Chicago: what, how and when

I haven’t blogged as often as I have wanted to these last few weeks, mainly due to time pressures and worries at work (that literally made me cry, no joke). Thankfully, we had a break to Chicago planned and it frankly could not have come at a better time. Sam and I were both exhausted so a little time out was really needed.

My brother lives in Chicago so I guess you can say that we’re pretty good at getting around; hopping on and off the metro and using buses, etc, is second nature. We’ve taken in all the sights this trip, but for those of you who aren’t au fait with Chicago and are thinking of visiting (it’s well worth it), then read on for my simple guide on what to see and how to get there.

Downtown Chicago
Famous for its skyline, shopping and sprawling parks, downtown Chicago is really the place to be. The metro system has a circle of stops known as The Loop, though the distances are definitely walkable.

There are a number of key sights to take in downtown. The John Hancock Centre is the second tallest building in Chicago and worth a trip up to the 97th floor. It has stunning views across the whole of Chicago and, being near the lake, takes in Navy Pier and Lake Michigan too. It costs $19 per person plus tax. The Willis Tower is the tallest building in Chicago and it does have a glass floor (for those keen on a selfie or two), but it’s away from the lake and close to the river and doesn’t have such impressive views.

From the John Hancock Centre you can really take your pick of activities as the city is walkable, (though do stop by the Cheesecake Factory at the foot of the building because it is literally the best cheesecake I’ve ever had). My suggested route would be to walk east a few blocks to the lake, stop for a bite of lunch on Navy Pier and then do an afternoon river boat cruise. The cruise goes up the river and takes in Chicagos’s architectural buildings and is quite informative and enjoyable, though it does cost $39 each (plus tax!)

If you head a few blocks further south you’ll get to Millenium Park, home to The Bean. The Bean is a famous metal sculpture which reflects the skyline of Chicago and is a must-do for a every first-time visitor.

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Depending on what time of day you visit, I would recommend that you stroll through the rest of the gardens at Millenium Park and take in the visual fountains before heading across the road to the Athletic Association and up to Cindy’s bar. This bar is great late afternoon on a summer’s day – and you don’t have to be dressed up, don’t worry, it’s suitable for all forms of attire including walking shoes. Prices are not high and you’ll thank me when you enjoy a cocktail overlooking the park and the lake.

Further south
Heading a bit further downtown you’ll reach Grant Park which features the huge Buckingham Fountain. If you’re visiting in early May, like we did this year, they hold a cute fete in the early afternoon with a countdown to the turn on of the water. The fountain marks the beginning of the summer season in Chicago, when there are loads of music and food festivals to enjoy.

From Grant Park walk west a couple of blocks to the Washington Library. It is an impressively large red brick building with some lovely arty ceilings inside.

If you fancy venturing south even more, get on the green metro line and hop off after Roosevelt in order to visit the Clarke House. This is the oldest house in Chicago and survived the fire that ravaged most of the city. Tours are free and take place twice a day a couple of times a week, so check before you go in case it is closed.

Whether you are staying in the north or south, I would recommend that you take a walk along State Street and Michigan Avenue for a little shopping! State street is best for footwear – there are literally a dozen different shoe shops in only two blocks near the Lake metro stop. Michigan Avenue is home to the Magnificent Mile row of shops, some on the more expensive luxury side.

Near North
There is not as much to do in the north of the city, though the roads are wide and lined with pretty houses so worth a walk about. We get off at Fullerton metro stop on the red line and walk east several blocks to Lincoln Park and the conservatory. Both are free to enter and from the south of the park there is a wonderful view across to the skyscrapers of downtown. The zoo houses a polar bear, which I don’t much like as he is often agitated and is in far too small an enclosure really.

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Whilst in Chicago you MUST take in a baseball game, even if you don’t understand the rules (we literally had no idea what was going on or who was winning when we went). The Chicago Cubs are based at Wrigley Field, at the Addison metro station (red line), whilst the White Sox are based down in the far south. You can get cheap seats only a couple of days in advance so don’t worry about booking ahead.

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Heading further north from Addison takes you to Evanston. This is a lovely part of the city and where we stay when with my brother. The university is worth a walk around, especially to see the hand-painted rocks along the lake shore.

