Retreat from the Renovations

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And so we bought…. and moved… and are “all happy”.  But as I have previously mentioned, and as the estate agent clearly never would, buying a century old house and living in it while the renovation work is ongoing is no walk in the park.

Some days, chemical paint stripper perfumes the air like a Yankee Candle scented by someone with a weird sense of humour – and trust me, 100 years of gloss paint on woodwork and banisters requires quite a lot of the stuff! Suffice to say that no amount of scented candles can neutralise a chemical odour of this magnitude.

Other days, dust from an industrial sander creates a thin veneer on every conceivable surface, as a century’s worth of wear and grime is stripped away (I would like to say “lovingly” but frequent audible expletives from the man – hopefully still a friend – attached to the machine may attest to the contrary).

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And then we have the worst  – the mortar and dust that were remnants of the wall skimming. The walls look great now – but Oh My God that dust would stress the Dalai Lama!  It teases and taunts you, and then invariably has the last laugh as you wash it away for the 1000th time, only to leave and return to that lovely film of grey still all over the floor. You swore it was gone, you watched it dissolve in the boiling water but, like those annoying birthday candles that keep relighting, there it is again as soon as the moisture dries. However, as one of my wisest friends keeps reassuring me, progress is being made, and soon the worst will be behind us and our little bijou terrace will be suitable for occasional visitors.

But we are not there yet and so, in the short term, I decided to take a much needed trip home to recharge and escape the grime…..

And what a lovely trip it has been so far….

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People who have never been to Kerry really need to sort that one out because long walks on deserted beaches are the best cure I know for stress. I can assure you that there is no expensive therapy that will so physically and metaphorically blow away all traces of dust!! Some days I go to Banna Beach, well deserving its recent Trip Advisor accolade (No. 1 Irish Beach), and other days to the slightly more local and generally deserted Derrymore Strand. Here’s a few shots from the last two days.

And when fresh air and exercise have done their thing, there is family and friends to chat with and laugh with. Lots of home cooking and lazy afternoons, peppered with an occasional treat meal. Like, for example, a girlie dinner in Cellar 1, the restaurant of The Ross Hotel, was a perfect treat for the weary DIYer.

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I have featured The Ross on the blog before and it is one of those places with which I have never been disappointed. It is funky and modern without trying too hard. The restaurant has an ambitious yet compact menu that comes accompanied by the inoffensive and atmospheric background noise of a resident pianist. The bar is bustling, serving cocktails in fancy glasses to the well heeled. The vibe throughout is contemporary and youthful. It struck just the right chord for four female friends, who share amongst us decades of memories and a love of good food. We were not disappointed.

Starters sampled included a spicy Arancini, mussels in a red curry sauce, scallops and monkfish skewers. The menu is seafood heavy but there is a twist to every dish and there were no complaints about any of the offerings on this occasion.

For mains, we all toyed with the idea of surf and turf but only one of us went for it in the end – and I for one was guilty of a little food envy. The other carnivorous selection was an extremely attractive looking pork belly, while the two of us remaining opted for a prawn dish in an agave and tequila sauce. All four dishes were deemed successful… what more can you ask for?

Only half of the group had the stamina for dessert, the other half opting for a strong espresso to aid digestion, although we did all put a fork or two through the chosen sticky toffee puddings. A nice slow Hendricks with Elderflower tonic in the bar before the journey home rounded off the evening, reinforcing the notion that most loads can be lightened by a good natter, delicious food and great friends.

I am still on retreat in The Kingdom but the new smell in the old house is apparently fresh paint (surely a sign of progress). And although I am aware that when I return next week it is likely that there will be no operating kitchen sink or cooking facilities, and a whole other range of debris that will need to be disposed of, I will face it refreshed and re-energised. And, given that the aroma of a rack of lamb with stuffing is currently wafting from my mother’s oven, and over the next few days an afternoon playing with my adorable goddaughter and lots of walks and coffees still await, I am happy to be distracted for now.

Dingle in a Day

One of my favourite things to do is travel and, of late, my ventures have been somewhat scarce, so when opportunity does knock, I like to be ready with my toothbrush packed. This post features a very local trip but when there is a suitcase to be packed, a hotel check-in and meals in new spaces, I still think it constitutes travel blogging.  And if you have never been, you may learn enough about West Kerry to contemplate a little trip of your own.

Dingle was the destination for this short but sweet overnight stay-cation.  If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, it is a town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Almost all businesses are independent, lots are artisan, and it has a paradoxical sense of being a bustling yet laid back town. Artists come for the peace to create and the landscape to inspire. Chefs appear to want to allow the fruits of land and sea to take centre stage, making restaurants feel more about the food than the business model (not unfortunately the case everywhere). Musicians know they can just drop into a local licensed premise and simply start to play, soon to be accompanied by some collective foot-tapping, while writers can find both solitude and inspiration in this bi-lingual hamlet that has a lyrical soul.

