Monday, 31 December 2012

December Favourites

Kerastase Bain Satin
As you will know if you are a regular reader, I am a tad obsessed with haircare! I purchased this shampoo as part of a recent Feel Unique haul to try to tame my damaged hair after too much bleaching. Initially I was unsure about it - it's pretty expensive and I didn't take to the scent immediately but now it's my favourite shampoo. I always thought that conditioner made the most difference to my hair and that shampoo was just incidental but having tested this thoroughly I can assure you that it's the best shampoo I've ever tried. It really softens my hair and helps to smooth down the damaged bits, making it look healthier and shinier

Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Extreme
Another new weapon in my haircare arsenal, I use this before washing and using a masque. Far better than the original version, which gave me no noticeable benefits, this really seems to have strengthened my hair and helps to detangle it. I am really pleased with the results and will definitely repurchase

Soap & Glory Smoothie Star Body Buttercream
I picked this up as part of a Boots 3 for 2 offer and I love it, it smells so creamy and sweet (a bit sickly if you're not into that sort of thing) It contains five different oils so is really nourishing, especially on my dry legs and elbows

Lush Bubblegum lip scrub
A gorgeous smelling (and tasting) scrub for dry winter lips - I'm a bit late to jump on this bandwagon but this little pot of goodness will never be out of stock in my bathroom from now on. It's the perfect consistency to leave lips soft (but not sore) and ready to slather in your favourite lip balm

Honey Flavoured Jack Daniels
Jack Daniels is one of my most favourite drinks in the world so I was really excited to try this festive honey flavoured version and it's just as delicious as I imagined. Mix with Diet Coke and ice and have yourself a very happy evening!

My new iPad
I spent a long time umming and aahing over whether to get an iPad - whether I needed one, whether to get the mini version, whether to just forget the idea of a tablet and go straight for a MacBook to replace my failing laptop. I suppose the answer is that no one needs one but they are good fun, make internet browsing quick and easy and being able to watch whatever film I want, whenever I want (thanks to my existing LoveFilm subscription) has been a revelation. So yes, I love it!

Snugg iPad cover
I wanted a case to protect my new baby, one that would also serve as a stand, make it easier for me to hold for long periods (when watching a film for example) and switch it on and off automatically. This one serves the purpose perfectly and comes in a range of colours. Not only that but I ordered it at 4.30pm on 27th December and it arrived before 10am the next day. And that was free delivery! What more could you ask for?

What were your favourite things this month?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Festive House Tour

It's a bit late in coming but here it is ....

DISCLAIMER - I'm no photographer!!

I'd been meaning to do this for ages but hadn't really got round to it. Meaning that I was a bit nervous about it and wondering if I should do it at all. So when the mood took me on Christmas Eve I just went for it, no forward planning, no tarting the place up (or I would definitely have lit all the candles and moved the crisps I was eating!)

I really love this place, especially at Christmas and I'm really pleased that I have these photos to remember it by as we won't be here this time next year. Just looking at this post gives me the cosy feeling I get from simply being here, I hope you get a bit of the cosiness too!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Friday Round Up

liz, 6.45am at m&s - done - and all packed away
chjristmas shopping delivery - festive deer - christmas fajitas
chester breakfast - turkey & leek pie - my favourite little christmas guy

Firstly - I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas! I hope Santa was good to you and that you spent plenty of time with the people who matter most to you

For me, it's been a great week. Despite battling with yet another chest infection and a Sunday morning trip to the hospital, it's been festive fun all the way!

Last Friday I went to Chester with my best friend Liz for our annual Christmas Shopping trip (post to come) Sunday brought a huge shopping delivery and a visit from Matt's mum and Christmas Eve brought last minute food shopping and a mammoth house clean

Christmas Day was the loveliest day of the year. We visited Matt's dad in the morning on the way to a huge present swapping session at my sister's house. I think it was the first time this year that we've had the whole family in one room and it was great. Then it was back to our house, I popped the (frankly, giant) turkey into the oven, lit the fire and we began to warm up for the Christmas feast. There's been a distinct foodie theme this week as you can see from the above photos!

Having Christmas dinner with my nephew Finley-Joe was the high point of my year. Watching a two year old wearing a cracker party hat, eating from his new Gruffalo's Child plate and wishing everyone 'Merry Christmas' individually, by name (including the dogs) might be the cutest thing I've ever seen!

We've spent the rest of the week lounging around at home, watching movies by the fire, cuddling the dogs and eating even more. It's the longest time we've spent together since .... I'm not even sure. Perhaps ever. I haven't even left the house since Christmas morning and that's just fine with me. This year has been a whirlwind of work and building and spending barely any time together so I'm savouring the time I'm spending with Matt this week, even when we're sitting in companionable silence and all I can see of him is his feet peeking over the edge of the other sofa

The weekend holds a trip to visit Matt's mum with the dogs in tow, finally publishing my festive house tour post (eek!) and not a lot else. I'll need to come back to reality and catch up with the washing at some point but I'm not thinking about that right now. I'm just enjoying the view

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday Round Up

mulled cider anyone? - two new additions - aftersun. most ridicupus free gift ever from liz earle
soap & glory bath foam on 3 for 2 - present for my nephew - homemade mincemeat
unfortunate calendar picture this month - mince pies - festive nails

Well I hope you guys have all had a better week than I have. It's been a bit rough. For the last week and a half I've been feeling a bit ... bleugh. A bit down I suppose. And you know sometimes when you feel like this you find yourself on a bit of a downward spiral? I've been struggling to sleep despite being really tired and when I do sleep, I seem to be sleeping really deeply, so that when I wake up I'm not sure where I am or what day it is. And every day I've woken up and thought 'please, please let today be better'

