So then, it’s the start of 2011 and we’re supposed to make resolutions. In fear of not sticking to them, I never really make any. I don’t see the point. If you want to make a change in your life, just do it, why wait until the start of a new year?!
Having said this, I have decided to make certain promises to myself from today! I decided that today is the day to start running again after an awful five weeks off. This wasn’t out of choice, the snow, ice and frost along with the bitterly cold temperatures has made running nigh on impossible (I did see one girl running in shorts in the snow though. I am clearly much less dedicated!)
After such a long break, I did expect it would be difficult to get back to into but this is the day when my training towards my biggest running goal yet has begun because on Sunday 18th September 2011, I am hoping to run the iconic Great North Run. I had to make myself get out of bed and get dressed in my leggings and t-shirt, the alcohol still sloshing around inside me and the masses of cheese/chocolate/bread I have consumed over the last month having re-formed my saddlebags that I thought I’d lost forever. I gave myself New Years Day off but vowed that on the 2nd, I would detox for a week, cut down massively on drinking again and go out running. So far, so good*, all leftover alcohol has gone down the sink (except for the Baileys which I will save for emergencies) and I ran three miles this morning. It was a struggle but with my other measures, I am hoping to get my running back to how it was in the next few weeks and then I can start properly training for September. I will keep you up to date with my training escapades on the blog, wish me luck!
* Hmmm, since I wrote this earlier, I baked Jam Thumbprints and ate marshmallows, I’ll stop snacking tomorrow!
My kitchen is my hub. Definitely my favourite room in our flat, it’s where my ideas come together, where I’ll spend most of my time on days off spent at home and where I, above all, will miss most when we eventually move out.
There is something about a kitchen that makes a house feel like a home. It is the place where I always end up at a party, where the magic that is my culinary genius takes effect (sometimes, when it’s not a pasta/pizza night!) and therefore, where all the delicious aromas emanate from when I’m cooking up a storm. It is also where, when we have friends over for dinner, we sit and drink wine and chat about all sorts while a casserole cooks in the oven.
As you can probably gage by now, my life heavily revolves around food. I love to cook and on my days off, I spend most of my day baking cakes and cooking, whether it be whizzing up delicious soups for lunch for the week ahead or preparing a roast dinner for friends.
My kitchen is home to one of the most amazing things possible for a foodie and that is a pantry. I cannot express quite how much I love my pantry and when we moved in, it was amongst the first things I told people about the flat! A floor to ceiling cupboard filled with a collection of ingredients of which I am very proud, the pantry is filled with all sorts of vinegars, flours, sugars, herbs, spices and condiments and I always know that when I look at a recipe, most of the staple ingredients will be in that cupboard.
A dining table is a must in any good, homely kitchen. Even if you don’t always eat dinner there, it’s nice to have to even just sit at to read magazines or books, to write or to chat with friends. My kitchen table is my absolute favourite place to prepare blog posts and I spend twenty minutes every morning reading Red magazine there with my porridge and coffee. We don’t eat dinner there on a daily basis but when friends come over, we always make an effort in doing so and it makes it all the more special when we do! There is something about sitting at a dining table that makes a group seem closer and gets the conversation flowing better.
Since we got our kitchen table, which is a white folding affair from Ikea, we have adopted a bit of a red and white theme throughout the room. I bought these polka dot bird hooks from Pink Lemons in Bristol and at 4 for £10, I even got some blue ones for my bathroom! They are handy for hanging tea-towels or aprons on and add a splash of colour to our potentially boring magnolia walls.
The final thing that I adore about our flat and our kitchen in particular is the view from our huge windows. Everybody on our street has a beautiful garden (it’s very much a green- fingered area!) and we have an amazing view of the plants and trees from our neighbours’ gardens as well as the sky. It is one of the lightest, airiest rooms I know and in the evening, it’s lovely to be able to see the sun setting as you cook dinner. Bonfire Night and New Years Eve are also fun at our house as because we are quite high up, we get a good view of any firework displays without going out in the cold!