Getting around
Getting around Chicago is easiest by metro and by foot. The metro is a mix of over and underground trains by CTA. It costs $2.50 for one journey, and an extra 25c if you travel twice more (called ‘transfers’) in a 2-hour window. The blocks in Chicago aren’t ridiculously big like in other American cities, so it is definitely worth walking as much as you can to see everything. To give you an idea, we walked from Grant Park in the south of downtown to the John Hancock Centre in the north of downtown and got on the metro at Clarke/Division and that took only 2 hours including photo stops and and some leisurely shopping. Though do wear trainers as I didn’t half moan in my beat-up Vans!

If your feet hurt too much you could rent a bike – a Divvy bike. It’s blue and you’ll find docking stations all around the city. I haven’t used one, but I think they are $3 for 30 minutes or $9 dollars a day, but don’t quote me on that!

I hope this has helped some of you decide whether or not you want to visit Chicago and some possible routes across the city. If you want more specific tips or road markings, comment below and I’ll happily help you out.

We’re heading out of town the next few days so I’ll probably do another post shortly about things to do in the surrounding area. Though I will say one thing, Americans love a toll road!!

Book club: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Based at the end of the 19th century, To the Bright Edge of the World is a tale of exploration of the newly-acquired Alaskan territory by the US government. Its a story of two halves; Allen, the expedition leader whose mission is to journey up the Wolverine river and his wife, Sophie, who is left behind at the Vancouver barracks.

The novel has been critically acclaimed, with Ivey’s use of diary entries supposedly adding depth with excellent authorial tones, and the descriptive hardships of the Alaskan wilderness providing the contrasting grit and moodiness that shape the novel. I will say from the outset, that I simply did not feel this way about this book.

Ivey’s descriptions of Alaska are wonderful; from the landscape to the native indians residing there and the mystical beliefs the explorers encountered and dealt with during their time there. But it is the diary entries from Sophie that, for me, let this book down. They are excessively long, contain letters from other minor characters that are full of technical details about photography and do little to progress the story. Sophie’s character is curious, but the trivialities of her socialite life in Vancouver only serve to detract from Allen’s adventures and hardships, not to bolster them. Whilst Sophie’s diary entries give the reader an insight into the life of a privileged newlywed in that era and the social attitudes of the time, Ivey could quite easily have cut Sophie out of the book entirely; for me, the intrigue lay solely with Allen in Alaska and I found myself quickly reading or even flipping through Sophie’s rather tedious writings.

Allen’s task is gripping from the very beginning. His mission seemingly impossible, not least due to the environment and weather conditions he finds himself in, but the constant threat of violence he has been warned to expect from the native indians. As a character, Allen is professional; he is a soldier sent to map the territory and that is what he intends to do. His emotions rarely go deeper than to describe his surroundings and his sense of unease or surprise. He is not a dramatic man, and that is perhaps why I find him more endearing and believable. I almost forgot I was reading a diary entry on many occasions, and felt as though I was there seeing it through his eyes and could form my own emotions from it.

What really brings this story to life is Ivey’s reference to the mystical; occurrences that Allen and his men cannot explain, but that fill them with a mix of trepidation, awe and fear. Men who are otters, women who bring fog in their wake and babies born of trees. The weather inducing hallucinations and crippling anxiety of encountering cannibals. And the raven; the harbinger of death in human form. Subtle references yet magical, giving the reader a sense of the otherwordly, untouched wildness of Alaska.

My love of adventure and exploration was satisfied with To the Bright Edge of the World, but it was not a fictional masterpiece. Too many pieces were missing to make it a completely rounded story in its own right; Sophie’s character and her position should have been stronger if it were to feature at all. All of those pages lost to her could have been utilised to bring more emotion and suspense to the goings on in Alaska.

Worth a read, if you can get past the first few chapters.

ivey

My dressing room(!) – project #2

Having recently moved from a 2-bedroom house to a 4-bedroom house, our priority was to ensure that we had as much storage space as possible from the get-go, so that we didn’t waste time and money having to sort things out further down the line.

I was getting quite frustrated with our storage solutions in our previous home; under-bed boxes for gym clothes, jeans and holiday wear, work wear rammed in with other dresses and coats in the wardrobe and a full to bursting chest of drawers with everything else. I felt I wasn’t using half of my things simply because I had to delve in/move boxes around/upend the entire room to get to something. So when we bought our current house I decided it was only fair that if Sam got a double garage that I should have the 4th bedroom as ‘my’ room. And my dressing room was born!

