Friday, 6 December 2013

Birthdays... the Good the Bad and the Ugly!

Having recently turned yet another year older, and with my husband reaching the big ‘FIVE O ‘ in less than two weeks, I’ve been thinking (possibly over-thinking) about what birthdays mean to me these days.  As the years have gone by, I guess I’ve  looked forward to them less, but actually I don’t really know why?  I read a quote recently which went something like “If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?” and yes, some days the answer to that question may well be “65 plus”, but in all honesty, most of the time it would be a figure considerably younger than I am.  All things considered, I’ve decided that more good than bad comes with age, and it’s just a matter of seeing our birthday tipple glass as half full and not half empty.  So, this is how I’m going to view the passing of the years from now on...

The Good
My birthdays will be a day (or more, if I can manage to drag it out) of pure, unashamed, indulgent ME time.  They will be seen as my special day, a time to sip champagne and eat cake (lots of cake).  My mobile will be non-stop (hopefully) with texts and Facebook notifications from well-wishers; birthday cards of the hand-crafted, cute, sentimental, humorous and pure filthy variety will adorn my mantelpiece and window ledges, and all in celebration of the day that wonderful, unique moi entered the world! If I’m lucky, my birthday celebrations might also include parties, evenings out and, of course, pressies!  See below - a few photos of some of the lovely gifts I received this year, which might also offer a bit of Christmas gift inspiration.

The Bad
Harsh (but true) being forty plus, I am fully aware that  the champagne sipping may well leave me needing the loo in the middle of the night, unable to get out of bed in the morning, and with raging heartburn.  The cake will more than likely leave me feeling bloated, guilty, and will almost certainly lead to tears the next time I get on the scales.  I will also prepare myself for the fact that birthday surprises at this time of life might include a few extra fine lines around my eyes, age spot multiplication, and the odd addition to my growing collection of grey hairs.  I accept that I may also notice an increase in my short term memory loss (although actually, that will possibly be more to do with the excessive champagne sipping, in which case it’s more than worth it!).

 And... the Ugly?!
Well, I reckon, this will only set in if I don’t spend my forty plus birthday celebrations enjoying the ‘good’ and gracefully accepting the ‘bad’.  My plan to avoid any ugliness is to embrace my maturity, and the knowledge and ‘wisdom’ that come with it. In future I’m going to celebrate the fact that yet another birthday means I’ve been lucky enough to have  spent the last year enjoying my family and seeing them grow, have had chance to form new friendships and see existing ones deepen, and have had the benefit of a further twelve months’ life experience (good and bad).  And, with all that under my belt, I can begin to look forward to the adventures and challenges of the year ahead... that is, until my next wonderful birthday!

Okay, that’s enough deep and meaningful thinking from me... time for pressies!

I love this grown-up, sophisticated take on the recent satchel trend, and it’s such a fabulous colour.,acc_1.1/5890143000

Posh Wellies  - I’ve been wanting a pair of these for ages and they’re just the job to ‘style-up’  my winter dog walking.  If they’re good enough for Her Majesty, they’re good enough for me!
‘Lovely’, by Sarah Jessica Parker.  Gorgeous fresh, day time fragrance, and a beautiful bottle that looks so pretty on your dressing table. 
Body Shop scented candle, room & fabric fragrance spray and home fragrance oil, in ‘Aloe & Soft Linen’.  Lovely pressie.
Visit to the Theatre – surprise trip to see “Thriller Live”. If you love Michael Jackson’s music you’ll adore this smash hit West End Show.  I had such a fun-filled evening!

Pretty little Pandora Charm to add to my collection.  I’m hoping to fill my bracelet by the time I turn fifty... running out of time fast!!791224CZ/metal/05,04,11,06/sort-by/pl

I also had some beautiful flowers delivered (always a winner with me) and the fact that my 19 year old music student son, living 200 miles away, even remembered my birthday (let alone sent me flowers), was enough to make my day! Unfortunately, these were well past their best by the time I got round to taking photos for this post :-(  

So, here’s to many more happy returns! J

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Time for a Lovely Cuppa

Don’t know about you, but so many times I say to myself (often in the middle of a Saturday morning’s battle with the laundry basket, or after a stress inducing, trolley raging trip round the supermarket), “right, it’s time for a spot of me time and a lovely cuppa!”