I’d probably love it in any house I will live in in the future and at any time of year but the truth is, Christmas being on the approach makes me love warm homes/cooking/kitchens and right now, I can’t think of anything I’d rather change about my favourite room other than perhaps the addition of a coffee maker, wine rack and a large oak dining table. Well, a girl’s got to wish!
As you may have gathered from my recent excitement over the opening of a refurbished Co-operative supermarket in the locality, I am a bit of a fan of food shopping and, well, supermarkets in general. Although a lot of people dislike food shopping and see it as a chore, I am a self-confessed foodie and love nothing more than going wild in the aisles, buying ingredients to create fun and delicious dishes at home.
Things got a little more fun over the last year or so as I started collecting loyalty points from Tesco, The Co-operative Group and Sainsburys. It’s fab that these stores offer up rewards to their customers and for certain groups, i.e families, there is the oppportunity to earn back quite a lot of points on their bulk buy weekly shops!
Our chain of choice is Tesco, where double points are a permanent fixture and so, the pounds keep rolling in! In the last three months, we have earned 1503 points, which equates to £15 in vouchers so far. Multiply that by 4 and it gives us £60 per year which to be honest, is pretty damn good for a rewards scheme. We can spend these rewards instore or can choose to take up one of Tesco’s partner rewards which multiplies the value of your vouchers by up to four times. With these, you can take yourselves out for a lovely dinner or even take some time out and stay in a fancy hotel for the weekend! Being part of your supermarket’s loyalty points scheme never felt so right! And no, I’m not advertising for Tesco. I just love free things. So there.
I got a little over- excited over the weekend when our upstairs neighbour announced that she had become an ‘Avon Lady’. I haven’t bought Avon products or even seen a catalogue since I was at uni and my Mum used to ship my orders of ‘Lip Plumping Lip Conditioner’ down to me so you can imagine my delight when I heard the news. That evening, I pored over the brochure for hours with twinkly eyes and a great big grin. “Look Jonny”, I exclaimed. “If you buy anything from these pages, you get a free mascara!” I was needless to say, met with a blank stare and an uninterested “That’s nice, dear” type response. The offers, though, are what I love most about Avon. Most of the pages offer free items either if you buy something or if you spend over a certain amount and they often reduce expensive items if you spend a certain amount. I wouldn’t dream of buying a wooden Advent calendar house for £40 but for £18 if you spend over £20 throughout the brochure, hell, why not?!
You can buy items that you can’t ever find in Boots like Pillow Mist to help you sleep and handcream that smells like Christmas (you know, all nutmeg-gy and like cinammon!) Generally, things that you probably wouldn’t purchase if you were traipsing up and down the aisles on your lunchbreak. Things that are priced at two or three pounds so you may as well buy them as they are so cheap and sound like so much fun!
One of the other reasons I cannot resist buying things from an Avon brochure is because I love the excitement of receiving things unexpectedly in the post or at the door. I love ordering things online and having things delivered to me so I will literally be counting down the days for the weeks it will inevitably take the order to arrive. Avon isn’t as quick and efficient as any online retailer but the old-fashioned nature of handwriting an order form and having to wait longer for a delivery that you can’t really track adds to the fun if you ask me!
I have been encouraged by the arrival of this brochure to start my Christmas shopping too. In amongst the nailcare, snood, Christmas Lip Balm and the free lipstick for me, I’ve ordered gifts and stocking fillers for certain members of the family! I normally only start the dreaded task of Christmas shopping in late November but this year, I have decided it is madness to spend all of one wage on it when I can just as easily spread the cost over two or three pay packets and so this is what I have done! I am far from finished but it’s a start I guess.
Hopefully there will be another brochure or two before Christmas as there really is nothing like doing your Christmas shopping from the sofa in a way other than by the clicking of a mouse with your credit card at the ready. Good old cash on delivery, that’s what I love more and there are no nasty statements to open in January!
