Moving Tales: Part 2

In my last post about our recent house move I expressed frustration about a series of relatively minor but annoying problems that we’d had so far. The two main issues were the lack of hot water, and a mystery leak.

Shortly after posting I started pulling out wood cladding in the downstairs bathroom (part of the garage conversion) and found that the reason we had a water leak was because the pipe that took waste water from the sink and downstairs shower was not actually attached to the piping that should have routed it out of the bathroom and through to what’s left of the garage. Water was literally pouring onto the floor every time the shower or sink was used. Annoyingly, this had obviously been a problem for some time, as there were clear water marks and residue of damp that had been painted over. I called a local plumber in and had it sorted for £50, job done.

The hot water issue was slightly more complicated. Gaz and I fiddled with the boiler, we replaced fuses in mystery switches in the garage, we tried the thermostat on the wall but all to no avail. In the end I called in my regular trusty gas engineer (Telford Gas & Heating, highly recommend) to take a look assuming — hoping — it’d be something as simple as the boiler needing a service.

Unfortunately, life is never that simple. I knew that the problem was a little more complicated when, during the initial consult & having opened the airing cupboard to see the pipework to and from the hot water tank, my engineer uttered the fatal words “what on earth is that”. We were quoted circa £850 to fix the massive piping cock-ups that had been made previously, which we managed to scrape together, and the work was scheduled for this morning (9th July)

In the mean time, to keep us on our toes, the house decided to throw a little electrics issue at us. One evening after school, Izzy turned her bedroom light on and the upstairs electrics & downstairs bathroom lights went out. At first I panicked and thought the leak had reoccurred and was seeping into a light socket or something, but couldn’t find any evidence of that. Attempts to reset the RCD on the fuseboard wouldn’t work, and it’d immediately trip again. After 3 days of ignoring the issue like the nice responsible homeowners that we are, Gaz suggested it might be related to a switch in the loft that appeared to not do anything that he’d fiddled with when he was hiding some of our junk. Lo and behold, after climbing back up there and switching it off, the electrics came back on. Tada!

Anyway, back to the hot water. The gas engineer and his colleague turned up this morning and immediately started trying to make sense of the pipes while I cracked on with work. Just before 10am I emailed Gaz to tell him I was hearing a lot of perplexed “jesus, this is a mess” type noises coming from upstairs which didn’t sound great. 20 minutes later and I was called upstairs to the landing, where the floorboards had been removed to expose further pipework that I can only describe as akin to a game of Snake.

I’m not an expert on central heating installation or plumbing etc but it definitely didn’t require expert skills to see that there were Big Issues afoot. With that, on top of the work that was scheduled to be done this morning, and the reality of the state of the system, our best option (short of bumbling along with what we have for the foreseeable) is to replace the whole central heating system: pipework, hot water cylinder, radiators, possibly even the boiler at an estimated cost £5,000-£6,000. This is before we factor in the problems likely to be caused by lifting floorboards (i.e. removal of the laminate in the bedroom for access).

To say I’m furious is an understatement. That someone would knowingly misrepresent their house to get an artificially inflated sale price fully in the knowledge that we have two young children for whom hot water, reasonable plumbing and working electrics are, y’know, somewhat important; to look those kids in the eye and reel off the story of her husband’s sudden death to engender sympathy; to lie to the solicitors about “not being able to find the boiler certificate” knowing full well there isn’t one because the system was installed by an unqualified fucknugget; and, finally, leaving a “new home” card behind wishing “happy memories” when you know you’ve screwed over your buyer to the tune of several thousand pounds? Fuck, furious doesn’t even come close to how I feel.

Still, life lesson learned. Don’t be a dick and skimp to move faster (like we did), get the most in depth survey even if it costs you a small fortune in the short term. Ultimately, it may save you you a fuck ton more later on.

Lead photo by Joel Barwick.

The future of shopping: offline vs online

Last week I had a conversation with Gaz’s colleagues about my budget Monday shops, off the back of a one-off trip to Tesco for a single meal which Gaz did at a cost of over £40. Forty pounds for one meal! This is in comparison to my weekly shop, which I’m quite pleased to have recently got back down under £50 per week, averaging around £35 per week. However my smugness was short-lived, as I was challenged on the fact that some of this shop comes from online providers.

It’s true, I use Amazon’s subscribe & save to do a big chunk of my regular shopping. The ability to set frequencies, quantities etc on items that I use a predictable amount of: cat food, guinea pig food, cat litter and so on… this is invaluable both to my budgeting and planning ahead. Especially with a billion cats at home (slight exaggeration). Not only that, because Amazon’s service gives you incremental discounts on the items in your regular shop once you buy a certain quantity per time period, I currently get 15% off my pet foods, litter, and coffee… yes, we get through a lot of coffee.

