Posted on

DIY body lotion

Since I have the ingredients to hand at the moment, I’m exploring a variety of first aid and personal care products. I have already had a go at:

  • deodorant, which I’m wearing as we speak, and which is proving at least as effective as any commercial products I’ve used in the past. Of course, only extended use will reveal whether my skin copes with it.
  • pine resin salve, which I have several occasions to use since making it. I’m pretty happy with its effectiveness as a salve, and my skin has shown no negative reactions. But then, I’m not allergic to pine sap!

Yesterday, I tried making some body lotion. I have found it increasingly difficult to source body lotions. Because of my long-term use of corticosteroids for a chronic condition, my skin is parchment thin in places, which has bearing on the sort of body lotions I choose. For the most part, I find that the cheaper ones are pretty useless. Some of the more expensive options are richer – perhaps they are less diluted during the production process?

Finding effective lotions that are also cruelty-free makes for an even greater challenge. Whole food shops, particularly those that are independently owned, will often have a variety of cruelty-free personal care products (see my post script for a short note about how to identify cruelty-free products), and of course, there is always Lush and The Body Shop.

I explored a few different recipes, trying to find something that could be made with fairly readily available ingredients. This is what I settled on (see note below about where I got my ingredients):

6 ingredients
  • 125ml jojoba oil (you can substitute any other liquid oil, such as almond, avocado, olive…)
  • 60ml coconut oil
  • 60ml beeswax
  • 30ml shea butter
  • (optional) few drops of essential oils – I chose bergamot, because it’s my favourite, and added a few drops of peppermint just for fun

Place all the oils, apart from the essential oils, into a bain marie/double boiler and heat gently until they have all melted, stirring occasionally to combine them. Remove from heat and add the essential oils. you won’t need more than about 15 drops, but this bit is entirely up to you. And for goodness’ sake, don’t use an oil you’re allergic to, or that you can’t stand the smell of! Pour into a tin or a jar (if you’re using a glass jar, you might want to warm it up first, to prevent cracking).

My initial reaction is that the lotion leaves quite a greasy residue on the skin at first, so I might tweak the recipe a bit. One thing I definitely would add is 30ml (or perhaps even more of vitamin E oil), but I didn’t have any to hand at the time.

Where did I get my ingredients?

  • Jojoba oil – local whole foods shop
  • coconut oil – CostCo, but almost any supermarket will have this
  • beeswax – this lot came from LiveMoor, but I’m exploring options with a local beekeeper
  • shea butter – CostCo
  • essential oils – local whole foods shop or Essential Oils Online

PS: a quick note about identifying cruelty-free products.

When China opened up to imported products, many companies couldn’t resist the lure of an additional one billion potential new customers. The Chinese government stipulated that all products had to have undergone animal trials before being allowed to be sold within the country. A number of companies which had previously had a strongly stated cruelty-free position, changed their stance in order to access the new market. This includes some of the front-runners within the ‘no animal testing’ space.

I won’t bore you with the details of some hair-splitting, semantic pretzel conversations I have had with representatives of some of those companies. What I will say is this: if it matters to you whether the products you use are cruelty-free, please don’t just assume that the products you buy fit that bill, even if they did in the past. There are smart phone apps that you can download to help you check on the spot whether a product is cruelty-free.

The one I have is called Cruelty-cutter. I scan the bar code of the product with my phone’s camera, and the app searches the database for information about the product. If the product is not on the database, I can submit details of the product for it to be researched and added.

For a bit of perspective: I spent an hour in my nearest Boots, checking the shampoos for sale there with the Cruelty-cutter app. I found not one single shampoo that was certified cruelty free. To be fair, a significant percentage of the products weren’t on the database, so their animal testing status was unknown. Everything was either ‘not cruelty free’ or ‘status unknown’. I gave up and went to Lush, which was a bit more out of my way but where I was spoilt for choice.

Posted on

DIY deodorant

Finding deodorant can be tricky if you don’t want to use aerosols, or aluminium, or products tested on animals or any of the other myriad issues that we’re slowly learning are detrimental to us and/or the planet. I’m not going to pretend that suitable products don’t exist. They absolutely do. But I thought I’d experiment with making my own deodorant at home.

Of course, Pinterest is always your friend in these cases, and I explored a few recipes, and found some that use relatively everyday ingredients. The result is a cream you rub in. It’s easily absorbed and doesn’t leave a greasy residue, but I’m not sure what it would be like to use it on hairy armpits.

