Monday, June 27, 2011

A Four Poster Romantic Makeover

 Verandah Room with new four poster bed. 

A four poster bed always seems to add some magic. We decided to do a little shoogle-nifty with the beds in the B&B and sacrifice our own gorgeous four poster bed to put into the Verandah room to add a little bit of sugar-plum, fairytale love.  

I made wafty white curtains for the bedrails, but immediately took them down again as it detracted from the way the new space flows. I think the four poster bed has created a gorgeous luxurious and slightly princess feel for the room and it's taking all my willpower not to just move in there with Handy Husband and put 'Do Not Disturb' up on the door.

What is your idea of the perfect romantic bedroom? 

The room was like this for a few years

And like this when we bought the place

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dolphin Love

My friend on her stand up paddleboard with dolphins. 

Our bay is home to many dolphins and quite often we see them right up close to the shore as we walk along the beach.

It was the dolphins, on a crisp June morning many years ago, that helped us fall in love with the bay. Already blown away by the endless empty beaches, we were lying under a tree on the icing-sugar sand, gazing at the unbelievable blue of the bay, when a group of dolphins appeared in front of us, just a few metres off the beach, surfing into the shore. They really seemed to be playing - catching the tiny breakers and leaping with delight.

Last night we went for our usual walk. I had spent most of the afternoon in a gruelling tourism meeting  and needed a hit of sea air to remind myself why we live here and run this sometimes challenging business. (It's unusually quiet down here this winter in the B and B). One of my friends from the meeting had clearly had the same thought because there she was, despite the cool weather, riding the gentle waves at the mouth of the creek on her stand up paddleboard, a short distance away from us. I was waving and hollering to her when up popped the dolphins. Right underneath her.

Luckily Handy Husband had his handy camera in his pocket, so while I jumped up and down with unbridled, childlike enthusiasm at their proximity to her (and to us), he started snapping.

It's not unusual to see the dolphins so close. There are people in this village who make their living out of the reliability of seeing at least one pod every day somewhere in the bay, but as I say to HH every time we see them (and he laughs at me jumping up and down and pointing), the day I stop being excited about the dolphins is the day we pack up and go back to the city.

Anyway I'm supremely grateful to the dolphins. Who knows, without them we might not have fallen in love with the place, gone completely crazy one weekend and actually moved down here to live.

I've always fancied the idea of swimming with dolphins, but I also have a suspicion that it's not the done thing these days, like cuddling koalas. Not very eco-cool. What do you think? Can I? 


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Duck Hash for Dinner anyone?

We took a little detour back from town the other day, via the local council's recycling centre - a favourite haunt of Handy Husband's. One of the good things about living in this area is that when people take their old junk to the rubbish tip, it doesn't automatically get chucked into landfill. Anything that is worth selling onwards goes into the 'tip shop' as we call it. (I've also heard it called 'Rusty K-Mart').

A large part of my childhood was spent sitting under my mother's Portobello market stall in London, so I have no problem with pre-loved stuff. I love it. Lots of things in the B&B have come from the tip shop (it can be amazing what people discard) and they are easily cleaned up with a coat of paint and HH's skills.

I also love going along to look for old books...

Yesterday I found a stash of old cookbooks and although I  got the whole lot for a dollar, this one -'The Australian Guide to Homestead Fare' - is priceless. With more than 300 classic recipes like jellied tongue, stuffed heart, liver croquettes, soused fish(?), melton mowbray pie, half way pudding, parisian tea cake and cashmere chutney (to name a few), I can't help wondering who owned it, who threw it out and why?

This whole hoard of books obviously came from an avid home cook, chocolate fanatic (there are three specialist chocolate books) and I suspect a local dairy farmer's kitchen (or maybe I'm just influenced by the picture of the gorgeous homestead on the cover). All grist for the imagination.

