Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Do you believe in ghosts?

Happy Hallowe'en everyone!

I'm snuggled on the sofa tonight in a blanket, watching TV and blogging by the light of the fire and candles. I'm hiding from trick or treaters because I'm a scrooge and don't like people knocking on the door wanting stuff. I'm just as snarky about charity collectors and religious fanatics. If you're not bringing me a parcel or a takeaway I don't want you at my door!

But it's inevitable that one's thoughts turn to all things spooky tonight, being as it is so windy and dark outside and the night when ghosts are reputed to walk amongst us. Do you believe in ghosts?

Lincolnshire is a famously spooky county with more than it's fair share of ghost stories, including haunted RAF bases, stately homes, pubs and even a stretch of road. Our current house is a seventeenth century cottage but despite it's age I've never felt that it's spooky. Unlike the house I grew up in!

I'd always known there was more to our house than most. We moved there when I was five and my dad still lives there now so it's the house I will always call 'home'. But it was definitely a spooky place. You could always, ALWAYS hear people walking about upstairs when there was no one up there. You'd often hear doors slamming too. To be perfectly honest I was rarely scared by these things - they happened so often - day, night, whether we were all in the house or if I was there alone - it was just commonplace.

There were only a couple of occasions when I saw something though;

Firstly, there was the time I was alone in the house, listening to the footsteps upstairs and thinking they were particularly loud. I was starting to feel a bit spooked - all senses on high alert, hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I heard the back door slam, even though I knew I'd locked it when my parents had left the house. I was sitting by the fire and we had a little pottery cat in the hearth, all of a sudden it started to shake, rattling on the hearth tiles. A moment later the cat lifted into the air, over the fender and landed right in front of me on the rug! I jumped up and ran out of the room into the kitchen, just as my parents arrived home. I let them in and told them what had happened. There were some disbelieving faces until we heard a door slam upstairs. We sat in silence, wide eyed whilst it sounded as though there was a party going on upstairs, footsteps storming up and down, floorboards creaking, doors slamming and murmuring voices. I'll never forget the look on my mum's face, she was well and truly terrified! Eventually it all calmed down and we went to bed but no one slept very well that night!

The second time was when I was in my sister's bedroom with her, standing in front of her full length mirrors putting on mascara as we were all getting ready to go out for Sunday lunch. The bedroom door was open behind me and as I was leaning close to the mirror I saw the reflection of a woman walk out of my parent's bedroom. Both of my parents were downstairs and my sister was next to me, there was definitely no one there. Plus she had her hair up and was wearing a long dress ...

So you could say that I have no choice but to believe in ghosts!

October Favourites

It's the end of October already, how did that happen?? Here are the best bits of my October for your perusal ...

Orofluido Beauty Elixir for hair
If you read my post on Shu Uemura Essence Absolue hair oil (here) you will have noticed that it unintentionally turned into a comparison with my existing favourite hair oil, Orofluido. I've been using this oil for a few years now and I absolutely love it. It smells beautiful, is the perfect consistency and leaves my hair soft, shiny and manageable. I use it on damp hair after washing and to finish just blow-dried hair too.
I've also tried other products in the Orofluido range - the shampoo, conditioner, masque and shine spray. Other stand out products are the conditioner and the shine spray but this oil is the absolute best for me and I couldn't be without it.
From feelunique

Essie Dive Bar
A little treat from Boots when I popped in for some cotton wool and headache tablets! I'd seen this on Sprinkle of Glitter and liked the look of it, plus it was included in Boots' 3 for 2 beauty offer so it would have been rude not to. I reviewed it here
From Boots

Elie Saab Le Parfum (EDP)
I bought this bottle at the beginning of the month and have worn it pretty much every day since! It's gorgeous, powdery and slightly sweet but sophisticated too. I wear it when I want to feel grown up and important! It's quite strong so I just spray it once on the back of my neck and lightly press my wrists on it. Anything more than this gives me a headache, no matter how much I like the fragrance.
From Debenhams

Nars Kalahari Duo
I bought this in the summer and wasn't overly impressed with it at first. For some reason it took a while to 'wear in' in the pan, my brushes were just skating over the surface and not picking up any colour so I'd thought it was lacking in pigment and that I'd wasted £24! But when I got my new MAC brushes and got a bit brutal with the shadows all that changed, it applied much better and I wore it nearly every time I wore make up this month.
From House of Fraser, who have now sold out. I did a quick search online and found it stocked at asos of all places and 50p cheaper!

