Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Adding curb appeal to your home

As I walk down any street, I'm always looking at houses and their gardens for ideas, looking in admiration of their curb appeal or sometimes thinking to myself, what would I do to make it look better. How a property looks from the front is of course incredibly important when selling up but also for that feeling of pride that we all have for our homes. With all the houses I have lived in, how it looks to passers-by has been very much an area I have put much thought into. I think the Scandinavian concept of hygge has had a great influence on me and I very much want my home to look cosy and inviting. Having people comment on the home makes me very happy and seeing people looking as they walk down the road.
A pretty home I walk past

In my last house I tried to add greenery to the front although there was just a small drive, in my attempt to make it more cottagey. I planted up pots of flowers, sprinkled wild flower seeds into the gravel and added hanging baskets and window boxes of seasonal interest. Lovely exterior doors are key and this was on my list of things to change, something striking to bring out the best to the house frontage and improve the overall look of my property.

Now I’m in another house and I’m starting the same thought process all over again, plenty of flowers and a new door are required. This house is very different in that the front is away from the road and actually the whole side of the house faces the road and there is no pavement. But I have an area that I want to make pretty to give that welcome feel as people pass on their way to the church or the village shop.

So, how can you improve curb appeal?

A striking front door that creates a fab first impression.

House front doors

I think the first thing I notice are house front doors and how they set a property off. It’s the central point or where the eye is drawn initially and everything else just frames it. From old wooden country cottage to modern town and city living, investing in a classy front door will create that key first impression. The world of doors have moved on with innovative doors offered by Pirnar, a family grown business with a whole host of technology for the sophisticated home. Theatrica is a super modern door as it is an entrance that is contactless with no door handle, it slides away, pretty neat hey! But how does it do this……well it opens by touch or face recognition and for this the company has received several awards. Pirnar also offer a large range of doors that will suit any property with a number of designs and finishes – classic looks with stained glass and contemporary sleekness. The options of wood, glass or aluminium mean that you can find a door to suit your property and with the designs being so unique it will be an exciting addition to your home. Door designs such as the Premium with rectangular window lights cast interesting light effects into the hallway and LED illumination to the door brings night time security and a glamorous feel. Fingertip recognition sounds amazing, no more scrabbling around for keys - this always happens to me. Certainly a lot of thought and craftsmanship has gone into these doors. 
Increase home value with front doors
Image from Pirnar

For me, a coat of grey paint on our wooden door will be in order to freshen it up (the dogs have scratched it so much) to tie in with the grey garden gate which is the imposing factor of our ‘front’ yard or as I’m calling it, our 'yarden'. I usually add a seasonal floral door wreath to keep things up to date and have allowed some self seed hollyhocks to stay by the gate post.

Greenery to soften the edges

My house needs double curb appeal as the outside gate presents to the road and then the main door to the home is for those invited further and those that don’t mind doggy paws jumping up at them. Outside by the self seeded hollyhocks, Sweep has created a brick raised bed where I add perennials and spring bulbs. Inside the yard by the door, I have framed it with scented climbing roses and pots filled with colour in the spring and summer. Over winter we move two standard holly trees here for evergreen fairy light hung loveliness.
Front yard curb appeal

It's good to think of the journey that is taken by a visitor to get to the front door. Planting lavender perhaps either side of a path gives a pleasant scent and adds a frothiness to the look. Box balls and standard trees such as bay gives structure and a combination of these provides impact and rhythm within a design. I do love curb appeal that shows the character of those that live there and an element of quirkyness shown by the door furniture, perhaps a fox door knocker (I want a bumble bee one) or a house number sign that reflects the interior style of the house. Being in the country, my style is very different to those houses I see in our nearest town of Shrewsbury, where a more contemporary and classic look of sleek sophistication works better - simple topiary balls and cones, evergreen shrubs and balanced planting....less is more. 

Sometimes the easiest thing to do for quick and easy curb appeal is simply tidying up and repairing any elements; boundary fences a fresh coat of preservative, mending broken panels, clearing away broken pots or removing dead hanging basket contents. I get really mad (inside in my head) when I see dead plants. Or the worse one is broken toys and garden furniture in front gardens. 
Flowers in pots by the front door

Whatever your budget, a weekend spent beautifying the front of the house is well spent - with bedding plants from the plant nursery, new pots, tidying up, mowing grass and repainting. The front door will always be the best element to provide picture perfect curb appeal but if like me, on a real shoestring budget at the moment, paint brushes and faux door wreaths are your friend.