The lowlight of this week was pulling onto the drive on Tuesday night and seeing a small, dark shape on the grass. 'oh no', I thought, 'please don't let that be a chicken'. But of course it was. A small, wet, defeated black Pekin bantam, lying in a pile of feathers with her eyes tightly shut. It broke my heart and I immediately ran to the shed with a torch to check the others. The shed usually holds three Buff Orpingtons and our tiny black Pekin Frizzle but only two Buffs huddled together in the corner. I checked the small coop next to it, which usually houses three black and two lavender Pekins - just one black and one lavender remained, huddled together, pale-faced and wide-eyed with fear. I couldn't help it, I burst into tears at the thought that we'd lost five of our pets to a no doubt extremely nasty end - probably either a fox or a stray dog. I took my torch and scoured the boundary hedges to see if I could find any more bodies and spotted a heap of pale Buff feathers under the hedge near the bird table. My heart sank. Less than hopeful, I prodded the hen and almost imperceptibly, the feathers tightened. I shone my torch at her face and unbelievably, her eyes were open. She was so tightly tucked in between the hedging and the fence that I couldn't get at her. I rang Matt and summoned him and his decent torch home and between us we managed to extract the Buff from the hedge. She was frozen with fear but had no visible signs of damage. We spent the next hour with the torch, peering under the hedges and managed to find two more Pekins - a black and a lavender, terrified but unharmed

I think the poor dead chicken was the little Frizzle and one black Pekin is missing. Both special in their own ways - the black Pekin was one of our first chickens and was the first one to lay an egg. She wandered off last New Year's Day and was missing for a fortnight until Matt spotted her in our neighbour's coop, badly beaten up by his much larger hens. And the little Frizzle, such an odd looking little thing, the smallest hen we had and the loner of the group. She liked to hang around by the bins, scratching around in the gravel and spent every night tucked under all three Buffs in the shed, keeping toasty warm in her own living feather duvet

All in all, a sad week for us. We also heard that one of my friends gundogs died during a field trial this week. He was lovely, an oversized yellow labrador called Mead, a really soft dog with huge brown eyes who liked to be the centre of attention and would sit on your feet and gaze at you. He was in perfect health and only about six years old, it was completely out of the blue. He brought back a bird, she took it from him and he just keeled over and died. My poor friend is distraught as you can imagine

On a slightly cheerier note, I had my hair coloured earlier this week, back to a deep auburn colour. It's completely washed me out but I feel so much better for it - the colour may not be as flattering but I feel more like me again. Unbelievably, Matt didn't even notice. Which is crazy considering that on the first day it was actually a very, very dark brown. Men eh??

On Wednesday night I got home from work at 9pm and sat in my car on the drive waiting for Matt to get home so if we'd had another chicken massacre I wouldn't be the one to discover it. (what a wimp) I then proceeded to have a nosebleed like you've never seen before, filling a whole pocket pack of Kleenex so at least I had a good excuse to be hiding in the car when he got home! When I got in I watched the whole three episodes of 'Inside Claridge's' on the iPlayer - if you haven't see it I strongly recommend you look it up, it was absolutely fascinating and right up my street. The attention to detail that the staff give is what a picky devil like me wants to see in every hotel and If I ever win the lottery I will become a regular for sure!

Hopefully my mood will improve today as I head off with Liz on our annual pilgrimage to Chester for shopping, good food and drink and car-chat. This weekend I'll be finishing off the final preparations, wrapping presents, ordering our Christmas Waitrose shop, baking, all that kind of stuff. And hopefully I'll cheer up a bit, hopefully the cloud will lift and by Monday evening I'll be ensconced in that warm, fuzzy Christmas glow that comes when you know you've prepared everything you can and you've consumed enough mulled wine that the rest of it just doesn't matter anyway!

Have a great weekend everyone

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Recipe - Homemade Christmas Mincemeat

This has to be my all time favourite Christmas recipe. Not only is it absolutely delicious but the smell of it cooking is to die for. It scents the kitchen so beautifully that you don't want to leave the room, better than any Christmas scented candle! It also makes a lovely Christmas gift in a nice jar with some ribbon and a pretty tag. Handy to have on standby for those awkward devils who bring you a gift when you weren't expecting one!

You will need

1lb cooking apples - peeled, cored and finely chopped or grated
8oz shredded suet
12oz raisins
8oz sultanas
8oz currants
8oz mixed peel, finely chopped
12oz dark brown soft sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
2oz sliced almonds
4tsp mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 a nutmeg, grated
6 tablespoons of brandy

Simply mix together all of the ingredients except for the brandy in a large bowl, then cover with a cloth and leave for 12 hours

Cover the bowl loosely with foil and cook at 120 degrees C for three hours. This slowly melts the suet and allows it to coat all of the other ingredients. This coating prevents fermentation if too much juice seeps from the apples during storage

Allow the mincemeat to get cold, stir in the brandy and decant into sterilised jars

How easy was that? Add to pastry cases and top with pastry stars or sandwich between layers of puff pastry for festive treats!

Monday, 17 December 2012

And The Winner Is ...

... Carolin !

Thank you all for your entries! It was lovely to read your comments about your favourite posts and so nice to see comments from readers who haven't commented before too

And in case you were in any doubt as to the legitimacy of the draw, you might enjoy the pictures below starring Jessie ...

