Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: A Year in Review

Inspired by Rebecca at Florence Finds, I decided to spend a couple of hours looking back over the highs, and making my peace with the lows, of 2012. Here are some of the little pieces that made me happy this year. I hope when I come back to this space I'm reminded how full 2012 was!



Me jumping at the top of Kerið
In January, we travelled to Iceland, staying in CenterHotel Thingholt, Reykjavik. We did a Golden Circle tour visiting volcanic crators, Gulfoss waterfall, geysirs, Þingvellir National Park and the Blue Lagoon. We had one of the most amazing meals at the Lobster House, got tipsy in Islenski barrin, and warmed up with hot chocolates in the colourful Laundromat Cafe. Here you can do your laundry downstairs, if the mood so takes you.



Birthday celebrations with a family walk and picnic in beautiful Tatton Park, followed by a meal out and Beatles themed cocktails at Hard Days Night Hotel.


Sea Odyssey, Liverpool. April 2012

Liverpool is a great city, always offering something to its residents and visitors. One weekend in April two rather large tourists came to visit. The 30 foot tall little girl Giant and her 50 foot Uncle in a diving suit wandered around the streets of Liverpool, brought to life by Royal de Luxe company. The Sea Odyssey Giant Spectacular was part of the Titanic memorial events in the city. We had lots of fun chasing the giants through the city. Amazing.



I've not spent much time with M's old school friends. So, a group of us rented a cottage in the Cotswolds for a long weekend. It was good to get to know his friends better over long walks, complete with a near death sinking inquick clay(?) experience, an unexpected and excellent Gurkha meal, and a 1920's speakeasy murder mystery (not guilty).



In June, M and I had a week in Andalucia, Spain. We took this photograph before we scrambled downhill and relaxed in a little cove at the Spanish Lake District at Ardales Park.



Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom Fireworks. July 2012.
In July, me, M, my mum and brother had a two week holiday in Orlando, Florida. We rented a villa with its own pool and did all the theme parks, shopped and indulged in naughty food. It was Mr.'s first time to Orlando's theme parks and I think he fell for Disney's magic charms!



My lovely mum's not had an easy time of it the past 10 years or so but our friendship has developed throughout, perhaps as a consquence of what's happened. In August, Mum and I spent a few days in Harrogate, visiting Betty's tea rooms and the Turkish baths. I hope we get to do more trips like this in 2013.

In August, we also celebrated our One year as a Mr and Mrs! Me and M celebrated in a gorgeous little cottage in Dentdale and had a great meal at Holbeck Ghyll's Michelin starred restauraunt in the Lake District. I can't believe how quickly the time passed by, but this weekend away gave us both a chance to reflect on our year as a Mr. and Mrs. and make plans for the years ahead.



A night exploring Bath with M and relaxing at the Thermea Spa, before a week of tennis, bike riding, mini golf, (more) murder mystery fun, and just generally catching up with good friends in CenterParcs, Longleat.


Eiffel Tower. Oct 2012 (Edited on Picassa)
As an anniversary gift, M organised a short weekend trip to Paris in October. We stayed at Mr. and Mrs. Smith recommended hotel, Hôtel des Académies et des Arts. This art hotel in Paris' Left Bank was perfect and we spent the weekend exploring, riding the batobus, visiting the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame and of course, Laduree! We also spent time walking through beautiful gardens and street markets, as I search my brain to remember what I learned in French A-level lessons.


In November, I was fortunate to attend a research conference in San Diego with a friend from work. It was good to have an opportunity to talk about my research, and San Diego was amazing. We stayed in the Gaslamp area, and everywhere we went there was a really chilled atmosphere and lots to do. Between conference related stuff, my friend and I made a stop at San Diego Zoo, introducing ourselves to this gorgeous guy! To top it off, my friends' beautiful baby girl was born the day after I returned home.



Royal Albert Hall, London. 2012
December was the month of visiting Christmas markets in Liverpool, London and Nuremberg. We had a weekend trip to London and, after admiring window displays, we went to see Jools Holland and his Rhythmn and Blues Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall. I also visited a good friend in Germany. Then, Christmas! Christmas day no#3 happened yesterday as we hosted our first Christmas in our own home for both of our families. It was such a lovely day. We decided against the stress of a sit down meal and opted for a table piled high with buffet food and Christmas treats. Christmas music playing, Christmas tree lights glowing and all our favourite faces!

I'm fairly certain we had some sort of fun in February, but I can't think what we did! Perhaps this will get updated when my memory returns.

