Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Little gratitudes

The blog and I seem to have parted ways recently, and it's something I'm naggingly conscious of. When I haven't been whacking picture hooks into walls, prodding confusedly at washing machine buttons or sloshing paint onto walls, I've been on hold to EE while listening to a crap cover of Toto's Africa before whining about my (still) absent internet connection. I suppose the lack of blogging means I've been busy elsewhere, and gathering lots of fodder for new posts in the meantime, but I miss those blissful weekend afternoons where I'd sit at my desk with a steaming hot cup of peppermint tea and slowly untangle my thoughts into carefully crafted sentences. In fact I don't even have a desk. Or a chair. Yet.

We've been submerged in the slow and arduous process of accumulating 'stuff', albeit necessary stuff like a dining table and chairs, wardrobe and bed. Our new house is coming together slowly but surely, and I've learnt to be patient - it'll be a little while yet until I can class things as being 'done' -(although I'm not sure if things are ever done around the house are they?)

In the fog of depleting bank balances, house teething problems and frustrating broadband suppliers, I've been concentrating on appreciating the little intricacies of our new life here, as the gradual ebb and flow of daily routines uncover little gems that we weren't aware of before. So today I thought I'd share my little gratitudes. Hopefully the next time I'm ready to punch a poor call centre worker, I can read back over these little things and remember that I'm in a better place, a happier place, than I was six months ago. Sorry for the decidedly mediocre phone snapshots, which I'm having to rely on until I can upload my camera photos (did I not mention we've been a month without internet?!)

[001] I don't think I'll ever tire of the morning sunrise streaming through our bedroom window, with the Peaks lining the backdrop in the distance. I'm itching to tug on my walking boots and get out among those hills, but I'm trying to be sensible and wait for slightly warmer weather! In the meantime, the puffs of pink, red, gold and orange, interspersed with electric blue are enough to keep me smiling.


[002] Whenever I move to a new area, one of my first tasks is to scout out a decent local, with a particular emphasis on yummy Sunday roasts. Just a short walk from our house we found said local, and spent a blissfully lazy Sunday munching our way through Yorkshire puddings, sipping cider and playing Scrabble.


[003] It might seem a little strange to consider DIY a gratitude, but we're very lucky to have lovely landlords who are happy for us to rip off wallpaper and paint to our heart's content. We chose sage green with white woodwork for the bedroom (following a mad flurry of Pinterest pinning) and I LOVE it. Having managed to nab some beautiful art deco walnut bedroom furniture (which I tweeted about here), we've nearly completed one room. I also bit my lip and splashed out on a new bed and good quality mattress, which is so darn comfy I never want to get up! Links to the bed and mattress are here and here if you're in the market for a new one and need a recommendation.

Weekend fun and frolics...

[004] Early starts and early finishes. As much as I have to drag myself out of bed at 6am every morning, more often than not in the pitch black shiver of the morning, my 8am starts and 4pm finishes mean I'm home at 4.30pm with a long evening stretching before me. So far I've been filling my time with DIY and cleaning duties, but I can't wait to get out into the garden and sit at my desk to blog as the sun goes down.

[005] We're based on the edge of Didsbury, which means we have plenty of walking country around us. We've already ventured into the woods for an afternoon walk, laughing at boisterous dogs, squelching through mud and admiring new tree beds dripping with dew. I'm looking forward to getting out more into the countryside to find some peace and calm.

[006] I have a few DIY projects on the cards that should be quite exciting, should I not make a mess of things. We inherited this art deco dining table and chairs, which is in serious need of some TLC, so I put in an order for sandpaper, steel wool, upholstery fabric and boiled linseed oil, and can't wait to get scrubbing (and of course wield a staple gun...)


I've also bought an old Singer sewing machine table (rather like this one), which I plan to use as a writing (and blogging desk) in our little office. It arrives tomorrow and I'm struggling to contain my excitement. We decided when we moved to invest in antique furniture for our new house because it's so much more durable and attractive than the usual Ikea offerings. We soon discovered that they're not that much more expensive either, and we know we'll keep and cherish them forever. My favourite piece so far is probably this retro sideboard, which is sitting happily in the lounge and is the most useful piece of furniture I own. My unwavering excitement over pieces of furniture is clearly a sign that I'm happily embedded in my 30s!


Hopefully I'll be able to slink into a regular blogging routine by next week. In the meantime I'll continue with the scrubbing, hammering and drilling that seem to be firmly on my daily agenda for now.