Palmers Cocoa Butter Lip Butter
This is my absolute favourite lip balm EVER! The only one that really works for me, the only one I come back to time and again. I discovered it four years ago whilst I was taking Roaccutane - a nasty acne medication which dries all moisture out of your skin and forces your skin cells to renew themselves at lightning speed. Consequently your lips shed layers of skin constantly and feel so unbearably dry and irritated it makes you want to cry. Plus it was winter - cold, wet, windy and lip-chapping at the best of times. Total misery. When I found this after trying everything else that was out there (including Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream - that fabled wonder product that did absolutely nothing for me!) it was like an epiphany! I've been a convert ever since and stocked up in Boots on 3 for 2 this month to see me through the winter
From Boots although I couldn't find it on their website, it's always in the stores

Green & Blacks hot chocolate
This miserable weather has had me turning to hot chocolate for an afternoon treat or a mid-morning sugar hit. I like it with M&S squirty cream on top and some peppermint syrup if there's any to hand. It's a really rich creamy chocolate that is perfect for cold days. I'm obsessed with it at the minute
From Waitrose

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish - limited edition
You probably know that I'm a big Liz Earle fan (if you read this post) so when this limited edition Cleanse & Polish was launched to support the Prince's Trust I was straight on the website! It's the same formulation as the original with added rose and lavender oils which change the scent. The scent isn't very strong and I love the original scent anyway. But the bottle ... just look at it!
From Liz Earle

What have been the best bits of your October?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Rachael Reviews - Essie 'Dive Bar'

I'm sure you will have noticed that I bought a new nail polish this month as I have mentioned it in a couple of posts already (here and here) I thought it might be nice to give you a bit more info as several of you commented on it, so here it is ... my first NOTD post! Apologies for the poor photo, I'm sure they'll get better! This one was taken two days after application so there is a bit of tip wear

I saw this polish on Louise's blog Sprinkle Of Glitter and loved it straightaway. I usually keep my nails fairly neutral as I think it looks classy and formal for work, but I tend to wear darker colours as the weather turns colder and this looked really intriguing

In the bottle it looks a dark green with shimmer, as you turn it in the light it looks blue and even purple. I imagined it would be like this on the nails, a kind of holographic effect which has become quite mainstream now

However, I was wrong - this polish is really different. When I first put it on it was very definitely dark green. I twisted and turned my hand to try to get the other colours but ... nothing. Nada.

The next day I looked at my hands as I was driving and noticed that the polish was blue. A dark navy with shimmer. Really nice! Again I tried moving my hand about to see a different colour but couldn't. I must have looked a bit crackers as I drove along!

The next day it was blue again in natural light outside. Then under the hob light as I was cooking dinner, it was green. It never looked purple at all, only green, blue or variations of the two (I'd describe them as petrol and teal) but the colours were really lovely, deep and jewel-like

This is my first Essie polish (I'm a die-hard Ciate and OPI fan) and I was really impressed with it. The formulation was great, perfectly opaque in two coats and the brush was really easy to use. I find that dark colours can sometimes be messy to apply but this was a breeze and I think the brush is the reason why. I always use OPI Nail Envy as a base coat and Seche Vite top coat. With these two, this polish lasted four days before starting to chip, which I think is pretty good for a dark polish

Do you have any Essie polishes? I definitely plan on buying more - can you recommend any must-have colours?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Friday Round Up

a pretty bear - another misty morning - mid-recipe post kitchen chaos
my first pumpkin spice latte (3 shots = hardcore) - land rover deathscovery - new fave polish, essie 'dive bar'
wilson kisses - two little angels - jessie's 'i'm not hurt, i'm just disappointed' look

I can't believe another week has gone by, the end of the year is hurtling towards us at a staggering rate of knots!

This was the week that

* after weeks of no calls, three different potential buyers wanted to view the cottage ... all on the same day and with only a few hours notice. Typical.

* I got paid and still had some of last months wages in the bank. I must be a real grown up now

* this little blog got a lot of love from new readers - so many people have tweeted/emailed me this week to tell me that they love my blog and I can't tell you how happy that makes me :-)

It seems to have been a really foggy week for most of the UK, I love this sort of weather. It makes me feel extra cosy when I'm at home with a candle lit and a fire roaring, or even when I'm ensconced in my nice warm car driving 250 miles home from a meeting in Portsmouth, drinking Pumpkin Spice Latte and singing along to Barbra Streisand on Radio 2 :-)

I've hardly seen Matt this week, I've been away working and he's been busy with his work and keeping up with the builders and tilers round at the other house. But we did have this gem of a conversation last night, whilst watching X Factor USA and agreeing that it's SO much better than the UK version;

Matt: 'Do you think we'll ever live in another country?'
Me: 'No'
Matt: 'What if I got posted abroad?'
Me: 'You're self employed, who's going to post you abroad??'

I still haven't managed to book a break for us yet, I'm so indecisive and unbearably fussy. I think it's because we get to spend so little quality time together that when we do, I want it to be absolutely perfect. I feel like I've got to find the perfect place to stay, with the perfect restaurant, the perfect things to see and do ... I put so much pressure on myself that it's stopped being fun and turned into a chore. And to be honest, when we do get to have a break from it all, we're so knackered that we spend most of our time asleep so it doesn't really matter anyway! I really must get on and do it this weekend though.

The dogs have been super cuddly today, Wilson particularly. He's quite a cuddly dog anyway. If you crouch down to his level he comes up to you, sits down and buries his face as close to you as he can get, he's so cute. Jessie gets very standoffish when I cuddle him, she gets this wounded look about her and shuts her eyes as if she can't bear to watch! They are so jealous of each other!