We could have got a pre-fab kit or got a company out to measure up, but we like to do things ourselves and get stuck in. I say ‘we’, Sam did most if not all of the work. I just ordered a chest of drawers and made it look pretty.

The first step was to rip up the floor (some old pink carpet) and lay down laminate wood flooring. It turned out to be pretty easy as the length of the room was exactly as long as two floor boards. Plus this made it really quick for Sam to cut, so the whole room was laid in 3 hours.

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After the floor was down work began on the wardrobe itself. We spent over 2 hours in B&Q buying timber and paint (though they do cut the timber to size for you so that saved Sam even more time).

I should say, probably quite obviously, that we had already designed the layout of the wardrobe and Sam had measured each section of it to within an inch of its life so we knew exactly how much we needed of each item.

I thought it best to have a bottom board to give the wardrobe more stability and also so that it would look more like a wardrobe as opposed to seeing the grey floor at the bottom of it. It worked quite well and has made it look more like a unit and a bit more professional.

Sam began work straight away once we got home, and within a couple of hours it was already mostly together.

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He finished it off the following day by putting the ‘roof’ on it and securing each joint with a corner clip before painting it.


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Though getting into the bottom boxes to paint is not easy when you’re 6’4″!

He’s pretty proud of his work though (as am I):

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And here it is in all of its finished glory:

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The wardrobe will be covered by a curtain (we’ve just attached the curtain rail), though I need to choose some material for it. I’m thinking mostly white with a grey print of some kind – perhaps a geometric print. I’m not sure though, its something I’ll only be able to decide once I see the fabric in person. The window will have a simple white-ish roman blind on it.

I’m in love with the room! I can’t believe how much the wardrobe holds. And the best part is its all built to our height and the lengths of my clothes. Sam has done a truly wonderful job; not just a pretty face is he! ❤

We’ve joined the #vanlife club!

So I’ve been a bit tied up for a few weeks and haven’t been able to post what I’d wanted to. Work has really got in the way; I don’t usually stress much but there was this one client where I worried so much I didn’t sleep for a fortnight.

Anyway, that’s mostly over now and work is back to ticking along as best it can. Alongside that we’ve been busy round the house (I will totally have to share my new dressing room that Sam built for me – everyone is envious!)

And then this happened 2 days ago:

WE ARE NOW THE PROUD OWNERS OF A VW T5 CAMPER VAN!

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We’ve been talking about converting a van to go travelling in for some time now, well over a year. But vans are so expensive never mind customising them so I honestly thought it was a pipe-dream.

Anyway, on Thursday evening Sam received a message from a friend with this van listing so he drove straight there to look at it. I was a bit sceptical simply because there is so much round the house we need the money for, but I trust Sam’s judgement; he’s an engineer and we have a classic mini so any work that needed doing to the van would have to be done by him.

I was on the train home at the time and only had one screen-shot message to look at, and the van admittedly did seem ok. A few minutes later Sam called me, which was when I knew it was serious:

Sam: I’m seeing the van.

Me: Yes, I got your message. What its like?

Sam: Well, good. I want to buy it.

Me: *rolls eyes* bear in mind we still have a lot of work to do round the house and its my 30th birthday in a few months and we need to save for having children (we found out they are waaaaaaay expensive apparently!)

Sam: Its in really good nick and runs fine. There’s a few bits that need sorting, but its good. And for the price we can’t go wrong [that part was damn true].

Me: [explains he will need to sell the mini long-term as we don’t have money for everything]. I’ll leave it up to you. Just bear in mind the work has to be affordable and do-able by you.

Me to mum: I bet he’s going to buy it. I bet we’ll have to traipse up north this evening to go collect it. He’d better sell that mini.

1 hour later. There is a van on our drive.

AND IT IS BRILLIANT! If not slightly more compact than I imagined, but that’s all part of the fun right?20180330_185622

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So… instead of doing things round the house, my pinterest has exploded with #vanlife pins and ideas and I’ve even drawn out a rough lay out, though that’s probably a tad premature right??

