Friday, 30 January 2015

Winter Comfort Reading

Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons, mostly because being cosy at home is my favourite thing. Roaring fires, scented candles, something delicious and warming in the Aga ... what's not to love? And curling up with a good book - although it's a luxury I rarely have time for these days - is one of my favourite ways to spend time on a cold winter day or night.

I have books that I revisit regularly, much loved tomes that I've gathered over the years and find myself coming back to time and time again. People seem to think I'm odd for re-reading books that I already know by heart but the familiar words and characters are such a source of comfort to me. Some are from childhood, some from my teenage years and some from early adulthood - it seems to be years since I found a really wonderful book to add to this special collection. I suppose that reading them is also nostalgic for me and reminds me of past times - the first time I read the book and other times since. I think if I'm honest, that I must reach for a 'comfort book' in especially stressful times because so many of the memories attached to these books are of being comforted

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
I got this book for Christmas when I was about 14 and I was hooked right from the very first word. My mum used to choose the most thoughtful gifts and I remember thinking how well she must have known me when I started reading it. I stayed up until the wee small hours every night over the Christmas holidays, drinking tea, scoffing Dairy Milk and devouring this book with my little Westie dog curled up on the bed beside me. It was heavenly and represents everything that was 'home' to me at that age and provided contentment throughout a difficult time at school

Jinny series by Patricia Leitch
One of my mums friends bought me a Jinny book when I was a horse mad nine year old. I didn't fully understand the (quite adult) themes until years later but I loved reading about Jinny and her Arab horse, Shantih. This was before I had my own pony and I dreamed of owning a beautiful horse of my own. As I grew older and collected the rest of the books in the series I came to understand them a little better and how unique they are - children's books that speak to children as though they are adults. Each story had a well-hidden message, almost like modern day parables, though I didn't realise this until years later. I admired Jinny's fiery temper and steely determination and I wonder if her stubbornness was more of an influence on me in my formative years than I realised! There was always a central theme of the importance of family too and I hope I have a horse mad daughter to share these books with one day.

Flambards series by KM Peyton
Another book that my wonderful mum bought for me, this came from a car boot sale when we were on holiday in Cornwall when I was about 11. It was an old book and the cover wasn't particularly appealing. But of course my mum knew the story already and knew that it would appeal to my love of horses and the interest in boys that was soon to develop! I collected the other books in the trilogy and, years later, a fourth book in the series which was written by a different author but carried on the story seamlessly. Shortly after I bought my own house, years later of course, I discovered that my mum and dad had watched the series on ITV when they were courting. I hunted it down on DVD and it has become a firm favourite - I even persuaded Matt to watch it with me and he became hooked too! 

Jilly Cooper's Rutshire Chronicles
I remember my mum owning a copy of Riders when I was a kid and being horse mad, I was dying to read it. She gently explained that it wasn't really suitable for children, which intrigued me as you can imagine, so I used to sneak into her bedroom to try to pinch it when I was supposed to be in bed! I finally read it as a teenager and understood her reticence! Undeterred, I swiftly collected Polo, Rivals and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and loved each and every one. When I was about 15 I lent Rivals to my best friend and when I called her the next day to confirm what time we were supposed to be meeting she said 'um, ah ... I don't feel well actually, I might stay in' 
'You're reading the book, aren't you?' I asked. And she was! She hadn't made it out of her bedroom all day! I also remember reading Polo one summer when my horse was ill - he was an old boy and a long journey in a horse lorry had resulted in a breathing problem. It was touch and go for a week or so and I spent every waking moment sitting by him in the field, reading my book while he grazed in the fresh air.

The Blue Bedroom by Rosamund Pilcher
This was one of my mum's charity shop finds which I used to pinch and read when I lived at home. In her latter years she didn't have much of an attention span so she used to read collections of short stories and this is a particularly good one. It's charmingly old fashioned, being first published in 1985 and all the stories have happy endings. Reading this book evokes memories of curling up next to my mum on her big brass bed  

Do you comfort read too? Have you read any of my favourites?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Friday Round Up

Keeping cosy in my parents' kitchen last weekend

It's been a really lovely week around these parts, I must say. It started off cold and frosty with a sprinkling of snow and has ended bright and sunny and spring-like. I don't mind the cold weather, in fact I love it, but the sunshine today is reminding me that Spring is on her merry way and that's no bad thing. Yes, my days of wrapping up in cosy layers are nearing their end but more daylight and days spent outside are beckoning and I can't wait until our garden is finished so I can play outside with Forrest.

