience of it until now. We decided to be honest about it and tell her that Henry was really poorly and the doctor couldn’t make her better. We also have a book with a story about death which explains it really nicely about a fox going to sleep forever and how his friends remember him. So when J told her he said that it was like the fox in her book. She seemed to understand and wasn’t sad but very matter of fact about life an death. Guess that’s what comes from being a country girl.

    Life in the Countryside

    Sewage Treatment Plant

    So back in winter we had some problems with our septic tank. A septic tank that is the appropriate size for the property (which ours is) should need emptying once a year. Ours was emptied over the summer and it needed doing again before Christmas, a bit early but then it had been raining a lot so we didn’t think too much of it. But then it needed doing again a month later which sent alarm bells ringing. Now as I think I’ve explained before our septic tank had a soak-away attached. A soak-away is basically a big pit of gravel where the waste water drains into and it then trickles down the gravel and disperses into the ground. However, a soak-away can fail if it anything other than liquid gets into it. The liquid will then fail to drain and the septic tank will become backed up and filled with water. This is what had happened with our system. A soak-away is not a perfect system and most end up failing at some point. In fact nowadays they aren’t installed anymore and instead you require a sewage treatment plant instead. This will filter the waste water before draining it into a ditch. As our soak-away was failing we took the plunge back in spring and had a sewage treatment plant installed. Unfortunately this coincided with my being home with tonsillitis for the first part of the week and having a digger digging up your garden to lay new piping is not exactly conducive to resting. In order to install the new plant they had to dig up and remove our old septic tank, install the new sewage treatment plant and then dig up and place pipes to run the treated clean water into a ditch.

    A right pain in the backside to have done but it does now mean that we’re set up and shouldn’t need anything doing to it for the next 25 or so years at least now. Ours is one of the smallest tanks available as there are only three of us in our house but I was still surprised by how large it was.

    It did result in a huge number of diggers and crane type vehicles at our house which delighted C but most people aren’t really that interested in septic tanks and now it’s installed and working neither am I really. But in case you are here are some photos from during and after the work.

    One thing which did really impress me was how well the guys cleared up. They had had to move some of the bark area edgings in order to get the digger around as they had to manoeuvre around a forty-odd year old Acer tree. They removed them carefully and placed boards down to protect the ground and then replaced them carefully and relaid some grass seed where the ground had turned into mud around the tank. Now you wouldn’t really know that the tank was there as it blends in fairly well, all you hear is the occasional noise where the electric motor (goodness only knows what that does but it keeps it all ticking away nicely) is activated.

    Life in the Countryside

    So I’ve been a bit busy…..

    Now I know it’s been a while, a long old while, but I have just been busy. Really busy. A lot has changed in the past six months or so and I’m afraid the blog has been rather neglected. So what’s been happening? Well, in no particular order….

    • My father-in-law has bought the cottage next door. As some of you know our cottage is semi-detached on a small plot of land with one other cottage. The other cottage became available and J’s dad took the very brave step of moving from his home of 40 plus years to a dilapidated cottage next to his son and family. He’s currently living in his touring caravan until his cottage is renovated.
    • As a result of this purchase and a number of other factors our big works on the cottage (now two cottages) has yet to begin but is due to start on September 1st.
    • I’ve been on a new diet and fitness regime which has been rather time consuming but has had great results. It was a 90 day programme that I finished at the start of August and it really pushed me to my limits. I’ll do a bit of a post about it all if I get the chance.
    • The garden has really come on and in particular the greenhouse has give us some really nice produce this year. Again, I’ll aim to do a post about what’s worked well and what hasn’t worked well.
    • We’ve had the driveway done. Well the base coat of tarmac and the edging stones. The final coat of tarmac will go on when we’ve finished all of the works.
    • I’ve been doing some sewing. Actually truth be told I’ve been doing a lot of sewing, particularly making clothes for myself when I was dieting as it was a good motivation to keep going. And a good distraction from eating.
    • We’ve been emptying the house and are pretty much moved into the caravan. This has been quite an arduous task with trying to work out what we can be packed away and not looked at for a year. The plus side of this has been that it has made me quite ruthless in getting rid of things so a fair bit of decluttering has been done.
    • We’ve slightly adjusted our plans for the works (currently going through planning) to give us a bit more room upstairs.
  • I think that’s about it, although no doubt I’ll have forgotten something. I will try and start writing again more frequently especially as the works start progressing but for now here are some of my favourite photos from recently.