Archive for November, 2012

November 28, 2012

A ‘Sage and Thrift’ Supper.

I’ve always envied the Americans for Thanksgiving. Not for the origins or history surrounding it (which I remain largely ignorant of, but suspect, like most history, it is a mixed bag of truths) but the fact that it’s a great excuse to get together with people you love, to eat, drink and share a bit of gratitude for the good things in your life.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and having been inspired by the wonderful Kinfolk magazine, this weekend my dear friend Jo and I held the first of what we hope to be a regular small gathering of people, sharing food, music and thoughts in the comfortable and relaxed surrounding of home. Snuggled on sofas and with the laid-back eclectic sounds of Fip (French online radio) in the background, we happily worked our way through a communally produced supper of the best French Onion soup I think I’ve ever eaten, Triple Chocolate Cheesecake, which was healthy, yet utterly decadent (from the amazing  Veggie Runners. You need to visit their website, they’ll be adding the recipe soon!), various cakes and several pots of tea.

And it worked really, really well. With no standing on ceremony allowed, I am hoping that these gatherings will help deepen friendships and create new ones, develop ideas and plans, share projects and enable us to spend a bit of ‘slow’ time in good company. Saturday’s subjects included natural skin-care, producing smartphone Apps, knitting patterns, running and plans for a 2013 surfing trip, which for someone with an almost endless list of interests, was a great way of spending time!

The supper also gave us the chance to trial our  first Cookbook Club. Many people, like me, have an irresistible urge to buy beautiful cookbooks and as a result, and despite best efforts, have an enormous collection gathering dust. Our solution; a monthly swap. Anyone wanting to join in brings a cookbook that for some reason they’ve not been using and swap. At the end of the month they have the option to continue with another swap or withdraw themselves and their book until next time. It’s a great way to try out lovely new recipes without spending any money or having to find more space on your bookshelf. Each cookbook will be given a logbook as a swap diary for people to write about what they chose to cook and their experiences, which will be returned to the cook book owner, alongside the books themselves.

We’ve decided that we want to develop a little creative, collaborative community, and we’re calling it ‘Sage & Thrift‘. It’s not remotely set in stone and we reserve the absolute right to change our ideas at will. But I definitely think that these suppers will remain a part of what we do. I’m already looking forward to the next one…

November 19, 2012

Bensons Townhouse, Whitby

I’m feeling very relaxed and happy with life this morning, mostly because I’ve just returned from spending the weekend in the most amazing Bed and Breakfast I may ever have had the good fortune to visit.

Image courtesy of Bensons Townhouse

Bensons Townhouse is an imposing Grade II listed  Georgian property with a fascinating history that has been wonderfully renovated by the current owners, Jonathan and Sarah Barnes. It is rated as five star accommodation by Visit England, the only B&B with this rating in Whitby. On our arrival, Jonathan came out to meet me and my husband at the car-park and showed us to our room and then Sarah produced the perfect cup of tea and cakes for us to enjoy in a comfortable pair of leather sofas; the ideal way to start relaxing.

The house is impeccable; elegant, grown-up and tastefully finished. Glittering chandeliers and ornate mirrors provide a beautiful contrast to the muted walls (think Farrow and Ball colour palette) timeless, classic furniture and period features. We stayed in Room 2, the smaller of the two rooms, which was perfectly appointed and with a king sized bed so comfortable, I’d still be there now, given the choice… When I think about the sanctuary I’d like my bedroom at home to be, I now have a frame of reference. Basically, I want to transport the bedroom from Bensons Townhouse, lock, stock and barrel back to Leeds. With its high ceiling, period shutters and air of tranquility, it was perfect.

Bedroom one. Image courtesy of Bensons Townhouse

Every little luxurious detail was carefully thought out, from the Yorkshire tea and flask of fresh milk on the hospitality tray, to the wine and chocolates waiting for your arrival. The bathroom was immaculate, with the whitest, fluffiest towels, two sinks and lots of lovely toiletries. We had a flat-screen TV (which sadly got used to watch Match of the Day – some things never change…) and an Ipod docking station next to the giant, goose-down-duvet-covered and incredibly comfortable bed. I’m really in love with that bed, can you tell?

Despite the perfect and very stylish feel to the whole place, that does not mean it is intimidating. Far from it. The welcome we received was really warm, and we felt comfortable and relaxed straight away, which is so important to us when we only have a short time to enjoy the peace and luxury of time away from our usual responsibilities.