I was supposed to be planting my vegetables this weekend so that’s gone right out of the window.

Anyway, I will probably post a bit on here about how we are getting on converting it, and any recommendation will go a long way, so do let me know!

TTFN!

*so excited!*

Project #1 dresser restoration

Pretty soon after we moved in I knew we needed somewhere to store some of our things; from the board games usually reserved to the under stairs cupboard to our wedding crockery. I searched the internet for a dresser, though finding one with glass doors proved quite hard and pretty much doubled the price. I also didn’t want anything too ‘fancy’ and intricate especially one that could be seen as old fashioned.

I’m quite new to the wonders of Facebook market place. We bought our dishwasher second hand from there so it was the first place I thought to look for a dresser. In the end though, a few weeks later, we found this one on Ebay for sale just up the road from us.

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The paint was sprayed on which gave it an odd effect up close, and whilst it looked white it was actually quite yellow. So we set about restoring it.

After dismantling it into sections and removing each shelf, the first step was to sand off the existing coat to give the paint something to ‘grab’ onto.

Then it was the most exciting part! Paint time! Though I have to say, I had not appreciated the amount of sides, inside and out, a dresser has. I’m pretty sure I developed RSI in my hand.

We did the top of the dresser first in Down Pipe Grey; a dark grey paint by Farrow & Ball. It took 3 coats top ensure the right depth of colour but I’m sure on other pieces of furniture 2 coats would be enough.

The cream came after; Winterbourne White by Farrow & Ball. This isn’t too white in colour, its an off-white without having yellow hues.

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The third and last step was to treat the wood. We sanded the surface to lightly remove the varnish before putting 2 washes of mahogany oil on it to bring out the colour.

The overall result is fantastic!

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& here is the before and after to show just how much went into the project:

I think the re-paint has given the dresser a new lease of life and suits our modern but comfortable family home.

The dresser is in the dining room, which we haven’t decorated yet. The floor will eventually be replaced with grey flagstone tiles with a light grey on the walls. Any guess what my favourite colour is?!

Sam & I absolutely love doing things to our home, but most of all we love doing things together. At the moment, we are redecorating my dressing room and Sam is in the process of building me a wardrobe from scratch. I’ll post about that as soon as its done – I’m super excited about it!

Mystery Blogger Award!

Thanks so much to A life of Vanity for this nomination! I’ve not been nominated before so this is quite exciting!

Go check out A Life of Vanity when you can – she posts about her #vanlife experience so if, like me, you’ve ever contemplated doing just that you’ll find her blog invaluable.

So this is how this works:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog.
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  6. Answer the questions you were asked.
  7. You have to nominate 10-20 people.
  8. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.
  9. Ask your nominees any five questions of your choice, with one weird or funny question.

Special shout out to Okoto Enigma for creating this v cool concept.

3 things about me:

  1. I’d give my right arm to have a dog. The bigger and fluffier the better. I’m that friend that points at every dog going and practically cries about how cute it is: ‘look at him, but just look at him, look at how he wags his tail..!’
  2. I go through periods of growing my hair long and cutting it off. It averages 3 years from between jaw-shoulder length and nearing my waist. I’ve definitely got the itch again, though this time when I cut my hair off I will donate it to a cancer charity who make wigs for young cancer patients.
  3. I’m currently trying to achieve a forearm stand before my 30th birthday. I’ve *tried* to take up yoga recently but its not going amazingly well…

Here are my answers to the questions A Life of Vanity asked me:

  1. What’s your all-time favorite movie? Probably Lord of the Rings – it is no exaggeration to say that I have watched each film in the trilogy in excess of 30 times.
  2. If you could have a shitload of money but a job you hate, or a job you love for v little money, what would you pick? I’m a happy medium which probably doesn’t answer the question! I’d rather be happy, as with happiness comes less anxiety which you wouldn’t get in a high-powered job.
  3. Dogs or cats? DOGS.
  4. Who should be our next president? I’m not American, I’m British. But I would suggest.. someone who isn’t Trump?!
  5. Who was your middle school celebrity crush? Johnny Depp, though looking back I’m not sure why. I think it was his pirate days that attracted me…

Nominees:

Fiercely Me

Little Van Ventures

Lovely 365

Absolut Lilac

The Chubby Mind

Georgia Beth Talks

Café Avec Christine

Catherina’s Creative Corner

The Half Arsed Runner

5 questions for you lucky nominees:

  1. Are you a Marmite lover or a Marmite hater?
  2. Would you prefer a heavy night out clubbing or a cosy night in by the fire?
  3. Which: an actual book or a kindle?
  4. Do you prefer to be behind the camera or in front of it?
  5. If you could have one super power for a day, what would it be?

