Thursday, 26 February 2015

Treasured possessions

If you've read my blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I'm quite a sentimental soul, with a tendency to hoard all manner of trinkets, whether it's theatre tickets, favourite books or tidbits from my childhood. I've always been quite sensitive I think, absorbing a lot of what's around me, whether that's chaos, mundanity, negativity or calm, and my environment has a big impact on my mental wellbeing. If the house is untidy I feel like the contents of my head might spill out onto the carpet. When it's grubby I feel fizzy and dissatisfied until I've vacuumed the carpets and scrubbed the bathroom, and when my inbox is a mess I feel gloomy and stressed. Today I had a mini Twitter meltdown as I contemplated the hamster wheel that seems to spit me out on a regular basis because I simply can't keep up (above all feeling like I'm letting people down by being flaky, uncommunicative and disorganised). Knowing my tendency to feel overwhelmed and how a shoddy environment can exacerbate that, surrounding myself with reassuring possessions has always been important to me.

I've never been one for raiding the home section in Next (although their curtains are amazing) or covering my walls in generic prints of flowers or the New York skyline. One of my favourite feelings is to lift up the lid of my stationary box and picture the colourful chaos of the Egyptian bazar it came from, or at the end of a long day pop my watch and engagement ring into the little silver dish that I inherited from my grandmother. Lots of the things around me: the paintings, vases, plants and books harbour strong memories that ignite all kinds of imagination. They remind me that my troubles are a tiny stitch in the vast tapestry of family, history, friendship and life. They bring me back to centre and help me feel calm.

So when I was asked by More Than (who incidentally I have both pet and house insurance with and genuinely can't recommend them enough) which three possessions I treasure most, I knew it would be a challenge. I flitted between dozens of options: the charm bracelet my beloved uncle gave me as a baby, my engagement ring, my first pair of shoes, childhood family photos or the postcard Frank sent me after we broke up to try and win me back. After much deliberation, head scratching and face contorting, I came up with these...

001 The kitty cats

I realise this is a grade one cliche cat lady/pet owner choice, but without a doubt the two possessions I cherish the most are my two cats, Socks (aka 'the little one' or pussykins) and Splodge (aka 'the fat one'/Lady Tubbington/tubs/fatty-bo-batty/fatty boom boom). Yes they're not the prettiest of cats (my Instagram feed is crammed with beautiful fluffy tabbies draped over crisp white bed sheets, enough to make Splodge look like a cave troll in comparison), but in the last 8 years they have loved me unconditionally regardless of whether I'm at my worst or at my best. Yes they seem to adore me a teensy bit more around teatime and a little less on vet days, and seem to flit between being incredibly annoying and frustratingly aloof, but their companionship, affection and downright weirdness have kept me going even in my weakest moments. These two know my deepest, darkest secrets. They've sat patiently with my head buried in their fur sobbing in wretched agony. They welcome me home each day with a chirrup, a meow and a brush against my legs. They sleep every night, one on my head and one at my feet. They follow me around the house all day, insist on sitting on my lap while I type (or better yet across the keyboard) and incite genuine jealousy when they splay on Frank's lap and turn to me with a smug smile.  Life without them? I can't even...

Puss cats

002 This painting

This painting, given to me by my sister for my 30th birthday, is special to me not just because of the giver or the occasion, but because it depicts the place I spent most of my childhood. I wish I could express the flood of memories that washes over me every time I look at this muddle of paper, paint and wood, but I don't think I could do it justice, and only one other person in the world knows what it was like to spend most of our childhood perched on the top of the white cliffs of Dover. We grew up in a little village on top of this cliff, set back slightly, nestled in vast swathes of countryside (a little of which I blogged about here). The screech of seagulls, the smell of fresh farm manure, the hiss of insects and the whipping of wind through the barley was our soundtrack. Having lived in various cities, I now realise how lucky I was to grow up with nature all around me, be it the crashing waves against the white rock or the crunch of twigs in the undergrowth. For me, this picture represents gratitude, longing, sadness and hope.