Ingredients

You will need:

  • 65ml (5 tablespoons) arrowroot or cornflour/maizena
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) bicarbonate of soda (affectionately known as bicarb) – or baking soda if you’re American (it’s the same thing)
  • 90ml shea butter
  • 50 drops of tea tree oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

Let’s just unpack a bit about those ingredients. As you can see from the picture, I bought my arrow root and bicarb at Waitrose. This is just because I happened to be there. You can get these products pretty much anywhere – probably even your little corner shop. And, of course, you will use these in your cooking and baking, so you’re not making a special purchase, only for the leftovers to languish in your pantry cupboard until underverse come (you get a geeky handclap if you can name the source of that reference).

Tea tree oil probably won’t be available from your local supermarket. I bought mine from my nearest health/whole foods shop. You might find it from a pharmacy, too. You don’t have to use tea tree oil – pretty much any essential oil will do, if you’re only after a fragrance for your deodorant. But I opted to use tea tree oil, because, well, not to put to fine a point on it, I SWEAT. I was always inclined to knock the ‘horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow’ thing into a cocked hat, and now I have a pretty physical job and am post menopausal. I sweat like a bloody horse, okay? Sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s relevant. If you don’t see the connection, tea tree oil is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, insecticidal, and fungicidal. I also rather like the smell.

Shea butter is probably the least readily available product on this list. You can buy it online, of course, but you might feel that some of large online buying sites (koff koff, Amazon) have a bit of an ethical/moral question mark over them, and prefer to buy elsewhere. Oddly enough, I found mine at CostCo, of all places. It’s organic, fair trade approved, and comes in a twinpack (2x150ml). The tubs are metal, which is both reusable and recyclable.

I have no pictures of the process, this time, but it’s pretty straightforward. Yield is approximately 200ml.

  • Either chop the shea butter up into small pieces, or melt it gently in the microwave or a bain marie/double boiler, then place into a bowl. Use a bigger bowl than you think you will need. If you have a choice, go with deep and narrow, rather than wide and shallow.
  • Add the two powdered ingredients and blend – you can decide whether you want to do this with a fork or a handmixer. This may take a while. Be patient. You’ll get there.
  • Add the essential oil. Blend again.
  • Transfer into a container that seals, like a glass jar or a tin with a screw top lid. Make sure to scrape out the very last bit to get full value for your money and effort.

You can apply it with your fingers or a make-up sponge. Rub it in until it is completely absorbed. It goes further than you would expect.

Posted on

Pine resin salve

Pine resin salve

It’s been far too long since I did any making of the sort that I could share here. Which is not to say I’ve been idle. Far from it. I have been tending the largest garden I’ve ever had in my life, and loving it. This is not, of course, any guarantee that the garden will thrive. I am not known for green fingers!

But today I did a bit of making I thought I’d share with you.

I made some pine resin salve, using just three ingredients: pine resin (you’ll be astonished to learn), jojoba oil, and beeswax.

Three ingredients
I sliced my finger

Before we go any further, I should probably explain what pine resin salve does, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth making some. Oddly enough, I had just made this batch, when I needed to use some of it on myself. I was busy with another make, when I sliced my finger on a very sharp metal edge. See the photo taken just this very minute, which was quite tricky with a ‘proper’ (non smart phone) camera and my left hand!

Pine resin is naturally antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. So the salve can be used to treat minor grazes and cuts. As well as preventing infection and reducing inflammation, the stickiness of the pine resin also helps keep a wound closed. Some people swear by it as a treatment for eczema.

Caveat: some people are allergic to pine resin. In case it needs to be said: such people should not use this salve.

The proportions are:

  • 60ml pine resin
  • 125ml jojoba oil
  • 30g beeswax
Pine resin

Pine resin doesn’t tend to arrive in conveniently usable form. It tends to be large crystals.

You can use it like this if you like, but it’s harder to measure out by volume that way, and it takes aaaaaaaages to melt.

Much more usable

So I recommend that you crush it first. Pour a quantity out onto a sheet of baking parchment or waxed paper or newspaper or something. If you have waxed cloth wraps, these could serve, too. Fold the paper/cloth over the resin crystals and then whack them repeatedly with a rolling pin or a hammer or other blunt instrument.

The result is a far more usable product.

