Archive for July, 2013

July 31, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Three

It’s already week three of Three Good Things, and I’m really enjoying taking some time out of my busy day to think about what I am grateful for. I’ve been so overwhelmed that other people want to join in with this series of posts too. It’s been such a wonderful, unexpected result.

So, here are this week’s Three Good Things!

One: Angelmaker.

The first of my three things this week is a novel. It’s been a while since I read a book so wonderful that it absorbed me from the very first page. Nick Harkaway’s ‘Angelmaker’ is such a book. I’ve been re-reading sentences just for the pure pleasure of wrapping the language around my brain and sneaking off to quiet corners  to dip into it whenever I get the chance.

It’s the story of Joshua Joseph Spork, a clock repairer who tries to live a quiet life in London and keep himself removed from his father’s crooked legacy , and of Edie Banister, a retired super-spy. A mysterious automaton is brought back to life and the end of the world is threatened. Cue lots of intriguing narrative, hidden, mysterious places in London, movements between time periods and lots of well-developed, sympathetic and fascinating characters. It’s fun, thrilling, and something of a rollercoaster ride. I’m only half-way through so don’t give me any spoilers, but right at this point, I’m utterly loving it.

What I really love about great fiction is that it completely reduces my mind to the present. There is no planning, no anxiety, no over-thinking. Just the words spilling from the page in front of me.  And, no matter what problems I’m facing in the real world, there usually is a fictional character who is having a worse day than I am, which is something of a comfort!

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Angelmaker, shown here with a few other things that make me happy!

Two: Instagram fun.

I’ve been really enjoying using Instagram recently. Joining in with Fat Mum Slim’s photo-a-day challenge has changed the way I use the app quite a lot and I’ve discovered lots of new people to follow and be inspired by. Having to think more about the subject that I’m photographing (to fit with the day’s prompt) is making me view my surroundings more carefully, with a new, more appreciative eye. I’ve also been trying really hard to learn about composition, even when just using my iphone to take photographs. Suzannah Conway is hosting August Break on her blog and via IG soon too, and I hope to be able to join in with the daily photo prompt there, even though I doubt I’ll be able to add them all to my blog! Using photo-a-day challenges is a great way for me to stretch my photography learning, find new people to follow on Instagram and feel really positive about how I use the app.

One of my Photo A Day entries for the prompt 'Number'.

One of my Photo A Day entries for the prompt ‘Number’.

Three: Whistles linen top.

My last thing of the week is a new piece of clothing. I rarely buy new clothes, and each piece has to be quite well considered before I part with cash. In the recent sunshine we’ve been having, I’ve struggled with my wardrobe, as I seem to dress mainly for winter! So, I took the plunge and invested in a navy and white striped linen top from Whistles. It has a loose fit, boat neckline and bracelet length sleeves and I’ve been living in it. Chances are if you see me this summer, this is what I’ll be wearing…

Shameless self-portrait. If you see me this summer, I’ll be wearing this!

So, those are the things that have brought me joy this week.

Why don’t you visit A Hell of a Woman and Nyssapod, to discover what they’ve chosen this week.

What are your Three Good Things?

July 26, 2013

Colours May Vary, Leeds.

Those of you who know me well, in real life or through the pages of this blog, will know that I have something of a magazine addiction.

Over the past few years, my magazine preferences have shifted, moving away from women’s monthlies that make false promises like ‘A Perfect Life in 10 Easy Moves’ towards more nourishing, soulful reads like Kinfolk, Cereal, Hole & Corner,  Uppercase, Another Escape and Frankie. That’s not to say the lure of the glossy doesn’t catch me – it does every so often, but if I succumb to one of them, I’m invariably disappointed.

My love of paper and of print media, as opposed to e-books, means that I like to seek out places to find the unusual, the individual and the beautiful. I’m a big fan of Magpile, I did the Guardian Masterclass in independent magazine publishing last year (watch this space…) my Pinterest account has a special board just for magazines, and you might remember that my only Christmas blog post of last year was about Stack magazine subscriptions.