Thanks for the nomination and I look forward to reading all of your responses!!

The 3 W’s

This is my first time taking part in WWW – a meme revived by Taking on a World of Words. So here goes, my 3 WWW’s!

What are you currently reading?

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. Its written in a diary form which would usually put me off, but its so captivating! Ivey is quite an artist at describing the turmoil the expeditioners faced traversing Alaska and I’m enjoying every page so far. It’s a bit like a re-imagining of the Scott expedition to the Antarctic, but less like a present-day documentary and more a story of colonization and long distance love. Its beautifully raw.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It was a brilliant read, but not as good as A Thousand Splendid Suns in my opinion (though many people think the opposite). I would definitely recommend you read both if you haven’t already as they really had an impact on how I view the current conflict in Afghanistan and other parts of the world; a more humane view point that the news is unable to portray.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure. I tend to read whatever takes my fancy at the time, but Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey is on my list so I might give that a go. I have no idea what it is about (apart from, maybe, a girl called Elizabeth who goes missing?) so I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

What are you guys reading? Let me know if you have any recommendations!

Kedgeree: mumma’s recipe

When I was younger I used to hate kedgeree. I don’t know why, as I love it as an adult (then again, I also used to eat picked onions whole from the jar and now I can’t stand them!)

As with many things, some recipes are only at their best when cooked by mum. But this week I had a change of heart and decided to make kedgeree for the first time myself – using my mum’s recipe of course.

My mum’s recipe is slightly different as she doesn’t use curry powder like so many others do, but she does add cubes of cheese to the mixture at the end. The cheese partially melts and is a lovely addition to the fish, so I would definitely recommend it!IMG_3047

Now, I didn’t happen to have any haddock when I made this recipe and as it was hailing outside I didn’t much feel like running over to the supermarket to get some. So my dish is made with kippers and salmon; this was a lovely change though kippers have quite literally 403 bones in each fillet so I probably wouldn’t use them again.

To make my mumma’s kedgeree, you will need:

1 cup of rice

2 hard boiled eggs

2 portions of haddock or other white fish (the less bones the better)

3 tbsp single cream

2 tbsp Philadelphia cream cheese

½ handful of cheddar cheese (cubed)

Parsley (chopped)

To make:

  1. Boil the eggs for approximately 7 minutes so that they are hard boiled. Drain, and put to one side to cool.
  2. Boil the rice. Whilst the rice is cooking, simmer the fish in a pan of water for around 10-15 minutes until cooked.
  3. Drain the fish, de-skin, and then flake. Do not put the fish back in the pan before flaking as you are unlikely to be able to remove as many of the bones.
  4. Once flaked, add the fish to the rice and simmer on a low heat to keep warm. Pour in the cream and mix. Then add the Philadelphia; sometimes I find it easier to pour a tablespoon of hot water on top of the Philadelphia as it helps it to mix better, but its up to you.
  5. Whilst the mixture is simmering, peel the eggs and chop into slices.
  6. Add the cheddar to the mixture and keep on a low heat for a few minutes.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat, dish up and add the boiled eggs on top with parsley to serve.

Let me know what you think!

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Book club: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini, the author famous for The Kite Runner, delights once again with A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Beginning in Afghanistan in the 70’s, Hosseini takes us on a journey through time, seen from the eyes of two young girls, Mariam and Laila. Enlightening and horrifying, A Thousand Splendid Suns will keep you turning the pages well into the early hours.

Mariam’s story is concise; the reader has but a small window into her modest upbringing on the outskirts of Herat. Longing for acceptance and unwilling to admit to herself the harshness of such a patriarchal society, she unwittingly changes her life forever through one small hot-headed act of love. Forced to marry, an arrangement designed to suit only her burdened ‘family’, she is lead into a life of domestic servitude, bending the knee to her husband’s every whim. Her story is perhaps not unexpected, and the violence she bears is upsetting but all too realistic.