Bees wax

 

You can buy beeswax in pellet form, but it’s more expensive. So I buy the sticks and grate it myself. I have a dedicated wax grater for this purpose, so I don’t have to go through the faff of cleaning it before using it for food again. It’s not that I’m particularly extravagant. It’s just that our old hand grater broke, and when I replaced it, I kept the old one for crafts. I also have a dedicated fork for stirring wax-based concoctions. This is one that must have been left behind by a barbecue guest at some point, and remained unclaimed.

 

Kit:

I am reliably informed that the main piece of kit you need to use for this is called a bain-marie in the UK. I know it as a double boiler, and when I went shopping for one in Swindon, was appalled that I tell people who worked in specialist cookware shops was a double boiler was. To me, a bain marie is a whole different thing used for keeping food warm when catering. Hey ho. If you don’t have one – whatever you call it – you can use a bowl over a saucepan, or a smaller saucepan over a larger one. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can buy the top pan bit separately… as long as you call it by a name that the shop assistant recognises! Do not, under any circumstances apply direct heat to the sap – it’s highly flammable!

You will also need containers for the finished product. You’ll need something that won’t melt, like glass, ceramic or metal. To give you an idea of yield: using this recipe, I filled 15 small (lipsalve sized) tins – roughly 10g of salve in each.

Melt the resin in the oil

Fill the bottom pan of your double boiler/bain marie with enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the upper pan, and bring it to a boil. Pour the oil into the upper pan and place it on top of the lower pan. Add your pine resin and stir occasionally until it has melted. This might take a while, and it will go through a stage of sticking in a gloopy mass to your fork (or whatever you’re using to stir).  If your resin had bits of bark in it, you might want to strain it through a piece of muslin once it has melted.

Once the resin has melted, add the wax. If you want a softer salve, you can choose to reduce the amount of wax by as much as half. Stir until the wax melts. This should happen very quickly.

Then you’re ready to pour your salve into containers. If you’re using glass jars, I suggest you preheat them first, to avoid cracking the glass. Leave to cool, and hey presto.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t fancy going through all that faff, but you’d still like some pine resin salve. As luck would have it, I just happen to have tins of it for sale at £2.50 each. Let me know!

Posted on

Uffington White Horse Show

I’ve been a little sporadic about updates here, because settling in to our new home in the Vale of the White Horse is taking a little longer than I would have liked. But things are starting to take shape.

Over the bank holiday weekend we experienced another hallmark of country life: the famous Uffington White Horse Show. As you will see, if you follow the link, there was a lot to see and do. I had hoped to have a stall there myself, but wasn’t able to get my poop in a pile in time. Maybe next year.

We attended on the bank holiday Monday, because the weather on Sunday was utterly miserable. Judging by the feedback from the stallholders I spoke to, most people opted for the same approach. Apparently Sunday was depressingly quiet. Having done a few depressingly quiet events myself, I know exactly how discouraging they can be, I’m just glad that the weather on Monday was much improved.

So, what were the highlights for me?

I need to start by saying that it was wonderful to be able to take Jess with us. It is a well-known fact that the English love their dogs. But in the towns and cities, this is less obvious than in the country. Almost every country pub and coffee shop I’ve been to is dog friendly. I love being able to have Jess for company when I’m out and about. Even though she now needs help getting into and out of the van (which brings a lump to my throat, even as I think about it). There were hundreds other dogs at the show. Of course, some of them might have been there for the dog show, but most of them were just there because… because this is the English countryside. What made it even better was the amount of attention my old girl got. She’s a mixed breed and nothing spectacular, but she has such a pretty face, and there’s just something about her that causes people to warm to her.

Mr Namasi and I spent a good long time wondering around the vintage cars on display. If I had seen a list of entries beforehand, I would have been able to predict which each of us would drool over most, and so it was. Here is Mr Namasi’s favourite.

E-type Jag

He is a lifelong Jag fan, and there can be few cars more iconic than the E-type.

For me, it was this one.

MG

I have a longstanding love for the little MG with a back that looks a bit like an old Austin Healey.

…with a back view a little like an Austin Healey

In fact, when Mr Namasi and I were dating, I used to tell him that if he ever wanted to marry me, he’d have to buy me one. In red or British racing green. He never has. Blighter.

We also saw motorbikes, trucks and all sorts of lovingly built/restored static steam engines.

Of course, there were food and drinks stalls doing a brisk trade. And a marquee with various traders. I bought a raffle ticket for a beautiful patchwork quilt, and a handmade belt for Mr Namasi.

We watched a bloke do some stunts on motorbikes and quadbikes, while providing his own commentary, which was pretty cool!

