Lisa | That British Betty Blog
A Manchester lifestyle blog by Lisa Valentine. Featuring food, travel, vintage fashion and general ramblings.
A Manchester lifestyle blog by Lisa Valentine. Featuring food, travel, vintage fashion and general ramblings.
The more they’re wrapped up in their own tales, the less I have to talk, thus making the whole scenario less awkward for us all. I’m in awe of those brilliant personalities who can capture an audience and wow the crowds with their radiant energy and charm.
You know the ‘Person Who Can Find A Cat At Any Party’ memes? That’s me in real life. Seriously. The last two parties Adam and I attended, I managed to find cats (jackpot) and spent more time fussing over them than I did socialising with actual human beings. I even hung out with a dog at a wedding we attended a couple of years ago.
That said, I promise I’m not intentionally being ignorant, standoffish or rude as it may seem. I like people, I really do. I find them fascinating, draining and perplexing, all at the same time. Making small talk leaves me with sweaty palms and, in my mildly terrified state, I end up overcompensating by blurting out random things, such as: “Do you like cake? I really love cake. All kinds of cake! I mean, who doesn’t like cake, right?! Steam trains are awesome too. I’m such a train nerd!” then laugh maniacally until the inevitable silence ensues.
I simply find some everyday situations, the ones that some of you take for granted, completely overwhelming. Being in a room full of acquaintances makes me feel like an alien yet have no problem talking to individual people about our respective life goals, hopes and dreams, politics and I also enjoy a good debate. Go figure.
My introverted core means that I’m left feeling utterly depleted when I’ve done a little too much ‘peopling’ and need time to recover. This involves occasionally spending a whole weekend at home in my own company, for the sake of my wellbeing. Entertaining impromptu visitors is a daunting concept and I require a good few days notice ahead of these rare occurrences.
Having a hobby such a blogging may seem somewhat contradictory – hypocritical even – for a girl who enjoys solitude. However, this is my creative space and a way of getting my ramblings out into the world when my voice fails me.
I’m so very lucky to have friends and family around who understand and accept that I’d rather be home in my PJs with a book on a Friday night than constantly out and about; they don’t push me to be somebody that I’m not. What about you? Are you a fellow introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between?
My family are ‘outdoorsy’ people and have memberships to RSPB nature reserves where they go to savour the natural beauty and wildlife on offer. I’ll be honest; I personally spend way too much time hiding behind my laptop so this year, I’m making plans to explore more of the UK and more importantly, learning how to get back to basics again.
Norfolk is a 4-hour drive away from home so is somewhere that we’d spend a few days exploring (any excuse for a mini-break is just fine with me). Luckily, there are plenty of beautiful cottages and retreats for us to rent which would allow us to take our time discovering nature in this charming part of Britain. I’m a sucker for itineraries so here’s what I have planned so far for our summer trip to the coast.
RSPB Snettisham Nature Reserve
This reserve is free to visit and one place to witness two of the UK’s great wildlife spectacles. On big tides, as water covers the vast mudflats of the Wash, tens of thousands of wading birds are pushed off their feeding grounds and onto the roost banks and islands in front of the RSPB hides.
In mid-winter, you may even be rewarded with the sight of thousands of pink-footed geese flying to or from the overnight roosts. Large numbers of common terns and black-headed gulls nest on the reserve in summer, when there is a spectacular display of shingle flowers. I’ll pack my binoculars then!
Address: Snettisham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE31 7LR
Tucked down a little track, Horsey Beach has no facilities – just peace and quiet. This appeals to me for so many reasons. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a picnic on the beach, perched on sand dunes while I read a book without any distractions. I can imagine taking a sunset stroll here and breathing in the evening sky.
From the top of the marram-covered bank (marram is an original East Anglian word, deriving from Old Norse words for sea and grass) there are occasionally basking seals. A lovely break from the usual seaside tourist noise and attractions.
Norfolk Coast Path
The Norfolk Coast Path runs from Hunstanton in west Norfolk round to Sea Palling on the northeast Norfolk coast. The majority of this walking trail runs through the dramatic landscape of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This would be a lovely opportunity to spot a few famous Norfolk poppies in spring too.
Do you have any other places to recommend in Norfolk?
Cadbury Creme Eggs are my (not so secret) vice. So much so that I keep a little stash of them in the top drawer of my desk at work, much to the amusement of my colleagues (until they get peckish of course – whos laughing now, eh?)
Anyway, you came here for a recipe so I’ll stop my incessant ramblings. I’ve been experimenting with slow cooker fudge for a while now with varying success, however, this haphazard creation was an absolute belter so I wanted to share the love. Enjoy!
