It’s All About the Alpacas!

We’ve had our alpacas now for a year and we love their personalities and watching them play and interact with us and each other. We often have people walking past stopping and watching them and pointing them out to their children. Their fleeces are beautifully soft as well as they keep the grass down in the little field next to our house. But something new I’ve just been learning about is how good alpaca poo is as a fertilis(z)er for the garden! Apparently it can be used straight away without even having to compost it for 6 months to a year like you need to do with other animal manures. You can basically shovel it up in your field and put it straight on your strawberries like I did, as well as my blueberry bush and while I was at it, I scattered some in my raised beds for the courgettes (zucchinis) and pumpkins! So we’ll see how all this fairs. I’m even now seeing it for sale in garden centres! So a whole market we didn’t even know about. I think I might first start with giving it away to anyone who would like a bit and maybe we’ll then move on to bags of it (maybe)!

The last 2 weeks or so, its been all about finding a male stud for our 3 gorgeous girls Veronica, Vixen and Velvet so we might have baby alpacas next spring which are called ‘cria’. We contacted a couple different people and farms and then decided to use a stud from Prince Bishop Alpacas. They have amazing alpacas and even ones that are leopard spotted! Very unusual and highly desirable in the alpaca world!

So in order to get our girls primped and pampered, ready to meet the boy(s) they needed a shearing first. Since it was quite short notice, we used a recommended Scottish woman called Jackie from Longhorn Shearers. She said she mainly does sheep and that alpaca shearing was more of a hobby! She arrived Sunday morning with all her gear and her helper for the day and got down to business. Three nice haircuts and bags of gorgeously soft alpaca wool later, and the girls are loving their freedom from their heavy winter coats!

The following day it was time to load up to go meet ‘Subtefuge’ the male stud and see if any of them fancy each other. Now the 3 girls hadn’t been loaded in a horse trailer since they arrived on our farm, so we weren’t too sure how this would go. But surprisingly, it went very smoothly, they were a little unsure, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with a little coaxing.

So off we went, a beautiful day for a drive in the English countryside, and we soon found our destination. Carole and Clyde were there to meet us and introduce us to their herd of alpacas and in particular their boys! Subtefuge was quite a sight! Big, woolly, like a big teddy bear! We were very hopeful all would go well because he had actually been sold and would soon be leaving to go to Belgium and with his beautiful markings, we were hoping we would enjoy some of his leagacy.

Carole and Clyde were so lovely, Carole gave us a cup of tea with some tasty tea cakes and scones, (all so very British and civilised!) and as you do, you talk about all things alpaca! Carole has even written two children’s books about their experiences which have great messages. Since we now have our holiday let and people like to meet the alpacas, the books have a pride of place there.

Well, I could go on about it all, but the long and short of it is that the girls were just not interested! At all! We left them there for a week’s holiday and Carole and Clyde kept trying them together each day, but let’s just say, the girls were not receptive. Maybe they just weren’t quite mature enough because their animal instincts just didn’t kick in.

So the best laid plans, and all of the excitement of it, and we’re back to square one. We may try again later in the summer, or just wait until next spring. You want to time it so the young cria get the most of the spring goodness in the grass, so waiting too late in the summer and they would miss out on that because the gestation is eleven and half months.

So even though it didn’t work this time, we are happy to have out girls home, we’ve all learned a lot along the way and we’ll just have to think of it as a practice run!

Re-Cycling, Up-Cycling, Bi-cycling!

Lots of varied ‘cycling’ going on in our home! There’s been so much news lately about how out of hand single use plastic has become, that I think our heads are finally coming out of being buried in the sand. (Sorry about the unexpected pun there ;-\ ) I hope that we’re all making some life changes, whether it’s no longer using plastic straws, using re-usable coffee cups and water bottles, or one of our efforts is having a milkman again. Our house uses a fair amount of milk every week, and those big plastic milk containers are awful! We were lulled into the false sense of recycling with separating our rubbish, but really why have these plastic bottles at all?

It took a bit of ringing round to find a milkman who delivers in our area, but to be fair, the different numbers we rang gave us a route to find our own milkman. The lack of effort in the past has always been the cost, and it is a fair bit more than the big supermarkets, but it has gotten to a point where we are fine paying a bit more to stop our household’s contribution of 200+ plastic milk containers being dumped every year. So now every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we find our nice pint glass bottles waiting on our step for us. We thought we might be woken up as he comes up the gravel drive, or surely the dogs would hear him and bark, but nope, all very quiet, not a sound! Maybe not the best watch dogs after all!

