Archive for June, 2012

June 29, 2012

Fragrance: Eau Dynamisante

It’s been a while since I’ve written a fragrance post. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been for a play in the perfume departments and beauty stores so I’ve not found any new ones that I’ve liked. Instead, I’ve been using up all of the different perfumes I’ve already got, in some attempt to save a little money. After all, new perfumes are not always best. Most of my absolute favourite perfumes are older classics.

Take Eau Dynamisante, for example. Created in 1987 by Clarins, this is described as a ‘treatment’ fragrance for both men and women by Clarins, and therefore is missed from some perfume reviews. Most notably for me, it’s missed from ‘Perfumes: The Guide‘ which is my fragrance bible. This is perhaps because it’s designed to be worn all over the body as an aromatherapy type treatment, rather than ( in the words of the immortal Coco Chanel) ‘where you want to be kissed’.

I don’t consider Clarins particularly when I think of perfume in the way I would with companies such as Guerlain, who have moved from perfume into skin care and make up. I always think of Clarins as predominantly a skin care company and yet this fragrance has been a success for over 20 years.

The scent is reminiscent of a traditional Eau de Cologne to me, with herbal elements and spicy, citrus and woody (Patchouli, Thyme, Lemon, Petit Grain) notes. It’s got a clean and uplifting feel to it, and really does make me feel invigorated when I smell it. A great fragrance to wear during the day. Clarins make a whole range of body products in this fragrance too. What a treat it would be to use them together. Perhaps I will be venturing into that department store soon after all…

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June 27, 2012

Finding Time

I had a really busy week last week. So much so, that I missed two blog posts. It doesn’t take much for my ‘carefully planned’ schedule to go completely to pot. In some attempt to regain control of my time, I made a little table and populated it on hourly basis with what I was doing. I thought it would be a useful way of seeing where there was time I wasn’t making the most of.

Of course, there are huge chunks of time that are given over to work or parenting so they’re easily written off, as they are non-negotiable, obviously. But what I’ve discovered is that I claim to be busy, when actually what I’m doing is:

1) Playing Moshi Monsters. I set myself an account up so I could play with Eve, and now I’m playing it all the time. Even when she’s in bed. What’s wrong with me? I just need to complete my Moshling zoo and then I’ll be sane again. Honest. So much for not liking computer games…

2) Compiling the Net-A-Porter wishlist of my dreams, complete with evening dresses costing as much as a round-the-world cruise. For when I win the Lottery, obviously. And then get invited to the Met Ball. Which is a fairly improbable set of possibilities. It’s good to be prepared for all eventualities though, and it’s a bit like shopping without spending anything.

3) Searching for Antarctic voyages. Which, if you sail from Australia like Scott, are roughly 25 thousand pounds per head. It’s the travel equivalent of my Net-A-Porter wish-list.

4) Reading Grazia. Every Tuesday, I spent a couple of hours with this little addiction.

5) Spending time on Twitter. Ah, Twitter. I love Twitter, really I do. It changed my life. The eclectic group of people I follow means that I can be simultaneously immersed in conversations about politics, shoes, zombies and allotment gardening at any given moment. It’s utterly and completely amazing, but it steals time like nothing else.

There is obviously nothing wrong with any of these things. After all, time spent enjoying yourself isn’t time wasted, and after a day of working and parenting, it’s necessary for my brain to decompress a bit with something light and fun. The problem only comes when I think I’m too busy to work on any of the bigger things I want to do. If I fail to make some of them happen, because I’ve spent the whole year building a Moshling zoo and an imaginary wardrobe, how am I going to feel? Recording how I’m spending my time has been a bit of an eye opener. Although there is also the possibility that I need to get up earlier in the morning (like my writer friend who starts writing at 5.20am) if I reduce the amount of time I spend on these things, I might actually make progress on the things I really want to do!

So, I plan to spend no more than fifteen minutes on any of my ‘timewasters’ for every spare hour I’ve got, before putting them to one side and using that time more productively. We’ll see if it makes any difference in a month or so. For really good time-management-ninja help, I recommend you spend some time with the fabulous Marie Forleo. I’ve learnt a lot from her site.

How do you like to ‘waste’ time? And how do you stop yourself from letting those things take over? I’d love to know…

June 25, 2012

Cycle Chic: Sawako Furono helmet

Even though I’d rather cycle with the wind in my hair, unhindered by any kind of head protection, I don’t live in the bucolic idyll I’d like to, so I do ususally wear a protective helmet, especially when riding in traffic. It’s also mandatory for any kind of event, and I’d expect my kids to wear one so it’s only right that I practice what I preach to them.