Today is the last day of 2012, and as I reflect on the past year I feel very lucky to have experienced all this in 12 months. I hope 2013 comes with its own adventures, and I know there's a few special dates in the diary already. Come on 2013, we're ready for ya!


January can be a bit of a 'bleugh' month, following on from Christmas' festive fun. Taking down the Christmas tree is always a sad moment for me, particularly the empty spaces where Christmas cards hung, lights twinked and good old cranberry candles burned.

Actually, this January is already shaping up to be a good one. One of my closest friends recently announced her engagement and has only a short time to plan her February 2013 wedding. Her hen do is planned for 25th January and I think there will also be need for some crafty hands on deck action for her over the next month, too. I'm very excited for her! I'll also be saying a goodbye to one of my good childhood friends as she sets of for adventures around Asia and Australia later this month, but not before a good send off party. It is also Mr. Little Pieces of Happy's birthday later this week and that gives a good excuse for more champagne sipping and tasty meals. There's a lot to look forward to this January.

This January, I'm also jumping on Florence Finds' #JanuaryJoy wagon and will follow day to day activities to bring a little more fun (and structure!) to January's often dreary days. 
First task? Make some New Year resolutions. I've not really set myself specific NY resolutions the past few years. We did decide we'd make sure we spent more time together and apart with our friends in 2012 and we've definitely done this. This year I'm going to put pen to paper, or typeface to webspace, and share my resolutions for 2013, but first I'll have to think about them!

Monday, 24 December 2012

One More Sleep!

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

Merry Christmas x

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Happy at... Christmas Markets

Christmas time! I love festive fun, but this year work has been so hectic and I am feeling the most disorganised I have been at this stage in the Christmas countdown. 

This year, I had 'pinned' countless Christmas crafts but, sadly, they are still on a rather long to-do list with little chance of getting any airtime this year. Never the less, I have not let this squash my festive cheer and I have been thrown into the Christmas spirit through visits to two full-of-festive-fun Christmas markets

First, me and Mr. went to London for the weekend. I had arranged the trip as part of my wedding anniversary gift, where I took inspiration from this post on Find Joy in the Journey, to create a 'year of dates' gift. We travelled down early Saturday morning and checked into a new favourite hotel, The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington. We had tickets to see Jools Holland and his rhythm and blues orchestra in the evening and so spent the day admiring the displays in Harrods, Liberty's and Selfridges. All beautiful with far too many tempting potential purchases. On Sunday, we educated ourselves at the National History Museum. Next, we headed towards Hyde Park for London's Winter Wonderland Christmas market and spent the afternoon drinking mulled wine, browsing the stalls and chomping on bratwursts. Lots of festive fun!

My second Christmas market trip was a bit further afield. Last weekend I travelled across to Germany to visit a friend who now lives and works over there. After an early morning flight to Munich followed by a two hour drive, I arrived in beautiful Nuremberg. It was great to catch up with my friend. I hadn't seen her since a month or so after the wedding and there was a lot to catch up on over a good Nürnberger bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard lunch.

I had heard a lot about the scale and spirit of German Christmas markets, and Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt in Hauptmarkt Square didn't disappoint. The market was split into different sections and included a children's market, Kinderweihnact, with a beautiful traditional carousel, Santa, and steam train. The wooden stalls across all areas of the market are filled with all sorts of lovely handmade items and edible treats.   

When the plane landed at 11am the temperature was announced at -7 degrees celsius. With the wind against us in the market, we of course found it necessary to warm ourselves up with lots of yummy glühwein, in these cute little cups! I managed to pick up a bottle to bring back and me and Mr. had it as we put up our Christmas tree!

It’s impossible to come back from snowy Nuremberg's Christmas market and not feel the Christmas tingle! I would definitely recommend a trip to Nuremberg, and to the city's Christmas market. Just be sure to remember your thermals!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Creme Brulee Cheescake

Creme Brulee = Lovely
Cheesecake = Lovely
Creme Brulee Cheescake can only be EXTRA LOVELY!

After being away at a research conference for a week or so, I've had a bit of a blog browse morning, catching up and admiring the online pretty.

I have stumbled upon this delicious delight on The Sweet Life, via A Cup of Jo. I was bought a brulee blowtorch for Christmas last year and haven't really used it as much as I could/ should. This looks yum, and will have to go on my weekend to do list!

Image Source


Image Source: A Cup of Jo

Today. A cold, wet November Wednesday - perfect for walking under bare trees in raincoats and wellies. Oh if only I wasn't stuck in with a pile of work...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Happy in...Bath

I have not spent much time exploring England, often opting to holiday away from the UK. I've started to realise how much there is to see on my own doorstep and I'm trying to see as much of this beautiful country as I can. We spent one night in Bath before meeting up with friends and going to CentreParcs in Longleat. I had never been to Bath and was very excited for this taster trip. We had booked to stay in The Northey Arms in Box, just outside of Bath itself.