Creates approximately 36 small squares. 2 hours cooking time, cool overnight. This can be made using a heavy-bottomed pan on low heat if you don’t have a slow cooker.
400g milk chocolate (any brand will do – I used a cheap supermarket one)
6 Cadburys Creme Eggs
1 397g tin of condensed milk
1 – Break up the chocolate and chop the creme eggs.
2 – Set your slow cooker to low and add the broken chocolate, 3 creme eggs and the tin of condensed milk.
3 – Leave the lid off and stir occasionally. The mixture should begin to melt and form a crust.
4 – Stir well and wait for the fudge to form a second crust.
5- Pour into a lined square tin or mould (I use a silicone one from Home Bargains) and quickly top with the remaining chopped creme eggs.
6 – Leave to cool in the fridge overnight. Cut into small squares and store in an airtight container (refrigerated) for up to one week.
Most of us have heard of Giff Gaff mobile phones but did you know that they are also a dab hand at all things finance related? Me neither! Their Savvy Living page offers some fantastic advice and is ideal for those just dipping a toe into the often-confusing world of adulting! Heck, even I learnt a trick or two about saving some hard-earned cash.
It’s a great free resource for millennials such as my eldest girl who is just beginning to look at things like buying her first car, savings and household expenses (and after a quick summary of what it really costs to live independently, she promptly declared that she’s never leaving home).
She doesn’t pay rent or bills from her modest apprentice wage just yet and got a bit of shock when we began to discuss the realities of financial commitments as an adult. Adam and I are fairly good at keeping track of our money by using a spreadsheet containing all of our income and expenditures, regularly revising this and finding the best deals on things like utility bills.
I started meal planning last year and cut the cost of our family food shop by around 40% – that’s a pretty hefty amount of money once you add it up over a year (£2,080 to be precise. Well in theory anyway as that doesn’t include my impromptu trips the shop where, strictly between you and me, I can end up spending £6 on chocolate).
So, back to the event! I met up with some fellow bloggers, old and new, and upon arrival, were given coloured cards to allocate us into small groups. (in fact, my group got on so well that we’re arranging a coffee date soon. I love it when that happens ❤️).
We’d also all brought along items of clothing that we no longer needed to contribute to the clothes swap at the end of the day. I said farewell to my vintage skirt and dresses, hoping that they’d enjoy a new lease of life (they’d been cooped up in my wardrobe for at least a year) and eyed up the other items on the rail.
First up was a jewellery making class with Hannah from Tea and Crafting. I’m enthusiastic about crafting but to be honest, am
pretty awful at most things not naturally talented. Using strips of t-shirt material, Hannah showed us how to create a handmade necklace using a similar technique to knitting.
Having never knit before, this proved a little difficult for me to get the hang of but eventually, I managed to create a passable piece of work. I was sat next to the lovely Charlie from Gin-Fuelled Bluestocking who put the rest of us to shame and created two perfect necklaces in about 15 seconds flat. We also spent most of the class chatting about cats and gin so I think she may be my new BBF (she doesn’t know this yet though #notastalkerhonest).
Let’s Get Quizzical!*
*title stolen from an email my colleague sent me last week
Next up was talk and quiz about all things money-related. Again, being a ‘seasoned’ adult (kind of), I assumed that I was pretty clued up about this topic, but alas, it transpired that I still have a lot to learn.
Did you know that missing just one mobile phone payment can have a detrimental effect on your credit rating? Or that the better your credit rating is, the cheaper interest rates you pay? Certainly worth doing your homework and seeing what you can do to help improve your own credit score.
Vegan Cookery Class
I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, however, lack inspiration and find that a lot of recipes in my array of cookbooks often require ridiculous ingredients. I’d find myself spending a small fortune on exotic spices and only use them once or twice (like the unopened jar of saffron from 2012 that’s still lingering in the cupboard somewhere) so the idea of learning how to utilise what I already have in the fridge was appealing.
Duncan from Herb and Spice Catering showed us how to make a vegan tagine housed a filo pastry case with fresh tomato sauce and a couscous side. Vegan food isn’t something that I’ve never really had much interest in after a bad experience with tofu but I ate my words (and delicious vegetable dish) after watching him create a speedy, healthy meal using fresh, budget-friendly ingredients.
At the end of our sessions, we then took part in the clothes swap and I bagged myself two new dresses and a jumper. This got me thinking about what a great idea a clothes swap is along with saving cash and bonus, it’s good for the environment too. I’m toying with the idea of hosting one myself next month.
We were also given a goodie bag containing a meal planning book, kitchen herb planter and cute piggy bank, along with a tray of fresh ingredients and recipe cards from Herb and Spice to whip up a gorgeous vegan pasta dish at home (I’ll share the recipe on the blog soon!).
Have you got any money saving tips or goals?