This weekend I'll be priming skirting boards at the new house with my new paintbrush (exciting eh??) and buying a new vaccuum cleaner. It's non stop fun around here isn't it?? I owe the dogs some good walks and we've got another house viewing tomorrow so we'll spend the next 24 hours tiptoeing around and trying not to make any mess.

I hope, for your sake, that you have more exciting plans for the weekend than I do?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Recipe - Slow Cooked Beef Stew

As I've already mentioned, Autumn to me is the season of soups, stews and casseroles. Slow cookers become invaluable at this time of year. There's nothing better than the comfort of knowing that your dinner is bubbling away all day, waiting for you to get home, dish it up and tuck in. The beauty of slow cookers is that they are low energy, low effort and produce such flavoursome meals. Not only that but for some reason, anything slow cooked tastes even better the next day, eaten as leftovers!

I have two go-to stews for cold days - one is a beef and ale stew (recipe to come) which I cook in my normal oven and serve with fat little dumplings and this one - the slow cooker variety, no dumplings but a hearty, herby mix of melting beef and chunky vegetables in a red wine flavoured gravy.

It's versatile - add a bit of rosemary and garlic, change up the veg if you like. If you don't have a slow cooker just bung it in your normal oven at 160 degrees for about 4 hours

You will need

1 large onion
handful of sage leaves (or sprinkle of dry sage)
1 and half lbs stewing beef
2 tbsp plain flour to dust
salt and pepper
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 carrots
2 large potatoes
half a small swede
half a bottle of red wine
half a pint of beef stock (I use Knorr rich beef stockpot)
a bouquet garni
a large pan

Preheat your slow cooker on LOW

Chop your onion in half, then into wedges, then separate the layers. Fry gently in a large pan, in a little oil with the sage.

Put your flour into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Drop in your pieces of stewing beef and coat with the seasoned flour. Get your hands in there, it's fun!

Add the meat to the pan with all of the veg, tomato puree, wine and stock. Bring to the boil, then transfer to your slow cooker. Add the bouquet garni and cook for a minimum of three hours ... but basically as long as you like.

If the gravy is a bit thin for your liking at the end of cooking, remove some of the cooked veg, liquidise it then return to the pot and stir in to thicken

Eat from bowls with a warm crusty bread and a good red wine!

We get five dinners out of this recipe (but we're a pretty greedy pair) and it's even better the next day!

Let me know if you give it a try!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Bonding Experience

My beloved Freelander had to be sold last week - as part of Project Sell-up, which will help us to finish the house renovations and pay for the new business premises I mentioned in this post. In lieu of the lovely Freelander, I have been given a Discovery

I've had a few Discoverys in the past but this one is 20 years old and has been sitting in a field for the last few years. I'm not kidding. Matt took it off someone's hands intending to scrap it but decided to do it up for me and the dogs instead. So it had all new bits, someone briefly waved a hoover around inside it and it arrived on the drive last week. I didn't take too much notice until Matt rang me from work, laughing his head off, to see what I thought of it. I ventured outside to have a look and found that the inside was festooned with cobwebs and dead flies. Yuk. Undeterred, I popped the dogs in the back and trundled off to the woods.

I soon found that at high speed the steering disappeared completely and when going around corners it sounded as though there was a bag of spanners rolling around in the back. I mentioned this to Matt later and was told 'it's fine, you just haven't driven one in a while'. When we went to walk the Enduro course on Saturday afternoon, before Matt's Sunday race, we took the old Disco and Matt drove. I sat and waited until we got up to 50mph, hit a bump and careered across the road.

Matt: 'Jesus! The steering's knackered!'

We kept going, keeping below 50 and hoping for the best. We walked the course, went for a beer and stopped for fish and chips before jumping back in the truck and heading home. Just as the lights of the village were becoming little dots in the rear view mirror ...

Matt: 'Oh. The battery light's come on'
Me: 'What does that mean?'
Matt: 'Well ... it will keep going for a bit and then it will die'
Me: 'Actually DIE ???'
Matt: 'Yeah. We've got 20 minutes, if we're lucky'
Me: 'Well get your bloody foot down then !!!'

We switched off the heat, fans and radio and sat tight. Very tight, I hung on to my seat whilst Matt drove like a bat out of hell along the winding country roads, hanging on to the old bus and trying to go in as much of a straight line as possible. Thank goodness he knows that route well! We sat in silence, occasionally punctuated by 'are the lights getting dimmer??' and hoped against hope that the old Disco would get us fairly close to home, or at least to somewhere that was lit and had mobile signal. The dogs bounced around in the back and my knuckles were white. It was like the worst rollercoaster ride ever.

Against all the odds we did make it home and breathed huge sighs of relief whilst unclenching our bum cheeks. And the Disco hasn't moved off the drive since.