This of course got me thinking about how shopping on the whole has changed over the past 10 years. One of the things I mention on my professional site is that I’m a busy mum, and use the Internet for the bulk of my shopping: it’s this frequent use in the role of “consumer” that gives me an important insight into how websites can best provide to their customers, and this makes me a better developer. If I understand the habits of people who buy, I can develop websites that make the most of those habits. Or that’s my thinking anyway.

Online shopping has radically improved over the past decade and as a result is generally my go-to for spending money, be that clothes and shoes or bigger stuff like electronic items, white goods etc. 99% of the time I research and compare a product online, and complete via a cashback or deal website to make the most of my purchase.

Surprisingly though, swiftmoney.com have recently surveyed 1000 members of the British public to see how people like to spend and a whopping 54% of people still prefer to buy in store (taken from the infographic below). In my opinion, shopping in a store — especially for ‘big’ purchases — lacks the flexibility and bargain-hunt-ability of price comparison and specification research. Not only that but with voucher sites, newsletter subscription benefits and aforementioned cashback (which has earned be back over £700 in just a few years, money I’d have not seen again shopping in-store), and the vast amount of online retailers offering comprehensive returns policies, detailed size information, an increase in the amount of media (photographs, videos, 3D views etc) that give you a full picture of what you’re buying… I really do struggle to see where the benefits of buying offline lie.

With ease of access on the mobile these days, my personal habits (aside from regular predictable purchases) are leaning towards bigger, bolder (and more impulsive) purchases on the go. With over half of purchases made on mobile as of 2016 and Google pushing a ‘mobile-first’ index to prioritise sites with a good mobile presence as of this year, I can see this kind of purchasing is only going to grow in popularity as we head into 2018 too. In my professional opinion, if you have an online store that isn’t mobile friendly 2018 will see your online purchases shrink as market share on mobile continuously increases.

Still, for all my waxing lyrical about buying online, this wouldn’t have happened in a store:

Maybe those 54% of people have a point.


Click to see full size infographic.

Cats… cats everywhere!

I was on my break during the Tuesday morning shift at Shropshire Cat Rescue last week when a lady brought in a tiny black kitten. Roughly 8 weeks old, he’d been found abandoned in Bridgnorth, a nearby town.

Now, despite evidence to the contrary (a growing menagerie!) volunteering at the cat rescue has hardened my resistance to the “omg cute kitty” fever I was once plagued with. Nonetheless, I saw this little kitten’s tiny sad eyes and almost entirely melted then and there. Perhaps it’s a soft spot for black cats thanks to the late great King of Cats, my beautiful Hex?

black male

Who knows, but I *wanted this kitty*.

I did however manage to exercise some good judgement, and after a brief fussin’, put him down for someone else to tend to. Shortly after, he was joined by another kitten, roughly 12 weeks old, who’d been found somewhere else:

They immediately took to one another and so I left them to it.

Until Thursday. On Thursday I was back at the rescue with Gaz for a meeting about the rescue’s new website, which we’re working on (complete with a spangly new WordPress theme design from Pretty Content) together, and Gaz is an even bigger “crazy cat person” than I am. Within minutes of walking into the staff room he declared that we should have them.

Now let me remind you that at that exact moment we had 4 cats, 6 guinea pigs, 2 rabbits and a recent baby tarantula addition waiting for us at home.

But we “had to have them”.

I stood firm. I said no. I pointed out that within the next 12 months we’re hoping to move to a bigger home, which is going to require clearing some debts and being sensible with money and generally not spending more than we can afford. Ozzy has been at the vets this week, the house still stinks of cat pee from when we had Pixel. It was a Bad Idea. We left that evening without the kitties.

And then I started my shift on Tuesday. I didn’t look the kitties in the eye, I knew I was in dangerous emotional territory after some recent bad news. I IGNORED THEM. I tootled off to do my usual jobs. I fed the village cats, I medicated the oldies. I swept and I cleaned. But then it was break time again…

It took less than a minute in the break room for me to cave, reserve the tiny kittens and make a coffee.

I am a bloody sucker.

Chaos

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…

Teach your children to cook

Would it be controversial of me to suggest that failing to teach your children to cook is neglecting a hugely important of parenting? That is, missing out a huge part of a range of life skills that should be imparted upon your kids.

homemade lasagne

As I lovingly prepared a homemade lasagne earlier (by which I mean threw it together to satisfy my own cravings) I caught myself yet again feeling utterly indebted to my mum and my nan (dad’s mum) for having given me both culinary skills and the encouragement to experiment, which is the root of most of my dishes.

