Wednesday, 28 June 2017

All Hail the Doodles

I recently discovered an organisation called Puppy Spot (a company that connects dog lovers with the right pup for them, and who build awareness about the health benefits that having a dog brings). Being blessed with the scruffy but beautiful blondie that is Genevieve, I wanted to create a post about how my own dog has affected mine and my family's health and well-being.

Gen is a labradoodle - I don't think I have gone into details on her background before on here! Her mother was a very svelte black labrador, and dad was a humongous grey poodle with a very curly coat. Their names were Lady Jane and Frank. We found Genevieve four years ago; she was born into a lovely family who lived in the countryside. Being brought up in an outside pen meant Gen hated going to the loo on anything but grass, so toilet training was a breeze! My family had talked about getting a dog before, but never acted on it; we wanted it to be practical and fair for the pup we ended up with. It needed to be the right time.

However, I remember finding Gen advertised on a local website and pressuring my parents to drive us to view her that very weekend. It's safe to say we all fell in love at first sight. Even Dad - who defiantly kept stating: "it's your dog, not mine, I'm not walking her or cleaning up after her" - was put under the Doodle spell!

Having a dog is a huge responsibility, there's no denying it. You adapt your plans to suit them, you worry about them like they're your own child, you have to make time to give them the love and affection they need, you need money to pay for their treatment if anything's bills are expensive, but oh so worth it.

What Gen has brought to us as a family, you could never, ever put a price on. I mean, she cost us £500. I think that is just laughable, that so far we have forked out around £10 a month, £2.50 a week for a furry bundle of unconditional love and madness. She is mad, in the best way. One of her best examples of this is the way she wrenches all of the wool stuffing out of her 'pet' tiger, then expects you to stuff it all back in - just so she can un-stuff it again. Or the way she follows bumblebees around the garden in a trance. The way she sings for her dinner. Or the way she licks your talcum powder off after you've had a bath!!

Having Gen, to me and my sister, is like having a youngest sister - it helps that we're all blonde! We can snuggle up on the sofa and watch chick flicks, we can share snacks (Gen loves a good crisp, prawn cracker, the occasional bit of ice-cream - all in moderation!), we can run in the woods together and pretend to be care-free, as pictured above. If any of us are having a down day, we can guarantee Gen will be there to cheer us up.

Puppy Spot have a graphic about the health benefits of our canine friends on their site - that you can take a nosy at. On there, it tells you exactly how pups are valuable for your health. It has been scientifically proven that spending time with a dog lowers blood pressure, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, decreases anxiety, boosts the immune system and rids of feelings of isolation or loneliness. I agree wholly with all of these points. Throughout hard times, when my Dad was ill, my Grandad helped out a huge deal, looking after Gen. With him being 81, she is an excellent excuse for him to go out for an extra walk, not to mention brilliant company as he lives alone. He suffered with high-risk cardiovascular problems a couple of years ago, but I swear since we got Gen, he only looks healthier. As well as this, throughout my Dad's cancer treatment, Gen was there to play the agony aunt. Just looking at her kind brown eyes would light up our world after a rough day.

Dogs are amazing, and probably underrated by many. We should all know what a remarkable job working dogs such as guide dogs and police dogs do, but it's important to know that even without training, dogs are intelligent enough to detect issues in your health. After my Dad was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2014, we realised in hindsight that Gen had absolutely acted differently around him. There was no doubt she had sensed it, and following that, she also sensed when he was having chemotherapy. It was as if she knew the bad cells were there. She needed reassuring that Dad was getting better. It seems a silly thing to rely on your dog to predict your health, but I do see sense in that. I think we should trust our dog's marvellous instincts, and get checked out if our dogs start to behave very differently around us.



