And, We're In...

boxes on moving in day

Today I've got to give up the never ending clearing and cleaning for the sake of my newly manicured nails - we're off to a 70th Birthday party this weekend.  It gives me the perfect excuse to sit amidst the mess of our move and blog instead.

Ash Cottage, our new abode, is a Victorian cottage with an old butchers shop attached and an acre garden.  She has been sorely neglected for a good 20 years or more and so we are gently clearing, cleaning and restoring the old girl to her former glory.

It has been non stop since we got in here, as I'm sure is always the case when you move house.  We have a list of jobs as long as your arm and more constantly added.  Some days I can't believe how much has already been done, sometimes I can't believe how little.  But, I'm quite chuffed at what we have achieved so far.  The list is something like:

  • Man living in the garden - gone (long story for another post me thinks).
  • Dangerous gas fires - gone.
  • Meters of unnecessary copper pipes, electrical cabling, redundant heating systems, motion sensors, air freshners, burglar alarms, thermostats and fitted desks and shelving (2 skips worth of the stuff) - gone. 
  • Bathrooms and kitchen - steam cleaned.  Showers - working.
  • Trees, shrubs, nettles and grass cut back so we can; a) see out the back room window and b) walk down the garden.  Doors to the garage - openable, "Thanks Jack!"...

 ...although, the old blue sign above the garage door, for what was once an MG Dealership, is no more.  Held together and yet destroyed by the voracious roots of the ivy that covered the garage roof.

old sign

  • Garden fenced so that dogs can't a) commit kamikaze attacks on the cars on the A120 that passes outside our front door or b) chase our neighbours alpacas.   

This gate, part of the new fence, was the first completed job on the house.  The river Ash that runs along the side of the garden is now off limits to dogs and children without adult supervision and I can't tell you the difference that has made to my nerves.

So, here she is the old girl awaiting whatever is next for her.  And, oh, Mrs Fox has plans - crafty Mrs Fox!

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Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Houses & Homes

Ok it's been a while, but we are back on the case with Ladybird Tuesday linky started on the Being Mrs C blog, take a look at her posts here.  I admit that I am a little obsessed with houses and homes at the moment because we have just moved - oh the stress and strain.  And, as a result I am launching a new blog Mrs Fox's Den for all the inevitable posts about our house and garden and it's renovation.

The Story of Houses and Homes 

Written by Richard Bowood with illustrations by Robert Ayton is a Ladybird Achievements book first published in 1963.

The Story of Houses & Homes

"Man must have a house, for shelter from the weather to provide a safe place to sleep with protection from his enemies and to make a home for his wife and children."

Starting with cavemen and ending with a modernist home in the country this Ladybird book spans the history of houses in the UK.

Vintage Ladybird Books - The Story of House & Home

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Houses & Homes

From Norman Castle to Elizabethan half-timber homes, it looks at the history, materials and technology of the British Home:

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Houses & Homes

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Houses & Homes

However, it presents this history primarily in terms of the architecture with a relatively limited amount of social commentary.

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Houses & Homes

There is mention of industrialisation leading to the horror of slum dwellings and this then being cleared to make way for modern council homes.

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Houses & Homes

The beginning of our wonderful planning system with The Better Homes Act, which Parliament passed in 1875 giving local authorities the power to insist that every house built had to fulfil basic conditions.

But it is primarily focused on the homes of the wealthy and the changing architectural styles.

It's interesting that the author is clearly subjective in his opinion of these houses and primarily on an architectural level.  He is a bit of a Prince Charles in his opinions, in the thrall of classical architecture, the Queen Anne Home being the high point of architectural beauty in the UK.  He expresses genuine distaste for the Victorian Gothic style and traditional Victorian parlour - one of the few interior illustrations in the book.

Victorian Parlour Ladybird Book - The Story of Houses & Homes

So, with the move to our new home imminent I'm also starting a new strand on the blog; Mrs Fox's Den is a personal story of our move to a little country cottage with an acre of land.

The rest of Mrs Fox's Ladybird Tuesday posts are here and if you have a collection of Ladybird books, please do feel free to join in.
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Ways to make you feel like you really are moving No1 - Make Curtains

making curtains

I've unpacked the sewing machine (we thought we were going to move during the summer hols!) and am making a set of curtains out of a vintage curtain & bedspread given to us by Mr Fox's mum.  They will be for the children's bedroom.  They'll be sharing a room again at first.  That way, we only have to get one room clean and decorated.  Initially I'm just going to paint their room white, the curtains will stand out and add the main colour to the room; well, along with all their brightly coloured toys, books and pictures of course.

making curtains

This may take a few days, just unpicking the seams is taking an age.

