Tag Archives: Challenge

Happy New Year!

 
For my first post of 2017, I would like to convey to all my readers the usual good wishes for a healthy, happy and successful new year. More specifically, I hope that the next twelve months will bring you defining moments to take you closer to your dreams, whatever they may be.

I decided against writing a post about my goals this time. Mainly, I want to build on the ones I have set my heart onto in recent years and our stay in the South of France a the end of December gave me the opportunity to reflect on different, untried angles to achieve them. I also realised that a change of attitude was in order. I may later on share with you on that chain of thoughts!

For now, let’s go back in time… 2016 was a funny year, one when I often felt held back, and this applied to my blog too. Having gone to Italy last July, it took me until November to finally tell you about it. Today, I am indeed taking you to France but it will be all summery and bright. As always, the whole gallery is available on Of Lens And Pen, should you need a higher dose of sun and colours – with a hint of black and white!

I would love to hear about what you got up to during the festive season and your objectives for 2017. Do tell me!
 

 

Full photo gallery on Of Lens And Pen

 
 
 
 

New Job | New Mac | New Book

 
It started with the dreaded “beep, beep, beep” on booting up my computer. Not every time, but enough to let me know that there was a serious problem. Then came the “black screens”, randomly at first, then more and more frequent. All this on top of the slowness, despite removing my 50’000 odd photos, tidying up, updating, upgrading, etc. Finally, after 8 years, my faithful iMac gave up. Not at the most convenient time, of course. It never is. I was still waiting to hear back for the freelance opportunity I mentioned in my It has been a long time post and I could have done without spending the money.

However, it had to happen and after much head scratching and comparing, I went for a Mac Mini and an ASUS screen. I am very happy with this combination and would like to thank Sexy Hubby for setting it all up for me!

Meanwhile, things went ahead with the freelance contract and the work will start in March. I am really looking forward to this and enjoyed the good news. Especially after wasting my time by replying to an ad posted by a company selling luxury gifts looking for a blogger to write posts. After an email exchange mainly asking for my ideas, I was offered an unspecified trial period with compensated posts in the future. Needless to say, that went no further.

No more news so far on the book front after a string of rejections in January. Patience is the key. After the slight delay caused by the Mac story, I have finally booked some time this week to start with my second novel. Quite excited about it.

What are your latest news?
 
 
Sunny Walk Forest Fields
 
 
 
 

Buying And Renovating A House |
Part II

 
As explained in Buying And Renovating A House | Part I, we were on a very tight schedule to complete the renovation of our new home. General Builder had given us an estimate of two to three weeks work, so with double that time we thought we would still be OK when coming across the inevitable bad surprises. The three weeks had come and gone and let’s just say the house was nowhere near ready. General Builder came back from his two-week holiday and I fully expected him to turn up on the Monday with his team of builders and get a move on. Well, good job we had not told the Bekannte that his services were no longer required, because when General Builder failed to arrive and I rang him, I was told he would “come by late afternoon”. When he did arrive, he looked horrified by the amount of work still to be done and then said that he STILL had no one to work on our house. You guessed it, I lost it again, at which point he said he would send two people on Wednesday or Thursday.

I will spare you all the details but the reliability of General Builder never improved. Most of time only one of the two promised workers would make an appearance. And Lone Guy once left after a couple of hours because of sudden back pains. Or he sometimes arrived late because of car issues or having attended a wine festival the night before (yes, that really was the excuse given to me by General Builder. I pointed out to him that all workers on Team Bekannte had turned up on time, and that they had very probably gone to the same place that Sunday night).

On top of it, Team General Builder and Team Bekannte were not fond of one another, to say the least, so we decided to keep them apart, with one team working on the first floor and the other on the ground floor. Thankfully, all other companies could be counted on – except for one occurrence, see below – and just went about their business.