…and take to the skies

There was a guy doing stump carving with electric saws. A man on stilts. A funfair. BMX stunts (which we missed). Falconry (which we saw glimpses of, from a distance). A dog show, which we avoided – Jess gets a bit grumpy around other dogs, and we know she’s the best dog without a rosette to prove it. Heavy horses showing their skills. Helicopter rides. All sorts.

As we left, we spotted some additional traders outside the main space, and I was hijacked by some pretties which will find their way into various kreations in due course. Aren’t they gorgeous? They came from Button Box Devon.

So much pretty!

If I have one criticism of the show, it was that there was no water provided for the many, many dogs in attendance. We did find a tap (faucet for any American readers), and Mr Namasi was able to give Jess a little water in his cupped hands, but she really could have used a bowl or trough. I suspect any dogs doing agility for the dog show would have needed a drink too.

We look forward to next year’s event!

Posted on

Yard sale…or quarts into pint pots

 

Our recent move to the lovely Vale of the White Horse has presented a challenge on the Karyn’s [re]Kreations front: We have downsized considerably, and the two spaces that will serve as studio and workshop currenty look like cluttered storage units with no space to work. As a result, I’m getting absolutely nothing kreative done. We’ve sold/given away some items already, but the one-by-one approach is too slow. Hence the yard sale.

Surplus curtains, furniture and decor items are up for sale. Some of my less frequently used power tools are available (planer, band saw…). Several of my kreations – including toys, jewellery, bath oils/salts and ornaments – will be on offer at clearance prices. I’m having a rifle through my stashes of fabric, yarn and crafting supplies, and will be looking to whittle them down to something more manageable in the space available to me.

Regrettably, I am not yet set up to accept card payments, so it will be cash only.

How to find us: Our post code is SN7 7RP. We’re just a couple of doors down from the lovely Fox & Hounds pub, where you can enjoy lunch or a cheeky pint or two to make a real outing of it. You’ll have no trouble spotting Barney, my faithful, battered blue van parked out front.

Posted on

In the Vale of the White Horse

A scant year after our last house move, we have moved again. This time it was because Mr Namasi started a new job in Oxfordshire. We were so happy in our last thatched cottage that, when our house hunting efforts unearthed another one, Mr Namasi’s mind was made up. I vacillated between the thatch and a larger bungalow nearer to his office, but the thatch won out. So now we find ourselves in a little cottage in Uffington, near the famous White Horse, which we can see as we drive about the narrow country roads.

There are paddocks where horses graze within 50 metres of our door in pretty much every direction. At least two of the abutting neighbours keep chickens. There is a community garden behind the local pub, which is two doors down. Apparently, there is a litter picking event twice a year, which I hope to become part of. There is apparently not a craft group in the village. If only we knew someone who might start one… oh, hang on a minute! Watch this space.

Quirky spaces

This cottage is even older than the last one we lived in, with even more quirky, mis-shapen spaces that are tricky to furnish. I love it!

Our new garden is huge and L-shaped. The owner used to live here herself with her family when she first bought the cottage over 30 years ago. And they kept ponies for her daughters in the stables at the far end, and there is space enough for them to have grazed in the short bit of the L. I will, of course, be using the stables as my workshop. With the owner’s blessing, I plan to turn the end of the L into a wild meadow to attract bees and butterflies.

Sofa in the kitchen

Moving home is always an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-arrange. The leather sofa that has accompanied us through the last 13 years and three homes refused point-blank to fit through the doorway to the new lounge. So now we have a comfy sofa in the kitchen. Talk about silver linings! First, the kitchen is big enough to accommodate it. Second, there is nothing quite so comfy as lying on that sofa while Mr Namasi takes his turn at cooking the dinner, and we catch up on our respective days. I love having people over for a meal, but I confess to a measure of FOMO when I need to attend to something in the kitchen. That sofa is going mean that I can ask some of our guests to come and chat to me while I’m working. The kitchen is also big enough to hold a six-seater dining table and chairs.

Large kitchen

The kitchen was the first space we unpacked completely. I wanted that sense of security that comes with being able to cook a meal and eat it, without stress.

In addition to the large kitchen, there is an actual dining room, which is taking shape nicely, but is a low priority.

