Chocolate Cake with Cherry Buttercream Icing

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The urge to bake overtook me last week, I had been inspired by my pinterest feed when I saw this pic:

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Unfortunately I couldn’t get the recipe without subscribing and paying the site, which is fair enough, I suppose, but I didn’t feel like paying for a recipe when I was just having some fun baking at home.

I decided instead to make my own version so I looked up a simple chocolate cake recipe and then made my own cherry flavoured buttercream icing and, as usual, it started off disastrously.

I followed the normally reliable BBC Good Food’s website and a recipe that was literally called; easy chocolate cake. And let me tell you, it was not easy, it called for oil instead of butter, and it did not produce chocolate cake. Instead it produced sunken burnt sponge bowls that smelt weirdly of popcorn.

At this point I would normally have given up and packed the mixer away for another day, but whilst the disaster cakes had been burning in the oven, I had been making cherry flavoured buttercream icing, and shock! Horror! It had actually turned out rather well!

I had used this recipe to make the base of the icing and then I added a generous dollop of ASDA’s Very Special Cherry preserve. It turned the icing a lovely pink colour and gave it a cherry rich taste.

In fact the icing had turned out so well I decided to bake a fresh cake that would be worthy of such a delicious topping.

For round two I used this recipe from House and Garden that was actually easy, and the result was pretty flawless;

Just look at that beautiful cake! I then employed Rob to slice it in half using the old fishing wire technique which he executed with precision resulting in two level halves.

 

Then it was just a case of putting the cake and icing together and topping off with some chocolate curls:

And voila! Chocolate and cherry cake ready for devouring! It tasted lovely and sweet, in fact I liked it so much that I ended up having some for breakfast the next day! But that can be our little secret!

 

Five Movies I could (and do) Watch on Repeat

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A good movie is great comfort to the soul. I remember that Glee episode where it is revealed the Mr Schuester watches Singing in the Rain every time he is sick and I know I am exactly the same. When I am sick, tired or drained there is nothing quite like revisiting a story with familiar faces and reassuring promises that good will triumph over evil in the end.

Here are five movies that are on the top of my DVD pile:

For Romance: Down With Love

This is my favourite romantic comedy of all time. It is delicious eye candy from start to finish. Overly stylized with superb sixties outfits, fake and romantic back drops and a score that punctuates every joke in this zany farce. It’s sweet, funny and bright. Perfect for when you need cheering up, not so good if you are on a diet; chocolate is heavily featured.

Oh and it has the tightest script, not a single line is wasted and they pack so many jokes into 90 minutes that the time will fly by!

For Blockbuster Fun: Jurassic Park

I can recite this movie, word for word by heart  but if it comes on the telly I will watch it again. It is all so perfectly done. The T-Rex attack, the build up of the raptors as the most deadly animal, the beauty of the special effects that are so good that you accept the dinosaurs as they are. Not to mention the brilliant characters who nearly all get a proper character arc. And that music score that lifts your heart as the helicopter sweeps over the island. Pure Blockbuster perfection!

For Sci-Fi: The Fifth Element

The day after our wedding Rob and I checked into a hotel at Manchester Airport so that we would be ready the next morning for our flights to our Honeymoon in Turkey. I was very happy, but also very tired. My mind was still in ‘to-do list/organisational/event planning’ mode even though there was no more event to plan. I just couldn’t switch off. Then Rob turned on the TV and the Fifth Element was on, we both collapsed on the bed and with the help Bruce Willis, Mila Jovovich and a flying ball of dark matter heading straight for Earth, we gently came down out of the wedding buzz and began to relax.

For Creature Feature: Lake Placid

Lake Placid borders somewhere between tongue-in-cheek horror and outright parody of creature horror movies. It’s funny more than it is scary but it will give you second thoughts about paddling in the nearest lake. I have strong memories of watching this with my friends as a teenager and I still think it is hilarious today especially the cranky old lady mouthing off to the police!

For Old Style Hollywood: High Society

Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra singing and lounging around a millionaire’s palatial home. They exchange sharp barbs and cool wit over coffee, drink cocktails by the pool, and misbehave in a the most glamorous pre-wedding shindig you will ever see. I love every minute of it!