Up-cycling is still going on with me. I’ve got quite a nice little queue (or line for my American friends) of furniture waiting for some TLC. I’ve re-painted our kitchen bar stools so the colours tie in a bit better, they have a bit of a Scandi look I’ve been told, which I quite like! I had chalk painted them before, but our feet rubbed on the bottom rung so much that most of the paint had come off, so this time I’ve also put 3 coats of varnish on to see if this helps hold the paint in place. I guess it’s only common sense that areas that are used and battered a lot need more protection.

I’ve also re-done a table top to give it a more white-washed, farm-y look. It had been one of my first pieces that I put chalk paint on, and this is just an Ikea table. I didn’t re-paint the legs, just sanded the table top and white waxed it, and again 3 coats of varnish.

And for my latest up-cycle project, I’ve just completed this little hutch I had shown on a previous blog post. I ‘hemmed-and-hawed’ over what colour to use. Initially I wanted to go for something a bit bright and was all set for Annie Sloan’s Provence blue which is quite bright, but I chickened out and settled on Annie Sloan’s Duck Egg Blue. I’m very happy with my end result, and I think the brighter blue would have been great too, I just need a little more gumption next time! It’s funny though how our tastes shine through at times without always realising it. After it was all finished and I stepped back and looked at the whole dining room together, I could see how the wood tops all have some type of flower/garland design. I wish I could say I had it all planned out for this, but I’m afraid it is just a happy coincidence! Anyhow, now we have a place to store some music books and my vintage tea set!

I also should tell you in case you’re interested in giving up-cycling furniture a go, I rarely like what I’m doing when I’m up to my elbows in paint! I’m usually thinking, ‘what have I done? This looks awful, I should have just left it, etc.’ But by the time it all comes together and put in situ, I end up really pleased with the end result – so don’t give up, see it to the very end!

Now for the ‘bi-cycling’ part of this blog post! Well, nothing much to post yet, so what I’m hoping is that because I have now put it in print, it will be the impetus to get on the bikes and go! My hubby and I both have decent bikes, but due to knee problems and winter weather, they have just been gathering dust! So time to hose them off and hit the trails! We do have quite a nice ride that can end at a pub before heading back, so I think this might be our first venture out again – we all need a ‘carrot’ or in this case, ‘a pint’ (and not the milk variation!) dangling in front to urge us on! So happy cycling in whatever way you do it!

Hurry up spring, we’re waiting!

Spring is taking a bit of coaxing out of the winter gloom, but we are getting a bit of spring fever! Today the hubby helped move out some of the garden furniture from my greenhouse to make room for the beginnings of seed trays. I had a bag of compost that had been opened, but still quite full, and as I went to dive in with my trowel, there was a sweet little nest! No eggs, but so beautifully made with moss from our grass and then you could see the horse hair it has used to line it. I’ve left the nest in the green house in case the mummy bird comes back, but I’m afraid I do have my doubts now that things have been shifted around.

So I’ve started off the gardening with tomato seeds and cucumber seeds, and I know I’m way behind last year with planting so I hope I can catch up! My tomatoes did really well last year, but the cucumbers were healthy and strong until I moved them to the greenhouse. They just didn’t thrive and shrivelled up. So I might do things a little differently this year. Otherwise its just been the chores of clearing flower beds and weeding, and still loads to do!

Spring has also sprung for the our alpacas, Velvet, Vixen and Veronica in that they had their feet trimmed – they need some grooming so they’re ready for a male to visit them later in the spring. We’re hoping for some baby alpacas, (they’re called ‘cria’) for next summer. We’re looking into different studs on offer, we want to make sure they have a nice personality that our girls will like! 😉

I’m also still working away with different furniture upcycles and thought I’d post a couple photos of my one daughter’s bedroom that we updated from hot pink and black to a more grown up look. I painted her dresser drawers and wardrobe gray with silver wax, then I used a mandala stencil with this type of paste from Autentico called ‘Terrapieno’. It was quite fun to use, with a soft, light texture like marshmallow. You wipe it over the stencil, then I used an old credit type card to scrape the excess off and it gives a raised, 3D effect. I was really happy with the result and it was a fun process I know I’ll want to try again. Apparently you can add paint to it to give it colour as well. I think I’ve seen something similar to this on the internet but it’s called wood icing. I’d recommend giving it a try, I know I’ll find something else to use it with and it’s something new for my furniture arsenal!

The dressing table above is from Ikea that had been a dark grey. As you can see, I painted it white with a silver wax and added new knobs. I also found an old gold gilt mirror in a second hand shop that I also painted to match the table. But I think what really helps this look good is adding the glass on top. Not too expensive, but it will help when makeup spills and gives it a professional look.