After I bought my beautiful Pashley Princess Sovereign (recently christened Lucinda) I really wanted a helmet that felt more in keeping with her feminine style. My old helmet, borrowed from my husband, wasn’t exactly fitting the bill. Thankfully, I’ve recently discovered the beautiful helmets made by Sawako Furono. An architect by training, she designed the helmets to be a stylish alternative to the usual, masculine headwear we’re usually presented with. When I’m riding any other bike, I’m more than happy to wear my old helmet, but on the Pashley, this feels like a better option. I’m not letting my beautiful new bike down with a rubbish old helmet!

My beautiful new bike helmet

The helmets cost about the same as a high-end cycling helmet of any brand, but are produced in very limited numbers and in beautiful colour options. They are one size, with an adjustable dial at the back. For a brief second when I tried it on, I thought it was too small, but thankfully I was wrong and once I’d opened the fitting up at the back, it fitted perfectly and is really comfortable to wear.

A close up of the Liberty-esque print.

I bought my helmet from Cycle Chic, although you can also buy them directly from Sawako Furono’s website. Cycle Chic have a range of other helmets as well as other great panniers, clothing and accessories.

I suppose you’re going to want to see what it looks like? Oh, go on then…

June 20, 2012

A Day in Alnwick

I took the day off work for my birthday treat and we drove up to Alnwick in Northumberland. My main aim for the day was to pay a visit to Barter Books, one of the largest second hand bookshops in the country and certainly one of the most interesting.

It’s located inside an old train station, complete with a great little cafe in the old waiting room and a small model railway whirring around a track above the bookshelves. There are good stocks of many specialist non-fiction books alongside a comprehensive collection of old and contemporary fiction and a children’s section. I was there on the hunt for Ruby Ferguson first editions, vintage Penguin paperbacks and books on Antarctica, although the joy of pottering around a second hand bookshop never diminishes for me, so even if I had come away empty handed, I’d still have loved every minute.

After a long, and fairly extensive search around the shop, and a little talking to myself about how I couldn’t really buy anything that cost over £100, I ended up with a History of the Royal Navy (for David) a map of North Yorkshire and a copy of ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. This book ticked two boxes, being both a vintage Penguin and a book about Antarctic exploration. I’m quite excited about this, having seen the notes that would form the original manuscript in the Scott Polar Research Institute in May. The old Bartholemew map is in three pieces, but will be getting cut up anyway and used as backing for some of the spaces in my letterpress drawer, a birthday gift this year. This will be put on the wall of my bedroom eventually for holding little trinkets and mementoes.

Our other stop in Alnwick was at the lovely Bari Tea. Now, I know that I’ve written about coffee on this blog before, and I will do so again. But as much as I flirt with coffee, my heart really belongs to tea. And if you’re a tea lover as much as I am, there can be no better place to spend some time than in Bari Tea. Impeccably clean and with great cakes and customer service, the crowning glory is the almost-overwhelming list of teas. To make your decision easier, little jars of each of them are available for inspecting and if you tell them what you’re going to eat, they will recommend a tea that would be particularly suitable. I love the ritual of the tea making, complete with a little timer to tell you when it will be perfectly brewed and ready to drink. A great place and one I will definitely return to on my next visit to Alnwick.

After a really lovely and tranquil day, we drove back home along the coast road, stopping in Craster for a blast of sea air and the for a supper of fish and chips.

A lovely birthday. Only four years until my fortieth. Perhaps I’d better start planning that one now?…

June 15, 2012

Red Trousers

I bought some red trousers recently. It’s not a big deal perhaps in the grand scheme of things, but for me it was a monumentous occasion. I’d had a yearning for a pair of coloured trousers for a while, they’re all over the High Street, so Hillary and I went to try some on just for fun. I don’t really wear the kind of clothes that might make me stand out. I’m more of a one-of-the-crowd kind of dresser. You know, safe colours, lots of black and denim. Nothing that shouts ‘look at ME”. So I thought we were really going to try them on for a bit of a giggle and that would be it.

However, after a few pretty ridiculous colours, I tried on the red ones and against all expectations, they looked ok. Good, in fact. So, urged on by my usual Twitter accomplices, I bought them. It took me a good few days to pluck up the courage to wear them but I did in the end. On the school run. Now, if you believe the press, the school run is a daily fashion parade. However, unless you’re the rich, yet unfortunate folk who have Claudia Schiffer or Elle MacPherson on your school run (in which case, you should accept graceful defeat) it’s not. It’s mostly just harrassed parents wearing whatever they happened to grab, or whatever they’re wearing to work. It’s not really a natural red trouser habitat.