It was great fun and I'm sure you'll agree that draws don't come any more random than this! Apologies for the awful blurring - I should have anticipated that this would happen at high speed :-)

Carolin, if you could email me your address please, I'll pop your Christmas present in the post tomorrow for you

Friday, 14 December 2012

Friday Round Up

making chicken soup out of roast dinner leftovers - BIG new candle - yummy latte
this year's tree - all decked out - favourite new tree ornament
a very frosty gate - beautifully wrapped hush goodies - best card ever

I was so happy to see that so many of you enjoy these Friday posts - they are my favourites too!

This was the week that I finally got that Christmas feeling! Writing up my Old and New Traditions posts really helped (I got all nostalgic and excited) as did putting up our tree. We always have a real tree, we get it from the local estate and I always pick a winner. Just look at that beauty!

I also finally bought my Christmas cards, began my food shopping lists, sat down with my sister to plan our Christmas dinner and bought a few more presents. I'm usually about finished by now but I've been a bit lax this year. I've really struggled with ideas for Matt, usually I know what I want to get him months in advance but it's been hard this year because he's so focused on the new house that he's not really shown any interest in anything else all year! I asked him what he wanted and he came up with the following suggestions;

1. A bath tub
2. An armchair
3. A sword

I kind of wish I hadn't asked

I finally caved in to my hush fetish this week and made good use of their 20% off sale. I ordered two jumpers, some pyjamas, some cords and three dresses, expecting to send most of it back. But they were all so gorgeous that I kept them all except two dresses! Hush clothes are so cosy and warm and the pyjamas are particularly lovely - soft, warm and beautifully detailed - I wish I'd ordered more! My order arrived beautifully wrapped and included a competition entry, a complimentary magazine and collection of short stories and some teapigs tea. It was a real treat to receive such bounty in the post!

I also snaffled myself a HUGE new White Company Winter candle. It was crazy expensive but I had a 20% off code and a £10 voucher, so it kind of felt like a bit of a bargain!

I popped to Meadowhall for some late night shopping with Matt last night but it was actually a bit of a fail. We got there at 7.30pm and were absolutely starving, we couldn't concentrate so we went for some dinner. After much deliberation we ended up at Las Iguanas, which I wouldn't recommend. Terrible service and extortionate prices for just average food. Matt also complained about the portion sizes - his fajitas cost £15.30 and there was barely enough filling to make two. Never again! We spent most of the evening hanging around the Apple store whilst I deliberated between iPad Minis or MacBooks. In the end our shopping trip yielded a load of Hotel Chocolat goodies for Christmas and two tree decorations. So it wasn't what you'd call a roaring success!

This weekend I'll be finishing my Christmas shopping, taking some photos for an upcoming house tour post (eek!) and on Saturday night it's Matt's staff Christmas do so we'll be chowing down at our favourite Chinese restaurant. I'll be at the new house on Sunday, flexing my painting arm and on Sunday night Jessie will be picking the winner of my Christmas Gift giveaway - have you entered yet? I'll be leaving a reply to the winner's comment on the post so be sure to check back on Monday

Have a fab weekend!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas Traditions Part 2 - The New

I was overwhelmed by the response to yesterday's Traditions post - thank you all so much for your lovely comments!

As you may have gathered, I love me some good ol' traditions and I've started a few of my own over the years. Some are nostalgic and hark back to family Christmasses gone by but some are brand new and I like to think there will be new ones added over the coming years too

In the lead up to the big day I like to call my sister often and leave voicemails of our favourite Christmas song - 'Do They Know It's Christmas' by the original Band Aid - at top volume! I always have a poinsettia in the house because my mum always did and I still decorate the tree with a roaring fire on the go whilst listening to Christmas songs. I like to make the house feel as festive as possible - I swap out my usual plug in air fresheners for the spiced apple scented ones and always have lots of tealights and scented candles around the house. Last year I was mad about Yankee Candle's Christmas Cupcake but this year it's The White Company's Winter Candle that I keep reaching for, it's just gorgeous.

I always wrap my presents whilst listening to Christmas songs, drinking mulled wine and eating a mince pie. I love mince pies, I make my own mincemeat (recipe here) and these little devils are mostly to blame for the weight I will put on this month. Food plays a big part in my Christmas traditions, I always do my turkey the Nigella way and I bake her Christmas Morning Muffins (recipe to come!) for breakfast on the big day. I can't stand Christmas pudding or cake but we more than make up for the lack of them with other desserts. Last year's Pecan Toffee Roulade was a big hit but my Pecan Pie was a bit of a damp squib (it had a soggy bottom!)

I like to get in the festive mood by watching as many Christmas films as I can. I always cry too, I'm such a wuss! Love Actually and Elf are my favourites but a few years ago I bought 'Clue' for my sister as a bit of a joke - it was a film we watched as kids. Re-watching it with our partners all these years later we realised we knew pretty much every line. Plus it's absolutely hilarious, even more so now it's so dated so we all laughed ourselves silly. Possibly something to do with all the alcohol we'd drunk I suppose. Either way, it's now become a Christmas tradition despite the fact that it's not a Christmas film, so it will no doubt get some airtime on the big day

My best friend Liz and I like to fit in a visit to Chester in December. We go as close to Christmas as we can, so that all our Christmas shopping is done and we can just soak up the festive atmosphere, drink mulled wine and buy treats for ourselves! We also get up super early on Christmas Eve and queue outside M&S with all the other nutters, eating McDonald's breakfasts and waiting for them to open so we can have first pick of their side dishes, sauces, puddings, biscuits etc.