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Friday, 16 January 2015

Life lately (in Manchester)

Ever since I can remember I've had the recurring dream that someone is chasing me along a dark street, but as I turn to run away under the yellow glow of the street lights, I look down to see that I'm up to my knees in mud or water - my legs wading but unable to move fast enough to out-run my attacker. I expect for most people this is a fairly standard semi-nightmare, but I find it curious that the dream I remember having as a little girl is the same one I have in my adulthood.

I've hunted around for all kinds of explanations for this dream, and have conceded that it probably has something to do with running away from emotions, situations or certain people in my life. Most of us have at some time or other confronted that age-old warning that we're running away from our problems, and this maxim caused me to do a lot of soul-searching before deciding to move to Manchester. I was worried (and I suppose I still am) that the snags and snipes that upset me in London would snap at my heels all the way up north, so I'm trying to be wary before giving a resounding thumbs up (or down) to our big move, taking it one day at a time and approaching every situation with a full heart and an open mind.

The dust has just about settled on the initial flap and clatter of moving home: the boxes are unpacked and recycled, the fridge is full and the ebb and flow of daily routines have started to set in -work schedules, commutes, bill payments and bed times. Naively I thought this point would be the marker for officially being 'settled in', but as days 12, 13 and 14 slip by, I realise that it's a far more complicated and lengthy process than I anticipated. Beyond the boxes and the DIY and direct debits there's a whole other process of embedding yourself into a new city, a new culture and a new set of friends, and that takes time and courage.

I've started my new marketing communications job in the fundraising team at the University of Manchester, and so far am really enjoying my new role. I'm based in a beautiful old building with stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, musty old books and elaborate staircases. My team are lovely, my work is interesting and I'm getting my teeth into some exciting projects. The other day I went for a wander through the university campus. It's exam time here so the thick and constant stream of students (or so I'm told) has been reduced to a mere trickle. As I wandered down the main campus road, I spotted lots of freshers, four months into their new lives here, clustered in small giggling groups, eating lunch together or chatting about this or that, and it reminded me how easy it was at the tender age of 18 to make new friends. Perhaps it was because we were all in the same boat, but I remember collecting friends like stamps back then, thrown together and connecting like magnets in the hectic start to university. 13 years later (gulp) and it's a whole other story. The prospect of making new friends terrifies me, and I find myself feeling racked with self doubt, having to force myself out of my comfort zone and suggest coffees or lunches to get to know people. It's strange really. I'm quite confident in my job, and everyone has been so lovely to me, but I hate the fear of rejection and vulnerability that comes with making new friends. Today an old colleague sent me a picture of herself and another friend, and it made me realise how much I miss familiar faces and warm smiles - the ease and comfort of well-established friendships. I'm sure it will come with time, and it really isn't all doom and gloom. I'm wholeheartedly happy and know that the strange will soon become familiar, so I'll stop ruminating and instead focus on the positives, like these little snapshots of the beautiful buildings I work in:


I'm the very lucky sausage whose office is based in these buildings. Swoon!

I've also changed my hours to 8-4, so while my 6am alarm feels a little beastly in the dark, cold and wet mornings, it means I get home for about 4.30pm and catch the sun setting on the route home.

I've just started new working hours of 8-4pm, which means snatching a view of the sun setting while school kids play outside. I think the work-life balance of #Manchester will suit me. Feeling like a very lucky sausage to have these extra long evenings. I

This week I also had the chance to wear my new mustard peg trousers from ASOS, which I snapped up in the sale for a meagre £13 and absolutely love.

Today's work #outfit :) Tap for brands. Sorry about the bathroom backdrop! #ootd #wiwt #fbloggers #lbloggers

We're still waiting for our internet access to be sorted (I'm frantically bashing away on the keyboard during my lunch break), and my camera hasn't seen the light of day for the past two weeks. We haven't got a bed or any lounge furniture to speak of, but by next week it should all be fixed and ready to go.

Last night we spent a rock and roll Thursday evening pushing a trolley up and down the aisles of B&Q in search of paint. I've been eagerly pinning pictures on Pinterest of my ideal bedroom and I think (I hope!) I've whittled it down to sage green walls with antique white trim. We're currently sleeping in the spare room while we wait for our bed to arrive, and in anticipation of this exciting event our weekend will consist of dust sheets and paint rollers. We have a lot of prep work to do, including stripping wallpaper (yuck), but I'm holding on resolutely to the holy grail of having a beautiful bedroom to snuggle into in a few days.

That's about it for now. I hope you're all having a lovely week and looking forward to lots of exciting adventures over the weekend. I'm sorry for the lack of decent pictures but I promise to unpack my camera this weekend!