This summer I shall be rearranging the pots in the front yard for a more pleasing look and adding some trellis for a gorgeous passion flower to climb up. I'm looking out for an outside door mat with some foxes on as there is a bit of a fox theme throughout the house.  We are also adding to the country village look with more cottage annuals at the front and an honesty stall at some point for our home grown plants. We purchased an old milk churn at an auction in the village hall last year and I shall be filling this with gorgeous flowers this summer. 

What curb appeal tips do you have? I'd love to hear how you add that wow factor to the front of your home. 
Old church hall

*Collaborative post

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Surprising ways to combat loneliness

Many of us experience periods of loneliness in our lives, these times can be caused by life changes such as relationship breakdown, bereavement, changing or losing jobs, moving areas or during times we generally feel disconnected from other people. During my nearly 41 years I have gone through times where I have felt stuck in a rut of loneliness, one of them being when I was in a job that I hated, I was living in an area away from my family and was living on my own after a relationship ended. I felt no desire to do anything and when I got home on a Friday evening after a horrendous working week in an office (where I was surrounded by people!), I would turn the key in the door and not step foot out until Monday morning. Overall feeling terribly lonely but locked in a cycle where I wasn’t really helping my own plight.
Lonely girl

Age can affect loneliness, I have less friends the older I get, drifting away from people I grew up with as the years go on and experiencing changes within family structure that mean I have fewer people to talk to and rely on. The elderly in particular can have their health impacted by chronic loneliness and an excellent article by mobility bathing experts Premier Care in Bathing, considers ways in which we can help the elderly fight loneliness from encouraging exercise to promoting self care. They are the UK market leader for walk-in showers and baths that are perfect for the elderly to bathe safely and easily, and as a result feel better about themselves and much more likely to want to go out and meet up with people. Feeling confident is key to being social and enabling interaction with others on a daily basis.

I have touched on feeling lonely although being surrounded by people, such as I was in the corporate environment I was working in,busy and hundreds of people yet feeling so lonely and without friends. We can also feel lonely within a relationship and I have experienced this too. Loneliness to me can often be a state of mind and I have drawn together some surprising ways to combat feeling this way. I hope that they may be helpful if these feelings resonate with you.

Find what you’re interested in

Find the joy that is brought by a subject that interests you. Look to discover a hobby or interest that gives you a buzz and take small steps to find like minded people. If you love watching history programmes or reading about a certain time period, find some local history talks and take it from there. Or maybe you love wildlife, discover local activities from guided walks and events to helping out on a nature reserve. At a low point I had watched a programme on medieval history and decided completely on a whim to find a local group and go to some talks. I met a great group of people from all sorts of backgrounds and life was not the same after that, my social life expanded quickly and my self esteem soared. It’s hard to go out when you feel lonely, the first step is to just turn up, even if you go and don’t talk to anybody at first. 

Expand your knowledge through online courses such as free ones from FutureLearn as they really give you a boost and help you feel like you have something to belong to. Online forums on subjects are a platform to start talking with people on subjects that you are enthusiastic about which leads me to my next point......
Church visit
A church history group visit, one of the subjects that helped me out of loneliness

Online socialising is a useful first step to get out of loneliness

Social media can be a useful first step to fight loneliness and is super if like me you are an introvert. There are elements of each platform that are useful for those baby steps out of feeling lonely. Granted too much can be a bad thing but if online chats progress to the confidence for talking to people face to face then I totally recommend it. Blogging has opened up my life and the opportunities for making friends, as has Twitter where I have a great network of acquaintances that love to look around churches like me. Being involved in Twitter hashtags for weekly discussions led to me making friends and joining real life groups. I met my fiancé through Twitter too. My local area of Shrewsbury has tweet ups that are organised events, very safe as obviously that is a concern so make sure meets are official and in a public place. Likewise with Instagram, opportunities for creative and informative exchanges lead to lifestyle changes. I found that the desire to join in and share pretty pictures on Instagram got me out of the house each day and led to me feeling better about myself and more confident to engage in real life social events.

 Ultimately to break the loneliness,just find one thing that you like and try to find something in you local area that will put you with like minded people whether that is baking cakes, reading books, yoga or knitting.  Find happiness from within yourself, being alone is not the same as being lonely.