Laila is a different breed. Born to educated parents she believes that society should treat men and women equally. A fighter, but having to submit with the change of the political tide and war, she becomes a survivor.

Laila’s ending is far happier than Mariam’s, though in a way I cannot help but feel that Laila’s story is less believable. I was left feeling hope that the Afghanistani people will be able to rebuild their lives, yet I cannot help but feel that this was premature; the tale concludes a mere year or so after the terror attack of 9/11 and whilst the Afghani people may no longer be subject to civil war, etc, they were about to face war from the Americans and there is little mention of that in the closing pages.

However, aside from a perhaps more hopeful and unrealistic ending, A Thousand Splendid Sons does not disappoint. Harrowing but an altogether brilliant read for any type of reader. Hosseini is a true artist and has a way of stripping back a reader’s emotions to their rawest, purest form. It is honestly one of the best novels I have read in many years and, in my opinion, far surpasses the acclaim of The Kite Runner.

Creative spurt

Anyone who knows me knows that I often lack imagination and creativity, despite being a dab hand at art and crafts when I get going. Now that we’ve moved into our new home 🙂 I’m so keen to get on and starting making it our own.

Pinterest is a great platform to gain inspiration, and I often find that an idea I initially began with starts to grow and expand into something more pronounced and beautiful than what the confines of my own mind could imagine. For several years now I have had an obsession with pallet wood and all the natural and bohemian-type designs that can flow from working with such a basic, rustic material. Pinterest has truly helped me to develop my little ideas into something that will suit a grown up family home.

My tastes are quite simple: I love wood, plants and grey hues with preference for industrial-type designs that incorporate dark metal over the more ‘twee’ cottage styles. One thing has become quite apparent over the last couple of years, and that is my love of texture, especially when it comes to home furnishings. Thick and chunky and hard-wearing, not fragile and delicate to touch. With this in mind I’ve enrolled the help of my mother to teach me to knit. I’m starting off with medium wool but hope to be able to knit with my arms in the near future; I have visions of a massive chunky bed throw or blankets piled on wooden crates. Wish me luck – my foray into knitting is still in its early stages but its probably fair to say it doesn’t come that naturally to me given the amount of hand-eye co-ordination required!Arm Knitting 5

Having help around the house – not just with my ideas but also on a practical level, is lovely. My parents are very hands on and love to lend a helping hand. Admittedly this is mostly around the garden as neither Sam nor I are particularly green-fingered, but it also extends to painting and helping us lay the flooring in the house too. It is a good bonding exercise but also gets the job done a lot quicker! My mother has always been into interior design so I think I have definitely got the ‘bug’ from her.

DIY has moved on these days. It is not just about wielding a drill and changing a bulb but now includes all aspects of home improvement work. Whilst I could get someone in to lay my wood floor and paint my walls, I enjoy doing it myself. If gives me a sense of pride, and the little knocks and imperfections don’t bother me. I would consider my work to be of a pretty good standard though I am by no means an interior designer or professional painter, etc. Sam is also keen to do as much as possible so we have agreed that he is going to be my builder! Of the non-masonry sense. Sam has basic carpentry skills and has worked with metal since he was a boy, so we are going to make my dining table and benches, as well as a bookcase, over-the-bath unit and toilet roll holders. He’s going to have to get cracking soon as my list is getting quite long…

I plan to share our little creative journey with you and would appreciate any ideas that you guys have too! For now, I will leave you with the following pictures of the type of home we hope to make for ourselves:

 

When only a chicken & mushroom pie will do

The last few weeks have flown by and it’s nice to finally have the opportunity to sit down and reflect. We had what felt like a rushed Christmas and New Year, covering nearly 1,000 miles seeing our various family members across the country. And whilst the festivities were lovely and it was nice not to be at work, our attention was somewhat elsewhere despite the busyiness.

We were let down on our house purchase only a couple of days before Christmas so, naturally, at my work Christmas party I hit the red wine with full force! Our agent advised us that whilst the market is always slow in the winter, there was definitely a downturn – and we could see that ourselves.

