Orla at One

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This time last year I was less than a month into motherhood. I was sleep deprived, exhausted and completely intrigued by this tiny little baby in my arms. What would she be  like? What is her temprement? Will she have a favourite colour? What will make her happy? Will she ever sleep? (Answer to the last one was ‘yes, but not until 11 months!’)

Now a year on, the blanks are filling in and it feels like every couple of days Orla reveals something new and wonderful about herself. This is what I can tell you about Orla at one:

  • She tells stories I can’t understand but they all end in a happy screeching cheer
  • Dances by bobbing her knees or bouncing on her bottom
  • Sleeps through the night….well, almost
  • Has two bottom teeth
  • Has an infectious and rambunctious laugh
  • Eats everything, especially if it is on your plate instead of hers
  • Loves animals and tries to follow any dog at the park
  • Snuggles when tired
  • Knows the word ‘elephant’
  • Nods her head when you say ‘yes’
  • Says ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ and ‘yesssss’
  • Gives ‘goodnight kisses’ every evening.

What a star!

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Eight Reasons to Shop at Booths

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Booths is a Lancashire based supermarket that in the last couple of years opened a branch in Barrowford, and has become one of my favourite spots this last year. Their specialty is quality local food and a good range of wine and spirits, similar in feel and price to M&S food but with more of a Farmers Market feel.

Here are the reasons why I love Booths:

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  1. Free daily hot drink for card members when bought with food.

Whilst doing a supermarket shop can be expensive in Booths, the prices in the cafe are brilliant for the quality of food you get. My mum and I often go and order two soups and two hot chocolates, and one cake for lunch and get change back from a tenner.

The free drink with a Booths card (which is also free) is a great deal. I remember one evening last year when I was heavily pregnant and tired and had half an hour to kill in town before meeting Rob. I went to the cafe and spent 60p on a KitKat chunky and then took my free hot chocolate to a sofa by the window and watched the rain fall onto the park opposite. It was bliss!

2. The baby friendly cafe layout!

Whilst we are talking about the cafe, I have to say it is an absolute haven for mum’s with babies, in fact there is often at least half a dozen mums there every time I go. The cafe is spacious, with plenty of room in between tables to maneuver prams and high chairs without disturbing other customers. There are three sets of big comfy sofas that are great spots for breastfeeding and there is a play area for toddlers too. I’ve found a lot of cafes have become out of bounds since having Orla, simply because there isn’t enough room for us, so to find a spacious eating area is fantastic.

3. The cake selection makes my mouth water

Mini Blueberry Loafs, big fat Chocolate Fudge Cakes, bright pink macaroons the size of the palm of your hand are just some of the delights in the cake stall. I think I may have sampled the whole sweet menu by now. I love it all, and they often have a tray of samples about which empty very quickly!

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4. The Afternoon Tea for Two actually feeds three people!

I love an afternoon tea and Booths do a lovely generous one that requires you to have extra napkins to wrap up the left over cake to take home! Card Holders also have the option of upgrading to free Prosecco with theirs instead of Tea!

5. Their selection of wines and spirits make for good presents

Rhubarb flavoured gin, anyone? Pink Champagne? Since Booths opened Rob and I have kept our drinks trolley well stocked with a nice mix of our favourite tipples!

6. The frozen fish pie keeps me going on too-lazy-to-cook days

On days when cooking is one step too far and ordering in is one sin too many, Booths fish pie comes to my rescue. It is so easy to just put in the oven and wait an hour. If I am feeling a little bit virtuous I may also boil up some peas to go with it. Easy peasy comfort food.

7. Free Samples

Booths embraces the free sample marketing technique. Sometimes there are tiny squares of chocolate orange tiffan on the cafe bar, and sometimes there are cheese samples by the deli. And most excitedly of all, they sometimes set up a big barrel by the wine shelves with a generous array of whiskys to sample with a sales person to talk you through the different options. Delightful!