treasured possessions

003 This jumble of metal and glass

No one is more surprised than me that my mobile phone made it into my top 3 possessions. Truth be told I hate the thing, and anyone will tell you what a terror I am at remembering to reply to messages or answering calls. I'll happily leave my phone with a dead battery down the side of the sofa for two days without another thought. And yet. Buried in this phone are a million photos, phrases, thoughts and texts that are simply irreplaceable. For every snap I share on my Instagram there must be 50 that I flick through from time to time, capturing treasured memories that would otherwise melt into obscurity. I also jot down little lists of memories, quotes, music recommendations, restaurants to try and dreams I've had that make my life feel richer. Having had my phone stolen before, I remember feeling more sad about these lost treasures than the inconvenience it caused.

treasured possessions

What are your three most treasured possessions?


sally

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Friday, 20 February 2015

Romance at dinner time

Now that I'm working shorter, earlier hours, I've had to adjust to my newly-found evenings. In London I used to drift through the front door at 7pm, dump my bags and scrabble around for a recipe that I could cobble together in 20 minutes, so I've really enjoyed having more time to prepare and cook enjoyable evening meals.

When it comes to dinnertime, I'm a firm believer that television has a lot to answer for. Staring mindlessly at a screen and shovelling pasta into my mouth while balancing a plate on my knees is not my idea of time well spent, and it's really important to me that we have space for a dining table and chairs where Frank and I can sit together, eating and chatting about our day. I find it really sad that more people don't carve out time to spend quality time together while eating (I recently read that the average Brit watches four hours of television a day), and it's a daily routine that I try to protect as much as possible.

It's easy to be a bit slap dash and adopt a 'that'll do' approach when you only have yourselves to entertain, so I've taken to sprucing up the table for our evening meal, collecting pretty paper napkins, coasters, tablecloths and place-mats and making a bit of a fuss so it's something we can look forward to.

This year for Valentine's Day, I was asked by Furniture Choice how I would put together a Valentine's table. Initially I started scouring Pinterest for ideas, but the barrage of vomit-inducing generic pink hearts had me back-tracking fairly quickly. I quickly realised that in my relationship, sprinkling everything with heart-shaped glitter is not romantic. Thinking about little 'in' jokes and personal references most definitely is.

Below I've included a few bits I've got on my wishlist, all of which reference mine and Frank's relationship. The squid placement is a little bit strange I admit, and refers to a long-standing joke I have with Frank where I dreamt I had a pet squid called cuddles.... The cheese knives are naturally for our shared love of good cheese, while the other bits are things I simply know we'd both love.

While it's tempting to snap up generic Valentine's motifs to treat a loved one, I know that if I were to simply cook Frank's favourite dish (sausages), spruce up the table with relevant knick-knacks that invoke laughter and conversation, and more importantly sit at the table instead of in front of the TV, it would hands down be the most romantic thing I could do. In my book, showing a little thought and effort  beats roses and pink ribbon hands down.









sally

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Monday, 16 February 2015

Hello Fresh review

Sundays have always been a day of rest, recovery and preparation for me - a quiet space in which I can physically and mentally get ready for a busy week ahead. Back when I was single I'd diligently spend my Sundays snatching tins off shelves in the supermarket, scrubbing the flat, hanging out my washing, meticulously jotting down my to-do lists for the week, laying out my outfits for the week and writing a detailed meal plan. I became so preoccupied with protecting my Sunday routine that I'd pass up the opportunity to spend time with friends or laze in the park with a good book, convinced that the secret to a successful week was a Sunday spent ushering my ducks into a perfectly neat, straight row.

