Thursday 21 December 2017


Yes, I KNOW this all happened ages ago, and I KNOW I've been saying for months that I'm going to blog about it, but life's escaped me a bit! (And the whole thing of having your kitchen totally ripped out and replaced turns out to be a bit traumatic and it MIGHT have taken me until recently to even consider looking back at the whole thing, too...)

So, having debated for several years about exactly how to tackle to kitchen, the eventual decision was to strip it back to bare bones and basically start again - without question the right decision, but somewhat daunting as you might imagine. We got completely stuck on the design first off - and how to "improve" on what we already had, until someone pointed out that we first needed to question whether we were actually unhappy with the layout as it was, or not. Once we realised what things we wanted different, it became much easier - so more storage, more ability to use ALL the space (avoiding the issue we'd had previously with an unusable space in a corner) easier to maintain and keep clean, and better lighting options were the things that stood out, but we realised fairly fast that the actual layout was not so far wrong. We found a pull-out unit that would solve the problem with the dead space in the corner, and our builder came up with a clever way of making that work for us, and my lovely friend Ross who is a bit of a whizz with such things made lots of brilliant suggestions on the lighting side, which we incorporated. The only real layout change as such was to move the washing machine to the far end of the room and put the dishwasher next to it - making the whole room that much more useable. Structurally we also made the decision to get the door moved across a little and change it from a traditional doorway (which can't have a door on it anyway) to an arch, and have a pointlessly thick piece of wall narrowed down and reinsulated - increasing the space in the room from end to end and giving us slightly more useable worktop. We chose units, appliances, tiles and all the other odds and ends, and then we took a collective VERY deep breath and gave the go ahead...

As a reminder then - before the work started it looked like this:

(Sneak preview right there of the new wall colour!)

The first and third shots there are taken standing as far back in the room as it was possible to get - which gives you an idea of space. Or lack of it. *Grin*. Yes the appliances did really stick right out into the room like that. And yes the unit doors are slightly different colours above the oven. Oh and yes, the top light did dazzle you regardless of where in the room you stood, and create nasty dark spots wherever you really wanted light. It wasn't, to be blunt, great. Still though, it was more user-friendly than this:

which was the sight that greeted us when we got home the first day of work... *gulp*. Nothing we weren't expecting, but still made us realise the real scale of what we'd done!  The reason for the white goods sticking as far into the room as they had was immediately obvious too - the plumbing was a total abomination:

What on EARTH were our predecessors thinking?!

That was dealt with, the new electrics were put in, and the new doorway took shape...

Obviously while all this was happening we had pretty much NO use of the kitchen. We made a point of requesting that the washing machine was kept useable for as long as possible which was really helpful, but beyond that, all cooking and washing up was having to happen elsewhere. Washing up in a bowl in the bath is NOT fun, and neither is trying to use a very limited space in the spare room, and a microwave, to cook all your meals. The camping stove used outside on the balcony proved great for stir fries, and over all we were remarkably good about not falling into the trap of eating masses of takeaways. It was helpful that it was summer as things like salads etc are easily prepared and require no cooking of course! The arrival of our eye wateringly expensive, but stunning Silestone worktop boosted our spirits and made us feel as though progress was being made...

As you can see we opted to have the worktop taken right to the window - again this maximises space that would have been lost had we had a sill. It also makes a massive difference for a short person (me!) as it means that I can reach the windows to open them while standing at the sink, AND I can reach right into that far corner to clean - a vast improvement!

As with the bathroom, we spent where we needed to but saved where we could. Having found the marvellously cheap floor tiles that we liked and used in the bathroom we were happy to get those again. The larder simply needed plain square white ceramic - so we bought the cheapest we could find at the right size. The wall tiles were a little trickier - but basically we spotted the style we liked and then hunted for the best price. In total the tiles cost under £200. We looked at a LOT of taps, essentially to find the style we both liked. We wanted brushed steel as this would fit with the oven and fridge we'd chosen as well as the sink (brushed steel is a theme that runs through the room - the switches and sockets are all in that finish too) and eventually found the one in the picture above which fitted precisely what we were thinking of and cost just £69 from Homebase. Neither of us are fussed about "designer labels" or impressing other people with the brands we own, which helped - as it meant we were able to purely focus on the look we wanted rather than whether it was an acceptable make. Oddly enough the thing that brought this home the most was the rubbish bin - whoever knew you could, if you wish, pay over £100 for a simple two-compartment rubbish & recycling bin. ("SimpleHuman" in case you were wondering - and yes, that's the brand, not the sort of person who would pay £100 for a kitchen bin!). We found an almost identical one for well under half that amount. You will be relieved to say that it works marvellously!  On the flip-side, the worktop, as mentioned, cost a painful amount (one-fifth of our total budget!) and with the appliances we chose to buy good makes that we had confidence in.