So, let’s hope spring is truly here with summer just round the corner! We’re keeping a watch for the arrival of the swallows making their long trek from winter in Africa, to us for nesting and the summer. Then we will know spring has arrived!

Thawing Out

Well we survived the ‘Beast from the East’, and we’ve just said good-bye to it’s younger brother, ‘Mini-Beast’, so lets hope THAT is the end of winter! As I’m writing this, the sun is out with some blue sky and it feels so good for the soul! In fact, some of my photos might not be the best quality because of the sun’s glare – but who cares – the sun is out!

I find that I often like to have a couple projects going at the same time because there’s always something that needs drying or some supply I need to buy, as you can see below with one curtain being worked on while my latest chair is drying. I probably do take a bit of a risk having paint and fabric in such close proximity. I hope my luck lasts!

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So the curtain has gone up in one daughter’s room and the chair is the beginning of the re-do of the second daughter’s bedroom. The look we’re kind of going for in her room is old, faded French provincial (I’m making this style up, but along the Chinoiserie look). Some of you who are clever enough will know what Chinoiserie is, but for those like me who had no clue, Chinoiserie is from 18th century Europe characterised by Chinese patterns or motifs.  You can often seen patterns like this on walls or old wardrobes in Europe, but then looking closely, you realise they’re scenes from China. I’ve included some images from google to give you an idea.

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Here are a few photos of the second chair finished. I’m really pleased how they’ve both turned out and both quite different.

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On the project horizon for me now is to finally begin my second wing chair. I have been using delay tactics with this by doing smaller, easier chairs to continue practicing with unpholstery and becoming more familiar with using my awesome compressor staple gun! I have no more small chairs to get on with, so the arduous task of stripping this chair needs to start! It will take quite a few long hours to get the gazillion staples out, which is why I have this other project that I’ll work on when I need a break! I found this cute old hutch in a shop that was closing down, at a cut rate price. I had been keeping my eyes peeled for something like this for my daughters to store their music books etc. I really loved the inlay pattern so I have been thinking of how to update it, but not lose this lovely part. So we shall see how these projects go.

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And in between these up-cycles, my garden is in desperate need of attention! The weather has not made it easy for this California native to get out and clear the old beds, but with this bit of glowing sunshine, I think my motivation is coming back! I am completely a fair weather gardener – I love to be working outside when it’s nice, but come the cold or rain, I’m back inside – that’s when the old California bones show themselves! I usually go in for a cup of tea, and then realise I need to get back out, rain or shine – and that’s the British way!

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Keeping Busy . . . And Warm!

The BIG chill has arrived, or as they call it the’Beast from the East’! It is very cold and very snowy, and typically just before the big freeze, we actually had a few days where you could feel spring wasn’t too far away! I’m just hoping the old saying of ‘In like a lion and out like a lamb’ will ring true!

So, I’ve been off the blog posts for too long, partly due to a two week holiday in the Far East. A wonderful trip, some beautiful beaches, delicious food and very hospitable people (sigh), but it also takes a week to get caught up on everything. I have to say, while away, I was making mental plans for projects at home, even though I know we’re supposed to not think about such things when away, but I guess I’m enjoying the furniture up-cycling so much, I just can’t stop!

So . . . What have I been up to?? Well, firstly, with our holiday let, we were planning on making our own headboards for the Super King beds, it was just a matter of gathering all of the supplies together, and then actually DOING it! Well, we did, and we have, and we’re quite pleased! I was toying with the idea of adding studs or trim, or making a more interesting headboard, but then we have to remind ourselves it’s basically a rental so don’t overdue it – it might just need to be re-done sooner than we think! (Hopefully not!) They certainly help to finish off the bedrooms. Have a go yourselves and look at what some people get up to on Pinterest. Below you can see it was only a matter of cutting to size then layering the ‘sandwich’ together! Since it was so large, I used some spray adhesive to keep things from shifting. So, the layers were plyboard, foam, wadding, fabric. I stapled it all in place then my hubby sourced some brackets for it to slide into on the wall. That was the hardest part, but we managed with only a couple pencil marks on the wall! 😉

The other project on the go is a make-over for one of our daughter’s bedroom. She has grown out of her hot pink and black room and wanted something a bit more grown-up. She is now 21 and realises that she won’t be here forever, so she has allowed me to have my ideas incorporated too. I will show you a few pieces I’ve been working on, but the final ‘reveal’ will have to be in a later post! She has gone for a statement wall of navy blue, so that has been our starting point. I always find it fun the way a room evolves as you go along. I love how her chair has turned out which has prompted me to paint her desk to match. Below you can see how the desk/dressing table is a work in progress!

