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My winter to-do list 2013

Posted by on Wednesday 30 October 2013 in admin, growing, house, making | 1 comment

(I wrote this last month but for some reason it didn’t get published – I only noticed when I came to tick stuff off — I’ve actually been powering through it compared to my normal slow productivity speed!)

Every year for the last few years, I’ve written myself a “preparing for winter” list for all those jobs that have to be done before the weather turns for the worst. I’m glad I can say I’ve FINALLY finished all the ones on my 2010 and 2011 lists now – well, except for the things that need doing again — it’s only taken me two or three winters!


The garden ones are similar to previous years – the routine stuff – though an afternoon in the garden last week has already ticked off some of the usual low hanging fruit (eg, tie up the low hanging fruit bushes!).

1. Tidy up the greenhouse & take any remaining tender plants into house for overwintering – I don’t think there is anything too tender in there but I’ll check.

2. Pop all terracotta containers or plastic ones holding delicate herbs into the greenhouse (and fleece if necessary) – this is a bigger job than in previous years as I bought lots of terracotta pots in the spring.

3. Add extra chippings to chicken run – John’s dad brought a load of chippings a few weeks ago but I’ll top them up again this month. Will hopefully stop it getting too muddy and/or freezing quite so solidly.

4. Sort out the wood pile, cut more “easy grab” logs & fill kindling bins inside and out – I’m out of my Sunday morning routine of clearing out the chicken coop and chopping the week’s kindling. I need to get back into that but a kindling buffer would be good too. We also need to shuffle our logs between the different stores – some of the ones further down in the garden should be seasoned enough now to come to the near the house store. (30/10/13 -Kindling bins are full for now, and we have quite a few “easy grab” logs – just need to keep the piles stocked up.)

5. Arrange for the tree surgeon to come over – we need to trim/cut down some trees but it isn’t safe for us to do it all by ourselves. We’ll do some and he can do the rest.


1. Fix cat flap in the kitchen so it isn’t so draughty – the magnet that holds the flap shut has gone. Should be fixable.

2. Fix the downstairs stove – a John job rather than one for me — something needs fire cementing again. We should also replace the cracked firebrick in the upstairs stove too. (30/10/13 – John has fixed the downstairs stove. Still need a new firebrick for upstairs though.)

3. Clean out gutters at front – after the leaves fall.

4. Wash the thicker, winter duvet – I really wish I’d thought to do this over summer but even the washing involves a trip to the laundrette and summer was rather chaotic. (30/10/13 – a kitten “accident” ensured this happened at the start of October. I washed the thin summer duvet at the same time.)

4b. Re-sew feather pockets as necessary – the feathers have been migrating through holes between the pockets.

5. Move more fragile plants out of the porch – and I guess, ditch the dying annuals from the herb shelf.


I’m pretty well kitted out for winter this year – last year I got a new everyday winter coat, fab new winter boots, and lots of warm socks — in fact, I can’t wait for winter in that respect!

1. New wellies for me – I’ve worn my wellies just about every day for three years now and they’re beginning to show their age – worn soles and inners, and a hole in the shoe part. They’ll be fine for pottering but I’d prefer a new pair for dog walking etc. (30/10/13 – after discovering three new holes when I wandered into the sea at Ainsdale/Southport a couple of weeks ago, I finally got my act together and got my new boots last week.)

2. Scarf (and mittens? and hat?) for John – he has reappropriated my very long scarf but I’m going to make him a little Day of The Tentacle inspired one instead. Will make matching accessories if I have enough yarn left over. (30/10/13 – I started this a couple of weeks ago – not been working on it constantly but it’s nearly there. Another few evenings should do it.)

2b. Make a jumper & cardigan for me, and maybe felted slippers for John – this are maybes more than definitelys. (30/10/13 – jumper is finished, just need to tie in ends, go me! Yarn has arrived for the jumper.)

3. Tidy out our pantry/store-cupboard cupboards to get a good idea of what we’ve got and what we need (for us and the animals) – this is a sooner-rather-than-later one so we can stock up as necessary. We order our cat and dog food online so I’ll make sure we have a spare bag in store in case there are any problems with deliveries. Chicken feed is bought locally – but they sometimes have problems getting their deliveries in bad weather so again, I’ll buy an extra bag.