I want my Freelander back.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Friday Round Up

the dogs' favourite place to walk - new batteries for this cute root heart - new Butterfly Lane purchase
haircare treats - new garage roof - naughty but nice
current favourite perfume - essie 'dive bar' - a misty morning at home

Well I don't know about you but it's been a busy old week round these parts, I've barely had time to think! What with the nights drawing in too, making the days feel even shorter, the week seems to have flown

We had a great time at the weekend with my sister and her boyfriend, watching X Factor and eating Domino's whilst playing trains with my little nephew Finley Joe. It's his second birthday next month, the time has really flown! I love spending time with him, he's at that age where he will copy everything you say though, so you have to be a bit careful with your language ... this week he picked up the phrase 'oh shit!' when my sister drove the wrong way up a one way street with him in the car!

I had my hair done and it was a bit of a disaster - my lovely colourist got a bit carried away whilst doing my roots and I ended up more blonde at the roots than anywhere else! Luckily a quick trip back for a free correction sorted it right out and we had a good giggle about it. As my poor old hair has been through the mill this week I treated it to some new Sebastian products from feelunique (my favourite website!) to cheer it up a bit - any excuse eh?? I also had to purchase Essie's 'Dive Bar' polish after seeing it on Sprinkle of Glitter - what a gorgeous colour! I usually wear mostly neutrals and greys on my nails as I think they look a bit more formal for work but I like to wear something a bit darker at this time of year for weekends and this looks lovely

Speaking of treating myself, I also got a lovely little parcel in the post from Butterfly Lane - the lovely Sophie Allport Robin mug in the pic above, isn't it cute? Have you taken advantage of our free shipping offer yet? It's only available until midnight on Sunday so don't miss out!

I had a long old day yesterday and my first meeting with my new boss. He seems very nice but spending seven and a half hours explaining what my department does/why/how was pretty exhausting. Getting stuck in traffic on the way home topped off the day, I walked in the house at 7.30pm, ate, showered and washed my hair then was in bed by 10pm which is unheard of for me! Ten and a half hours sleep later I feel so much better. I'd not slept well before the meeting (I never do - I always worry that I'll sleep through my alarm so I wake up every hour all night!) but I feel properly rested now

As for the weekend, Matt is away racing on Sunday so that will take up most of his weekend as he'll go and walk the course tomorrow too. It's the last race of the season and he's lying 2nd in the championship so fingers crossed he'll have a good day. I don't think I'll be going - I like to see him race but he gets so stressed that he's not much fun to be around!

So I'll be at home waiting for him with a hot bath and a warming beef stew for when he comes in knackered, wet and covered in mud! I might go round to the house whilst he's away and crack on with some painting in peace. I've got some paint samples to try on the kitchen walls, which will be a nightmare as I'm so indecisive. I've put it off until the last minute because I have no clear idea what colour I want but as the skirtings are being done next week and the first of the units is ready I really need to get on with it. The garage roof is halfway up now and bathrooms are being tiled - we're still a looong way off moving in but things are progressing nicely

I also need to get a load of clobber on eBay this weekend - I've amassed quite a pile whilst waiting for a free listing email to come through!

So what do you lovely lot have planned for this weekend?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Recipe - Apple Chutney

Autumn to me is the season of preserves and chutney and one of the first things I whip up at this time of year is my Apple Chutney. It goes beautifully with cheese and crackers (or even in a cheese sandwich) but my favourite way to eat it is spread on a piece of thick cut toast, with grated cheddar sprinkled atop and grilled until the cheese is gooey and melted. Delicious!

It's a bit of a slow burner this one, you need to cook it slowly then allow it a month to mature before you enjoy it. And I'm not going to lie, chopping 1.5kg of apples this small is a bit laborious. But it's a super simple recipe and I promise you it's worth the time.

You will need

1.5kg cooking apples
500g onions
500g sultanas
750g demerara sugar
500ml white wine vinegar
zest and juice of two lemons
1 small red chilli
1tsp ground ginger
half tsp cinnamon
1tsp ground allspice
pinch of ground cloves
half tsp Maldon salt
8 peppercorns
1tbsp mustard seeds

Peel, core and chop the apples small. Peel and chop the onions small too - I actually give the onions a really brief blitz in the food processor but this isn't strictly necessary. 

Add all of the ingredients to a large pan (I like to use my trusty stock pot) and bring to the boil.

Give it a good stir and turn down the heat. Simmer very gently until thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for at least 4 hours.

It is ready when drawing a spoon across the surface leaves a definite track mark.

Decant into jars and allow to mature for a month before tucking in

Do you like chutney? Do you think you'll give this one a try?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline

As I've already mentioned, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 36 years old. This is quite young and if you have a first degree relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40, you are considered at moderate risk of developing the disease yourself - the odds are 1 in 3 to 1 in 6. My sister and I will both have regular mammograms from the age of 35 - the usual age is 50. 

In 2008 I received a letter from my local health authority asking if I was interested in genetic testing to find out if my mum had carried one of the known gene faults which predisposes a person to breast cancer. If she carried one of these gene faults it would be wise to test my sister and I too, to see if we'd inherited it. At the time I thought 'no thanks, I'd rather not know'. Ignorance is bliss, I thought, and I tore the letter up and forgot all about it.

About six months later I happened to see a documentary by Dawn Porter called 'My Breasts Could Kill Me'. Matt and I watched aghast as it transpired that Dawn's mum died of breast cancer aged just 36 and Dawn was to undergo genetic testing herself as her mum hadn't left a blood sample for testing. If she had inherited the genetic fault, she would be a 'high risk' - giving her an 80-90% chance of developing breast cancer herself.

