Home & Garden archive

DIY, decorating and de-cluttering; home improvements and recipes: anything vaguely home or garden related gets chucked in here.

Jumping Head First

The older I get the faster time seems to fly by, but nothing could have prepared me for the whirlwind that has been the past 6-7 weeks.

I started 2018 with good intentions. With the gift of a year’s gym fees from Gaz for my birthday, and a vague plan to get up at 6am each morning to run a few miles, I was going to be fit and active. I’d set goals for work, my bank balance was starting to settle after some client chaos towards the end of the previous year, everything was swell.

Then, on the spur of the moment, we decided to go and view a house.

With my mortgage deal ending in March and the kids getting to the point where sharing a bedroom is impractical, a house move has been in our near future for a while. I’ve had my eye on the local property market for 18 months or so; I had my list of requirements and I was ready to house hunt. Not ready enough though, it would seem, because having decided to view a house — and realising it ticked a variety of boxes, including ones we didn’t know needed ticking — the chaos that ensued knocked me completely for six.

We jumped head first and made an offer on the New House and after a small amount of haggling, we were accepted with the New House being removed from the market on the condition that we put our house on the market and sold it within six weeks. A generous move by the seller, but still… six weeks to tidy, market and sell a house that was definitely not ready to be sold.

And so my 6am starts to go for a quick run suddenly became 6am starts to clean the house for a viewing. My gym time became “waiting around for the photographer” time. My already busy calendar quickly filled up with appointments, packing, prepping and tidying.

We finally had an offer on ours last Thursday: the eve of the 6 week deadline. We countered and received a follow up offer which we accepted on the Friday, bob on 6 weeks. Nothing like cutting it close to the bone. Now we just have to hope that the legal bits ‘n’ bobs progress smoothly and we can exchange and complete without a hiccup. I have every limb & digit crossed…

Lead photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

Oh, hello February

Alright me duckies, how are we all?

You may notice that things look a bit different. I’ve gone a bit old skool, drawing inspiration from some seriously old layouts of mine. Kudos if you have been around long enough to remember the originals. I’ve not finished faffing with it but it’ll do for now. Or until I get bored. Anyway…

Been so busy plodding along in Jem-World that I’ve not thought to blog. January went by in such a blur, mostly as I hid from reality trying to forget about the massive tax bill. Getting that paid was a weight off my shoulders and I’ve been bumbling along ever since.

Some ongoing small wins though:

Having realised early on in January that I’d put on 20lbs over the past 6 months or so I decided to cut the crap and sort myself out. I immediately cut out all drinking at home except for 1) a pre-arranged wine tasting and 2) sharing a bottle of bubbly on valentine’s day. On top of that I even managed a night out complete with crappy dancing completely sober. This nicely ticks the “drink less” goal for the year (for now). Funny how telling myself to drink less achieved sod all but the minute there’s a reason to give up and I don’t even notice not drinking.

Some tweaks to my mail form site saw my rankings pick up early in January and pushing new content in that direction has seen an increase in premium sales over the past few weeks. I also released a new version of the premium form with some extra protection (CSRF specifically) and switched out the XHTML to HTML5. It’s not paying my mortgage yet, but if I can maintain this I might actually be able to stop working weekends again!

My budgeting is staying mostly on track, having a) cut down on the booze and b) cut down on eating out, takeaways etc of late. Desperately trying to maintain this as we head rapidly towards March.

In less ‘winning’ and more ‘failing’ news:

I’ve completely failed to do any training for my upcoming May marathon, which is going to leave me in a sticky situation if I don’t get my arse into gear. I’ve entered a few races between now and then to FORCE me to run (including a half marathon in just a few weeks!) but if I don’t step up my game, that marathon is going to be a long and painful walk.

My car has got another bloody coolant leak and its MOT has expired, so not only am I not able to get to the cat rescue but I can’t run errands or basically anything that isn’t within a couple of miles of home. This is leaving me feeling VERY penned in right now.

My upstairs plumbing (not a euphemism) has sprung a leak and needs fixing.

Usual life shit really – still, it could be worse. And so I continue to plod along.

