2014 was the year our little family adjusted to our new normal - two parents working full-time when I returned to work at the end of last year after 16 months of maternity leave. I went back to my old consulting job after having Eva, but found the travel pressure too much to manage. So at the end of my second maternity leave I took voluntary redundancy, looked around for a new job closer to home, and after a few months was lucky enough to find a role based in Spinningfields in Manchester city centre that allowed me to continue working in my chosen profession, albeit being no more than four miles away from my children rather than a couple of hundred.
In many ways, working full-time outside the home is very similar to being a full-time stay-at-home parent. The tasks can be relentless in their repetition, whether they involve constantly emptying potties, preparing and clearing away numerous meals served in small bowls, attending the same meeting with the same people week after week to discuss the same agenda, preparing the same slides for the same board meeting, or arguing with small, unreasonable people who are largely completely unwilling to see my point of view.
I'm fortunate that I love my work, repetitive tasks non-withstanding, and have a great group of colleagues, even the unreasonable ones who like to spend most of the day arguing ;-) I'd rather be at home, certainly, because then my time is my own and I can decide (with input from my strong-minded daughters, naturally) what we should do with it each day, but I'm very happy with our current set-up, especially because my role is flexible enough that even though I work full-time, I can still drop Natalia at nursery every day, collect Eva from school a couple of times a week, and take time off to see her Christmas play without having to take annual leave.
Of course, what it does mean is that work on the house has slowed down. For the first few months after starting my new job I was just pole-axed every night - totally exhausted from the effort of adjusting from a fairly relaxing, freeing and physical lifestyle with lots of time spent outdoors, to having to wear a pencil skirt and suit jacket and sit at a desk with a laptop and a smart phone. A year down the line and we've all adjusted nicely, and Andre and I feel like we have the energy again to take on projects like fitted wardrobe installations and bathroom renovations, both of which we plan to get cracking on early this year.
Here's what we did manage to get done during 2014.
We got planning permission for our ground floor extension, have completed all the structural drawings and schedule of works (including the kitchen design that had to be finalised in order that builders could quote accurately for gas, power and lighting requirements), and are ready to send all the information out to tender. Hopefully Christmas 2014 will have been the last time that I had to cook Christmas dinner in our dilapidated kitchen-in-a-bay-window.
Furniture and decor projects
I upcycled Natalia's wardrobe with Annie Sloan paint.
Here's what it used to look like.
I primed and painted a chair from the cellar (with a six month gap between the priming and the painting, oops).
We got a couple of trees cut back and one cut down, which has allowed a massive amount of extra sunlight into the garden.
We installed a trampoline, although I haven't got round to sharing any photos of it as we were too busy bouncing enthusiastically on it.
At Eva's request, we built a 'tree house' in the corner of the garden (since the photo below was taken, we've edged the play area with logs and filled it with wood chippings, which looks fantastic).
Here's the corner before we got to work, taken from a bit further away.
We cut back the wisteria outside the back door which had transformed our terrace into a cave. From this:
(You can also see the side of the new trampoline in the photo above.)
We also stripped, sanded and oiled the front door and it looks fantastic. One of our neighbours noticed our efforts and said "ah, you're renovating the place" in a tone of relief, which I guess is fair enough considering all our activities so far have pretty much been concentrated on the interior and back garden, with the front garden left in a fairly scruffy, studenty state. Don't worry folks, we'll get to it next year, promise.
We insulated the cellar ceiling underneath the living room with Kingspan (I still haven't blogged about this; will do so at some stage in the not too distant future) which has resulted in the room above being 2-3 degrees warmer than all the other rooms on the ground floor, which is quite simply astonishing. It was a horrible task but well worth it. We haven't tackled the remaining insulation yet as the builders will need access to the other cellar room ceilings when they build the extension.
We also replaced nearly all the remaining radiators (one more left to do) and our house is now toasty warm despite the eleven foot ceilings.
Our biggest project this year was without a doubt our master bedroom transformation - from a burgundy and mustard nightmare to a gloriously white oasis with gorgeous polished original floorboards and handmade floor-to-ceiling linen curtains via a fairly terrifying back to brick phase. We did all the work ourselves over the spring months, suiting up most nights to strip wallpaper off, plaster walls, repair metres and metres of woodwork, sand and oil the floor and paint the walls and woodwork.
And here she is now:
These summary posts are always a bit of a faff to do, but worth it to look back and see what we've accomplished - quite a lot, actually, considering we've had significantly reduced time available for renovation purposes.
This coming year will be a busy one. Unless the forthcoming quotes for the extension turn out to be wildly in excess of what we're predicting, meaning the work will remain out of reach for another year, we're planning to complete the following:
Ground floor extension to include new kitchen and utility room, downstairs WC, dining area, play room, boot room, and knock-through to the living room. Yowser! Our plan is to get the builders to do the main building work, plus as much of the rest as we can afford, although we're expecting that we will most likely end up installing the kitchen ourselves to save money.
Living room renovation - we will do this ourselves while the main building work is being done and the house is generally dusty.
Garden landscaping - cut down remaining random shrubs, create new flower beds and raised beds, lay new lawn, install new patio, install new deck and terrace (this latter will be done by the builders).
Install a fitted wardrobe in our room - we should start work on this in the next couple of weeks once I've ordered all the materials.
Renovate the bathroom on the top floor - we'll do this after we finish the fitted wardrobe.
We're going to be busy! Wish us luck...