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Monday, 12 January 2015

DIY Shellac gel nail French manicure

As much as I love fancy smellies and spend a fair bit of time and money on products to prettify myself, I've never really considered myself to be a girly girl. As a child, while my friends were experimenting with the contents of their mums' make-up bags or plaiting each others' hair, I was busy up to my knees in mud building dens and climbing trees. My nails in particular have been woefully neglected over the years, and despite having built quite a collection of nail polishes, I find they take a lot of effort for very little reward. Being quite (ok very) impatient in general, I usually slap on a couple of coats of colour in a 5-minute rush job (base coat, top coat who?) that inevitably end up smudged and scuffed straight away because I only manage 20 seconds of frantic wrist flapping instead of waiting for them to dry.

For my birthday last year my sister took me to a nail salon to get a Shellac manicure for the first time and it was a revelation. Not only did I leave the salon with perfectly preened and dry nails (I usually chip them before leaving the salon while digging out my bank card to pay for the buggers), they lasted a full 3 weeks without any need for a top up. The downside was the £35 price tag, which I knew I couldn't justify on a regular basis, no matter how pretty and low maintenance they were.

So, after lots of research and hunting around on eBay, I decided to give a gel manicure a go at home. Realistically I wasn't under any illusion about my nail-painting skills - I knew they'd probably not last as long or look as professional as a salon would manage, but frankly, even if they lasted a week without chipping I knew I'd be happy. That first manicure lasted 2 weeks, and since then I've been trying all kinds of colours and techniques on my nails, enjoying for the first time a distinct lack of the internal dialogue "oh bugger, I've chipped another nail."

Recently I tried a gel French manicure, and thought I'd take a few snaps and show you how I did it in case you also decide to give them a go. For my own part, I have never looked back.

DIY shellac gel manicure

The initial set-up for doing gel manicures at home costs about £40-£50 for all the bits, bobs and gadgetry. Admittedly this is a tad more expensive than grabbing a Rimmel nail polish off the shelf in Superdrug, but in the long term it's worth every penny when you consider that Shellac manicures cost around £30 a pop in a salon. I bought all of my kit from eBay and it's served me well so far. Here's what you need with the prices I paid on eBay alongside.

DIY shellac gel manicure
  • nail clippers (already owned)
  • nail file (already owned)
  • cuticle pusher and cuticle cutter kit (£2.49)
  • orange sticks (£2.30 for 100)
  • high grade acetone - around 97% - (£6.50)
  • 100% alcohol wipes (£2.09 for 100)
  • cuticle oil (£2.99)
  • gel base coat (£3.50)
  • gel top coat (£3.50)
  • gel colour (£3.50 each)
  • UV lamp (£12.35)
I should probably say a little something here about gel nail polish. I did a lot of hunting around on online forums to find out which of the dupe brands (ie not CND Shellac, which can be quite pricey) were any good. Lots of people felt very strongly that people should only buy CND Shellac, especially if they're a nail technician. Seeing as I was buying them for personal use, I had no qualms about using a dupe, and I've found the CCO brand to be really good if applied correctly. I snapped up quite a few colours...

DIY shellac gel manicure

For this particular manicure I went for shade 57 (Grape Fruit) for the main colour, shade 26 (Studio White) for the tips and the regular top and base coats. I also had some French manicure nail guides which are really useful if like me you draw wobbly lines all the time!

DIY shellac gel manicure

So to begin with, quite a bit of work goes into prepping the nails. Take a cotton pad and soak it in high grade acetone before removing any traces of old nail polish and dirt. Your nails then need to be trimmed and filed, and then it helps to soak your hand in warm water for a few minutes before pushing back and trimming your cuticles and digging out any gunk in the nail bed. You don't need to buff the surface of the nail. Finally, wash your hands with warm soapy water so your nails are clean and free from dust.

DIY shellac gel manicure

Next job is to apply a thin layer of base coat to the nail, making sure to leave a tiny gap at the base and sides of the nail to create a 'seal'. It really is important that you don't apply a thick layer or else it may run into your skin and will end up peeling just a few days later (I know from experience!)

DIY shellac gel manicure

Once you've applied the base coat, cure it for 2 minutes under the nail lamp. This essentially means sticking your hand in and switching on the timer. Once done don't touch your nails as they will be sticky.

DIY shellac gel manicure

You then need to apply a thin layer of colour, making sure to stay inside the original line of your base coat (the seal). Cure for 2 minutes, then apply another coat and cure for another 2 minutes.

At this stage your main colour is complete, so you can take an alcohol wipe and run it over the nails to remove the sticky residue left behind from the curing. Your nails will now be bone dry.

