In which there are some things I’ve been loving of late

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REN Vita Mineral Omega 3 Optimum Skin Oil

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I like this so much, I’ve actually now written about this for two of the magazines I work for. My friend runs a salon that uses REN products, and I got this as my freebie at a Christmas pampering evening I went to there. It’s light but nourishing, and since using it, I’ve been told I look “fresh faced”, which isn’t bad for someone pushing 34! It’s pricey at £24 but you only need a drop or two underneath your moisturiser in the morning to see results.

Croc Odour Fridge Deodoriser

This is such a random thing to include but I really want to share the love for this product! We made a porch for our house by adding a door to the curved brick archway, and use it to keep shoes and coats and recycling in. The upside is more storage, the downside is that it can get a little stuffy and smell a bit like a changing room in there. I was on the hunt for an air freshener but I hate the noxious, artificial fragrances you get with most commercial ones, and also didn’t like the idea of anything too chemical being present to us and to the cat. Then I found this in Robert Dyas, and bought it on a whim. It uses a seaweed-based gel to absorb odours and as it’s designed for fridges, it’s not toxic at all and doesn’t have a perfume. It works a treat and I can highly recommend it.

The Latte Years by Philippa Moore

I’ve been reading Phil’s blog for years, starting out with her writing-based one, Green Ink Girl, and then moving to Skinny Latte Strikes Back, her fitness and general lifestyle one. She’s a fab writer and all-round nice person, so when her first book, her memoirs of weight loss and what happened beyond the ‘after’ photo, was published I bought a copy as I knew it would be good. I deliberately got the bus into work so I could continue reading it and then finished it in a day, which says a lot about how much I enjoyed it! Read if you’re in need of inspiration to fulfil your goals and make changes in your life. It’s currently out in Australia and NZ in paperback and can be bought on Kindle everywhere else. Phil’s new online home is here, if you want to learn more about her and the book.

 

In which there’s a look back at 2015

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After doing this last year, I thought I’d be terrible self-indulgent and do it again, while S is out watching The Force Awakens for the second time.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

A back balance on the trapeze. Work on a quilting magazine and a free-from food magazine. Visit Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark. Complete an ‘official’ bike ride. Knit my first adult garments. Climb the UK’s highest mountain. See two films in a hot tub. Grow broad beans, brussel sprouts, parsnips and onions.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year I wanted to continue exercising and also eat less free sugar, both of which were pretty successful. My aim was to take part in an official bike event, which I completed by doing a 25 mile bike ride for charity. I also tried to go swimming more often, and continued to climb the stairs at work, and so I feel that my legs are in the best shape they’ve ever been — when I climbed Ben Nevis in August it was a lot easier than I expected. I made oatcakes and rice crackers my snack of choice and ate less of the biscuits and cake that are so often in the office! This year I haven’t made a formal list — I just want to appreciate everything I have, continue to grow my freelance work and be the best wife, friend, daughter and sister I can be. I’ve also made a decision to do more of what I want to do and stop saying yes to things I don’t want to do (albeit in a polite manner).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, eight friends gave birth so the knitting needles have been busy with making booties! I have three more friends due between February and May this year, plus my sister in law, and I’m sure more will be announced.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My great uncle Jim died at the start of the year but mercifully that was it. It wasn’t the best year for health for some of my friends, however, so I’m hoping 2016 is better in that regard.

5. What countries did you visit?

The Netherlands in February, Denmark in June and Portugal in October, plus a trip to Scotland in August.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

A garden that isn’t a mud bath. It’s the next big thing we need to do, and while we’ve made a start this year, there’s still a lot before it’s a garden you actually want to spend any time in.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

9th October, our fifth wedding anniversary. Where has half a decade gone? This year has also whipped past in an insanely fast blur.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Going full time freelance in July and so far, not being out of work. Also getting better at cycling and completing 25 miles in just over 2 hours.