Dingle is a small town, with 38 pubs, that doesn’t take itself too seriously  (potentially related observations!). But it is clear that this is a town that is making the most of its assets. As a tourist town, it extends a welcome filled with genuine warmth.  The art of conversation is celebrated in many languages, but mostly with dry local wit and buckets of sarcasm. Despite its remoteness, there are ways in which Dingle is contemporary and multicultural. In other ways it is a slice of an Ireland of yore, where tradition is valued and heritage preserved.

I know this part of the world quite well so if tour guides and museums are your thing, this will be the wrong type of travel article for you. But if you like slow drives through stunning landscape, great food, local products and understated luxury then I just might have some tips for you.

I started my day in Tralee, in perfect driving weather. There was a chill in the air but pretty clear skies. I popped some music on the radio and followed the twists and turns of the road, high up over the ever-stunning Conor Pass. The narrow roads with steep drops may see hearts occasionally leaping into mouths but the views are a very worthy reward. Have a look…..

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Eventually, the road descends towards the sea, and before you know it you will be looking for parking and nourishment in the town. On a Monday lunchtime, I was lucky to find both with ease. Usually I research where I will eat in advance but this was a trip without a plan and so I just worked on instinct. It was a good move. I had one of the best lunches in a long time in the very welcoming Goat Street Social. It is a small space, channelling an industrial chic look. The menu is a compact mixture of some salads, a variety of hot dishes and a couple of sandwiches. There were a couple of specials on a chalkboard and I ordered one of these – haddock in a sesame and garlic tempura with sweet chilli and coriander mayo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of skinny fries. It was exceptional!!!!!

Happily sated, I took a little stroll, shopped for some locally produced candles and a new book, before grabbing a coffee from Bean in Dingle. This very cool cafe has some great cakes to accompany some quality coffee, and the vibe is as much Williamsburg or Shoreditch as it is Dingle. And then it was back on the road….

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I have been lucky in life to have seen a lot of the world…. not as much as I would like…. but quite a lot nonetheless. I am not sure where I have been or could dream to go that would rival Slea Head when the skies are blue. The landscape is both welcoming and threatening. The sea sparkling and foreboding. The locals warm and weathered. The charm is in the contradictions. Again I will let the pictures do the talking….

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By late afternoon it was time to return to town and check into our lodgings for the night, the highly rated Castlewood House. It is an antique-filled, small hotel with a big heart. The rooms are spacious and each one is individually styled (this wasn’t my first visit).  It is full of little touches that make a stay feel special – a buck’s fizz on arrival, Lily O’Brien’s chocolate treats in the room, complimentary tea and scones served during the afternoon from vintage china and a takeaway coffee for the long drive home. The justifiably award winning breakfast has more choices than most dinner menus and the accompanying buffet stands out from the norm. For example, my fruit bowl had plums poached in a honey syrup and apples stewed with cinnamon. There was desiccated coconut, almonds, banana chips and chia seeds to sprinkle on top. All this was before a made to order Eggs Benedict for me and fluffy pancakes with berries and maple syrup for my slightly ginger travel companion. It’s easy to see why Castlewood House is continuously winning awards.

Based on several recommendations we dined at the Global Village, where food is presented with a nod to fine dining. The early bird is great value, but after that this place is definitely at the upper end of affordable. We were early birds!! The confidence and competence of the kitchen shone through, the staff were friendly and efficient and there was an impressive drinks selection. The menu had a good balance of land and sea, not always the case in this maritime town, and the food was definitely Instagram worthy. Having read and heard so much about this place over the last number of years, my slightly anti-climactic sensation was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a lovely meal. Definitely worth a try in Dingle.

Finally, even those who are teetotal are unlikely to leave Dingle without checking out some local watering holes and here is where humour, charm and local colour are most abundant. There was the cheeky local barman in Foxy Johns, who allowed the German tourist to sample two beers before choosing, but warned him that was his lot “because it’s not a feckin icecream parlour we’re running“.  Dick Macs had a man handcrafting products out of leather behind the bar, beside the barman who smugly informed the French couple that there was wine “both red and white”. And finally, in my new favourite pub (which feels like a farmhouse living room) Kennedy’s, we encountered a charming local girl who regaled us with the impassioned tale of how her very conservative parents sent her to an all girls convent, a boarding school in another part of the country, in an effort to get her to change her mind about her sexuality. Scary thing was this was since the year 2000!!!! It was also a bit like sending sand to the desert!!! But all ended well, she clearly emerged no less gay but her parents adjusted to this reality with time. Although it sounds like granny needs a little more time.

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So all in all, the verdict is that you should definitely find a place for Dingle on your travel itinerary. And maybe try and stay a little longer than me.