It seemed ridiculous that I had been given a chance to get ahead of the game and I hadn't taken it. The information I'd been given in the letter had been so minimal, I hadn't fully understood the implications. An 80-90% chance of developing breast cancer?? My mum had left a blood sample specifically for the purpose of genetic testing and I had chosen not to use it. I was so angry with myself.

The documentary featured a woman called Wendy Watson, who had been identified as carrying one of the genetic faults herself and had undergone a preventative mastectomy in order to minimise her chances of developing the disease - the first woman to do so. Her daughter, 24 year old Becky Measures had also tested positive for the gene fault and had undergone preventative surgery and reconstruction.

Wendy founded the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline - a charity which provides a helpline for men and women who have been identified as carrying the faulty genes and those who are interested in genetic testing. The Helpline exists to provide 'peer support' - advice and support from people who have actually experienced genetic testing and counselling and in many cases, have undergone preventative surgery. They don't just know all the facts and statistics - they understand the feelings, fears and confusion too.

I contacted the Helpline, spoke to Wendy and Becky and they helped to get me started on the long road of genetic counselling. I wanted to be more involved with the Helpline and began to train as an advisor so that I could help to relieve the burden that Wendy shouldered - she had manned the Helpline 24 hours a day since 1996. There isn't a moment, day or night, that you can't call the Helpline and speak to her - I know, I have spoken to Wendy whilst she has been shopping in Morrisons!

I attended a seminar on familial breast cancer at NOWGEN in Manchester and met Wendy, Becky and many other dedicated volunteers. Most of the women I met had been through preventative surgery and reconstructions and I was gobsmacked by how happy and positive they all were. These women were fighters. It was inspirational.

Sadly, before I got any further with my Helpline training, my grandma was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. I'd already lost a grandparent to cancer, as well as several of his siblings and, of course, my mum. It it hit me hard and I decided to take a step back from the Helpline as I didn't feel I had anything positive to offer anyone when it came to cancer. I felt like it was stalking my family and I didn't want to project my pessimism onto anyone else.

The Helpline has gone from strength to strength. Last year Wendy won Tesco Magazine's Mum Of The Year award and published her book I'm Still Standing which tells her story. There are now regional support groups and a group for under-25s which hold regular meetings and the Helpline's first charity shop opened just a couple of weeks ago.

Wendy is an amazing woman - she has gone to extreme lengths to fight for what she believes in, not just for herself but for every other person out there whose family has been affected by breast cancer. It is down to Wendy that genetic testing is available on the NHS and it is because of her that preventative surgery is an option. In 1997 Wendy sold her farm to fund her fight to keep the two breast cancer genes from being 'patented', she challenged a multi million pound coordinated lobby in the European parliament and won. Testing by the company that own the patents in the USA, where the genes are patented, costs three times as much as here in the UK - stopping the patent has saved £millions for the UK. Wendy Watson vs Myriad Genetics is now a teaching module/round table discussion in America!

If you have any concerns about hereditary breast cancer you should visit the Helpline's website (click on the logo above) for more information and contact them if you need advice, help or support. I can't stress enough how lovely and supportive they are, if you're concerned about familial breast cancer they are the people who will understand and can help you.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Treat From Butterfly Lane

Image courtesy of Butterfly Lane

I don't know if you've noticed the 'Popular Posts' in the sidebar down there? The most popular post on this little blog (by quite a way) is my Butterfly Lane Haul post and I can't say I'm surprised. Not only are the items I purchased lovely but I really enjoyed writing the post!

I've struck up a friendship with Nikki from Butterfly Lane, she's also renovating a house and we bond over the shared pain of sanding and painting sash windows! I love her blog and I like to keep up with her tweets to see what is coming up at Butterfly Lane.

I know I'm not alone in thinking that some of my Christmas shopping budget will be spent at Butterfly Lane, as well as picking up some Christmassy treats for myself! The new Sophie Allport Robin line (above) is absolutely gorgeous and robins have a special meaning to me and my family, so I will definitely be adding to my Sophie Allport collection this winter. The table runner is a must-have and I've already ordered the cup for myself!

If you'd like to treat yourself or pick up a few Christmas presents, I suggest you head on over by clicking the link at the top of this post. Nikki has very kindly offered FREE SHIPPING to readers of made up of little things from now until midnight on Sunday, so what are you waiting for?? Just enter the code MADEUP at checkout to claim your free shipping

And do let me know what you buy!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Friday Round Up

autumn creepers on the garage - jessie wants supper - surprise pocket find
jessie fetches the post - sneaky chippy lunch - bye bye old car :-(
BIG new oak front door - father-daughter bonding - day at eden hall

It's a bit of a Jessie-heavy photo today! What can I say, she's been a bit of a poser this week

I've spent most of the week looking forward to a long awaited spa day at Eden Hall.  I spent yesterday relaxing and being thoroughly spoilt in the excellent company of my best pal in the  world. So much of the time we spend together is rushed as we both have busy lives so it's always great to get her to myself for a full day with no distractions