I’ve never really been into the whole ‘beauty’ thing before. I skip the pages in magazines, I washed my face with the same spot- clearing face wash I have used since I was sixteen, I don’t really use much make-up (only mascara, bronzing pearls and eyeliner exist in my make-up bag!) The only thing that I have ever really invested in is my hair. Over the years, I have spent hundreds on haircuts in fancy salons and when I was younger, a bulk of my disposable income was spent on styling products.
In the years since I was a student though, disposable income has been minimal and bar the expensive haircuts, which I could never sacrifice, I haven’t really even used many hair products!
Recently, however, all this has changed. For some reason unknown even to myself, I have started to crave luxury hair/body/skin care. The cheapest option just isn’t enough anymore and I have started to treat my body to some extra special (extra expensive) treats.
I think this obsession began during the Summer with some freebies. Both Marie Claire and Red gave away Neal’s Yard moisturisers within a couple of months of each other. I tried both Power Berry and Orange Blossom Daily Moisture and fell in love with them both. They smell amazing and cleared up my dry skin whilst the creams themselves were easily absorbed which was great as I cannot bear moisturisers which stick on the skin. I vowed from the day I first used the Power Berry cream that Neal’s Yard would be my new skincare of choice and it is my first top tip. I was extremely excited recently therefore, when Red magazine offered up free Starflower Cleansing Milk and Daily Essence with a subscription. I had been meaning to subscribe for a while so this was clearly the perfect opportunity!
These products dropped on the doormat last week and are lovely, especially the Daily Essence. It is a serum that soothes and calms skin which you apply before moisturising. Designed for sensitive skin, it cools and softens my skin and feels lovely to apply.
Moisturising is a big thing for me as I get very dry skin in general, but my legs and upper arms especially. Over the years, few body creams have worked to moisturise my body effectively and I have stuck to Vaseline Intensive products for a while. The only other cream that works and that I love and have recently indulged in again are Sanctuary’s range of body butters. My favourites are the original Sanctuary Spa one and the Kyphi one but there are about half a dozen different varieties. They feel luscious as you apply them and the consistency is akin to whipped cream, light but heavy at the same time and they smell absolutely amazing! The best thing about them is the smell, this stuff really does double up as perfume, the smell lasts all day. They aren’t cheap at nearly £10 per tub but the scent alone is worth it!
Possibly my newest discovery is Burt’s Bees whose handcare especially is great. I was recently bought the ‘Tips ‘N Toes’ gift set for my birthday and containing Almond Milk, the Beeswax Handcream is lovely. It smells like marzipan and normally comes in a huge jar that looks like a shoe cream tin! The Beeswax and Banana Handcream is equally as good and both creams softened skin well. Unusually for beeswax products, both handcreams do soak into the skin relatively quickly. I expected the creams to leave hands greasy for hours but they didn’t.
However, my favourite Burt’s Bees product and my new secret weapon has got to be the Lemon Cuticle Butter. Ideal to keep in your handbag and rub liberally into your cuticles whenever you have a spare minute, this stuff makes nails look pretty, feels good and not greasy and is delicately fragranced of lemon meringue!
I have even picked up on buying the necessary haircare again as the condition of my hair has begun to decline significantly. Too much heat applied via hairdryers and straightening irons had dried my hair out, leaving it a little brittle and straw-like. I have put off buying a protection spray for a while because, like skincare, some products end up lying on my hair like oil, leaving it sticky and feeling worse than it did in the first place and I never know which ones are any good! I took the plunge though last week and bought Toni & Guy’s Protein Protection Mist, seeing an instant improvement the first time I used it. You blast your hair with the pump action spray after towel drying and once dry, my hair felt softer and much less tangled than before.
So there you have it. I’m a transformed woman and have lots of expensive lotions and potions newly placed on the dressing table! Some would say that they are a waste of money and probably don’t do any more for me than my old, significantly cheaper products did. But here it is. On a bad day, sometimes a girl just wants a bit of luxury and on those days, Vaseline intensive Care just doesn’t cut it!
This week, I have mostly been obsessing about tights. Now that the Autumn months have arrived, the leggings have been packed away (except from my new Great Plains Zipper Leggings Jeggings- the thickness of jeggings without the ugly fake denim-ness) and I have been tights shopping, having dug out all of last years hosiery to find that few pairs were salvageable.
