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Thanks for visting Simply The Nest. I'm an English girl married to an Portuguese boy, and when I'm not taking care of our two adorable daughters, I blog about our house renovation, DIY projects, delicious recipes, inspirational interiors, and family life in a Victorian Manchester nest.

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Monday
Sep152014

Bringing Up Children In The City

A while ago, we made the decision to bring our children up in the city. I had a glorious traditionally English childhood - house backing onto open countryside, short walk through the village centre to the local primary school (home for lunch and then back again in the afternoon), a view from my bedroom window of a medieval castle and moat, and carol-singing round the Buttercross on Christmas Eve every year.

So there's no reason really why I'm resolutely an urban girl, but from the moment I stepped out of the train at Newscastle Central Station nearly half my life ago (what?!) on a day trip to visit my prospective university, and caught the smell of the Tyne and heard the sound of the taxis idling and saw the palimpsest of Victorian and modern architecture against the skyline and the leftover remains of someone's last-night pizza on the floor, I've wanted to live in the city and that's exactly what I've done. Four years in Newcastle followed by thirteen in Manchester, which I moved to after completing my post-graduate degree because one of my friends described in as "a big, dirty exciting city". 

Well, Manchester is exactly that. As much as the next person, I love going on holiday and enjoying a serene view of the lakes, the mountains, the Greek seashore, the rolling Tuscan hills and whatnot, but I'm happy to get back to my little part of M20 with a view of the neighbour's house opposite and the sound of cars and lawn mowers coming through the window. We used to live in the Northern Quarter, and I still enjoy wandering round there during the daytime, seeing all the old buildings, the art, the grafitti, the cars, the smell of exhausts and curries and cigarette smoke and just the general throb of humanity. 

When we bought this house, there was no real question for either of us of selling up in a few years and moving out to Sale, or Altrincham, or Wilmslow, or Marple, or Disley - all lovely I'm sure, but here we're four miles or fifteen minutes out of the city centre and I never want to give that up. (Our neighbours insist that this makes us urban rather than suburban and I agree.) So this is our forever house and in ten years of so the girls will be sneaking out to try and get served in the Met, I'm sure. 

Still, there has to be a balance. I couldn't do the New York family baby-in-a-closet thing - the kids need a bedroom each, we need plenty of space to leave all our crap lying around, the dogs need a decent flight of stairs and hallway to charge down every time the doorbell rings so they can build up sufficient speed to properly hurl themselves at the front door, and we need a nice big garden with enough space to install giant trampolines and climbing frames.

Which is exactly what we did this weekend, with the help of six children (including next door's kids, who climbed over the fence with a toolbox and a homemade pavlova) and three adults (who contributed beer and burgers to the cause). The instructions said it would take two adults ten hours - "it won't take that long!" said Andre. On yes it did, longer in fact, but the instructions were as unintelligible as these kind of instructions usually are, I insisted on labelling each lag screw and hex bolt so we didn't lose any of them, and we stopped for plenty of espresso breaks, trampoline bouncing sessions and Jack Russell ball throwing interludes. 

We did have a think about building one ourselves from scratch, but by the time you've bought the wood, fixings, stain, slide and swings the cost is basically the same as buying one and assembling it, so that's what we did. Eva thinks it's a tree house because we've deliberately built it around the existing buddleia and acers and when you're up in the crow's nest you feel completely surrounded by leaves and greenery. We'll also be installing a raised platform around the main acer with a walkway or monkey bars to connect back to the climbing frame, so the whole thing will hopefully feel very organically at one with the garden.

Here's how wild the garden was when we first moved in:

After a weekend of ivy-taming last summer:

Clearing and levelling the ground (which involved digging up five enormous decorative tree stumps):

Ta da!

A team of willing under-age workers and an idiot posing:

And a view of the whole garden from the steps. 

The neighbour's kids say it's better than theirs and we haven't even pimped it up with the matching periscope, telephone, telescope and chalk board yet so I'm calling it a WIN.

