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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Friday 27 January 2012

A Blue Peter project

After the crisis of the soggy seeds, I felt the need for a more waterproof container than an old shoe box for my seeds. The gloop we used to cover the mould in the spare room came in a a sturdy plastic tub that would do nicely, but I don't really want Polyfiller cover-all or whatever it was written all over my seed pot.

I got myself a heap of gardening magazines (received free over the last year), a tub of PVA glue, which I always think of as primary school glue (bought for sticking down flotex flooring), scissors and a paintbrush, and spent a happy evening doing this:

Decorated tub for storing seeds

I finished it with another coat of glue, for waterproofing. That made the paper a bit wrinkly, but it's not obvious, and the finished object is still a lot prettier than it was to start with.

I nearly called this post Useless Beauty, pinching Susie's blog title, because I think this is the first project I've done which makes absolutely no difference to the functionality of what I'm working on. The tub would have worked just fine as it was (once I'd cleaned it), but it's much nicer now it's decorated. I think I have room for a little useless beauty in my life.

Thursday 26 January 2012

A little decorating, while we're at it

Many house renovation projects tend to expand as other tasks get drawn in, While we're at it. So it is with the heating project. Having moved all the furniture out of a room and replaced the floorboards, the obvious thing to do is redecorate before moving the furniture back in. At the very least, floor covering of some kind must be laid. Here is the carpet we used to have in the dining room:

The dining room before we took the floor up

This carpet is not to our taste and besides which, does an extremely good job of hiding anything that's dropped on it, including pieces of dead mice, later to be found by stepping on them. We decided not to put this carpet back down.

Our kind neighbours had some Flotex going spare which they generously gave us. Before getting to the floor, though, it seemed like a good idea to give the room a fresh coat of paint.

We thought this paint was closer to the old colour. Oh well, we like the result.

There was just one more thing to do before laying the flooring. Whilst the new heating boards were the same thickness as the old old floorboards, the new old boards (distinction between the old part of the house - floorboards possibly 200 years old - and new extension - floorboards 30 years old) were thinner, so some padding would be required where the two met. Furthermore, the difference seemed to vary throughout the room. I've no idea how this happened. In some places the difference was about 3 mm, which turns out to be roughly the thickness of cork tiles, in other places less. I used a mixture of cork tiles (spares from the old bathroom floor, left in the house) and lino from the kitchen.

Bits of lino and cork used to level the floor

Now to the flooring...

Pebble supervises the laying of the flotex flooring

Sorry for the poor quality of these pictures, we've been a bit short of daylight lately. I don't seem to have a picture of the room when it was finished. We furnished it with slightly less furniture than we'd taken out of it, and it was lovely for a while. Then about a month later we decided to reclaim our bedroom. We were expecting friends to stay for the weekend and felt that it would be good to have our bed in the same room as our wardrobe so we didn't have to wander the house in search of underwear. At this point we had to take the rest of the stuff out of the bedroom, so the dining room isn't quite so tidy any more.

We'd like to redecorate the bedroom at some point, but for the time being it's OK, so a new look for the bedroom will have to be a future project. I suspect that will disappear into the distant future, but (because) it's not that important. I mean, how much time do we actually spend in the bedroom and conscious? We just put back the old carpet - perhaps should have been more careful about not folding it while it was up - and put the bed, blanket chest and chest of drawers back in there.

That left the spare room more-or-less clear for decoration. Step 1: Clear out last few things. Step 2: Strip wallpaper. Step 3: Recoil in horror at the extent of the black mould behind the wallpaper.

Mouldy wall

Actually I didn't recoil all that far. I'm getting used to mould - it's everywhere at the moment. I did try scrubbing it off, with some success, but it was still pretty grubby by the time I'd finished. The brush I used was completely worn away by then, too, so any failure wasn't for want of effort. Ian went into town to buy paint while I got started with some white paint we already had. We'd discussed colours and agreed on white for three walls and primrose yellow for the fourth. Would you trust your partner to bring back the right paint colour? I even got out the wildflower book to show him what colour primroses are...

After extensive application of a polyfiller/paint mix to cover the dark patches, the white paint went on well enough. Ian's choice of yellow was influenced by experience with the dining room, when the colour ended up lighter than we'd expected. That yellow was a bit much! I mixed in some white for the second coat and the result was very nice. And some point during this process we'd gone out and bought - yes, actually paid for - new carpet. It's cheap, felt-backed carpet, so not too much insulation against the underfloor heating, and it's purple, not that you can really see it from the picture below...

The finished room, partly furnished.