Currently… May 2017

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Yikes! It has been over a month since I last blogged anything and I have no idea how that happened. Here is what is going on right now:

Currently I am…

Getting the most out of the Bank Holidays. Last Bank Holiday Monday we got up and out of the house for half nine and headed straight to Spring Wood in Whalley for a walk around the bluebell filled woods. It was brilliant! Orla loved exploring the paths and it was a challenge to keep her still enough to take a couple of photos. We left just as the car park was getting busy and headed off for brunch!

Reading blogs again. I had gotten out of the habit of flicking through my blog reader but I’ve recently taken it up again. I use BlogLovin on my phone and laptop to group all the blogs I follow together. I am currently really enjoying Cupcakes and Cashmere for sunny LA fashion and Marcus Design for beautiful interior designs.

Gardening. The garden is the main reason why we bought our house. It is massive, practically a small field. The look we are going for is part English Cottage garden and part wildflower meadow. We are letting a large segment of the garden grow wild and try to encourage natural wild flowers and bees as much as possible, we have an impressive sweep of forget-me-nots and bluebells at the moment. Then we have a patch of tidy lawn and a full flower bed near the kitchen door. There is always more jobs to do then we will ever get to but it’s so cool to see what changes have taken hold now that we are entering into our third year of living here.

Marveling at Orla’s independent spirit.  We took her to Blackpool’s Sea Life Centre last weekend and try as we might we could not get her to pay any attention to the many wonderful sea creatures there. Instead, all she wanted to do was dance in the pretty seahorse light they were beaming on the floor. I guess this is how we know we are entering into the toddler world! Little Miss Strong Will!

Watching Taskmaster. Every Tuesday night, 9pm on Dave is the most random comedy game show that is an absolute joy. Five comedians complete silly games and tasks to be awarded points by the taskmaster; Greg Davies. Any description doesn’t do it any justice but it is good natured and it really makes me laugh each week and I find it is perfect for helping me unwind from the day and go to bed happy.

Miss Patina Summer Picks

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I am in the middle of a beauty and style revamp at the moment. We have just finished decorating our bedroom which has been a great opportunity to clear out clothes that I don’t wear or don’t fit anymore. I am very loyal to the clothes that I buy and tend to keep them for years but post baby and almost thirty I have found I am less inclined to wear the things I picked out at 19. Time for some changes!

I am getting ready to refresh my wardrobe with some new pieces and I have been drooling over one of my favourite British designs; Miss Patina. They’re clothes are whimsical, well made and have a vintage feel. I already have two pinafore dresses that are great for winter with tights and long sleeved tees underneath but I am really in need of some summer outfits.

And I know that this is coming across as a sponsored post but scouts honour, this is just me putting the links to clothes I would like in a place I will remember! Plus I actually do like it when other bloggers share their wish lists, that’s how I find out about new designers to stalk! I do genuinely love Miss Patina and think it would be cool if more people knew about them.

Here are the things in their new collection that are currently on my Wish List.

The Jane Austen Dress

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Ignore the awful shoes and sock combo and replace them with some sandles and you are ready for all riverside picnics the summer may offer. I love the collar and the fact that it has pockets! In fact, my other two Miss Patina dresses also have pockets, it’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back to their site!

Unicone Cardigan

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Unicorns are the new Flamingos – they are everywhere! And whilst the trend has not really appealed to me so far, I will admit that I find this cardigan rather cute, especially for summer evenings when it is getting cool but you are not ready to go inside yet. £55 is a bit steep for a cardi though, may have to wait for the sale for this one.

Vanilla Petal Top

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I love this collar detail and the shade of cream, I just can’t decide if a big collar like this would work on someone with a larger bust. Also because the top is tucked in to the skirt on all of the photos I can’t work out how long it is. I am so close to loving it but I feel this is one of those items that you need to see in person to decide whether or not you really want it.

Peppermint Playsuit

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Look how happy the model is! Maybe it’s impossible not to be happy in a playsuit? I think this looks really cute. I love the pattern and how light weight it looks. It is a little bit short but then again would be a good thing to slouch around the garden in and try and get a bit of sun on your legs.