Next outdoor project - chuck down a load of forest park with a tree stump border to enclose the play area, and add a stone circle patio where the pond used to be.

Friday
Sep122014

Summer And Thoughts On The Decline Of Blogging

Whoosh! And that was the noise of the summer rushing past in a blur of ice cream, prosecco and braai food, all fragranced with the delectable aroma of Boots Soltan lotion. How did it get to be September so quickly? We're definitely a summer family - I just don't get the allure of the nights drawing in, wearing snuggly jumpers and curling up on the sofa with a mug of hot cocoa or whatever. Why would anyone sensible want to do that when you could be sitting outside in your back garden at 10pm drinking a glass of cold rose and enjoying the balmy night air?

I also can't believe that I haven't written a blog post since June. Every week I kept thinking, oh, I really need to share photos of the bedroom (it's now white! and beautiful!) but that would have involved finding my camera, finding my tripod, taking a bunch of pictures, setting up the PC which had been abandoned on the floor of the spare bedroom while we renovated the master bedroom, downloading the photos, editing them, adding my watermark - and that's before I'd even written a word and it all just felt too much like hard work so I just poured another glass of prosecco and wandered outside with it instead.

Blogging has changed, hasn't it? I've been blogging for years, at least five of them, back when YHL were posting about buying budget blooms from the local shop and it was charming and authentic. These days it's all Pinterest-friendly DIYs where you can't just post the DIY, heaven forfend, you have to have a pin-friendly image of the DIY with your logo and some descriptive text laid over it, and there are so many sponsored posts that aren't marked as sponsored posts but you know two sentences in that you're reading yet another sodding post about the Honest Company or Blue Apron but the blogger won't bother to tell you it's sponsored until you get to the end even though the rules say that's not allowed (kudos to Katie Bower, she seems a tad on the crazy side but she's totally transparent about her sponsored posts). It wasn't hard to see the YHL sabbatical coming because the blog's been unfortunately spiralling downwards for months, and the ironic thing of course is that if I were to click over and see a post about budget blooms I'd click straight off again on the grounds that this is your job and I want to see more than some sodding flowers in a vase, you know?

Personally I think it's the trend for making money from blogging that's sending the whole thing into a decline. Two of my favourite bloggers - Natalie from Hey Natalie Jean, who I read because her life is so utterly different to mine and her posts are an unabashed stream of fairly bonkers consciousness, and Andrea from For The Love Of, who lives in California and posts about clean eating (what?) and weird recipes with foods I've never heard of that I wouldn't even know where to buy in the UK and recently posted a DIY necklace that basically looked like a giant fake beard which was accidentally hilarious - have recently posted about how they took on too many sponsored posts, found they didn't want to do them anymore, are finishing off the ones they've been contracted to do, and will be returning to blogging because they love writing, not to get page views. You go, ladies.

We don't all have to make money from blogging, right? I mean, if you want to, then by all means crack on, and there are a very few blogs out there that do it really well, but personally I just can't be freaking bothered, you know? I've done a few sponsored posts here and there in the past but now I'm working full-time and there are just not enough hours in the day to be sodding around with sponsored posts when I don't even have time to write the posts that are the main reason why I started this blog in the first place, namely as a diary of our house renovations.

Also, about six months ago the stats functionality on my Squarespace app stopped working so I couldn't check my page views without going to my actual website. Back in March I was getting around 25,000 page views a month, which considering I have never used after the jumps to increase clicks, and have a punishing schedule of approximately one post a month, was probably a fairly healthy number of page views. Now? I have no clue. A lot less than that, I imagine. And you know what happened as a result? Nothing! No personal impact to me whatsoever! I'd actually kind of forgotten that people read this at all until a nice reader called Anna left a comment enquiring where I was and that kind of reminded me that I do have a blog, and like posting on it, so thank you Anna for bringing that to my attention.