I’m not sure why but tights with a lovely thick, wool skirt is my favourite ensemble during the Winter months. I feel special and smart when wearing a skirt and I love the way tights feel against your legs, the feel of them as you pull them up (except when you snag them on a broken nail!) is luxurious and they look much more elegant than their footless alternative.
The colours I have decided to invest in this season are quite muted, I’ve never been a fan of brightly coloured tights- jewel purple tones are the brightest I am willing to go. My favourites so far this year are some khaki green 80 deniers from Primark. Bright enough to look interesting yet subtle and neutral enough to work with most colours and they look fab with a pair of tan brogues! I have also invested in some fun cotton rich tights with a silver bow print, but mainly, block colour is my favourite.
As far as hosiery shopping goes, my tips would definitely be Primark and Peacocks. Whilst being super cheap, they offer quality tights which are accurately sized and last for a good few wears. I never really spend a great deal of money on hosiery because I do tend to destroy them quite quickly, whether it may be by laddering them, snagging them or by my latest trick which is dyeing the heels and toes when I wear them with particular shoes (i.e the tan brogues!) Primark do great microfibre but if it’s ‘woollen’ or cotton rich tights you are after, Peacocks cost slightly more but do fit better and are slightly better quality.
Between these two shops, I will most definitely be kitting myself out for the whole of Winter and you definitely should too!
I buy all of, (or most of!) my books at Amnesty on Gloucester Road, Bristol. A treasure trove of second hand books for cheap prices, you can find old and new titles there at bargain prices and do your bit for charity at the same time.
There are certain recommended and well renowned books I always search for on my visits to Amnesty and you feel even more excited when you find these titles. ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold was one such book that I tracked down recently.
Every single person that I have spoken to about this book has sung it’s praises in some way or another. “Oh, it’s so sad!”, “It’s a fantastic book, you’ll love it.”, “The film is rubbish compared to the book,” are some of the things people have said when talking to me about this read so imagine my excitement when I found it on the bowing shelves of Amnesty…
…Then imagine my disappointment when I hated it. Well, not hated it exactly, I didn’t even finish it! I could not for the life of me, even get into it. When I read a book, I love the feeling you get when you get involved with the book and get so far sucked in that you pray every day for the moment when you can get home, sit down with a large glass of wine/cup of tea and drift away with your book. Reading is my favourite hobby, I love nothing more than a good book but I also hate it when a book takes so long to get into that sitting down to ‘get into it’ feels like a chore. I am by no means impatient but I want my escapism to begin in the first chapter or two . And when it doesn’t, it leaves me feeling exasperated and disappointed.
This is going to be controversial but this is what happened with ‘The Lovely Bones’. Every page felt like it went on for an eternity and after 100 pages, a third of the way through the novel, I still didn’t really know what is going on! I didn’t want to give up because everybody seems to love it but I couldn’t deal with it anymore in the end! So in the middle of last week, I closed ‘The Lovely Bones’ and opened a book as equally loved by the masses but one that I know I will love if it is anything like the last book by that author that I read. This is ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini. I read ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ a few months ago and adored it. Gripping from the first page until the very last, the book was emotive, interesting and left me desperate to read its predecessor. From the moment I opened ‘The Kite Runner’ on Thursday, I was once again hooked and am therefore, once again, in my literary element. Thank Goodness!
September has arrived and I have transformed. ‘Winter-isation’ has officially commenced. In a few short weeks, I have been prepping my Winter wardrobe (see last post!) and my homely, domestic goddess tendencies have kicked in.
The throws and cushions have come out of hibernation for the chilly Autumn evenings (it was 4 degrees the other night in some parts of the country don’t you know?!) I’ve started dehumidifying the bathroom to fend off the damp and condensation and have dug out my Winter pyjamas from the depths of my drawers.