When Frank came on the scene, all sense of order went out the window. I'm not at all bitter about it - there's something quite sweet about the giddy spontaneity of a new relationship - the upheaval that spins you in new directions before the dust settles and you return to old routines. I'm not nearly as organised as I used to be (believe my when I say this is a good thing), but in recent months I have noticed myself losing that happy balance between a Sunday spent lazing in bed and eating cake with friends and feeling centred, balanced and prepared for a flustered week.

One particular area where Frank and I fall short is in meal planning. Inevitably we wake up on Monday morning thinking "oh crap", with a bare fridge, no lunch to pack and a potent feeling of frustration. Often this disorganisation leads to bad spending and eating habits - we're far more inclined to dip into the local Pizza Express for tea than face a lone tin of kidney beans at home. The upshot is a feeling of perpetual disappointment at my lack of planning and my over spending (and eating).

I can't be the only one to have noticed the subscription service Hello Fresh on their travels over the past year. At one point or another I've received numerous discount codes, but much like a Laithwaite's wine voucher I tended to shred them and pop them straight into the recycling bin. But when another week of bad meal planning swung my way, combined with a 50% Hello Fresh promo code via my Glossybox subscription, I decided to hop online and take a look.

Hello Fresh is a subscription order box containing fresh ingredients and meal plan for you to cook your meals for the week. Dependent on the box you go for (they offer 3 or 5 days for veggie and meat eater alike), you receive all the bits and bots you need to cook healthy, tasty evening meals.

My 50% voucher meant that my 5 meal box for two people cost a respectable £24.50 (full price is normally £49). I signed up and set my delivery day for the Monday to start the week off in a healthy way. On Monday a huge cardboard box arrived with my neighbours. To me this highlighted an immediate drawback of Hello Fresh - someone has to be at home to receive it. If like me you commute via public transport, there's no way you'll be able to lug a huge cardboard box home on the bus.

That aside, opening the box the contents were carefully packaged in padded and refrigerated bags.

Hello Fresh review

Laying out the contents, the box was filled with fresh, healthy organic ingredients. Peppers the size of melons, vegetables that smelt like they'd just been uprooted from the vegetable patch, beautiful free range meat and high quality herbs and spices.

Hello Fresh review

The recipe cards were varied and detailed, with nothing taking longer than 30 minutes to cook. Our first meal was a roasted vegetable, halloumi and lentil salad, which took a few short minutes to whip up and tasted divine.

Hello Fresh review

Hello Fresh review

Hello Fresh review

Hello Fresh review

Another firm favourite was the chicken paella, but we were also treated to (healthy) fish and chips, lamb koftas with cucumber raita and pasta amatriciana.

Hello Fresh review

The verdict? There's no doubt the food was delicious, quick, healthy and fresh, with good sized portions and lots of variety. The menu encouraged us to eat two vegetarian dishes in the week, regulate our portion sizes and feel eased the stress of wondering what was for dinner (a huge bonus in my massively disorganised book).

The drawback had to be both value for money and accessibility. The discount code was a clear winner, yet the £49 a week price tag for two people's evening meals for 5 days would leave us easily spending £400 a month on food to cover the additional weekend meals, our lunches and breakfasts. Hello Fresh claim to offer value for money in comparison with other supermarkets, and that might be so if you were buying high-end ingredients every day, but in reality we can't afford premium meat from the butcher or organic vegetables from the greengrocer. As much as we'd love to, it's not something we can justify every week.

Also, Hello Fresh literally give you the ingredients for the meal, including tiny pinches of seasoning in little tubs, meaning no leftovers to use in future dinners, which really isn't value for money in my book. I like to root around in my cupboards and ponder over what recipes I could use with some leftover garam masala, but replicating a lot of the Hello Fresh recipes isn't possible unless you go out and buy it all from scratch again.

Lastly, there's no way we could have Hello Fresh delivered on a weekly basis, simply because like most people we work and can't be there to accept a large delivery. In short, while we loved experiencing Hello Fresh, enjoyed the meals they had to offer and would simply love to add it to our regular routine, it's not right for us, and the price and delivery mean we're back to planning our meals ourselves (or trying to).

