Chocolates and Christmas Markets

Just before Christmas, Jack and I were in Belgium on a short holiday.  I had been over in Ghent for business (the exciting life of a composer), so Jack joined me for a long weekend after my course finished.  We spent a couple of days meandering around Bruges, enjoying all of it’s beautiful architecture, and the crisp winter air, before returning home to the manic pre-Christmas rush.

 

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House Layout

To make up for the super wordy post last time – and to help make sense of what is where in our house before we delve into the details of our DIY endeavours over the last few months, I thought I’d share our house layout and ‘before’ photos, the way we were shown the house by the letting agency.  The decor and colour palettes of most of the rooms has since changed, but it’ll give you all an idea of what we were working with.

So here’s the layout of our house… It’s deceptive from the front how far back it goes, though the slight bend has meant that there’s no nice simple 90′ angled walls at the back of the house.

 

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So, the rooms are being used as follows:

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Ironically, the layout map provided by the agency actually summed up the paint colour on the majority of the walls of the living areas.  After living in various rented accommodations over the last 6 years, I never want to see another magnolia painted wall in somewhere I live again… We’re slowly combatting the colour, getting rid of it room by room…

The New House

Roll up, roll up, here begins the saga of the not so New House… (and a very wordy post… sorry!)

Here’s what we signed our lives savings away to last Spring.

We knew from the outset that certain things were going to be deal-breakers when looking for a house:

  • It had to have a room that I could turn into an office, so that I could work from home.
  • It had to have a garden, as I wanted to grow lots of green, tasty vegetables and pretty flowers.
  • It had to be close to rail / bus links to the city and beyond, as Jack’s the only driver, and I travel around the country semi-regularly for work.
  • It had to have a largish kitchen.  This was of course a no-brainer – the amount of time spent in a small kitchen made me realise how much I need the space to cook and bake on a regular basis.
  • Preferably had a spare room that could be Jack’s office / home studio for now, but that could eventually be turned into a nursery for future kiddos.

We began looking for houses in August 2012, and saw some that were the right size, but in the wrong area, and others that were in the right area, but waaaay out of our price range.  We did put an offer in on a beautiful larege Victorian terraced doer-upper in the next village over, but the owner decided not to move after all (looking back, we would have had an awful lot of work to do, as the house didn’t have any central heating, quite likely would have had issues with damp, and we would have had to gut several rooms before even beginning to decorate them.  It would have been a long, hard slog, and wouldn’t have been rightly timed, months before our wedding).

We hit a bit of a slump around January / February, as the market quietened down for the Winter.  We were both disappointed that we couldn’t find a house that we both liked, and were getting increasingly more glum about the prospect of not having a new house to move into after we’d gotten married.  The other reason we were getting frustrated about house-hunting was that the good houses in our area were moving like hot cakes.  They’d be put up on Rightmove, and within a day there would be back-to-back viewings booked, and within two days, there would be an offer accepted, an the house off the market.

With this in mind, we knew that if we wanted our dream perfect-for-now house,  we would have to move fast.  In March 2013, we went to view a house about 20 minutes walk away from my flat… It wasn’t decorated to our tastes (um, dark purpley-grey walls and a brown bedroom anyone?), but it was a combination of all of our needs: Perfect size, location, office space in the extension, good transport links, and beautiful old features.  We have a stained glass door y’all.  It can’t get better than that.  We umm-ed and ahh-ed about it over the weekend, and decided to put an offer in a little lower than the asking price first thing on Monday morning.  After a bit of back-and-forth, it was accepted, and we were on our way to owning our first real space of our own.

After the excitement, we started the mortgage process, and it became somewhat of a nightmare.  After the first helpful meeting, the mortgage in principal was confirmed, so the house could move forward.  However, after that it all went downhill.  The bank we were getting our mortgage with lost our supporting documents, not once, but three times, and we – along with our families, who were helping us financially – got run round in circles.  We even got contacted by the bank on our honeymoon, hassling for the documents that they had lost, after we had told them not to contact us for two weeks as we were abroad. /rant over

Lesson learnt: The quickest way to get a mortgage sorted is to complain until someone listens.  I spent four hours on the phone with the bank the week after we returned from Croatia, and suddenly, within a week of us lodging a formal complaint and demanding compensation, we got our mortgage letter confirming everything.