A few more stories for you:

1. We had decided to get rid of the tiles in the lounge, TV room and the entrance leading to them, replacing them with laminate flooring. We of course gave instructions to the two guys doing this job so they would lay the floor in the right direction. This they did in the first two rooms. Although they did not manage to align the planks from one room to the other, but it was too late when we noticed this. Then they started on the entrance. Going in the other direction, for some reason. Luckily, Sexy Hubby was on holiday by then, saw the mistake and stopped them. They seemed surprised to be told to start again.
2. These two were also the ones who thought leaving the remains of their lunch all over the house was totally OK. Chicken bones and mouldy gherkin, anyone?
3. The heating company was great and we recommend them to everybody. They ended doing all of the plumbing too, as General Builder was so far behind in his work. The only issue we had was with one particular employee, who was told exactly where and how to move two pipes. He unleashed his creative side instead… He trashed the wooden ceiling in the lounge, destroyed the top of the freshly plastered wall, cut through the new electric cables and drilled two holes in the corner of our bedroom on the first floor. Then he left. I arrived, took in the scene, and rang his boss. He came immediately and paled visibly when he saw the damage. The matter was however handled to our complete satisfaction and we are still happy customers.
4. One of the builders, doing work outside, turned up one day rather merry, shall we say. Only this was SO out of character for him – he had been there from day one, never missed a day, always turned up on time and done a good job – that I thought he was suffering a brain haemorrhage or something. It turned out he was having some personal problems and rang the next day to apologize. He came back and finished the work, again to our complete satisfaction, and we are already planning to work with him on our next project. All the same I had quite a fright, I must say!
5. Construction and renovation are not really my area of expertise. In German even less. I certainly learned a lot and the builders sometimes had to draw what they wanted to explain in the dust on the floor, but we managed fine. And shared a few laughs too.
6. There were also some good surprises. Like discovering beautiful long lost beams hidden in the walls we took down. Or the old tiled stove being in perfect working order. And finding out that my charming French accent goes a long way when dealing with building companies! 😉

Of course we did not make our deadline. We moved into an unfinished, dusty house and it took a long time until we could finally get rid of our 200 boxes. Team Bekannte almost completed the ground floor on time, but as the warm and sunny weather left place to a few rainy, cooler days, they had to wait for the ceiling and walls to dry to complete the painting. Needless to say, it took a lot longer for the first floor to be finished and Sexy Hubby and I slept in my office and shared Second Daughter’s bathroom for weeks until everything was ready. Not the end of the world, I know, but that meant sharing the houses with builders for weeks too and not much work done for me. In addition, I happened to say I was tired of this whole palaver one day. General Builder’s comment to this was: “Women are too weak to be on building sites. They should stay in the kitchen”. You can imagine how well this went down. I wonder if he regretted his answer when he sat opposite me for half an hour a couple of months later, while I told him exactly was I thought of his attitude?

After much deliberating, we also decided to renovate the outside walls before the winter. To my great chagrin, that meant pulling all the ivy off. Something had to be done about it anyway, but there was one part of the house where it truly was magnificent. Had we decided to keep the walls white, it could perhaps have been saved. But as we chose a “Tuscan Red”, it simply was not possible. This part of the renovating went rather smoothly. We had a lot of luck that the weather remained dry and mild the whole time. The originally green elements (shutters, banister, etc.) were repainted in “Palazzo Grey”. We are very, very happy with the result and have received many compliments from neighbours and visitors.

The last bit of work, done together with our direct neighbours, was to sort out the parking area. We can now park four vehicles easily, six when visitors come and we re-arrange our cars a bit.

Projects coming up in spring: the garden and the garden house… Do you have any tips for us?
 
 
Home - Cosy corner with orchidOld fireplace - Tiled stoveBird houseOutside stairs decoration
 
 
 
 

Buying And Renovating A House |
Part I

 
I am a strong believer in “when something is meant to be, it just happens”. Take our new home. We were doing most of our research on the Internet and Sexy Hubby spotted a house he thought was pretty. We viewed it on a Saturday, liked it but there were several question marks. Walking out, I noticed the adjacent house seemed to be empty. I thought it looked wonderful and asked the estate agent whether he knew the property was for sale too. His answer was yes, but he did not know who the agent was. I had a strong gut feeling about it, so I decided to find out.