So, even though I might not be cooking 'duck hash' or 'piquant sausages' for dinner tonight, I'm certainly brewing up a story of some kind. Then again, maybe I should try and tackle the golden syrup roly poly or steamed marmalade pudding at least...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Feeling Grateful for Every Minute of Every Day.

I haven't been here for a while. I finished that tricky little film with the scary deadline and fell into a fit of exhaustion. For days and days I couldn't look at a computer or TV screen.  

Then the sudden death of a friend hit us both very hard. 

Only a few years older than me, our friend died within four weeks of her diagnosis. We hadn't seen her for years and we felt so far away. Her husband is one of my husband's oldest and best friends, so we've listened and cried together across skype, sent flowers, our thoughts and all our love to him.

HH and I keeping hugging each other - extra tight. 

Before she died, my friend apparently said she wasn't sure what she'd be leaving behind - what her legacy might be. Even though she was a successful film editor (whose many documentaries have been shown all over the world), she wondered what she might be remembered for... 

I will remember her for her love of life as much as her talent. More than anyone else I have ever met, she (together with her husband) truly embraced life with infectious enthusiasm, delighting in everything it has to offer.  From climbing mountains to discussing movies, cooking, travelling, reading novels and throwing fancy-dress parties, they grasped life together with a playful glee. 

So, after a couple of weeks of shock and gloom, it's time for me to remember her gift and get back to being grateful for every minute of every day. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Rocky Road.

Sometimes in life there is a reward for choosing the more difficult route. 

On our walk yesterday evening we decided not to take our usual yellow brick road  - through the village and down to the dog beach where Sundae always has a swim -  but strike out and take the rocky road.

It's a tricky way for an oldish dog with lots of rock hopping, gullies to leap and you even have to scale a small headland. But there are many rewards for all of us: hidden coves, rock pools, gnarly bits of driftwood for the humans to collect, smelly seaweed for Sundae to rummage in. 

So, even though it was getting a bit cold and dark we pushed on... around the last corner... 

...and were rewarded with this.  

When we got home (and after a bath), Sundae was rewarded with this... 


Monday, May 16, 2011

Makeover Monday: The Parrot.

We had to let the stained-glass parrot go.

We replaced him with the simple, coloured-glass squares which are the right era for the house but with a fresh twist. Parrot went to live in the 'might-be-useful-in-the-future' corner of the garage.

Although I could have become fond of the parrot, his presence was just a bit too 70s and not the atmosphere we intended for our first B&B guest room.

The sliding door and mirrored walk-in-wardrobe also went and became a real (recycled) door and huge walk-in-shower (behind). Into the new void,  Handy Husband created a brilliant, invisible cupboard by literally cutting into the wall. Only downside of the secret cupboard is that sometimes guests leave all their clothes behind (!?).

I will be brief today as I lost most of last week to a mega-migraine, so I'm behind on the film editing deadline and Handy Husband had to look after me and our paying guests all weekend. (He's very handy at that too. Love him for that).

Maybe my migraine brain (like maxabella) is telling me to stop juggling so many balls and pare my life back to fewer jobs. Time to get rid of some of the useless clutter, like, maybe the old parrot, who is still sitting in the corner of our garage.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Gazebo of One's Own.

The cubby house at Oakleigh Farm Cottages.
My prototype for the girl-shed.
There isn't much room for writing, backstage in the B&B.

Each time we renovate a guest room we are forced to retreat further into the house, so now we are basically living, sleeping, cooking and working in two rooms.

Us, a dog and two cats.

Handy Husband has his man shed to escape to and he's promised to build me a writing gazebo in the garden - my very own grown-up cubby. The very idea keeps me sane.

In the meantime, we have partitioned off a corner of the sitting-room with some high bookshelves, behind which I sit at my desk managing the B&B bookings; fielding emails; producing and editing our little films; writing stories and now blogging.

Thanks to many years of working in busy in open-plan offices, I'm capable of shutting out the noise from the TV in the evenings (if I'm working and not watching it too), but music does my head in. If I'm writing, I can't keep the melodies and lyrics from invading my brain, so HH has to use his headphones.