On the big day itself, Matt and I usually open our presents in bed, have a cup of tea and aforementioned breakfast muffins, then wrap up warm and take the dogs out for a Christmas walk. Us 'kids' do Secret Santa for us and our partners so that everyone gets a present and no one goes bankrupt. We all get together and swap presents on Christmas or Boxing Day, whilst eating and drinking like it's going out of fashion

Christmas afternoon is about lounging around, eating, drinking and playing games or watching Christmas TV. This year I'm going to start a new tradition - watching the Queen's Speech. I hadn't realised what a Royalist I was until the Royal Wedding last year. Turns out I love the Royals! So we'll all be tuning in at 3pm. My house, my rules!

This year we'll be meeting up with the whole family at my sister's house in the morning to open presents together, before Kay, her fiance Kieran and my nephew Finley Joe come to us for dinner and to stay the night. It's going to be a busy day but I'm pleased that I'll get to see everyone that's important to me AND I'll get to spend plenty of time at home as we won't be living here next year. Dinner will be a laidback affair with lots of alcohol being consumed along the way and we'll probably spend the bulk of the day eating. Luckily I know everyone will muck in and help. And we have a dishwasher, thank goodness :-)

Will you be starting any Christmas traditions this year?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas Traditions Part 1 - The Old

I'm a big lover of traditions, especially the family kind that have real history and lots of memories behind them. Christmas always brings out the nostalgic side of me and I love the comfort and happiness I get from carrying out old traditions

I have lots of festive traditions which began with my family years ago but I also have some new ones that I've started myself in recent years. I enjoy them all and I love the routine of them - they are part of the reason I look forward to Christmas

My family always made an event of decking the tree. We'd pick a Friday night and we'd light a fire and listen to Christmas songs whilst putting up the tree, lights, and other decorations. I remember these nights with great fondness, everyone was so happy. We had two little West Highland terriers, Max and Leo, and we'd wrap tinsel around their necks and dance with them. They would go for their Christmas bath and haircut the week before Christmas and they would always come back with big red and green bows around their necks then too!

My sister and I would always be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, chosen by our mum as it was always a new pair of pyjamas. We'd have an early bath and sit in front of the fire wearing our new PJs and eating mince pies whilst watching Christmas TV

When we were little, before the days of video cameras, my parents used to record our Christmas mornings on a tape deck. We have our pre-video Christmases on cassette tapes and I'm looking forward to sharing them with my children one day. We always spent Christmas Day at home with various family visiting throughout the day. Sometimes my parents would hide Christmas gifts around the house for us to find throughout the day - I remember one year lifting my table mat to find a folder containing details of a pony they'd adopted for me from a local horse sanctuary, that pretty much made my year!

My mum would cook a huge roast turkey with all the trimmings and my dad's parents would usually come and have dinner with us. At tea time we'd have a cold buffet, which my sister liked to prepare, and we'd all be absolutely stuffed but there was always room for pudding. At some point we'd all get wrapped up in coats, hats, scarfs and mittens and take the dogs out for a walk, wearing their bows or tinsel of course

Things changed after my mum died and Christmas at home was never quite the same, although we all did our best to make it enjoyable it was as if the shine had disappeared from it. There was no getting away from the gaping hole that had been left at the centre of our family and it just felt sad. Of course it's got much easier now that so much time has passed and we've started new traditions of our own but I don't think Christmas will feel right again until the next generation come along and are old enough to make Christmas all about them

We're one of those new-fangled 'blended families' now as we have my soon-to-be-stepmum and her grown up children (and grandchildren) in our little circle too, which makes quite a number of us. We've all had Christmas together a few times but it's incredibly hectic having 16 or so people in one house, you don't feel like you really get to speak to everyone properly and it's catering on a massive scale! Last year Matt and I had Christmas alone together at home and that didn't feel right either. I feel like I'm still trying to find out what Christmas should be like now and I haven't quite found it yet

The year before I met Matt, my best friend Liz was house sitting over Christmas so I took Jessie and went along with her. We spent Christmas Eve in a hot tub sipping champagne and later, watching films in front of a roaring fire. The next day we put our Christmas dinner into huge bloomer sandwiches which we devoured like animals!

Do you have any Christmas traditions?

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Christmas Gift

*this is not a sponsored post. this gift was purchased by me with my own hard-earned cash*

I love Christmas (as you may have noticed) and I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity for made up of little things' first giveaway!

As I'm a huge fan of Liz Earle products and as they do Christmas so well, they seem a perfect choice for a Christmas gift

Cleanse & Polish is my ultimate favourite cleanser and apparently a bit of a beauty blogger favourite too. It's suitable for all skin types and is a creamy, comforting way to melt away make up before sweeping away with a hot muslin cloth

I have a festive Cleanse & Polish and a pack of two muslin cloths to give away to one lucky reader

If you fancy winning yourself a Christmas present from me, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me what has been your favourite post on this blog and any requests for posts you'd like to see. That's it!

The winner will be chosen on Sunday 16th December. This will be an elaborate affair involving names written on envelopes and a Labrador choosing one at random

Good luck!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Dog Walking Etiquette

Yesterday was a lovely crisp, cold morning. Perfect dog walking weather.

I've noticed that in my Friday Instagram posts, the scenic pictures really make the collage look complete, so I decided to get snap happy with my phone whilst I was out with the dogs. We're lucky enough to live in a rural area with plenty of beautiful places to walk, which makes for very pretty pictures

These woods have a pond which Jessie loves to swim in, whatever the weather. Even though it was partially frozen yesterday, there was no stopping her. Wilson isn't quite so brave, he tittuped around on the bank, holding a stick and dive bombing her on her way out. When they were pups I did all their gundog water training here with them, the pond has an island which is great for teaching them to cross water, stop and hunt on the whistle command. Not all dogs are keen on water, although they may like swimming they see the water as an obstacle between them and the game so they often slow right down and it looks laborious - this was never a problem for Jessie. She takes a run up and literally hurls herself into the water, often jumping so high that she lands bum first. It's hilarious to watch!