If you would like to try Hello Fresh (and despite the slightly negative conclusion I do wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try), you can get £20 off your first order using the code B4J4KR.

Have you tried Hello Fresh? What did you think?

Currently listening to:



sally

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Monday, 9 February 2015

Our home - retro interiors

Over the years I’ve spent so much time stuffing my life into cardboard boxes and lugging it over new thresholds that I’ve never really managed to get to know a house properly. When I first moved to Manchester (in typically London style), I gave myself a month to get unpacked, painted and furnished, but soon realised that before I started stringing up curtains and ripping down wallpaper I really needed to get to know my new little mound of bricks and mortar. So instead I spent some time wandering from room to room, watching jagged shafts of sunlight streaming through the blinds, getting a feel for the light at different times of day, the space and the personality of each nook and cranny. Then, slowly but surely, we started collecting bits of furniture. It was tempting to spend an afternoon in Ikea, grabbing everything in one swoop, but I’m so glad we didn’t. Instead, we sifted through adverts on Gumtree and eBay, pinned lots of inspiration boards and took our time waiting for the right bits and pieces to crop up.

The lounge is still a work in progress, but we’re slowly getting there. I’d been eyeballing this 1960s teak sideboard for months, and once we’d got to know the space a little better, we decided that retro furniture would suit our little Dutch-style lounge. When we’d moved in and the sideboard was still for sale, I took it as a sign and promptly snapped it up. We’re both thrilled with it, and have gradually been adding bits and pieces to the room – a retro cocktail chair, a tallboy, curtains and side tables. One thing I’ve realised about decorating a ‘theme’ room (of sorts) is that it’s much harder than it looks. I soon realised that retro items are two-a-penny, but many of them feel a little gimmicky – 70s swirls, garish lava lamps or swinging 60s patterns that I’m not keen on at all. Instead we’re opting for clean lines and pops of colour so it feels fresh and bright.

Lounge

One thing we’re still looking to buy is a new rug, and I’ve set my heart on these retro-inspired rugs from Urbanara. The geometric patterns are subtle but retro-inspired, and I really think it would tie the room together perfectly. They look like fantastic quality and are good value for money. Here are some of my favourites:

Urbanara rugs

Urbanara rugs

Urbanara rugs

Urbanara rugs

A couple of lamps, a floor plant and a paint job and we’ll soon be on our way. I’ve included a few photos below that I’ve recently added to Pinterest to show you the kind of look we’re going for. This week I’ll be battling with a curtain pole and the wallpaper steamer, and hopefully soon I’ll be able to give you a proper tour of our nice new lounge.







sally
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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A walk in the woods

On cloudy, cold and downcast days I always fight the temptation to hibernate indoors, tucked under a soft blanket in cosy pyjamas, my head buried in a good book. Sometimes though, when the sun is fighting it's own battle against the swathes of dark and ominous clouds, where shafts of light tinge their edges golden, and it might just pour with rain at any second, I like to pull on my wellies and go walking in the woods. Barren silver birches tower like skeletons, while peeps of green foliage hint towards a lush spring. Dew drops cling to twigs and drip, drip drip onto the mossy undergrowth, where masses of dark, damp funghi swell across broken tree stumps. There's something utterly peaceful about an English woodland. Tangles of branches and bracken, a maze of paths that no map can decipher. For once I can tuck away my innate need to reach a destination and simply wander - allowing myself to get lost in the depths of the undergrowth. Without fail, I always find myself reciting Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

As the light begins to dim we reach the river, the tumble of icy water making us shiver in the closing light, as dog walkers coax their muddy companions towards their houses. As we reach the front door of our own house the sun is setting, and hungry and tired, we dust the frost from our coats, shed our layers and rub our hands together in the comforting warmth of home.

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

Manchester

sally

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This site contains links to outside sources including paid affiliates. Queenie and the Dew is not responsible for the content of any third party website.