Last weekend, we decided to spend some rare quality time together and headed to Manchester with no real plan. Ok, so that isn’t entirely true nor as spontaneous as it sounds; let’s be honest, with two kids around, nothing is spontaneous! Adam had arranged for my Dad to look after the girls for the night and booked a swanky night at the Hilton hotel on Deansgate (he was clearly feeling flush).
Earlier this month, I’d also booked tickets to a VR gaming event in the city for the following morning so, apart from those technicalities, it was totally spontaneous *ahem*. We arrived in Manchester around lunchtime and quickly defaulted to I Need A Coffee mode so I subtly steered Adam towards my favourite go-to vintage tea room, Sugar Junction. We enjoyed a caffeine hit and brownie whilst figuring out how to spend the rest of the day on a modest budget.
Vue recently announced a new offer – all adult tickets are just £4.99 – so Adam and I wandered over to the Printworks and deliberated over what to watch. We haven’t been to the cinema since last summer so for us, this was a nice treat. Adam was keen to watch ‘Black Panther’ so I agreed with tepid enthusiasm; I’m a big Marvel fan but didn’t particularly yearn to see this latest offering. The film was passable and additional entertainment was provided by the lively audience as they ‘whooped’ and ‘cheered’ throughout every predictable plot twist. I was half expecting them to start jumping on chairs when the lead character took his top off…
After the flicks, we walked down Deansgate toward the Great Northern and Adam challenged me to a game of bowling at All Star Lanes. Knowing that I’m pretty crap at said activity, I suspect he knew he was on to a sure thing with a win and promptly kicked my ass down the lane (not literally I must add; the shoes provided would have made that a difficult task).
Our very first date took place inside a Manchester diner so it seemed fitting that we make a pit-stop there for some food. Sitting in Reds True Barbeque, we reminisced about the events that took place there in October 2014 and how neither us could have ever imagined where that night would have led. Me; eating all of his food. Him; making daft jokes to mask the nerves and us awkwardly hugging in the car park as we parted ways.
Leaving with full bellies, the idea of a night ‘out out’ was less than appealing as our feet ached and tiredness began to creep in. The hotel stay included complimentary pool access so we walked by the queues of glamourous revellers who were patiently waiting to enter ‘Cloud 23’ and up to the second floor to relax in the water.
Up bright and early the next morning, we left the hotel and enjoyed coffee and croissants in Grindsmith before locating the Future Artists studio. I’ll be posting a full review on this soon but in short, we enjoyed three hours of VR and retro gaming in a small group and are already going to book tickets for the next event.
After pondering (again; we’re pretty indecisive people) about what to do next, I coerced Adam in to finally watching ‘The Greatest Showman’ with me, making it our second cinema trip in as many days. As you can see, we took full advantage of that £4.99 offer! I fell in love with the film after the first song and have had the soundtrack on repeat ever since, much to Adam’s annoyance (All together now: “This is the greatest shoooow…”). Random Lisa Fact: I actually used to go to trapeze and aerial silk classes and ‘The Greatest Showman’ seems to have reignited that passion so I may well be back in the circus ring soon!
Simply sitting in the cinema with my head on Adam’s shoulder was utter bliss. Stepping away from our usual routine and making time to just ‘be’ with one another meant more to me than any extravagant meal or gift could offer. Once the film had finished, we wandered hand in hand through the Chinese food markets in St Ann’s Square and stopped for a drink.
Sipping a mocha and idly chatting about nothing of great importance was a wonderful reminder of the (occasionally overlooked) joys in our relationship; the sincerity and oh-so-subtle romantic gesture of a hand on a knee or a kiss on the forehead. The everyday magic and connection that we’ve gently built up over the course of our marriage beats any first date hands down.
Opulence is nice but raw, humble love is extraordinary ❤️
This naturally followed me into adulthood and has influenced my own musical tastes, personal style and passion for this marvellous period in history. Last night, I attended the press night of a brand-new rock and roll musical at the Lowry Theatre: Teddy.
When I received the invite and read the words ‘Teddy’ is a new Rock ‘n’ Roll musical featuring brand new music that is authentic to the era’, I didn’t even check my diary before sending my RSVP.
Here is a brief overview:
Elephant and Castle, London. 1956. Saturday night.
Teddy and Josie are about to hit the streets of London for a good time. Hair quiffed. Red lipstick. Dressed toe to head in the latest threads. So what if it’s pouring down, they’re totally skint, and someone wants them dead? A little trouble never stopped a Ted from having a good time. Desperate times call for rock ‘n’ roll.
From the writer-director team behind Boudica at the Globe and Frankenstein at The Watermill Theatre and Wilton’s Music Hall in London comes Teddy, an award-winning, punchy new musical that races through the dark and damaged world of post-war London: a brand new Britain bombed to bits by the Blitz, belts tight with austerity, but ripe and ready for revolution.