As I’m always late on the school run, once the fatal decision was made, I just had to go with it. There is no time in my morning ‘schedule’ for spending ages in front of my tiny wardrobe making choices. First outfit I put on, I go with. Even if it’s red trousers.

And it was fine. Despite the fact that, accompanied by my beloved brown knee length boots, I was veering dangerously close to Dick Whittington territory. Or, as a work colleague put it, a cross between highway-woman and pirate. I quite like that though. One of my lovely Twitter friends said that red trousers make everyone smile at you. Or snigger behind your back, I suppose. I didn’t really notice too much sniggering, which I think is a good sign. That, and the fact that my daughter’s much younger and cooler teacher told me she liked them. Without laughing or any prompting on my part!

What I’ve realised about this experience is that if you wear something with confidence (even if that’s feigned to start with) people will accept it as being fine. The other thing is, that really, people don’t care. We all like to think we’re really important, but honestly, everyone is so worried about themselves and what is going on in their own life, they’re barely going to register you. And if, for the few seconds I walk past them, my red trousers make them smile, then that’s ok. It’s even ok if they tell their friends later and have a laugh at my expense. I don’t care. Life is too short to be scared of your trousers…

Sadly this post is something of a eulogy for my red trousers. Having got over my initial fear, I literally wore them out. The downside of buying cheap trousers because you don’t think you’ll ever dare wear them. So the hunt for a replacement pair begins. Now I’ve tasted the joy of being braver (even just a tiny bit) with my clothing, I am hooked.

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June 13, 2012

Liz Earle skincare and Leeds store review

I recently went to the Liz Earle store in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds for the first time. In honesty, I went with a friend who had vouchers to spend, but I ended up shopping myself too! I’ve used Liz Earle products before, bought by mail order, and really liked them, so I’m not really sure why I’ve not been in store before. Anyway, suffice to say I’ll be going back.

The store is a large one, covering two floors in the prestigious and beautiful Victoria Quarter in Leeds and is a really light, calm and welcoming space, giving very positive first impressions. There are lots of products out on display, but the real joy of this store is their complete understanding that before we buy a product, most of us like to try it out. What does it smell like, feel like, look like? How do I apply it? How does my skin react? All those questions, and more, can be answered by testing (playing!) with the products at the many spaces around the store.

Upstairs are more sinks and mirrors for exactly that purpose, as well as giant sofas with magazines and books about natural ingredients to browse through. Staff are on hand to answer any questions you might have, and the three that I spoke to during my visit were all really friendly and knowledgeable about the product without being pushy about making sales. Perfect. The icing on the customer service cake is literally, cake. Every Friday afternoon the store gives out cake to customers. That’s right, you heard me! CAKE FRIDAY! How well they know me…

Recently has seen the opening of a treatment room in store. This restful space will be used for providing facials using the Liz Earle range, which would be such a treat. I want to be the the woman having the facial in this photo! The Signature Facial was the highest rated in a Vogue magazine review of ‘wonder facials’.

As for the products themselves, I think they are brilliant. I bought the multi award-winning Cleanse and Polish Hot Cloth cleanser, which is applied to the face and then washed off using the accompanying muslin cloth, therefore it acts as a gentle exfoliator too. I’ve been using this for a while now and my skin loves it. Alongside the cleanser, I bought a sample sized Skin Repair Moisturiser, which has also been lovely to use. Because I’d bought these two, I got another sample sized product free, so I chose the Superskin Concentrate which I’ve used at night. It smells glorious and feels very nourishing.

This is a long term offer and one that I think is another great example of excellent customer service, giving the opportunity to try new products at a reduced cost, or perhaps use the smaller sized versions for holiday. The other thing I love is their range of ‘Try Me’ kits – also great for holidays or just trying smaller sizes out before you commit to a more expensive purchase. Alongside the facial products is a full range of body products, sun protection and aftercare and men’s skincare too. I have friends with really sensitive skin who say that the Liz Earle sun protection cream is the only one that their skin doesn’t react to. They’ve recently launched a range of make up, which I’ve not tested yet, but it’s on the to-do list!

If I haven’t convinced you enough, what with the ace products, cake and great offers, I’ll tell you that they’re BUAV approved and British, with a headquarters on the wonderful Isle of Wight, where one half of my family are from. Excellent.

June 11, 2012

Pashley Princess Sovereign

Yesterday was test ride day. After consulting the whole world, the bike I have ended up ordering is the Pashley Princess Sovereign, in Buckingham Black.