I was quite content to move back into rented, confident that we would find somewhere to buy within a few months and then we would be in a really good position as ‘first’ time buyers. Sam was more sceptical and even talked about doing up our house a bit more and staying there for another couple of years. I went along with that briefly, but ultimately had to ‘fess up that I simply didn’t have the heart to empty all of the boxes we had already packed (at that stage, the count was 32).

We arrived at my parents’ home on Christmas Eve and discussed the hells of the house buying process whilst baking mince pies and swigging mulled wine. We had a quick look online and I widened our search to include a village which was literally the furthest I would consider living. The house I had loved several months before was still for sale and both Sam and my mum loved it. We decided to view it over New Year. Since then it’s been 100mph!

We loved the house so much we put an offer on it, which was accepted 🙂 the best part was, as it had previously been rented we were able to move in and break the chain for our amazingly tolerant buyers. We are now renting the house for a month whilst the conveyancing goes through and then we will once again be home owners. But this time, of a much larger family home!

We’ve been here 10 days now and it feels like home, not a house. It’s fair to say I was a bit apprehensive on moving day as it felt like the end of an era and I wondered if we had made the right decision. Once our first little home was empty of our belongings it suddenly didn’t feel like a home, it was back to being a house again. It felt strange suddenly realising that it is not the bricks and mortar that make a home, but the items and memories that fill it.

Our new home is wonderful and I am so glad we made the move. My commute is better and that has made me so much happier; I am able to have an extra half hour in bed and still have a whole hour to get myself ready before having to leave, rather than rush about! I’m planning on using this time constructively in the morning to work on my appearance (I sometimes look like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards) and to make my lunch.

To top it all off, I decided to make a pie today. It’s my favourite food and the ultimate in making me feel content and warm and squishy. This is the life I’ve always wanted; a home smelling of baked bread and cooking, the radio on in the background whilst I leaf through my bookcase and think about what the next novel should be. I’m sat at our breakfast bar typing this with a mug of earl grey for company and a big grin on my face!image

Part of my happiness is probably down to my cooker; it is a Rangemaster, a brand and type of cooker I’ve always wanted and the sellers are leaving it here for us for free! Life win, right there.

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So if, like me, you like or LOVE pies, here is my chicken and mushroom pie extraordinaire:

You will need:
Knob of butter
Half an onion, chopped
1 garlic clove
300g mushrooms
4 chicken thighs (boneless)
Dried thyme
1 chicken stock cube
200ml water (boiled)
200ml milk
50g flour
3 tbsp single cream

For the pastry you can either buy ready-made short crust (for the base) and puff pastry (for the top) or you can make it yourself. I’m hopeless with puff pastry so I used a ready-made block but it’s definitely worth making the shortcrust yourself if you can:
200g flour
125g butter
1 beaten egg
1 tbsp water

Bake!
1. To make the filling melt the butter in the pan and added the chopped onions and garlic. When golden add the mushrooms. Chop the chicken into small bite sized pieces and add.

 

 


2 Leave to cook, stirring occasionally, Add the thyme and salt and pepper as necessary to season and mix up the stock with the water.
3. Once the chicken is no longer pink, add the flour and slowly add the milk, Then add the stock and stir. You want to keep it on a low heat so that it is only simmering. 4. Add the cream and stir. As soon as the sauce is thick and creamy take it off the heat to cool.image
5. Now for the pastry. First make up the shortcrust base by either rolling out your pre-made dough or by making your own. Mix the flour and butter together with your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water and scoop up the flour mixture so that it it becomes a doughy ball. Now roll out so that it is just bigger than your pie dish.
6. Place the shortcrust base into the dish then spoon in the filling.
7. Roll out your puff pastry and place on top. If you are very good then you should be able to slip your knife into the outer edge of the puff pastry to loosen it. That will help it to rise and puff!
8. Then brush on some beaten egg round the edges and on top and bake in the oven for c.45minutes at 180-200 degrees.

Et voila!image

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Perfect pie if I do say so myself. I hope you enjoy it

Humanity. To be, humane.

Growing up, I was always quite a sensitive person. Worrying about people’s feelings and keen to ensure that those who were different or vulnerable were given equal treatment and included in activities. My social awareness was very limited at the time, given my age.

