Three day weekends are just THE BEST, aren’t they? They encompass everything you love about normal weekends but with extra servings of fun and relaxation. Three relaxing evenings, three mornings to lie in…what’s not to love?!? I feel that we really made the most of this last Bank Holiday weekend, so here’s a little round up of what we got up to:
:: We had three great nights out by the firepit, making s’mores, eating “bangers and mash” and we even barbecued our dinner on it, with D cooking bacon steaks, burgers and sea bass to perfection.
:: We did two fantastic walks. D and I did one alone on Saturday, around the Melbourne area. It started off near Melbourne Pool, which is a lovely spot – and is where Honey had her first encounter with geese! It was then a lovely, varied walk – we went across meadows, past bluebell woods, alongside the golf course, through the village of Breedon-on-the-Hill, through a rapeseed field, before returning to Melbourne itself (for a quick stop-off for a drink before heading home). It was a beautiful walk, not even spoilt by the fact that we added 1.25 miles to it by getting a little lost! We then did a second great walk on Monday, with B as well (G was busy revising with friends), around Calke Abbey and Staunton Harold Reservoir. Again, this walk will definitely be repeated, as we loved it – the reservoir is stunning, the bluebell woods we walked through just beautiful, and it was lovely to explore a little more of the Calke Abbey estate than we have previously done. We have decided that following directions it not our strong point, as we went wrong AGAIN but, again, this wasn’t a problem at all. The puppies loved the walks too, as there was plenty of opportunity for them to be off their leads, so got so much exercise.
:: We had fun playing “Risk” – as you can see, the boys take it all very seriously!
:: We did a little spot of baking – vanilla cupcakes with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and meringue mixed in.
:: We had delicious breakfasts in bed on two mornings. We love spending time in our newly decorated bedroom, so D and I took it in turns to get up to deal with the dogs and prepare yummy breakfasts, which we then took back up and enjoyed in a very leisurely manner.
So that was our incredibly relaxing weekend – I enjoyed every second of it! What did you get up to?
One of the many things which I have enjoyed this month, with the start of the better, warmer weather, has been the opportunity to read outside in the garden and I have been fortunate enough to stumble across two absolutely fantastic books, both of which I would thoroughly recommend.
As you can tell, I enjoy many different genres, and these two books are sooo different from each other. The first is Six Years by Harlan Coben. I have read two of his books previously – The Woods and Caught – and did enjoy them, but I bought Six Years for a friend last year and I remember her saying how much she was enjoying it at the time, so thought that I would give it a go. The basic premise is that, six years ago, Jake Fisher falls profoundly in love with Natalie during a three-month whirlwind romance at a retreat. He is then shocked beyond belief when she suddenly leaves him and marries another man, making Jake promise that he will never try to contact her again. He manages to keep this promise until he learns that her husband has died. He attends the funeral, hoping to re-establish contact with Natalie, only to see that the grieving widow is not Natalie, and that there are also two teenage children in tow. Jake then sets out to find Natalie, showing unbelievable amounts of persistence in the face of countless obstructions and messages that he should leave well alone.
Within just a few pages, I realised that I was completely hooked, and that this book was going to steal an awful lot of my time until I had completed it and found out the real story of what happened to Natalie all those years ago. Jake, the narrator, is a likeable character, and you can’t help but admire his determination, against all the odds (bearing in mind that this is a thriller!), to continue his quest for his one true love. There are so many intriguing questions raised and tangled mysteries revealed, making for a complex but compelling plotline, that it could be quite difficult to follow, but there are recaps along the way, which are incredibly helpful. I found that it was, without doubt, a literal page-turner, as Coben revealed just enough of the various layers of the mystery, intrigue and secrets to hold my attention completely, making me want to keep reading to find out more. The ending was relatively predictable, but the twists and turns along the way made this acceptable to my mind, and the exploration of the depth and passion of a lost love as a theme throughout the book was strong.
The second book which I have absolutely loved this month is Fly a Little Higher by Laura Sobiech. If you haven’t come across the Sobiech family before, I urge you to watch Zach Sobiech’s “My Last Days” film which I first saw posted on a friend’s Facebook page in May 2013 and watched – and was affected by – immediately. Zach was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer which is most common in children, at the age of 14, in 2010. In 2012, he was told that he had about a year to live. His mother, Laura, who wrote this book after his death in 2013, advised him to start writing letters to those closest to him but, having been a very keen musician for years, he wrote songs instead. His beautiful song, “Clouds”, was released in December 2012 and immediately went viral, leading to a very interesting and unexpected final few months of his life.