Jessie managed some sunbathing yesterday

We went car shopping in Lincoln last weekend and tried out some lovely new cars to replace my Volkswagen Touareg. We love this truck but it has some niggling problems which Matt doesn't have time to fix. They are potentially expensive too so it seems the time is right to trade it in for something different. We went out to look at a new Touareg and a Freelander 2 but I sat in a brand new Discovery in the Land Rover showroom and fell in love there and then. I always thought a Range Rover was my dream truck but not any more. Wow. It was stunning (but HUGE!) Remember I had an old Discovery years ago? Well this was something else entirely. We walked away mentally juggling our finances and went for lunch, where we pondered the merits of the truck and whether we should sign up for some sort of finance in order to make it ours. We decided not to in the end, so we're back to our Freelander plan.

Little Things That Have Made Me Happy This Week ...

Fresh flowers
I bought two bunches from M&S last Friday (only a fiver, what a bargain) and they have really brightened up the kitchen. They've also lasted beautifully. I've decided to buy fresh flowers every Friday from now on, I've always enjoyed having flowers around but thought it a bit of an indulgence. I've always discouraged people from buying me flowers as I've thought it a waste of money but I think I've changed my mind.

Discovering a new girl crush on Instagram
I won't name her for fear of embarrassing myself but I have a new girl crush. She is a few years older than me, married with three small boys and lives in a beautiful old farmhouse in the countryside. She knits (!) and bakes and her home is stunning - beautiful, comfortable and full of fun. I have Insta-stalked every photo she has ever posted and even stalked a blog which she hasn't updated for about two years. Yup, I'm a full on loon for the woman! 

A new candle
Half price in the sale, this Rituals candle is fragranced with Lavender and Eucalyptus and it is gorgeous. A bit of a departure from the wintry fragrances I've been enjoying for the last few months but it smells just like a spa and is instantly relaxing.

Starting a memory book
Matt bought me this notebook a while ago (under the candle in the pic above) but I found it lurking in the dresser drawer this week and I'm excited all over again. I wanted a special book to record memories of my mum - I've always had a terrible memory but I think I delivered part of my brain when I delivered Forrest - and this is perfect. It has a gorgeous bird pattern that she would have loved. I'm not going to allow any form of order in this book, it will basically be a brain dump - every time a memory strikes me I will write it down. I'm looking forward to having a full book of wonderful memories to revisit in years to come.

Spring Cleaning
I had my first Forrest-free day since November yesterday! I didn't have time to miss him though, I spent five and a half hours spring cleaning the house. I have a kind of love/hate relationship with cleaning, I have to do it when the mood takes me (because it doesn't very often) and really blitz the place. So I've de-cobwebbed, steam cleaned the floors, deep cleaned the bathroom, cleaned the coffee machine, the washing machine, the tumble drier ... did my hand washing and aired all the clothes I'm too scared to wash (my washing machine is pretty ferocious and I don't trust it with anything delicate) I even filed Matt's tax return and dropped off four bin liners of pre-pregnancy clothes at Womens Aid. I was exhausted last night but the house is sparkling!

Using my new Emma Bridgewater pasta bowls
I've wanted these for ages and I treated myself when they went into the sale. They are just gorgeous! I bought four but should have stuck to two really. They are perfect for cosy comfort food by the fire and I've been using them as much as I can this week! Chicken Chasseur in a pasta bowl, anyone??