This may be the spare bedroom, but it also has to serve as the music room and craft room. It now also contains futon, desk, treadle sewing machine, spinning wheel and fabric cupboard. There wasn't enough room for the guitars and I haven't yet worked out what to do with a second stash of fabric that I came across the other day. The built-in cupboard in the corner is now full of sewing and knitting things, which frees up a drawer in the dining/room study for various computer-related bits of wire, which reduces the amount of crap we have sitting about the place. It's very satisfying to have proper homes for things!

Saturday 21 January 2012

Heating project: Register plate

Now, where was I? Ah yes, the heating is all plumbed in and working, and heat is escaping in all directions. The first step in keeping the heat in the house was to block up the gaping hole that is the chimney. This now has a relatively narrow flue pipe taking the smoke out of the house, leaving a big space all around, through with warm air gushes up to the sky. I had thought that dealing with this would be part of stove installation, and the plumber seemed to think that the stove installer would do it, whilst the stove installer seemed to think that the plumber would do it. That'll be my job, then.

The device needed here is called a register plate. It's very simple, just a heat-proof sheet of something across the chimney, around the flue pipe, closing up the gaping hole. I had my eye on a suitable piece of metal: We replaced our washing machine when the old one rusted through in a critical place, and I fancied that a side panel from the old machine would be ideal for a register plate. Step one was to dismantle the old machine, which was a lot of fun.

Washing machine in pieces

At this point I discovered that the case didn't come apart into panels easily and would need cutting, which was a bit of a pain. I tried using a hand saw, which was effective if very slow. It might have been quicker if the saw hadn't been missing so many teeth. We then got hold of some metal-cutting blades for a borrowed jigsaw. That was much quicker and extremely loud. Earplugs were deployed. Eventually I had not only cut a suitably sized sheet, but also cut a hole in it for the flue to go through.

Register plate, neatly cut out. Ian also cut a smaller rectangular piece to sit on top of and extend the short side.

At this point I was feeling very pleased with myself. Once cut, I then tried to fit the plate into the chimney. At this point I discovered why neither of the tradesmen had fancied this job. Let's take another look at that plate:

Relevant dimensions marked 'A' and 'B'

Consider that 'B' is the distance between the back of the flue pipe and the back of the chimney space (it must be, because I cut this plate to fit the space). In order to the the plate in place, the back part of the plate to the left of 'B' must pass through that space. That means that the back left corner must swing round through a space the length of 'B'. Notice the length marked 'A'. There aint no way 'A' is going to get through 'B's space. That didn't stop me trying though.

There was a bit of space for manoeuver in the vertical direction, but not nearly as much as I tried to convince myself there was. The sheet was flimsy enough to bend up out of the way, but limited vertical space meant that wasn't as useful as it might be. After a bit I gave up and cut off a piece at the back, making dimension 'A' roughly the same length as 'B'. There was still a lot of struggling to get it in place (note similar issues with the right hand back corner) and there may have been quite a lot of swearing.

Eventually I forced the thing into position, uncurled the curled-up bit, added the extra rectangle to fill the space on the left, ignored the scratches to the brass soot door on the flue, and stuffed some spare rockwool above it to assist with the heat loss reduction efforts. Apparently I didn't take a photo of this momentous occasion, but you can see the plate lurking behind the holly and sparkly things in this picture:

One slight downside to this design is that the paint on washing machines is not designed to withstand very high temperatures, and smells a bit when the fire gets really hot. On the other hand, that does let us know that the fire's getting really hot! As to whether it works, disappointingly, I can't say we noticed much difference in the sitting room temperature after this was installed, but I'm sure it was necessary. I need to believe that!

Friday 20 January 2012

The truth about last month

The last few posts here don't really convey the fact that this is a bit of a low time of year. In the run up to Christmas I was getting very stressed about the heating project, and wishing that Christmas would just go away until I finished the work. Then I realised that Christmas wouldn't go away, gave in and left the work to attend to the festivities. Since then, well, I haven't really managed to get back to it.

I'm firmly of the belief that humans should hibernate, to some degree. These cold, dark days in the middle of winter should be spent eating and sleeping, and doing very little else. It is my ambition to arrange my life so that this is possible, but I didn't quite manage it this year. At least, I have done very little, but as there's stuff that needs doing, I feel bad about it, which really isn't the intention.

Focusing on the positive aspects of life and writing up-beat blog posts is an attempt to cheer myself up, and to a large extent it's worked. The recent few days of bright sunny weather helped a lot too, coming as they did after about a month of this:

The view from the window today. As you can see, the sunshine has gone away again and normal service has resumed.