At this point, in my mind’s eye, I see myself sinking into an over-sized, unbelievably squishy armchair (the reclining sort with foot rest, of course), I have my reading glasses perched on the end of my nose, and I’m casually flicking through the pages of  ‘Cosmopolitan’ or ‘Ideal Homes’.  My pets are snuggled up on the rug at my feet and I’m feeling totally relaxed, not a care in the world.  My favourite “chill out” tunes are playing softly in the background and I’m alternating nibbles of delightful home-baked lemon drizzle cake with sips of something hot, sweet and comforting from a pretty little vintage teacup and saucer, or a floral Kath Kidston mug (in pastel shades) large enough to take a bath in.

Okay... back to reality!  This is how my “time for a lovely cuppa” turned out last time.  I hurriedly filled up the kettle and, whilst it was boiling, fed the cat and popped another load in the washing machine. I then proceeded to throw down the sink the remains of the “lovely cuppa” I made for myself earlier, but didn’t have time to finish. I swilled the cup out with lukewarm water and threw a way too weak “supermarket own” tea bag (or was it a teaspoon of nasty instant coffee, can’t remember) into said “swilled out” cup.  I then added hot water, a teeny-weeny bit of sugar (not worth bothering with to be honest) and a splash of milk... realised the milk was starting to ‘turn’, and started again!  Finally, I sat down to relax for five minutes to enjoy my hot beverage only to be disturbed by some chap gesturing at me through the window (not in an indecent way I should add!)  I put down my drink and went to the front door. Turns out my gesturing friend was the window cleaner, who had been ringing the (broken) door bell for ten minutes now.  Knowing he’d probably come to collect what must now be well overdue payments from me,  I smiled through gritted teeth and politely asked him how much I owed, to which he replied “you owe for the past four months love, you’re never at home when we call”.  So, after forking out a small fortune for window cleaning services, I return to my now cold, not so lovely cuppa. Sound familiar?

Now more determined than ever that the next time  I decide to have a  “lovely cuppa”, it was indeed going to be just that, I went on a little shopping trip to see what treats I could find.

Cafe Classic

For this delightfully classic, yet special cup of coffee, try Whittard’s San Agustin Columbian, around £4 for 125g.  Choose your favourite coffee at Whittard, and have them grind and package the beans right in front of you, doesn’t get fresher than that. I made this half coffee/half hot semi-skimmed milk, for a Latte style treat.  Marks & Spencer Rocky Road makes an ideal accompaniment at £1.79 for two.  Coffee mug, 50p from local Charity Shop.

Sweet & Spicy Celebration

More of a tea drinker? Try Twinings Chai for a change.
Apparentley, Chai was only drunk by the royalty in India!  If you love the aromatic scent of cinnamon, ginger and cloves (very seasonal), give this one a whirl (£2.50 ish for 50 tea bags).  Lovely with these adorable little treats (which I just could not resist), Mini Gingerbread Men, again from good old M&S, £1.09 for 12... soooo cute!  “Vintage Floral” cup and saucer, £2.50 from Wilkinsons.

Toffee Nut Hot Chocolate

Oh so yummy! This treat is made by stirring four or five teaspoons full of Thornton’s “Dark & Milk Chocolate Flakes” (£2.99 for 200g) into a mug of hot steaming milk.  Add a shot of “Starbucks’ Toffee Nut Flavour Syrup” (£3.95 for 375ml) and a Marks & Spencer’s “Crunchy All Butter Pecan & Maple Cookie” (or two) (£1.99 per 200g pack) on the side, and you’re in heaven!!  Cutesy extra large mug, £1.50 from local Charity Shop.

Other ideal accompaniments...

Extra choccie... Add an M&S Milk Chocolate Stirrer (these were reduced to clear, from £1 to 15p for two) to any of the above hot drinks to make them extra, extra special!

