Sunday, 20 November 2011

Boxing Clever and Playing Hooky

Last Saturday hubby whisked me away to glamorous Reading for a child-free day of shopping followed by an early birthday meal with friends. We even got to stay over in a hotel for the night, just across the road from where we used to live - weird.

Hubby doesn't love shopping like I do (I wonder if there are many people who love shopping as much as I do?) but he still managed a good few hours Saturday afternoon because we were looking for furniture, which is more interesting than clothes/shoes/handbag shopping when there's a new house to furnish. We spent a lot of time in Laura Ashley and John Lewis sitting in armchairs - testing the seats for comfort, the height of the back for head rest-ability, the arms for arm rest-ability and checking the price tags for (un)affordability. And after about 30 chairs we found THE ONE. Hubby found it first and then set me the task of identifying it, to see if our tastes/requirements in chair-age are the same. And yes, they are. Only one small problem - the price tag:

Ouch. In fact, double ouch since we'd need two of the chairs to save fighting over who gets to sit down, or to save broken legs when one of us has to sit on the other's lap.

On the Sunday, after a fabulous fried breakfast at The Gorge, we called in at the Shepton Mallet Antiques Fair on our way back home.
We wanted the sledge, but weren't too keen on the £65 price tag.There are quite a few things on our 'want' list that we are hoping to pick up sometime soon from an antiques/junk shop, fair or auction, for example a farmhouse-style kitchen table, some wall shelves for the kitchen, a small chest or cabinet to put a tv on in the snug, bedside cabinets, storage for the main bathroom, the list goes on. Luckily we were able to strike one thing from the list at Shepton Mallet on Sunday when we spied a wooden box which we thought would work well for storing our first aid stuff/medicines in the space above the loo in main bathroom. Obviously the ceramic white and yellow check handle is hugely out of place, but that's easily replaced, but the size of the box and the lovely wood were just what we were looking for do we snapped it up for £15.

Once back home it was time for hubby and his little helper to set to work with their trusty drills. First two holes were drilled in the back of the box and then two more when hubby realised he'd drilled the first two on the bottom rather than the top - oops! Then the box was held against the wall to decide where exactly we wanted it, and hubby used a pencil to mark through the holes in the box onto the wall so he knew where to drill the corresponding holes. Once the holes were drilled and rawl plugs fitted it was simply a job of using two screws to fix the box to the wall. Et voilĂ , storage in the bathroom. Now I just need to find a new knob to blend in with the decor rather than stick out like a sore thumb. I have something in mind and I'm sure eBay will come up trumps.

While the DIY boys were in the mood, hubby also put two hooks up - one in the ensuite and one in the bathroom to hold towels whilst in the shower or bath. Until now when having a shower in the ensuite we've had to leave our towels on the floor outside the cubicle and when using the main bathroom it's a case of draping a towel over the edge of the bath. But not anymore. Now we have towels to hand at the perfect height thanks to these pretty 'crystal' hooks snaffled during a 25% off promotion at Laura Ashley. So now it's just a case of tracking down a little 'crystal' knob for the bathroom cabinet to tie in with the hook right next to it and all will be well.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

When One Becomes Two

A couple of weekends ago we did a bit of work in the ensuite; although it's not a tiny room, it's still not palatial so we have to be careful that the fixtures, fittings and various decorative tat don't make the room feel cluttered or hemmed in. Of course, it helps that the room is painted white and that the tiling within the shower is mostly white metro (aside from the two strips of gorgeous green from Fired Earth).

This storage unit, which worked well in the bathroom of our previous house is a case in point of an item that was too big for this room; although it fitted into the dead space between the sink and the shower, it was too tall and overbearing. And we also wanted to fit our much-loved, auction find, wall-mounted cupboard in to the ensuite somehow and this was really the only workable space. Clearly, something had to give.So, after I cleared off the toiletries, hubby and DC man-handled the overbearing unit out of the ensuite and downstairs into the garage. Then it was time to set to work with the wall cupboard. First holes were drilled, then the little "helper" popped in some rawl plugs.

Then screws were screwed through the holes in the back of the cabinet and into the wall.

And, hey presto, a wall cabinet for some toiletries.

But what about all the other toiletries that were once stored on the hunk-a-chunka wooden unit? Hmm, where to store them? A-ha - lightbulb moment!! Since the wooden unit fitted in the space so neatly apart from heght-wise, why not saw it in (sort of) half to make it into a less obtrusive, but still very useful little item?