Loop the Loop Dress

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This one is from their sale section and is only £25! Swoon! Sometimes all you need is a classic summer dress in a vibrant colour. I love the cut out collar, the nipped in waist and the contrasting hem. I think I would also like the shoes too with this one!

Well, those are the pieces that are luring me back to shopping. Is anyone else doing a summer wardrobe revamp?

 

The Benefits of Bible Journaling

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What is Bible Journaling?

Bible Journaling is when you illustrate a Bible Verse with a picture or with creative lettering in the margins of your Bible. It is a creative way of expressing prayers and thoughts and meditating.

I have always liked highlighting and writing notes in my Bible and notebooks to help me remember what I have read or to organise my thoughts. Bible Journaling is doing this in beautiful ways. The idea is that when you flick through your Bible there will be an eye catching and visual journal of what God has been teaching you as you read and study his word.

How did I start?

I came across it on Facebook  and then I joined a Facebook Bible Journaling group to find out more. I looked at what other people did and lost a fair few hours watching You Tube videos of tutorials and women flipping through their Bible Journal.

At first, I didn’t like the idea of drawing in my Bible, it was already cluttered with my notes! So I began by using a scrapbook and having a go at a couple of the monthly challenges that were set in the Facebook Group. These were really good prompts to get me started. One of the first challenges I did had this prompt:

This month we are looking at Colossians 3:23
‘Whatever you do,work at it with all your heart,as working for the Lord,not human masters.’
The art work or presentation is totally free choice. The challenge is to respond on the page with a prayer.Looking forward to seeing what God says to us all.

I spent time thinking about this verse and it challenged me. When I finished my piece of Bible Journaling piece I posted this on the group:

This verse got me thinking about my attitude to being a mum. Sometimes looking after a baby is so relentless that I begin to resent the time I have with my daughter, as if she is keeping me from doing my ‘real’ work for the Lord. My prayer is that I will instead see that raising my baby is the centre of my ministry. That being a good mum can be an act of worship and service to God, as much as worship leading or preaching is.

Once I knew what I wanted to express the artwork came together quickly.  I wanted to put Orla at the centre of my life’s work so using Google images, tracing paper, watercolour paints and a black pen put this together:

I loved that image so much that when I did eventually get a Journaling Bible I transferred it to the cover of my Bible so that I would always remember my true priorities.

How do I journal now?

After a couple of months of using my scrap book I felt that I wanted to start journaling in a Bible. Rob got me the Bible above for my Birthday, it has big margins so it is perfect for Bible Journaling.

Here is my current process:

  1. I read my Bible and if anything stands out to me  I make a note of it on a mini post it note and stick it in the page. In my old Bible I would just highlight the verse or write a note straight on the page, but for my journaling Bible I want to keep the pages clean until I have decided what to do with it.
  2. When I have decided on a verse to journal, I will read it a few times, research the passage and spend some time thinking and praying about it. I may make notes about it in a separate notebook.
  3. Often as I do this an image will come to mind. If I can I will draw it myself, or if it is beyond my artistic ability (which doesn’t take much) I will look up similar images online to copy or trace.
  4. I then will spend a couple of evenings actually doing the artwork. Sometimes I do a practice run in my scrap book, sometimes I just go for it.
  5. When its done I add the date and a tab made out of washi tape to help me find it easily.

Is it helpful or is a distraction from actually understanding and obeying God’s word?

If I illustrate my Bible with the skill of artists or Instagram Bloggers, but do not follow the word, I am only a scribbling toddler or a messy scrawler. If I have the gift of acrylic and can paint without bleed-through, and if I have calligraphy that can rival wedding invitations but do not understand what I write, I am nothing. If I decorate each page of my Bible in array of colours and wonder but do not love God, I gain nothing.   

The criticism of Bible Journaling is that it is a hobby that feels spiritual but actually doesn’t encourage growth in faith or love. The videos and blogs and Instagram accounts filled with illustrated verses encourages people to compare and compete with one another more than it does to encourage them to be like Jesus.

Nearly every blog I have read about Bible Journaling has been pre-faced with ‘it’s not about being perfect’, which is good but the fact that it needs to be said shows that there is a potential trap there.