Of course, one of the most important parts of staying in a Bed and Breakfast has to be the breakfast itself and here, Bensons Townhouse also excels. Served in an elegant dining room, a range of cooked options, together with an extensive variety of cereals, fruits, juice, toast and croissants were available, and everything we had was excellent. My husband said that his full English breakfast, using locally sourced ingredients,  was one of the best he’d ever had. I had scrambled eggs with bacon and an English muffin, which was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented with chives and roasted cherry tomatoes. It’s easy to see why they’re already in possession of a Breakfast Award from Visit England. Thankfully, on Sunday we were blessed with a sunny clear blue sky and so were able to walk off some of the calories on a coastal stretch of the Cleveland Way National Trail afterwards!

In the past, I’ve avoided staying in Bed and Breakfast accommodation, preferring the relative anonymity of a hotel over feeling like I might be imposing on someone’s private home. However, this stay has made me re-think this completely. It was a little like staying in the tiniest boutique hotel, with the warmest, kindest hosts imaginable – even my husband’s charity Movember moustache didn’t phase them! It feels really clear to see through the work Jonathan and Sarah have put into the property, the attention to detail and the attentive customer service that this is a labour of love for them and as a guest, that makes for a superb experience.

Glittering chandeliers: image courtesy of Bensons Townhouse

After what amounted to a perfect weekend, I was terribly sad to leave, and am already trying to work out when I can make a return visit. If you’re planning a stay in Whitby, look no further than Bensons Townhouse. I honestly believe it to be flawless.

NB: I know this reads like a sponsored post, but it’s not. I was a regular paying guest and just asked afterwards to borrow a few photographs as my own didn’t do the place justice. I simply had a great stay and wanted to share that with you all! 

November 16, 2012

Cox and Cox Bud Vases

One of the good things about de-cluttering is that I am finally finding space to display beautiful things. Like these delicate little glass bud vases from Cox and Cox that I was kindly given from the lovely folk atNotOnTheHighStreet.com.  I’ve had them a while, but because of their fragile nature and small stature, I’ve resisted putting them out on display. Firstly because I was worried about breaking them, but also because they’d get lost amongst the clutter! Small things need space to shine and I’ve finally got that, after lots of work tidying up.

I have a set of eight, two each of the four different colours shown in the photo; Atlantic Deep, Dark Olive, Soft Mole and Iron. I think the colours are perfect for this time of year and they all look great against the plain grey walls of my bedroom or in my sitting room by the fire.

I love having little displays of seasonal flowers on my bedside table and on the fireplaces in my bedroom and in the sitting room, and these jewel coloured little vases will be perfect for bringing a bit of sparkle to the room over the winter, before they are used for tiny posies of the first spring flowers. They look especially lovely placed alongside candles, so the flickering glow of the light reflect the colours and bring a bit of warmth to the colder months.

Cox and Cox Bud Vases. Photo from Notonthehighstreet.com

If you could bear to part with these, they’d make a great gift for someone, either the whole eight in the box for Christmas or a couple wrapped up as a little thank you gift. I’ll be keeping mine in my bedroom, where I will be able to appreciate them at their fullest, lined up along my bedroom fireplace…

With many thanks to NotOnTheHighStreet.com for sending me these lovely vases to review. 

November 12, 2012

Time without Twitter

On Friday, after a great but exhausting day at the National Media Museum, I managed to leave my beloved Iphone on the top deck of a bus.  I didn’t even realise to start off with, but after searching the myriad of bags and pockets I had with me, it gradually dawned on me that my phone was continuing the bus journey alone. So, I spent the weekend frantically cancelling things, blocking accounts, changing passwords and assuming that all was lost. Amazingly, it was handed in and I managed to have it back in my hand again by Monday. Massive thanks to whoever was responsible for that.

Because I’d cancelled everything, it took a whole week for everything to get sorted out. So I had an accidental week without Twitter and Instagram. Every so often, I’d get the chance to go online and spent a little bit of time on Twitter, but it wasn’t the same as having it to hand all the time. Conversations were missed, blog posts went unread, news went unseen – I didn’t even know that Bradley Wiggins had been knocked off his bike, and he’s one of my great heroes.  Even that made me realise just how much of my news I get through Twitter.

There were upsides to all of this. I did a bit more of all of my ongoing projects than perhaps I might have done – a bit more knitting, a bit more bathroom woodwork sanding (which is truly the most horrible of all DIY jobs) and a bit more working on the allotment. Most telling of all was that I read a whole novel from cover to cover in only a handful of days. That used to be a regular habit until Twitter started sucking up all my time. I had far fewer headaches, suggesting that perhaps I spend too long staring at my tiny phone screen. I sat on the bus and looked aimlessly out of the window, instead of being head down looking at my phone each time I made a journey, and that was actually very pleasant. It’s easy to lose those precious moments of just being, if you’re constantly checking updates on various social media platforms.