Speaking of training, we were having a lovely time until we came across two other dog walkers with extremely poor manners. The first let his dog come flying up to mine and it attacked Jessie, snarling and hanging from her neck. The second allowed her dogs to stop and have a good sniff of Wilson even though I had taken both of my dogs off the path and had them sitting quietly out of the way

I don't allow my dogs to play with other dogs. Firstly because, as gundogs, they have to learn that they're just not allowed. They have to be able to concentrate on work and be relied on to sit motionless until instructed to do something, even when there are many other dogs around. The only way you can achieve this is to teach them that other dogs are not for playing with. If mine see another dog they come straight back to me - I then take them off the path and they sit at heel until the other dog has passed The second reason is that you just don't know how friendly other dogs are. Both of my dogs have been attacked several times by dogs that weren't under their owner's control and that really pisses me off. If you have a dog, you have a responsibility to ensure that it is properly trained and that you are in control of it in public.

Wilson isn't castrated because we had planned to breed from him. So he has the full complement of testosterone and as far as he is concerned, Jessie is his property - if another dog gets too friendly with her he will let the dog know he's not happy. Hence, when we see another dog coming, mine get put on leads and taken off the path, out of harm's way. It's incredibly frustrating when the other person doesn't take this hint and lets their dog come over and either attack my well-behaved dogs or take advantage of them sitting quiet and still and have a good old sniff round their bits! It's even worse when I ask them to take their dog away as Wilson might snap and they say 'oh don't worry, it will teach mine a lesson'. What lesson exactly? And would they be saying 'oh, don't worry' if my dog did theirs serious damage? I expect it would be more something along the lines of 'expect a vet's bill and I'll see you in court'!

Exchanges like this can really ruin a lovely walk and I make a concerted effort to walk where there aren't likely to be any other people and dogs. I know that not everyone trains their dogs to the level that I have but to be honest, it's just a case of good manners and common sense. If I see someone putting their dog on a lead as I approach, I assume they don't trust their dog so it would be incredibly stupid of me to let my dogs go flying up to it at high speed!

I don't imagine this will change any time soon, people will always be ignorant. But if you have a dog, I beg you not to be one of them! Think of your dog's safety and be careful around dogs you don't know

Jessie has been attacked twice, both times by terriers and both times whilst she was on the lead and they weren't. Terriers can be nasty little blighters and both times it was hard to get them off her but there was no serious damage done. Wilson has been attacked twice too, once by two Flatcoat Retrievers and and once by a husky. Both times the owners stood by, shouting but doing nothing whilst I hit, kicked, whipped and dragged their dogs off mine. It's terrifying and we've been lucky that he's got off lightly, shaken but with no serious damage

It's heartbreaking to watch your much loved, well-behaved pet being attacked by one which isn't under control. It hurts to see their wounded expressions - they don't understand what happened - they were doing exactly as they've been taught to do so why have they been hurt?

I'll stop ranting now! But please, please, if you have a dog be careful. There are some nasty dogs out there and they are indistinguishable from the sweet, playful ones until it's too late.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Friday Round Up

chicken dinner anyone? - a packed arena for elbow - a pair of goons
a frosty bathroom window - eggs! - mulled fruit juice, yum
an unwelcome visitor - i bake, she licks the spoon - new fringe!

In a break from the norm, this week hasn't flown. Not at all, in fact it's dragged a teeny bit. Maybe it's because I've barely seen Matt due to us both working so late at night and I've spent all week looking forward to the weekend. You may have noticed it's been a bit quiet on the blogging front this week, again because I've been crazy busy at work and getting home late on cold, dark nights doesn't make one feel like blogging, it makes one feel like eating lots of food and collapsing into bed. Or is that just me??

We had a night away last weekend to see Elbow in Manchester as I mentioned in this post. The gig was great and despite the fact that we thought we would be late due to a slow restaurant service and late taxi, we made it in time to get to the front and have a good view. Because they weren't promoting a specific album they did a range of tracks, new and old, mixed with their trademark chatty, intimate atmosphere. It may have been the best Elbow gig I've ever been to. If you've never heard any of their music, give it a try. It's like nothing else out there and Guy Garvey writes the most beautiful and abstract love songs you're ever likely to hear, as well as joyful, soaring celebratory melodies. I adore him. Do a little YouTube search and treat yourself!

You may remember that we were having chicken problems last week and I can report that we did eat three of our flock! Of the four eggs that hatched from our last batch of babies, they all turned out to be boys. Unlucky! Whilst we love our hens like pets, they are officially egg machines, so we agreed beforehand that any boys would have to go. To raise four gorgeous little babies and find that all of them were boys was a bit heartbreaking to be honest. We let one go to a neighbour and hung on to the last three  for a while as Matt had grown particularly attached to one of them but they caused havoc - fighting constantly and creating such bad feeling in the flock that all the hens stopped laying. You'd expect some of them to stop when the days get shorter but ours are usually fairly reliable and I was sure it was because they were unhappy. They all looked miserable. So I put my foot down and did the honourable thing. And you know what? The next day we found an egg in the box. And since then we've had two every day which I think proves my point. Even one of our young Buff Orpingtons has started laying for the first time so we have little brown eggs to contrast with the Pekin's white ones! No sooner had we got rid of our boys than a neighbour's randy rooster invaded the garden - I had to chase it off with a rake and have a word with the chap who owns it. 'Sorry', he said 'my daughter won't let me kill it. Shoot it if you want'. My reputation precedes me.