After that, it was a matter of weeks before we picked up the keys in early July, and started our new adventure.  We still giggle excitedly about the fact we have a house… It’s beginning to feel more real now as we make more changes to it, but for months it would feel like we were kids playing at house and being grown-up!

Whilst the house was in a great condition to begin with (no rot / dodgy stuff going on… oh, apart from some pesky woodworm in the loft space that we got sorted out immediately!), we have a LOT of work do to on it to make it our home.  I’d say, even six months in, we’re only about 5% done.  We’ll give you more details of what we hope to achieve in each room soon, with some ‘before’ and ‘in progress’ photos!

But for now, after all these words, let’s just marvel at the beautiful stained glass front door, shall we?

door*swoon*

(The surroundings look dark, but I wanted to capture the beautiful glass, so ignore my bad photography skills in this particular photo!)

We’ll be back soon with some photos of the house and how it looked when we moved in…

A New Year, A New Start

It’s been a while… Well, nearly two years to be exact… And a seventeen month gap it was!

Let’s recap:

  • Jack and I got engaged (which I mentioned in the previous blogpost, way back when).
  • I left my office job to become a freelance creative (woohoo!). Best decision ever (not to mention scariest, but definitely worthwhile!).
  • I grew tired of my flat and wanted desperately to throw paint – any paint! – at the horribly plain white walls
  • My flat then decided to spring a leak
  • Said leak got fixed several months later
  • We started house-hunting, but couldn’t find our house – you know, the one you step into and think, ‘yeah I can live here’.
  • January – May 2013 was spent crazily planning our wedding
  • In amongst which we did find The House.  We put an offer in, after much nail-biting and second-guessing ourselves… and it was accepted.
  • Wedding went off without a hitch (I’ll post some details about colour schemes / what we did to DIY our wedding and make it personal).
  • Lovely, much-needed honeymoon in Croatia.  The weather was divine, and the two weeks relaxation was more than I’ve ever had in a holiday. Ever.
  • We arrive back, close on the house, and get our new keys.
  • We start decorating said house, and move in, amongst our busy jobs.

… Fast forward to today, when I’ve finally sat down and collated photos of new house into albums, realised I should drop the ‘new’ as we’ve been living here for six months now, and THEN realised I should blog about it, as the much-beloved family have not seen many photos (my bad, guys, sorry..!).

So yes, here begins the revamp of Paintpots and Pancakes, possibly with more paint than cakes, but we’ll see if I can’t even that out along the way…

And thanks to all those people who still kept checking / reading my blog whilst I was AWOL doing other creative things.  Hopefully this page will get a bit more interesting now…

Better late than never?…

It’s been a bit quiet on this blog recently hasn’t it?… two whole months of amazingly quiet… Sorry about that.  A whole 79 days of quiet.  It’s not as long as my July – October hiatus last year, but it’s near enough, and I feel all sad for having left my blog alone for so long!

Thing is, it’s been pretty manic in the real world for me for the past few months, and rather than letting my blog take a backseat for much longer, I’ve realised that if I’m going to continue it, it’s going to have to be a little less frequently (but hopefully maybe one post a week?…).

So, what’ve I been up to since all the way back in February?… Well… I had another project to deal with, and then work got pretty busy, then I got ill, then work again, then J proposed (and I said yes, of course!), then we went on holiday to visit some friends and family, then I got ill again (seriously, I’m like some sort of bug-magnet, and not just the creepy-crawly kind.. ants seem to like me rather a lot, but that’s a whole lot of something different from being ill!), then work, then another couple of projects came along that have been taking up a LOT of my time recently, and I’ve also taken on more responsibility in work, which means, yep, you’ve guessed it, less free time (or at least, less time in which I’m not feeling so tired all I want to do is veg in front of the TV and not do anything.. ugh).

It’s all good stuff though, but with these other outside projects, AND wedding planning, you can imagine that the flat and the cooking side of things has taken a backseat completely (and embarrassingly so – I’ve promised J that I’m going to cook for him this weekend, as he’s been doing all the cooking of meals recently).

But TONIGHT I’m off to a Cardiff Blogs meet-up, which I’m excited about; It’s a great way to meet other bloggers in the Cardiff area, and chat about fun stuff (and have some free drinks).

I’ll let you know how it goes (and I promise to update the blog with a recipe later this week!).