We have The Spa Day Routine down to a fine art. First we headed to the aqua detox centre and began in the Herbal Caldarium which is a bit like a Turkish bath filled with lavender - my favourite fragrance ever! From there we headed to the rose infused steam room which is hotter and steamier, and then to the outdoor hot tubs. After a quick coffee and pains au chocolat we had our treatments, a Coconut and Milk Ritual Wrap for Liz and an Infinite Indulgence wrap for me. Being scrubbed, painted with hot mud and cocooned in hot towels on a heated bed whilst your head is massaged is pretty close to my idea of heaven! After a delicious three course lunch we staggered off to the Slumber Room for a nap ... and woke up two and a half hours later! After a quick swim in the saltwater vitality pool we went back to the conservatory for a chai latte and a sultana scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Eating and sleeping seems to dominate the day and that's just fine by me!

A day of rest was much needed as I was struck down earlier in the week with my fifth chest infection of 2012 (for goodness sake!) So I've been feeling pretty rubbish and craving warmth, cosiness and comfort food. Another bummer this week was saying goodbye to my old car when it got changed. Much as Matt took the mick when I got this car ('a gold Mercedes? Who do you think you are, P Diddy??') even he was sad to see it go as we'd both grown to love it

I spent last Sunday working at the new house, sweeping out upstairs and prepping the kitchen windows for painting again - it seems like this is all I do! Our gorgeous new oak front door was fitted and it's amazing. It's huge, 7ft to be exact, and thick and heavy, it's like a castle door!

Tomorrow I have a hair appointment in the morning, I might head into town in the afternoon to pick up some paint samples and then we're seeing my sister and her boyfriend for dinner.

What do you have planned for this weekend?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

My Cat's Name Is Mittens

When we move to the new house next year, we've decided to add a kitten to our little family. We lost our little cat, Mouse, two years ago but haven't wanted to get another cat while we were still living here. She had a habit of sunbathing in the road and we think she probably had a few lucky escapes as we live on the main road through the village. I can't imagine a kitten would fare so well.

Given my long running obsession with The Simpsons' character, Ralph Wiggum, there's only one possible name for a cat of mine

Monday, 8 October 2012


I hadn't heard of Coppafeel! until I watched Dawn Porter's documentary 'My Breasts Could Kill Me' in 2009. Did you see it? The charity's founder, Kris, was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 23 years old. It took her ten months to be diagnosed, her GP kept sending her away because 'she was too young to worry about breast cancer'. Wrong. By the time Kris secured a referral the cancer was already established, was spreading and was at Stage 4 - the advanced stage. There is no Stage 5.

This was in 2009 and Kris is still fighting not only her battle against cancer but her battle to 'encourage young people everywhere to keep hold of their wonderful, carefree lives by getting to know their boobs - and  appreciating that, as shitty a fact as it may be, breast cancer can affect YOUNG PEOPLE, at any age'

Kris' charity has raised heaps of cash and has the backing of celebrities such as Fearne Cotton, Dermot O'Leary, Dawn Porter and Chris O'Dowd to name but a few

As the charity targets young people (not just women - did you know men can get breast cancer too?) they show up as Fresher's Fairs and music festivals and organise events such as Bakin' for Baps and Bikin' for Boobies - but it's less about raising money than it is about raising awareness. As Kris says 'You won't find us shaking a bucket on the street but we will be there asking when you last checked your boobs'

Want to read more inspirational words from Kris? Check out her blog here

I use Coppafeel's boob check reminder - a free service which texts you a reminder to check your boobs once a month. How great is that? Because let's face it, once this month is over and I stop banging on about your boobs, it will be easy to forget

I strongly suggest you check out the Coppafeel! website, it has tons of useful information such as a quick guide to checking your boobs, as well as information on upcoming and recent events and details on how to get involved if you'd like to. Why not sign up for the text reminder service while you're there? It's free!

Just click on the logo above to go to the website and find out more. And - did I already say this? - start checking your boobs!!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Friday Round Up

jessie has some quality time with her favourite auntie
some light reading - a cloudy evening - liz earle botanical essence no.15, heaven scent!
spot the sleepy dogs - a sunny evening - a cold drink

My lovely BFF Liz popped over on Sunday for a brew or two, a long overdue catch up and excited squealing about our traditional October spa day coming up next week. She brought back a pile of my books and a pile for me to borrow so it looks like I'm going to be busy for a while! I haven't been reading much in the last few months, even though I've been buying books. Since I discovered the instant gratification of blogs I seem to struggle to hold my concentration long enough to get involved in a book. Last year I kept a record of the books I read - there were 45 in total. I know I've not got anywhere near that number this year and feel like I need to remedy that, pronto.

I'm also trying to make the most of what light evenings we have left before the clocks change by getting out for some long walks with the dogs, Since I stopped working them they have both become a bit porky and I hate to see fat Labradors! I've promised them some long walks and swimming this weekend. Maybe I'll throw in some training too. They are both so well behaved I haven't bothered doing anything with them for ages, I only remember when they start to get slack and then I have to put them into Rachael's Bootcamp for a week!