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8. The Booths Christmas Book

The Booths Christmas Book appears late November and is the grown up equivalent of the ARGOS catalogue, it is just page after page of delicious festive treats beautifully laid out. The book is so wonderfully made that I can’t bring myself to throw them out. I still have 2015’s on the kitchen shelf! I know it is only a catalogue inciting you to buy more things but it is also a thing of beauty – like a Christmas Food Pinterest board that you can hold and wander through at your leisure!

 

Her Ladyship’s Notebook: On Black Tights

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Aw, how I love a good pair of black tights. They look great with heels, pumps or boots. You don’t need to shave your legs or paint your toes to wear them. They offer a protective layer against shoes that rub and against the cold. And they show off the leg whilst looking demure at the same time!

Black tights are my staple at work, I wear them nearly year round and begrudge the months of June, July and August when it feels a bit wrong to wear black tights, even if it is still freezing outside.

I love today’s quote from Nina Garcia’s book; The One Hundred, which goes through the one hundred items of clothing a woman “needs” to have in her wardrobe. Some of her choices are undoubtedly questionable; animal print? No, thank you!  But I agree with her one hundred percent on the magic, the wonder, the allure (spoken in a Miranda voice) of the wonderful and very-British staple of black tights!

Aside: I am completely guilty of thinking a short skirt will become instantly acceptable if partnered with black tights! Until I read this I thought I was the only one who did that!

 

2016 Reading Summary

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Flicking through Pinterest and my new favourite internet distraction; Mumsnet I have seen a few book reading challenges for 2017 with goals of reading 50 books this year, or taking a vow to not buy new books in 2017 and only read the books you already own.

It got me thinking about my own reading habits so I scanned through all of my Book Bag posts of the last year to see how many books I read in a year. Here are my findings:

I only finished thirteen books! I am normally a quick and avid reader but Orla’s arrival and sleep deprivation seriously reduced the time I could spend reading. No more long soaks in the bath with a book or basking in the garden with a pile of reading by my side. Here are all the books I read in the last year:

  • Rosie Hopkins Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgon
  • Bounce; The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed
  • The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth,
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King,
  • The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan
  • Fables Volume 12; The Dark Ages
  • Nurse Heatherdale’s Story by Mrs Molesworth,
  • Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger
  • Breakout Churches by Thom S. Rainer
  • Fables Volume 13; The Great Fables Crossover
  • The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown,
  • Off to the Lakes by Jessica Lofthouse
  • Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright

Nearly half of my reading has been non-fiction. Six out of the thirteen books I read were non-fiction. I am quite pleased with that, it was my goal a couple of years ago to read more non-fiction to learn new things. At first I struggled finding things to interest me but now I really enjoy reading non-fiction. I think the trick is finding very clever people who are passionate about their field of interest and have a desire to share that with others. Academics writing for academics is very dull but writing fueled by passion is always interesting even if at first the subject matter is a bit foreign to you.

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5 of the books were loaned by friends. It’s great sharing books with friends, it means that you have someone to talk about the book with! I love having a good natter about a good book, or a good moan about a frustrating one! Sharing books also helps you to understand your friends more; your reading choices reveal something about you and if someone shares a book with you then you know they are sharing something they found interesting, or uplifting or helpful. It is special to them and they are sharing it with you. It’s a beautiful thing!

I bought 6 books last year. I would suspect that this is an above average spending on books on my part. I normally use the library almost exclusively swapping three books every three weeks but with less time for reading I couldn’t keep to the deadlines and ended up buying more books to read in my own time. Usually I only buy books if I am confident that I am going to read them repeatedly. Speaking of which…

7 of the books are definite keepers that I will be returning to. They are mostly the fiction ones. As much as I enjoy non-fiction I don’t have the same desire to re-read them as I do with actual stories. Although the Elements of Eloquence is the exception to that rule, I loved that book! The ones I would happily read again are:

  • The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown,
  • Nurse Heatherdale’s Story by Mrs Molesworth,
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King,
  • The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth,
  • Rosie Hopkins Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgon
  • Fables Volume 12; The Dark Ages.