4. Buy a new stick blender – our old one, which has been a faithful kitchen friend for many years now, is on its way out (think: disturbing electrical crackling from within!) and I don’t think it’ll handle another souping season without dying spectacularly, shocking us or both.

5. Make pyjamas for Mum and a blanket for Mum & Dad’s bed – share the snuggy!

What have you got to do before the cold weather kicks in?

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Winter IS coming*

Posted by on Saturday 6 October 2012 in house | 3 comments

* Why yes, I am currently reading Clash of Kings to stave off longing for the third Game of Thrones TV series ;)

Our home is lovely in summer – breakfast on the balcony in the morning sun, everywhere fresh and green, and then retreat from the heat and sunshine into the always cool office – but for us, it’s more special in winter.

I think it’s because we moved in at the end of September, when autumn was properly upon us before the super cold winter a few years ago. One of the first things we did was to have a stove fitted and that cold winter is marked in my memory by learning to split logs and chopping kindling, then curling up in front of the stove with the cats and John, it feeling like that warm room was the whole world.

I chopped my first batch of kindling for Winter 2012-3 a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me of that first winter again. Today I chopped some more, nearly filling the kindling dustbin, that’ll keep us going for a little while. I also pulled out the last of the tomato plants out of the greenhouse and rearranged a few things in there so it’s ready to house the less-hardy pots and plants from the garden (herbs, mostly) – another ‘the coming of winter’ chore. Meanwhile the chickens scratched through the leaves that have already fallen (surprisingly few at the moment) and John spent the afternoon fitting a hugely complicated curtain rail in our five-sided bay window in the living room. We haven’t had (or needed) curtains in there since we decorated in the spring but now it’s growing colder, they’re important again.

All in all, an afternoon of basic winter prep.

Have you been doing anything to get ready for winter this weekend?

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A bargain retro craft-supply cabinet

Posted by on Wednesday 27 June 2012 in house, making | 3 comments

It’s been a bit of an odd week – Monday started with a smear test (never a terribly pleasant thing), yesterday started with three dead chickens and today has started with me lugging half a tonne of woodchips down three full flights of stairs, ready to into the nearly renovated chicken run.

But it’s had its good points too – some 11 year olds declared they liked me yesterday, my sore throat is finally waning after a month and my lost purse has been found (I thankfully dropped it at the theatre, rather than on the street or anywhere else). And I also got a fab new cabinet for all my craft supplies! (Well, some of them!)

There is a strange space on our upstairs landing: not Bermuda Triangle strange but a strange space all the same. It was originally the house’s tiny bathroom, until the loft was converted and someone decided to replace the bath with a set of stairs (the bathroom is now in what was once a bedroom). What we’ve been left with is a space about 6ft square, a bulge in a corridor really.

The last people to own the house had a desk in it and used it as a small office. They grandly called it a study and we sometimes still jokingly call it “the study” (with inverted commas), and imagined putting a nice chair in there, for quiet reading in the afternoon/evening sunshine, away from the bustle of the rest of the house. It has though been used as a dumping ground – all the bathroom stuff ended up in there last year, things en route to the attic room (our spare room where I keep a lot of my craft stuff) often have a rest break there for a month or two, and things heading to charity shops usually pause a while in there too. It was a bit depressing really – make the house feel untidier than it is, and it’s already pretty untidy.

Anyway, I’ve been keeping an eye out on eBay for a bargainacious new-to-us sideboard for the dining room and last week it occurred to me that a little sideboard-esque cabinet might be the answer for the “study” too. This newly renovated retro one popped up last week and luckily for me, no one else was interested in it so I got it for a good price – bought & delivered for considerably less than my meagre budget for it.

The two wooden doors have been painted — a lot better job than I could manage — and the glass fronted shelves have new light fittings in them – I obviously won’t use them while I’ve got crafty stuff in there but maybe we’ll use it for something light-able in the future. The little top cupboard is divided for filing so I’ve used it for filing cross-stitch/tapestry canvases by type/thread count. Between those dividers and the glass doors, it’s nice and easy to see what I’ve got “in stock”.