But I love this bright bold pattern, these 'flowers' are about 40cm each.  I'm looking forward to the end result.  And it is taking my mind off the lack of movement on our sale.

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Decorating Inspiration: A Room of Colour

A room in Virginia Woolf's home
It's taking a while to complete on the new house, so, I am channeling the energy born of frustration into lots of decorating ideas.  I want to be bold with colour in this home, no more minimalist white walls for us.  A muddle of texture and colour, pattern and pleasure for the eye that's what I'm after.

from The Black Dog by Levi Penfold
from The Black Dog by Levi Penfold
Inspiration is coming from all over the place; the little fox's books and children's TV shows:
BBC's adaptation of Katie Morag by Mairi Hedderwick
CBBC's adaptation of Katie Morag by Mairi Hedderwick
Inspiration has come from nature - I love the colour of this lichen, but hate yellow walls in rooms, so I have to think of a way to use it as an accent, maybe with grey.  

And our holiday in Sardinia - I am itching to use bright orange somewhere, kitchen maybe. 
There have been surprises, I've found myself attracted to the idea of a green room and using pink - a colour I have always thought of as one of my least favourites.

Pinterest has been a treasure trove of ideas.  I'm particularly pleased with the development of the ideas for our hall cum bootroom:

Follow Mrs Fox's's board Hallways & Utility on Pinterest.
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Movie Review: The Lego Movie

We’ve been sent a copy of The Lego Movie*, or as it’s known in our house the “AWESOME MOVIE!” (said in movie preview style American voice) to review.  I should first state that this is in no way an objective review because IT'S AWESOME!  

It made us laugh, it made us cry (mostly with laughter).  Despite the characters being little animated plastic people (and things) there was real jeopardy, real triumph, real adventure.  And did I mention, it made us laugh?

So, there is an ordinary guy (made of Lego) who is told he’s the special, the greatest Master Builder of them all, who must save the (Lego) Universe from the evil of Lord Business, who is bent on ultimate control of everything, and everyone Lego.  And that just about sums up the plot of the lego movie, but doesn’t even begin to describe this fantastic, subversive satire about the drawbacks of conformity and the power of the imagination.

Despite a baddie called Lord Business, this film could easily have simply become an over long advert for the Lego brand.  Leaving us parents feeling like we had been slightly stitched up by the powerful combination of, toy manufacturing multi-national and Hollywood studio. But instead, this is an entertaining, creative movie that children and adults can enjoy together.  Doing that clever thing that Toystory pulls off so well, allowing us to laugh at the same joke from a slightly different point of view.  This joyous movie celebrates the imagination of our childhood and glories in it’s zany logic.

We loved it the first time we saw it at the cinema as Mr Fox’s birthday treat.  That’s what I mean about it appealing to both children and the child in the adult.  The nostalgic stop-frame style animation, the in jokes, the pop culture references and the genre smashing storyline appeals to the adults, while the vivid colour, superheroes, unicorns, good v evil, slapstick storyline appeals to the kids.

We love Lego in this house.  Both the little foxes have played with it from their early Duplo days, to the complete worlds they now create, that take up the whole playroom floor and that I am not allowed to put away for weeks on end.   

My only, only, issue with the movie is that with it’s positive message of creative play and building free form creations rather than following the instructions, the Lego playsets that came out after the movie to exploit it’s success were of exactly the latter type.  But, it did make us go to the Lego website, ignore the movie tie ins and seek out the Bricks & More Range that gives you all the loose Lego bricks you could want to make your own Lego creations come to life.

And finally any review of this film simply would not be complete without mention of the song, yes, that AWESOME song that my children sang repeatedly for weeks after, and anytime the word AWESOME is said since.  I can say little to describe it's awesomeness, instead, here, see what you think...

*We were sent this movie to review by

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I'm turning into a 1950's Housewife?

1950's Del Monte Ketchup Advert
In that giant all-knowing child rearing manual that we are all given at the birth of our first child, selfishness is not one of the things they cover much is it?  I mean parental selfishness.  Obviously the kids are self-obsessed little bundles of desire.  But once you’re a mother you are meant to become all selfless, suppress your needs, give up your own dreams and desires, live FOR your children - but not THROUGH them, that's BAD!

And how do you do that then?

After 3 years juggling a full-time job, I gave up working outside the family home when we had our second child.  Mr Fox is a very involved parent, a GREAT dad, but I was the primary carer even with a full-time job.  It was my career, being the one that contributed less to the family budget, that was always compromised by child care needs, last minute chaos, illness and the like.  Mr Fox was quite happy to let me take the lead, as if through divine maternal knowledge I knew something he didn’t know when it came to raising a child. 