I placed another Liz Earle order this week (limited edition Cleanse & Polish, lovely but I prefer the scent of the original) and they kindly sent me a sample of their new fragrance, Botanical Essence No.15 which is absolutely divine. It's warm and spicy and reminds me of Spicebomb (which I share a bottle of with Matt, see here!) I'll definitely be buying a bottle next month, I just repurchased my Elie Saab perfume and it feels wrong to splash out on two bottles of perfume in one month!

I was dying to try one of the new seasonal Starbucks drinks but couldn't decide which, so I asked the baristas which was the best. Their answer? 'Oh God, they're all awful, don't bother!' So I went for the berry refresha which is lovely and probably won't be around for long. I'm determined to try the Pumpkin Spice Latte before it disappears though, just for the novelty. And I do love warm, spicy drinks so I'm sure I'll like it, even if the baristas don't!

Finally this week, I was overjoyed to see that Jem from Beautiful Clutter had won the Best Lifestyle Blog at the Cosmo Blog Awards last night! Congratulations Jem! I love Jem's blog, particularly for her beautiful photography. It's also great to see that there are lifestyle blog awards as well as beauty ones - it feels like lifestyle blogs are so often overlooked in favour of our beauty friends.

This weekend holds a mammoth house clean, lots of time with the dogs, a trip into town to do some shopping and dinner out tonight (so I'm told!) Sunday will be for painting at the new house. I haven't been there all week so I'm looking forward to seeing what progress has been made on the garage block, which should be almost ready for it's roof to go on. We're hoping to get ready for the plasterers to come and finish in a couple of weeks time, the bathrooms are being tiled at the end of the month and we've pencilled in a date to go to the Aga showroom and order my new best friend, I can't wait!

What have you been up to this week?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Rachael Reviews - Liz Earle Deep Cleansing Mask

My mum was a huge fan of Liz Earle and the smell of Cleanse & Polish and Instant Boost Skin Tonic never fails to remind me of her. She used to sit me down and give me a full Liz Earle 'facial' when I was about 15 and I remember one of my friends coming round one day whilst we were mid-facial and saying 'You're so lucky, I wish my mum did that with me!'

I've kept up my love affair with Liz Earle ever since. Nowadays I always have Cleanse & Polish and Instant Boost Skin Tonic in my bathroom, I usually use these at night but prefer a foaming cleanser in the mornings. The moisturisers are a little too rich for my oil-prone skin but I've recommended them to many friends with dry skin who have been instantly converted to the Liz Earle way. The Liz Earle masks and treatments never disappoint.

So when I decided I needed a deep cleansing mask I was instantly drawn to this one. It's had great reviews and wasn't as expensive as many of the others I looked at. Liz Earle products are the perfect price point in my opinion - expensive enough that you know you're treating yourself but not so ridiculous that you stretch yourself to the limit to buy it then daren't use the stuff!

This mask is clay based and is specifically aimed at oily, congested skin. As you would expect from Liz Earle, it contains naturally active ingredients (including green clay to draw out impurities, manuka honey to soothe and rose-scented geranium to tone and balance) Unusually though, you aren't hit by a gorgeous scent when you squeeze the tube! I think this is down to the high concentration of clay, which also makes it dark in colour. It applies smoothly, dries within 10 minutes and doesn't tingle at all - it's not recommended for sensitive skin so I was expecting it to feel a little tingly on application.

The mask comes complete with two small facial sponges which are absolutely perfect for removing it - the exact texture you need to remove a dried clay mask. On removal my skin felt soft, matte and refreshed. I followed up with Instant Boost Skin Tonic and my usual moisturiser. My skin felt smooth, and looked brighter and a couple of days later I had a couple of tiny tell-tale pimples which let me know that the mask had done it's job. This only happened the first time, subsequent uses haven't causes any blemishes

This lovely mask has become part of my regular skincare routine and if you're in the market for a deep cleansing mask I can highly recommend it. You can buy it from

Do you use face masks regularly? Which would you recommend?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Recipe - Red Onion Marmalade

We are big cheese fans in this house, especially during the colder months. We often take turns with our friends to host wine and cheese nights (nowhere near as pretentious as it sounds, I promise!) where we gather together as many different cheeses, crackers, chutneys and pickles as we can muster from local delis and farmers markets and scoff the lot, washed down with copious amounts of red wine.

If you scour your local deli you'll find there are some amazing chutneys and pickles out there for cheese and I've come up with a few of my own too, which I'll post over the coming months. This particular recipe was born out of a need for a tracklement to accompany baked cheeses such as camembert or grilled goats cheese, where a pickle is just too strong and overpowers the cheese. We've also found ourselves eating it with my homemade chicken liver pate (recipe to come!) and toasted crusty bread, so it's pretty versatile.

You will need

1kg red onions
2 cloves of garlic
70g butter
2tbsp olive oil
70g golden caster sugar
1tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1tsp of dried thyme)
pinch of chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
half a bottle of red wine
325ml red wine vinegar
100ml port
a suitable jar, sterilised

Peel, trim, halve and thinly slice the onions and thinly slice the garlic

Melt the butter and oil over a medium heat, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Sprinkle in the sugar, thyme, chilli flakes and seasoning.