As I pass the campsite on my daily walk to the dog beach, I often imagine how it could easily be worse. If we lived in one of those tiny caravans, we'd have to make every space useful - fill every nook with natty storage devices and whittle our possessions back to bare necessity.

I would have to get rid of all my stuff. All my books.

Sometimes I daydream about taking back the house - how the verandah guest room would make a wonderful light-filled study or artist's studio; the family-suite a generous master bedroom and it's bunk-room annexe could become a vast wardrobe.  

Then I remember that the only reason we even live in this house is because it's a B&B. If it wasn't a Bed and Breakfast;we wouldn't be here. Simple as that.

The guest rooms are for guests and it makes us an income - allowing us to live in this great part of the world and chase our dreams. It also makes many, many people very happy.

Besides, one day soon, Handy Husband is going to build me a girl-shed. He's promised.

Where do you write? Your own home-office? The kitchen table? In bed? 



Friday, May 6, 2011

Makeover Monday on Friday: The Sunroom Bathroom

Handy Husband and Sundae pup take a last nanna-nap on the 'about-to-be-a-bathroom' back porch... 
The back porch is walled in and frames built. 
Recycled windows and oak panelling and plumbing are installed.
Ceiling lined and floor waterproofed.  

Sunroom Bathroom finished.
We've tried to recreate each Bed and Breakfast guest-room into our idea of a dream bedroom and it's the same with all the en suite bathrooms.

A few other guest house operators in the area suggested we put in a spa bath as you can charge handsomely for a spa room (something I've never quite understood), but I've always dreamed of having a clawfoot bath (and preferably a real cast-iron one) and I was pretty sure that our kind of potential guests would feel the same.

However, when we started searching for original clawfoot baths we soon discovered that they only come in one real, old, standard size - slightly too large for the width of the bathroom we were renovating.

Instead of opting for a reproduction acrylic bath that we could fit into the room we decided to build a whole new room around the bath - turning the back porch into a spacious, open-plan bathroom.

We chose the colour of the bath to go with the rest of the bedroom (another makeover coming soon), and in the end we decided not to paint the Tasmanian Oak panels we had recycled from other parts of the house white, but leave them in all their scruffy, peeling-paint glory.

I look forward to occasional days when this room is empty so I can sneak in and have a luxurious bath. It's my favourite place to wallow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Technologically Beaten

When we are working at 'our other job' I'm not often the camera person - Handy Husband is. But I like this photo of me behind the camera as it makes me look as though I know what I am doing in the serious technology department. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with my 'mobile communications equipment' which let me down this week, big-time. 

Let me explain, by way of an excuse, for my obvious absence over these past few days. 

Last week we had to go away to do some filming for a short DVD we are making about fire ecology in the Australian bush, and it took us to some beautiful and fairly remote areas of northern NSW.  

I'd assumed that I'd be able to post the odd blog en route, but at every corner I was thwarted:  I fought with my Iphone (in need of an update); pleaded with my ailing laptop (embarrassingly big and ancient), and tried not to panic when several mountain-range cafes and B&B hosts looked bewildered by my increasingly desperate requests for wi-fi. 

Vintage Nest cafe and gorgeous shop in Bellingen. What a discovery.   
Down the mountain we found internet civilisation in this fabulous cafe pictured here. I happily unpacked the silver brick and ordered a skim-milk latte, but of course my aged laptop decided to curl up its toes and die right there and then. (Hopefully not permanently and yes it's all backed up.) 

Apart from the bloggy posting failure we had a great trip: lots of good interviews and filming with a National Parks' ranger, a grazing family, an indigenous leader, several ecologists and the NSW Rural Fire Service. We also rescued a lost mutton bird; watched sheepdogs wrangle sheep; I rode my first quad-bike (way too much fun!) and we even found a shop full of Art Deco mirrors (will post about this obsession of mine soon).  
Art Deco mirrors in 'Im Wunderland'. Another gorgeous shop in Bellingen.
Back in the B&B tonight and back in blogland.  I'm psyching myself up to the fact that it's finally time to purchase some serious new IT bling. Good thing those mirrors weren't for sale. Ouch... 