Before we drove home, Sexy Hubby filled up the car and bought the local papers. In one of them, I spotted a tiny advert and wondered if the house described was “the one”. I rang on the Monday and asked for the description to be sent to me. I received it per email on Tuesday and, lo and behold, it was the dream house. I immediately rang again and made an appointment to view it the following day. And I fell in love. I have what we jokingly call between us “the vision”. It means that I can see past the state of the house and imagine what it will look like once the work is done. Sexy Hubby absolutely cannot do this, so he just has to trust me! I made a second appointment for the Saturday to come with Sexy Hubby and a friend of ours, who is an architect. After that second visit, I was even surer about it and Sexy Hubby liked it too. The three of us sat down and prepared a renovation budget. Then we made an offer, slightly lower than the asking price. On Monday, we heard the owners had accepted it.

Now if I could give one piece of advice, it would be: “Listen to the people who know”. In our case, our friend the architect, who told us to be realistic and expect completion of the work at the end of November when beginning mid-July. I did not believe him and argued that we did not want Second Daughter to start the new school year in her current school and then arrive in the new one once everybody had settled in already. I thought – Sexy Hubby was more cautious – that eight weeks would be enough. Our penthouse flat was as good as sold, with the buyers paying the asking price. Only there was a delay in the confirmation of their financing, which meant that we had to postpone our solicitor’s appointment by two weeks. Our eight-week planning changed to six weeks…

Next on the list was finding builders. I searched local firms and our architect friend was kind enough to come to the meetings I had set up. Kitchen, electricity, heating and roof companies were found that way. We still needed a “general” builder and went for the one recommended by our new neighbours. We were ready and the work was to begin on the first Monday of August. Except that on the Friday, General Builder came to the house and announced that he could not start on Monday due to delays on his current worksites. I went ballistic and told him this was not my problem and to find a solution, as he knew how tight our schedule was. We had asked him MANY times if he could really take this on and he had assured us it would be fine. The following day, he rang me and said he had found three people, who could work the whole of August. I breathed a – heavy – sigh of relief.

I had expected General Builder to work as well at least part of the time, but he barely came to check late in the afternoon a couple of times a week. Not what I had had in mind, so it was a good job that I managed to free my time to spend hours on the building site every day. A few examples of what I had to deal with:

1. Mould: the previous owners had gone for inside insulation, not a good idea with a house originally built in 1860… Only four ground floor rooms were affected, but of course that was enough to set us right back time wise.
2. The Angel of Doom: this is the name I gave one of the builders. As soon as I arrived, he would shake his head and flail his arms, delivering bad news in a sepulchral voice. He was one of the original three builders and was there with his son. After two weeks, he announced that the two of them had to work on another building site for a couple of days and would then come back. They never did.
3. Desperately trying to find builders: see previous point! After a week of them not turning up and not answering their phone, it was clear we had to find a solution. General Builder was by then on holidays – this we knew about before we started – and not answering his phone either. In addition, the promised fourth man that was supposed to start on the bathroom never turned up. So we approached our last builder and asked him if he knew someone. Yes, a “Bekannte” (acquaintance). We had to smile as this sounded like something out of The Godfather, but the Bekannte certainly delivered. When he promised to come with a certain number of people, he did, and on time. Unlike General Builder, we recommend the Bekannte to everybody we know.
4. Trashed round bushes in the garden: the guys thought it would be a good idea to simply throw through the windows the planks from the ceiling they were gutting on the first floor. NOT a good idea.
5. Rubbish management: we became one of the best customers of a local skip company and our builders were quite good at adding only the stuff that was supposed to go in the containers. The problem was wood and metal, as well as odd bits and pieces, which had to be collected separately. I tried again and again to explain that we had a pile for each, to no avail. So every Saturday, Sexy Hubby and I spent an hour or two sorting out rubbish.
6. Pulling off old wallpaper: in order to speed up things, since I was there every day anyway, I offer to help removing the wallpaper in what was going to become our two studies. Sexy Hubby helped at the weekend too. Only we found out that it was not one layer, but several… I felt like Sisyphus at times. Needless to say, there is not a scrap of wallpaper in the house now.

Those are only a few stories, but I have to keep a couple for my Part II post, which I will publish next week. In the meantime, I leave you with a few “before and after” photos of the kitchen and the second bathroom, where the transformation was the most spectacular.

And do tell me: what are your experiences with renovating a house?
 
 
Kitchen RenovationNew kitchenNew dining roomBathroom renovationNew bathroom - Shower and basinsNew bathroom - Free standing bath