Whoosh! Summer’s Gone!

We’ve had one of the best summer’s I’ve ever known here in the north east of England. We could actually plan for going to outdoor theatre performances (we went to two!) as well as barbecues, picnics at the beach etc. That’s what I call a summer! It’s rather sad to say it’s on its way out now, but we certainly enjoyed it while it lasted!

All the warm sun really helped the garden vegetables grow compared with my mediocre results last year. This summer my garden veg flourished so much so it almost became a bit overwhelming – all the massive cucumbers and courgettes (zucchinis) made me look like I knew what I was doing! 😉

We’ve been busy not only with the garden, but also our first summer season of holiday lets. That has also been quite fruitful, and we’ve been surprised how much we’ve enjoyed meeting different people and welcoming them to our beautiful, little slice of Durham. Here’s a photo of a rocking chair I was really excited about up-cycling. I had a bare corner in the kitchen and I wanted some type of comfy, cos(z)y chair. When I saw this old rocker for sale, I knew this was just what I needed! I used old denim jeans to make it patchwork and I figured this should make it hard wearing for a holiday rental. I do kind of wish I had somewhere to put it in my house!

I’m getting back into painting some furniture. In one of my past blog posts I mentioned re-decorating one of my daughter’s bedrooms in the chinoiserie style. I went around in many circles with this idea but couldn’t quite pin down what I wanted. But I do think we might have a bit of a French flavour to it. I bought the wardrobe and dresser drawers at an auction very reasonably. This way we were able to buy very strong, sound furniture for a fraction of the price of new. New life has been breathed into the furniture which now will be used and loved for many more years. Below are photos of them before and after. It was interesting how the wardrobe split into 3 pieces.

As much as I like the desk, I must confess this is just from Ikea, but painted by me!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer and I’ll just end with this little firecracker that has landed into our lives – our new Cockapoo – Cali! She’s quite a handful, but keeps us entertained – and she thinks she’s part alpaca!

I Love California Too!

We’re just recently back from our annual family vacation to LA and this time round our two, 20-something year old daughters felt like they couldn’t remember doing some of the typical Los Angeles tourist sights, so we had to set that straight! We’ve done Disneyland, Universal, San Diego, Palm Springs etc many times, but one thing we’d never actually done was hike to the Hollywood sign. We decided we would attempt this, as did loads of other people! We looked up the easiest route and headed towards Griffith Park Observatory (loved this scene in La La Land) where there were trails to follow. We got there probably just before 10am, while it was still cool, and we easily parked – thank goodness we went when we did! After we finished our hike (walk) it was getting very hot and VERY busy! I have to admit, we still haven’t actually made it to the sign, but we had some nice views of it and some good vantage points. Even though it was a wide path, it’s still uphill, hot and we didn’t have the best shoes for it.

After heading back to the nice air conditioned car, we headed to Hollywood to see Mann’s Chinese Theatre with all of the footprints and handprints and walk along Hollywood Blvd to see some of the stars on the Walk of Fame. So much going on here, they were even setting up a red carpet for an evening event honouring George Clooney. You can’t get much more LA than that!

Somewhere new for us, and unique to California that we visited, and an easy morning trip with grandparents, was visiting the San Fernando Mission. I hadn’t been here since I was about 8 years old when all schoolchildren of this age are studying California history. It was remarkably quiet from visitors, but they were set up for a family celebration which provided some people about. This is also where the famous comedian, Bob Hope is buried with his wife and other family members and there is a special, memorial garden dedicated to them. There are 21 missions up the California coast where Father Junipero Serra set up the churches to convert Native Americans to Christianity. As with most history, there are two different sides to the stories.

We also did some obligatory shopping in Pasadena and stopped for lunch at a great place called True Food Kitchen opened by Andrew Weil. This was someone our daughters had heard of for natural skincare and healthy living. To me, I found it a real authentic California restaurant with walls that slide open so the whole restaurant can be al fresco, but real people, not so much tourists or people hoping to celebrity spot – this is the type of California I love and miss.

And of course we needed to spend a day at the beach. My preferred beach was always winding my way through the hills of Brentwood, turning left down Temascal Canyon in the Pacific Palisades until the Pacific Ocean is in front of you. A very nice, quiet stretch of beach, but over here in the UK, everyone hears about Santa Monica and Venice beaches so that was where we headed. We had perfect beach weather but a huge long hike over the sand to get to the water – good for the calves, but hot on the feet!

When it was time for us to head up north for the second part of our holiday, we wanted to just get to our destination. So no sightseeing on the way – we have done Hwy 1 and the coastal routes before – so this time it was straight up Interstate 5, through the Central Valley full of farms and heat! Driving was quick and easy until you hit the San Francisco traffic, but that’s normal! We booked an Airbnb property in Healdsburg, Sonoma County. The place we chose had views of vineyards, and being married to a farmer, this would be perfect! We’ve been to Healdsburg a couple times before and it once again didn’t disappoint. So very charming and ideally located.

Since our daughters were now of legal drinking age for the states, we wanted to do a bit of wine tasting. We booked a private tour which picked us up, took us to 4 different wineries, (they were Starlite Vineyards, Lambert Bridge Winery, DaVero Farms and Vineyard and Flanagan Winery, in case you’re interested!) and then dropped us off at our place at the end. This was perfect, and we could all enjoy ourselves, and that we did! We had some very good friends by the end, and a few bottles tucked under our arms, not only of wine but specialty olive oil too! The suitcases are getting heavier!

So after all this wonderful scenery, wine tasting and California dreaming I’ve come home to have a go myself with making some Elderflower Champagne. I had seen this made on a TV show over here so I had had it in the back of my mind, but this trip definitely encouraged it! So once home it fortunately was perfect timing for the elder flowers so off we went to collect some. I searched the internet for recipes and compared them. They all seem to have the same basic ingredients, maybe adding them at different times, so it all seemed easy enough. I’ve got it stored away at the moment hoping they are fermenting as they should without exploding! Yes, I’ve heard stories of tops blowing off! We shall see if I end up with bubbly or just some nice wine vinegar!

I found this book in an independent bookshop in Healdsburg which summed up how I was feeling being back in my home state – I definitely needed this book by Nathan Turner, for when I need to feel a little bit of the California spirit on our northeast, English farm.

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!

D1F30D64-E8A2-4088-919F-BEABB5ED9701

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.

34BF122E-6FDE-4EEB-926D-BD121C316B86

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

6858489E-F839-4C48-9B8F-6D387029B207

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.

06D397B8-4BE2-4963-A3D0-5DC9FB1C08D3.jpeg

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!

5E7AE940-833E-42DA-A7D4-40E170EB90A4.jpeg

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!