On Monday night we went to my sister's for one of our annual family traditions - Mulligatawny Night. My dad makes the most amazing Mulligatawny soup and around this time of year we all get together for a good old family chow-down. I took some Gruffalo books for my little nephew Finley-Joe which he loved, now he's two it seems like he's become a proper little boy and will chat away to us like mad. It's so lovely to hear him saying our names and being excited to see us, I love it!

I'm not feeling Christmassy yet so I got our Christmas decorations out this week and did some baking whilst listening to my Christmas playlist (and in keeping with tradition, left my sister a voicemail of myself singing along to 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' at high volume - our favourite!) Hopefully we will go and get the tree this weekend and I really need to get on with card and present buying, I'm usually far better prepared than this!

I bit the bullet yesterday and took my knackered hair to the hairdressers. I've been lightenening it for a while now and it's reached the point where it says 'No. No more'. The ends were like straw and it was really bothering me. So off I went and had four inches off the long layers and a little trim elsewhere as well as a new side swept fringe! It's been a while since I had a proper fringe and I gave myself a headache yesterday trying to keep it out of my eyes, what a plum. It feels short but not terribly so and it definitely feels and looks better. I just need to decide on a colour now as I'm abandoning the bleach for the last time. I've told my colourist not to let me do it again.

Last night we went to visit some friends for dinner and to coo over their now almost three month old baby, Jacob. We last saw him when he was about a week old and absolutely tiny as he was born five weeks early. He's come such a long way and is a really cute baby now he doesn't look so fragile. We had a gorgeous steak and stilton pie for dinner with lots of red wine and a good old catch up by the fire, I loved it

This weekend will be another dull one painting my new kitchen windows. I don't mind painting walls and celilings but window frames take so long, I hate it. But once they're done the sink unit can be installed so I'm trying to focus on that and just wade through

What will you be doing this weekend?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Visitor

We had a new bird come to visit the bird table this weekend that I thought you might like to see

Pheasants are a regular pain round here at this time of year, usually playing daredevils in the road. But I love to see them, they remind me of my gundog days and I love their beautiful, festive colouring. They're pretty tasty too! Ahem.

He hung around picking up seed and inadvertently frightened off all the chickens, before trooping off back to his own little hedgerow somewhere

A little splash of colour against the leaves, he really brightened my day

Friday, 30 November 2012

Friday Round Up

chillin' in the raised beds - the only thing that makes early mornings bearable - the agony of indecision
supplies - my new baby - sink unit all ready for the sink
extension built up to first floor height - white jelly babies are the best - my new little friend

Another week has flown by and I've just calculated that there will only be three more Friday Round Up posts before Christmas. Gulp. I really need to crack on with my Christmas preparations, I haven't even bought cards yet!

As you will see from the pics above, this week has all been about the new house. Finally settling on colours for the kitchen (Farrow & Ball 'Clunch' for the walls and 'Pointing' for the ceiling and woodwork) and beginning painting for me, and insulating the garage roof for Matt. You will also see that the beautiful Aga arrived on Wednesday and made me the happiest bunny on the planet. I know it's just a cooker and that the vast majority of people will think I'm crackers but I've wanted one of these bad boys forever. I've spent the past two years saving up for it and I can't wait to start using it

We had some pretty terrible weather last weekend and we awoke after Matt's presentation night, in the early hours of Sunday morning to discover that the roof was leaking and water was running down the bedroom walls behind our bed. Like the good semi-drunken, semi-comatose people we were, we pulled the bed away from the wall and wiped it down with towels, strategically positioned a jug under a persistent drip and crawled back under the duvet, lulled back to sleep by the patter of raindrops on the window

This weekend we are heading off to Manchester on Saturday night to see my favourite band, Elbow. I've lost track of how many times I've seen them but I never get tired of watching them live. I love all of their music and their gigs have a really cosy, intimate atmosphere, even in an arena

We'll be up early and coming straight home on Sunday to get back to the house and pick up work where we left off. I'd planned on making a weekend of it in Manchester but we just don't have the time, unfortunately

You may remember me mentioning that out of our last batch of Pekin Bantam eggs we had four hatch and they were all boys. Talk about unlucky! We managed to give one away and this week had to send the remaining three to a neighbouring farmer to dispatch and dress for us. So tonight we will be having roast chicken for dinner. Roast chickens that were bobbing about in the garden earlier this week! It feels a bit wrong but they had to go as they were causing havoc round here, trying to kill each other every five minutes and bullying the hens so badly that they've all dropped condition and look terrible. As no one wants roosters we had no choice but to have them er 'taken care of' ... and Matt feels very strongly that we should eat them and not waste them. I'll let you know how that goes ...

On a slightly cheerier note, I'm really looking forward to the return of Vlogmas this weekend by my favourite vlogger, Fleur! Is it sad that I've been looking forward to it all year? Don't answer that ....

What will you be doing this weekend?

November Favourites

Another month, another monthly favourites post. The months seem to be passing faster and faster, it only seems five minutes ago that I was writing up my October favourites! Anyway, here are my favourite items of November ...