Moonlight: In Review

Moonlight was the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award 2016 but will it be remembered for its cinematic prowess or its starring role in one of the Oscars’ biggest ever gaffes? Because let’s be honest – it was a clanger.

To answer my own question, it is a film that should be remembered for all the right reasons – as a melancholic, beautifully shot drama worthy of the highest accolades.

Apparently, this was a low budget creation and it is definitely not replete with Hollywood A-Listers, but financial constraints did not translate into artistic ones, at least not to my untrained eye.

Moonlight tells a story. It tells it subtly. It tells it slowly. It tells it poignantly. If none of this appeals then you are at the wrong movie, and I would imagine lots of people felt they may have taken a wrong turn somewhere on their way to their seat. Because unusually, this is a tale of drug dealing in “the hood” with minimal violence and zero gun shots. My husband seemed both shocked and a little disappointed by this, but I think the lack of gratuitous violence was part of the magic.

Moonlight is a story of addiction, prostitution, drug-dealing, bullying and homophobia, and yet it is not moralistic in tone. It portrays a cycle of poverty and ignorance and in so many ways each and every character is a victim. Due to  a lightness of touch and a genuine sensitivity, this becomes a story not of heroes and villains but of human beings. Humans who are often deeply flawed but who have lived lives without hope, privilege or advantage. Bad starts leading to bleak futures!

Mostly, Moonlight is a coming-of-age narrative. It tells the story of Chiron, first as a nine year old with more battles than any child should have to face, essentially raising himself in a community ravaged by crack-cocaine. Chiron is a child who stands out when all he wants to do is fit in. He is a miserable child trapped in a miserable world that seems actively trying to reject him.

Chiron’s teens, perhaps predictably, are a battle. A high-school battle against bullies, as the awkward young man struggles with his sexuality, and a personal battle with his mother who had long since abdicated her maternal role.  This was a movie that could so easily have become a cliché  – Chiron could have made defence a form of attack by fighting back both literally and metaphorically. Or he could have received some fairy tale passage out of the world of his birth and on to pastures greener. But Chiron is not a cliché and he does not try to conform or even seem to aspire to his society’s one-dimensional view of masculinity. Nor, however, has he the courage or self-belief to be proud of his individuality and to step away from his social world. He is quiet, awkward and perpetually unsure of who he is or what he wants to be, and it is the depiction of this non-stereotypical boy (and later man) that is where the movie shines brightest.

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Chiron is the central protagonist, who doesn’t say much. His uncertainty, his pain and even his joy, is communicated in other ways. Facial expression and body language are central to the creation of his character and three different actors combine seamlessly to portray one credible person. From Chiron the boy to Chiron the man, their performances combine to create something moving, nuanced and at times heartbreaking. But this is not a sad story either and there are wonderful, wonderful glimpses of humanity, compassion and love. Moonlight is just a very real story and one that deserved to be told.

If you haven’t guessed by now- I loved it, although I imagine not everybody will. Some may think it too slow, too silent or too ambiguous. Others will see it as both breathtaking and believable. If you missed it in theatres, Amazon Prime will be airing it soon so if haven’t already seen it, do yourself a favour and give it a chance. Make up your own mind on this one xo

Never Look A Gift Carrot…..

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Yesterday, I got a gift of a bag of carrots. Not just any carrots either but carrots from Clonown, famed in song and deemed to have properties that would put the most extraordinary superfood to shame. Chia, Maca,Wheatgrass or Kale have nothing on the humble Clonown carrot. Not convinced? You really need to have a listen to this ode to the indigenous orange vegetable – skin, hair, fertility or muscle mass issues- you name it the Clonown carrot can fix it.

So there I was, carrots in a plastic bag, fresh Clonown dirt still attached and the farmer driving out the gate oblivious to the mud dropping from the wellies. Now all that remained was to decide if I wanted them for “supper or tae!!” And what exactly to do with my “fine big juicy” specimens.

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Traditionally, a stew or casserole would be the obvious choice, especially in the week in which we celebrate all things Irish, but neither would be my dinner of choice, especially on a rare sunny day like today. So I raided the fridge, pulled out the food processor and decided to experiment a little. If Brendan Shine had come to dinner, I think he may have added another verse for “Clonown Carrot, Ginger and Coriander Salad with a hint of Chilli”. (It’s not too late Brendan, you could debut it in the Gleneagle this weekend!) It would make the perfect side dish for rural Roscommon farmers after a long day at the bog!  You heard it here first.

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Joking aside, it honestly is one of the nicest incarnations of the humble carrot I have tasted for a long time, although I do admit to feeling that carrots are a vegetable best served raw. Incidentally, an option the celebrated ballad overlooks entirely! Although to be fair, in the Ireland that the illustrious Mr. Shine was immortalising, vegetables were cooked, or more specifically boiled, until they were soft. The only way to overcook a vegetable was to boil it dry and ruin your pot. Once there was still water, they were still perfect! They did not have fresh chilli added – sure that would “roast the gob off ya” and coriander was but a twinkle in the eye of the Irish herb garden (then merely a parsley patch). So carrots were sliced and boiled and maybe mashed with a parsnip on a Sunday. Simple!!!