Recipe: Chocolate Orange Cake

A blogger I follow on twitter recently tweeted a link to her frugal chocolate orange cake made with a jar of value marmalade (amongst other things).

I didn’t have time to read through the recipe when I first saw it, but it came to mind when I was stood in my kitchen earlier this week desperate for some comfort food. With a full jar of ‘reject’ marmalade in the cupboard (Oliver asked for it, and then decided it was too tangy) I was inspired to experiment. And tada, I came up with my own (not frugal) chocolate orange cake recipe…

chocolate orange cake slice


For the cake
250g butter (room temp)
150g caster sugar
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
80g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb. soda
370g jar of marmalade
3 tablespoons milk (optional)

For the filling/icing
2 tablespoons shredless marmalade
250g butter (room temp)
500g icing sugar
2 tablespoons orange extract (I used this one from Tesco)
orange gel food colouring (optional)
dark chocolate chips (optional)


Turn the oven on to preheat – 160 degrees C (150 fan oven).

Cream together the butter and sugar until completely combined. Next, add the 4 large eggs and gently mix.

Add the jar of marmalade and stir in, slowly adding sifted self-raising flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder as you go until all of the dry ingredients are mixed in with the creamy sugary eggy goo.

At this point you may find the mixture is quite thick/stiff – I added a splash of milk at this point to loosen it up (approx 3 tablespoons) but it would be fine without.

Pour the mix into lined, buttered 9″ sandwich pans and pop into the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes depending on how good your oven is. Test by inserting a skewer (or a piece of dry spaghetti) into the centre of the cake: if it comes out clean, it’s ready.

Leave to cool completely before turning out of the pans.

Make your delicious orangey buttercream icing by mixing the butter, icing sugar, orange extract and food colouring. I suggest adding the icing sugar slowly or your kitchen will look like an explosion in a cocaine factory. If you don’t have food colouring, or want to avoid the E numbers, the icing will be fine (just paler).

Once the cake is completely cool, spread the shredless marmalade on top of one of the cake layers. Spoon roughly a third of the icing onto the shredless marmalade, spreading carefully so as not to cause the orangey marmalade goo to ooze down the side of your delicious chocolate orange cake.

Place the second cake layer on top and refrigerate for about half an hour (it’s easier to ice a cool cake).

After your half an hour is up, spread a very thin layer of icing around the outside of the cake and on top, cleaning off the knife/spreading implement between each go. Don’t worry too much about crumbs – this thin layer will catch the crumbs making it easier to add the rest of the icing. Refrigerate again for 10-15 minutes.

Spread the rest of the icing evenly around the sides and top of the cake. Finish off with a handful of chocolate chips. Tada! One chocolate orange cake.

chocolate orange cake

Depressing money crap

I’ve just come off the phone to my current mortgage provider. I rang up to see how much I’d likely be able to borrow if I wanted to purchase a larger house using equity in this house as a deposit.

I was hoping that because of my regular overpayments to my mortgage as part of my ‘mortgage free in 5 years‘ thing, and my reasonable income for a working mother of 2 with my experience level, that I might be able to secure at least enough to upgrade from my tiny 2 bed to a medium sized 3 bed.

Unfortunately, because I am now fully self-employed, any income I’ve received over the past few years in full time employment no longer count. Because I spent much of the past 2 years in full time employment with only self employment on the side, my official SE income for 2014-15 for example is just £1700 (despite overall income being much, much higher).

So, as it turns out, despite my reasonable financial status, repeat steady business and an average income more than enough to sustain my house & kids etc, I don’t even qualify for my existing mortgage deal let alone a new one.

I understand why affordability checks are in place on mortgages: to prevent people getting in over their head and ending up bankrupt and the bank losing money. But it makes absolutely no sense to me that they can’t look at the bigger picture in terms of income and net worth. Because I blew all my savings on a website I can’t even put together a bigger deposit.

Time to kick my mortgage free thing into gear and get back on the money-saving track, I guess.


