Saturday, 19 December 2015

Chatham, Cape Cod

In early November, I went to Boston MA, for an international meeting for work. As I'd visited Boston in 2013 during my travel fellowship, I decided to spend a few days seeing a different part of the state. My colleague E and I left London on the Friday before the meeting so that we could spend the weekend exploring Cape Cod.

After collecting the car at the airport, we made our way south (old school style without a sat nav and just some printed instructions from the car hire company). After a few wrong turns when we reached Chatham, we finally found the lovely inn where we spent two nights.

The New England fall weather lived up to expectations with a beautifully sunny are some scenes from our stay in Chatham...

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Handmade Christmas decorations...using black(red)work embroidery

This year, I made some handmade Christmas decorations for my mother to give to her friends. In the summer I did a two-day course learning blackwork embroidery at the Royal School of Needlework. Although we were learning traditional blackwork techniques, we worked the sampler with red embroidery thread. At the time, I thought it would be a nice effect for Christmas.

Using one of the sampler patterns, and worked on white belgian linen, I embroidered each of the individual motifs.

Each of the decorations was backed with a red fabric with white stars.

And then stitched together with a 2mm satin ribbon loop

Turned the right-side out and pressed, ready for their filling and finishing touches

Filled, and a small ribbon bow added for decoration.

I think they look quite festive!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Venice - St Mark's Square and Murano

Part of wanting to re-visit Venice, was the opportunity to visit some of the places for which it is renowned and of which I had such limited memories of my previous visit. So early on Saturday morning, I left our apartment and wandered towards St Marks hoping to arrive before many of the tourist crowds. My route took me over the Accademia Bridge with the above view of the Grand Canal.

After about 15 minutes I reached an almost deserted St Mark's square. For anyone who has been to Venice, this is a rare occurrence...but at 8am on a Saturday morning, there were only a few other tourists and quite a few joggers.

St Mark's Basilica - the bench like structures in front of the church are the boards that are laid around the city during the aqua alta so people can still get around when areas of the city flood.

I had been into St Mark's Basilica on my previous visit, but hadn't been to see the Doge's Palace - which was my main destination for the morning. The pink and white marble exterior is exquisite.

The palace opened at 8.30, and so I was also able to explore without hundreds of other people. The palace also afforded some wonderful views across Venice.

After I left the Doge's Palace, I queued briefly to go into the Basilica. It feels far smaller than some other European and English cathedrals, but the mosaic work is incomparable.

As I left St Mark's Square the crowds were beginning to build, so I made my way back across the Accademia Bridge for views back towards the Doge's Palace and the Campanile.

I met up with my friends for lunch, and as the weather had become so lovely, we decided to hop on a vaporetto and spend the afternoon on Murano (with an obligatory gelati!)

My last view of Venice as we caught the vaporetto back to collect our bags and make our way to the airport. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to return to visit after so many years, and explore such a wonderful city properly...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Venice - a wander through the city

Last weekend, some friends and I spent the weekend in Venice. Earlier in the year I had been talking about how I had once spent 24 hours in Venice about 17 years ago. Unfortunately, that one day was in mid July, the temperature was well over 40 degrees, and we shamefully spent several hours sitting in a fast food restaurant as it was the only place we could find that had air-conditioning. Ever since, Venice has remained on the list of places I wanted to re-visit to explore and appreciate properly. After mentioning this over drinks one Friday evening, momentum took hold and our weekend trip was planned.

My friends had also been to Venice before, so weren't keen to visit the very busy tourist sites. So on our first day we simply wandered from our local area (we were staying in an apartment) across the city, trying to stay off the tourist routes, and exploring the less busy areas.

We stayed in Dorsoduro which is the university quarter. It was a great spot to stay in terms of local bakeries, cafes and restaurants...but we were also able to get a real sense of how Venetians go about their daily lives.

On the canals, we passed produce stores, garbage collection boats and everything in between.

Our footsteps took us towards the Rialto bridge which also afforded us our first daytime view of the grand canal. The local market was still in full swing, with an amazing array of fresh produce for sale.

After exploring the market, we quickly crossed the Rialto bridge and once again headed away from the regular tourist haunts to avoid the large crowds.

This last photo is actually a modern, functioning hospital! By the end of the afternoon we had walked over 8 miles, so we caught a vaporetto back to Dorsoduro and enjoyed an evening of enjoying more Venetian delights (Aperol spritz and cicchetti).

It was a lovely day and a wonderful start to the weekend...

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Getting started with the garage...

One of the biggest (read most expensive) jobs planned for this year's renovation tasks is to make some essential repairs to my separate 1960's garage. It is unusual to have off-street parking in this area, let alone a garage, so as ugly as the building may be it was a big advantage when I decided to buy the cottage.

However, unlike the quite robust build of the house, the garage is showing it's age. It needs a new roof, and has some quite large gaps in the brick courses. The builder who has come to look at it for me has identified that the issue is related to subsidence of the slab underneath the back wall of the garage that will need underpinning. This requires approval from two sets of neighbours (those at the rear and those at the side) for a party wall agreement to be put in place.

The rear neighbours (who will be the most inconvenienced) have been no problem at all - those to the side, who own the other attached garage, have proved a little more problematic. Their property consists of a small commercial shop and outbuildings that they now have planning permission to convert to 5 flats. Part of the redevelopment plans involve demolishing their side of the double garage. The owner informs me that they are in the final stages of selling the property to a developer, so will not undertake any discussions about agreed work. Here's hoping that the sale proceeds quickly, and that the developers are a little more accessible in terms of reaching agreement to progress this work. It would actually be better for me to wait to replace my roof once the other side is demolished...but due to the subsidence issue, I can't have this drag on for months.

When the builder came to quote, we also noted some issues with the wood trim on the front of the garage - with the paint in generally poor condition, and a bigger issue on the left side where the wood had started to rot. Based on our discussion, I decided that this was something I could tackle myself whilst waiting for the other works to be scheduled.

We have had the most beautiful autumn weather this past weekend, so I decided that I needed to make the most of it for outdoor painting. Here is where I started on Saturday morning...

 The area where the trim had started to rot

You can see the poor state of the woodwork. Up close, the cream paintwork on the door itself had been badly applied. I think the door was originally white. So I spent the rest of the day washing everything down, scraping paint, sanding the wood trim and garage door, applying wood filler to repair the left side trim, and then repainting everything - garage door included.

By 5pm, the results were...

...weathertight for the coming winter. The colour of the door also now co-ordinates with the front door and fence.

And because I love a good before and after, these photos show the evolution of the front of my property...

June 2014 - in it's original condition when I completed on the purchase

 April 2015 - front door and fence painted, and front garden landscaped

and today

Sunday, 20 September 2015

A barley-twist leg side table...

Continuing with the theme of furniture makeovers, this is the second item that has had a recent revamp. I picked up with little barley-twist legged side table the weekend I moved into the cottage last year from a nearby village for £5. It then sat in its original state for more than a year as other projects took precedence.

Here it is in its original state - no major issues, though it was quite heavily varnished which had started to crack on the table top. My plan had always been to paint the table, but like with the new chest of drawers I added to the sitting room, I decided to leave the table top as natural wood and only paint the frame and legs. I again used ASCP pure - though partway through painting the legs I was regretting not using spray paint!

Like the chest, I sanded the table top and then added a coat of rosewood stain and several coats of Danish oil.

I love the different grains and colours in the wood that are now able to be seen, and the fresh contrast with the white frame and legs...