Home is where the heart cushion is

This old thing? We just call it home.
Erm, other people call it Middleton Lodge, home of Lady G's Cookery school.

We live in a rented house. Yes we are mature married adults with two children and we don’t own a house. This mostly doesn’t bother me. In the current climate I am glad we didn’t listen to the family members who insisted that we get one of those 100+% mortgages a quite frankly we’d be screwed right now.

 

It bothers me sometimes. I can’t think of any of our friends who don’t own their own house. Every now and then I have a bit of a freak out thinking “OMG we’ve got no mortgage we are going to be working until we’re 105 or else we are going to be destitute on the street “. But my issues have only ever been financial ones. The last two flats we lived in were fab. The first one was a raised ground floor Victorian flat. It had an avocado bathroom suite, which let me tell you, I loved. As I went blinking and bleary eyed into the bathroom to do my morning ablutions I was soothed by the calming green and wood panelled bath, rather than a glaring white thing. The flat was in a fashionable area of town, with leafy avenues and poncey shops. The alcoves either side on the marble fireplace were bowed with the weight of our books. I loved it. Our last flat was On the first floor of a beautiful Regency villa. The living room was over 30 long and had 4 original 9ft sash windows. The flat was lovely and bright and big, and we had furniture and wicker baskets slung casually around the rooms, and our furniture was just the right side of shabby chic. We bought a massive 4 seater sofa, which conveniently hid all of Betty’s toys behind it. Both these flats were minutes walk from the fashionable town we lived in. In both these places I felt completely at home.

 

Both flats were sold from under us. The first when Betty was 3 months old. The second when I was 6 months pregnant and had a toddler. We were devastated. We now live in a boxy new build, nearer to the not-so-fashionable city, in walking distance of a Co-op and the school. One the upside we have central heating and double glazing. Our energy bills are next to nothing. We have a garden for the kids to play in. We have two floors; no snotty cow above us stomping around in her stilettos; no slacker below us, filling our flat with the fumes of stale marijuana. But this house feels a small and boxy, we are crammed into a suburban development in the middle of more suburbia. Our 9ft sofa that was dwarfed by our old flat now looks monstrous, and the shabby chic furniture looks shabby shit against the magnolia walls and plasticky doors. But mostly, it has no soul. It’s definitely what you would call a ‘first-world problem’ to feel depressed by a house, especially a brand new one, but I can help but feel a little down about it sometimes. DH feels the same. The house almost sucks the soul out of us. What an awfully trite complaint, hey?

 

Anyway, there is a point to this soul bearing, and it is that in this house more than any, we have had to work at making it feel like home. We can afford to move. We’d be mad to. Our landlord isn’t going to sell anytime soon, we have a garden, and a garage, it’s near Betty’s school, and needs absolutely nothing doing to it. Flat no.1 that we lived in hadn’t been decorated or remodelled in 20 years. We just have to make the best of it. But making a place feel like home when you have a constant sense of impermanence is hard. Much of it depends on the flexibility of your landlord, but you have to find ways of making the house feel like it is your home, adding your stamp without the stamp duty.

 

The reason I’m writing this blog post now is because recently I was discussing the issue with another blogger Life of an Expat Parent and she decided to host a link up. We want to have a series of posts about how to make a house a home. Most home style books and blogs rarely take into account renters and the lack of permanence and control we have over our houses. A lot of the crafting I do is to this end. Some of this will be familiar to my die hard readers, but to those who haven’t been following my blog I hope I can offer some inspiration.

Cushions are a really easy way add a bit of your own style to a house. I prefer an eclectic assortment. I say assortment; I have two currently, but am working on more. Cushions are really easy to make yourself, and simple cushions in bright fabrics can be a quick crafting win. These two took a little longer, more details on the heart cushion here and the wolf one here.

 

Blankets are another way of adding a bit of colour to your living space. Unfortunately due to being whatever the opposite of a completer-finisher is, blankets are my nemesis. These crochet squares never quite reached their dream of becoming a beautiful blanket, but were destined instead to brighten up a cheap upligher.