A FREE Mag... My daughter told me about this little freebie, which she picked up from Starbucks the other day (I don’t think that’s classed as shoplifting, is it?)  “Stylist” is apparently aimed essentially at "affluent career women" (up to 40!!). Clearly, I don’t meet either of those criteria, but I enjoyed reading nevertheless (and in any case, who cares, it’s FREE!) Why not take a look...

Flowers and candles... Two of my main loves in life.  So simple, yet neither ever fails to make me feel just a tad bit happier inside.  So, whilst sipping your lovely cuppa, surround yourself with a few pretty flowers and the aroma of a beautiful scented candle, sure to add a little ”je ne sais quoi” to the whole experience. Jo Malone “Pomegranate Noir” Scented Candle, not cheap at around £39, but very, very gorgeous (I actually stole this from my daughter’s bedroom for the purposes of this post, I know... shameful! - I did put it straight back).

I have to say, I’m feeling just a little guilty that I haven't featured fabulous recipes for delicious, indulgent, home-made cakes (I’m not promising, but maybe they will come later). However, the real essence of this post is not to spend time slaving over a hot oven making yummy home-made sweet treats (however wonderfully superior they are to shop bought alternatives), but to enjoy “quick and easy” short-cuts to simple “me time” indulgence, which require minimum effort but deliver maximum rewards!

In conclusion ladies, sometimes we just have to blow the calorie counting, sod the housework, and enjoy a little simplistic indulgence.  Enjoy your “lovely cuppa”, however you choose to take it!

(PS: In light of recent media coverage around blogging, I ought to just clarify, I'm not being paid by M&S, Starbucks, Twinings (or anyone else for that matter), to include their wares  in my posts (more's the pity, I could always do with a little extra income!) ;-)

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Preparing for Christmas... Many a Woman’s Nightmare!

I know, even the mention of the “C” word, whilst Halloween is still fresh in our minds, and the sound of fireworks begins to fill the air, is a cardinal sin (and believe me I don’t normally like to even think about it myself until at least December the 1st), but seeing Christmas all of a sudden “appear” in the shops has reminded me of a book I read during the summer, “The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year” by the brilliant Sue Townsend.  Now, whilst I did enjoy the book, and could relate to much of the witty social commentary and humour (with which it’s bursting) I did find it got a tad ridiculous towards the end (although some might say this is part of its appeal).  The book is hilarious in parts, but also takes a poignant look at modern family life, and the sometimes unbearable pressures and expectations placed on the modern family woman. Not least, in the lead up to the festive season.

Great book, well worth a read.

So, whether or not this inspires you to go out and buy the book, I did want to share with you a few paragraphs about the annual ordeal that the main character, Eva, endures in order to prepare Christmas for her family.  Eva has gone to bed for a year (as you do) and is handing over the responsibility of preparing for Christmas to her bemused husband, Brian...

“On the evening of 19th December, Brian asked Eva, “What are we doing for Christmas?”
Eva said “I’ll be doing nothing at all.”
Brian looked shocked. “Do you want me to tell you how to do Christmas, Brian?”
“I suppose so.”
Eva advised him, “You may want to take notes.””

And so, Eva begins...

“You’ll find the Christmas Card list in the bureau, together with stamps and unused cards from last year. Write them tonight before you go to bed, and post them tomorrow.  After work tomorrow, drive around garden centres and garage forecourts looking for Christmas trees.  In your mind’s eye you are seeing a perfect tree, lushly green and aromatic, rounded at the bottom and rising in ever-decreasing circles until topped with a single branch.  However, there are no such trees. At 9pm the day before Christmas Eve, just as Homebase is closing, you will panic and push through the doors and snatch the nearest tree. Do not be too disappointed when you end up with a tree a social worker might describe as ‘failing to thrive’.”