Thursday, 13 April 2017

Shepherds for the Night

On Tuesday, we had a lovely surprise: Mum and Dad had booked us a night in a shepherd's hut as an Easter treat! They had stayed in the hut before and knew how lovely it was. We travelled down to Headcorn, in the countryside near Ashford, for our stay - it actually coincided nicely with a meeting with our wedding DJ! We decided to stop for lunch before checking into the hut, so we drove into a beautiful, sleepy village called Sissinghurst. Mum and Dad had recommended a pub called The Milk House, and it did not disappoint! I literally loved it there. The Milk House is a converted 16th century hall house, with timber beams and a Tudor fireplace; it prides itself on using all fresh local ingredients from the nearby farms and vineyards. As well as having a sophisticated dining room menu, we discovered a tasty bar menu and a pizza menu - the pub has its own wood-burning oven on the outside terrace! As it was a beautiful day - slightly chilly in the breeze, but still warm for April sun - we ate on the terrace. The little touches really made it welcoming - for example they had a box called 'The Comfort Zone' where you could collect little pinstriped cushions in candy colours for your chair! The menu had plenty of choice, yet I opted for the battered cod, skinny fries and mushy peas; while Matt had the Old Spot ham, egg and chips. Both were genuinely delicious! Pudding wise, the only gluten free dessert was the creme caramel with root beer, which we thought was quite quirky but still yummy! I chose white chocolate and strawberry ice-cream - mmmm! A highlight for me was a tea I had for afters, called Frasier Cake - a blend of strawberries, lychee and lemon peel. I'd never had such a pretty-sounding tea, plus it was a gorgeous rose pink colour!

We then went for a stroll around the village and picked up goodies for the evening from the weeny but incredibly well-stocked village shop! We took our cheese, cold meats, olives and kettle chips to the hut where we laid out the chequered picnic blanket and cracked open the white wine. The view from the hut was idyllic - it overlooked a large field with four beautiful horses in. We watched them have a playful gallop around as we nibbled and played cards and dominoes (because everywhere we go, we have to play games! We are self-confessed game geeks.) The hut itself was so cleverly done, making perfect use of space. The owners managed to fit in a folding table and two chairs, a sink, fridge, kettle station and cupboard space, a wood burning stove, a double bed and a proper bathroom with a lovely tiled shower. We had the cosiest night's sleep - verging on too cosy, as we lit the stove early in the evening and it turned the hut into an oven! The window by our bed had quaint wooden shutters with a brass bolt; I would love to add shutters somewhere on our house! The hut, set in a small orchard, is part of Wilderness B&B and is run by a husband and wife as an extension to their family home. There are two other accommodation options at Wilderness but we would definitely recommend Bramley Hut as a unique experience! I have left links below for you to have a snoop.



Friday, 7 April 2017

The Fitzgerald Diaries

Feline friends, don’t panic – I haven’t gone to cat jail! It’s Fitz here, and this is the first of hopefully many furry funny little stories from our adventures with the parents. After all, I'm named after a writer. He wrote a famous book called The Great Catsby. I'd like to see this Catsby; see if I compare. Hem’s too sleepy right now to blog, so he’s letting me write this one. Today started as any normal day: we woke up, had a prowl along the kitchen counters and then….phew! We heard one of the parents get out of bed to feed us breakfast. It was Dad, as it often is. Mum doesn’t come down as early, though she is quicker to feed us than Dad; he’s very careful. To be honest, we just want the food, no matter what state it’s in! Though I guess I’d rather not have it on my whiskers and sometimes on my back, would you believe! This is what Mum manages to do. Strange human. Anyway, back to the story. After I’d licked out every last piece of cat jelly, I headed to the flap to do my business, when woahhh. I saw there was no way out. The flap didn’t flap. That damn litter tray was back. I knew then that something wasn’t quite right. Hem didn’t seem bothered and went to cuddle the humans on the sofa. I followed him as I thought: might as well get cuddles in now before something dreadful happens.

Next thing I know, we’ve snoozed, woken up and been put into one of those beds that swing in the air. Well, it was a squash, I’ll tell you that much. I curled up at the back but Hemingway really wasn’t enjoying my company. He was scratching at the door at the front, desperately trying to get out. Maybe he needed to do his business. I shuffled right back just to be safe. I tried to be relaxed though I did wonder if the parents were moving us on. Then I saw Mum through the bars and I thought: they’ll be something not great at the end of this journey, but they’d never get rid of us. Surely we’re too cute. Just to be certain I thought of a back-up plan: I decided Auntie Charlotte would have me, there was no doubt about that.