This cute chalkboard is great for keeping track of your shopping list, writing messages to other members of your family, or just doing seasonal drawings. It’s easy to make and easy to put up and take down. For the record, toothpaste is meant to be good for filling holes left by nails (caveat: I’ve never tried this!).

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We’ve had this stool since we lived in flat number two, where we could afford to have random pieces of furniture strewn around. Now it just gets moved around the kitchen out of the way according to which cupboard I need to get to. Or else the baby takes it so that she can reach something she shouldn’t have. We originally bought it from an antique shop but I expect a forensic analysis of the paint samples would date it to circa 1990. Anyway, I thought it was time to tart it up.

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A lick of paint and some easy crochet circles and it looks fresh and bright to match our new, modern and often messy kitchen.

 

I’ve never been a huge fan of the vintage/retro/nostalgia fashions that are popular now, nor am I a fan of ultra modern or contemporary fashions that will date. I am really inspired by the bright fresh colours and Scandi sleekness of By Frydd, and the eclectic mix of decor in Modern Vintage Style by Emily Chalmers.

And this one is on my wish list:

 

And finally for cheap furniture and accessories that aren’t completely devoid of style you just can’t beat Ikea. So in essence, renting a house doesn’t mean you cant make it feel like home. There’ll be more from me on this. My home is still a work in progress.

World Kindness Day: Be kind, just not randomly

Today is World Kindness Day. It started in 1998 with the World Kindness Movement. The purpose of World Kindness Day is, according the the World Kindness Movement website, is: to look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race, our religion; and realise we are citizens of the world. As world citizens we have a commonality, and must realise that if progress is to be made in human relations and endeavours, if we are to achieve the goal of peaceful coexistence, we must focus on what we have in common.

According to Dr David Hamilton, author of Why Kindness is Good For You, kindness can have physical benefits, as well as emotional benefits. When a purpose performs an act of kindness, the brain produces various chemicals which act as nature’s morphine, hence the term ‘helper’s high’. It’s not just these feel good effects that take place. The nervous system and cardio vascular system both relax, blood pressure reduces. Being kind is actually good for your health.

Aside from the benefits to you, the obvious benefit to being kind is the help you have given someone else. Acts of kindness, small and large, can make a difference to someone’s life, acts that may be remembered for ever.

But unasked acts of kindness may not always have the desired effect on the people they are aimed at. Oliver Burkeman, in his book Help, discusses the idea of RAKs, or Random Acts of Kindness. Such acts that are encouraged by the RAK movement are paying the tab of the person behind you in a shop or restaurant, or leaving a bag of groceries on a neighbour’s doorstep. But Burkeman suggests that while the giver may be suffused with warmth at their act of generosity, the receiver is often left with feelings of hostility. Studies suggest that receivers of random acts of kindness feel a sense of indebtedness which troubles them. This is keenly exploited by companies offering free gifts. Some companies offer gifts with a purchase, because it sweetens the deal. Some companies give you a free gift before you even make a purchase, stands at trade shows, charities sending pens and address labels through the post, because once you have that ‘gift’ in your hands you feel a sense of debt towards the company, nudging you into making an order or a donation.

Talking of charities, another controversial act of kindness is Operation Christmas Child, a charity which collects and distributes boxes filled with goodies for ‘deprived’ children for Christmas, lovingly donated by schools, Brownie packs and church groups. However, the gifts come with an added extra, a Christian evangelical booklet and an invitation to a 12 lesson discipleship programme, which I am sure they really appreciate in countries where the main religion is Hinduism or Islam. One Mumsnetter was bemused when her daughter in a middle class Private Day Nursery in Bosnia received an OCC box one Christmas. That’s not to mention the cost, both financial and environmental, of shipping shoeboxes full of plastic goods, made in China and India, from the UK, back to China and India, probably to the children making such goods in the first place. There is a reason why the large charities such as Red Cross and Save the Children don’t operate similar schemes. They know that the money is better targeted into local community projects with lasting benefits. But such altruism isn’t quite as fun, and doesn’t make parents and school children feel quite so warm and cosy inside does it? Nor does it give Samaritan’s Purse, the charity behind Operation Christmas Child, the opportunity to feel good about itself for spreading the word of God.