So, down to the garage go hubby and his helper and with a bit of sawing here, and a bit of sanding thereTa-da!!!! Two useful storage units/tables, for the price of one!The taller unit shows some saw marks to the corners, but as we're undecided what to do with it in the long run - paint it, add a solid top, put a tray/basket on top - we're not too worried for now.The smaller unit has fared better since the saw marks are on the bottom of the feet and don't show at all.

So, we trotted back upstairs with TWO smaller units tucked under our arms and popped one in the en-suite.

Much better. Not finished, but definitely a step in the right direction. And please excuse our delightful ply wood floor - the Cath Kidston floor tiles we ordered at the end of August - yes, August - have only just arrived and will be fitted in a couple of weeks' time - hooray!

One more little job to do in the ensuite, again with the aid of the little "helper". Can you guess what it is yet?!

The all-important magazine receptacle for easy access to reading material when on the loo! It's an enamel box of some sort that hubby and I picked up some years ago from an antique/junk shop somewhere in the Cotswolds when we were scouring the area looking for somewhere to live. We didn't find a house, but we did find this extremely useful item.

But what of the second storage unit/table I hear you ask? Well, fear not, it was put to use immediately in DC's room replacing the side table where his bedtime books live. Lovely table though it was, it wasn't the most practical for the enormous stack of reading material DC likes to have at his disposal:

But now this square table not only fits the space better, it also has two shelves for all those fabulous books. Much better.

And just in case anyone is in the slightest bit interested, the unit was from IKEA and is still available (in one large piece so you'll have to saw it in half yourself) at the bargain price of £39

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Rewind: My Trip to the US of A - Chicago

Way back when in the midsts of time (a.k.a five weeks ago) I went on a little trip to the USA. My mum and hubby paid for my flight to Chicago and NYC for my upcoming (this month, in fact - argghh!) 40th birthday. Am I lucky, or what?

Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and thought I should probably blog about it, before I forget what I did. Beware, this is a long post. Grab a coffee, sit back, and come with me on a trip round Chicago.

On the Wednesday afternoon I drove up to High Wycombe to stay over with my dearest friend L; this was a fab start to my sojourn as we met up with our mutual friend B and went to Yo! Sushi for dinner - yum!

Thursday morning (ayyyyyeee, it felt like the middle of the night) at 3.45am I crawled out of bed and drove to Heathrow. I'd booked the 'Meet & Greet' car parking service, which gave me probably an extra 30mins in bed and a lot less stress of trying to find their 'middle of nowhere' car park in the dead of night. Then I checked in and headed for the departure lounge where I continued my holiday eating-fest with a Starbucks coffee and blueberry muffin. The flight to Chicago was uneventful. I had two seats to myself, which was great and much more relaxing than being crammed in next to a stranger. The entertainment options were dire, so I spent most of the flight reading a clutch of the Hello magazines I'd brought along. Plane landed at about 10am Chicago time (above is the skyline of Chicago as we were coming into land) and I was in my hotel room in downtown Chicago by about 11.30am. Straight away I met up with a group of the people I'd flown out to meet and we headed out for some lunch. After that I headed for Starbucks (of course) and swooned at the sight of their new drink - Salted Caramel Mocha. HELLO???? Two of my favourite things - salted caramel + coffee - in one cup? And it tasted as good as I'd hoped. Needless to say, I drank rather a lot of those over the five days I was in the USA. Then it was time to hit the shops on the Magnificent Mile. First stop, Crate & Barrel, and first purchase, a pumpkin scoop for hubby - no home should be without one... And there the shopping floodgates were opened and I couldn't/didn't stop til it was time to come home on Monday evening.

A quick meet up with more friends in the afternoon, then I headed out for a light bite dinner - hot dog and cheese fries at Portillos (when in Rome...) before a group of us met up to go to a drag show. That's me on the right, in case you were wondering what I look like, as I'm not sure there are actually that many photos of me on this blog.I've never been to one before so didn't really know what to expect. It was a bit disappointing at first, but the acts slowly improved and by the end I was really enjoying it. Sorry there aren't any photos of the show but cameras weren't allowed. Then it was time for bed - the jet lag was kicking in and I was ready to drop.