Before we entered the shop I was having doubts about whether it was the right decision. After all, it’s a bike with a design dating back to the 1930’s and apart from some nice specification upgrades (Sturmey Archer hub brakes and Schwalbe puncture resistant Marathon Plus tyres) it hasn’t changed since. On the one hand, it’s outdated, a bit silly and completely unsuitable for riding around hilly Leeds. On the other hand, I’ve always wanted one. It’s the sheer unadulterated beauty of the machine, coupled with a very strong rose-tinted view of life atop a Pashley that’s done it. I’m basically yearning to be a character in an Enid Blyton book.

My lovely (long suffering) husband said to me that I should stop being practical and just go with my guts. As we went upstairs and I saw ‘my’ bike waiting for me, I grinned a giant grin. That was it. I was in love. One test ride up and down the local roads later and it was completely confirmed. This is the bike I want. Rose-tinted and impractical it may be, riding it was an utter, utter joy. Sitting upright gives you a similar body position as on a horse, rather than sitting forward, which I find really comfortable. There is no getting around the fact that it weighs an absolute ton, but I’m not going anywhere near Alpe d’Huez any time soon. Apart from  using it to cycle to some of my work projects, I will mostly be pootling around after my kids on their little bikes, so that doesn’t matter. The giant basket in the front can hold all manner of baby wipes, soft toys, blankets, sweets and other essentials for a family outing. As for Cycletta, well, I’ll be at the back, sitting upright, and grinning all the way round.

As we left the shop, after reserving the bike and going home to sort out the rest of the paperwork, I did a little bit of happy crying. It’s a rare feeling to have exactly the thing I want, after waiting for years and years for it. I’m still smiling now, just remembering the test ride, and knowing that after a few more weeks of waiting, it will be coming home with me.

June 8, 2012

My New Plans.

After a year of challenge, there was no way I could just stop, so I’ve spent quite a long time thinking about what I want to do next and so quite a few things on this list are a natural progression from my 35:35 Challenge.

I’ve realised that although I enjoyed the rather haphazard nature of my last challenge, I actually need a bit more structure. I want to do a few more tangible things in my 36th year that should hopefully show definite results, so I’ve grouped my plans into four main categories and I’m going to record my progress for the year in each of them. There is obviously going to be crossover between them, but broadly speaking, they’re as follows:

Food: From Allotment gardening to Michelin starred restaurants.

Jam making. Allotment gardening. Cookery classes. Michelin starred restaurants. Street food. Apple Day. Agricultural shows. Cooking with my kids. Bee project. Exploring new food. Pop-up tea rooms and restaurants. Cheese making. Patisserie. Market shopping. Discovering new local food producers.

My main plans:

  • Cookbook Challenge. A continuing challenge to cook something from each of my 64 cookbooks and record each one on my Tumbr account.
  • Developing the ‘Leeds Cookbook Collective’ (this is a new project that I’m starting with a friend and something I’m quite excited about)

Outdoors: Being Active in the Natural Environment.

Cycling. Horse riding. Walking. Climbing. Running. Camping. Sailing. Kayaking. Teaching my kids about wildlife, nature and the seasons. Picnics in the park. Walking in the woods. Sandcastles in the summer. Snowmen in the winter.

My main plans:

  • Riding – I’m going to get back on a horse again this summer. If I enjoy it, I plan to re-learn to ride again from scratch. This is a huge undertaking, as I’ve not been in the saddle for three years and if I’m honest, I have in the way of little natural ability so it’s hard work.
  • Train for an event. Probably a walk/run/climb of some kind. I want to do this with another person. You up for it? (This is possibly the Leeds Half Marathon with @wandapops. There, I’ve said it…)
  • Get back in a kayak. Much like getting back on a horse, this is something I need to do. Preferably in calm, sunny waters!
  • Cycletta. Complete this on my new Pashley Princess. Which means I’m unlikely to beat my old time, but I’m going to enjoy it nonetheless. Come and say hello if you’re doing the Tatton Park ride too!

English Adventures: From Northumberland to Lands End.

Exploring the parts of England that I’ve never visited before. Sharing the Isle of Wight of my childhood with my children. Traditions, seasons and special events. Day trips to the seaside. Pony trekking in the Dales. Camping. Festivals. County Shows. Steam railways. 