Settling into life as a housewife
I'm not a housewife, I do have a job and I do earn my own money (albeit not a lot) But I feel like I've finally settled into the domestic side of life. I'm taking a real pride in our home and the life we're building together and I'm really enjoying it. I'm finding myself investing in our home and our future in a way that I haven't done for a while. I'm feeling a little more energised about getting the house finished and I'm seeing every little step for what it is - a little step nearer the end. There's still a long way to go but I don't let that get me down any more, I'm trying to enjoy the journey rather than wishing it away. Hopefully by the end of the year we'll have made this place as homely as the cottage was

Getting crafty
I bought a book to teach myself to knit! After my last post I decided to take a step towards learning something new. And then I cleared out the dresser and found a little stitching kit that my sister bought me when I was pregnant and decided I ought to try to finish that before I start anything new - I'm a devil for leaving things half-finished. I'm heading in to town later so I might just pop by the knitting shop and buy some needles and yarn though. Just to be prepared.

Finding a surprise treat in the dresser
We bought this to gobble over Christmas but we were too ill and I'd forgotten all about it. Tonight we will rectify that.

This weekend I'll be getting my hair done (finally, my grey roots are almost an inch long!) while Matt takes Forrest swimming and maybe meeting them for lunch afterwards. I'll also be finding and ordering Matt's birthday present - he has requested a chainsaw. I've requested a Kitchenaid. I know, I know, we're WILD! I'd also like to book us a night or two away somewhere. I booked a night at The Boars Head in Ripley for my parents as a Christmas present, they are going this weekend and I am insanely jealous! Matt took me (and the dogs!) for my 30th birthday, it's a gorgeous place and I know they're going to love it.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Tea, Toast & Blog Posts

I was going to do a Friday Round Up today but it seems so long since I did one that there's more than just a week to catch up on. So here I am, cup of tea and toast (granary with butter and marmalade ... mmmm) to hand and a blank page in front of me. It's going to be a long one, you might want to get yourself some tea and toast too ...

 Forrest came home from nursery with Christmas offerings - a proud 'oh my god, we're really parents!' moment

I'm going to be completely honest and admit that December was not a good month for me. I usually love Christmas, as you may know if you've been around these parts for a while, but this year I just wasn't into it. I was feeling really down, really REALLY down and I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for Christmas whatsoever. We didn't even get our tree until about two weeks into December. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, my head was swimming with dark, confusing thoughts and the thought of co-ordinating a family Christmas just made me want to run and hide. 

bed head

I'd really wanted to get back into blogging regularly in December but I simply had nothing positive to write whatsoever. Every time I tried I found myself re-reading the post, realising that I sounded like a woman on the edge and deleting the whole thing. Then, in the few days before Christmas - you know, those super busy days - I came down with a horrible throat and chest infection. I managed to soldier on through the shopping, the decorating, the present wrapping, preparing the house for guests - hell, I even managed to prepare, cook and clear away Christmas dinner (with a lot of help from my gorgeous sister) before surrendering to illness. 

Best Christmas present

Christmas Night bath 

Forrest got ill too and spent a lot of Christmas throwing up (including his Christmas dinner - lovely) and then Matt got a bug too - and we all know that men suffer FAR more than women when they're ill, right?

I found the perfect christmas card for Matt

So Christmas was actually a total washout. We had a house full of food and drink but no appetite. We had big plans for days out and visiting family but we were too ill. Poorly babies don't tend to sleep well so we were up at all hours with the little fella as well as feeling wrung out already due to our own illnesses so our Christmas break consisted mostly of Netflix, cups of tea and a late night dash to the out of hours GP when I found myself unable to breathe and panicked.

I entered January feeling tired, cheated out of a Christmas, ill and extremely fed up with life. I wrote a horribly bitter, bile-laden blog post about those self-shaming people who bang on about 'dry January' or 'clean January' or how much they have/haven't eaten or how far they have/haven't run and how I can't stand hearing women who are a perfectly healthy weight waxing lyrical about giving up sugar or self-flagellating because they ate a bar of chocolate. It wasn't kind and I've deleted it (although MAN it felt good to get it off my chest)

And then, completely out of the blue, I snapped out of it. I just woke up one day and felt better. I made a little list of small things I could do to make myself happy and I started doing them. I wrote down all the things that I didn't do at Christmas and regretted, so that next year I am armed and ready to do better. I took a good look at the house and started making lists of things that need doing and started doing them too. 

I can't explain what happened to flick the switch back but I feel like the old me again and I'm so very grateful for that. December was a bad month but it's over now and things are looking up. Life looks bright again despite the fact that I'm STILL ill - I just can't shake it off - and the weather is fairly grim (is anyone else freezing ALL the time??)