In this book, Laura tells us more of Zach’s life and story. I had been waiting to read this for a while as I had been so inspired by the whole family, so, again, got completely and immediately hooked by it. It is beautifully written, and is an incredibly poignant, honest and open account of Zach’s illness and the effect it had on him, the entire family, their friends and, ultimately, a much, much wider community. Zach was so, so much more than his illness – his faith, maturity, positivity, bravery and grace throughout are absolute testament to that. It is, as you would expect, an emotional book, and Laura is very generously and honestly open, but it is certainly not a sad book. Yes, it is heart breaking at the end, and I certainly shed some tears, as I did when I first watched the film, but it also touches you on so many levels. It is much more than an account of Zach’s final years – it shows the absolute power of faith, family, friends, hope, how one person can make a difference and the ability to continue to live a beautiful and fulfilling life even though you know it is coming to an end.
I honestly can’t praise this book enough. I’m desperately trying to choose the right words to make you all pick up this book, as it is a truly inspirational, powerful read.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about these books if you have already read them or, if you follow my recommendations, what you think of them after reading them. Alternatively, I’d love to hear of any books you’re loving at the moment – I’m always on the lookout for a good read.
NOTE: Please click below to read the comment by Laura Sobiech, in which she clarifies how money is raised for the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund and how much has been raised in Zach’s name so far. Thank you so much, Laura.
I have to say that I had the most lovely few days celebrating my birthday at the end of last week – and if you can get away with making it last for three days, that can’t be a bad thing!
My celebrations started on Thursday, when I had my little dinner party. I spent a lovely day preparing for it – making the table settings look pretty and making the food and drinks. It was a lovely evening – a small group of people who are very special to me, with food, drink and chat which all seemed to go down well. It was a great way to begin my birthday – and to christen the newly decorated dining room!
My actual birthday was then on Friday, and I had the biggest treat – a complete day off from all work and housework. D did the school run, which left me free to go back to bed with a cup of tea and a great book – what a luxury, to be able to devour page after page in one sitting. The rest of the day proceeded in a similar fashion – a long, indulgent bath in the middle of the day; a Netflix binge (how have I never watched Spooks when it was on TV for so many years? Now hooked!); a lunch of leftover fig and parma ham salad with a glass of wine; more reading on one of our new outdoor beanbags in the gorgeous sunny garden; and finally, a spot of colouring! I have come across various articles recently about the rising popularity of adults buying colouring books for themselves – apparently, this is a phenomenon that has spread across the Channel from Europe, with bookshops and other retailers reporting a huge increase in the numbers of colouring books being bought for adults, as they turn to colouring for its therapeutic, de-stressing benefits. The Huffington Post featured an interesting article on it here, clearly stating that “The practice generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity.” So, as I always loved colouring as a child, and enjoyed joining in when the children were younger, I thought that I would give it a go – and, I’m pleased to say, that I still love it! I had bought the children some colouring books a couple of years ago which contain some quite intricate patterns, so I chose one of those, and really enjoyed it.
We then went out for a lovely family meal on Friday to a great pub in a village not too far away. It serves a mixture of superbly cooked pub meals alongside stone-baked pizzas from their pizza oven, which were a great hit with the children, so it was a really lovely night.
The activities of Saturday were actually nothing to do with my birthday, but it felt very special to be able to meet up with my university friends just the day after. We all got together at our friend, Tracy’s, house in Lincolnshire and had a fantastic afternoon. We had all contributed to the food (it was a great excuse for me to try out the recent recipe I had seen for Caramel, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Popcorn, which fortunately was as yummy as I’d hoped!), so had a lovely meal, copious amounts of wine, and lots of catching-up chat. It really was so good to all be together and, as always, we stayed much longer than we expected, which is always a good sign!
So, all in all, I had a very special few days, which made me reflect on how lucky I am to have such exceptional people in my life: my truly lovely sisters and friends, and D, G and B. I am someone who prefers to have a smaller number of very special, close friends than lots of people whom I’m not so close to, and to spend time with so many of them within such a few days was so nice.
Having a day off also made me reflect on how rejuvenating it is to just take some time to completely unwind and relax. I don’t usually ever “stop” completely during the week, both because there always seems so much to do but also largely because I feel terribly guilty if I do, for some reason. But D knew how much I had enjoyed my day and said that I should do it more often, as he wouldn’t mind, and wouldn’t feel guilty if it was him, so I just might. I do believe that, although people these days are without doubt busier than ever before, it does sometimes seem to become a sort of contest at times to be the busiest person, with a standard response to the question “How are you?” being “Busy”, rather than a proper answer. There shouldn’t be any shame in making time for yourself to relax in whichever way you prefer, if you possibly can, so I will look forward to my next “day off”, whenever that may be, with joyful anticipation.