With electrifying original songs plus some of the hugest hits from the 1950s performed by the on-stage live band Johnny Valentine and the Broken Hearts, Teddy is the ultimate story of teenage rebellion and the birth of a new musical era. Bursting with the energy of a live gig, this is theatre that leaves you on a high and jiving all the way home.
I arrived at the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays accompanied by my little sister and we both eagerly anticipated the evening that lay ahead (We found ourselves sat between the lovely Donna from Polkadot Pink who is one of my good blogging buddies and Lisa George of Coronation Street fame which was slightly bizarre. After a quick post-show chat, I discovered that Lisa also adores all things vintage and rockabilly so we were definitely in good company!).
As the lights dimmed and the chattering crowd began to focus, we were treated to a mini-gig from Johnny Valentine (great name BTW) and The Broken Hearts.
What soon followed was a fast-paced show filled with enthusiasm and delivered by a small but vibrant cast. The witty, poetic and captivating dialogue kept me engaged throughout and the live band performed original music with vigour and an infectious rhythm.
A rubble-filled London backdrop added to the sense of comradery and rebellion of the characters. The familiar story of ‘Boy Meets Girl’ was far from tiresome; in fact, this time, there was no traditional love story nor happy ending.
With some dark scenes and dialogue littered with profanities and cigarette smoking, this is certainly not your cliched, vanilla ‘musical’ by any stretch of the imagination and that’s exactly why it was refreshing to watch.
The cast for Teddy includes Molly Chesworth (Josie), Andrew Gallo (Sammy ‘The Sticks’ Smith), George Parker (Teddy), Freya Parks (Jenny O’Malley), Harrison White (Buster Watson) and Dylan Wood (Johnny Valentine).
First seen at the Southwark Playhouse in 2015, Teddy has music by Dougal Irvine with musical direction by Harrison White, set design by Max Dorey, lighting design by Christopher Nairne, sound design by Max Pappenheim, costume design by Holly Rose Henshaw and casting by Natalie Gallacher for Pippa Ailion Casting
On the drive home, I found myself humming to the songs from the show and filled with costume envy, mixed with an overwhelming urge to finally learn how to lindy hop. Teddy is showing at the Lowry until Saturday (17 Feb) so don’t miss out on the chance to see this splendid show. You can book your tickets here and I thoroughly recommended that you do so immediately!
*If you want a little taster, you can find music by Johnny Valentine and The Broken Hearts on Spotify here.
Dates: Tue 13 – Sat 17 Feb
Times: 7.30pm. Wed & Sat 2.30pm
Tickets: £24.50 – £29.50. Concessions £2 off.
*I was invited to this press night FOC, however, all opinions are my own
Whilst I’m all for celebrating success and appreciate that the notion of being a general ‘boss bitch’ or superstar, kick-ass achiever is inspiring to some people, the negative association with not wanting to reach for those metaphorical stars seems to imply that you must be lazy or unambitious.
Personally, I’m not a naturally competitive or aggressive person and have never strived to be particularly outstanding in any area of my life. Right now, I’m advancing in my chosen career but equally, I have no desire to chase after the MD title or build my own empire. My blog is also pretty average and that isn’t something that I aspire to change either (my photography skills are questionable at best and am still astounded that a small number of people choose to read my lacklustre ramblings).
I don’t run marathons – heck, I can barely manage 3k on the treadmill without feeling like I may throw up – and I’ll never be the kind of girl who gets excited at seeing my name in first place on any scoreboard. I live in a modest yet cosy home and don’t yearn for a celebrity lifestyle.
Our wedding day didn’t involve thousands of pounds worth of decadent extras, I’m just as happy with caravan getaways as I am flying to exotic locations and my culinary skills are passable, as opposed to being worthy of a Michelin star.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of undisclosed goals and dreams. My internal little ‘bucket list’ consists of various ambitious projects, however, I don’t harbour a desperate need for validation nor approval from anybody else to achieve these things. I am in awe of my unremarkable life almost every day, including the wonderful friends and family members around me, a marvellous marriage and a job that gives me a substantial sense of achievement.
My own idea of success is merely different to those who subscribe to the ‘girl boss/be the best’ culture; not better or worse, just different. I will always clap when my peers are winning and am happy to let others shine in the spotlight if it helps them feel good. As for me, I know I’ll never be a prize-winning novelist or vivacious perfectionist but I can comfortably live with that.
My life, my own story is far from exceptional and I can honestly say that I’m content being the centre of my mediocre universe; for the first time in my life, I am profoundly happy in my own skin. So, whatever success may mean to you, let’s toast both the victories, the mundane and the beautiful simplicity of ordinary together whilst excelling in our own unique ways.