Anyway, the small things I decided to do to make myself happier? Here they are:

We've lived here for over a year now but because the house is still unfinished we have several rooms full of boxes which have yet to be unpacked. We've nowhere to put the stuff once it's unpacked so it's just stayed where it is. I've realised that if we haven't used that stuff in over a year then there's a good chance that we don't need it anymore. So last weekend we went through the boxes and consigned a lot of stuff to charity, eBay or the bin. 

Book an op
I've needed surgery for a while now but I've been putting it off because it's in a um, delicate area (thank you childbirth) and I'm not looking forward to it. But it needs doing and will be a weight off my mind so I went ahead and booked it. Unfortunately it's now been cancelled due to my still being ill so I've rescheduled it for next month. I now have a whole month to get worked up about it again.

Overhaul my makeup
As part of my declutter I sorted through my make up box and passed a bagful of old makeup and brushes to my sister. I've decided that I'm really too old for a lot of the sparkly eyeshadows and lip glosses which have been hanging around in my stash and I need to have a rethink. I almost never wear a full face of makeup anymore - only for evenings out (and they are like hens teeth these days!) so I've pared my collection right back. I've got £154 on my Boots advantage card so I'm going to head to Meadowhall in the next couple of weeks and restock

Make time to pamper
I noticed that I was taking less and less baths because a shower is quicker and time is precious when you don't have much of it. I was also cutting back on other things to save time - exfoliating and moisturising my body, conditioning my hair, painting my nails - and my self esteem had plummeted. So I have started to have at least two gorgeous, oily baths per week and scrub and moisturise/condition my hair once a week at least. Baby steps. My nails still leave a lot to be desired but maybe I'll get round to it this weekend.

Read more
Reading makes me happy but I never seem to find the time these days. So less iPad time and more kindle time is in order.

Blog more
See above. I am brimming with post ideas at the minute!

Learn a new skill
I've found myself yearning to learn something new and I fancy something a bit crafty - quilting is looking top of the list. Or knitting or sewing. I have no idea how to go about it though, usually when I want to learn something I buy a book, read a couple of pages, decide it's too difficult and give up. Time for a new approach, perhaps??

I'm leaving the fairy lights up indefinitely

We've got a lot to look forward to this year. The cottage is sold in principle - a couple moved in last November. They are renting it from us whilst they raise the funds to buy it. We've been assured that the sale will proceed in the next month or so - we've even taken a deposit - but until the money is in the bank we haven't dared to dream! The money from the sale will allow us to finish this house to the standard we want, as well as buying a new car and a much longed for holiday somewhere hot. So fingers crossed. And once the house is finished then perhaps it will be time for baby number two? I've found myself incredibly broody again in the last couple of weeks, basking in my new found happiness and optimism. As you can see, there's a lot hanging on this house sale!

Forrest in his laundry basket. I can't remember the story behind this!

The work on the current house has plodded on, though precious little has been done by us. We lost our motivation a bit towards the end of last year, Matt particularly was loving spending more time with Forrest and really didn't want to spend weekends working on the house as his business was taking a lot out of him and he was tired. But the joiners have been and shelved out our dressing room and we have a beautiful staircase ready to paint and carpet now, we just need to motivate ourselves to pick up our brushes and get on with it a bit. It's hard when you have a toddler to manage too but I'm hoping we can get a bit done when Forrest spends time with his grandparents.

We both have our birthdays next month so hopefully we'll be able to plan something special to mark them. We didn't make much of Christmas so I think we should really make an effort with our birthdays. This weekend we will be looking at new cars and taking Forrest for a spot of lunch and on Sunday Matt will be tackling the fireplace in what was going to be the snug but is now going to be a playroom. Sacrifices eh?

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend 

Friday, 9 January 2015

A Much Needed Break

Last Christmas my parents gave us vouchers for one of our favourite haunts, Crab Manor at Thirsk. We'd just become parents and detaching ourselves from Forrest for a night took much longer than anticipated. We finally managed it last month and only then because our vouchers were about to expire!