Our bedroom is almost done. A couple of boxes have yet to be unpacked, and our night stands will have to be jettisoned, because they don’t fit. Of course, I nearly did myself a serious mischief by insisting on assembling our new bed (complete with – heavy AF – iGel mattress, and pneumatic powered lifters to access the under-bed storage) by myself. Because I am pig-headed, stubborn and bloody-minded. Takes 2 people 4 hours to assemble, it said. It took me less than that, but left me with some impressive bruises and minor blood loss.

Both bathrooms have been claimed, after a few rethinks. I still have to change the roller blind in the main bathroom, though – the current mint-and-pink colour scheme is pretty, but it isn’t me.

Mr Namasi’s study, showing the offending beam

Mr Namasi’s study is pretty much up and running, only the alcove we thought perfect for his desk is proving to be a concussion waiting to happen as he keeps smacking his head on the beam – see picture. A re-org appears to be called for.

The lounge is going to need a rethink. The sofa obviously doesn’t fit. Plus the loss of some bedrooms in the downsizing process means that we need a sofa bed for guests, anyway. So we’re on the hunt for one of those. But for now, we have somewhere comfy to spend our evenings, even if it is a little mismatched, with chairs drawn from odd places.

At this stage, we have whittled down the pile of boxes impressively, but those that remain are mostly in my studio and workshop. So there is nothing being kreated at present. Normal service will be resumed in due course. In the meantime, the process of unpacking my studio just seems to cause more clutter before subsiding. The fact that this is all happening while the football (will it be coming home?) and Wimbledon are both on telly, means that it’s going more slowly than it ought. Sorry about that!

 

Posted on

Don’t diss the flatpacks

This started as a Facebook status and grew like Topsy, so I thought I’d turn it into a blog post instead.

The Architectural Digest recently published an article about the 13 most popular Ikea products. Why 13? I have no idea, and it’s beside the point. Moving on.

Some people assume that no flatpack item of furniture would ever be allowed to darken my door because I ‘make stuff’. Occasionally, I will be chatting to someone who will sheepishly admit that they sleep on an Ikea bed or own an Ikea something or other.

Please allow me to disabuse you.

hbatar
hallonbåtar

For one thing: I’m married to a Swede. A certain amount of Ikea stuff is mandatory. Much like the three Volvos we have owned at one time or another. Okay, our visits to Ikea usually have at least as much to do with the kiosk as the furniture store. Meatballs, pickled herrings, lingonsylt, and our permanently disappointed hope that the Lördagsgodis (pick ‘n mix) stand will start stocking hallonbåtar (raspberry boats – see image).

Because we’re in the throes of packing up to move, I’ve had a birds’ eye view of the role that Ikea plays in our home furnishings.

So, here goes, working down the list from the article in Architectural Digest:

  1. Billy bookcase. After one too many house moves, our faithful Billy book cases have finally been retired and recycled. We had three of the really tall ones in our last house, and two in this one. Our next house has built in bookshelves.
  2. Poäng chairs. We currently have two of these chairs (in bright orange): one rocker and one standard with foot stool.
  3. Malm bed. I don’t think we’ve ever had one of these, but we have certainly had other beds from Ikea, single, double and bunks.
  4. Kallax shelves. From where I am sitting at the moment, I can see two of these units in our passage.
  5. Rens sheepskin rug. I think this must be a US product, because the sheepskins in the UK have different names. Either way. Not a fan.
  6. Stockholm rug. As with the Malm bed, we might not have owned this particular item, but we have owned (and still do own) woven rugs from Ikea.
  7. Lack table. I think I draw the line at these. They’re useful and cheap and cheerful, but not very durable. There are better options out there among the pre-owned goods up for sale on any number of sites.
  8. Ektorp sofa. We haven’t had one of these before. But we are currently looking at getting a Friheten sofa bed for our new house. Especially if we can find a pre-owned one in the right colour!
  9. Docksta table. Not something we’ve ever had.
  10. Klippan sofa. Not something we’ve ever had, but for a couple just setting up home..? Ideal.
  11. Färgrik mug. Hell yes! We don’t have any at the moment, but we’ve had more than a few over the years. 65p for a coffee mug? And when it breaks, it can go into the hard-core skip at the recycling centre and become part of a structure. What’s not to love?
  12. Ribba frames. With so many frames available in charity shops and freebie sites, I doubt that we’ve ever had any of these, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
  13. Frakta shopping bags. Hell yes. I have several of these, and they are so useful!