I used to spend many an hour in the now-closed Leeds branch of Borders, perusing the magazines there. I was that rare type who didn’t just spend my lunch-hour standing and reading magazines that I had no intention of buying. I was the one staggering to the cash desk under a teetering pile of unusual, often imported, magazines and journals. That they didn’t survive in Leeds is not because I didn’t spend…

Thankfully, there is now a wonderful place in Leeds where I can satiate my love of magazines and print. That place is Colours May Vary.

Located in Munro House, on the outskirts of the town centre, Colours May Vary is the kind of place that is almost impossible to find; an independent retailer with the kind of relaxed and inviting vibe that doesn’t leave you feeling that you are being watched like a hawk, or always expected to buy. And that, because you feel at ease to browse, and therefore discover all manner of awesome things, is precisely one of the reasons you do buy!

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Some of my purchases from Colours May Vary – and coffees from Laynes!

Together with the aforementioned magazines, the stock includes a great selection of art, design and children’s books, cards, gift wrap, notebooks, and an array of other carefully chosen and ever-changing items that will basically form my entire Christmas shopping this year. I know, I know, I said ‘Christmas’ in July, but I’m on a budget, which means I’ve started my shopping already. Sorry about that.

Current stock includes books, tote bags and prints from the super talented and lovely Matt Sewell, who I was fortunate enough to meet at a recent book launch there. I am currently coveting one of his prints and hoping that if I wish for one hard enough, I might be lucky enough to get one for Christmas! There, I go, mentioning Christmas again…

The customer service is wonderful, and I’ve been able on many an occasion now, to ask for a copy of a particular magazine to be put to one side to enable me to get there and buy it. It feels incredibly responsive and makes me want to sing their praises from the highest of rooftops. The collaboration with Laynes Espresso (splendid independent coffee shop near Leeds Railway Station) means that I can get a coffee and have a quick look through new issues before buying, either from Laynes, or Colours May Vary.  As you can see from the photos, I do that quite a lot!

So, if you’re in Leeds, I highly recommend that you do go to Colours May Vary. It’s a really special store that deserves every success. I’ll probably see you in there…

As an aside, after reading Issue 17 of Uppercase, I have finally booked myself onto a Letterpress Course at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop! Very excited. I’ll let you know how I get on on…

July 24, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Two

The first week of Three Good Things was so well received and I have been completely delighted by how many people got involved. It seems that I’m not the only person who wants to slow down and practice a bit of gratitude for the small things in life.

We may not live perfect lives – I know I definitely don’t –  but there are a lot of things to be grateful for. Things that bring a bit of joy to the everyday, a spot of sunshine and a smile. I want to document them and be reminded that, although my life is not perfect, it is my life. And I’m incredibly lucky to be living it.

So, here we go…

One: My sweetpeas

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The first thing on my list this week are my sweet peas. More than any other flower I know, sweet peas demand to be picked. The more flowers you pick, the more flowers the plant produces, in the desire to ensure its own survival. Added to that, if you choose one of the older varieties or perhaps Matucana (the original sweet pea) you are rewarded with an incredible fragrance from so few flowers. And, if that’s not all, they’re incredibly easy to save seed from. Just allow the pods to dry well, and pop out the large, dark seeds. Keep them somewhere cool and dry and they’ll be fine for sowing next year. Just remember that if you choose an F1 hybrid variety, the saved seed will revert back to the parent, and so you might well end up with a colour you weren’t expecting. But, hey, that’s part of the fun of gardening…

Two: Bun making with my daughter.

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I’m not the kind of parent who does lots of craft activities with my kids. Something I’m going to attempt to change this summer. But I do cook with them. This week, we made buns. Not cupcakes or fairy cakes. Buns. That’s what my mum calls them, and so that’s what I call them. Anyway, these ones, with too much icing and a mountain of mini marshmallows on each one, were lovely.

Three: New perfume!