And this recipe (if you could even call it that) is equally simple but infinitely more nutritious and possibly even more delicious. Here it is…

Ingredients:

  • 4 Clonown Carrots (I am sure other carrots would work too)
  • A handful of fresh coriander
  • A thumb sized piece of ginger
  • A finely chopped red chilli
  • 2 spring onions (for garnish)
  • Irish rapeseed oil (extra virgin olive oil would be perfect)
  • Vinegar of choice (I used wild mountain thyme vinegar because I was lucky enough to have it – not very rural Clonown circa 1980 I grant you)
  • A pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper

Method:

Rinse, peel and grate the carrots (I used the food processor) and place them in a medium sized bowl. Grate in the ginger. Finely chop the coriander and chilli and add both to the carrot and ginger. Mix everything well.

Whisk up a dressing in a little bowl or jam jar. I just used two parts oil to one part vinegar and added some seasoning. Pour the dressing over the carrots and mix until everything is lightly coated with the dressing. Snip some spring onion over the top. Serve as a fresh and delicious side dish with chicken or fish.

I had this for dinner with a portion of The Little Green Spoon’s Chicken Tikka and her delicious It’s Always Sunny Quinoa (a favourite since this blog post). It was the perfect healthy mid-week supper or “tae”, as Brendan himself would say, and although intended only as a simple side, the fresh, local carrot salad kinda stole the show. Give it a go with whatever carrots are local to you… and don’t be afraid to write a song about it. xo

 

Celebrate Yourself….

“We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.” (The Mill on the Floss)

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The classics can be a drag to read sometimes (and that sacrilegious declaration comes from a teacher of English) but they invariably conceal hidden diamonds in the rough rock, like the above kernel of wisdom from George Eliot. Eons before mindfulness was a thing, or wellness a cliché, Eliot realised that every now and then we need to actively search out the things that make us happy. Simple? Yes. So why in the mania that is modern life do we so often put our own happiness last?

I don’t really have the answer, but I do accept that sometimes only you can be the rainbow on your own cloudy day and, if it feels like the sun isn’t shining for you, maybe you need to take proactive steps to reverse the unwelcome climate change.

Personally,there was quite a lot of grey in the kaleidoscope of my life this past month. We are renovating a house we are living in – not for the lovers of luxury (or sanity) I can assure you – and there were evenings with no heat, walls with exposed wiring, more dust than you can imagine and not a floor to be seen that didn’t have a hole in it for some reason. This, combined with fairly miserable weather, spiralling costs and a workload that is barely sustainable, and you will see how the sunniest of dispositions could be a bit more muted than normal.

But with days lengthening, the chill in the air dissipating and life simply being too short for self-pity, there comes a time to take control and seek out the beauty and the light. A time to hunger after the beautiful and the good. So here’s a few options I am favouring to inject a little colour into the dusty reality that can sometimes settle just about everywhere.

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Take More Walks:

If the problem is the grimness of the four walls that are currently surrounding you – get out of the house and see the beauty that is everywhere. I know the walls won’t be bare forever, the new floors will be stunning soon, the kitchen will once again be my sanctuary, but in the meantime I need to remember that if I don’t love what is in my eye-line, then I can just avert my gaze. So I’ve been doing it, getting out more and seeing the beauty in the ordinary, the sensational in the simple and the little winks of wonder from a natural world awakening for winter and bursting into spring. Take a look…..

Pamper, pamper, pamper:

Do something just for you! Something relaxing, something fun, something a little self-indulgent. For me it was a morning at the hairdressers and, to be fair, it was well overdue. I have to say I chose well with this one. I was home in Kerry and decided to check out a salon I have liked the look of for ages and I was really not disappointed. From the cute decor, to the cupcake and coffee with vintage reading material, it was exactly what I was craving. The stylist was also lovely and my tired locks were rejuvenated just the way I wanted – a real success. A reason to smile.

Enjoy a Date Night:

My husband will cringe at the phrase…. but I am afraid that’s what it is when a couple venture out on their own to do something recreational together!!! It doesn’t really  matter what you do – it matters that you take the time to do it. Consume some art – a movie, a piece of theatre, a gallery visit. Drink a cocktail. Eat great food. Go to a gig. Basically whatever floats your boat. For us it has been a mixture of all of the above. Prior to Lent (weird Catholic self-deprivation ritual) there were some cocktails. Alternatively, there is always room in my world for dinner or lunch somewhere delicious. And, as we are currently booze free (more a personal than a religious penance tbh) and on a very tight budget, we are seeing some movies to unwind. Last week it was Loving (I think the trailer really has all the highlights of this one – although I did quite enjoy it) and tonight we are going to try Moonlight. Cheap cinema tickets and a tub of popcorn – remember it’s the simple things.