9. What was your biggest failure?

As with last year, I was very lucky in that I can’t remember any real failures from the year. I still hate forward rolls on the trapeze but I think that’s always going to be a stumbling block for me.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, 2015 was a pretty healthy year. Apart from giving myself food poisoning the other week (I think some mouldy Stilton was the culprit), I can’t remember being ill.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I’ve actually tried to cut down a lot on buying things this year, as the older I get, the less I want stuff and clutter in my life. The ‘experiences’ I bought this year were the best — trips away, theatre tickets, meals out. That said, I do love the Nespresso coffee maker S bought the other week, a mint green anglepoise lamp I got for my office and a gold sequin mini skirt in which I saw in 2016.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

S continues to be an amazing human being. He is my constant cheerleader, can always make me laugh, holds me up when I’m feeling low and can be relied on at all times.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

On a national and global scale, so many, including but not limited to our government, ISIS, politicians from other countries, Jeremy Clarkson, Donald Trump and certain newspapers, on issues such as the migrant crisis, social injustice in this country, the biased way news is reported, the bombing of Syria… the list goes on. 2015 was a terrible year in many ways, but I have to stay optimistic that things will get better. Otherwise it’s just too depressing.

14. Where did most of your money go?

No house renovations this year, mercifully — our money went on nice things such as holidays and trips and meals out.

15. What did you get really excited about?

Spending the weekend in the New Forest with a group of my favourite girls. Celebrating five years of marriage. Selling our first house for a sum that exceeded both of our expectations. Seeing Dirty Dancing in a hot tub!

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

Bon Iver’s Holocene, as I played it so much. Also Taylor Swift’s Style and Blank Space, and as a late contender, Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd.

17. Compared with this time last year, are you:

–happier or sadder?
As happy as I was last year, as it’s been a good year. Events on both a domestic and global scale make me even more grateful for my life, and my wonderful friends and family.

–thinner or fatter?

At the moment, after the excesses of Christmas, as a wee bit fatter. But generally about the same.

–richer or poorer?

Richer, as S got a new job with a pay rise, and I’ve gone freelance which pays more. Not having to shell out for plasterers and electricians has made a big difference.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Playing the piano. I really want to make sure I do this more this year as it’s a shame to have one in the house and not make full use of it, especially as it was a huge effort to get it up the stairs to the bedroom!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Stressing about deadlines and fitting everything in, as it always works out in the end.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

S’ family (mum, dad, sister, brother in law and niece) came down for a couple of days, and then we went to my mum and dad’s to have a second Christmas dinner with them and my brother.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

I have amazing friends in my life and felt even more love for them this year.

22. What was your favourite TV programme?

We’ve been recording old episodes of Frasier and it’s been great to rewatch these — it’s such a fantastic show. Game of Thrones series five was also good, and my autumn and winter were punctuated with Strictly, which was fab as always.

23. What was the best book you read?

I don’t think I’ve read as many books as last year — I just did a quick tot up and made it 38, but I’m hoping there are a few I’ve missed off as that total is too low for my liking. (Update: just found four more I read to make it 42!) The Crimson Petal and The White was excellent and probably my favourite fiction book this year. The Paris Wife was also very enjoyable. In terms of non-fiction, I started The Emperor of All Maladies without knowing what it was about — I thought it was a novel, not a biography of cancer, but I’m glad I did as it was really interesting and thought provoking. I also read Bad Science which made me think a lot, so I’d like to read more science-related stuff this year. I bought S Ben Goldacre’s latest book so I’ll definitely be reading that.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Our subscription to Google Play means we listen to music more and get to experience lots of different artists, which is great.

25. What did you want and get?

A balcony, which is hands down the best amendment we made to this house. And a buyer for our old house.

26. What did you want and not get?

I went for three job interviews, two of which I really did want, but didn’t get. So I got redundancy and a freelance career, although in hindsight this was better. I also wanted our house sale to go through before Christmas, but it’s been delayed.

27. What did you not want and not get?

Unemployment. Hurrah!

28. What was your favourite film of this year?

No real favourite this year, although I saw The Force Awakens the other day and enjoyed it very much. We also watched some great films over Christmas including The Fault in Our Stars and Ex Machina.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 33 and had a picnic in Queen Square in Bristol followed by drunken pizza in Renatos. On the actual day I met friends for dinner at Canteen and drank far too much rose wine. We went to Copenhagen to see friends and I counted that as a birthday celebration too, as well as going to Hot Tub Cinema to watch Dirty Dancing. S made me an amazing coffee and walnut sponge which was huge!

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not having to work on the evenings or weekends, but that’s one of the pay offs for being freelance.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

The same as last year — skinny jeans, dresses, boots. As mentioned above, my gold sequin miniskirt is a welcome addition to the wardrobe! S also bought me a very stylish cycling jacket and I bought my first ever pair of exercise trousers, an area of clothing I’ve never really given any thought to before I started cycling more seriously.