We also have:

  • some or other Ikea desk (possibly Malm) in Mr Namasi’s study. I’m sitting at it at the moment. I’m not sure it will survive this move, to be honest.
  • a lycksele sofabed in the guest room. I’ve made a new cover for it, and even slept on it myself from time to time. It has a better mattress than most of the sofa beds that I’ve looked at – especially those that look prettier in sofa mode.
  • Malm chest of drawers. At one point we had three of these. One recently gave up the ghost in protest against the thought of another move. One has gone to live with a friend who is just setting up home and finding the cost of things a little prohibitive. The third one is going to attempt to make the next move with us. Here’s hoping.
  • Hol side table. This has been part of our living room decor for yonks. I love the solid construction of it, but it’s showing marks now, from years of use. I’m thinking of painting it. Maybe with Unicorn spit.

And that brings me to my final point: it’s always possible to personalise the admittedly rather bland appearance of Ikea furniture. A new slip cover. A coat of paint. Wallpaper. Transfers. Funky handles. If you’re stuck for ideas, you know where to find me.

Don’t let anyone shame you for owning this stuff, okay?

Billy bookcase image credit: Matt.

Posted on

Moving house with a black dog in tow

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Last time I wrote, we were in the throes of househunting. Since then, having found a lovely new place, we’ve been preparing to move.

Many people will tell you that this is one of the most stressful things in life – right up there with divorce and the loss of a loved one. Apparently this is bogus. It doesn’t really surprise me, to be honest. I’ve survived some of the things included on the list on the other end of that link, and this doesn’t come close.

Mind you, this moving business has brought the black dog in for a visit, and that does result in a kind of numbness that might prevent me from being a reliable judge of my own stress levels.

Because the distance to work is simply too far for a daily drive (and there is no viable public transport option), Mr Namasi has become a weekly boarder. During the week, he’s in AirBnBs close to work, but he’s home for the weekend. So the long drive is only a Monday morning, Friday evening issue. This has been the best solution for him. His role is a newly created one, and there’s a LOT to be done, so he needs to be on top of his game. The sort of exhaustion that comes with dealing with a 2-hour traffic jam before the working day has even begun… well no-one wants that!

But the inevitable consequence is that the bulk of the packing and organising falls to me. I don’t resent it – it makes perfect sense – but the inescapable reality is that it is overwhelming. It’s not helped by the fact that we’re going from 4 bedrooms plus studio, to 3 smaller bedrooms including studio. This means getting rid of a whole bunch of stuff. It’s further complicated by the fact that, during the year that we’ve been in this wonderful cottage, our younger son moved in with all his furniture and then out into a furnished place, without said furniture. No sooner had he moved out, than our elder son moved in with all his furniture, only to move out into a furnished place… you guessed it… without his furniture. Fortunately, I found an organisation that is looking to start a wonderful project to help people get back up again after having taken a (metaphorical) tumble, and they were happy to take pretty much all our surplus.

I was doing so well until the last week or so. Suddenly my sleep patterns are all out of whack, and I’ve got that tell-tale jet-lagged feeling as if I’m watching myself from a distance . I haven’t yet reached the ‘I wish I was dead’ stage. Perhaps we’ll all be spared that this time around. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

The odd thing is, I’m genuinely looking forward to the new chapter. I’ve already joined some of the local online groups, and started researching ideas for the enormous garden I’m suddenly going to have to look after for the first time in my life. We’re going to need a second sofa bed to accommodate overnight visits from our sons and/or guests, and I’ve been researching that, too. Mr Namasi and I even visited Ikea to explore our options.

I’ve pretty much done all the big stuff: the end-of-tenancy garden tidy up has been booked; as has the carpet cleaning (complete with mandatory flea treatment) and house clean. The movers are taking on the task of packing up my workshop and upcycling materials, as well as the kitchen. The house is full of already packed boxes, and I add to their number every day.

Inevitably, there are one or two unfortunately timed commitments happening between now and the day of the Big Move, but that’s pretty much par for the course, isn’t it?

There’s no reason for me to be drowning. But the black dog is an unreasonable son of a bitch (in a sort of literally metaphorical or metaphorically literal way), and he has moved in just the same.

I know I’m going to get through this, and I know it will soon be over. But dammit, the gauntlet must be run, it seems.

In the meantime, not a heck of a lot of kreating is going on. Bear with me, will you?

IthinkIcan IthinkIcan IthinkIcan….