 

I guess the moral of today’s story is that it doesn’t matter what you do, but if you feel like you need to do something to inject some cheer into your soul – then do it. You deserve it. We all do. Anne Frank (who was scarily wise for one so young) said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” I think we can paraphrase and revel in the reality that we need not wait a single moment to improve our own world, just for us, just because we are worth it. Find the light, see the beauty ..have a happy Sunday xo

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Sunday Night Meal Prep..

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The roller coaster that is healthy living seems to get derailed with frightening ease at times, especially if you head in to the week unprepared. Personally, I find that my most successful weeks always start with a disciplined, well planned Monday, but that in itself requires some Sunday pre-planning. And so here I am, on a chilly Sunday evening, trying to organise the perfect healthy Monday, when really I want to cuddle up with my book by the blazing fire.

For the last little while, I have been using the app 8fit (on a 30 day free trial) to help organise my eating and workouts, so I thought I would give you a sneak peak and share my plans for a healthy tomorrow.

Firstly, I start my day sipping some water on my way to the gym. As tomorrow is to be img_2305freezing, I don’t give myself time to think about things (i.e.press snooze and drift back to sleep), just set the alarm for 6.40am, dress in the dark in my work-out clothes that are lying by the bed, brush my teeth, grab my bag and go. The 8fit model  is based on daily (or as close to it as possible) short workouts, but to justify the trip to the gym, I either adjust them or do a couple of them together with some added cardio, whatever adds up to about 45 mins. I also did a couple of ‘at home workouts’ last week, but our beloved dog Herbie thinks it is a game and it all got a bit comical and slobbery…he’s not really ready for ‘yoga with your pet’ classes, and I am not really that kind of pet owner. Here’s a glimpse at my modified version of tomorrow’s workout:

Workout:

The actual workout is completely different every day, but tomorrow is:

  • Warm-up of 5 mins cardio, 30 secs fast feet, 10 arm rotations, 10 inch worms, clockwise and counter-clockwise leg circles and 45 secs of mountain climbers.
  • 4 sets of swimmers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of push ups (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of mountain climbers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of deep squats (45 secs)  with a short rest in between.
  • I then finish with another 10 minutes cardio on whatever machine I fancy and a couple of plank exercises.

After this I eat breakfast at work with a strong black coffee. Tomorrow’s option is Greek yogurt with blueberries, flaked almonds and always a drizzle of honey. This is usually enough for me, but if I am starving, I keep some of Lizi’s granola close by and I can sprinkle in a handful.

Lunch, and here is where the prep is vital, is all packed up and waiting just for a little re-heating. I need something quite substantial on a Monday, because I teach a sports class in the afternoon, and then have to take my best friend Herbie out, so it is my most active afternoon of the week. Tomorrow, lunch is a chicken faijta wrap.

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Ingredients:

  • Coconut oil
  • Free Range Chicken Breast
  • Half a red onion sliced
  • Sliced peppers (I use red and yellow)
  • A handful of sliced mushrooms.
  • Generous sprinkle of cajun seasoning
  • A handful of mixed leaves
  • A tablespoon of hummus

Method:

  • Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken.
  • Add the red onion, peppers and mushrooms and fry until the chicken and the vegetables are cooked.
  • Season with the Cajun spices.
  • Add to a wrap spread with hummus and a handful of salad leaves.

I cook a big batch and pop it in Tupperware to use over a couple of days for lunch/ supper.

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After work, I wrap up warm and get some fresh air with the dog, before starting on the evening meal. I try to cook mid-week meals that work for the next day’s lunch so tomorrow, given that it is to be freezing, I have planned a beef and green bean stew. It’s healthy and full of veg, especially with a portion of steamed tender-stem broccoli on the side.

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I am not a big snacker, which may seem like a good thing, but I think it leads to wanting portions that are bigger than advisable. I am working on this, and have a plan to buy smaller plates in an effort to play tricks on my errant appetite. I drink a peppermint tea after dinner to aid digestion, and like a little dark chocolate for a treat.

Coffee is one of my big vices, so I am going to try and limit it at least a little more this week in order to up my currently paltry intake of water. So, with good intentions in place, shopping done and meal prep underway, I am hoping this will be a good week on the road to health and fitness. If more days could be like a well-organised Monday, and wine and pizza Fridays became a thing of the past, maybe just one year I would achieve those bikini body goals…..but man would I miss wine and pizza. And who could live a life without crisps??  xoxo

Life after TV….