How do you keep posting if you are on the road? 



Monday, April 25, 2011

Makeover Monday. The Sitting-room.

B&B Sitting-room before

B&B Sitting-room after 

Welcome to Makeover Monday.  I think I will (try to) dedicate my post every Monday to all kinds of makeover pictures and stories for those followers and readers who love this stuff (as I do) - and until the 'before' pictures run out. 

When we walked into this room for the first time it had a lot of dark wood and tartan furniture in it (not our kind of furniture) and there were dried flowers and lace fripperies everywhere, but we could see the great bone structure of the house: the panelling and floorboards underneath. The height of the ceilings blew us away.   

The first shot was obviously taken in the daytime and not on a very good camera - the colour of the walls used to be a pinkish-cream magnolia and now they are antique white. 

We ripped up the carpet almost straight away to reveal the wide Baltic pine floorboards, but we still haven't had them sanded back because they would be too blonde and perfect, and I love the slightly scruffy honeyed patina (also, I never have to worry about them getting scratched or marked or covered in sand).

I will post close-ups of our favourite objects (and the stories that go with them) down the line. Don't you just love the macramé wall-hanging?   


Friday, April 22, 2011

Full House

The verandah gets a workout. 
It's a strange job sometimes.

Apart from hot-cross buns for breakfast and chocolate bunnies on guests' pillows, Easter is just another busy weekend here in the B&B.

With no children of our own (a long story and one that might be told), neither of us see it as a huge sacrifice to work through long weekends and public holidays, after all, there are people all around us running cafes, waiting in restaurants, crewing the dolphin boats, campsites and supermarket checkouts.

In a village like this there is a great camaraderie with other 'tourist operators' many of whom, like us, put their shoulders to the wheel right through the season, but we all know that in a few weeks when the bay is less busy, we will catch up over coffee and catch up on lost sleep. Maybe even take a few days off and stay in a B&B ourselves.

It's a strange way to earn a living but in many ways it's like other jobs I've done (and sometimes still do) -  especially making TV and attempting to write. It's all about connecting with people, drawing them into your version of the world - giving them a fantasy place to dream, escape and recharge - and maybe even inspiring them with a glimpse into a life lived slightly differently.

There is plenty of job satisfaction too. We actually see people soften. Often quite fractious and stressed on arrival, their whole demeanour changes visibly by the time they leave: they're smiling, refreshed and grateful, and that feels good, it really does.

So have a wonderful Easter weekend everyone, whatever you are doing...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Before and After: B&B Makeover Reveal #1

As I mentioned in my last post we have a good collection of 'before', 'during' and 'after' photos, and I intend to put some of the better B and B makeover comparisons up here.

There is nothing quite like the idea of 'Before and After': it's like a peek into the possibility of time travel.

The device is used so much on TV and in magazines because it's very effective. On video, of course, you can dissolve between images taken across hours, days, years or even decades.

We used to spend ages matching old photos (and footage) of war-torn French villages, overgrown  gardens, passe bathrooms and wannabe models - carefully lining up perspectives, noses and eye-lines - with the exact frame we were filming so we'd be able to dissolve seamlessly into the 'how-they-look-now' shots in the edit.

To aid absolute perfection there were all kinds of industry tricks involving blue-tack, tracing paper, gaffer tape, monitors and black marker pens.    

Anyway, no such complexity here. These are two shots of the main room in the B&B taken a few months apart. This is the first room we renovated and I think it shows just how transformative a coat of white paint can be. We call it the Verandah room.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The smell of an oily rag

We're renovating our Bed and Breakfast on the smell of an oily rag. By that I mean we're not spending serious amounts of money paying someone else to transform our house into an architectural magazine marvel (I wish). No, we're doing it DIY, one room at a time, at the rate of approximately one room a year.