We need to talk about cervical cancer. I know, I know. Cancer awareness saturates social media every single day, making it easy to lose its message/impact and of course, it’ll never happen to you, right? That’s what I used to think too – until the day it almost did.
You see, I ended up going through years of treatment for a problem that was detected via a smear test when I was just 19 years old. I went along for my very first smear test back in 2002 with no real hesitation. After giving birth twice by this point (once in front of a room full of medical students and surgeons) my
dignity reservations about getting my foof out for a stranger were non-existent.
I do, however, appreciate that if you haven’t had a medical professional look at your most intimate parts before, it can feel intimidating. Not to step on your ego but the pros have seen so many vulvas in their careers that yours won’t be anything new or special – soz.
I was asked to remove my jeans and underwear, lay on the bed and cover up with the sheet provided. A few moments later, the cheerful nurse told me to raise my knees, open my legs and relax. She tried to reassure me by suggesting that I imagine I was laying on a nice sunny beach somewhere (erm, not my usual beach pose) as the more relaxed your muscles are, the easier the process is.
The nurse then inserted a lubricated speculum (like a metal ducks beak – sounds scary but it’s really not) inside me and swept a few cells from my cervix using what looked and felt like a long cotton bud. That was it! The whole thing literally took a few minutes and didn’t hurt at all.
Fast forward a few weeks and I received a letter asking me to attend my local hospital for a colposcopy. I won’t lie; I was nervous about what this actually meant. The colposcopy was simply a more detailed look at my cervix. The procedure was the same as the earlier smear test, only this time, the nurse used a high-powered microscope and light to get a better view (at this point, my initial confidence had waned as I wondered if my foof was up for such detailed integration. Maybe I should have vajazzled or something).
The nurse then asked if she could do a few tests. The first one was an acetic acid colposcopy; sounds fun, huh? She applied a cotton pad soaked in acetic acid (dilute vinegar) to my cervix. The cells that turn white are abnormal. Mine were quite substantial so the nurse then asked if she could take a biopsy. This is simply taking a small sample of the cervical tissue using a punch tool. I found this bit a little uncomfortable and suffered from period-like cramps for a few days afterwards, however, was soon back to normal.
I awaited my results (again) and was asked back to the clinic after finding that my cells were grade CIN3. To clarify, this does not mean cancer! Carcinoma-in-situ is the official terminology and indicates that if left untreated, the cells may become cancerous in the future.
After this diagnosis, the next stage was to treat them using a loop excision. This procedure was a little more in-depth and required a local anaesthetic. The surgeon used a small wire loop with an electrical current running through it to cut away the affected area of tissue and seal the wound at the same time. I felt quite sore for a week or so and was told to go for a smear test again in six months time to see how things were.
Six months on, I dutifully attended my smear and, after another colposcopy, was informed that the abnormal cells had returned. This time, I was given a cone biopsy and treated with laser surgery. The same thing happened on my next smear, and again and again until several years of treatment prompted the consultants to suggest a hysterectomy.
At that point in my life, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to have more children and the idea of eliminating that possibly for good left me overwhelmed. I chose to continue with the six-monthly treatments as before until a hysterectomy became the only option. Thankfully, it never got that far as, after eleven long years, I was finally given the all clear in 2014, meaning that I was back to three yearly smear tests.
My story isn’t intended to scare you; I wanted to share it to highlight just how important that initial smear test was for my own health and often think of the ‘what if’s‘ had I avoided this routine examination.
I also discovered that cervical cancer is something that is prevalent in my own family history. I don’t want to put too many details here as it isn’t my story to share but a member of my immediate family has been diagnosed with cervical cancer and after countless treatments, discovered last year that it is terminal.
So please, I urge you. Do not miss these vital appointments. They take just a few moments of your time and really do save lives. You can support #SmearForSmear and learn more about Jo’s Trust here.
In the first week of December (yes, I know it’s not in keeping with the ’12 Days of Christmas’ thing but I’m impatient), we put festive tunes on Spotify, enjoy a glass of Bucks Fizz and spend an evening transforming our humble abode into a winter wonderland.
When I suggested putting a date in our respective diaries to put the tree up this year, Adam retorted with: “Well you can do it by yourself; I’m not helping this year. Last time, you got annoyed because the kids put the decorations on ‘wrong’ and stressed us all out. You get mean when we put the tree up!”.
After protesting a little bit at this ‘unfounded’ accusation, I realised that he MAY have a point. I vowed to relax and let go of the Christmas tree reigns so that we could enjoy the relaxed family day that it’s supposed to be.