There was no pressure to give up work from Mr Fox, or anyone else.  Although the Old Man has since admitted to liking it.  He has to be the least macho man you could come across, but he said that he likes knowing the kids and I are at home and safe while he's out there providing.  Far be it for me to rain on his parade.

I try to run a small business with my best friend, the other Mrs Fox.  We work from home and the business has to fit around our families.  Someone asked me if it was a “hobby” the other day.  And it made me think.  

Is Mrs Fox's just me indulging my need to feel as if I am working?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy being at home.  I liked my job, but I like this more.  It's not that I'm terribly domestic in the traditional sense.  I'm not house-proud, though I love my home.  I clean as little as possible and find much of the mundane stuff frankly boring.  I parent by trial and error, with errors probably winning on the score sheet of parenting.  I most miss the adult company of a working life, but love to watch the kids growing and changing, that much used phrase; "the time passes so quickly"  is so true with children.  

Being at home is often harder, but infinitely more satisfying than my career was.  I had good jobs; ones that other people probably thought were more exciting/interesting than they actually were, and good enough that I don't fancy doing jobs I hate, just so I can say that I'm a working mum.  I ended my career a little disillusioned and ready to explore a new path in life.

Which I guess also reveals that Mr Fox's earnings are enough to support the family on a single income, while I follow this new path.  And you have to factor in childcare costs, I am a pretty frugal housewife, there are fringe benefits to the re-cycling and vintage aesthetic.

Staying at home releases me from that need for butt clenching organisation, the military precision of the household with both parents working.  I have IMMENSE admiration for the parents that pull that one off.  But, I confess I cannot do it without feeling stressed beyond belief.   And that is the reason in a nutshell, so complex but so not, I decided to stay at home - because going to work made me unhappy.

Deciding to stay at home and look after the kids was a selfish decision.  While there are benefits for our whole family, I think I benefit most.  I feel as if I should feel guilty.  I’ve let the side down, the Women’s side I mean.  But, wasn’t feminism all about giving women choices?  My choice seems to be to become a bad 1950’s housewife that hates to clean and shouts at her children.

I just chucked the last of my personal savings into the (joint bank account) pot for the deposit on our new house.  I am now in my 40‘s living in Hertfordshire, not working (and haven’t been for 5 years), entirely financially dependent on my husband.  I sound like a 50’s housewife and yet I feel like a selfish little kid.  And this blog is part of that selfishness, I want to record the new home we are going to build, the family life and the fun it entails.  I'm looking forward to choosing tiles, raising bees and chickens, going to village events, digging the garden, growing and making food.

I've decided to accept my selfishness, get over the guilt and embrace the 1950's housewife in me.  Still don't intend to do any more bloody cleaning tho!

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Evie & Rex Paper Dolls

A few weeks ago we were approached by the lovely people at Folksy's blog to contribute to their summer holiday children's craft tutorials. The little foxes and I had had such a good time last school holidays making paper dolls from Sweet Paul's website, that I fancied designing a paper doll for Mrs Fox's.

So here are Evie & Rex in paper:

Their design is a mash up of Evie and Rex our handmade dolls that we sell on Folksy, my beautiful little girl Una May and her dog Bea. If you'd like to make your own you can download the template from Folksy, paint cut out and play.  Super simple to make, great for the school holidays.

All You Will Need is:
paper & card
paint, coloured pencils or pens

1.  Download the PDF (2 pages; Evie & Rex and one page of her clothes) print onto white paper.

2.  Colour Evie, her friend Rex the dog and her clothes however you wish.

3.  To make Evie and Rex stand up, glue then onto card - you can use an old cereal box it’s the right thickness.  Leave a strip of card about 3cm wide at the bottom that you can fold into a stand - see below:

TIP:  I cut Evie out roughly first, leaving 1/2cm of white paper around the edge.  Then I glued her to the card.  Once she'd dried I cut her out again, this time trimming right up to the edge of the doll. 

4.  Cut out Evie’s clothes and fold the tabs over the edge of the doll to dress her.  Have fun designing and making your own outfits for Evie.

Making the paper Evie has also fed into the design process of the party gang cloth dolls which are about to go through a bit of a makeover.  Just as soon the school holidays are over!

All our designs are entirely our own so please leave a comment below if you do decide to download them - we just love a little love!

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A Room of Ones Own: The Studio

After my last post I have been thinking some more on the whole room of ones own theme.  And talking to friends who are (trying) to work creatively from home too.