I will be interested to do a reading summary again in a year’s time to see if it is wildly different from 2016!

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Currently…. January 2017

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How am I filling my days in 2017? Well, currently I am….

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Working again. My year of maternity leave has come to an end and I have returned to work part time. So far, I am really happy to be back and it has made for a nice change. As amazing as my daughter is, it is nice to be able to get up and leave a room without having to either carry a baby with me or rush and get something before she figures out I’ve gone.

Sleeping through!  Another big change is that I am now sleeping through the nights! I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to wiggle down into bed and know that I don’t have to get up till morning. Unfortunately, Orla still wakes up a couple of times but for the last two weeks our strategy has been that Rob is dealing with her instead of me. This has weaned her off the night feeds and has given me a break from the sleep deprivation. Hurrah!

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Meeting Rodney, my friend’s gorgeous new puppy! He is a cross between a Pug and a Collie and he is extremely adorable. We have planned to do a baby/puppy meet up every week and once he has had all of his injections I think we will be doing lots of excursions to the park together!

Celebrating Orla’s birthday. My little girl is now one years old. We marked the occasion with a little party for her. She wore a pink dress and a party crown, got some exciting new toys, tried a bit of birthday cake and ate her body weight in grapes because she kept conning different family members to pass her more food! She is savy one!

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Appreciating the winter evenings. Normally in January I get fed up of the dark and cold and am just willing Spring to hurry up and get here but this year I am actually still enjoying winter. Candles in the evening, soup with chunky wedges of bread and misty mornings, there is still a lot to appreciate!

 

 

Cathy’s Kitchen: Chocolate and Cardamon Tart

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This week I tried a new recipe that nearly ended in disaster but actually turned out great. It is from Seasonal Baking by Fiona Cairns. This is a book I bought just after I promised myself not to but any more baking books. I picked it up in a book shop and the pictures were just too pretty!

Here is how the recipe looked in the book:

dsc_1719.jpgFirst steps were to make the pastry and this seemed to take forever because I had to chill it for at least an hour….twice! Orla doesn’t really allow me to have two lots of baking time in a day so I had to spread this out over two days. Here is what the chocolate pastry looked like when it went in to the oven.

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And here is what it looked like when it came out:

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Oh dear! At this point I was prepared to give up on the whole idea but I had just spent ten minutes chopping up a mound of chocolate and it felt like a waste to stop, so I went ahead and just crossed my fingers that the filling would hide most of the holes!

dsc_1723.jpgIs there a more delicious sight than a mountain of chocolate pieces?

dsc_1729.jpgHmm, actually a saucepan of melted chocolate, cream and butter looks even more delicious! (Note: this bake is not January-diet friendly)

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Fortunately the tart looked in much better shape with the filling in place, especially when I spattered it with melted white chocolate too! That was great fun! I then had a go at shaving down some of the edges to get a neater finish.

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That effort was only partly successful! But once I sliced it and dished it out to people you couldn’t see the mistakes anyway.

Now for the important bit, how did it taste? Pretty amazing, if I do say so myself. It is dark, dense and intense, a very grown up tasting tart, and the white chocolate on top just added a sweet touch to it.

I hope the rest of the recipes in the book turn out this well!This is definitely one I would do again… although I may just buy pre-made pastry next time!

Five Ways He Won My Heart

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Five years ago today Rob asked me to marry him.  It was perhaps the easiest question I have ever had to answer and I want to share why.

I have read a lot about ‘red flags’ in relationships; things or attitudes that act as warnings that the relationship is not going to work. Well, I thought I would share five green flags that were a ‘go ahead’ signal to give my heart to Rob.

