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I’ve spent a busy summer working around the country, but in my down time I have been doing what I can to live The Good Life.  Some of this has worked much better than others.  My personal crop of lettuce was a success til the slugs found it, and of the herbs grown from seed I do believe the rosemary has a fighting chance to be taken from its protective pot and graduate in spring to being Planted Out in the beds.

Rosemary

I’ve even had remarkable success with a chilli plant purchased on the reduced aisle at Tesco and repotted into the greenhouse. For the past three months my nam prik pla has had homegrown chillies (the way that the Thais would certainly approve of!) and the kick in the salsa has been entirely of my making.

Chilii

But my tomatoes. Oh, my precious, lovely tomatoes. I have watched the plants grow into fine young beings, tall (but not too tall!!) enough to make any mother proud. I had visions of Moneymaker’s bountiful crop providing tomatoes for everyone in the district. Roma’s tomatoes would be special, I would experiment with sun drying them (a real plausible option this summer, dag-nab-it!). I was going to introduce them to some wonderful herbs and the freshest olive oil in Norfolk to create juicy, delicious sun blushed and preserved tomatoes to sustain me through the long dark winter. Too good even for my salsa (sorry chillies), the Roma tomatoes were destined for greatness, destined to be savoured, destined to be worshiped…

But what happened?!

tomtomtom.jpg

Instead of plentiful crops, I have beautiful plants with only one or two fruit.  Other bloggers boast about what to do and I am struggling to make my babies grow and mature into red young adults.  I love them, I check on them daily, I moved them in and out of the greenhouse as the weather dictated.  And when I wasn’t able to give them my full attention because I was drinking energy drinks in Scotland, or Stratford, or elsewhere, for the week in order to pay for my little tomatoes upkeep, they were being carefully looked after by my less enthusiastic but equally dedicated other half.  I have watered them with rainwater, but not given them any fertiliser.  Is that really where I have gone wrong?

Please give me some advice, my tomatoes need you before it gets too cold and they give me up for good!

Mmmm….The Good Life.  They have a pig, grow all their own vegetables and gently mock their neighbours.  There’s definitely something to be said about it.  My Good Life is kind of limited to a couple of (slow to ripen) tomato plants, a chili plant I saved from the reduced section in Tesco and a courgette plant that has not delivered the glut of giant green beasts I had slightly hoped for, rather more delicate little yellow zucchini that actually complement a salad rather well. Providing you aren’t too hungry though, because there really haven’t been that many.

Imagine my delight when I received a bag full of allotment grown beetroot.  “Delight” is perhaps a strong word, but I did get a little excited as I decided what to do with them.  I could roast them (with chillies, balsamic and maybe some cherry tomatoes if my plants ever do decide to let the fruit ripen?).  I could chip them, cutting them into crisp sized slices and popping them in the oven. Tyrrells can do it, why can’t I?  (I did try it.  Tyrrells obviously either deep fry them, which would be yummy but rubbish for the diet, or have bigger, hotter ovens.  My beetroot chips were a little bit gooey.)  But really, there was only one option when you think of beetroot, you pickle them!

People who know me well know that I would happily eat my own mother if she was nicely pickled (no reference to your wine intake mum, I promise!) but I have never tried to actually pickle anything for myself.  I love pickles.  One of my lifetime highlights was eating McDonalds with 6 other people, who all gave me their burger pickles.  Moving to England, it was the discovery of pickled onions that got me through the withdrawal I suffered when decent dill pickle spears were no longer available in supermarkets.  Piccalilli is a recent discovery in my world, but by golly it’s a great addition to any boring salad.  And don’t even get me started on just how many jalapenos I could actually fit onto my cinema nachos.  Pickling my beetroot was clearly the way forward.

I love a good Google and I found my recipe on the Down to Earth blog.  It has a really awesome step by step how-to and I have to admit that sterilising the jars in the oven was quite a revelation to me.  I mean, seriously – heat kills germs?  A whole new world has opened to me.   I think I will preserve *everything* that crosses my path now.

Of course I took pictures.  Any questions, let me know!

First you boil…

Beetroot 1

…then you peel (wear your asbestos hands obvs!)….

Beetroot 2

…slice….

Beetroot 3

…..and PICKLE!!! Yay!!

Beetroot 4

I told you I got my hands on a lot of beetroot.  More is coming my way.  I have already tried to mix it up with a giant jar containing some sliced onion (I found a Polish recipe online.  I didn’t follow it but I did steal the onion idea, except I didn’t have a red onion).  I might try some chilli beetroot with some homegrown chillies.  What else should I experiment with?  The Good Life is so on its way…but do I really have to wait til October before I can try it?