Over the years, I’ve flitted between having a fake tree and a real one. As much as I adore the look and smell of a real tree, I just can’t justify spending £70+ on something that’s going to end up left in the yard from 28 December and (quite literally) throwing money away, not to mention the hassle of disposing of it and having to sweep up needles every single day.
Our trusty fake tree was looking less than perfect and had lost a branch or two over time (due to three cats climbing it and me hastily packing it away) so it was time for an upgrade. Determined to have an idyllic evening of festive fun, we opened our brand new tree from Balsam Hall with great enthusiasm. They’d also kindly provided us with some stunning glass baubles and a tree skirt.
The tree itself is an artificial 6.5ft European Fir and you’d be hard-pressed to tell it apart from its natural counterpart! Made up of True Needle™ tips (71%) to give a realistic look and Classic Needle foliage (29%) for fullness, it was unlike any other ‘fake’ Christmas tree I’d seen before.
Each section of the tree was neatly tied up with red ribbon to protect the delicate branches during transportation and Balsam Hill even provided us with a storage bag and two pairs of protective gloves to use whilst putting the tree together. I thought the gloves were a bit OTT…until I unpacked the tree!
The True Needle branches meant they were also rather prickly so the gloves were actually a very practical addition! Now I’m not great and assembling things (flat pack furniture) so I was relieved to find that the tree came in just four parts and was incredibly simple to assemble. Between the kids and I, we managed to put it up within the hour.
As much as festive decor trends change every year and the cool frosted/Scandinavian look is very modern right now, I have a love affair for all things vintage and have never really strayed far from the classic reds, golds and greens when it comes to decorating our home and Christmas time.
The colours are timeless and always remind me of Hollywood Christmas movies. Glass baubles are my big indulgence and I have a small handful of beautiful treasures that I’ve collected over the years. Sadly, most of them got destroyed when our youngest cat scaled the tree and it toppled over, shattering my beloved baubles. Yes, I genuinely cried as I swept up the pieces off the floor…
Balsam Hall gave me a choice of baubles to adorn our tree and after hours (literally hours) of deliberation, I settled on the Christmas Cheer bauble set. This included one base set containing 35 decorations and a 12 piece enhancement kit.
When selecting these baubles online, I was so excited that I repeatedly showed Adam the same pictures over and over again until he asked me to stop. Bah humbug!
I got home from work to find that the parcel had arrived within a couple of days of placing the order and actually gasped when I opened the boxes of baubles. They were absolutely exquisite and crafted to perfection. The intricate, hand-applied details made these baubles a real work of art; they wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury hotel lobby or boutique restaurant. Just look at them!
The venetian burgundy and gold tree skirt helped to cover up any hint that the tree may be artificial and added an extra layer of elegance to our magnificent tree.
Thank you again Balsam Hill; you’ve made our Christmas extra magical. Now I just need to figure out how to cat proof the tree this year…
*Contains PR samples
After the issue with our last Air BnB accommodation in New York, they had given us some credit to use so we decided to spend it on a cosy little place in the beautiful city of York, England.
My Dad kindly watched the girls for a couple of nights as Adam and I packed the car and made the four hour round trip to the Garden Shed, situated at The Old Forge, Sand Hutton (just outside of York). After a road trip accompanied by the Labyrinth soundtrack (#childoftheeighties), we arrived to find the quaintest little ‘shed’ set in acres of beautiful gardens.
Once inside, we found that the flat boasted a log fire and welcome basket containing cake, wine and even fresh eggs from the hens outside. Definitely the ideal location for a quiet, relaxing (child-free) anniversary weekend!
We headed in to the city of York and made a pit stop at the Guy Fawkes pub for a pot of tea and to map out the rest of our day. I also enjoyed geeking out a little bit about the fact that this particular pub is the birthplace of Guy Fawkes himself (I have an odd fascination with the history of the gunpowder plot – go figure).
After reading about the now-famous Yorkshire Pudding wrap from the York Roast Co, we decided to try our luck there for lunch. As it was a Friday afternoon, the queue was minimal and we managed to get out hands on a wrap (and tub of pork scratching) within about ten minutes. They were pretty special and definitely lived up to the hype. We’re seriously contemplating making to trip again just for that!
After lunch, we headed to the nearby Shambles. Last time we were in York, we didn’t have time to visit ‘The Shop Which Must Not Be Named’ but there was no queue so we decided to take advantage. With a Harry Potter theme and plenty of goodies available, I began my Christmas shopping a little earlier than usual. I also picked up a York ‘Lucky Cat’ from a neighbouring shop because I’m a bit of a sucker for trinkets and anything cat shaped.