Everything in there now had previously been piled up/in bags on the floor in there so while it may seem cluttery to some people, it’s a very big step forward for me! It’s made that room so much more usable and pleasant – it’s no longer a blight on that floor.

My next job – when I’ve finished all the other jobs elsewhere in the house… – is to replace the three narrow shelves above the cabinet with stronger/wider ones that run the whole length of the wall instead of strangely stopping a foot short, then the boxes on the floor can go on the shelves, and I can get/make a nice low window seat — a perfect little crafting space. I think my first craft project in there might be to make a rug to cover up the carpet ;)

Have you had an eBay (or other) bargains recently? Do you have a dedicated space for your craft supplies?

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The end of May already? Gosh!

Posted by on Tuesday 29 May 2012 in chickens, growing, house, meta | 6 comments

I disappeared again, didn’t I? Thanks so much to the people taking the time to check on me in comments/via Twitter/in real life etc – I am fine, just been busy and then being lazy ;) I have been keeping up with other people’s blogs (reading if not always commenting), just not getting around to writing anything myself :)

What have I been up to since I was last writing regularly in February? (Cor, that was ages ago!) Here’s a quick recap for FutureMe and anyone else who might be interested (hi Mum!) ;)


Due to the aforementioned busy-ness and laziness, I decided to go for a less-is-more approach with my growing this year. Then about half my seeds rotted in the soil (thanks for the sudden winter-temperatures in April, Weather, really thaaaaaaaanks) so it turns out I’m doing a very-much-less-is-more thing this year ;)

I’ve got a handful of courgette plants (three varieties) and a few pattypan squash/pumpkin plants too — not a huge amount but I think I’d struggle to find room for many more in our garden (silver linings and all that!). I thought all my tomato seeds were going to rot in the soil so asked for half a dozen plants from my dad (who always grows too many tomato plants) — but at the last count, about a dozen of my seeds made it too so again, I’ve got enough plants for my small growing area. I’ve also got broad beans & runner beans in decent quantities, and a few other things such as a few cucumbers, some chilli plants, some new-this-year herbs and misc salad. It’s not going to feed us throughout the summer but it’s better than nothing — and I’ve very much enjoyed not being overwhelmed by having to pot on stupid amounts of seedlings etc. Everything seems a lot healthier too since I can lavish attention (and other resources) on the few, rather than spreading it around the many.

The thing that led my initial less-is-more idea was a decision I made a couple of months ago to switch all but two of the garden beds to being perennial fruit or herb beds: I’ll grow veg in the remaining two beds and in all the containers I have around the place (and continue to make), but if I don’t get around to planting a lot of veg one year then we’ll still have a garden that is relatively productive and looks quite nice too (compared to bare soil anyway). With the exception of a couple of strawberry plants that got attacked by chickens (thanks chickens, thaaaaaaaaanks), all the fruit planting I’ve done this year seems to have gone well – I bought more cheapy fruit bushes from Aldi in the winter (2 more blackcurrants, 2 more redcurrants, 3 more raspberries), which have all taken, and various strawberries to fill out the soft fruit harvest throughout the summer. None of those will really produce much this year but last year’s cheapy bushes, not so cheap bushes & trees and strawberries are all producing some fruit, and we’re hoping that John’s apple trees will also start producing in earnest too.


The fluffy cluckers are doing fine – producing eggs like billy-o at the moment, nearly a 100% lay rate over the past few weeks which isn’t bad considering they’re all over 2 years old now. No sign of any broodiness yet this year, even in the hot spells, which has so far put any hatching plans I might have on hold. Maybe next year.

They seem to have liked all the dry weather of late – their run was a bit muddy in April but now the dry earth is perfect for scratching and dust-bathing in. They like the rest of the garden for the same reason – hence me losing some strawberry plants.

Goals for 2012

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Our mouse in the house

Posted by on Thursday 19 January 2012 in house | 16 comments

We have a mouse in the house. Or rather a couple of mice who either hate each other or like each other very much according to the squeals we heard between the floorboards last night.