DIY shellac gel manicure

If you were just doing a single colour this would be your end point, but I added white tips to mine, so I stuck on nail guides so I could easily paint the white tips.

DIY shellac gel manicure

Paint on your white tips, cure under the UV lamp and repeat if needed. I only needed one coat as the white was very opaque. Once finished, carefully peel off your nail guides and run a top coat over the entire nail. Cure for 2 minutes under the UV lamp and run an alcohol wipe over the your nails.

DIY shellac gel manicure

And they're done! These lasted for nearly 3 weeks despite me lugging boxes about and scrubbing my cooker with a scouring pad.

DIY shellac gel manicure

Have you ever tried a gel manicure at home?


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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Week 1 up north

Happy new year! It’s hard to believe 2015 is already in full swing. So much has changed in the last few days - I’ve been a northerner for the grand total of five days and so far everything seems to be going swimmingly. I should probably begin with a little recap of new year. We went to my sister’s and played Pictionary (where the girls thrashed the boys – hurrah!), which was lots of fun and meant I could spend some quality time with my lovely big sister before the move. Being new year it also gave me the chance to slap on some bright lippie. I’ve been looking for a fuchsia shade and this Maybelline Colour Sensational lipstick in hot plum recently caught my eye. Here we are all ready for the new year festivities to begin!


I decided to wear a little sparkle for my new year’s outfit – this jumper is an oldie but a goodie that I bought a couple of years ago from Glamorous. The boots were from Office (also old) and I recently snapped up the River Island skirt on ASOS for £10 in the sale (it’s the perfect work skirt and still in the sale).


While on the topic of clothes (and veering completely off course in this blog post!), a few weeks ago we popped up to Manchester to see our house for the first and only time before we moved in. One of my bridesmaids and her boyfriend showed us the sights and sounds of East Didsbury and the slightly grey pre-Christmas weather gave Frank the perfect chance to wear his new t-shirt from Derek Rose. I should probably add that technically this t-shirt is classed as loungewear, but he loves it so much I didn't have the heart to tell him. It’s a beautiful soft jersey material that I thought might be a bit clingy, but in fact hangs perfectly and washes really well (a priority for me these days after hundreds of ‘wash once and bin’ disasters!) I think he’ll get a lot of use out of it (he’s warn it several times since).

Derek Rose

Derek Rose

Derek Rose

;Derek Rose

I had every intention of documenting our northern transition with quirky photographs and brooding journal entries, but the truth is I’ve been a very bad blogger and both my camera and diary are still nestled at the bottom of a sealed cardboard box somewhere. My head has been in a complete tangle these last few days, straddling my old life in London and my new adventure up north. I’ve been finding myself sitting on a strange bus to work sending texts to my London friends, or standing in echoing corridors while on hold to my old gas supplier. It’s a strange phase of the relocation, but I’m managing to muster a vague semblance of normality amid the unfamiliar geography. I never anticipated such a cultural shift coming just 200 miles away, but the friendliness of the north made me feel quite taken aback. I recently found myself responding to the beaming bus driver with a distinctly London air of suspicion, so I’m trying my hardest to embrace and enjoy the friendliness up here. On Saturday we left the empty shell of our teeny London flat and headed up to our 3-bedroom house in Didsbury, South Manchester. I’d been warned fairly consistently about the amount of rain up here, so it felt like the gods were on our side when we left the drizzly, grey city and hit the north to find blue skies and a beautiful sunset.

I can’t wait to show it to you, although it needs a slap of paint and some furniture before we’ll be ready to show it off. We’re feeling very grown up learning about things like house alarms, composters, garden sheds and security lights – all the things that seem so banal to people yet fill us former shoebox dwellers with pure unbridled joy. Our DIY skills (or lack of) will no doubt be put to the test over the next few months. I realised that I was definitely in my 30s when I found myself asking my mum for a drill for Christmas… so much for pretty dresses, perfume or jewellery. I can see myself getting a bit over excited wielding it and drilling holes in everything, so for now it’s carefully packed away in a box until I start buying curtain rails and putting up bookcases.


My lovely friend Claire had popped round before we arrived to leave us a little welcoming gift. The fizz went down a treat following a rather long drive.


Having spent a couple of days rooting through boxes and cuddling disoriented cats, we managed to get out of the house for a little pootle along the river behind our house. It felt good to be out and about in the sunshine, even it was a little chilly. We’re still getting used to the relative quiet (even though we live on a busy road it’s so much quieter than London) and the slower pace of life. One of the things I love about getting to know a new house is seeing how the sun moves around it. We discovered that the back of the house (where our main bedroom will be) has the most beautiful sunrises, and we even spotted the mountains in the distance (the peaks I assume?) I can’t wait to get among them for some long walks.