As you may have figured out from my sporadic blogging of late, I’ve been a wee bit busy. Cramming in ALL THE WORK before Christmas so that I can have a proper holiday; trying to get kids in the right place at the right time for nativities and dinners and parties and this, that and the other; car disasters (mid section of the exhaust fell off, brakes and tyres buggered); home disasters (dishwasher keeps flooding the kitchen, oven is still fucked from last Christmas, tumble dryer jams the timer… nothing like a fire risk to keep you on your toes) and all the bits in between.

I’m only blogging now because technology has chosen THIS MOMENT, where I have literally got more things to do than minutes to do it in, to have a dick fit and completely fail to work. My internet connection is sporadically dropping to the speed of dial-up and my once trusty & reliable laptop seems to have decided it’s had enough and is mysteriously ramping up RAM usage and dying on me every 4-6 hours. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m TERRIBLE at making back-ups I’d have taken a bloody hammer to it by now.

I have done very little in terms of Christmas prep, given the bare minimum of thought to my kid’s presents (basically throwing any old crap into my Amazon basket and hoping for the best) and even then not bothering to unpack it when it arrives: my hallway looks like Santa’s bloody grotto and I daren’t open any of it because if I do that I have to find somewhere to hide what’s inside. The only problem with this method of storage is that I have genuine non-Christmas deliveries somewhere (pet food amongst others) which is kinda necessary for my animals but could be in ANY of the boxes… and knowing my luck, the last one I investigate.

Oh well, it’s nearly Christmas. Ho ho ho. Now where did I put those mince pies…


I’ve just seen this tweet on twitter (obvious statement is obvious):

which got me thinking about spiders, as you do (and also wondering where that little guy’s other leg got to?) They’re a hot topic in our house at the moment as it’s that time of year where they seem to appear on every wall, window ledge and — quite frequently, in our house, and I don’t understand why — in the bath tub.

Now, I’ve always been pretty scared of spiders. Jump-out-of-my-skin scared. Throw-a-shit-fit-if-one-lands-on-me scared. And then I met Gaz, and through Gaz I met Rosie, his Chilean rose tarantula:


Turns it, it’s quite hard to remain frightened of tiny house spiders when you live with a tarantula. In fact, it suddenly becomes quite obvious how much of a MASSIVE BABY you are being when something several times the size and infinitely more scary looking is happily dwelling mere feet away from you.

Which is a good thing, because now I’m not jump-out-of-skin, throw-a-shit-fit scared. In fact, now I am chief spider remover, even going so far as to pick the little buggers up in my hands and move them to safer places (i.e. anywhere that is not in the bath). This is having a brilliant (positive) effect on the kids, with Olly even asking for a spider to be placed on his arm earlier. It was dead, but a positive step is a positive step.

The only problem, though, is that now I feel empathy for the weird little critters, and in a house with four cats … well, you can probably see why that would be an issue.

Recipe: Eton Mess Cake

Yesterday was Gaz‘s birthday and in true birthday tradition (AKA any excuse for cake) I decided to bake, with the “help” of the kids. Normally for this sort of occasion I would find a recipe weeks in advance and fail attempt to make something spectacular. However, with work and kids to contend with, time was not on my side, so I thought I’d modify my basic victoria sponge and turn it into Eton Mess in cake form. Here goes…


For the cake

  • 200g butter
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the filling / decoration

  • 1 tub of mini meringues
  • 300ml (ish) double cream
  • 3 tbps icing sugar
  • 300g (ish) strawberries
  • A tablespoon or two of seedless strawberry jam or some nice strawberry coulis


  • Two 8″ or 9″ round cake tins (I can’t find my tape measure)
  • Bowl and spoon or your nan’s Kenwood Chef
  • Greaseproof/baking paper OR butter for greasing

Top tip!
You can make a fantastic, rich & tasty sponge for the majority of occasions by using equal parts butter, flour and sugar with 1 medium egg for each 50g. Don’t be afraid to experiment: e.g. make a chocolate cake by replacing 50g flour with 50g of cocoa powder.


Is it just me that thinks ‘method’ makes it sound like a science experiment?