We haven't been to Crab Manor for a few years and it's been updated since our last visit, with more themed rooms added. The hotel and restaurant are one of the most fabulously eccentric places I've ever visited, with 17 rooms all themed around famous hotels of the world. The first time we stayed I booked Bora Bora, which was fabulous but gets booked up a long way in advance. This time we opted for Ruka Lodge, a log cabin which has become 'our' room. It is closest to the restaurant and the hot tub is the most private, with a relaxing view into the woods. The floors inside are heated and make those return trips from the hot tub far more bearable!

Unfortunately the rooms all come with wonderfully 'romantic' lighting (i.e. next to no lighting at all) so whilst they are wonderfully ambient and relaxing, they are a nightmare if you want to take a photograph!

The bathroom also has a deliciously heated floor and is full of Molton Brown goodies and dressing gowns and slippers for your hot tub trips

We arrived at about four and headed straight for that wonderful hot tub, armed with the obligatory champagne. I love a hot tub! We've talked about getting one but I can't help but feel that we wouldn't use one if we had access to it all the time. It strikes me as being best kept for a special treat. And it really is - so relaxing and instantly spirit-lifting, soothing away any niggling aches and leaving us blissfully sleepy. So sleepy in fact that Matt had an hour long nap while I got ready for dinner and did my nails!

We skipped the complimentary 7pm canap├ęs in the main house and made our way straight to the restaurant - the most fabulously eccentric restaurant you've ever seen, with all kinds of antiques and unique paraphernalia strewn around and hanging from the rafters - including a full metal diving suit! The food here is marvellous and the service is the best I've ever experienced. We started with grilled fresh Queenie scallops for me, drenched in garlic butter and topped with mature cheddar, gruyere and fresh breadcrumbs. Matt had pork ribs in a sticky orange, ginger, Jack Daniels and treacle sauce with Chinese spices. The scallops were beautiful but Matt wasn't enamoured by the ribs, claiming I made better at home (!) For main, I had slowly braised ox cheek with Port and Madeira, honey glazed carrots and parmesan and brioche macaroni cheese. It was absolutely delicious but even I couldn't finish the enormous pile of meltingly tender meat, it was a hugely generous portion! Matt had Lobster Thermidor - steamed lobster, Queenie scallops and king prawns in a mustard, mature cheddar and  and brandy cream sauce. With chips of course! Unsurprisingly we didn't have a square inch of space left between us for dessert or even coffee, so we waddled back to the lodge and heaved ourselves into the hot tub for a last, whale-like bask in the bubbles before collapsing into our large comfortable bed for the night. Our room had been turned down while we were at dinner and miniature Molton Brown lip balm and mouthwash had been left on the bed, a luxurious little treat

You can guess how we started the morning ... well you've got to make the most of your own private hot tub, right??

After a quick spruce up we returned to the restaurant for breakfast

We each had the 'full Yorkshire breakfast', which was a bit of a letdown to be honest. But then if you've ever seen me Instagram a picture of my full cooked breakfast you'll realise that to me a 'full' breakfast means 'no space left on the plate'! I should have had the steak and eggs. Next time ...

We made our way up to the main house to check out and I couldn't resist some pictures of the beautiful gardens. When I am a millionaire and can pay people to manicure my garden, it will look something like this

The house is beautiful too, full of more quirky treasures, including a gigantic yeti halfway up the stairs and a hidden beer tap in the hall - a pint glass is left in your room and if you find the hidden tap you can drink your fill of free beer. 

If you want to treat yourself to a special getaway in Yorkshire I'd highly recommend Crab Manor. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2015 ....

I wasn't planning a New Year post, simply because everyone does one and I hate to feel like I've succumbed to a blogging cliche (even when I have). But it really wouldn't feel right not to mark the end of a year and the beginning of new one. 

Last year was wonderful for so many reasons - watching Forrest grow and sharing new experiences with him was just wonderful, as you'd expect. But 2014 was not without its challenges and I'm not naive enough to think that they are over and done with simply because the calendar has ticked over into a new year. 

I do, however, want to wish you all the very best for 2015. I hope it brings love, laughter and fulfilment for every one of you.

Thank you for sticking with this little blog even though the content wasn't quite up to scratch - that's something I'm hoping to improve this year.

And here's to 2015 ... whatever it might bring.

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