 Ideas for breaking the lonely spells:

Pets are amazing to help with feeling lonely. A constant companion on good and bad days. A dog encourages you to get out of the house and people always chat to you as you're out walking. Lots of dog breeds have clubs such as the fun organised sausage dog walks and maybe a doggy training class would create opportunities to make friends. 
dog walk
My dog Boo is a loyal friend

Gardening is a hobby that is good for the mind and has openings for meeting new people. I watched a progamme recently where a man who was feeling alone had rented an allotment and this had brought him out of his shell. I have had an allotment and people there are mostly very chatty and helpful, there are social events such as barbeques, annual shows and it is generally just a place to go, be in the outdoors, enjoy growing your own food and a natter over a cuppa and a packet of seeds with plot neighbours.
Allotment sunflowers and shed
A cup of tea at the plot is a perfect antidote to feeling lonely, always somebody to have a chat with over the brassicas!

Volunteering opens up chances to get out of the house and meet new people. There are hundreds of things to be involved in whether it's a certain area of interest such as with animals or something to just see new folk like working in a charity shop. Look at a volunteer database and be inspired to try something new whilst helping others. I have found a gardening opportunity in my village for a retirement living community that would be just my thing. 

Get out every day and see people, even if it's the local shop or the library. Familiar places will bring familiar people and a little interaction will help a lot. When you feel lonely, just a simple hello and a smile from a passer by helps so much. It's great to go walking and see new things and not stay cooped up at home. When I was feeling lonely a while back,getting out into the countryside helped the oppressive feeling of solitude go away and instead I felt happy with myself and at ease. Of course the ultimate aim I wanted was to make new friends but my inner happiness was the first rung. 

I hope some of these ideas may help you if you are not sure what to do, I speak from a very personal place when I say that the loneliness will not be forever and you are the best person to help yourself through but also do not be afraid to ask for help.
English countryside walks

*Collaborative post

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

A walk around Bury Ditches - an Iron Age Hill Fort in Shropshire

The sun shone hazily and the clouds drifted by the hand gliders on the distant crag of a Shropshire hill and the wings of patrolling buzzards were tickled by the thermals. Time to get out again with Little Bird, Sweep and the dogs. Time to explore this new home of mine in rural Shropshire in our first spring here.

A sign I had seen on winter journeys across the county was for Bury Ditches, tucked away between Bishop's Castle and Clun in south Shropshire. Sweep despite living nearby had never been so it was good to tread new territory together in his homelands. The Ditches are an Iron Age hill fort dating back to 500BC and a superb example of a multivallate fort which is one with two or more ramparts as defence.
South Shropshire landscape

The fort was once all pine plantation until a great storm in the 1970's blew down many trees revealing the details of the ditches and ramparts and so the Forestry Commission now manage as a historic site.
carved boy tree trunk

We walked down a woodland path past carved tree folk and information to guide us as to how the fort would have looked. The dogs pulled eagerly and Little Bird tromped through heather lined paths to the summit of Sunnyhill where the oval lines of the fort can clearly be seen and walked along. Views all around were amazing, across to the Long Mynd, the Clee Hills and across to the Stiperstones back home.
Yellow gorse Shropshire

walking on heather ramparts
The place has an ethereal feel to it, treading on a landscape shaped so long ago, what lies beneath these folds in the land. Folklore says that gold is buried here by fairies and  the lucky finder will discover one day as there is gold wire attached to the bounty.

But for us the treasure will be found here in late summer, plentiful purple winberries for gorgeous pies and the reward of fantastic views each season.
Bury Ditches Shropshire

Bury Ditches Shropshire

Bury Ditches Map
Forestry Commision Bury Ditches

Joining in with Country Kids to share my tales from a new life in rural Shropshire.