  1. Stick your oven on to pre-heat at around 150-170C.
  2. Either by hand or with a magic mixing machine, combine the butter and the sugar in a bowl until it turns into a creamy soft sugary goo. Fish your childrens hands out of the bowl and remind them that nobody wants to eat cake that’s had fingers poked in it.
  3. When combined, slowly add the egg, mixing gently as you go. Remove the chunks of broken shell from the mixture. When the egg and buttery mix is combined, add the vanilla extract.
  4. Sieve in the flour and baking powder.


  1. Gently stir the flour into the mix until smooth and delicious looking. Fish your childrens hands out of the bowl and remind them that nobody wants to eat cake that’s had fingers poked in it.
  2. Line your baking tins or grease with butter. If I’m making a cake with butter as the ‘fat’, I just grease and don’t usually have any problems getting the cake out of the tin.
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins roughly equally and using the back of your spoon, level it out as best you can. Give the spoon and bowl to the children for “cleaning” duties.


  1. Pop the cakes in the middle of your pre-heated oven with the kid’s fish fingers that they’re having for tea, and cook for around 20-30 minutes. To test if the cake is done, stick a skewer / cocktail stick / piece of dry spaghetti into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean it’s cooked. If it’s black, you’ve burnt it.
  2. Let the cooked cakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Answer the question “is it cool yet?” 500 times a minute with the word “no”.
  3. Remove the cakes from the tin and allow to cool on a rack. I cheat at this point and stick the rack in the fridge because the cakes cool quicker, and cold cakes are much easier to trim…
  4. When completely cool, remove any bumps and lumps from the top of the cakes as best you can (it doesn’t have to be perfect, nobody is going to see it under the cream anyway) using a sharp knife or cake trimmer thingy (posh git).


  1. Whisk the shit out of your double cream. As it begins to firm up, whisk in the 3 tablespoons of sieved icing sugar until the cream is fairly stiff and leaves a hole when you stick your finger in it (for “testing purposes”). Don’t tell the people eating your cake it’s had 3 pairs of hands in it.
  2. Slather your jam or strawberry sauce on the top of one of the trimmed sponges and then chuck a few dollops of cream on top. Spread it around using the back of your (now washed) spoon — or a palette knife if you’ve got one. If you’re really fancy, you could also pipe the cream on to the cake at this point. Snob.
  3. Break 2 of the merginues over the cake, sending lovely crunchy meringue bits everywhere.
  4. Chop up a handful of strawberries into quarters and chuck them on top of the cream meringue layer, resisting the urge to dip spare strawberries into the cream as you’ll need that later.


  1. Stick the other sponge on top, pressing it down slightly to make sure it’s not going to slide around (but not so hard that your middle cream layer spurts out the sides)
  2. Dollop lots more cream on the top, vaguely attempting to spread it round. Decorate with several mini meringues and whole strawberries. If you were able to buy strawberry coulis you might consider drizzling it over the top cream layer. I did not think it’d work quite as well with blobs of jam…



Rachael Hill: Britain’s Best Allotment

After blogging at the beginning of the month about my belief in autonomous parenting and independent play, a big part of which involves chucking the kids in the garden and letting them get on with it…

…I was really excited to read about the recent winner of ‘Britain’s Best Allotment Competition‘. (The competition ran from Feb until July 2015. Created by HIPPO, national waste management experts and inventor of the HIPPOBAG, to generate greater awareness of the many benefits of owning an allotment.)

Anyway, the winner was a lady called Rachael Hill, who keeps the allotment with her family. Geoff (dad) does the manual labour, and then 3 of Rachael’s children help out every day as well as having their own raised beds, which has encouraged them to play independently and learn by themselves, and given them responsibility for their own little patch (and produce!)

Rachael's boys on the allotment
Rachael’s boys on the allotment

But a family allotment is not what fascinated me about this story: it’s the fact that Rachael is an Ofsted registered childminder, and does a lot of her minding ON the allotment. This is awesome to me for two reasons:

1) Because I occasionally make an effort to grow veg etc — although the chaos of the past couple of years has seen my raised beds turned over to weeds and brambles! — I know how much hard work is involved in keeping just a small amount of land weed-free, watered and tidy. To do this with an entire allotment whilst juggling work and family etc is impressive.