I have to confess that I’ve never been great at drinking the recommended daily allowance of water. I’ve always had a glass of it on my bedside table, and sip it before going to sleep, during the night and when I first wake up, and I have it when I go to the gym and sometimes at work, but, apart from that, I know that I don’t drink nearly enough of it. I have just always found it to be “boring”, so it has rarely been my beverage of choice. However, there are, as we know, countless benefits of drinking water – it is fantastic for fluid balance (roughly 60% of the body is made of water), calorie control, clearer skin, kidney function, brain power, hangover cure, muscle use and concentration aid, to name but a few.
So, I decided that I should really give it more of a fighting chance, so have been experimenting with adding various natural ingredients to it, to give it more flavour – hence, fancy water!
Of course, you can choose any combination of fruits and herbs that you desire, but some do go together a little better than others, so I’m showing my favourites here – the ones which I believe have worked the best and provide the nicest flavours. The best thing about them is that they are completely natural, all made using fruits that I already had at home and herbs from my garden. They are ridiculously easy to make but alter the taste incredibly well, so that I no longer have to endure “boring” water!
Blackberry and Mint
Blackberry and Sage
Orange, Lemon and Ginger
As well as being one of my favourites from a taste point of view, this is incredibly good for you – oranges help your circulation, lemons aid digestion and ginger is a fantastic immune system booster.
Strawberry and Basil
This is possibly my favourite flavour combination, as I absolutely adore basil, with its aromatic flavour, which goes so well with the strawberry. Plus just how pretty does it look? If you leave it longer, it also turns the water pale pink!
Despite all the odds, we have just been lucky enough to enjoy a beautiful, sunny Bank holiday weekend in north Norfolk – our favourite place, as you know, if you have read my previous posts. We always go out for plenty of walks while we are there, as we are simply spoilt for choice for stunning places to exercise the dogs – and ourselves! Our favourite haunts are Brancaster beach, Holkham beach and pine woods, Wells-next-the-Sea and Burnham Overy Staithe. This weekend, though, I decided to “spice it up” a little with a Treasure Trails mystery, to keep us entertained on our walk.
If you haven’t tried a Treasure Trails hunt before, they are great fun – and I absolutely love them! You can buy a trail online at www.treasuretrails.co.uk – there are over 1200 self-guided themed treasure hunts all across the UK to choose from – and either download it instantly or request for it to be posted to you. Each trail is either a murder mystery, a spy mission or a treasure hunt, so, by solving the clues, you will be uncovering a murderer, completing a mission or discovering the location of missing treasure – what could be more fun? In a nutshell, it is an imaginative way to explore areas of the UK, following simple directions, cracking the clues and finding some interesting sights and facts along the way.
So where did this fantastic idea begin? Well, Treasure Trails started in 2005 in Cornwall when a Treasure Trail was written around the founders home town for a charity event – this was so successful that he decided to write more trails around Cornwall and sell them at craft shows. Someone who had completed one of the trails then entered him into the Cornwall Tourism Business Awards, in which the silver prize was won. This then led him to believe that perhaps they could be written for all areas of the UK, for plenty more people to enjoy!
We have previously completed trails in Burnham Market in Norfolk and in Melbourne in Derbyshire, both of which were treasure hunts, but, this time, we opted for a murder mystery, which involved a longer walk and the challenge of discovering both the murderer and the murder weapon. We chose the trail around Burnham Deepdale and Brancaster Staithe, with the brief of solving the mystery of the murder of Captain Johnathon C Gull (see what they did there?). We followed the directions and solved the clues as we went along – the answers to the clues were located on buildings, monuments, signs and memorials, each one allowing us to eliminate suspects and weapons, to leave just one of each. The directions were perfectly clear and we really liked the variety of clues – sometimes we had to look out for images, sometimes dates on buildings, other times we had to count letters or words on signs to solve the puzzle. The trail booklet also provides snippets of information about the area as you go along, which is a bonus.
We were completely successful all the way around – until we came to the final clue! Arrgghhh! We looked and looked and couldn’t find the map we needed in order to eliminate the final suspect. However, Treasure Trails also have this covered. You can, if you get completely stumped as we did, text the reference number and clue number to them and they send the answer back to you. Be warned though – you can only do this three times! Fortunately, we only had to do this at the end which enabled us to solve the mystery – a satisfying feeling for all!
So we had a great afternoon. It’s always good to get the children away from screens and spend time together outdoors, and these trails involve us all working together, negotiating, solving problems and following directions, along with learning about and appreciating the local area. We find that, due to constantly searching and scrutinising, we look up more and take far more notice of the area around us. For example, although we have walked the coastal path countless times, we noticed several houses which we haven’t spotted previously!
Thank you, Treasure Trails, for a great experience. We’re already looking forward to the next one!