Go to local butcher, order a turkey. Watch him laugh in your face. Go to supermarket, try to order a turkey. Leave to the sound of laughter from the poultry department. Buy ten tins of Quality Street for fifty quid. Decide how much to spend on distant or near relations, trawl round shops, ignore present list and make ludicrous impulse buys.  Arrive home, unload presents and immediately suffer buyer’s remorse. Take everything back the next day and buy twenty-seven pairs of red fleece socks with reindeer motif.  Go online, order latest technical must –have gadgets, find that there are none left in the country. Go late-night shopping to buy Christmas outfit for self.

Snatch a few hours sleep before driving to Marks & Spencer to join a queue. Reach tenth position in queue to hear “dressed turkeys gone”. No choice but to buy undressed turkey. Return home and, through fog of anxiety and sleep deprivation, unpack turkey and leave on kitchen table.
Drag stepladder up cellar stairs, untangle fairy lights, drape along picture rails, starting with artistic plan in head, end with fairy lights thrown over any ledge or surface.  Bulbs go. Search for replacements.
Do not throw away horrible papier-mâché bells or similar cack-handed ornaments.  The children made them in infant school.

Go into kitchen and find cat mauling turkey’s head, undressed turkey’s eyes expressing woes of world.
Brian interjected, panicking now, “How can one person possibly deal with all those different components?”
But Eva couldn’t stop.
Cook Christmas dinner, almost collapse after assembling food on table. Drink too much, ask for help washing up, everyone says “later”.  Eat half tin of Quality Street. Prepare supper. Drink self into stupor. Feel sick from Quality Street and vodka, go to bed.”

Any of that sound familiar?  Of course most of us say the same every year “never again”, “next year I’m going to make it simpler (and cheaper)”, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll put every last ounce of effort you have (and every last penny) into making Christmas magical for your family, thoroughly exhausting yourself in the process.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas but surely there’s got to be an easier (less expensive) way?!  So far, I haven’t found one, but if I do, I’ll post it right here.

Happy Christmas planning ladies!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

My Beautiful Bespoke Fireplace

“I would love a hole-in-the-wall fire, with a real flame” my husband would hear me whine, whilst flicking through the glossy pages of some “Ideal Homes” type magazine “they’re so cosy”!  Well, what can I say... he certainly delivered the goods (you see ladies, if you nag long and hard enough, you get results!).  Did he whisk me off to a designer fireplace retailer to choose whichever of the £5,000 and upwards fire surrounds and log burners on display I desired? Well no he didn’t, but what he did do was even more special than that.

Using a reclaimed railway sleeper from a local disused line, an old gas cannister, a fair bit of DIY experience, and a whole load of sweat and tears, my wonderful hubby set about creating this beautiful focal point for our front room.

First job was to create an almighty mess by smashing the wall in! Next came the stone base, on which our very inexpensive, but extremely effective, log burner would be placed.  The log burner was created simply by cutting an opening in the front of the gas cannister and one at the top (attached to the flu - which luckily for us was already in place), and painted - obviously flame proof paint is quite key here! The sleeper was sanded, treated with a lick of nourishing oil, and mounted, to create a beautiful mantle to finish the whole thing off... bring me some wood, we were good to go!

We've now been enjoying our beautiful bespoke fireplace for a number of years, and  absolutely love it. So much so, that we now actually look forward to the cold dark nights, snuggling up on the sofa in front of a roaring flame (even better if accompanied by a glass of vino and a chunk of chocolate). As far as we're concerned Hallowe'en, Fireworks, hey perhaps even Christmas, have become secondary highlights of the Autumn/Winter season... we could probably cope without them all, but not without our fire!

One other unintentional 'feature' of the fireplace is the smell!  Every now and then we get a whiff of the oil which would have spilled from the train’s engine and seeped into the sleeper. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but for us the smell is really rather wonderfully rustic, enhancing the already comforting, cosy, wrapped-in-a-soft-warm-blanket feeling that comes with an open fire. 

And, during the summer months, to help with my log fire withdrawal symptoms, we burn a church candle in the fireplace. Granted, not quite the same, but still an enchanting flickering flame to gaze into, and certainly enough to pacify me until the return of what has become a highlight of the year... the fabulous fire season.