2) Because despite encouraging my kids to get in the garden and get dirty, they mostly kill more plants than they grow. To be able to turn that around and grow your allotment to prize-winning status with the “help” of both your own kids and mindees is doubly impressive.

My two in their native habitat: Oliver, 16 months "helping" and Isabel this weekend surveying her jungle
My two in their native habitat: Oliver, 16 months “helping” and Isabel this weekend surveying her jungle

Rachael won £1000 of gardening vouchers and a HIPPO clear-up for the whole allotment site. The members of the allotment committee are working to tidy up an area with a high level of fly tipping on the site so that they can turn it into a community area for all members to enjoy, and a much safer environment for children.

I have to admit reading about Rachael’s win has inspired me to get off my bum and finally do something about my back garden, but it’s unlikely I’ll be winning any prizes any time soon…

My Ideal Home

With at least two of my friends in the process of buying a house at the minute, and my place full to bursting with accumulated STUFF since Gaz moved in, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking lately about what I’d like out of a home.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not moving any time soon. For starters I’ve only had my mortgage about 6-7 months, and securing that was hard enough. Secondly, now that the bulk of my income is from self-employment I’d need to seriously beef up my accounts before any mortgage company would come near me (although hopefully by the time moving is an actual possibility, I’ll have paid off a significant chunk of my mortgage) Still, a girl can dream!

So here goes…
In an ideal world I would have a big kitchen. I do a lot of cooking and food prep, so want a huge cooker and a ton of surface space. I’m also a big believer in the kitchen being the hub of a home, so there needs to be room for a dining table and a small sofa. Something like the traditional kitchen in this local property (left) or the more modern open plan kitchen from Real Homes mag:


I would love a playroom for the kids. I dream of being able to shove all the kid’s toys away in a room and forgetting they exist (the toys, not the kids). It’d also mean I could bring some of the toys back out of their bedroom, which would give them a dedicated uncluttered sleeping space.


1: Hugo’s Retreat (very slow to load)
2: Our Land of Nod Playroom
3: 35 Awesome Kids Playrooms

Once the kids have got their own playroom, and the dining table is tucked away in the kitchen (or a dedicated dining room if I wanted to be really posh), my living room can go back to being a grown up space. I don’t actually use my living room all that much but when I do it’s normally for entertaining guests or relaxing. It would need to be cosy, comfortable and have space for all my books (present and as-yet unbought). It would have to be clutter-free and ‘unfussy’, because too much stuff stresses me out. I like:


1: Another local home
2: 5 home feng shui tips to create positive energy
3: Err…

Although I have a thing about red in living rooms, so would need to decorate all of those!

I’d also need a dedicated office space. A room with a lot of natural light, space for my whiteboard on the wall, big enough to take two desks:


1: Studio Makeover: Before & After
2: 33 Crazy Cool Home Office Inspirations
3: 45 Awesome Workspaces & Offices

Obviously I’d also need a garden with extensive lawns for the kids (and inevitable horde of bunnies and guinea pigs), a master bedroom with en suite, space for at least 2 cars, garage for storage/conversion into a home gym, at least one guest bedroom so that cakefest-ers don’t have to sleep on my kid’s bedroom floor…

I guess I need to hurry up and get that mortgage-free thing sorted.

Juneathon Day 7 and the “home gym”

I wrote this last week but have been a tad busy – oops!

Juneathon day 7 saw me take another slightly unorthodox activity day. No, not more vacuuming (although there was plenty of that), but the second Sunday spent totally gutting my home ‘utility’ (that is, brick lean-to outside the back door). The utility is where the washer & tumble drier live, as well as the cat litter trays and 4 years worth of accumulated crap. That is: clutter and rubbish, not 4 years worth of cat crap. Ew.

I have been umming and ahhing recently about using the utility for something other than as storage space for junk I don’t need, and had considered turning it into a bit of a home gym. Nothing special, just a proper dedicated space for my weights (to stop the kids from tripping over them as they play) and my exercise bike. This would be particularly useful with Gaz moving in with all his accumulated junk soon, as the bike is taking up a huge corner of my bedroom.