Its been a long time coming but summer may be here!! The rose bush at the end of the garden has finally flowered. Which makes me remember that despite all the beautiful wonderful places I have been lucky enough to visit, nowhere can beat an English summer day in the garden with friends. Now, we just need that sun to come out…..

Summer Rose

I know, I know.  I’ve read all the blogs too: spray paint is amazing.  It’s colourful, it’s quick, it’s foolproof and easy.  It can be used to update your grandma’s old ottoman, it can be used to create wonderful doorknobs (finally found the oiled bronze that the American ladies are always talking about the other day!!! I think I can see where I will use that, oh yeah…..), it will make any old object look wonderfully shabby chic or super sophisticated and modern.  Spray paint.  It ticks all those boxes.  And I have only just discovered it.

But have I ever worried about showing up late at the party? Actually, yes, but teenage insecurities aside… I’ve arrived and by golly I have bells on.  Not quite bells exactly, but I certainly have large lampshade balls.  Hanging from my ceiling.  Except the mid-noughties brown just wasn’t cutting it in the elegant white and grey domestic bliss that has been created in the past few months.  What is a girl to do?  Head to the shed and see what colours she can create of course! Whoop whoop, let’s dig out the spray!

Firstly, spray paint cannot be used by me in any enclosed environment.  The walls had just been painted for goodness sake!  Fortunately, the English summer is struggling to arrive and at least the rains are holding off.  So lampshades down and out into the garden they went, hung up with a handy bit of garden twine.  And my old boring lampshades went from this….

Brown balls

….to this.  This is the miracle of spray paint.  I managed to get it all over the big brown balls and turn them bright and blue and new all within five minutes.  Another five minutes and the heavens looked a little threatening, so the greenhouse was accessorized.

Decorating the greenhouse

….so what should I update next?

 

Yesterday I was talking to a friend at work about up-cycling.  He can remain nameless because I would never want to get him in trouble but he was complaining about the amount of ‘stuff’ his housemate’s girlfriend leaves in the house.  You know the sort of stuff – free or cheap items obtained via freecycle, family members, house clearances…all the things people want to be rid of but that when a magpie like me spies all we can see is the item’s potential.

Potential – potential to be something beautiful, unique and definitely within budget for the home we aspire to have but cannot afford.  Years of investment in the work lottery syndicate has so far proved fruitless so I have had to channel my energies elsewhere.

This is when I told him that I did actually up-cycle.  It’s been a long time in the planning – I have had these chairs stored in the shed at the back of the garden for close to 8 years – but inspiration finally struck (ahem, thanks again Pinterest!) and last autumn I made my beautiful chairs.

Beautiful Chairs

The chairs were old, weathered and extremely dirty.  But they had a nice shape and I knew that something could be done with them.  So I gave them a good clean, thanked my lucky stars that the varnish had long worn away so I was saved the job of sanding them, and decided where to place my lace.  The lace – that was probably the hardest part.  It took a few weeks of darting into every charity shop I passed to see if they had old lace curtains, and if they did, was the lace suitably thick and not too ‘old lady’ for my project.  In the end I found a curtain, confused the old man at the till with my clear lack of concern that it did not have a partner and that the ‘hanging’ section was ripped to shreds, paid my pound and hurried home to complete my project.

I love projects and I love beautiful things but I hate anything fiddly.  The Tidiest Man Alive despairs at my constant mess and disarray and I am not going to lie, I did get paint in my hair (a lovely Cruella style streak across the side) but this project was reassuringly simple.  Lace is laid across the seat of the chair (or, wherever you fancy putting it) and any old masking tape will do to stick the bits from the edges underneath.  Don’t worry about being too tidy or finickity, you’ll paint over the ugly bits later! Sweet.  My only recommendation is to try and get the lace as tight as possible across any curves that have been pre-cut by the seat manufacturer to make their wooden chair more bum-friendly.

 Step 1

Next, the fun part – SPRAY! I am beginning a love affair with cans of spray paint.  My only wish is that each can was $10 like it seems to be in the US, £15 a can  just doesn’t seem fair.  Be sure to get an even coverage over your lace and cover the whole area to ensure you get a nicely scalloped edge.  The further across your chair that you spray, the easier it is to paint the finished seat neatly.  We like easy.  Spray evenly but make sure you don’t spray too much, you don’t want any drips on those bum-friendly sections.

And now…wait.  Wait for the spray paint to dry before being tempted to see what it looks like.  Wait until you think you can wait no longer, then wait a bit more.  And don’t try to re-spray once you’re done, because I am fairly certain less is more in this situation.  When you really can’t wait any longer, carefully untape the lace and remove.  Et voilà!  You  have yourself a fancy seat ready for the final touches.