Don’t get me wrong, my mum was no Michelin star chef. She can’t cook meat (anyone who eats beef and lamb well done might as well not bother, sorry mum), and turkey twizzlers were regularly served in our house growing up til that bastard Jamie took them away, but her spaghetti bolognese is rivalled only by my own (of course) and she makes a mean syrup sponge pud.

My nan was of the generation that hand made everything and grew a whole lot of what she cooked too. I have fond memories of my nan’s rhubarb crumble, with fresh fruit straight from the garden and proper custard made the way you’re supposed to.

While I’m not naive enough to believe everyone has the time to both grow and prepare their own food these days, I think relying on the freezer section in your local supermarket and introducing your kids to fresh stuff just once a week alongside your roast does everyone a disservice. It robs children of the opportunity to experience and help with meal prep and robs the whole family of tastes beyond miscellaneous processed yellow crap.

Cooking at home is cheaper and better for you than ready meals and takeaway, and a necessary skill as a self-sufficient adult. Teach your children to cook.

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:

big-kitchens

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.

playrooms

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:

living-room

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:

home-office

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.

One month since…

I jumped back into freelance
I had this rough plan in my head: I was going to ease myself into freelance, taking the first two weeks gently to try and get rid of some of the symptoms of burnout that I’d been experiencing previously, and then finish off some jobs that had been hanging around for a while and THEN go out and get new work in.

What actually happened was that I’d won a ton of new work before I’d even left my full-time job, existing clients suddenly dumped a load of ongoing stuff on me, and a long term client indefinitely reserved 8 hours of my time a week split over two 4-hour ‘days’ which I do onsite. This gives me some guaranteed income which just about covers my childcare, so that I can chuck everything else at my mortgage and bills.

Although I have had some days where I have sat staring at a blank screen for hours, my mojo is occasionally putting in an appearance and I’m getting shit done.

Gaz moved in
And everything is great. I wake up in the morning wrapped in duvet and limbs and feel utterly content. I hear the door open and close as he gets home from work and it doesn’t matter how shit my day was, it makes me smile from ear to ear. It’s the small things like coffee in bed on a Saturday morning or a quick phone call after work to see if I need anything picking up from the shops, and it’s the big things, like stepping up and helping out with the kids so that I don’t have to be in two places at once.

I was regularly working out
I touched upon this in my muddy in London post, but I’ve barely done anything physical in July: running and lifting both out of the window thanks to moving and work and holidays. I have been feeling squishy round the middle (although the number on the scale remains patiently the same, give or take 1lb or 2) and so chucked myself head first into a basic squat workout on Friday.

I still don’t have a squat rack, so it was basically overhead press into back squat, 27kg, 5 sets with the following reps: 6-8-10-8-6. I was dead on my feet by the end and was feeling pathetic and lazy, but then realised that (given my normal workouts are 5×5) I’d done 19 more reps than usual. Although I’m not lifting at my heaviest (32.5kg) this helped me feel a little more badass and reassured me that taking the month off had not too badly affected my strength.

Of course, I woke the next morning numb from the waist down and couldn’t get up and down the stairs, but that’s beside the point…

I need to clear out the utility, which is currently full of kitchen appliances shifted out there post-Gaz-move, so that I can re-convert it into my “home gym” and get my arse back on the wagon.

In completely unrelated news, one of the items on my 30 before thirty list is blogging every day for a month, a challenge I haven’t successfully completed in many years. I’d like to try and tackle that one sooner rather than later (to give me time to try again if I go wrong) so if there’s anything you want to hear from me about (updates on old posts, specific questions, etc) PLEASE speak up, I’m going to need all the help I can get :)

In defence of spur of the moment decisions

I think often as a grown up, being able to spend time thinking about and rationalising decisions before acting them out is considered a desirable trait. Sleep on it, we’re told. Write pro/con lists and weigh up consequences.

I say bollocks to that.

Last year I came out of a counselling session with the realisation that my relationship was toxic. I ended it straight away.

A week later Tony mentioned OKCupid on twitter and I suddenly decided I need to get laid (classy bird, me) so I signed up and uploaded the first picture of my face to grace the interwebs in over 10 years. I found Gaz. (Although he says that picture was terrible. Nice to know.)

Not so long after that, Gaz and I met. I made a decision that night which worked out pretty well…

While I was on holiday with the kids earlier this year, I woke early one morning and decided to ask Gaz to move in with me. He said yes. (He moves in this weekend.)

A month or so ago I suddenly decided I needed to quit my job. I asked Gaz if it would be a terrible idea. He said it was … but I did it anyway. I have all of my original clients’ ongoing support and jobs booked in the calendar til September.

So, you know… maybe spur of the moment decisions aren’t so bad. After so many years of letting my head talk me out of everything, letting my heart rule for a while seems to be working out OK.

