Monday, March 17, 2014

Look How Far We've Come (After!!!)

Happy Monday! Since most of my friends reading this are Stateside, here's a bit of fun to liven up what I hear is yet another snowy weekend!


You've waited for the FINAL REVEAL of all the work done in our flat, and HERE IT IS!

We've been up here for a few months now, and things are settling down. Routines are gelling, habits are forming, and most things have a proper place (a place for everything....). I love the process of getting in a home and watching it arrange and rearrange till the space finally fits your needs. (That sounds passive, like the house rearranges itself. Really, it's me rearranging things during the day which confuses and boggles the spouse when he comes home!)

So, let me take you on a little tour of our home, at least as it is now. Though, as my dear husband knows, it's never really done. It's always a work in progress. (You can blame my mom for that one!)

To make it to our flat, you have to climb to the third floor (called the second floor here, as they count it ground, first, then second floors). You start in our entryway, which is generally a good place to enter. Apparently, the little steps to the doorway make a great kids corner, especially when filled with pillows and blankets.

From this entryway, you are facing the doorways to the guest room, the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. Yes- it's a lot of doorways. Yes, they each have a door. English homes have every room separated to save on heating (or so I've heard). Open concept living is admired, but considered energy inefficient.

At the top of the stairs, you first look into our living room. I love the sunshine that pours through our massive windows each mornings! My reading spot moves throughout the day, following the suns rays across our home. Yes- I'm like a cat.
(Do you remember the blue carpet that was there before? What a change laminate floors make!)

To the side of the living room (behind the fireplace) is our bedroom. Look at the massive chest of drawers that is my bedside table! I found it on Freecycle, and couldn't believe my luck! It's not in perfect condition, but I think that kind of lends to its charm!

Going back out to our entryway, to one side is our guest room, which was previous the kids room- remember the blue carpet and yellow walls? It also serves as a kids play room when friends come over. The pallet futon is pretty kid-sized, though my hubby has been known to nap on it occasionally.

Next to the living room is the dining room: arguably the most important room in our house! (Remember the built-ins that they added during the remodel?!) I never thought I'd like a formal dining room, but as we love having company, the ability to seat ten people and not spill into the rest of house is such a wonderful blessing! And I love our mdf tabletop. We took a (used) Ikea table/base and added a sheet of mdf on top. In answer to your DIY questions: No, we didn't seal it, though we put a few coats of mineral oil on to deepen the tone. Yes, it gets water stains, hot pad marks, and dents and scratches. We like to think of it as a 'patina'. Besides, at £20, it's not too hard to replace if it wears out.

Since we don't often use the dining room when it's just the two of us, we make it do double-duty by adding a writing desk and piano to the other side of the room.

And to the other side of the dining room is our kitchen! I am SOOO happy with the kitchen! Lots of storage and counter space, gas hob (stove), and my pot rack! It's a good thing too, since we do a lot of cooking! Isn't the space so light and airy?!

Yay for reusing jam jars and coffee tins (covered in burlap, of course)! And featuring our stovetop kettle... which my husband insists on keeping, rather than an electric kettle. He thinks its cooler. Though its quaint boiling whistle quickly escalates to an ear-splitting scream if left to boil 12 seconds longer than it should.

Ok,  so here is my best kitchen trick: get a magnetic knife rack. I know- profound right? But seriously- you don't have to dig dangerously in a drawer, knives stay sharper than in a block (since they aren't laying on their edge), you keep your counter space, it's still out of kids reach, and you can see them all at once- instead of randomly pulling handles from a knife block.

*Bonus tip*- don't go to Williams Sonoma (or Amazon) and pay $30 for a fancy magnetic knife rack. Just go to your local home improvement shop and get a magnetic tool bar. If it's sturdy enough to hold a hammer, it can hold a knife. (We got ours at Lowes, and brought it to the UK.) Mount it in the wall if you can. If you have tile, like we do- use a couple Command heavy-duty picture strips. Works great!

Oh- and always have a stash of cute aprons. It makes you feel domestic

And... to finish our house tour... here's a little guy I drew for our Brazil party. The hubs liked him and asked to keep him around.

It reminds him of this guy. :-)

We're so grateful for all the work that was put into this flat to make it what it is today. We realise how blessed we are, and we don't take it for granted! God is always good, but he's been abundantly gracious with where he has us now!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Look How Far We've Come (Before)

So a few months ago, I wrote a post about Our 'Right Now' Home. When we first moved to England, there were a lot of changes going on in the flats of our building. We started out on the ground floor, while our permanent home was being worked on. Well, it's been a while now, but we're upstairs, settled in, and doing great! I recently went back through and looked at the pictures from September/October, when the transformation was going on.

Here's a quick look at all the work they did remodelling the flat for us! We are SO grateful!

Here's how the kitchen looked when the process began:

The black box under the microwave is the portable oven they were using before. (Can you see the remnant of what was once a fireplace?)

The toilet was dived from the rest of the bathroom. There used to be a law that said the toilet had to be at least two doorways from the kitchen, so they divided the bathroom to fulfil the requirements.

This was the previous tenants living room... it will become our dining room. Again, see where an old fireplace had been filled in. (Remember, you're looking at old English buildings, where there once was a fireplace in almost every room.)