Although I haven't been doing the big, urgent jobs, I have been getting some things done, and I will tell you about those, along with the rest of the heating project, oh, sometime soon, I promise!

Monday 16 January 2012

Gather ye rosebuds...

I should be getting on with the heating project (it's insulation that needs doing at the moment) but we have a brief spell of glorious sunshine after a month of drizzle, interspersed with rain, sleet, hail, fog, and other varieties of drizzle for which I don't have words (maybe if I learnt Welsh I'd find there are more words) and it would be such a shame to pass up the opportunity for a walk.

Sheep in the low afternoon sunlight

On the way back we called in on Jasper, who was mending his roof.

Look closely. See, there he is, by the chimney.

As we walked back the sun had dropped behind the hills, so we were in the shade, and flippin' cold it was too, but the light on the far hills was still beautiful.

Thursday 5 January 2012

So how's it going then, this self-suficiency lark?

I've written one review-of-the-year post that's entirely pictures, so here are some words to go with it. I started to write an end of year review in October, not because I got confused about the dates, but because that was one year after we moved to Wales. That post got very long and boring so I abandoned it. This time I won't try to go through everything and evaluate it all - as the previous post shows, I have done rather a lot of different things this year! I may write a more systematic post about the garden at some point, but this one will just be thoughts and reflections.

When I resigned from my job to start this new adventure in Wales I decided to give it a year and judge at the end of that year whether things were working or not. I didn't have any clear idea of what criteria I'd use to decide whether things were working or not, which wasn't terribly bright of me...

I guess money was a big part of it. Giving up my income and part of Ian's was very scary, so I was worried about whether we'd be able to make ends meet. Well... we can. Money's tight, but we get by, so that's OK.

A more nebulous concern was whether I'd be able to do the self-sufficiency stuff. This led to quite a bit of anxiety about the garden in June, which I worked through with the help of blogging friends. I feel a lot more relaxed about the garden now. I might not be saying that if a storm had wiped out the whole lot, but it didn't, and some things were very successful (potatoes and peas), others weren't (squash and tomatoes) and there were some things I just didn't plant enough of (parsnips. I ate the last of the parsnips this evening. I love parsnips and now they're all gone! *sniffle*).

As well as growing things, there's been a lot of making things too, not least in the kitchen. I've found that cooking on a very low budget requires a lot more time and attention than using ready-prepared ingredients (and I'm talking things like pizza bases and chips, not ready meals) so I spend a lot of my time thinking about food. That's stating the obvious, I know, but I had to live it to really appreciate that fact.

We eat simply (determined as much by Ian's preference as by budget) but oh so well. You know sometimes you have bread that's so fresh it doesn't need anything else with it, except maybe butter? Well we have that every third day. A lot of our veg has been picked less than an hour before we eat it (peas and beans in the summer, cabbage and leeks now), and hotdogs made by wrapping dough round the sausages before baking are about as far from the convenience food kind as you can imagine. Come to think of it, quite a lot of things I've learnt to cook this year are convenience foods; chips, burger buns (I've always made burgers from scratch - just squish mince into shape), hotdogs, ketchup, and of course, baked beans (I haven't given up on those yet...)

There are other improvements to our quality of life as well. We spend a lot more time outdoors and gardening is good exercise. I found that I stopped comfort eating when we moved here. I didn't even know I was doing it before, but every evening I'd get in from work and sit down with a drink and a bag of crisps. I don't feel the need to do that any more, and I lost a lot of weight in the first few months. We're both a lot healthier and fitter than we were in our old life.

There's a lot more flexibility in this lifestyle. I always have a fairly long to-do list but scheduling is up to me. We can take time off when the sun happens to be shining, not just on days beginning with 'S'. And at this time of year, we particularly appreciate not having to get up before sunrise.

Something we never anticipated being so good so quickly is the sense of community. Some of this is here, online. I've met some great people here in blogland and on the 'Ish forum and feel I've made some real friends, even though I've never met you in real life. The internet is a wonderful invention! But I do venture out into the real world occasionally, and we've found the locals here to be very welcoming. We've made some really good friends already, which makes me feel incredibly lucky. This is not something you could possibly plan for. Some neighbours turn out to be horrible and make your life a misery, and some are lovely and you want to invite them all over for tea, which is exactly what I did one day last week, and a very pleasant little party it was too.

The best thing about this new life, though, is that I get to spend a lot more time with my husband. The working day is mostly spent doing our own things, but every lunchtime, every tea break, every I-just-fancy-a-cuddle-right-now break is spent together.

We don't have photos of us just taking a tea break, but here we are at my cousin's wedding last year