Building the studio for Mrs Fox's was, in the wider scheme of things, quite selfish.  My family and I live in a relatively small cottage and I got my own exclusive work space.

Yes, my husband used it on the one day a week he worked from home, but he had to fit around the mess in there.  Yes, it was money from my redundancy that paid for it, but it could have been used for something else.  Yes, we sometimes used it for the little foxes' craft sessions too, after all most of the craft materials were up there.  Yes, the building provided us all with extra storage space, the little foxes a play area under the stairs and added value to our home.  But ultimately it was a selfish decision.

But, without it I do not think I would have got Mrs Fox's off the ground.  Not just because of the physical space, but the importance of the mental space that the studio gave.

Because, by building it, by deciding to prioritise that need for space within our family unit, I also gave Mrs Fox's priority, room to establish and grow.  Now that the work space is going to be more integrated into the family home I wonder what that says about Mrs Fox's?

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Reading List One

A new reading list for the move:-

  1. The Story of Houses And Homes - A Ladybird Achievement Book   From my collection of vintage children's books, one for Ladybird Tuesday I think.
  2. The Hive by Bee Wilson   I am very much looking forward to reading this book.  I started to read it a year or two ago but didn't get very far (I blame the little foxes) so it has gone on my pile of books to read in preparation for our new home as I really would like to keep bees.
  3. 21st Century Smallholder by Paul Waddington   Neil bought me this book for my birthday before we moved from London to Hertfordshire.  I've be lusting after a big veg garden, bees and chickens for some time now.  I have to admit 21st Century Smallholder is more style over substance, but it is a beautifully designed book and it has been on my bedside table for about 6 years, keeping the dream alive.
  4. Charles Dowding's Veg Journal by Charles Dowding   I found this book via some great images on pinterest (I've been looking for garden inspiration) and a competition in the Country Smallholding magazine.  Charles Dowding is a proponent of no dig approach to vegetable gardening.  My attraction to the idea of growing abundant food crops without double digging the plots once or twice a year cannot be stressed enough. 
  5. The Great Indoors - Ben Highmore   Not even started this one yet, but the other Mrs Fox gave me it for my birthday this year, more inspiration.
  6. Cabbages & Roses Guide to Natural Housekeeping by Christina Strutt   I bought myself and the other Mrs Fox this book a couple of years ago.  I feel I can only dream of my house looking like the pictures in here.  But a girl can dream right!  I'd like to really try and reduce my use of chemicals in cleaning the house and am hoping the new house will be a new start.
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Forget Me Not - 1: The Studio

I'm alternatively excited and overawed by the idea of packing up the studio for the move.

Mrs Fox's boxes presently spill into the garage and garden as I try to pack craft materials, party products, vintage books toys and dolls, a pre-loved fabric collection begun in my 20's, stationary, sewing machines, and my favourite/inspiring pictures, talismans and knick knacks.
But how lucky am I that I will still have my own space in this new abode of ours.  There is a room at the front of the house that the present owners (The Finn's) use as a dinning room.  We don't need a dinning room so Mrs Fox's gets the room.  It has a huge bay window and a half derelict yellow tile fire place.  80's-stylie "floral country" wallpaper with *horror* a floral border below the picture rail.  It's been flood damaged so the Finn's have ripped up the laminate floor they put down to reveal a damaged Victorian black & white tile floor.

Oh yes, did I mention the floods?  The reason we can afford our new home is because it flooded in the spring with the torrential downpours that we had.  Apparently caused by a wall collapsing into a open culvert nearby.  The wall was built (illegally) by someone who had decided that a culvert was too ugly for them to view from their garden.  Not the village's favourite resident these days I would guess, as it was not only our house that flooded.

Life for both sexes—and I look at them, shouldering their way along the pavement—is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion that we are, it calls for confidence in oneself.
Virginia Woolf
A Room of Ones Own

The studio is the one part of this house that I will really miss.  It means more to me than the sum total of the parts inside it.  I had it built and paid for it; it housed my creative life; I loved working in there; drinking coffee in there; making things in there.  It was indeed that essential "a room of ones own." The studio is a space that was mine when so much of my life is (mostly willingly) not entirely mine.

All the most important things in my life are coming with me to Ash cottage, all but the studio.  But the room that I will have in our new house is more integrated into the family space.  The studio being at the end of the garden, while great for my head space was not so practical with 2 young children in the house.  I'm looking forward to my new work-room, but I will miss the studio.

 Here is an ode in pictures to my darling studio, the first of many I guess.

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