The decision about which appliances to retain and which to replace was a tricky one from a sustainability point of view - it went against the grain to replace appliances that were still working, but on the other hand our dishwasher and Fridge freezer were both over 13 years old, the dishwasher had already been repaired (by us!) twice, and neither would go with the new kitchen in the slightest. The cooker was a much simpler question - at in the region of 16 years old one ring had already failed completely and another was starting to play up, and it had cost us nothing in the first place as it was gifted to us by the landlord of our rented flat many years ago. That was scrapped as we wanted no risk that anyone else might try to use it bearing in mind its age and that an elderly gas cooker can be a dangerous thing. The compromise on the dishwasher and fridge freezer was to donate both to a local charity that takes electricals, and the washing machine was only a few years old so we decided simply to keep that.

So, to the end result then:

The first thing that surprised us was just how much bigger the room looked and felt - just the cleaner lines I think and the fact that the light now reflects about the room rather than being absorbed into dark corners. We're pleased with the mix we achieved of industrial and homely - the sink is a HUGE deep industrial-style one, but it doesn't stand out thanks to the undermount on the worktop. Talking of worktops, we've had to learn that the new one needs careful watching to prevent things staining, but overall it's so much easier to keep clean. Storage is wonderful - we've still not quite managed to fill all the cupboard space and I now have room for a utensil tub on the worktop for wooden spoons, and also a couple of pots of favourite herbs - wonderful! The larder now has crisp white tiling and waxed pine shelves - and MrEH's idea and by FAR his favourite feature in the room I think - a rather clever light that comes on when you open the door...

As you can also see we opted for a spice rack that sits on the inside of the door in there too which helped keep the cupboards clear of small jars.

Needless to say it's not stayed quite as "showhome" as it looks above - but generally speaking it's pretty easy to keep the surfaces clear of too much clutter. What is there is stuff that gets used all the time...

 The pull out unit to the right of the cooker takes all our pans, bowls and a further utensil pot that holds things that get regular use but don't for whatever reason fit on the rack - it's so easy while you're cooking to just pull it out, grab what you need, and bump it with your knee to close it again - and I could watch our soft close doors all day!

The cost stayed relatively under control - we'd set a budget, and allowed an additional 10% for contingencies, and thanks to some delays in various areas, and the fridge we had originally chosen not turning out to be the width it was described as being, we did end up using most of that contingency, but unquestionably it was worth every single penny we spent on it. It's a joy to work in, and costs less in running costs as our appliances are all up-to-date energy efficient versions, and the lighting is LED. It's incredibly easy to keep clean and we tend to keep it far tidier as it simply looks nicer, plus we have sufficient storage for everything now. The cooker hood is a full extracting one rather than a filtration type so we get less issues with condensation, and we have less "stuff" overall as we took the opportunity to thin out the items that didn't get used. All in all - a triumph!


Friday 8 December 2017

Frugal Friday...

I was reminded by Sue over at Our New Life in the Country of the number of folk busily counting up sealed pot savings at this time of year. I assume the tradition of this happening in December originates from people using the money to spend on Christmas? That seems logical I suppose, although that's not where ours goes, but I can see for many folk the money they amass in their sealed pot might well pay for Christmas presents or some of the other additional expenditure that gets accrued at this time of year.

Some folk have a "literal" sealed pot - a jar or tin with a slot cut in the lid and the top all sealed up to avoid the temptation to dip in. We prefer to use our family of Pigs for our "coin" savings - one for my £2 coins, 1 for random change, and another for "roadkill" - the money we find discarded in the streets as we go about our business. Oh, and the sheep - he eats 5p's, obviously. Our "Sealed pot" though is in fact a virtual pot - and it's where we sweep the odd pounds and pennies from our bank accounts away to, along with cashback earned on things bought jointly, and interest earned on any of the bank accounts too. not much physical counting involved in that come 1st December, obviously, but no paying bags of cash into the bank required, either. Each time we log into our accounts through the year we simply round down the current accounts to the nearest £5 and then transfer the relevant amount to the VSP account. It means that our accounts stay at nice round figures (which pleases my slight OCD tendancies) and also builds to a nice little sum of "extra" money which can fund - or at least part fund - something exciting.

Although we don't use the money for specific Christmas related things - I've always stuck to 1st December as the start of the new "VSP Year" - I started saving this way after seeing a challenge on the MoneySavingExpert forums some years ago - that was the date they used, so I did the same, and I've just kept on that way ever since.  Both last year and this, the money saved has gone towards helping to pay for our Christmas trip to the Hebrides - this year it will be covering car hire costs, food and any general spending money, and as it totalled a satisfying £475, it will easily cover those costs! It's a great way of funding extra fun and all from money that would otherwise just get frittered, or eventually swept over to our long term savings accounts.

Our savings Pigs (And sheep!) all get counted up in the Spring - as those have always been used for our main holiday, and that has traditionally always been somewhere between Easter & June, so this worked out to be a good time to do the count. Like Sue & her Lovely Hubby we also refuse to relinquish 10% of our hard-earned to the manufacturers of a machine that will count it for us - instead we sit ourselves down and count the lot between us, then MrEH takes it painstakingly 5 bags at a time to pay it into the Building Society and it gets transferred across to the holiday savings account from there.