Posted on

If I were a letting agent…

We’re currently in the process of house hunting. A rental in this instance. And we’ve been struck by several common factors and behaviours exhibited by most of the letting agents we’ve encountered in the process. If you’re a letting agent, or thinking of become one, I reckon you could set yourself apart by avoiding most of these quite easily. So, in no particular order, here are some tips from a complete outsider to your industry:

1. Don’t assume the enquirer knows about lettings

This is the most important point, and one which binds all my following suggestions together: remember that your enquirer is almost certainly not a letting agent. They might in fact be totally new to the rental market. Or new to the country. or both. Start with the assumption that all this is totally new territory to them.

2. Remind the enquirer which property you represent

When responding to an email enquiries, include some kind of reference to the property in question – a link, a picture – something that will remind the enquirer which property you’re referring to. We’re using Rightmove, identifying properties that match our criteria, and using the hot link to email the agent.

Note that all screen grabs have been taken at random for the purposes of this post. I have deliberately avoided referencing agents I’ve actually dealt with during this house hunting experience. So this is not an indication of the sort of service offered by the agents referenced here.

This link takes you to an online form, which you complete and submit.

 

All very convenient. Until the responses come in.

Most initial responses from the agents to online enquiries contain no information that help the enquirer remember which property they pertain to. A response from Joe at Blah Blah Letting Agents might mention 123 Streetname Street, without mentioning the town. I suspect we’re not unique in that we’re looking for a property within a 20 mile radius of my husband’s new job. So that casts a fairly wide net, and captures a large number of potential localities. We’re also not hunting one-by-one. We’re enquiring about several properties at once, so need a little help remembering which particular property you represent.

3. Know the essentials

In my experience, there is a disconnect between the information the agent has at their fingertips, and the information the enquirer actually wants. Information about the locality is helpful, but generally speaking, people can do an internet search to find out about local schools, shops, pubs, crime rates, etc. It’s information about the property itself that isn’t that readily available. I get that it isn’t always possible to know everything about all the properties on the books. Especially for evening and weekend viewings, when you might be covering for someone else. But there are certain key pieces of information that really should be at the agent’s fingertips.

Central heating – At one house we looked at recently, the agent told us the central heating was gas-powered. Then we opened a shed in the garden to reveal one of the biggest oil tanks I’ve ever seen. So was this what actually powered the central heating? Or was it an obsolete tank that the owners had simply not yet got around to removing? The agent didn’t know. And then we found a large rectangular metal structure outside the kitchen, connected to the kitchen by means of some kind of pipe or cable. It obstructed the path from the side gate to the rear garden. What was it? No idea, said the agent. And a little further down the same path, I spotted two large gas canisters connected to the house. No connection to gas mains. This was also news to the agent.

Broadband speed/fibre availability – I have yet to view a house where the agent knows whether fibre is available in the house (or even the area), and what the broadband connection speed is like. In this day and age, this is critical information for many people. If you work remotely, or are a professional (or even avid amateur) gamer, you need really a quick connection. Before we moved into our current house, we looked at the perfect house out on a remote country lane. It ticked almost every box for us, but the agent didn’t “know much about computers”, so couldn’t answer our questions on the subject of broadband/fibre. We did our own research, and found that it wouldn’t be adequate to our needs.

White goods – large appliances are pretty expensive, so it’s vital to know which of the items currently in the kitchen will be staying and which will be going. In one of the houses we viewed recently, there was a large, gloriously orange, top-of-the-range fridge-freezer. The agent was quick to point out that that was the property of the current tenant and would be leaving with them. She knew exactly what other appliances there were in the kitchen and utility room, and which were included in the lease.

Furnished/unfurnished – some properties are available furnished, some unfurnished, some semi-furnished, and some landlords are flexible. The agent needs to know exactly what the position is on each house. One house we viewed recently was available unfurnished, but the owners were planning to leave lampshades and mirrors. If decor styles matter to you, you need to know this, because your furniture and decor might not work with the items being left in place. When we first arrived in the UK, we rented a furnished house. In that instance, furnished included everything down to the last teaspoon. We opted to use our own bed linen to provide our young sons with a connection to the bedrooms they had left behind. After that, we moved into a semi-furnished house, in which we were able to use those few items of furniture we had brought with us from South Africa, as well as those we had bought during our year in the country. Although the lounge was furnished, the landlady agreed to remove the lounge furniture, so that we could use our own. The agent was aware of this flexibility on the part of the owner, and it made the process easier.