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This week I was reminded that delated gratification can lead to far greater rewards. For about a year now, I’ve longed for a new perfume. One specific perfume, to be precise. 34 Boulevard St Germain, by Diptyque. I don’t know about you, but every time I see something that I’d really like, I say to myself ‘on payday, I’ll buy that’.  Of course, each payday comes and goes and I don’t buy lovely things. I pay bills.

This month, however, I did buy it. After a year of wishing that I could have this perfume in my life, I finally do. If you see me around, expect me to smell of it! It’s a complicated and quite unique fragrance, inspired by the flagship Diptyque store in Paris. As the store sells a myriad of perfumes, candles and home scents, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be a tangled mess of a smell. Not so. It starts off with green top notes, then the mid notes are floral and then dries down to  the lingering woody, earthy, rich and perfect base notes. I love it. Adore it. And it feels more special to me because I had to wait for it. I doubt I’d be treating it with the same reverence if I was just able to buy it on first encounter without having to really think about it.

So, that’s my three good things for this week. I’d love you to share your Three Good Things, either in the comments or in a blog post. Here’s a little round up of all the fabulous people who wrote a post last week – do go and read them!

Hello Kirsty  – In which we learn the Spanish for ‘we are turtles’ and see a glimpse of the best birthday party dress ever. Brilliant.

Espresso Coco –  More language fun in this post. And some of my favourite things from one of my favourite people and collaborator on a brand new blog! It’s about TEA. You’ll love it.

Leeds & Me  – Isobel has greener fingers than she thought! And because of this post, I’ve a new book on my reading list.

A Hell of A Woman – This blogger is one of my online best buddies and in this post she shares news of a great new project.

Lady Lugosi – This post made me laugh out loud and again, there’s a brilliant project included.

Spider’s Filthy Assistant – I love this post. It’s sexy, optimistic and has made me want to pay a return visit to Edinburgh this year.

Nyssapod – A post from one of my  favourite online friends. I’m coveting the phone case in this post! And I’m going to listen to the money-saving Audioboo.

Looking at this list of posts has made me smile the biggest grin. I probably shouldn’t have it as one of my Three Good Things for next week, but it’s tempting…

July 17, 2013

Three Good Things: Week One

With sincere apologies to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the blatant theft of his book title, I’m calling this post ‘Three Good Things’ and it will be the first in an ongoing weekly series that I shall post each Wednesday.

Three Good Things is inspired by ongoing conversations I have with friends and from re-reading sections of The Happiness Project. It’s about focussing on what I do have in my life, instead of what I don’t have. A friend of mine mentioned that he’d done a writing project with his children during a period of change in their lives to get them to remember good things every day and it’s really resonated with me. I spend a lot of time planning the future; I can often struggle to keep my mind in the present day.

In times of change or upheaval, or when things feel like they’re an ongoing battle,  it’s good to be able to slow down and practice a bit of gratitude. And that’s what I shall be doing in this series. Each week, I shall choose three things to share. Things that have made me happy, made me smile, brought me a bit of joy or peace and made me grateful for the life that I have. I will always be a planner, always have one eye on the future and always strive to better myself and my life in one way or another, but this will hopefully help me be thankful for what my life looks like right now.

Robert Brault wrote ‘enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realise that they were the big things’.

So, without further ado, I present to you Three Good Things.

One: Strawberries

The first thing to bring me joy this week has been my strawberries. I’ve had a difficult year on the allotment this year. I’m living further away from it, and life is so busy that it’s often a challenge to get there. It can feel like a chore, instead of the hobby it is supposed to be, when I’m trying to work it into my schedule. And the sun, though very welcome, means that watering is an ongoing necessity.