But I missed it. I missed the laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus-home moments. I missed knowing the news, and opinion about the news, as it happened. I missed my friends –  especially the ones like Dave Graham (@dakegra) who is responsible for this blog post idea and who has a great blog of his own, Espresso Coco, which you should go and visit. He’s one of a large number of people with whom I have only an online friendship, but I don’t think that makes the relationships any less valid. I missed finding great blog posts to read, photos to see, and having my little place in the lives of all the people I met via Twitter.

I know there is a balance to be struck. One in which I spend a little less time online, leaving time for books, projects, gazing out of windows and, erm…’real life’ – but one that still allows me to spend enough time online to enjoy the great things about it. Apparently, all I need to do to make sure that happens is lose my phone every now and again…

November 5, 2012

The Paradox Of Choice.

I’m banned from the supermarkets these days. Not by the stores themselves, you understand, they’d be only too happy to have my time and money. It’s a self-imposed ban. Not for any  ethical reasons, although I do have plenty of those. For my sanity.

I have come to realise that I don’t cope well with too much choice. In a restaurant, I behave as though it’s my last supper every time I order, and I often struggle to choose my lunch (when I’m not using up leftovers, that is) but the time it really comes to the fore is in the supermarket.

It begins in the fruit and vegetable section. If I’m buying apples, for example, I’ll look at the variety, the condition they’re in and where they have come from. I prefer to buy UK grown fruit and vegetables, but if I’m buying from abroad, then I’ll look for a Fairtrade label.  There are pros and cons to air-freighted vegetables, so I’ll make decisions about that too. So far, so complicated. But in fact, this is now the easiest section of the supermarket for me to be in. When it comes to packaged food, I find myself looking at labels relentlessly, searching for ingredients, working out who owns the company, which type is cheaper and what looks the most appealing. It goes on and on. My husband says I go into something like shock; the proverbial deer in headlights. The last straw came when he had to drag me away from a whole wall full of tooth-pastes. I mean, why do we need so many options? Whitening, fresh breath, gum health, complete care. Do I want spearmint, fresh-mint, sensitive? Is one of those stand-up pumps better than a normal tube? Which works out cheaper? And what are blue micro-beads for anyway? There is no wonder I go into some kind of choice paralysis. Coupled with the bright lights and Christmas music in October, it’s a wonder anyone gets out alive.

These days, we order our supermarket shopping online. Using the information from the last shop, I can quickly whip through the list and, even when I change things ( I always check for special offers and cheaper deals) it’s so much less stressful in front of a laptop and away from the store. An added bonus is never having to take my small children with me. Not for them the opportunities to throw extra sweets into the trolley, destroy the magazine aisle or have a ginormous tantrum because I won’t buy them everything they want. Those days are over.

Of course, it’s not just supermarkets. The paradox of choice is everywhere – from choosing a mobile phone (uppermost in my mind, after losing mine) to a pair of jeans, and much much more. The size of the market, which is allegedly one of the greatest successes of a Western society, does not do me many favours after all.

At the moment, I’m in the throes of yet another de-cluttering of my house. This time I’m being more ruthless. I’m getting rid of lots of things that I have been keeping for sentimental reasons, despite them being hidden away and forgotten about. I’m looking for voluntary simplicity. I’d like to have far fewer things, and only buy things that I need or truly love, and keep them forever. I want things that are not trend-led but designed to last, and for my surroundings to be peaceful instead of feeling as though the house will explode if we bring one more thing into it.

It is a difficult enough thing to do with a small family for whom more is better. My son in particular is a collector and is desperate for every single engine in the Thomas Take’n’Play collection, so I will have to accommodate that to a certain extent.

Yet, the real challenge comes from within me. It is becoming easier and easier for me to get rid of things. I’m far more comfortable with that now – and I can tell that clearing out the house is doing wonders for my mind too – it’s as though as weight is lifted from them when I give away yet another bag of unwanted belongings to the charity shop. But what about when the time comes to buy something new? To replace something that is worn out and cannot be repaired? I’m not talking about the occasional luxury here (those things tend to be used up anyway, given that my favourite treats are things like a bottle of fizz or a luxurious bath oil) I’m talking about the things that I hope will last forever.

If I want to have far fewer things, then any new things that I buy need to be the very best choice there is for me. That doesn’t mean the most expensive, it means the best suited to what I want and need. I already prefer to have fewer clothes that are well-made than lots of cheaper clothes, so it’s just spreading that to other areas of my life and making the best choices about the things I want in my life. But given that I cannot even choose a tube of toothpaste without assistance, that might be something of a challenge…