Step 2

The final touches for me was painting the rest of the chair white.  I used Homebase’s Just One Coat Soft White – anyone visiting my home now will see this everywhere. It took two coats because of the tricky bars on the back (again with the patience for the drying!! Rubbish) but I think that the finished product was worth it.

IMG_2462

I am going to start work on the table now and I have another two chairs that will complete the dining area of the little flat’s living space.  I think I may go for a bright colour on the other chairs – what do you think?

Table and Chairs

You know how when you are growing up, the history of everyone and everything around you doesn’t really make any impression at first.  I had three sets of grandparents and they were all really cool but extremely different.  Today I am thinking about my mum’s dad, Grandpa, and his wife, Christina.  It’s been a while since they have been around but they have been in the news a lot lately.  Not actually them, but their home and business.  My Grandpa was village postmaster at Boxford Stores for as long as I knew and Christina, as far as I can still tell, ran the village with her wicked humour and unwavering dedication to the local community. If I wasn’t so shy I’d show you a picture of me dressed as a Box from Boxford for one of the Mad Hatters tea party’s she was involved in when trying to save the bells of the church opposite their shop. But I was embarrassed then and there are just some things… I think it’s still too soon to share.

What I have learned this week is that the shop I grew up visiting is the oldest shop in Britain. Like, how totally amazing is that?  It is really cool to learn something like that about a place you grew up in.  I wonder a little why I didn’t ever ask more about the shop’s history…but now is the time to start to learn.  Things that happened during the 600-or-so years Boxford Stores has been open:

  • 1420: Catherine of Valois became queen.  She isn’t near as interesting as Anne Boleyn, but she did marry a Henry and was Henry VII’s great, great grandma. A man called Humphrey dominated her world for a while.  That can’t be nice.
  • 1520: Henry VII challenged King Francis of France to a wrestling match. Not sure who won
  • 1620: The Mayflower started its voyage to America.  My great-Aunt Mel had lots of stories that she uncovered through her own genealogy, and once again I wish that I had actually paid more attention.
  • 1720: Mrs Clements marketed the first paste-style mustard.  Seriously.  I love condiments.
  • 1820: Tomatoes were proven non-poisonous and potatoes were planted in Hawaii.  Google it.
  • 1920: Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees and the NFL formed, with the Chicago Bears winning the first ever NFL game.

But who cares about world events, when you can talk about yourself?  600 years is a long time but the press aren’t concerned about that, or what actually went on in Boxford Stores.  So for my little bit of history, here are the things I used to do in that shop:

  • Eat the best ham cooked on the bone anywhere in the world.
  • Watch while grown postmen hid behind doors and I played outside with the not at all ferocious dalmation, Jimmy.  He nipped men, not little girls.
  • Choose the ice cream for dinner that night.
  • Snooze on the couch while Grandpa watched sport. Darts. Golf. Football. Anything.
  • Play connect 4 with Grandpa.
  • Lose at Connect 4 and refuse to learn chess cause that looked even harder.
  • Be sure to bring my prettiest dresses for dinner because Christina always liked it when I dressed up.
  • Hide my teddy bears from Jimmy because for a big dog, he did like to cuddle them.
  • Play Pooh Sticks on the bridge that gave the house its name.
  • Hit the red button that looked innocuous but apparently called the police out…twice.
  • Play in the beautiful garden and talk with the gardener for all hours.  It was like the Secret Garden, except already discovered by the grown ups.
  • Smell Grandpa’s constant pipe smoke.
  • Wonder what on earth was in the upstairs in the store room.  I wasn’t allowed up there.
  • Help Christina’s sister, Rose, make the gravy.  She made amazing roast dinners.
  • Chat with the ladies in the shop.  They were friendlier than the postmen and would let me eat the ham.
  • Sneak from the bedroom, into one of the store rooms, into the shop.  And wonder why no one was surprised when I showed up that way.
  • Try not to step on the cracks in the tiled hallway.  Easy when I was 5, harder when I was 15.

It’s nice to remember these things.  I asked my mum for some photos and these are some of what she found.  My grandparents were really good people and it makes me happy to see pictures from their good life:

Early Days - 1

Early Days - 2

Boxford & Family - 34

Bridge House 6 - Version 2

Boxford Stores 1

Family 1 - Version 2

Boxford & Family - 01

Other misc photos - 2

Boxford & Family - 34 - Version 2

Boxford 1 - Version 2

Boxford & Family - 27

Boxford & Family - 33

Boxford & Family - 31

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