I was very impressed with The Northey. The bus route into Bath was directly opposite and took around 15 minutes. The room was amazing! Bright and stylish decor, a fancy little Tassimo machine and a huge 'hidden' bathroom, accessed through what appeared to be a wardrobe door. The room was quiet and the bed was super comfy, making for an excellent nights sleep! We didn't eat in the restaurant. However, breakfast was included with our stay and we set ourselves up the following day with a full English breakfast, with eggs layed fresh from their chickens. 

Royal Crescent, Bath. September 2012
Once in Bath, we decided that we would get an open top bus ticket. It was a dry day, we were short on time and we were tired from the long journey down. The ticket cost £12.50 each, including a pair of headphones for the audio commentary. The ticket allowed us to hop on or off at any of the stops and was valid for two different tour routes (City Route and Skyline Route). We jumped off the bus on the City Route to take this panoramic photo at The Royal Crescent. Hot drink in hand, it was a great way to see Bath's main sights.

Image source: Bath Thermea Spa
We had also booked tickets through The Northey to visit Bath's Thermea Spa. I had read about this natural thermal spa on this lovely blog, and decided that it was a must see for our visit. We had tickets for a 2 hour session in the New Royal Baths and arrived around 7pm. We hired towels and were provided with wristbands which allowed you to access a locker and 'buy' any refreshments, settling up any tab after the session. We then made our way through to the wet areas and we were pleasantly suprised to find that it was fairly quiet. There was an indoor pool, a room with four glass aroma steam rooms and experience showers, and an open air rooftop pool which looks out over Bath. We were pretty relaxed as we waited for our taxi back to The Northey!

The next day, we headed over to Longleat for a more active week at CentreParcs. I am glad we stopped off in Bath and I'd definitely visit again, with a trip to the Thermea Spa again of course!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Baby Shower Fun

A few Sunday's back I 'hosted' a baby shower for my friend (the proud owner of my craft project, Mr. Turtle). I always think baby showers are a very American concept but they seem to be increasingly popular here in the UK, too. I suppose it's a good excuse to have a girls afternoon and celebrate together. We were concerned that we didn't want to make it into an all singing all dancing affair. Mummy-to-be had difficulty bending down, let alone dancing!

We decided on an afternoon tea theme and all clubbed our fine china, cake stands and baking skills together to produce what turned out to be a major feast. It was brilliant! We had all sorts of sandwiches, cakes, scones and fruits, teas and some alcohol free fizz. The chocolate covered raspberries were one of my favourites!

We filled the walls with baby grow bunting and my talented friend made little paper shoes filled with sweets for us each to take home. You can just see the show peeking at the bottom of this photo. Check out our hidden surprise when we cut into this gluten free beauty made by same talented friend:

After presenting mummy-to-be with our hand crafted gifts and a hamper full of goodies, it was time to get down to some baby shower games: guess the baby picture (I was useless!), guess-the- baby-food-flavour, cut-a-piece-of-string-the-same-size-as-the-bump game, and timed nappy from a tea towel creation (we won, but we did have an experienced mummy on our team who knew where to put the pin to hold it all together!).

After more tea and cake, it was time for us to help mummy-to-be pack up, ready to rest until her baba makes her move! She's due in a couple of weeks and I can't wait for this little baby girl, who we've been calling by name for months, to come into this world! 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Crafting: The Completed Mr Turtle *beams with pride*

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my lovely friend is (very very) soon to become a mummy and, as part of the baby shower we had planned, each of us honorary aunties were to craft a gift for her baba. I decided to take my inspiration from Make It and Love It blog. I wanted to share my hand crafted turtle.

I was bought a sewing machine a couple of years ago and really enjoy the process of planning and making something by hand, but I don't often make time to sit and play. This was a good excuse to dust it off and spend a few hours buried in fabric baskets in Abakhan Fabrics! I wanted each bit of Mr Turtle to be different, so I went for a few brightly coloured cottons with polka dots, stripes and butterflies.

Using the pattern on Make It and Love It, I cut out all his bits. The tail was probably the most fiddly to cut (although I love the little pointy extension in the finished Mr.)! Next, it was time for my sewing machine to get some attention. It took a while and I had to constantly look back to the (very clear) instructions but I'm super pleased with how he turned out! More importantly, my friend seemed to be very happy to adopt him as her own, until her baba is born. So, here he is, my most recent crafting achievement, Mr. Turtle. 