The other way we still save which was also something we started when we were working to pay off the mortgage is the "money we didn't know we had" - this is made up from savings made when utility bills or similar are haggled down, and the little bit extra from my salary that doesn't have a job elsewhere. Initially that was the money that we would periodically transfer across to pay off against the mortgage, now it again tends to fund the "extras" that we can justify - we're revisiting the island of Lundy with a group of pals next year - not cheap but a fantastic thing to do - and this account will be paying for that. It means that we can say "Yes please" to fun stuff without feeling guilt about raiding our longer term savings.  If someone was paying off debt money saved this way could be paid off a credit card balance, or set aside to pay a loan down early perhaps, it can be a great way of charting savings made on household bills too!


Saturday 2 December 2017

This Girl Can...

I posted previously about the "year to change a life" thing - and it was writing that post which prompted me to realise that a lot of the changes I've been making and feeling the effects of were about changes in mindset, as much as anything else. It's so easy to make excuses as to why you "can't" do things - and one excuse can readily lead to another. "I can't run because my knees are bad"  > "I can't exercise because I can't run" > "I can't get fitter because I can't exercise". When you start to take a long hard look at yourself, and challenge those thought patterns though, suddenly things start to get achievable.

I've referred here before to people saying things like "Oh you're really lucky!" when what they actually mean is "Oh you've worked really hard to make that happen" - and I guess that sort of links in to the excuses thing - it's a lot easier to assume that things have just fallen into someone's lap, than to think how they might have achieved things, as that leads to the realisation that perhaps YOU could make things happen, too, and a lot of people simply aren't comfortable to challenge themselves like that. I confess that it certainly made me feel a bit uncomfortable!

My "Big Thing" as I think I mentioned before, was running. I realised early on that it would be a great and above all cheap and easy way of getting some exercise, but first I needed to get to the point where I could try it. Walking a lot was the first step, and by the spring I felt I was ready to step things up - on grass first (see "knees" above) to make it lower impact. I made a start by using the same Couch to 5 K programme that a friend recommended - I knew she'd had great results with it. Week 1 starts with interspersing 1 minute of running with 90 seconds of walking, repeated. Sounds easy, hmm? To my humiliation I discovered I couldn't do it - just that 60 seconds was too much, and when I could achieve it, it left me literally gasping for air. I repeated the week still to no avail - if anything it was worse, and yes, I admit it, I gave up - an excuse offered itself "we're going on holiday, it won't be practical to try to do that while we're away" and that was that for a while. For some reason though, it bugged me - I still can't work out what it was that made it get lodged in my head - and I wasn't happy that it had beaten me, so a few months later I decided to have a second attempt. I'd been keeping up regular exercise - lots of walking plus circuit training stuff and similar - so I knew I should stand a better chance at it. If anything, it was worse - I simply couldn't manage it, and had NO idea why. Everyone said "Keep at it, it will get easier!" which made absolute sense - but in my case that just didn't seem to be the case, culminating in a week in October when I struggled to run for 60 seconds even on the treadmill...

Of course that week was the one before I ended up in hospital, suddenly everything became rather obvious! Severe anaemia means that your muscles - including the heart - simply aren't getting the oxygen they need to function, which explains why I was suffering with my legs feeling absolutely exhausted, struggling for breath and generally feeling unable to do the things that I felt I ought to be able to!  When I mentioned at the hospital that I'd been going to the gym and running, there was universal astonishment - apparently I simply shouldn't have been able to do any of those things, and it's only the higher level of fitness I'd reached in spite of everything that saved me from doing myself some serious damage. *Gulp*.

So, fast forward a few weeks and suddenly I've realised - I don't WANT to make excuses any more. I started back on C25K the week after I left hospital, starting on week 2 as I felt confident that I could do week 1 - I've now on week 4 which includes 5 minutes of running at a time, and I'm coping well. I may well get to the point that I have to repeat a day here and there, but that's fine. Setbacks now (Like the final run of week 3 being REALLY tough because I'd tried exercising 3 days on the trot without a rest day!) aren't phasing me. Above all I'm enjoying it - enjoying that feeling of challenging myself, and discovering that my body can do things I didn't think it could. I'm getting a buzz from being able to run that little bit further, or finishing a stretch of running to find that actually, I'm barely even out of breath. I can run - who knew?! Someone said to me last week "It's amazing how fast you can train your body to run" and they're absolutely right!

(Thanks to Jenni at Snippets of a Life for introducing me to that quote!)

If I can do this, then without question, anyone can. I'm starting to think of new challenges too - first it's to finish the C25K programme, and I want to do our local parkrun, and to do some running in the Hebrides too. For me the key was to stop thinking of the things I couldn't do and work with what I could. Running too high impact to start with? So walk. Walking too far hurts? Mix in some static bike work. When I started with the fitness stuff I couldn't even do a single full press-up - my arms just weren't strong enough, so I started with "box press-ups"on hands and knees and worked up from there. This week in the gym I did 30 seconds of full press-ups. It's taken me nearly a year to get to that point though - and giving up would have been by far the easier option.

Go on - challenge yourself - I dare you. If "This Girl Can..." then so can you!