It is also really easy to give ourselves a pat on the back for creating a pretty picture about loving our neighbour, but painting the picture is no substitute for actually loving our neighbour. If Bible Journaling is doing it’s job it should motivate us to not want to leave the words in the page, it should be part of the process to turn the words into flesh in our lives. The time we spend drawing and thinking about the verse should be building up our will to live the verse; to be more generous, more patient, to trust in God, to forgive that person.

And actually, for me, I have found Bible Journaling has strengthened my resolve to follow God’s leading. It has become a way for me to mediate on things God has said and it has stuck with me.

One example I can share is this verse:

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. 2 Chronicles 20:17

I thought about this verse for weeks. There was a situation that I was worrying about because I couldn’t see a way to fix it without having to cause a fight. Through this Scripture I felt God was telling me not to try and fix it but to trust in Him. I was not to bow to pressure or change what I believed but that it wasn’t on my shoulders to rush in and sort everyone out. (as if I could anyway!)

Since then this verse and image has appeared in my mind whenever I am worrying about things I can’t possibly control. When I remember this verse I stop worrying, I say to God ‘I trust you’, and I go and do something else.

I find that Bible Journaling is a good tool for meditation especially if you are not good at sitting still and just thinking. It normally takes me about two evenings to complete one entry and all that time I am painting, drawing, planning and writing I am also thinking about God’s word, and that can only be a good thing.

The other thing I have benefited from is the Bible Journaling Facebook Group, far from being a snarky environment of competition and shallow perfectionism, the group has been a supportive and celebratory culture to belong to. It’s really good to talk about the scriptures with a new group of people, especially when we all draw out different thoughts from the same verse. I have found what other people share to be inspiring and encouraging and it opens the door for us to connect with one another.
My conclusion is that Bible Journaling is a great activity to slow you down and help you to engage with God and to connect with others and I would recommend anyone who is interested to just have a go and see how you find it.

Cathy’s Kitchen and Lazy Baking

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I am beginning to realise that the reason a lot of my bakes go wrong is that I am a little bit lazy. I always start with good intentions but then time seems to slip away and when I am about two thirds done I start rushing to just get it finished.

Case in point; I made what was supposed to be an ‘Extra Special Ginger Sponge Cake’ last week.

My attempt looked like this:

Yeah. It’s a mess!

Here are the things I did wrong:

  • I was meant to grease and line the baking tins. I ran out of lining paper so I only lined the sides of the tin and not the bottom. Not sure why I thought it would be OK. Quite a bit of the sponge stuck to the pan when I was getting it out and made two quite wonky sponges. At this point I would say that the cake was rustic but passable.
  • I hadn’t checked my stock of icing sugar and it turns out I only had enough icing sugar left to make buttercream for the middle but not enough to make any for the top.
  • I did have a bag of fondant icing sugar so I thought I would use that instead. But it was getting late at that point so I didn’t bother sieving it. Mistake! This caused lumpy icing
  • I should have added the water to the icing sugar a spoon at a time but it was taking too long so I added some straight from the tap. Mistake! I soon had very runny icing and no sugar left to thicken it up.
  • Then I thought I would pour the icing on top of the cake and if it ran down the sides it would do so in a drippy but indulgent fashion. It didn’t. It ran down the sides and pooled under the cake straight on to the worktop because I hadn’t bothered to put a tray underneath.
  • ‘Top the cake with crystallized ginger and dark chocolate swirls’ the recipe said. I didn’t have any chocolate swirls. I had planned to use chocolate sprinkles instead but actually I didn’t have any chocolate sprinkles in either. At this point I knew I had a disaster on my hands but stuff it, I was going to finish it anyway, so I artfully placed some lumps of crystallized ginger in a wonky circle and ta da! My masterpiece was done.

I was so fed up with this cake and it was so late by the time I was finished that I didn’t even try any of it until the next day. I am pleased to report that it tasted much better than it looked. Also it looked a lot better when it was cut into slices so I have been able to share it without being too ashamed of it’s presentation.

Next time I promise to double check the ingredients, prepare properly and take no short cuts…..or  I will scrap the icing altogether and just make the sponge and serve it warm with custard!