That’s it from me for now. Happy new year and I hope I’ll get to catch up on your lovely blog posts soon once my internet is up and running!


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Thursday, 1 January 2015

On 2015 and making changes

Over the past year I feel like I've let myself down by not looking after myself both physically and mentally. This has manifested itself in so many ways, from neglecting my streaks of grey hair and binging on chocolate to living in jeans and not reading enough.

My usual January routine is to write a huge list of goals I'd like to achieve throughout the year, like 'read 20 books' or 'run a 10k'. But I feel like life has finally shaken me by the shoulders and taught me that to create real and lasting change means not focusing on outcomes but instead addressing the barriers that hold me back: time, lethargy, apathy, confusion... the list goes on.

As I look back over the past 12 months I can't help but feel cross with myself. I finished the year weighing the same as when I started. I've only read a handful of books. I didn't blog like I wanted to. I let myself get consumed with doubt and anxiety and frustration. But I also know that what I need right now is not to berate myself with the 'shoulda coulda woulda' I'm so liable to use as my crutch. If I'm honest and kind to myself I realise that the seas of change swept in and completely decimated my little world in lots of different ways last year, and managing those situations took all my energy and spark.

Here's what I mean.

2014 was the year I reconnected with my dad
I'll keep the backstory short. My dad was an alcoholic (now recovered). We lost touch around 10 years ago. In 2014 after many failed attempts where I tried to reach out, he finally got back in touch. I'd love to say that a tearful reunion led to us skipping off into the sunset together, but the reality is that I had to come to terms with the news that my dad will never skip, or run, or jog again. Four years ago he was diagnosed with stage 3 chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), a degenerative and incurable lung disease. What's more, it's genetic (my granny died of it too). I don't feel ready to share the extent of my muddled thoughts on this topic, other than to say that the reunion and the diagnosis both used up a lot of headspace for me this year.

John and Sally, 1983

2014 was the year I lost my best friend 
Recently I've been eating myself up with anxiety over a friendship that turned sour in the last year. I'm generally a sensitive person and an interminable worrier, so when there's animosity or tension in my life my brain churns it round ceaselessly. It was painful for me to admit that after many years things between me and this person had become strained, one-sided and at times even toxic. Eventually it turned into pursed lips and stubborn silences, and before long 16 years of friendship just melted away. A secondary casualty of this whole horrid mess is that another friend seems to have taken her side, and hasn't responded to my various efforts to get in touch. A while ago I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when some photos popped up of them laughing and hugging, and I felt a pang of hurt at the injustice I feel at being so readily misunderstood. The bad blood between us all upsets me, and it hurts to know that someone out there thinks badly of me.
Gregory David Roberts
Cutting ties with London and moving away has prompted me to do some soul-searching over the life I want to lead and the people I want in it. Physical distance from the situation with my friend is one thing, but it's the mental distance - the closure - that I need to focus on. For a long time I hoped for reconciliation, but now I realise that there are just some people who you're not supposed to connect with. Our lives are richer without each other, and my goal is to reach a place where I no longer think about this person. To do this I need to forgive them, forgive myself and wholeheartedly wish them well for the future. Then hopefully I can feel a sense of peace.

2014 was the year I gave up on London
The decision to pack in my job and move 200 miles up north has been pretty momentous. I'm excited, daunted and a little bit scared, and it's going to take a little while until I feel settled in my new house, city and state of mind.

Recently the lovely Alex from Odd Socks and Pretty Frocks asked me to take part in her A Blogging Good Read series, and I was so excited to see that one of the book choices was Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, which has been on my to read pile for as long as I can remember. Over the past couple of years I've stumbled over a few quotes from this book that have resonated deeply with me, and I'm looking forward to reflecting on what it has to teach me about love, friendship and life. A quote from the book: "Sometimes you break your heart in the right way, if you know what I mean.” And I think this has to be true. Finding my dad, losing my friend and moving away have all caused me pain and stirred up feelings and thoughts that have occupied my mind relentlessly. I've counteracted this by distracting myself with busy, busy busy, but in the long run I just feel more confused and more tangled than ever before.

So in 2015 I'd like to interrupt my perpetual sense of busy-ness with moments of reflection, meditation and mindfulness. I'd like to practise gratitude more. I'd like to spend quality time with my friends, look after my body, dress well, be active and nourish my body. My plan is to take it one day, one hour, one minute at a time.


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