Country Kids linky

Friday, 8 March 2019

Country courtyard garden - March update

Daffodils at the gate

Sat here after the first week of March wondering where the pleasant weather has disappeared too. From the daffodils at the front gate beaming with spring sunshine to damp and miserable flower tears this week, a swipe at my gardening joy. Nevertheless I have ventured out in a bid to get started and transform the front courtyard garden into the paintbox of colour it was last year.
summer courtyard garden

There are lots of plants just stirring in their pots and in our larger planters, in fact some never went away as the winter has been so mild. My geraniums are still showing some bright pink petals, ready to burst out fully in a couple of months and lots of the perennials are well above the soil, not afraid of chancing some late snow and a zap by the frost. The herb bed is coming to life although I hope they don't get too comfy as they will be being moved due to my Boo dog thinking this area makes a great toilet!
stone slab planter

bright pink geranium in winterherb bed in old sink We have been around the garden and cleared away leaves and debris, moved the pots together in order to sort out what has made the winter and discover what things actually are - must make a note this year and do some labelling! With the courtyard being all pots, many of them were just slotted into gaps last summer in their shop bought plastic tubs since I was after instant oomph and I had spent a lot of money on glazed, terracotta pots and other containers. This year I'll buy more pots so that the garden looks more cohesive.
plant nursery Shropshire

Despite the cold and drizzle, we visited the local plant nursery and antique centre where I purchased a galvanised tub £15 and some plants; garlic chives for £1.40, Arum italicum £4.20 for a shaded area out of reach as it's poisonous (had just seen it funnily enough in a garden whilst on Sweep's rounds that morning) and some lamb's ears for £2
Arum italicum Tresahor beauty

Add to them a selection of bare rooted roses from Tesco £2 each, a lilac and a forsythia for the same price - bargains! So I have lots to do without even looking at the seeds I purchased at the end of last season. However I have sown some chard and other salad leaves into a standing trough and hopefully if the Boo dog stops jumping in here to dig (!) they will be ok.
salad seedlings

At the moment I don't have a greenhouse and will be using a table in the living room for all my seeds and probably all the window ledges too. I'd like the garden to look more cottagey which is hard with it all being in pots so we shall see how it all knits together. This will be my first full year here after gradually moving last summer and wanting to create a quick fix garden, now I will have more time to plan and study, discover the joys of container gardening a bit more and give a bit more thought to planting combinations rather than haphazard schemes.

Hello garden

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Medical Management of a Miscarriage: Trigger Warning

This is not my usual kind of post but as it has changed my life, changed the way forward, I feel like I want to share my thoughts and experience. I feel like I want to share some information as I couldn't find enough out there written about the process I went through, it would have been helpful to me at the time to know more.

Trigger warning, content is graphic.

I previously wrote about how I found out about the missed miscarriage, also called a silent miscarriage. It was at a private clinic where I was having a scan on a Saturday morning. The baby had not developed past 7 weeks and there was no heartbeat. The sonographer did the referral there and then to the Early Pregnancy Unit at the hospital, it was scheduled for Monday morning. I was impressed with how joined up the service was, I wasn't left to do this myself, at the time it really did help out. I didn't expect the private baby scan clinics to be so linked in and so efficient. I was given leaflets about the different ways to manage a miscarriage and my referral letter before I went home.

Different Ways to Manage a Missed Miscarriage

So I knew the baby had no heartbeat and now I had to consider the practical options of what next. There are three options and I am going to say shortly what was told to me from the nurse as opposed to detailing what was on the handouts I received:

  • Conservative management  - basically wait for the miscarriage to happen naturally
  • Medical management - tablets/pessaries to bring the miscarriage on
  • Surgical management - surgical removal of the pregnancy
Monday morning I went to the hospital and had a repeat scan. There was a male student there and they asked if I minded him being in the room, I didn't. I had another internal scan with the vaginal wand and it was explained that they would also need to get a second opinion to confirm there was no heartbeat.  Within a few minutes another nurse arrived and I had another internal scan. Confirmed.

From here I saw another nurse in another room to discuss the options.

Waiting and watching - conservative management

I was told that conservative management carries some risks in that it may take some time (several weeks)  to happen and there is a risk of infection. They would contact me though and not let me disappear off because the process may need to be changed for another management type. The nurse said to me - time is not on your side though if you are wanting to try for another!! That was all I needed to hear. She also mentioned that sometimes the ' products of pregnancy', a term they use, clinical but factual, may start to calcify and it can be extra painful to pass. 

Pushing things along - medical management

This would be done by putting pessaries into the vagina, a drug called misoprostol which would speed the miscarriage along, cause the cervix to open so 'products of pregnancy' could pass. I was told it doesn't always work and some women have to have a second dose on another day. The hospital only booked one treatment a day that would be administered at lunchtime and I'd need to stay in for 4 hours and have somebody drive me home - this is especially because I live in a rural area so the stay times reflect the distance and ease with which to get back to hospital. 