 

 

Ten Epic Features in Watership Down

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Watership Down is one of those books that I read about every two years. I can come back to it again and again. In fact between me and my Dad we read his copy so much that it has pretty much fallen apart.

After reading it again this last month I thought I would share what makes this bunny book a classic epic:

  • A very long journey – Odysseus travelled from Troy to Ithaca,  Aeneas  made his journey from Troy to the land that would be Rome, Frodo toiled on long roads from the Shire to Mount Doom, and back again! The foundation of the epic is a journey. Hazel and his companions may only travel a few miles in their quest for a new home but when you are living in rabbit scale this becomes a journey of huge risk and adventure.
  • A resourceful hero – In epics the main hero is often not the strongest man or bravest warrior but the most resourceful leader. Bigwig is the strongest rabbit in the company but Hazel is the leader. Epic heroes value independence and winning through cleverness and daring. Hazel embodies all of these characteristics, he doesn’t fight his way out of problems, he thinks his way out. I think in books it is more satisfying to see a cunning plan executed than it is to read about a stronger man winning the fight.
  • A talented crew – Hazel is the undisputed leader but each one of the rabbits in his group have their own role in the adventure. Fiver is the intuitive and prophetic guide, Bigwig is a warrior and secondary leader, Holly offers experience and wisdom, Dandelion is the storyteller lifting their spirits, Blackberry is the clever one working out mechanical tricks. Even little Pipkin’s observations and brave loyalty play their part. Each rabbit is needed, each rabbit contributes and when they combine their skills they are able to pull off amazing feats.
  • A Background Mythology –  The tales the rabbits tell of Frith and El-Ahrairah  help build the rabbit world into a sophisticated culture. The mythology gives the rabbits inspiration to take on their challenges and lifts their spirits when on the brink of giving up.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

  • Stories within stories – Speaking of the mythology of rabbits, the use of stories within stories is another common feature of epics. Richard Adams punctuates the adventure with short stories told by Dandelion, they change the pace of the story and remind us that in the end we are all stories, which Hazel realises as his own adventure becomes a myth told to the kittens in the end of the novel. The stories also foreshadow the supernatural elements of the adventure.
  • Supernatural Intervention – An epic is hardly an epic without a touch of magic. When it is clumsily done the magic descends out of nowhere and fixes all the problems; a classic deus ex machina (Doctor Who episodes are notorious for doing this). But when it is done right, it is like a myth reaches a hand through the mist to lift our heroes just enough to help them out of the impossible but not so much as to render their own actions meaningless. Watership Down does it perfectly in the confrontations against General Woundwort. The supernatural is there in Fiver’s prophetic authority, in Hazel’s inspiration and in the storm that seems to be at Bigwig’s command, but these interventions empower our rabbits actions and natural talents, it doesn’t minimize them.
  • A cowardly temptation – Being a hero is hard work and in a good epic a hero will be given a tempting offer to set aside the adventure and settle down. Whether they are lotus eating island dwellers or forest walking elves, there are always providing a place of rest. But there is also a price. Cowslip’s warren has good food, no predators and plenty of room for the ragamuffin wanderers but it is also littered with deadly snares. To stay would mean surrendering tricks and wiles and to accept death when it comes. Such an option is too cowardly and awful for the rabbits, and to live a life at the mercy and beneficiary of humans is disdainful to them.
  • A fearsome adversary  – A story is only as entertaining as the villain. Whilst mankind provides lots of danger to the story, it is Woundwort who is the most fearsome bad guy of the piece. He’s strong, well resourced, clever and a formidable enemy. On top of this he is also nuanced, he has his reasons and he is not wholly evil. In fact the moment when he almost considers a peace treaty is one of the most beautifully written glimpses in to the hearts of those who fail to take their last chance to be a good man (or rabbit). Woundwort is terrifying and his tyranny pushes our rabbits to use every inch of their strengths and cunning.

    “At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit’s idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him.”