4. Don’t try to blag it

One of the houses we looked at this weekend had a lot going for it, including a beautifully fitted, modern kitchen with integrated appliances concealed behind elegant fronts that matched the cabinets. We asked which white goods were included. Without looking up from her notes, the agent waved a hand airily and said, “Just what you see.” My husband looked pointedly at the uniformly grey fronts and said “So… nothing, then?” We had to open all the doors to identify which were actually cabinets and which were appliances… and what appliances there were. Since the house was still occupied, it felt too much like snooping for our liking.

If she had admitted that she didn’t know, and explored for (or even with) us, that would have been somewhat better. Ideally, the agent should know the property details before coming to the appointment, but I realise that that isn’t always possible in a busy agency.

5. Know what’s in/excluded

One of the properties we viewed recently opened out onto a little wilderness. Part of the area was carefully mowed and tended, up to the dividing line between that property and the one next door, but there was no fence along that dividing line. Was the little area included in the lease or not? Was it a common area, shared among neighbours, with an understanding that each person tended the part abutting their property? No-one seems to know.

In our current garden, there is a door that opens into a garage. But the garage is not included in our property. That belongs to our next-door neighbours. And they have right of access across our back garden to their garage. This is also the only way they are able to get their bins to the road on collection day, so they have right of access for that purpose too. If a person had a vicious dog which might attack an ‘intruder’, or if they themselves were inclined to become anxious about people having access to their garden, this information would be a dealbreaker. Fortunately, we were given this information up front. Our neighbours are lovely and have never abused their right of access. They have taken the trouble to befriend Jess, so that if she happens to be outdoors when they’re ‘doing the bins’, there is no unpleasantness.

So there they are: my top tips to letting agents, from the perspective of a potential customer.

 

 

Posted on

Moving on…again

The last nine months have been among the happiest of my life. We have been living in a thatched cottage in a village in rural Northamptonshire, and I have had the luxury of a studio and a workshop in which to wield my various pieces of kit.

When we sold our previous house and started to look for places to rent, the sort of places we were shown within our chosen budget caused my spirit to plummet. There were some fairly decent places within that price range, but none that would accept our pets. And the places we were seeing were dire. Dilapidated, insalubrious, poky… The only place we saw worth considering turned out not to have broadband – a deal breaker for us.

Then a friend told us about a client of his who had a property to let. It was well outside our budget, so I had doubts about going to look at it. I’ve watched ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ (don’t judge: my son was due to get married). I know how it goes. If you look outside your budget, you’ll find the perfect thing that you can’t afford, and then be miserable about everything you can afford. But Mr Namasi thought we might as well look. So we looked. And we fell in love. And nothing else would do.

Because neither of us had a regular income, we had to pay the full year’s rent up front. It was a massive chunk of change.

And it has been worth every penny.

It has been a time of restoration and healing for me, on so many levels. I had hoped that I would see out my days in this lovely home in this delightful village. Everyone who has come to visit us here has remarked on how well it suits us. When the subject of the end of our lease came up, I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and shout lalalalaaaaaa in that time honoured gesture of denial. Mr Namasi is more pragmatic, but this place has been balm to his soul, too. Not least because of how happy I have been here.

With the end of our lease period approaching all too soon, it transpires that it has been ‘for a season’. Mr Namasi has accepted a wonderful job offer in Oxfordshire, and starts on Tuesday. It has all happened incredibly fast. The job is such a perfect fit for him, the recruitment ad might as well have had his name in it. When he went to discuss the offer with the MD, they were so busy talking about their plans and visions for the future of the business, they almost forgot to discuss his remuneration package.

Of course, I am disappointed to be leaving this cottage and the little village. The craft-and-coffee group I started is just starting to take hold properly. And the response to my litter picking events has been so positive. The neighbours are a delight. But I’m optimistic, too. We’ll find another wonderful house in another village setting. I’ll join or start a craft group there. I’ll get involved in a local environmental initiative there. And we’ll befriend the new neighbours. We’ll be somewhat further away from our sons, and I will miss them sorely. But they are adults, and living their own lives. They will still come and visit us – we will only be a manageable car journey away. And the wonderful thing about Karyn’s [re]Kreations is that they can be [re]kreated anywhere. So the house hunting has begun in earnest.

I really thought I’d crumple in on myself when I had to face moving away. But I haven’t. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the scale of everything we have to do in the next couple of months. But I’m not burying myself under my duvet. And this gives me enormous hope.

If you happen to know of a wonderful property to rent within reach of Abingdon, do get in touch, won’t you?