Joico K Pak Intense Hydrator
This is my go-to conditioner. As I mentioned in this post, my hair has been through the mill a bit these past few months and I've been treating it to lots of deep conditioning treatments but this is my staple conditioner that I always come back to because it just gets the job done. I've been using it regularly for over a year and always have two tubes in the bathroom as I panic at the thought of running out! I usually leave it on for at least half an hour, to reap the full benefits, and it leaves my hair soft, smooth and tangle free

The White Company Winter candle
I picked this up from The White Company on our first night in Edinburgh to burn in our hotel room. I fell in love at first sniff - this has to be the perfect Christmas candle. It smells of cinnamon, orange and clove and it's quite strong, this little baby easily scented our whole room despite it's diminutive size. I'll be buying another before long I'm sure, to me this is THE perfect Christmas candle

Crabtree & Evelyn Gardeners Hand Recovery
For the last month or so, since the weather has been colder and I've been working in the cold at the new house, my hands have really suffered and slathering on hand cream just hasn't been cutting the mustard. I raided my stash and found a couple of tubes of Crabtree & Evelyn Hand Rescue which is basically a hand scrub, but quite a luxurious one. It has a thick consistency and is quite oily, you squidge it about in the tube to mix it up and then squirt into your hands without wetting them. You scrub your hands using a hand washing motion then rinse off, pat dry and follow with hand cream. It really does the business

Elemis Skin Nourishing Milk Bath
When I was about 17 or 18, my best friend was a 30 year old woman I worked with called Anne. I remember her telling me once that her legs were so dry that when she took her black trousers off there was flaky skin on the inside of them! 'Yuk!' I thought. Now I am that woman. I haven't checked my trousers (!) but my legs have been so dry this month that they feel sore. I almost purchased This Works Dry Leg Oil which I've heard wonderful things about but I have millions of moisturisers already so I hit my stash and came up with this milk bath from Elemis. I'd thought it was just for putting in your bath but you can use it on your body for extremely dry skin and it's definitely helped my legs. I'm not over keen on the scent but I can cope with that in the name of softer legs

Fat Face hoodie
I bought this after lusting after it on the website then seeing it on Rosie's blog, at which point I could resist no longer. It's barely been off my back since it arrived! It's lined so it's really warm and the perfect thing to wear around the house on cold days. I love the colour too, it goes perfectly with my blue Joules gilet and makes a really cosy combo. I wore them on our latest family trip to Windermere

What have been your favourite things this month?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Feel Unique Haircare Haul

It's AGES since I've done a haul post. That's not to say I haven't been spending a fortune on things that I could probably live without - I have, I just haven't been blogging about them

I've been steadily lightening my hair for about a year now and it's gone from a very dark, warm brown to it's current colour which I guess you could call a very 'warm' blonde (much lighter than my profile pics which were taken in the summer). I'm finding it hard to let go of the red basically! But all the lightening has inevitably stripped my hair and left it damaged and weak. I'm VERY tempted to abandon the lightening process altogether now. I do this every few years - go for a lighter colour, love it but get to a point where I feel my hair is too damaged to continue. Ultimately, the condition of my hair is more important to me than the colour

As my poor hair is suffering I treated myself/my hair to a few bits from my favourite online retailer, Feel Unique, to try to pamper it a bit

In the last few months I've been struggling with shampoo. My hair turns into a huge dreadlock when I wash it, I think it must be because it's so damaged as it never used to do this. So I've been looking for a shampoo to make it feel less like knotted straw when washing. I decided to try ...

Kerastase Bain Satin Shampoo
because a previous hairdresser used this and swore by it. Plus it's a multi award winner!

Korres Almond & Linseed Shampoo
because it was recommended on one of my new favourite blogs, Spoiltface

Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Extreme
This is a pre-shampoo treatment which you apply to wet hair and leave on for half an hour or so before washing and conditioning as normal. As I leave my conditioner on for at least half an hour as well, this will be for days when time is on my side! I've used the original Elasticizer before but felt extreme measures were required this time

Senscience Inner Restore Intensif Masque
I didn't go looking for this, I was actually planning on getting a Kerastase masque. But this was half the price and the second most popular treatment after the Moroccanoil, so I thought it was worth a gamble

Moroccanoil treatment
I've been umming and aahing over this purchase for a while. As you may know, I am a huge fan of Orofluido and have never found a better oil. But this is the only oil I've never tried so I wanted to give it a go - just so I could be sure I was using the best one! This sample size is a great idea. Still pricey but better than shelling out a fortune on a product you just want to test

So there we are, quite a pricey haul but I had a 10% off code and I get cashback through my employee advantage scheme at work, which justifies pretty much any purchase in my eyes!

Have you splashed out on anything recently?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Recipe - White Chocolate & Cranberry Cookies

Well if the name alone doesn't have you salivating, wait until you smell these bad boys baking!

Dried cranberries make anything seem Christmassy in my humble opinion and in these cookies they add just the right amount of tartness to bring down the sweetness of the white chocolate and stop them being sickly

This is an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe from her Nigella Christmas book. If you love Christmas and love cooking and baking you need this book in your life. Believe me, it's the holy grail of Christmas catering, I've found favourites in this book that I'll use for many years to come

You will need

125g soft butter
75g dark brown soft sugar
100g caster sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
75g rolled oats
40g cranberries (more if you'd like)
50g pecans roughly chopped (or chucked into a freezer bag and bashed with a rolling pin!)
150g white chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees

Cream your butter and sugars in a bowl with an electric hand mixer (or serious elbow grease) then beat in the egg and vanilla extract

Beat in the flour, baking powder, salt and oats then fold in the cranberries, pecans and chocolate chips

Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls with your hands and press onto a baking sheet, giving them a little squish to flatten them slightly

Bake for 15 minutes - they will be a pale gold colour when done

Set the baking tray onto a cool surface for 5 minutes whilst the cookies harden enough for you to slip a spatula underneath them and remove to a wire rack

Enjoy with a cup of tea!