Main (what will be our master) bedroom.

Previous dining room (our eventual living room). Wait to see what happens to the blue carpet!

Baby's room (that will be our guest room).

And then the demolition began.......

Plaster walls had to be stripped, filled, replastered, repapered, then painted

The gutted stage.

Bare floor boards. I asked if there was a way to keep them. But they were too spaced, not finished, and just not right for keeping exposed.

Bare walls.

We're getting cupboards in.... and in the distance, there's a tub and toilet! (Thanks, Michael!)

The couch that was left from the previous tenants.

Ooh.... getting close..... Needs some painting, but it's almost there......

They got my pot rack hung!!!

Can't wait to get that sunlight!

Built in bookcases are going in......  (We thought about buying bookshelves, but it's such an old building, nothing is straight or level. The left bookcase is about 10 inches deep, the right is about 14 inches deep!)

You can see my greige paint going up on the right side of the window! We're nearly there!

What's it going to look like when it's done? 

Check back soon for the FINAL REVEAL!!!!

TO BE CONTINUED................................!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

♬ For its Arsenal..... Arsenal ♪ ♫

So, I have several posts waiting in the wings to be written up, but today was eventful enough I had to share it right away!

I went to my very first football match today! (That's soccer, to all my American friends!) John and Lucy had an extra ticket and asked if I was interested. I know, I know, it's amusing. Saying I'm not much of a sports junky would be a massive understatement. In fact, I realised, in the first five minutes (in which, the first point scored put everyone into a frenzy), that I'd actually never watched an entire football game!

Nevertheless, I did watch it in its entirety... both 45 minute halves! And though I asked more embarrassing questions than I care to admit, I actually kept up with it fairly well and enjoyed myself. Arsenal vs Everton... end score: 4-1 (Arsenal proceeds to FA Cup semi-finals!)

Quite honestly, the most interesting part to me was just watching everyone and comparing it to U.S. events. So here's what I noticed:

1. No alcohol is allowed in the actual stadium. I list this first, because, frankly it has such an impact on the other items in my list. The concessions sell it in the lobby, but fans have to drink it there and can't take it back to their seats.
2. The game is less of an event. In the U.S., there are vendors walking around, people milling back and forth for food and souvenirs, games being played on the big screen, and everyone is chatting, joking, talking..... here, it's all about the game. They'll cheer, and chant, and be involved, but it's all based on the plays on the field and all done together as a crowd.
3. There's more of a group feel than an individual feel. Maybe this is my American independence coming out, but it was weird to see the clan of Arsenal fans... flow together, stand together, chant together, hug each other. It's hard to explain, but it was there. There wasn't individual groups partying while others watched the game (maybe again, due to the less party, more business attitude.)
4. Everything was more orderly. Now.... I've heard that if the match gets heated, this can change. (This was an FA Cup match, and not a Premier league game, so it's not quite an intense as others could be.) But again the crowd worked more as a unit, there weren't crazy drunks rambling around. Though whether thats because drinking isn't allowed in there, or what, I don't know. The stadium was cleaner (again, fewer food vendors). And the pitch sidelines were so calm, especially compared to American football, where a dozen burly men come and go off the field with every change of possession.
5. These folks are serious about their football! Whether its in the songs and chants, cheers and hugs, or in the unison curses hurled at the field, these Brits love their team. Though, really, when I think about it, its not much different than Alabama, and their identity as either an UA or Auburn fan. It's the real deal... your team is your passion. And that's probably where I'm just a bit left in the dust.

Anyhoo... it was awesome. So much fun, and I'd love to go again!

I'll leave you with a clip from the match. Penalty kick for Arsenal... first attempt was nulled by a yellow card, and tensions were high for the second attempt. For his sake, I'm glad he made it. Its a tough crowd. :-)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Feliz Aniversário, Isabela!

Last weekend we celebrated the birthday of our friend, Isabela! She's from Brazil, and as we wanted her to feel at home, we did our best to make it a "Brazilian" party. What's a Brazilian party, you might ask? She wondered too.

Well, in our small world, a Brazilian party is a place decorated with more colour than the British can stand in one place, with streamers, and banners, and samba music playing in the background. Each room was a 'place' in Brazil... Sao Paulo- where Bela lives near, Fortaleza- where her hubs, Rodrigo, is from, and the Amazon- because we needed another Brazilian place. :-) We had a matching game for Brazilian animals, some trivia questions, and signs posted randomly with funny facts about Brazil. The birthday girl was able to find a caterer in London who makes salgadinhos- traditional birthday finger food of fried dough with different meats inside. (Think something between a dumpling and a chicken nugget!) We made brigadieros and beijinos de coco (amazing candies made from condensed milk and chocolate or coconut)! And of course, we had plenty of acai juice and guarana on hand to wash it all down with!

It was a fun night, and they swore our Portuguese rendition of Happy Birthday was 'just right', though I think they're being VERY gracious! :-) You can judge for yourself at the end!

*The blue sign says "Fortalezan children don't fear the boogie man or monsters under the bed. Instead, they fear the hairy leg in the wardrobe!* (So says Rodrigo!)