Stir, reduce heat to low-medium and cook for 45-50 minutes (uncovered), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking

When the onions are soft and sticky, pour in your wine, vinegar and port

Simmer (uncovered) for 25-30 minutes over a medium-high heat, until the onions are darkened and the liquid has reduced by around two thirds

When drawing a spoon across the bottom of the pan clears a track which fills with syrupy juice, you are done.

Decant your marmalade into your jar (I sterilise by washing with soapy water and rinsing with boiling water from the kettle) and allow to cool

This luscious marmalade will keep for upto three months in the fridge but it rarely hangs around that long!

Let me know if you try this recipe and what you like to eat it with!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

YouTube Favourites

Before I discovered the world of blogs, I was already a big fan of YouTube videos. I think I had googled 'haircare routine' and been directed to Fleur de Force's channel on YouTube as she had posted a haircare video. From that moment on I was transfixed, I watched every single one of her videos and when she started vlogging every day, every second month I found myself obsessively waiting for her vlogs to be posted as I just loved them so much. I felt like it was a bit of a guilty pleasure, getting a peek into someone's everyday life. A bit like a reality TV programme but more ... real!

Through Fleur's videos I discovered two other vloggers, Tanya and Louise and found myself just as addicted to their videos as Fleur's. All three are very different but I love them all!

Fleur de Force
My first YouTube discovery, I will literally watch anything this girl puts on YouTube and enjoy it! I started watching for her beauty reviews and hauls, I have got some great recommendations (and spent a fortune!) because of her.
Fleur also vlogs every day, every second month (on her vlog channel) and her vlogs are so much fun to watch, she lives in a beautiful house, in a beautiful area, has sweet pets and a lovely boyfriend and most of her days are spent doing something interesting, plus LOTS of shopping. I just love nosing into her life, I can't lie.

Tanya Burr
Fleur mentioned Tanya one day and I watched one of her make up tutorials and was hooked from that moment on. Tanya is a make up artist, she makes make up easy and accessible, gives great recommendations and is really cute! She vlogs sometimes and her boyfriend Jim also makes videos which are hilarious

Louise from Sprinkle of Glitter
As with Tanya, I discovered Louise through one of Fleur's videos. I watched a couple of her videos and just fell in love with her. Louise is just naturally funny, her stories, facial expressions and funny comments crack me up and I could seriously watch her all day. I often find myself rewinding her vidos to rewatch funny bits again and again!
Louise vlogged quite a lot when she was pregnant and listening to her tales of pregnancy woes and worries is just brilliant, her honesty and humour make it fun to be along for the ride. She's just one of those people that makes you think 'I would LOVE to go out drinking with her!'

If you haven't already seen any of these girl's videos I suggest you click the links above and treat yourself!

Do you subscribe to any YouTube channels? Which YouTubers would you recommend?

Monday, 1 October 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness

Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

This is a cause that is very close to my heart as I lost my Mum to breast cancer nine years ago. She was diagnosed at the age of 36 which is considered quite young. She had a couple of operations and various treatments and was given the news that it was in remission. A couple of weeks before her five year 'all clear' appointment it was found that the cancer was back, was aggressive, was already spreading and was considered terminal. My brave Mum kept fighting until she had no fight left and at the age of 45 she died at home with us.

This isn't going to be a sob story post - I'm not looking for any sympathy. All of this happened a very long time ago.

But the fact of the matter is that breast cancer is becoming more common. When my Mum was diagnosed almost 19 years ago, it was one of those things you'd heard about but always assumed happened to Other People - not your own family. But current statistics show that around 550,000 people in the UK are living with breast cancer right now. Around 50,000 cases are diagnosed every year - during October around 4,000 people will receive the devastating news that they have breast cancer.

And it's affecting younger women. Although 80% of breast cancers occur in women over 50, it's also the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women under 35. So it's extremely important that you know how to check your breasts ... and you do it.

During October there will be a post or two that focus on breast cancer charities and the help and advice they can offer to those affected by the disease. I'm not going to let breast cancer dominate the blog but it would feel wrong to let this month go by unmarked in this little patch of the internet. I know that when my Mum was going through it, I wanted to know what help was out there, for her and for us.

If you don't want to read these types of post, don't worry, I won't be offended! But I'm sure you will understand that it feels important to me to do my little bit to raise awareness. 

It's not all bad news, although the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing, survival rates are increasing too as we understand more about the disease, are more aware of it and the treatments are improving. But EARLY DETECTION IS KEY so it's SO important that we check ourselves regularly and know what is normal for us, so that any changes can be flagged up early.

OK, lecture over. I hope at least one of you will find something useful in these posts this month, if not for yourselves then for someone you know. I hope that you'll start checking your breasts, consider buying a pink ribbon or one of the hundreds of 'pink products' that will be everywhere this month or sponsor or take part in one of the many events that will be held around the UK. And when you do, you'll know that you've done your little bit to help.

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