That evening, we decided to take a short drive to a nearby American diner, Holy Moly. I grew up on all things rock and roll so this place really did feel like home as soon as we stepped inside. I was limited with what I could eat thanks to a medical issue but made my way through half a corndog and a milkshake whilst Adam enjoyed a plate of ribs and BBQ chicken wings.
The rest of the weekend was spent playing board games, drinking pots of Yorkshire tea, enjoying the various museums dotted around and generally winding down from a hectic few weeks.
Have you been to York before?
How this very important fact escaped my radar is beyond me as peanut butter really is one of my favourite things in life. When we went to the USA last year, I was delighted to discover that Americans seem to have peanut butter everything. Heck, I even sampled a peanut butter milkshake from Shake Shack on my wedding day! #stayclassy
The folks over at Innovative Bites kindly sent me a ‘peanut butter bundle’ and it made my year. Seriously, opening a humble cardboard box at work to discover an abundance of peanut butter confectionery inside made me happier than you can possibly imagine.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Twinkies
Yes, you heard me right – Peanut butter Twinkies! (Fellow Zombieland fans may relate to the fact that Twinkies instantly remind me of Tallahassee shouting: “Where are you, you spongy, yellow, delicious…..!”)
These Twinkies are essentially chocolate flavoured cake filled with peanut butter frosting. They also somehow manage to have the perfect sweet and slightly salty balance and the sponge was surprisingly moist for a pre-packed product with a lovely, light peanut butter frosting. I’m pretty sure these babies will be a regular treat for our household in the future!
They are currently available in the UK from Asda (RRP £5.50 for a box of 10).
Chocolate Buddy Strawberry & Peanut Butter Filled Cups / Chocolate Buddy Grape & Peanut Butter Filled Cups
The concept of combined peanut butter and ‘jelly’ is not something that’s very common in the UK…yet. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but these worked perfectly. The thin layer of strawberry and grape sauce (respectively) gave an extra level of flavour to the cups and were very moreish!
Chocolate Buddy Crunchy Peanut Butter Filled Cups / Chocolate Buddy Smooth Peanut Butter Filled Cups
I have tried
various many, many different brands of peanut butter cups over the years. I’d even go so far as to say that I’m a little bit of an expert by now. I liked the crunchy texture of the…crunchy ones (I really have no other word to describe them!) and the chocolate casing was nice and creamy.
Chocolate Buddy Peanut Butter Bar
A 100g ‘bar’ featuring eight individually wrapped miniature chocolate and peanut butter sticks. Great for office snacking with your colleagues, popping a few sticks in your bag for when the peanut butter urge hits or simply enjoying all by yourself on a Saturday night (the last one may be my personal suggestion…).
*Contains PR samples
I was lucky enough to attend the very first Joanie Clothing blogger event last Christmas and when I was asked if I’d like to join them again this year for another evening of festive fun, I didn’t hesitate to RSVP!
If you haven’t already heard of Joanie Clothing, you really are missing out. This Manchester-based brand boasts something refreshingly different from the usual high street offerings, with quirky and fun styles, gorgeous slogan jumpers, stunning dresses and more. Don’t just take my word for it though – check out Joanie Clothing for yourself here (and if your willpower is as bad as mine, I take absolutely no responsibility for how many items of clothing you may purchase whilst ‘browsing’).
On Wednesday night, I met up with the lovely Donna from Polkadot Pink and joined the Joanie gals at LEAF, Manchester. We were greeted by cocktails, prosecco and hot chocolate and the venue was decorated beautifully with trees and giant Joanie Christmas crackers.
We said hello to the Joanie gang and made a beeline for the gingerbread decorating session that was being hosted by Time for Sweetpea. I resisted the temptation to eat my biscuit before icing it and created a pretty little treat to take home; what do you think of my new-found icing skills?
There were various rails dotted around to showcase items from the latest Joanie collection, The Drawing Room, and we wasted no time in having a meticulous look through all of the clothes! I immediately clocked the cat print dress and this awesome dinosaur top; they’re now both on my Christmas list (are you listening Adam?). I also fell in love with various Christmas jumpers, especially the Robin one pictured below.
After spending a good hour or so fawning over the clothes, it was time to socialise. It was so lovely to see some familiar faces at the event along with lots of new ones! I managed to catch up with Susie from Old Fashioned Susie, Bethany from The Vintage Beauty Parlour, Anoushka from Anoushka Loves, Natasha from Love Laughter Fashion, Imogen from Imogen Rose and many more fellow bloggers/Joanie enthusiasts.
Later that evening, we were treated to a performance from the incredibly talented Becki Fishwick, including a fabulous rendition of one my old favourites (and Joanie jumper slogan) ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’. I grew up on classic rock and roll music in a rockabilly household so I thoroughly enjoyed Becki’s set and even bought a copy of her album afterwards.