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32075816076_0e74ff801bOf all the slightly bizarre things I have done in life, none seem to have bemused people as much as getting rid of our television set. It evokes really strong reactions in people, although it has no impact whatsoever on their lives. It shocks people, upsets people and almost angers them. Many doubters rolled their eyes and predicted we would last a month at most. Some seemed to think we needed a psychiatric assessment. More that our marriage would not survive so radical a move. There seemed to be an impression that we would be surrounded by a wall of silence and spend our evenings staring at walls or into the open fire. But it really is not as tragic as all that.

Firstly, the reason behind the madness. Basically, we had found that the TV had become constant background noise in our lives, an inanimate object that had gained the stature of a family member. If it was quiet it was worrying, so it was always flickering and murmuring in the background. It demanded attention, baiting the eye, even when it had nothing worthwhile to offer in return.

Our decision was finally made when we reflected on our viewing habits and had to admit that we were essentially watching little other than re-runs of shows that we knew almost by heart – Frasier, Two and a Half Men, Friends and other 90’s sitcoms. I also had a penchant for some pure chewing-gum TV like Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians, offerings that my world can surely survive without. Yet there it was, requiring its own licence, guzzling energy,  but not really contributing enough to warrant 50 inches of space, in our new and rather tiny abode. So that was it – we moved to our new house and sent the TV to a different geographical location. Now we live sans gogglebox.

But let’s keep things in perspective; it is not as if we have reverted to a bygone era, where we huddle around the wireless, awaiting news from the outside world. We don’t, although there is a wireless. It’s weird but I feel the constant need to reassure those struggling with our decision that we do have  Netflix, albeit the most basic package, so only for use on one device at a time. And I hear those of you smugly now thinking….sure that’s TV!!! And I don’t argue; remember this was a casual enough decision to us and not one that seemed any big deal. I don’t claim to never watch a series or a movie – that was never what this was about. There is just far less of it, and it is far more focused.

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And that’s the main difference. We don’t consume Netflix in the same way as we did traditional television. In my experience Netflix, for all its promotion of the binge watching epidemic, requires some active decision making on the part of the viewer. It is not about constant random flicking, and we have never left it on when no one is watching it. There is also a greater tendency to go for new, good quality productions and, while I have to admit to watching very little of late, my husband has been very taken with The Crown and more recently The People vs OJ Simpson. But our use of Netflix is more conscious, less passive, and we watch it very sparingly.

We also….wait for it….. READ BOOKS.

Actual books made from paper and even borrowed from a library….it is all delightfully booksquaint.  And yet I am not reading anything as much as I would like – my phone may need to go out the window for that – but I do read on a daily basis, and with the benefit of giving the piece of writing my full attention. Having never really got the huge fuss about The Alchemist, I am currently loving Paulo Coelo’s The Zahir. It is the simple wisdom that peppers the pages that I am enjoying, particularly gems like this:

“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

And we listen to music, currently a lot of vinyl, which is expanding my musical knowledge no end. I am a bit of a philistine I admit but that allowed me to only yesterday discover Manfred Mann, and if you have never heard the song “Waiting for the Rain”, please give it a listen. It is stunning…I love it, and am pretty sure that if the  TV stood where the record player now resides, this, and discoveries like it, may never have happened.

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I do have to concede that for all the time devoted to books and vinyl, far more is still devoted to YouTube and general internet trawling. I do want to cut back, but I may be an addict living in blissful denial. That is not to say that I do not have some wonderful gems to share from the wonderful world of the web, I really do. For a glimpse of journalism and general penmanship at its finest, I love the New Yorker. For example, “What happens to the Deported” is a poignant and honest look at the human side of anti-emigrant policies, similar to those advocated by the inimitable Mr. Trump. The New Yorker is definitely one of the world’s seriously quality publications.

redOn a lighter note, I love to check in with Red Online, almost as much as I love poring over the physical magazine with a coffee, and the reviews of books, films and Netflix are proving particularly beneficial in a post-tv era. In blogs, the lifestyle blog “The Tig” is visually stunning and has some fab inclusions in its Living & Food sections  – you can make Sweet Potato and White Bean soup while listening to their Winter Vibes playlist – bliss.

And lastly, there is no escapism I am currently enjoying more than curling up in a big armchair by the fire and listening to the beauty and lifestyle updates of Lily Pebbles and Megan Ellaby. Love these girls and their individual styles.

And so I say with conviction – that old TV, I don’t miss it at all!!!!!

 

January Favourites

January can be quiet on the retail front, due to the financial incontinence of the festive season and some general January sales fatigue.  I hate rooting through racks and racks of sale stock, preferring my occasional shopping sprees to be a little easier on the eye. I am far more into a simple, clean aesthetic than having to search through the rubble of the previous season, frantically seeking a diamond in the rough. Therefore, I like to wait until the shops restock and reorganise and the sale racks are packed away again. This said I have still manged to uncover a few January favourites, and here are a selection of my top picks from the beginning of 2017:

Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel

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I picked up a mini version of this cleanser in the Space NK January sale while I was in London. It was reduced by 50% due to the festive packaging (it was in a cracker), making it a bit of a steal at just £9. Although I was aware that this is a bit of a cult classic, especially among beauty bloggers, I knew very little about the product and had no idea what to expect. The product describes itself as “an illuminating vitamin melting cleanser” and to be fair, it does melt into the skin, before cleansing and illuminating it. In short, it does what it says on the tin!!