  1. We agreed on the ‘big things’

For a relationship to truly work well there has to be unity on what you believe are the most important things in life. For me, my big things included my faith, a desire to settle into a home and start a family. I knew I needed someone who shared those big goals. I would have been a terrible match with someone who wanted to travel the world because I would always be more concerned with saving a deposit for a house. Whatever we did one of us would always be resenting the other.

As it happens, Rob is a keen traveler and has done a fair bit in his twenties but when we got together he too was setting his heart on building stability. Knowing that we wanted the same things was a big green flag that we could help one another build the life that we both wanted.OnPendle

2. It was all so easy

I remember when we first started seeing one another I kept a count of how many days in a row that we saw one another. I normally enjoy my alone time and need breaks from even my closest friends to recharge, but when Rob and I spent 21 days in a row together and I still wanted to see him on day 22, I knew that something special was happening.

In the simplest way I just enjoyed being with him and it was easy to be in his company. It wasn’t an effort, I never worried about what he was thinking or how I looked or how to fill the time. We didn’t second guess one another and we didn’t exhaust one another. It was easy, fun and felt comfortably normal; like this is how life is supposed to be.

3. He gave me sparks

When I saw Rob for the first time the weirdest thought flitted through my mind. I looked at him and in my head a voice said;

you and I would make good looking babies’

It was bizarre! I didn’t even want children back then. I knew nothing about Rob apart from his name but I just felt a very strong instant attraction. Five years later, when circumstances allowed us to spend more time together the attraction was still there.

Butterflies in the stomach, goosebumps when you touch, shivers down the spine. There has to be a physical attraction. No matter how many jokes people make about the ‘friend zone’ the truth is that romantic relationships need to have the spark. There are plenty of good guys out there but you need one whose smile flips your stomach.

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4. There were other women in his life

That sounds wrong but hear me out. One of the things I soon found reassuring about Rob is that he has a number of female friends with whom he has never been romantically involved, because it shows that Rob doesn’t just see women as potential partners; he views them as people; interesting, funny, complicated people.

It meant that Rob would see me as a whole person too. Not a trophy girlfriend, not as a hysterical woman, he would see and treat me as a person, with thoughts and feelings that are as valid as his own.

This can be a difficult issue for people who have dealt with cheaters in their past because insecurities will mean that you view other women as threats to your relationship. But the truth is that Rob’s female friends are now my friends too and our life is stronger and richer for having them in it.

5. He encouraged me to raise my game

Rob set up this blog for me when I said that I wanted to write more. When I said I was feeling a bit lonely he made sure we made plans with friends. When I get stuck on a project he helps me. When I say ‘I am not sure I can do this’ he tells me I can and helps me work out how. He is invested in my dreams and ambitions and I am invested in his.

We become cheerleaders for one another. Your partner should be that voice in your life that says ‘you’ve got this’. If you find someone who cares about you doing the things you love then hold on to them, love them, marry them.

Investing in your dreams is a huge neon green flag to go ahead, that this is true love.

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Book Bag: Witches and Princes

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I finally finished Surprised by Hope, the book that both delighted and troubled me for the last few months of 2016. With that done and dusted, I have turned to some light relief in my reading, picking up a Fable comic and some good old chick lit.

Fables Volume 14: Witches by Bill Willingham

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While the meek and mild flying monkey Bufkin is trapped in Fabletown’s collapsed business office with the evil witch Baba Yaga, Frau Totenkinder and the witches at the Farm upstate prepare to deal with Mister Dark down in what’s left of Fabletown.

I am 14 volumes in to the Fables series and I am enjoying it more and more with each edition (minus the Jack crossover). It’s just layer upon layer of story telling and world building. Every installment throws more light on our major characters and their backstories and it is impressive, considering the scale of the Fables universe, at just how consistently written the characters are. In Witches I loved spending more time with flying monkey Bufkin and mysterious Totenkinder, two characters who have been present from the beginning but are now given full story lines to themselves.

I now can’t wait to get into the next volume and find out what how the battle with Mr Dark is going to happen!