The next morning Iwoke bright and early and headed out in the direction of the Mag. Mile once more, but ostensibly not for shopping; this time it was sightseeing. There are fabulous buildings a-plenty in Chicago, apparently due to the fact that the city all but burnt down in the late nineteenth century. One of the most famous is the Chicago Tribune building that has stones embedded in its walls from many monuments around the world - apparently the owner of the Tribune newspaper instructed his reporters to bring/send them back when they were overseas (not sure if this was done legally or whether they snuck up to edificies such as the Great Pyramid at Giza under cover of darkness with a chisel and mallet?!)

There's also an enormous and, dare I say, tacky statue of Marilyn Monroe in that 'infamous' pose which gives lots and lots and lots of people the chance to have their photo taken looking up her skirt. I'm not sure why it's there since she was born and died in LA. Does anyone know the Chicago-Marilyn connection? Am I missing something really obvious?

My sightseeing continued over the other side of the river as I walked through the Loop district, heading for Macy's - a girl has to shop in between all the sightseeing! I was very excited to see the El trains trundling round the overhead tracks, it was just like a scene from ER! My Macy's pitstop lasted longer than I expected due, in most part, to the fact their Christmas Dept had just opened, and I LOVE me some Christmas. Obviously I had to buy a few deccies, including this mega tasteful one. Impressive, non?!
After Macy's I headed for the Chicago Cultural Center to check out the world's largest Tiffany glass dome; it was lovely to see, but actually I thought some of the other parts of the building were just as stunning, if not more so.

After a quick stop to use the free internet in the center, it was over the road and into Millennium Park to see "The Bean" (aka the Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor.) Apparently when first suggested, the idea wasn't very popular but since it was unveiled it has been admired and visited by tourists and locals alike. It makes for some great photos, with the city's buildings reflected and distorted in its surface. And you can take self portraits - look, there's me with the Macy's bag!

After all that walking (and shopping) it was time to head back to the hotel for a little bit of R&R, before I headed out to dinner at Pizzeria Uno, one of several pizzerias in the city that claims to have invented the Chicago pizza pie. I had a mushroom and spinach version (please excuse dreadful photo - no flash on my iPhone) which I would probably have enjoyed a whole lot more if I hadn't eaten an entire side order of mozarella sticks before the pizza arrived. Luckily, this being America, they were more than happy to box it up for me and I enjoyed the leftovers later!

Later on it was time for a get-together with friends in the hotel lounge before we headed out to a karaoke bar, which most of us promptly left after one drink in order to find somewhere quieter where we could sit and chat over a Baileys and ice. And that was the end of Friday.

Saturday I wasn't up quite so early, but still early enough as I'd arranged to meet Tina in Starbucks at 9.30am so we could enjoy a day of shopping and sightseeing together. We pretty much followed the same route I'd taken on the Friday, with a walk along the Mag. Mile, over the river and into Millennium Park, where this time I got my photo snapped in front of The Bean.

This time I also got to see the Crown Fountain which I'd missed the day before; this installation features two 50-foot high towers which project video images of 1,000 Chicago citizens with water spouting from their "mouths".After that it was across the road to the Art Institute of Chicago shop (not cultured enough to do the Institue itself!) and then on to the Chicago Artchitecture Foundation shop, is there a theme developing here? Then finally we found the place we had been headed for all along - a knitting shop - Loopy Yarns. I bought a great pattern book for knitting an Afghan blanket, which I might get round to opening one day...After all that walking and shopping it was time for lunch - pulled pork sandwich with onion rings and fries. Shopping and eating, eating and shopping. Seems about all I did when I was in Chicago...One last shop - the Hershey store; not for the Hershey chocolate which I think is foul, but for the Reeses's peanut butter confections. OMG, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Reese's peanut butter cups, and even more than that I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Reese's peanut butter chocolate bars. I bought three and I've got half of one left, even though I've tried to ration it. I really need to get back to the USA soon! In the evening it was time to head out for dinner to a Churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse). I'm not a big meat-eater, so I went for the all-you-can-eat salad bar option. I'm also not a big salad person, so I expected to be a little bit hungry come the end. How wrong could I be? There was sooooo much to choose from (50+ dishes, apparently) that I only visited the salad bar once. Look at my plate: there was chicken salad, bacon, artichoke hearts, potato salad, mozarella balls, asparagus spears, haloumi, sushi. It was absolutely not like going to a Harvester. Here's Tina and I looking happy about the food.After dinner we headed back to the hotel lounge and spent time chatting and eating ice cream - there are a lot more flavouts of Ben & Jerry's available in the USA! And that was pretty much the end of my trip to Chicago.

And when I checked my bag in at the airport for my flight to NYC, look what got attached to it.

I wonder why??!!