Flippity Flop

Keeping with the “posts I didn’t think I’d write” theme, I have some slightly less traumatic but otherwise Important Life Stuff news.

Having earlier this week spent the Nth (I’ve lost count) night waking up — tossing and turning — stressing about work, I decided that enough was enough this week. The reasons are many and varied but… I just can’t lie in bed when the alarm clock goes off, dreading getting up and wanting to call in sick: it’s not sustainable and is having a massive effect on my mental health (which has been up and down over the past year as it is). I miss my mojo. I’ve handed in my notice at matm.

A couple of full time opportunities cropped up in the week (coincidence) but ultimately I’m 99% sure at this stage that I’m going to return to freelancing. The flexibility around the kid’s schedule will be a massive help, the ability to go for a run in the middle of the day if my mood hits a big low, not having to deal with petty office politics etc. It’s a win-win situation as far as I can tell. (Apart from having to earn a massive amount to cover my monthly bills, but eh, IT’LL BE FINE!)

One of the big things I struggled with last time, and a big part of why I stopped working at home, was an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I got to the point where I was talking to the postman and inviting Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a cup of tea. I don’t want that to be the thing that stops me from making this opportunity a success, so I will be addressing this as soon as possible. I am not sure how yet, but I’ve had loads of ideas (and nicked other people’s): volunteering somewhere a few hours a week, working in a client office occasionally, working in the local pub for a few hours (actually, maybe not this one… ;))

I want to be able to look at this opportunity the same way I looked at it last time: mostly positive.

It’s just a shame that this is timed so spectacularly badly, given that I’ve not long listed WAHMweb.co.uk up for sale because of lack of time to dedicate to it. And it’s too late to cancel the sale, too :(

Anyway, I’d appreciate your well wishes and crossed digits in the coming months. And if you need a website…

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):

messy-room-pre-decorating_mini

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.

A day of mini adventures

One of the good things about half term and end of term holidays, which the kids spend with their Dad due to him only working term time, is the fact that I get my babies for the entire weekend instead. No splitting, no half days or couple of hours here and there like before and after school in the week (in other words, normally I get all the work and bugger all time :P)

We made the most of it today by having a series of mini adventures: some intentional, some not. Firstly, we fuelled up early with a good breakfast, and then headed out into Ironbridge on a long walk. Longer perhaps than intended when we got a little bit lost in the woods.

muddle-puddles_mini

how-many-steps_mini

After that, having trekked back to the car and filled it full of mud we went to Homebase so get some drill bits and some paint, so that I might actually finish decorating my living room and can do it my way now the house belongs to me, woop woop.

After that we came home and the kids assembled the biggest train track EVER whilst I assembled Ikea furniture and put up a picture frame thingy which involved drilling into the wall. Unfortunately, just as I finished drilling into the wall the power went off and I shit myself (metaphorically) thinking I’d drilled through a cable… because you know, getting one of those cable checky gadgets is for wimps.

Having reassured myself and the kids that the failed electrics was not my fault, we had to find a way to cook the very raw chicken that was to be our tea. Electric oven? Yep. Oh dear. Decamp to Gaz’s! (Poor Gaz.)

Invasion of Gaz’s complete we then came back home and two very tired kiddies crashed out in bed. And I’m not far behind them, zzzzz!

Project £20k: Completed!

Despite my best intentions, it was inevitable that raising £20,000 to buy my ex out of our joint mortgage was an optimistic endeavour at best. Right from the beginning I had to factor in a more realistic plan: remortgaging the house for the value of the outstanding mortgage with our joint provider plus the £20k for Karl.

However, because of my circumstances (“single” parent with two kids and all of the associated outgoings) not all mortgage companies were willing to give me a chance, and those that did had caps on what they were willing to lend. Working with an IFA, I finally settled on a 3 year fixed interest mortgage with Natwest… but at a price. The mortgage had a setup fee of £995 which I had to pay up front, as adding it to the balance of the mortgage would have pushed me into another lending bracket which Natwest weren’t willing to go up to.

I don’t tend to have £995 just sitting around in my back pocket to cough up on a whim, but thankfully my enthusiasm for raising the £20,000 on my own meant that I had some savings (through a combination of savvy saving and donations from a handful of fabulous folk reading here) and I was able to draw on the money raised to cover that fee and the subsequent fees charged by the solicitor to complete the transfer of equity on the house from Karl to myself.

As of this week the transfer of equity was completed, and this morning the fees were transferred to the relevant recipients (old mortgage company / Karl). My remortgage is complete: my house is now mine (and Natwest’s)

So what’s next? Time to dust off my plan to be mortgage free in 5 years of course…