Using recycled materials where ever possible, we're renovating, decorating, furnishing and styling everything ourselves - juggling the ever-growing B&B business, our freelance work, family, pets and other commitments behind-the-scenes.

It can be pretty daunting living in a house as you recreate it around yourself and we have been doing this for a few years now. Sometimes I get the panicky heebie-jeebies and have to breathe slowly, close my eyes and try to picture just how fabulous I know the outcome will be. Luckily, I'm good at imagining the mind's-eye 'after' pictures and there is no shortage of scary 'before and during' photos to remind me how grim it all looked to begin with.

Apart from the trusty plumber and electrician, Handy Husband does almost everything (I mostly sand, paint and point), so not an evening goes by when I don't thank the milky-way that I was lucky enough to find such a wonderful, generous, practical man - even if he does, quite often, smell like an oily rag.

I've linked this post to Maxabella's grateful space.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Life in the Country #1 Morning service.

Dear Mr Neighbour,
Please don't assume I am one of those whingeing Poms or Sydney city-slickers who moves to the Australian countryside and then endlessly complains about everything.

I actually love the roo poo on the grass verge in the morning; the friendly orb spiders who spin their webs across the garden; the possums who dance on the tin roof. Even the kookaburras' chuckles are a comforting sound from my slightly aussie childhood, but please Mr Neighbour, I do have one polite question:

How long is Mr Cockerel going to be staying with his new hen harem just outside our bedroom window?

I grew up visiting villages and farms from rural Greece to Devon, where the distant dawn cockcrow was all part of the charm, so to start with I told myself that Mr Cockerel's morning boasting was adding to the rustic ambience of life in the B&B.

But that was a few weeks ago, and now it seems that the more Mr Cockerel is successful in his service, the earlier his crowing begins and the longer and louder he likes to shout about it.  

While five-am might be the perfect time to rise for some, it doesn't work for me, so please Mr Neighbour, do let me ask you this one polite question: When is Mr Cockerel going back home to his chook-farm family?

Coq au vin anyone?

Update June 2011: The cockerel has gone home and we are all sleeping well again...   


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Time Capsule

Every time we pull a section of wall down or some floorboards up, my secret hope is that we will find a time capsule. Maybe I read too many 'Famous Five' books as a child, but whenever we reveal a new void I am bitterly disappointed that it contains only carpentry, cobwebs and musty emptiness.

I know there are unlikely to be trapdoors behind bookshelves or secret chambers filled with decaying diaries, but surely a nearly-one-hundred-year-old house should have a decent discovery somewhere in its innards?

We once found a yellowing newspaper stuffed into a roof cavity and fell on it with glee. Would it be from the day they landed on the moon? The day Kennedy died or Diana got married? But no, it was just a dull TV guide from a few years ago.

Seeing my overly romantic hopes so regularly dashed, Husband suggested we create some excitement for future renovators and seal the occasional item of curiosity between our newly insulated, sound-proofed  walls. And no - I'm not telling you what or where - but I will say that it makes me feel strangely delighted to think that one day there could be a couple like us, punching out walls and pulling down ceilings, who might be intrigued by the odd surprise we have stashed.

What would you put into a time capsule?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Our green verandah

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved a good verandah. Preferably deep, cool verandah with lots of ferns, palms and well-loved  cane. 

Whenever I find myself in one of those nasty situations, the ones where you're meant to close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, calm place to alleviate physical or emotional discomfort (think dentist's chair; stuck in traffic; anything to do with hospitals or long-haul economy travel), I try to dream myself into a relaxing space like this. Ideally in a hammock. 

When I successfully made it through my fourth Glaswegian winter, many moons ago, I promised myself that one day I would have a sunny, green verandah to sit on. Now I like it shady.

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