On never, quite, achieving what you set out to. (Another year, lots done, more to do)

I was feeling a bit melancholy on New Year’s Day, and not even down to a hangover. No, I was trying to write a blog but feeling a little bit of a failure due to the last post I wrote and being sure we would be finished all the bedrooms upstairs by Christmas. Needless to say, we didn’t. We didn’t really get close. And I was feeling stupidly annoyed with myself about it, for really no reason.

We progressed as far as having one room plastered, and my plan was to try to get the rest done before Christmas so I could paint them all over the break. But, the only thing I managed to actually paint in the end were the doors to the ensuite and wardrobe (three, maybe four months after they were hung, but hey ho…).

No, in hindsight I wished I had started the year just giving myself a break really. Last year we did actually achieve a huge amount in the house, but all I could see was the fact that whole upstairs is still a mess and there is still so much to do…

What I should have been doing was feeling proud that in the last year we have actually completely rebuilt and redesigned the downstairs bathroom, have a lounge that is almost, so very nearly, finished with lovely shelves, a nice new floor and new sofas, that we lived through the restructuring of our bedroom dividing one room into two and now have a shower and a wardrobe that everyday I love. We have achieved a lot this year and what’s left, compared to what we’ve done is really quite small now. And I should be telling myself we will get there. Repeat after me: we will get there. (And then we’ll just go round again, right?)

So here’s a few pics of this year’s progress…

For anyone about to start, know this: renovating a house is endlessly hard, at times really dull, will take way more time than you ever thought it would, and cost at least double. (These are hardly new statements). But, if you can take all that, it is worth it. Honest. I absolutely love our house, and whenever I hear friends embarking on a move or house hunt I hug my unfinished, unpainted walls and think, thank you. We love you house, we’ll make you pretty one day house. And Forest Gate continues to thrive, and grow and we’re endlessly happy we managed to move here over two years ago.

So, I won’t tell you what the plan is next for upstairs, because I don’t want to disappoint myself…but I’ll just know that we’ll get there soon. And that will be okay.

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In other news, I read a lot of books last year (when I probably should have been painting), here are a few of my recent highlights:

H is for Hawk – Helen McDonald: I read this on holiday after having it on my ‘to-read’ shelf for about a year. It won the Samuel Johnson and Costa prize for Non-Fiction and I’d been told it was a bit of a hard slog so I just kept putting it off, but I really shouldn’t have. It was remarkable. Compelling, moving, fascinating and life-affirming. About grief more than looking after a bird of prey, but also immensely insightful about how looking after and respecting another living thing can, at times, restore you.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr: This probably was my book of last year. Again one I’d had on the shelf for a while and heard many great things – all of which were justified. The story of a blind teenager surviving during the siege of San Malo during WWII – it is just beautiful.

The Versions Of Us – Laura Barnett: Kind of Sliding Doors meets Life After Life, perfect for anyone that ever asks What If I never met/said yes/no etc that person? It’s a wonderful life (or multiple life) story. It’s just out in paperback – read it.

After The Crash – Michel Bussi: I put this in mainly as I have a real fondness for it. It’s kind of a crazy, weird, compelling but little bit silly “who dunnit/who is it” thriller, translated from French. I just really enjoyed reading it while on holiday.

Tiny, Beautiful, Things – Cheryl Strayed: I loved Wild, the book (the movie, not so great). Cheryl Strayed definitely has a thing with words, and this collection of letters from her Dear Sugar advice column was just a joy. I read it in one sitting on a plane, and it deals with all of life’s big (and small) questions giving honest, direct and often hilarious answers.

And here are a few that I’m excited about coming this year (that I haven’t already mentioned – no need to say anymore about the wonderful Trouble with Goats and Sheep coming out at end of this month):

Jonathan, Unleashed by Meg Rosoff: Out in February I think. I was lucky enough to read this on submission, and very sad we didn’t get to publish it, but as a long time fan of Meg Rosoff’s teen novels I gulped down her first adult one. Set in New York, with the hopeless but hopelessly loveable Jonathan – it’s a modern day love story, both insightful and hilarious with the best characters I’ve read in a long time (and dogs).

Not Working by Lisa Owens: coming April. Read some of this on submission again and want to read more. A very funny novel of a women who quits her job to find herself, only to find out it’s not so easy…

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: also out in April. I *heart* Curtis Sittenfeld and loved both American Wife and Sisterland so her doing a spin on Pride and Prejudice was eagerly awaited. I’m lucky to be working on the book and read an early copy and absolutely loved it. So so funny and totally accurate in bringing the characters up to date, I could almost read it all over again (and I only just finished).

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And finally, I am over the moon to see a Christmas present well-received. My best friend recently quit her high-powered job in law and I bought her Nigel Slater’s Year of Good Eating (the third Kitchen Diaries book). She’s spending her time incredibly wisely (I think!) and aiming to cook every recipe in it over the next year whilst also looking after her lovely almost 2 year old. She’ll be blogging her progress here – wishing her much luck and hoping to enjoy one of two of those meals!

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