Let me know if you give this recipe a try!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Friday Round Up

hot choc with my sis - yummy carrot cake - how cute is my poppa smurf??
festive pillow - festive candle - festive plant
surprise voucher from the white company - cheeky chickens - friday night treat

I fully expected my first Monday back at work to be grim but I had no idea quite how grim. It was awful. I'd been trying to keep on top of my emails whilst I was away so the catching-up part wasn't too bad, but just the sheer comedown of getting back to the daily grind completely floored me

I enjoyed my time off SO much! Relaxing at home, taking Matt to Edinburgh and taking our traditional family trip to Windermere were only part of it. Mostly I just enjoyed the lack of stress, the lack of responsibility. Not getting up and wondering what was going to go wrong that day. Not planning my diary, preparing for meetings, driving all over the country and lonely nights in a Premier Inn! It was great. Only a month now until Christmas and another week off, I'm already counting the days!

I was feeling a bit festive mid-week so I lit my Winter candle and did a bit of shopping. I do all my Christmas shopping online. In fact I buy pretty much everything online all year round but from mid-November onwards I don't go near the shops unless I have to. With the exception of my annual pilgrimage to Chester the weekend before Christmas with my pal Liz - by that point we've got everything we need and it's all about soaking up the atmosphere and buying the odd treat for ourselves. Last year we ate and drank in the hotel bar and were tucked up in bed in time for the Strictly final - we've discussed actually Going Out In The Evening on this year's trip but to be honest, I'll believe it when I see it

This weekend I'll be spending as many waking hours as possible at the new house, painting the kitchen. I'm not over-excited about it but it's a job that needs doing and it needs doing before the Aga arrives next week. Tomorrow night we're at the presentation night at Matt's motorbike club where he'll be picking up his trophy for coming second in this year's championship. I'm so proud!

What will you be getting up to this weekend?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Feeding the birds

I have always fed the birds that visit my garden because my Mum always used to make a point of doing so, especially during the colder months. I remember going round to my parent's house once and she made my boyfriend and I sit down and watch some video footage she'd taken of the birds at her bird table. It was so cute of her! Her favourite birds were Robins and they are my favourite too

Little birds need to eat 30-40% of their bodyweight per day in food during the Winter and I like to help them along by ensuring they have plenty to eat when they visit us.

During the warmer months I only feed a seed mix but when it starts to get colder I add peanuts and fat balls to the table. That's right, fat balls. Someone, somewhere had a good giggle when they came up with that name I'll bet! Anyway, fat balls and peanuts both contain fats which help our little feathered pals to keep warm. Make sure you remove the netting from the balls though as teeny bird feet can easily get tangled in them

We have regular birdy visitors, including a female blackbird with one white feather in her tail, I call her Magda, and a collared dove who patrols the bottom of the bird table and won't let any other doves near it.

We get several blackbirds, a few blue tits and a beautiful pair of greeny gold birds that I've yet to identify. The chickens like to hang around under the bird table too and pick up any seeds that drop out of the feeder

Buying wild bird seed can get expensive if you buy small bags from the supermarket, as I used to. I've found the cheapest way of doing it is to buy in bulk. I buy 20kg bags of own brand seed from our local country store and store it in plastic dustbins with my chicken feed. They also sell fat balls, peanuts and feeders so it's nice and easy to get everything I need. I also put out any left over bread and sometimes apples too

Do you feed the birds during the winter?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Family Traditions - Lake Windermere

As I mentioned in this post, on the 16th November it was nine years since we lost my mum. She'd been ill for a long time and we'd had plenty of time to say our goodbyes and for her to tell us what she wanted to happen. She asked us to scatter her ashes at Lake Windermere as it was her favourite place in the world. We had holidays there as a family and she and my dad had been several times with their best friends whilst she was ill too.

So on her birthday in 2004 we took her ashes to her favourite spot and scattered them as she'd asked. We go back to that same spot to visit twice a year - on her birthday and the anniversary of her death. When our family dog, Max, died a few years ago we took his ashes there too so we could sort of send him to my mum to look after

This is definitely not a morbid post - at least I hope it doesn't come across that way. We three enjoy our trips to Windermere and it's a chance for us all to spend some quality time together and share our memories of my mum

We have the same little routine every trip. We stop at The Olde Naked Man Cafe in Settle for brunch (she loved that name!) We go to the hostel where we used to stay, right on the banks of the lake. We have a memorial bench there with my mum's name on it, so we always sand and oil it to keep it in good condition. We have coffee and cake at a little cafe on the lake. It's always freezing!

I feed the ducks and my sister and I make a wish at the little wishing well

We go home via Wetherby and stop at The Wetherby Whaler for the best fish and chips in the world

This comforting little routine has been part of my life for the last nine years and it's hard to imagine a time when we won't do it. We managed it even when my sister lived in Nottingham and I lived in Milton Keynes - the logistics were just slightly trickier!

The only exceptions have been

* Two years ago when my sister's waters broke at The Olde Naked Man and we had to turn around to fetch her home. My nephew Finley Joe was born the next morning :-)

* In May just gone, my mum's birthday, when I'd been out for dinner with friends the night before and got horribly drunk. I was terribly hungover and was sick in the car - my dad turned around and dropped me off at home and he and my sister went on their own. I'm not proud of that but they both had a good laugh at my expense!

I love family traditions and this one is particularly special to me. I'm looking forward to the day when Finley Joe is old enough to come with us and maybe my children will come one day too. I think my mum would like that.

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