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince by Hester Browne

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Melissa is the shy, shockable sweetheart of a property tycoon. Honey is Supernanny meets Superwoman – the gal on a one-woman mission to Make Men Better.

To an outsider, they’re two completely different women. But they’re actually one and the same.

Until now, this has ticked along quite nicely – with Honey merely being Mel’s professional persona, when she’s running The Little Lady Agency. But now her grandmother has asked her to take on the case of a lifetime: namely improving Prince Nicolas of Hollenberg – Europe’s most playboy of princes – who, despite his good breeding, is completely set on leading Melissa astray. 

And this isn’t all that’s on Mel’s plate. She’s trying to set up her flatmate Nelson with a nice girl; her increasingly-bonkers family are making all sorts of demands on her; her best friend Gabi is getting married… oh, and she has her own fairytale ending to find.

The Little Lady Agency books are up there on my bookshelf of happy chick flick reads right next to Bridget Jones Diary. I was so thrilled when my Mother in Law gifted me this last book of the series for Christmas.

This was a perfectly fitting end to the Little Lady trilogy. Wrongs were righted, escapades were had and ……spoiler alert……Melissa finally fell into the arms of Mr Right.

Although a couple parts did trouble me. I didn’t enjoy the storyline about Emery and her baby. It seems like Emery spent the book avoiding having to do anything with the little baby boy to the extent that I thought it was going to touch on Postnatal depression. There is one point when the baby is screaming in the cot whilst everyone else is trying to rescue another family member from being locked in a bathroom, and Emery doesn’t pick the baby up even though she is standing right next to him. In the end the granddad  goes in and gets him. Everyone else acts as if this was all just a normal part of Emery’s laid back, lazy approach to life. That just jarred a little with me, but that is probably because I am reading it through the lens of being a new mum myself.

Everything else though was wonderful, flitting from glamourous outings with the prince to cosy nights in with Nelson. It’s like enjoying the best of both worlds and I am really happy to have read Honey’s last chapter.

Her Ladyship’s Notebook: On Making Phonecalls

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This month’s quote for Her Ladyship’s Notebook comes from my favourite satirical etiquette guide; The Nice Girl’s Guide to Good Behaviour.

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I love this tongue in cheek advice from the 1930s. It is so wonderfully naughty and bratty, and it would be most inadvisable to actually take up its advice.

Saying that, there is something to be said about being forthright when you want company. I don’t know how many evenings I’ve wasted feeling a bit bored and lonely that could have been avoided by simply being brave, picking up the phone and actually asking a friend if they wanted to do something.

So many times I’ve second guessed myself out of contacting people. I come up with all sorts of reasons why the person might not want to see me that in the end I don’t bother. But one of the things, Rob has shown me is that actually it is no big deal to get in touch with people and simply ask; ‘what are you up to this weekend?’

That is my challenge to you. The next time you feel down and lonely and at a loose end, pick up the phone and call some one. Like this delightful book says your friends would never forgive you if you did not permit them these small chances of providing you with their friendship!

 

Christmas Tree Time Lapse 2016

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Rob and I have a Christmas tradition of doing a time lapse video when we put the tree up and this one is extra special as it is Orla’s first Christmas Tree. Turns out putting up a tree with a walking 11 month baby in the mix is a lot of fun!

Her favourite thing at the moment is exploring the rooms downstairs so you will see on the video that she keeps wandering off and then one of us had to go and herd her back to the living room!

The other change I made this year to the tree is to get some bushy red tinsel. I love tinsel but I think it is a bit out of fashion at the moment, I think people think it is a bit tacky. But I think it adds a sense of warmth and fullness to the tree so I am really pleased to have some this year.

I love doing these videos, it’s like a time capsule moment each year for our little family. If you are interested here is last year’s video featuring a real tree and a big baby bump! (We went back to artificial this year, to reduce the chances of Orla eating pine needles!)