The cleansing gel is orange in colour, has a pleasant perfume and a little goes a long way. It looks very oily on application, and this alarmed me a little, as my skin can already be quite oily, but this was not an issue as the Oskia Renaissance cleans and moisturises without leaving any greasy residue or tacky sheen.

Using just one pump, I apply the cleanser to dry skin and massage it in for a minute or so. Generally, I leave it to work on the skin while I brush my teeth and then rinse it off, after jumping in the shower, using a facecloth soaked in warm water . Although it does dissolve make-up, I rarely use it to remove mine, preferring a different routine in the evening.

Overall this product, with its combination of ingredients like pumpkin enzymes, Vitamin C and E and Starflower Oil, is a beautiful cleanser that leaves the skin feeling soft and nourished. I will definitely repurchase this new favourite.

Kiehl’s Amino Acid Conditioner

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This, in my humble opinion, is a life-changing purchase!!!

Yes, I know it is just conditioner. Yes, I know it is not imperative to my survival. But OMG, this has made my life so much easier and sprinkled it with just a little extra happiness. I had heard Anna, from The Anna Edit, mention this product on her YouTube channel a few times, and so decided to pick up a travel size version in Selfridges. What a great decision. I genuinely noticed the difference instantly and just a few days later, I was splurging on the full size version in the Kiehl’s Duty Free Shop at Stansted Airport. It is so so so good.  I really didn’t know it was possible to feel so strongly about a hair care product but, given that I had started to really struggle with knotting ends, even with recently trimmed hair, I was crying out for something to help.  TBH I didn’t expect the results I got from this silicone-free daily conditioner, as years of blonde highlights tend to call for some strong chemical detangling, but just a little worked through the ends and, left for a couple of minutes, makes tough tangles a thing of the past. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

A Classic Blazer

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My next favourite for the beginning of the year is a fashion buy and it was a bit of an emergency purchase for a work event. This type of panic purchase does not always work out too well but this time I think the item is divine. It is this blush pink blazer from the new collection at River Island. It fits well, I love the ruched sleeve detail and the colour is on-trend as winter gives way to spring. I think it will get loads of wear both for work and leisure. I paired it with simple black skinny jeans, a vest top, heels and a little statement jewellery. Cute but classic.

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Generally, I make my own granola, but the oven situation in our new house is not great and so, until the kitchen refurb is complete, I am largely avoiding recipes requiring baking. fruit bowlHowever, granola with Greek yoghurt and berries is my favourite post-gym breakfast and so I had to seek out a good shop bought version. I opted for Lizi’s Original Granola which contains  Jumbo Rolled Oats, Cashew, Walnut and Hazelnut pieces, Pumpkin, Sunflower and Golden Linseeds, and Desiccated coconut. It is delicious, filling and releases energy slowly. I like it with a spoon of Total 0%, a drizzle of Agave and a sprinkling of fresh berries. Yum.

So, in a pretty frugal month, as pennies are pinched for the cosmetic overhaul of a kitchen, these were a few of my favourite purchases. And now for a few other bits and bobs…

At the beginning of the month, I really enjoyed the Will Smith movie, Collateral Beauty, which I thought was really under-rated by reviewers. Based on the premise that as humans “we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death”, the film looks at what happens when death steals what is most precious from you, and love and time no longer seem to hold any appeal. This is a movie all about grief, and personally I thought it was sweet, sad and really tugged at the heart-strings. Now I just need to work on curtailing catatonic sobbing in public places when I watch something emotional  – a New Year’s Resolution perhaps!!!!

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We no longer own a television, and instead rely on YouTube and Netflix for our viewing choices, and so, this month, I really loved the relaxed vlogging style of the beautiful Estée Lalonde and some healthy living inspo from Niomi Smart. I have been listening to lots of Simon and Garfunkel Live in Central Park on our new record player. And finally, I am reading and enjoying a novel called Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. And that’s a wrap for my January favourites 2017. Hope you are having a lovely beginning to the new year xo

 

 

 

La La Land: A Little Review

img_2265In a subtle dig at Los Angeles, and possibly contemporary society in general, La La Land suggested that the denizens of the modern world “worship everything and.. value nothing”. Given that we live in a world which appears to consider the Matcha Latte or cooking with Coconut Oil necessary to its very survival, I had to admire the insightful observation. But in satirising a Samba and Tapas bar for trying to cater to whims and not sticking to one thing and doing it right, I felt the movie came dangerously close to unearthing its own major weakness. In trying to be a musical, a romantic comedy and a nostalgic look at movies through the ages, my personal opinion was the film slightly over-extended itself.  Its 14 Oscar nominations suggest that I am in a minority of one in my more critical appraisal.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a movie without strengths – far from it. Its ability to be modern yet still nostalgic was admirable, and in ways it managed to answer one of its own big questions. “How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” This was the movie equivalent of the Jazz debate – a film that wanted to be both revolutionary, yet traditional. A movie striving to embrace cinematic triumphs of the past but remain very much of its own time – and to be fair there was obvious successes, with the movie justifiably achieving critical acclaim.