Thanks again to the folks at Joanie Clothing for bringing us such lovely events and products; I’m going to be indulging in a large shopping spree after payday!
Despite being a professional jeweller in my past life (random Lisa Valentine trivia for you there), I still prefer the beauty of blooms over gems any day of the week.
I rarely get the chance to enjoy them as I’m a rather frugal with my hard-earned pennies so they tend to be a treat that’s strictly for special occasions.
When Freddie’s Flowers asked if I’d like to receive a bunch of flowers for review purposes, I thought they’d help to cheer up the dark and cold evenings whilst adding a touch of ‘pretty’ to our new home (amid the endless cardboard boxes and suitcases – we’re still embarrassingly behind with unpacking).
Here’s a little bit about Freddie’s Flowers:
Freddie Garland is the name behind the flowers (yes, that is his real surname). He was brought up by florist parents and is now on a mission to add ‘a little bit of zen joy to homes across the country by delivering gloriously fresh flowers’.
For £22 a week, you can have a box of beautiful fresh blooms delivered straight to your door. I found the website is a little bit lacking in practical details (subscription options, location etc) but they have a beautifully designed, informative blog and the images are a work of art!
I’ll be honest, I felt a bit spoilt when a huge box of flowers arrived at the office, much to the curiosity of my colleagues. When I say a huge box, I’m not kidding; it was massive!
A few hours later, I opened it at home to discover an abundance of luxurious long-stemmed white roses, delicate lisianthus and eucalyptus. The lemony waxflower that was supposed to be inside had been replaced with extra roses which was initially disappointing as the waxflowers give off a beautiful, citrusy smell.
However, Freddies Flowers did pop a note in the parcel to explain that frankly, the stems weren’t good enough to send out their customers and I was impressed that they had such good quality control.
It’s also worth noting that Freddie’s Flowers has some of the freshest, funkiest branding that I’ve seen in a long time. I have a ‘thing’ for fonts and liked the handwritten style of the packaging and informative leaflets provided.
I’ve had these flowers for more than two weeks and they’re still going strong. Although £22 a week is slightly outside of my modest budget, they’d make a beautiful gift/treat for yourself or a loved one and the quality has exceeded any other bunch of flowers that I’ve had before.
Have you tried Freddie’s Flowers yet?
*I was sent this bunch of flowers for review purposes, however, all opinions are my own as always.
Yep, today is our very first wedding anniversary and it honestly only feels like yesterday that we were getting ready together in a hotel room overlooking Times Square and about to embark on an unknown journey into official wedded bliss. I remember putting my veil on and having a slight pang of sadness that I wasn’t accompanied by my sisters, mum, friends, (soon to be) sister in law and mum in law, but then glanced over at Adam and knew we’d made the right choice for us.
One of the main reasons behind our decision to elope to New York was that we both hate being in the limelight. The idea of having to ‘walk down the aisle’ actually filled me with utter dread and we also knew that spending several thousands of pounds on a traditional wedding day was something that we may regret when faced with huge loan repayments for the next five years or so.
We’ve always talked about the various adventures that we wanted to take together so figured that this way, we could tick the ‘Big Apple’ off our joint bucket list, have a simple city clerks office ceremony and host a party for our loved once we got back home. So we did, and I can honestly say that we made some of the best memories to date; our trip to NYC will always be filled with love and happiness.
A lot has happened since we began married life. We’ve experienced good times, (very) bad times, and everything in between. It’s a common notion that the first year of marriage is the hardest. I can see why, with the anticlimactic ‘post-wedding blues’ kicking in and facing the reality of monogamy, responsibility and new obligations.
I have to say though, this first year as husband and wife hasn’t been particularly different nor difficult. Not to be a smug cow of course, but it’s just, well…working. Part of this may be the fact that we never set the focus on a ‘wedding’ but more on the marriage part – I couldn’t wait to be Mrs Valentine; the wedding day itself was just a nice extra.
We’d already lived together before tying the knot so cohabiting wasn’t anything new (nor brought any nasty surprises) and we enjoy a relatively simple life; sometimes, it’s the ordinary little moments that are the most sincere. Watching a new Netflix series together whilst eating crisps in bed, laughing at the same (ridiculous) videos on YouTube, getting annoyed when the other one leaves dirty laundry on the floor yet again or waking up together on a lazy Sunday morning.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t make the effort every now and again. In fact, we’ve made a pact to plan a date together once a month and take some time out for ourselves, away from the usual life pressures and surroundings. It’s nice to get out of the PJs on occasion, isn’t it? I adore my husband; he’s my teammate, my partner in crime and just about all of the other clichés that I can possibly muster up. I genuinely can’t imagine a future without him.
Here’s to Year Two