Main Plans here:

  • A weekend away in the autumn much like our Cambridge visit. All ideas for places to visit will be very much accepted.
  • A family holiday to the Isle of Wight.
  • Making the most of weekends to visit somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Taking the kids to Countryside Live.
Literature
Reading some of  the Classics. Penguin book collection. Vintage Vogues. Ruby Ferguson First Editions. Second hand book shopping. World Book Day with Eve. World Book Night. Leeds Big Bookend Festival. Ilkley Literature Festival.
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Main Plans here:
  • Complete my GoodReads Challenge to read 52 books in 2012.
  • Search for the missing books in my Ruby Ferguson collection.
  • Top Secret Project. This is a big project and one that is definitely Top Secret because it’s self indulgent and a bit ridiculous. Apart from the fact that I’ve already told loads of people. Mostly because I need their help. You know who you are…
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So there we are. A busy year, but one that is definitely more focused on fewer subjects in more depth than last year. I’m also feeling as though I want to spend more time at home and re-visiting things that I’ve loved for a long time, so that is definitely reflected here. There is something about this time of year that always makes me a little rose-tinted about being in England. I’m also enjoying setting goals from one birthday to the next instead of from one January to the next. It feels like a better way of recording my own life. So, the next thing to work out is how I’m going to get all of this done…
June 6, 2012

A Final 35:35 Challenge Post

So, I didn’t get to 35 things. That’s ok. I feel as though I’ve learnt so much over this past year, that although I really wanted to make it, I don’t feel as though I’ve failed simply because of a number.

Highlights:

  • Completing Cycletta.
  • Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and raising lots of lovely money for Bliss.
  • Drumming.
  • Learning to kayak.
  • Joining Twitter and all the wonderful things that have happened and people I have met as a direct consequence of that.
  • Strengthening older friendships, especially with Hillary, who taught me drumming and kayaking.

Lowlights:

  • The sheer bloody pain at the end of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, which made me cry.
  • Falling out of a kayak twice.

Having said that these are lowlights, they are also some of the most memorable parts of the year, so I don’t regret them for a second. It turns out that I have a little masochistic streak that actually likes finding things a bit painful – it makes the success that much sweeter.

Other things I have learnt this year:

  • I am more capable than I think I am.
  • I don’t have to wait for someone else to join me when I try something new. I am brave enough to do things on my own.
  • I like physical challenges more than my laziness and ‘curves’ would suggest.
  • The scatter-gun nature of this challenge has been partly successful. It has made me better at saying ‘yes’ to things.
  • However, it has also made me realise that I now want a bit more structure to my projects.
  • As much as I enjoy being sociable, I also enjoy being alone sometimes to have time and space to think and read. This means balancing out my social activities so I don’t feel overwhelmed by them.

As we all know, the act of recording things changes them, but I’ve also realised that it is a really good way of getting a truer picture of what I manage to achieve. I sometimes have moments where I think that all I do is go to work or do the laundry. At those moments, I look at the list of things I’ve done over the year and it reminds me that I’ve managed some brilliant things, on top of being a good mum, employee, friend etc. So I will continue to record what I do, irrespective of this challenge.

So, what’s next?

PS: This means it’s my birthday today…

June 1, 2012

The Secret Tea Room

As part of my 35:35 Challenge, I recently spent a wonderful afternoon in the company of the wonderful Lynn Hill and a table full of strangers.

Lynn Hill is a bone fide celebrity these days. Founder of Clandestine Cake Club, creator of The Secret Tea Room, she is all about the cake. You might even recognise her from TV! The Secret Tea Room is a pop-up afternoon tea, held in a (you guessed it) secret location in Leeds. Lynn sent out the menu a few days before we all arrived and it whetted my appetite immediately: finger sandwiches, homemade savoury tarts, followed by a selection of different cakes, Yorkshire tea loaf with Wensleydale cheese, and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry conserve…mmm.

I arrived on my own, to be met by a table full of nine people, all of whom knew one other person, but not the whole group. It didn’t matter. There is nothing quite like a table groaning under the weight of home-made afternoon tea treats to get the conversation flowing.

We chatted throughout the whole two hours and managed to work our way through the wonderful food. I loved all of it, but I surprised myself by loving the plain scones with clotted cream and jam the most – I ate two on the day, and was inspired to have a go at making my own afterwards (which you can see below) as part of my own Cookbook Challenge. The Secret Tea Room was such a lovely experience. The pop up or underground food experience seems to be well and truly established now and often involves talented people inviting strangers to dine in their own homes. Having enjoyed this so much,  I’m going to investigate other places to visit and eat. There is something truly interesting about dining with people you don’t know and the addition of food ensures that there is always something to talk about.

I might even join my local Clandestine Cake Club too – which is now a global phenomenon with 126 clubs dotted all over the world, including some amazing places such as Barcelona and the Grand Cayman! Perhaps Lynn should do a CCC World Tour…

If you have any food recommendations, I’d love to hear from you!