As soon as we spotted our house online just over a year ago and browsed the photos and the layout, we got an immediate positive feeling about the property. D was unable to view it that day, but I saw it with the children, spoke to D about it, and he called the agent immediately and put in an offer. Fortunately, when we viewed it together the next day, he loved it too! It’s hard to put into words what is so lovely about it. It is nothing like any other house we have lived in – we’ve had a Victorian terraced house when we first got married, then a traditional, squat, stone, Lancashire cottage, then (as the children came along) we felt the modern, four-bedroomed house was the most suitable, then relocation meant that we rented a variety of houses for a few years. Falling in love with a 1930s semi-detached property last year was definitely not what we expected, but love it we did from day one – some houses just have such a happy feel to them, don’t they, and we knew that this was the house for us.
One of the many reasons we liked the house was that we could see the potential of it. Yes, it was very dated (although in very good condition) due to the fact that a lovely 80-odd year old couple had lived in it for 25 years, so had very different taste from us – so much dark wood everywhere! But, being a 1930s house, the plot size is fantastic (even better than the neighbouring houses, due to the local farmer rewarding the women’s war effort by extending the garden apparently – love a bit of history!), so our immediate thought was that we could add a two storey extension. However, within a few weeks of living here last summer, we decided that this really wasn’t necessary. We had down-sized and de-cluttered to fit into the house, and found that we did so very comfortably, so there was absolutely no need to add more space. And, to be honest, D and I do have a bit of a “thing” about people buying unnecessarily large houses! So, once this decision was made, we saw little point in delaying the modernisation and decoration, and making it truly “ours”. We first transformed the hallway, stairs and landing, and B’s room (which is very “compact”), then we had the kitchen ripped out and replaced. The next project was the sitting room, having cupboards and shelves built into the alcoves, the wooden fireplace and gas fire replaced with a wood burner and a wooden floor installed. We then had a break for Christmas, and started again a little while ago, decorating G’s room, our bedroom and the dining room. Two of these projects are now complete – the dining room floor is being fitted within the next two weeks, so I may post about this then – but for now, here is how our newly made-over bedroom looks.
After stripping off the anaglypta wallpaper (there was also A LOT of this in the house!), we had the walls re-plastered, as they weren’t in good condition at all. We then painted the dark wood window frame and all the other woodwork brilliant white ( I do seem to have lived with a white gloss-laden paintbrush in my hand for the past ten months!), and then opted for Cloud Burst (grey!) for the walls. We had had the carpet replaced in the autumn, along with a few others, as the one in our bedroom when we moved in was extremely thin but hardwearing – ideal for an office perhaps, but not great for a bedroom – so this was already done. We then replaced the dark wood curtain pole and deep purple curtains with a white wooden blind, which in itself makes the room feel so much larger and brighter. And that was it, apart from some new lampshades and a fabulous new blanket for the bed! But we are so happy with it! It feels like we are in a swanky boutique hotel, and despite being predominantly grey as opposed to white, feels so much lighter and more cheerful. We absolutely love the transformation. What do you think?
Sibling love. What a strange phenomenon this is, especially as it is often manifested as sibling rivalry! But, when you really consider it, why should you love this person with whom you are forced to live throughout your childhood, when you have had absolutely no say in their existence nor have “chosen” to spend your formative years with them? I have not yet met a family of two or more children which doesn’t experience some aspects of jealousy, competition or fighting – honestly, my two can bicker for England some days – and this is a rivalry which can start even before the birth of the second child. It’s frustrating, it’s stressful, it’s distressing, and it’s generally hard to know how to stop it or even how involved you should get, as a parent.
But it is also very usual for them to be the worst of enemies one day (or even one minute) and the best of friends the next, which is, I guess, what sums up “sibling love”, and it is the best of this which we have seen in our home over the past couple of weeks. G and B are amazing at going from seeming to detest each other to adore each other in a heartbeat, but it was very clear, when B went away on his school trip to Italy for eight days, that they do have a profound, if mystifying and perplexing, love for each other. G was upset that B was going and was very aware of how much she was going to miss him. B, in turn, comprehends what a sensitive soul G is, so texted on his first evening away to check that she was okay. The first few days were strange, with a definite alteration in our family dynamic, but we all knew that B was fine and was having a great time, so the week passed quite quickly. However, G was so excited for him to come home, that, by Friday, she had planned a special meal and decorated the house with homemade “welcome home” bunting and postcards. She doesn’t hide the fact that he drives her to despair half of the time, but, at the end of the day, they love each other dearly. As Erica E. Goode said, “Sibling relationships…outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust.”
Siblings are the ones who are with you from the very beginning of your life to the very end and it is maybe this subconscious knowledge which leads to this depth of love. All we can do is hope that they stay as close to and fond of each other into adulthood, making the most of this mysterious relationship, which is the result of mere chance.