In other areas, namely the kitchen, changes have also begun on the run up to comfort food season. For the last three weeks, we have started ordering organic veg boxes from the greengrocers around the corner from where we live. For £10, you get a box full of organic, seasonal fruit and veg, different things every week so we don’t get bored and you learn what to do with different items that you may never have tried before. They are ideal for Winter as it prevents you having to haul heavy fruit and veg back from the grocers in the cold wind and rain and you throw any leftovers in a soup for an easy meal. Some weeks you get salad items too and this week we even got something from the ‘squash’ family that I have never even seen before! I might suggest they start popping a guide in the box as to what is included, I have no idea where to even start searching for what to do with it!
Speaking of vegetables, Autumn always makes me want everything I eat to be roasted so I have been making Sunday dinners again with plenty of roast potatoes and roasted root veg and lots of thyme and rosemary - my two favourite Winter herbs. They always replace basil and coriander on my windowsill once August is out of the way!
I enjoy making homemade soup all year round but there is something about homemade soup in Autumn that is just amazing- it is so warming and filling, basically healthy comfort food! I made a batch of leek and potato last week that will keep us going for weeks in lunches. It is currently being held in various Tupperware-type containers in the freezer.
This weekend, I have taken on a new challenge, all in the name of domesticity. I have embarked on the mission that is jam-making. I have never made jam myself before but after picking a million plums and apples in the boy’s mothers’ garden last weekend, it was rude not to do something exciting with it. I found an easy looking recipe for an apple, pear and plum jam in the free Tesco magazine so I thought I’d give it a go! I was terrified at the prospect of preparing the jars as I’d never done it before so didn’t know how best to sterilise the jars or seal the vacuums on the two part lids on my Kilner jars but after some tense moments at the stove and moments of extreme panic, the little lids went down and didn’t pop back up. My jam is now cooling and setting in the pantry and looks delicious!
As you can tell, I get much more excited about the colder seasons than I do about Spring and Summer. There is so much more to look forward to with regards to fashion (dressing for Summer is so dull!), cooking and homemaking and I for one am relishing the thought of the bonfires, the fireworks, the pumpkins, trick or treat visits and, dare I say it, Christmas over the next few months!
I made a decision a few weeks ago. Some would say it’s an excuse, others would argue it a sensible move (obviously, I would put myself in the latter group!)
I decided that for once, and from now on every year, I wasn’t going to spend the Winter with soggy feet. I was going to spend a substantial amount of money on a pair of boots and a good pair of shoes that I could wear again and again. These shoes would be classics and would never go out of fashion yet they would have good soles , would not leak and would keep my feet warm as toast as well as looking good with casual, classic and smart outfits for work.
And so I set about my quest. I knew straight away that the shoes had to be brogues- classic brown brogues in thick leather with chunky, good quality soles. I found the perfect pair from Bertie but at £85, I resisted in favour of a further search. I had just about given up hope when I found ‘Frank’ by Office- beautifully sewn together shoes with solid soles in a gorgeous tan colour which would complement a lot of my potential Winter wardrobe. And a snip at £62- that, I could just about cope with!
The boots on the other hand, I’d primarily decided had to be calf length riding boots until I saw the actual boots that I ended up buying. I’ve been enjoying the military boots trend recently but what I really haven’t enjoyed about it was the fact that all the high street stores afeel the need to put zips down the side of a boot that is intended and meant to be a pull on lace-up boot. I am not sure why this annoys me so much but it smacks of cheap and non authenticity and it has put me off buying so many pairs of this style of boot!
When I came across the ‘Marg Kate’ boots in Clarks (of all places!) therefore, I was delighted! No zips, good quality leather and shearling style lining (two trends in one, yes!) and they were superbly comfortable. For £70, they were a bargain and I was insanely happy with them.
I love shoes and feel special when wearing a decent pair so to have a season’s worth of good footwear has made me feel great. I always have good intentions and intend to buy decent boots in Winter but something always seems more important at the time, the cold months pass and then comes Spring. Everything from the special feeling it gives you as you parade around in them to the sound they make as you walk, however, make every penny worth it! This year I have changed, I have even been stocking up on tights and next on the agenda are a new coat and knitwear. I am determined to be prepared before Winter properly hits. Stay tuned!