  • A trip to the underworld – All epic heroes have to face death, many actually visit Death in his  own realm! Even Harry Potter enters into a twilight after-world in the Deathly Hallows. A good hero makes sacrifices for the good of their followers and the ultimate sacrifice is death. Heroes who visit the underworld are showing their willingness to die for their people. Hazel’s journey is foreshadowed in the tale of the Black Rabbit and takes place when he is shot by the farmer. Luckily for us, an epic hero always returns from the underworld to carry on the adventure.
  • A happy ending – The heroes win the battle, the bad guys are vanquished and often an epic ends at home; a good home with good people, and a good future. The rewards visible at the ending have to be wonderful – they justify the pain suffered and the price paid by heroes to create a safe place where children and children’s children may flourish. Nearly all epic journeys and battles are fought purely to bring us all back to the love and warmth of home.

Currently… February 2017

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February has been a full month, we have had a window added to our bedroom, installed fitted wardrobes and had a mini-break in Wales with some lovely friends. Here is what going on in my life at the moment.

Currently I am…

img_20170201_142018_904.jpgWalking in the park more now that the sun is staying out for longer. This photo does not do justice to a beautiful reflected sunset I saw the other week. I am so grateful for having a park so close to our house, it does me such good to just get outside for a few minutes and get some fresh air.

dsc_1841.jpgBlinking in the brightness of this colourful array of yarn. I discovered this gorgeous arts and craft shop in a tiny Wales village called Montgomery. The shop was small and crooked, all the floors slanted and the door frames were wonky, and there was a ginormous but friendly Irish Wolfhound sitting by the tills. It was a bit like being in Wonderland!

dsc_1864.jpgPlaying with Orla. Now that she is a fully fledged one year old, Orla’s repertoire of games has vastly expanded. She now likes playing with stickers, bubbles and pouring her drink on to the carpet whenever I am not looking.

dsc_1875.jpgGoing all out  for movie night. Last week we decided to do movie night properly. We rented classic Sci-Fi film Dune. We pulled the sofa up to the telly, dimmed the lights and lit candles. Rob made popcorn and salted caramel from scratch and I poured the wine. It was bliss! Think we might do the same this weekend.

dsc_1894.jpgJumping on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I have been using this journal to track my goals and to-do lists since January. The biggest change it has helped me to make is to keep on top of the house work. I have a list of 8 daily household chores and 6 weekly or fortnightly chores. Even though I rarely tick everything off, I find I am getting a lot more done and the housework is feeling more manageable. I now take this journal with me everywhere I go, it my top new accessory!

Dining Room Display Wall

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Rob and I had this project in mind for months, but in the last few weeks we have finally finished our display wall in the dining room.

We had this big blank wall in the dining room that we wanted to fill with some chunky floating shelves and a few of our prints. Rob made the shelves himself from some spare wood that we had and thought they would be a good setting to display Rob’s vintage camera collection. Having a guitar easily accessible is another bonus!

dsc_1900.jpgRob designed two of these prints and the Magpie in the top hat is the work of Jon Turner, one of our favourite artists from Manchester Comic Con. You can check out more of his work here.

dsc_1901.jpgdsc_1902.jpgI struggled to get a good photo of this print (or actually I was too lazy to go and get the good camera instead of using my phone) but I do love this piece Rob made. It reminds us to build our family by design, not by default, and to be intentional with how we want to live our lives. It is a good family motto for us.

dsc_1903.jpgI am really happy with our display wall, as it is full of things that make us happy, photography, music, art and pretty vintage things! There is also room to add more to the display over the years and would be easy to rotate things on the shelves from time to time. I could see us dressing this up for Christmas or swapping the cameras for other trinkets!

Her Ladyship’s Notebook:Warmest Smile

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Sometimes the most mesmerising person in the room is the one with the warmest smile.

– Camilla Morton

A genuine smile is worth a thousand words, and all of them are lovely. Smiles are beautiful even when your lip liner is wonky and your teeth are crooked. Smiles lift your spirit, they invite the world in to share your happiness, smiles spark conversations and open doors into countless friendships.

A warm smile says ‘ I am glad to see you. I am happy that you are here. You are wanted and I enjoy your company.’ They help us to connect with one another in a joyful way.Never underestimate the power of a smile to turn around some one’s day. Smiles are contagious, they sneakily infect people with tiny doses of happiness – even as they are determined to be grumpy.

Beauty trends come and go, fashion rotates on a speedy carousal but  a warm smile is an unchanging marvel of beauty. Never leave home without one.