The pain would be intense, a steady climb that would peak. I would pass clots and tissue, would struggle for a while, probably end up ill in bed and would require help. I may even recognisably pass the embryo sac. If everything isn't passed then surgical management can be arranged as the next step. 

Quick and less physical pain- surgical management

Sometimes see this referred to as a D&C but in my NHS trust at least, it's an ERPC (Evacuation of retained products of conception) The nurse said although this was quick and would be less painful, being surgical it did carry more risks - infection mainly and of course reactions to anaesthetic. Also a risk of Asherman's Syndrome which can affect future chances of getting and staying pregnant as scar tissue is formed in the cervix/uterus. However, the nurse said this is very rare and in her career she could only remember two cases of it but then she was very straight to the point in saying that of course the surgery is done 'blind' and referred to it as they swishing about and clearing the uterus, so occasionally fragments of tissue get left etc.

My decision

I spent a while discussing with her, practical considerations too such as looking after Little Bird back home. She thought perhaps the surgical option might be better considering being able to look after my son - surgery would be over and done in a day, the other options I'd be in a lot of pain at home and perhaps unable to cope with a child with autism. However, I felt like I'd manage ok with help and so I decided to opt for medical management and this was scheduled in for the next day.

The nurse told me I'd pass clots and tissue that would look like liver. I would pass the gestational sac and this could be visibly distressing. I could flush down the toilet, save in a plastic tub to put in the fridge as the tissue would decompose quickly and take to the hospital to be cremated or (informally advised) bury deep in the garden (although you're not really supposed to do this). The pregnancies lost at less that 12 weeks are cremated together each month and the ashes scattered at the local garden of rest in the cemetery, there would be a group memorial service arranged at the hospital if we wished to attend.

Going through medical management for a missed miscarriage

12 noon 22nd January I was scheduled to be admitted onto the Early Pregnancy Unit and had a bed on a ward with just two other beds, I think the ward also had ladies with other gynaecological issues. My lovely OH was with me all the time and was a comfort throughout. A doctor came to see me and we ran through the process and the risks. Then the nurse brought the pessaries and these were inserted. Now I had to wait and had to stay on the ward or in the vicinity of the ward for the next four hours. Some people apparently miscarry all at hospital but I got the impression that most start hours later and the miscarriage will happen over the next few days.  If you go to the toilet, you pee into one of those cardboard bowl thingies in case you pass anything so the nurse can check. We pottered to the hospital coffee shop and tried to giggle at things and keep in a good frame of mind.

It wasn't until after three hours that I started to cramp in my lower back and I had to get some painkillers from the nurse. At four hours I was ok to be discharged but at any point I was able to return if I felt worried that I was passing too much blood. I had to have an Anti D injection die to me having rhesus negative blood. Walking across the car park, well I was hobbling now as the pain had ramped up considerably. The journey was hideous and I felt like I was in early labour, having to breathe out the pain through contractions. By the time I got home I was crippled in pain and hardly able to stand at some points. I had asked Little Bird's dad to come to look after him after school for which I am so grateful as we are 90 minutes drive away.

So we took over with Little Bird and I tried in between contractions to go about the usual with a lot of help from OH. By 7pm I was really passing a lot of blood, it was pouring out of me. I collapsed in the bathroom and was weak with nausea and blood loss. Then I started to vomit. The pain was intense and I was passing blood, blood clots and tissue.

The pain peaked by 9pm and one visit to the toilet passed a mass of clots, tissue and grey material that made me shriek. I think this was the embryo. I wrapped into tissue and in that moment I knew I'd bury by my favourite rose, to stay with me. At this point I fell asleep from exhaustion.

The severe pain stopped and for the next ten days it was like a medium - heavy period. Some days nothing and some days the bleeding would return. After two weeks I took a pregnancy test and it was negative. All over and now to think of the future and heal. Finishing this post today on the 5th March I still haven't had a period as yet and haven't a clue when it will return. We are both in a positive happy place, I feel I was able to emotionally heal very quickly, I know not everyone is the same.

I hope to write more about the quest for a child after 40, we have changed our diets and are much healthier than we were, these positive elements keep me going.

Further help - Miscarriage Association

Article on miscarriage