I recruited the help of my sister as part holder-of-a-big-hammer and part babysitter to give me a hand, and on the 31st May set about stage 1 of decluttering and destroying. This is the utility-cum-gym a couple of hours in (because I forgot to take a proper ‘before’ picture):


And this was the same space at the end of that day, having done a fuckton of clearing and two runs to the local recycling centre:


On Sunday 7th we (I say we, my sister didn’t do a lot!) set about ripping out what was left, including the ruined kitchen cupboard which was swollen with damp from a leaky pipe, clearing out yet more junk to the tip:


So now all I have to do is get rid of the under-counter freezer that I don’t need, get some hooks on the wall to hang my bars up, and find some cheap foam matting so that I’m not dropping my cast iron weights down on to the concrete and tada: home gym transformation complete. I might even be able to get a proper bench in there too…

Laptop Limbo (and some news)

As I count down the days til I’m back at my desk at home, I feel like I’m in sort of “work limbo” right now. I’m actively seeking and quoting for freelance opportunities — some of which are looking more positive than others — but I still have a huge amount of work on at the day job, all of which I need to get through before I can actually leave. I’m effectively back to trying to fit two full time jobs worth of stuff in to one day, without sacrificing all of the other things I have going on (like, uh, raising my children).

I really want to make working from home actually work (haha pun) for me this time. As mentioned previously on the blog, I’ve got my plans in place to get me out of the house so that I don’t turn into a hermit. I’ve got my desk set up with space to spread out (unlike my original home working desk area!) and I’m even considering investing in some new tech so that I’m not slowed down by a hardware bottleneck. I have been working on laptops for over 10 years now, but the call of the power of a desktop machine has been tugging at me for 6 months or so (and not just so I can get back into gaming during my spare time … what is that again?)

Looking at Tesco’s laptop v. desktop info to try and figure out what I want to do, I can see that the pros of keeping the laptop mean retaining the portability I have now (super important) but then I watch Gaz switch between his laptop (at mine, or downstairs at his) and desktop and he makes it seem effortless so it’s not an all or nothing scenario. Pros of a desktop include greater power, and less likely to succumb to damage (because it’s out of the way of sticky fingers).

To complicate matters further I’m in a bit of “home limbo” right now too. I recently asked Gaz to move in with me and he said yes (yay!) so I’m in the process of decluttering and getting rid of everything that isn’t 100% necessary to make room for his stuff. This means that I’ll likely be getting rid of my desk, which is fine because I can work anywhere (including at his desk) with my laptop, but fitting two desktops on one desk is impractical. He has suggested I just use his PC, but I’d find that really weird. I’d feel like I’m invading his privacy, even with my own user account.

I guess ultimately my choice will come down to two things: 1) can I afford a new desktop? (probably not) and 2) am I likely to see sufficient speed gains by switching to an SSD hard drive? (probably would) Guess I’ve solved my own dilemma there…

Living room redecoration: take 2

In a recent post I mentioned the fact that I was finally going to finish decorating my living room. Karl and I started this back in 2012, but a combination of small children, full time work and laziness got in the way so it was never finished. However, now the house is “mine” I have this huge urge to actually put *my* spin on every room – without limits and arguments and settling for something someone else wants.

In case you’ve forgotten, or you weren’t around back then, this is what it looked like originally:

living room

And this is what it looked like earlier this evening (it’s not always messy):


That’s a crap picture, but you can see here where it’s unfinished; top right corner of the room and above the curtain rail are still covered in old wallpaper, paint isn’t right up to the ceiling. This isn’t even the worst side of the room!

My plans are roughly as follows:

  • A red feature wall! I’ve always wanted a red feature wall
  • New roller blind for the front window, because my neighbours have had enough of me walking around starkers
  • Better lighting, because I hate that I have no ‘atmospheric’ lighting in this room
  • A big mirror on the longest wall, possibly moving the clock elsewhere
  • TV mounted on the wall, big picture moved
  • Maybe a nice rug (until I can afford to carpet throughout) – something like this or or this one; both ‘go’ with my cushions

Now I just need the money. And time. Mostly money.