Soooo, this is not a long-winded way of saying I'm through with blogging, far from it, but I do wish I had a way of magicking out of thin air the couple of extra hours I would need each week to write a post (that given the choice I would actually rather use to make curtains or sand floors or paint furniture or generally have a little lie down to recover from the overly large amounts of champagne I drank - how fancy am I, right? - at a work event last night).

If anyone feels similarly about blogging, and has any thoughts on what the future holds given that even the mighty YHL have been felled by the monotony of having become a brand, do share them. Or maybe I'm just a crazy lady ranting gently away to myself on a Friday night while eating the hula hoops we bought for the kids, who knows.

Anyway, one thing we did this summer was go to Germany to see our lovely German friends who live in a little town between Berlin and Leipzig, bask in 35 degree sunshine and eat weird German food. Baked camembert for lunch? Don't mind if I do. Served with sour berries, slices of tinned peach, dry triangles of toast and... wait for it... a giant dollop of whipped cream? Pretty freaking weird, but I ate it anyway because it turns out that if my favourite thing to dip into a baked camembert is strips of brie (true story), then my second favourite thing might be whipped cream and hey, who needs to fit into their work trousers upon returning home to the UK, right?

Pretty German houses:

My delight at realising that an Eis-Cafe was not the frappuccino I was expecting, but instead was a cold latte with a generous amount of ice cream wedged into the glass:

A standard German kids' meal with Haribo on the side:

And a small pink lady paddling in the local lake:

Our friends had just finished building their house (this is a normal thing in German, sensible nation that they are; to buy land and build a brand shiny new house on it, rather than invest in a draughty old money-pit and spend hours lovingly scraping lead paint off the stairs) and it was just so nice to spend time somewhere with lovely new bathrooms and a proper kitchen with an island and an induction hob and a table for the kids to sit at.

We've come home renewed with vigour to get cracking with our extension - ideally early next year, assuming we can get a suitable builder booked in. I've even been ordering catalogues for tiles and whatnot. Maybe I should just try doing short posts saying hey, what do you think of these tiles with this worktop? which is basically the kind of thinking that flows through my brain these days.

Hope you've had a lovely summer too. I'm off to finish the prosecco.

You can leave a comment here, if you like.

Friday
Jun202014

Master Bedroom Renovation Progress

At this stage, I should probably write a post called "how to plaster your walls" and give loads of great advice about plaster consistency, tools, helpful hints etc, but actually my best advice is to just sodding well pay someone to plaster your walls, because although Andre has done an absolutely amazing job and has basically taught himself to DIY plaster to a really professional standard, it has taken four months of pretty solid effort. And when you work out how much it would have cost versus how long it took us, it works out at around £30 a week and we probably spend more than that every week buying orange juice (we drink a weirdly massive amount of orange juice). 

Anyway, here's where we started in February.

And here's what happened next.

And here's where we are now. The giant desk has been moved against this wall while we sanded the floor on the other side of the room. Long-term it's going to move into the cellar once we've converted the utility room, but for now it's going to live here because this is where the movers left it and it's huge and there are not enough hours in the day to be moving monolithic furniture from one room to another. 

Here's a close-up of the typical plaster situation we had to deal with. The woodwork is actually in reasonable condition so, as with the other rooms we've tackled so far, we're just giving it a light sand in places to remove the worst lumpy bits and then slapping some white paint on top. I'm happy to invest time and money into renovating wooden floors and staircases because the final results are amazing, but I truly don't notice the skirting boards so for us, it's not worth the effort. 

We used to have a corner sink located hazardously close to the plug sockets.

When we started chipping away at the plaster it all crumbled off so we had to take the whole thing back to brick (in fact we had to take a decent amount of the room back to brick). This is the stage of renovation where you think sod it, let's just glue the wallpaper back on and call it a day.

No more brick!

We've also finished sanding the floor and have started work priming the windows. Again, renovating the windows is something we're going to tackle at a later stage (I can't face the heinous thought of replacing them with PVC, the cost of replacing them with wood so we need to fully repair them) so they're just getting a coat of paint for now. And then we can paint the walls and oil the floors. I reckon one more weekend and week of effort and we'll be done.