Sarah x

 

Mocha Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve been trying to be healthy, but the inevitable chocolate / cake craving rears its head from time to time.  My usual go-to recipe when this happens is my Chocolate Fudge cake.. But I decided I’d make a healthier version of chocolate cake, in the form of chocolate muffins.  The addition of coffee was an afterthought, but they turned out tasting really nice.  They’re mocha-ish and the tang of the cream cheese frosting works well with the flavours.

Ingredients

  • 280g self raising flour
  • 110g granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 8 fl oz. milk
  • 3 fl. oz. vegetable oil
  • 1 egg

Recipe

  1. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Dissolve the coffee granules in 2 tablespoonfuls of boiling water, and leave to cool.
  3. Measure out the milk, vegetable oil and egg into a jug and whisk lightly to combine.  Add the coffee to this.
  4. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Spoon into muffin cases and bake at 180′C for 20 – 25 minutes.

Frosting

To make the frosting (optional), you will need:

  • 1 tsp soft (cream) cheese
  • water (optional – I used this to make the icing more runny.  Use as much as you want)
  • icing sugar – use as much as you want to get the consistency right.

Mix the cream cheese, icing sugar and water together until you get the consistency of icing you prefer, and then drizzle 1 tsp over each muffin whilst they’re still hot.  Leave the muffins to cool, and the icing will set.

Enjoy!

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Organising and Decluttering (New Year’s Resolution Update)

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to be more organised… I’ve been putting time aside each weekend since the beginning of January to organise and clear out my clutter. It’s a bit of a slow process admittedly – spending time doing this gets boring after a couple of hours (hence why I’m only doing it a couple of hours each weekend). So far I’ve:

  • Tidied and organised my clothes dresser
  • Cleared out 5 bags of old clothes and took to the charity shops
  • Tidied my living room bookcase
  • Tidied my wardrobe and organised my shoes and bags
  • Tidied my entrance hallway

Here are a couple of before and afters from my wardrobe and my living room bookcase.

Living Room bookcase - Before

I’m a bit funny about tidying things away – books are pretty, and I like showing them off.. But the mix of my DVD’s and books made my bookcase look messy (at least to my eyes)… So I went to IKEA and bought some DVD boxes (green of course, to go with my green colour scheme for the living room) and put all my DVDs in them.  Now all my books look tidier, and the bookcase looks more inviting.

Living Room bookcase - After

I especially like that the green is now more of a feature in the living room through the dvd boxes now on the bookcase, and they pick up the plant and green bottle on top of the bookcase as well. (You may be able to spot two copies of Game of Thrones in my bookcase – I bought the first book back in Easter last year, but the boxset of books 1 – 4 was on offer in the Black Friday sales in Amazon, so I ended up buying the set, as it was only £15, down from £39.99).

When it came to the bedroom wardrobe, I needed to sort through and declutter.  It was beginning to look very messy…

Top of the wardrobe - Before

I’d ended up putting all the bags that I didn’t use regularly (holdall, some tote bags, a rucksack) at the top of the wardrobe, out of easy reach (it’s a bit of a stretch up there for a girl of 5’4″!).  The bottom shelf of my wardrobe was even worse (how embarrassing!)… The majority of my shoes (over 30 pairs, yes I counted and was slightly horrified!) were in a higgledy piggledy heap at the bottom of the wardrobe, and I always had to root round a little to find a pair.  Something had to be done to sort this out, and make my wardrobe look neater and more welcoming every morning for me to open, so I got all my shoes out of the wardrobe, lined them up, and sorted them out.

I ended up boxing several of my shoes into the black IKEA boxes and put them up the top of the wardrobe:  I put canvas shoes and sandals in one box, and heels that I don’t wear very often in another box.  I then picked a couple of pairs that I wear regularly, and left them outside of boxes, so they’re easier to grab and put on in the mornings.

I then placed the bags in a large plastic box at the bottom of my wardrobe, within easy reach.

Top of the wardrobe - After

Bottom of the wardrobe - After

It may not look like much, but it took a while to sort out the mess that had accumulated in the top and bottom shelves of the wardrobe (the living room bookcase was a much easier remedy, taking only 10 mins).

So, after a couple of hours work over the weekend, I have managed to maintain my New Year’s resolution of being more organised and to tidy up a little round the place, so I’m quite pleased with myself!… Now if only I could find the willpower to organise my kitchen cupboards…