Don’t get me wrong, my point isn’t not to do acts of kindness. And I think true altruism, where there is absolutely nothing to be gained for the giver, is very rare, and that’s ok. It doesn’t matter if you feel good about being good. But think about where you target your kindness. The randomness some acts of kindness that unsettles people, and if they think there is an agenda behind it they will be left with a feeling of discomfort. I also think kindness involving money or goods is often ill advised, especially in relationships that aren’t that close. It creates a power imbalance, can feel patronising, and may make the receiver feel in a debt that they can’t repay. On the other hand, there are acts of kindness that cost nothing but time, or a little emotional energy. You can’t put a price on them, and that is probably a good thing.

It’s those acts of kindness that really make a difference, that stay with you. For me, it’s the countless people who have helped me up and down stairs with the pushchair. The shop assistant in Lush who gave my daughter a bath bomb. My friend’s husband taking my eldest daughter out for a few hours when I had a newborn and I was struggling. My husband bringing me home a book from the library that he thought I’d like. My mum insisting that I take all my washing for her to do when I visit, despite the fact that I am 30 and own my own washing machine and tumble drier. The cars that let me out of the junction in the morning so I am not waiting forever to get to work. The man working in the Sainsbury’s car park who replaced the pot of yoghurt that fell out of my overloaded trolley. The pharmacy assistant in Boots, who refused to sell me any sleeping tablets when I was heavily pregnant and suffering from insomnia, but hugged and comforted me as I sobbed on her shoulder.

Perform your own act of kindness on World Kindness Day. But when you do, make sure it is mostly about the receiver and what is right for them. It may not always be what is right for you, but you’ll still have the health benefits!

Let me know if any acts of kindness have stayed with you, or your good ideas for simple, free and useful acts of kindness.

I couldn't find any pictures to show kindness that weren't completely cliched, so here is a picture of a cinnamon bun my husband kindly brought me back from Ikea

Cushty

I Heart My Homemade Cushion

So I mentioned that we’ve been trying to make our house a little more of a home. DH and I have had the week off this week, with big plans, but as usual, with two young kids, everything takes much longer than you think. But we managed a few things. I’m incredibly pleased with my crocheted heart cushion. No, I’m not obsessed with hearts by the way (don’t get me started on grown women ‘collecting’ things like hearts, elephants, Disney memorabilia…!). But hearts are so nice and cheerful, are they not?

 

I used a pattern from The Left Side of Crochet, which I love and will definitely use again, especially as by now I know it off by heart (excuse the pun!). I whip stitched the 16 squares together, then whip stitched (is that an Americanism? I’m not sure what the UK equivalent is) the crocheted cover straight onto a cheap and cheerful, plain white Ikea cushion. I didn’t do the back, just stitched the from straight on. The cover doesn’t even come off the Ikea cushion. I’m hoping that the whole thing can go straight in the wash if necessary *crosses fingers*.

My sewing cabinet

Now I promised there would be no wanky photos on here, unrealistic snapshots into a seemingly perfect life. Well, I just thought I would show you a picture of my sewing cabinet. This is as close to wanky as I get. It’s not as pretty or vintage looking at some I’ve seen, but I love it. It is a place to gather my crap.

 

It is an old computer cabinet from IKEA. We’ve not had a PC for years but I refused to get rid of it, sure it would come in useful someday, and it has. The keyboard draw pulls out, and with a little bit of wood for stabilisation I can sit my machine on it and sew at it, which I haven’t done much admittedly.

 

I actually got the idea from the book Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross. Suffice to say hers is much lovelier than. But then she has a craft book and makes living from this. I have a part time job, a tiny rented house, 2 young children and an IKEA cabinet. I do have crochet bunting though. That was on there just for the picture though. It would definitely be wanky if I kept it there all the time.