And here is her chair with a before and during photo . .

. . . And the finished product!

So this is all keeping me quite busy with the storm and snow raging outside. I will need to start thinking about the garden soon so I have some blog posts about something other than furniture! In fact, I have been given some seed potatoes that I have ‘chitting’ on a window sill – it will be my first time growing potatoes, so we shall see! But first, the ‘Beast from the East’ needs to head back to Siberia!

From Farming to Holiday Lets

The launch of our holiday let is now imminent! Woo hoo! We have some family members who are staying for a couple of days to test drive things for us, see that everything works as it should, beds warm and comfy etc. It has been a long time coming from bat surveys, archaeological digs, architects plans, builders, electricians, painters etc! Then comes the shopping for it! Part fun, part work! I really enjoyed choosing colours, tiles etc. But the work comes when you make mistakes and have to keep going back to return or exchange bedding 3 times! I know my bed sizes now! I know the difference between a King bed and a Super-King bed! The other hard work of the project is the cleaning! Just when you think you’re finished, you see something that hasn’t been quite finished such as a skylight window that needs paint scraping off, and then after that job is done, everything seems to need doing again! So I’ve quickly taken these photos before it all needs cleaning again! Hope you enjoy the ‘tour’ and maybe we’ll be able to welcome you to our farm in the very near future!

Kitchen and eating area – shown partially on a previous blog post!

Living area with log burner to keep warm and cos(z)y! Sorry about the two spellings, if I spell it the English way, my American friends will think I have a typo, and if I spell it the American way, my English friends will think I’ve forgotten where I’m living! 😉

1st Bedroom with shower

2nd Bedroom with Bath

3rd Bedroom with shower

Still a few bits and pieces to come, such as a couple of paintings for two of the bedrooms, headboards I’m planning on making, and the garden area is turfed, but needs some planting and spring love! So, on a final note, one bed is a double, the other two are super king, or they can be separated into 2, 3 foot single beds. Lots of options for families and friends!

Out With The Old, In With the Re-Newed!

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry its been so long, I’m sure many of you feel like I do, of ‘Where has the year gone??’ So instead of lamenting too long over this it’s time to get busy and get on with the new year! In between all the eating, celebrating and recovering, I have managed to work on a few projects in between the festivities! I have actually managed to finish my upholstered armchair and I have even made a matching footstool! Super happy with it – the robin on this was actually my practice-one for the chair, so very easy! Don’t imagine me with my feet up though! The footstool is now being used by our little old doggies (a Jack Russell and Westie) who need a help up onto the couch! Little did I know how handy it would be! 😉

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned that we’re converting several of the old farm buildings into holiday lets. Farming is also still happening, but diversification is needed for most farms to keep the wolf from the door! Our first one is very nearly finished and it has been fun to upcycle some of the furniture for it. I really had a strong desire to create a cos(z)y booth for the eating area so I scoured Pinterest for ideas. It became a bit trickier than we anticipated with logistics of stairs and doors, but we got there in the end! I visited a second-hand shop and found an old pub/restaurant table to brighten up, then bought a few chairs from my friend Kelly to paint and upholster and I also made the seat cushions for the booth seats. I’m very happy with it all, and I hope it gives our future guests a comfy place to gather together over a glass of wine or morning coffee. The pictures below show the dark, dingy wood before the sanding and painting began. Note the picture behind – the Golden Gate Bridge – nice view for a winter’s day!

These chairs also seem to have the look of spending time in a restaurant/pub. At first they don’t seem too bad, but when you strip them and see inside, you’re glad you have because they were manky!

So here is the table and chairs in their new home – our soon to be holiday let! I hope many people enjoy sitting around you!

Another fun upcycle I have recently done was buying a box of old mis-matched mirrors (again from my friend Kelly!) and we both had the idea of a mirror collage on a wall. I had a look at the chalk paint colours I had already, and then chose a selection. I have to say, it was almost embarrassingly easy! Two of them I painted with chalk paint and then with a damp cloth, gently wiped some of the paint off. This allowed some of the gold to show through which gave a nice effect. For another mirror, I painted it white and then put some silver wax on it to bring out the detail and give it a whole new look. And for another two, I painted them blue and yellow and then used a white wax to dull the yellow and it gave the blue one a bit of a white-wash effect. So a box of junky mirrors have been saved from the tip and re-loved! So here’s to a new year and new projects!