We live next to woodland and we first heard the scratching/squeaks when it suddenly got cold last weekend so we’re not exactly surprised when we have rodent guests. I’m calling them mice but they’re probably actually something else – we had a single vole-ish thing nibbling on our spare bags of chicken feed in the garage last year and we had a family of shrews living in the back of our woodpile the summer before last — living there, dying in our dining room courtesy of Carla-cat’s late developing hunting skills. Carla-cat was 12 then and in a fortnight racked up more hunting “triumphs” than the whole of the feline team had racked up in the previous decade put together — when we had four cats in the old house, their hunting “success” list was: a mouse, two birds, an already dead very frozen magpie, a chipolta sausage and a piece of KFC chicken.

The cats – just Boron (who is ninety-hundred years old & toothless but was once a semi-feral stray) and Carla now – are being less than effective regarding our current rodent-adjacent situation. They’ve had a couple of “ooh sniff sniff sniff” moments but don’t react at all when the sound of under-floorboard mouse fighting/sex echoes around our empty living room. Lily-dog – who is also ninety-hundred years old – raises her ear slightly but doesn’t bother opening her eyes from her blissfully slumber. A crack team, ready to leap into action at any minute.

But because of the cats & the Lily-dog, we’ll have to be careful about how we deal with the current situation – no poisons (in case the mice die somewhere they can be eaten/sucked on) or traditional traps where the cats/dog could get caught. We’ll try to get a humane mouse trap (essentially just a one way box) but I’ve heard more people complaining about those than have had success with them.

Have you had any unwanted rodent visitors to your house this winter? If so, how did you deal with them? What would you recommend? Can I use this as an excuse to get a new cat (or five) with teeth and energy? ;)

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Our office

Posted by on Wednesday 18 January 2012 in house | 6 comments

The other day Susy of Chiot’s Run gave us a virtual tour of her home office, which she very aptly titled Where the Magic Happens. (Apt because Susy’s blog – and her new food/cooking blog Eat out of the Bag – are lovely, magical places and if you don’t visit them already, I’d highly recommend you do so!)

Despite wannabe illusionist John’s best efforts, nowhere near as much magic happens here, but I thought I’d share some pictures of our office anyway. We have both worked from home for about six years now so it’s an important space in our lives.

See that little table at the bottom of the picture? It’s 87cm square and that used to be our office in our old house. It lived in our living room and was also our dining table and, since it was right next to the front door, the place where all our junk got dumped on the way into the house. The two of us squeezed our laptops, and invariably a few cats, onto it for a couple of years — which made it all the nicer when we moved to our new house and got to have a proper, dedicated office with proper dedicated desks even if one of us can’t keep her desk tidy. That’s my actually-pretty-tidy-for-me desk on right, John’s on the left and now the little table is where our friends sit when they work from here for the day. It used to get tidied away to the far corner of the room after every visit but now we’re lazy and it stays there all the time. Thankfully the room is big enough to handle our laziness.

The room is also big enough for a sofa – which is widely regarded as Lily-dog’s sofa. The cats/us/guests occasionally sit on it but usually only if that’s ok with Lily. The sofa was an eBay bargain – we had a small budget for it but managed to find this one & get it delivered for less than half the budget – but still gets covered with old blankets to soak up the daily dose of muddy dog stench ;) I love the colour of this blanket – so vibrant even though it was my grandparents’ and thus considerably older than me!

Our office is on the “lower ground floor” of our house – our house is built on a slope so there are more floors at the back than the front – and looks out over our garden and the woods beyond. When the houses were originally built in 1897, this would have been the kitchen hence there being such a large fireplace opening:

It also means there is a “back door” opening right out into the garden, which I think is Lily’s favourite thing about the room. When it’s warm, the door stays open all day and she & the cats patter in & out all day, while we listen to birdsong & chicken noises from the garden.

We’re not very good at hanging pictures on walls for some reason so there isn’t much to share in that regard but I do like this little print John bought in London last year – socks arranged like chromosomes.

Artwork aside, we have customised our own spaces. Me with all my clutter:

And John, with his stars and insects.

Whatever you do – whether it’s paid work, self-employed stuff or homemaking, what’s your main workspace like at home?

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