32. What kept you sane?

My amazing husband. Books. A glass of red. Exercise. Pretty much the same as last year!

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

None that I can remember.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

A Conservative government being re-elected and, without a coalition partner to temper them, instantly showing the contempt they have for the majority of their constituents. Climate change and people’s inability to take it seriously and make decisions that could turn things around. The bizarre ways in which newspapers attacked Jeremy Corbyn for being what seems to be a decent human being.

35. Who did you miss?

As with last year, the friends who live in other countries who I can’t see nearly as much as I want to.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

It’s been great to work across different magazines and get to know their teams better, which is a nice benefit to freelancing.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

You never know what’s around the corner. And always be the kindest you can be.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“And at once I knew, I was not magnificent.” The best line from the song I listened to most this year.

 

In which there is a lot to catch up on

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I’m sitting here looking out on a grey sky and with the leaves whirling off the trees, so it’s safe to say that autumn is most definitely here.

August, September and October passed in a haze of work — I’ve been mostly fully booked as a freelancer, to which, yay! — but also lots of much more fun things. We saw a comedy gig in the zoo, we watched one of the comedians from that gig (Adam Hills) film his television show The Last Leg a week later (stalker alert!), we went to the Edinburgh Festival for a week and saw a load more comedians. (No more Adam though, that would just be weird.)

While in Scotland we knocked off another off the Three Peaks, accompanied by my dad, and managed to be the highest people in the entire UK for a few minutes.

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I also took part in my first ever official bike event, the Stroke Association’s 25/60/100 route in September. I went for the 25 miles, as I felt the latter two were a bit much for me, but the aim was for a sub 2 hours time. I didn’t quite make it but was near enough, and it got me my first ever medal for something sporty! Hat tip to S for moral support and buying me a very stylish cycling jacket, which has special back pockets and everything.

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My freelancing has also given me the freedom to take some weekdays off and visit lovely people, so I’ve finally met two friends’ new(ish) babies, and spent a lovely weekend in the warm autumn sun in Oxford with my mom.

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More friends’ babies were born, so more booties were made, and I’ve started knitting my first mini teddy bear in anticipation of the five babies already expected by more friends in 2016.

We celebrated five years of marriage by spending a weekend in Lyme Regis at an amazing cottage, which was part of an old Victorian estate that had its own private beach! We kept up with tradition and ate Italian, finding a lovely restaurant in Lyme where we toasted half a decade over Prosecco and scallops with butternut squash puree and melanzane parmigiana. Then a week later we got a final dose of sunshine via a week in Portugal, staying in a little wooden hut on a farm just outside Olhao, in which pastel de nata, books, beer, fish, a trip to Seville and swimming in the sea all delightfully featured.

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We have also had an offer on our old house, and fingers crossed that everything should go through by Christmas, as it would be lovely to think that the new owners can start a new year in a new home.

And now it is late autumn, and winter is coming, but we have the woodburner so all is well.

In which there is some gardening

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I have to admit, my enthusiasm for home improvements is pretty low at the moment and still recovering from the epic work we did on the house. But the itch for DIY never completely goes away if there is still stuff to be completed, and boy are there definitely things to be done on the garden.

This is what the garden looked like when we bought the house in September 2013:

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After being neglected for a year, and used as a building site for balcony construction, by this spring it was running a little wild. We cut down the insanely tall and light-blocking leylandii and a hell of a lot of shrubs earlier this year, having a mad chipping and burning session. We then did nothing over the summer and it ended up looking like this.

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In order to create what we wanted, we decided that the best course of action was to start afresh, strip everything back to nothing and have a blank space to work with. Although it doesn’t look like it, there are some great plants in there that are well worth keeping and destroying these would have been a real shame, so we hired a gardener I’d met at the allotment in order to dig them up and pot them. Best decision ever, I have to say. I could have done this, but crucially I didn’t want to, plus this guy has way more knowledge than me and made sure the plants made a happy transition from ground to pot. After four days of his hard work and a session with his rotivator when the ground was clear, this is what we’re left with:

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Unlike the house, there’s no deadline with this so we can take our time over what happens next. We’ve got drawings, we’ve got ideas, all that needs to happen now is for me to get more enthusiastic about actually doing the work!

Oh, and in line with the rest of the country, it’s been a great year for our apple tree. Eight bags picked and still so many on there!

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