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It is also a beautiful movie – opening as a traditional musical (with a completely over the top but fabulously choreographed chorus scene on a freeway) and sidestepping into a dramatic rom-com at intervals. The score was well-written and the music largely upbeat and catchy. The costuming had a beautiful retro-feel and the cinematography was exquisite throughout – especially for LA lovers. Although the singing and dancing was definitely not flawless, there was something endearing about that, and both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are engaging actors who have a girl/boy next door likability. He has the cheeky twinkle in his eye, she is all under-stated beauty and affable charm. So what was the problem?

For most viewers, it would appear nothing. But for me – well I will try to explain. This was ostensibly a bittersweet love story where romance and ambition are placed on a collision course and the decisions made will change the trajectory of both characters’ lives. Classic themes – universal and engaging. Both hero and heroine reciprocate the notion that “I am always gonna love you” – but with very different dreams, can such noble sentiment translate into a future? The problem with this film was that I didn’t care. I love, love, love romance in my movies but I really didn’t care. I didn’t believe enough in either Mia’s acting dreams or Seb’s unending love for her. The story of her big break was unconvincing, the veracity of his love no different. Personally, I felt between channelling nostalgia for old Hollywood, breaking randomly into song or waltzing around LA; the movie lost the plot a little – and for me, when the film loses sight, even just a little, of the story it is trying to tell, then it loses just a little of where its heart and soul should be.

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This was a lovely way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon – but a record number of Oscar nominations??? Sorry guys, I just don’t quite get it.

P for Pilates (an activity obsessed with peeing)

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Apologies for the title. Generally it is very unlike me to resort to toilet references in my writing – despite my nearest and dearest loving a bit of rude humour – but my latest dalliance in the more meditative physical activities can only be comfortably reflected on through an ironic lens.

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Given that it is “Healthy January” (she types through a mouthful of crispy bacon sandwiched in a buttery English muffin) it seemed the ideal time to take up a new activity, and also get to hang out with a friend that I don’t usually see enough of. So a couple of evenings ago, off we went to the first night of a new Pilates course. It was intermediate level (a bit ambitious given that I can’t even figure out the breathing) and was in a lovely, welcoming studio with all the equipment provided.

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Now I am no stranger to exercise, but I have always lacked the subtlety for calm, precise activities, and I am definitely more suited to rugby than yoga. Can you see how Pilates may be a problem? On top of that, I am the world’s most competitive person when it comes to anything in the sports family, so when the person beside me (the type of person who has been doing three classes a week for the last 10 years) can stand on her head, I want to try it too – despite still not having a clue how to “find my centre” or “engage my core”. It’s not pretty – arms and legs everywhere and lots and lots of wobbling. And then there’s  a completely irrational desire to push over one of those perfectly centred people who look stunning in Lycra and seem tranquil in even the most awkward pose (when us normal people are concentrating so hard we look like we are trying really hard not to fart!!!)

And seriously what is with Pilates instructions? – “make your belly-button disappear” – given that it is attached to my belly, if I could make it disappear I can assure you I would not be bothering with Pilates!!! “Don’t let me see your ribs when you breathe” (Not such a problem, as I had forgotten I was supposed to be breathing at all in the effort to follow all the bizarre instructions) and the repeated mantra “imagine you are trying to stop yourself from peeing” – the very mention of the word making me petrified that I was going to lose all bladder control right there and then. Then there was this weird circle thing (see above), and you were to squeeze it very hard whilst panting like you were in an ante-natal class…and that was really bloody difficult (given that your butt was off the ground, you were squeezing a plastic ball between your thighs, a leg was in the air and you had completely forgotten how to breathe). And don’t get me started on the constant threat of mind-blowing foot cramp and the fear of public writhing and screaming….and this is supposed to be relaxing!!

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But the hour flew!!! And nobody died. And the very sweet instructor suggested that I practice at home (I think she knew I was really a beginner overestimating my abilities) and despite everything I enjoyed it. And I can definitely only improve. So back I go next week, to try harder to become centred, and not to feel I have to beat the girl beside me when it comes to holding the Pilates plank!! And learn how to “squeeze (still not sure what exactly) like you are trying to stop yourself peeing”. An invaluable life skill to master xo