But I can distinctly recall that my feelings and thoughts at that time were not of an anti-bullying nature, but a wider sense of wondering why people were being singled out or referred to in a particular way simply because of a particular ‘trait’ (I use this term because the word ‘different’ may get cumbersome and repetitive). I was lucky to go through school without bullying being an issue; the popular kids mixed with the geeks who mixed with the sporty ones. We were an exemplary year group. But kids are not without their faults and many would throw around terms without really thinking about what the word/phrase truly meant and without meaning to be malicious or hurtful in any way. And often the name-calling wasn’t about someone else on the playground, it was a way of referring to other people in society; celebrities, the neighbour, etc. Phrases that I’m sure if I named them many of today’s youngsters would not know what I’m talking about as they probably use different terminology now.

Fast forward 15 or so years and my early to mid twenties were very different. I became quite judgemental – not about the vulnerable but about everyone else. I was still in the process of becoming socially aware and hadn’t quite worked out that people are shaped by their early life and experiences but that environmental factors also play a huge part. I was unduly angry by people who did not want, nor try, to better themselves but thought they were entitled to something automatically. I went through a period of several years wondering how some people had managed to mess up their lives so catastrophically – without having the information to hand to entitle me to even make that judgement about someone else.

The biggest factor in my way of thinking was my emotional detachment. I can’t pinpoint when this happened exactly, but I believe it was in the early years of university. As part of my training, I was exposed to a number of harrowing situations; domestic violence, extreme violence, death, non-accidental injuries to children. Pictures of this kind became ‘normal’. I had to be able to block out my own feelings in order to be able to act and advise objectively.

So I emotionally blocked out everything – to the point where I would see someone at face value only rather than putting myself in their shoes. An elderly person. A young person. The vulnerable. The homeless. To me, there was a reason and thus a cure for everything. You just had to find it.

I’m pleased to say that I have grown up a lot since then, though I think it is less about maturity and more about becoming aware of the world around you and having to actively try to imagine myself in someone else’s place emotionally, rather than it coming so easy like when I was younger.

The last 6 months have been a turning point for me. Whilst I no longer do care work, it has taken a long time for me to switch on my feelings – and it was only then that I realised I had turned them off in the first place. The little things in life have helped me to see that.

In sharp focus at the moment is the treatment of the homeless as a wider social issue. I work in a city which has the most funding developmentally outside of London. I love working here, it is a wonderful city, but it also has one of the worst homelessness problems I have ever witnessed. I see the same three people on my 4-minute walk between the train station and the office. Day in, day out, sun, rain and snow. Being moved on by the police from a doorway and having to roll up their bedding. Being on a street corner but told they ‘can’t’ be there. And that’s when I started to analyse my own behaviour (and of course, that of everyone else).home1

Because we walk by, don’t we? The vast majority do anyway. Pretend he/she isn’t there – not that they don’t exist as a person, but that they are not homeless as we are lead to believe. Keep your head down – if we don’t make eye contact then we won’t feel as bad. Can you hear them ask for some pennies, or a hot drink? Walk on by like you didn’t. Yet, the homeless always thank us anyway, even though we have done nothing to deserve it.

I always think as I’m walking along, ‘oh, maybe I could buy him a hot drink’, or if I was already holding food or drink I would give it to them. But I haven’t. I haven’t even gone out of my way to drop more than a few pennies into a hat.

Why? Homelessness is not an infection. It is a social disease, but not contagious. Are the few pennies/pounds in my pocket going to make me more happy than if I donated them to someone else? Someone who is probably in dire need of them.

I am deeply ashamed.

And in the same vein I am saddened for all those who, like me, can’t see what is in front of them.

I do not know what the long-term answer is. The cure. I don’t even know if there is one. I know that these issues are both due to individual circumstances but also part of a wider political and social issue. I am not educated in these matters. But maybe I don’t need to be. Maybe, what’s important is doing ‘my bit’. Stopping to gift what I can from my purse, offering a drink. Heck – buying a drink in anticipation that I will see that same chap I usually see further down the road.

I would like to think I am a kind person in all areas of my life, but maybe its time for more than that. Kindness is an act, a gesture. Being humane is way of thinking.

Definition: having or showing compassion or benevolence.

Its time for that. Realisation is but the first step.

And its not just the homeless. I need to extend this way of thinking to all areas of my life. Little acts of kindness that can help us go a long way.