Thankfully, my reward for all this effort has arrived in the form of beautiful strawberries. Giant, sweet and warmed by the sun, these are the best fruit I’ve ever grown and I’m thrilled with them. The fact that they match my red toenails pleases me enormously too. I always paint my toenails red. Actually, that’s not true. On a whim, I painted them blue the other week. Then I had a really long bath, which made my feet go wrinkly. After getting out of the bath, I dried my feet, and realised that the combination of the wrinkles and the blue toenails made my feet look like corpse feet. Those of you who remember my kayaking experience of last year will realise that this isn’t the first time I’ve had that feeling about my feet… Given that ‘dead’ isn’t generally a look that I aim for, I swiftly removed the blue. I shall be sticking to red from now on!

The colour on my toes is Dragon, by Chanel, a truly bright red which makes me feel happy whenever I look at it.

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Two: The Cluny, Newcastle

The second thing to bring me lots of happiness this week was The Cluny, a brilliant pub in the Ouseburn area of Newcastle. We had such a great night out. The warm summer evening brought heaps of people to sit outside the pub on the curved stone steps and ‘village green’ area, so, armed with pints of beer, we sat and people-watched. It was a moment in my life when I wasn’t thinking about the past, or planning the future but was simply happy to be in the moment I was living and with the person I was with. These moments in life should be treasured and I’m very happy to remember that feeling.

The Cluny is a wonderful pub, filled with a great variety of beers including my favourite Timmermans (a fruit beer, I’m such a girl!) together with a live music venue. I really recommend it.

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Three: My lovely bike

The third thing that has made me smile this week is my Pashley Princess Sovereign. I’m pretty sure that I gave her a name but I’ve forgotten it, and when I took her out of the garage on Sunday she was covered in dust which made me feel a bit shameful. Nonetheless, the minute I got in the saddle, I remember why I love her so much. We had a little ride in the sun, punctuated halfway with a Primo’s gourmet hotdog (therefore reducing the health benefits of cycling to nil) and I’ve promised to myself that I won’t leave it as long before we go out together again.

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So, those are my Three Good Things for this week. See you here again next Wednesday!

I’d love for this series of posts to develop a bit of community – so do tell me, what are your good things this week? 

July 10, 2013

How to have a ‘Micra’ Adventure

Last week, I was surprised with a night away staying in a tipi. Or, more correctly, a Tentipi, which is a Norwegian designed tipi that has completely revolutionised my understanding of camping, due to the bloody incredible wood burning stove inside. Which means that, despite the wind and rain we faced on Sunday, we were toasty warm and making mugs of tea inside. I loved it. Loved it.

Not that I don’t like camping, I do. I just don’t like getting cold. But I do love camping –  I just need layers and layers of clothing! I love the sense of adventure and of having a bit of freedom. Of having life’s issues reduced to working out how to keep a roof up over our heads, cook dinner and spend time with our loved ones. The important stuff.

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One of the things that I really loved about the time in the tipi – even more than the stove – was re-aquainting myself with the truth that adventures don’t have to be far-flung, lengthy, or cost a fortune. Adventure is on our doorsteps; we just have to look for it. It’s all a question of attitude. So, with that attitude in mind, I’m getting a ‘Micra Adventure’ kit together so we can jump in the car and set off for places unknown. The utterly inspiring Alistair Humphreys calls them Microadventures, but given that Silvertrim (ancient Micra) is likely to be our vehicle, unless we walk or cycle, I’ve changed the name to suit. Micra Adventures are hidden in all the places in the UK that I don’t know, from secret woods to city centres, coastal paths to open moorland.

Even though my wish-list of places to visit across the globe will never diminish, there are so many places I’ve not been to in the UK and it seems a shame not to take the opportunity to see them, as most of them are so much more accessible over a short period of time than anywhere abroad. We have some of the most wonderful habitats, natural places, heritage, cities and landscape of anywhere in the world and it’s short sighted not to appreciate them because they’re more ‘known’ to us than places further away. It also means that we can escape the 9-5 much more readily than if we had to make complicated plans and save up lots of money.

So, tipi shopping is the next point of order, and getting the Micra Adventure kit ready so that we can leave at the drop of a hat, off to make our next discovery.

Is there a place to camp in the UK that you recommend? Let me know!