Monday, 22 October 2012

October in Paris

I am dreaming of macrons this morning after returning late last night from a little weekend trip to Paris. 

Macarons Laduree
Image source

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Today's Daydreams

Image Source

Today is a perfect Autumn day for exploring. It is not a day for sitting in my office dreaming of exploring. *Weep* 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Crafting: Mr. Turtle

One of my closest friends is a mummy-to-be and her little baby girl will be with us very soon! 

She is the first of my oldest school friends to start a family, and I am so excited for her! As it is the first baby to be welcomed into the world by our group, we're pulling out the stops! I'm hosting a baby shower for her next weekend. There'll be afternoon tea treats, there's a hamper in progress, and we've all decided to individually craft something for our newest and smallest group member! I love crafting, I really do, but it takes time and I don't seem to have very much of the stuff at the moment. I have found this gorgeous tutorial and free pattern at Make It And Love It, so I'm going to give it a whirl! I'm not convinced that my Mr. Turtle will be even half as pretty, or that his little shell will be shell-shaped, but keep your fingers crossed for me and I will let you know how he turns out.

Friday, 5 October 2012

One Year as a Mrs.

To celebrate our first wedding anniversary we decided to escape to the countryside for a weekend. We stayed in Gawthrop, in a little bolthole, Hazel Cottage. The cottage was beautiful, stylish and cosy, and was within walking distance of Dent. Dent itself is a teeny little village with a couple of pubs, a church, and a village shop.

We broke up our journey there with a delicious lunch at The Plough at Lupton. We were really impressed with this restaurant and we will definitely return if we're in that area again. Our SatNav took us down a few muddy wrong turns, but finally, after meeting a few woolly residents (welcome party pictured above), we settled into our little hideaway. Later, we decided to go into Dent where we sampled the locally brewed Dent ales with a generous portion of fish and chips at The George & Dragon pub. With the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales countryside around us, we enjoyed long, though rather soggy, walks followed by pints in front of buring fires. It was so nice to be in such a different landscape and be at a slower pace of life for a while.

Not satisfied in walking boots and raincoats for too long, on our actually wedding anniversary we put on our finery and journeyed across to Windermere in the Lake District. It was another wet and windy day but the setting of Holbeck Ghyll Country House Hotel was stunning, despite the grey clouds. We had one of the most amazing meals I think I have ever eaten/ will eat for a long time. The George and Dragon's fish and chip dish was forgotten as we sipped Champagne and enjoyed an incredible Michelin star meal in the impressive  dining room, with views over Lake Windermere. Fine dining isn't a regular thing for us and Holbeck Ghyll was a real treat. The food was delicious, service was great, and the setting really was was stunning. We went back to our bolthole and stayed up talking in front of the crackling log burner. It was the perfect way to celebrate the year we've shared as Mr. and Mrs.

On the way home, we decided to stop in at Wensleydale, home to Wallace & Gromit's favourite cheese. There is a cheese factory, where you can see how the cheese is made and there's a cheese tasting room. I know; another weekend highlight! Lots and lots of cheese to try. It was cheese and crackers for supper for a while after that!
We also visited Aysgarth Falls and sat watching the waterfalls flow for a good couple of hours with root beer floats and a cream tea. 

All in all, an excellent anniversary weekend to complete an excellent first year of marriage!

A Busy September

Wow. A whole month has gone by without a single post. Professional blogger I am not! This time of year is always crazy for me at work. Hopefully, things will calm down soon. I've also been having a lot of fun with family and friends these past weeks, too.   

A recent day out was the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival, held annually in Sefton Park. We had an amazing day overeating delicious food from local exhibitors, including Thai restaurants, steakhouses, French bistros and Greek tavernas. Our aim was to buy a taster dish from each stall. We failed, but definitely gave it a good go! This chocolate brownie cupcake from Puschka went down a treat.

The Ship and Mitre was on hand with a well stocked ale tent and lots of local brews to wash down the scrummy food! We enjoyed these two sitting on the grass in the sunshine, listening to The Loose Moose Stringband perform. 

There was also a brilliant marketplace and needless to say, we had a few carrier bags to bring home including soft, buttery croissants from The French Corner Ltd. for breakfast the following morning. 

Another highlight? Cookery demonstrations, including Paul Hollywood in 'The Great Merseyside Bake-Off', and Tom Kitchin. Lots of people queued for a photo with Tom Kitchin after his demonstration. Did I? OF COURSE!

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