After a bumpy ride - and no accident from Hem, thank goodness; he chilled out towards the end– we arrived at the square, white building. Then it dawned on me. I knew what this was – the V.E.T. The last time we were here… we were cas…. cast….I don’t even want to think about what happened. All I know is that something’s missing. This time, we were pulled out of the box and placed on a table. I looked at Hem and I thought: mate, you’re going first. I leapt over onto a second table where I was safe for a short while. Hemingway got cornered. The lady in the uniform pressed a big white circle into his mouth; she pushed it right back and he looked like he was going to choke! Then she rubbed all this wet stuff into the fur on the back of his neck. I tried to climb into the sink like I do at home, but it was too small. Clever, this V.E.T human. I was grabbed and there was no point trying to wriggle. I surrendered.

The ride back was a highlight of the day. Mum got out those treats that smell like Wotsits but taste like Milky Buttons inside. Hem didn’t fancy any so I used my Puss in Boots eyes to collect more and more. Mmmm. When we returned home, the garden was bright and sunny; just how we like it. The parents disappeared so we had the afternoon to find some mice and rabbits. We were unsuccessful today. I think that white circle thing we ate really put Hem off. He’s normally the catcher; I sort of tag along for moral support.

Before long, the parents were back and it was dinner time. I ate then fancied going out again to enjoy the weather. And that leads me to what I’m doing now. Laying on the wood store soaking up the last of the rays.

Look out for The Hemingway Diaries next time.



Monday, 27 February 2017

Baking Banana & White Chocolate Cake (GF)

I try to set time aside on a Sunday morning to bake. This batch of banana cake was made in my pyjamas, dressing gown and bed hair! I took the recipe from Tanya Burr's Tanya Bakes but adapted it here and there, mainly because Matt is a coeliac. I am not the best baker and all my family tease me for it, but it's all about trial and error and having fun in the kitchen! Anyway, this came out quite lovely - I aimed to leave it in for 45-50 minutes as recommended but it looked really brown at about 30, so I took it out after 40, to make sure the inside was fully baked. I definitely think the suggested baking time is too long! After 40 minutes, the sponge was beautifully fluffy (if I may say so about my own cake!) with just about the right amount of moisture and juiciness from the bananas. I was a bit disappointed that the top was brown and also flaking off (that's how soft it was!) but I dusted it with the magic potion for masking baking mistakes: icing sugar. If you want to have a go at making this simple, Sunday cake, here's the recipe!

3 medium peeled and ripe bananas
150g butter
160g brown caster sugar
200g gluten free plain flour
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
100g white chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.
2, Line a wide and deep baking tin with grease proof paper.
3. Peel and chop the bananas into thin slices. Mash up the banana slices, a few at a time.
4. Mix the butter and sugar together until fluffy (I use a Kitchen Aid but can mix by hand!)
5. Add the two eggs and vanilla extract.
6. Fold in the flour, baking powder and salt.
7. Stir through the white chocolate chips, then the mashed banana.
8. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 40 minutes, until a knife comes out clean!
9. Allow to cool for ten minutes, then dust with icing sugar and cut into squares.
10. Serve warm with a cup of tea!


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Lunching Out In the Sticks

On Saturday afternoon, my family and I ventured to a tiny place called Stodmarsh in the beautiful countryside near to us. The drive there is idyllic; if you enjoy feeling like you're on windy roads to nowhere.... farmland, quaint old stiles, dalmatian spotted cows and absolutely gorgeous old houses, inns and churches. We travelled through Ickham and Wickhambreaux - two more villages definitely worth a visit. Matt and I are going to return!

We arrived at The Red Lion - a rustic, red brick building with a chunky, old wooden door. I already knew that I wanted to take some photos for you lovely people on here and I was so happy to see the charming and cosy interior when I walked in. Too Instagram-able! The pub is fairly large for a village inn, weaving around the bar area, creating little booths with original wooden screens between them. I loved the wallpaper, making a library effect, and there were quirky items the owners have clearly collected dotted around - copper utensils, intentionally scuffed crates, interesting-looking wine bottles, antique coloured glass lamps - and some things I just couldn't identify! The coolest feature though was the pulleys en route to the toilets. When you open the doors, blue pieces of rope are pulled through and vintage brass instruments are hoisted up! I think they were tubas but you can spot them in the very first photo, so correct me! The doors to the loos were also adorned with the titles: 'Guys' and 'Dolls', which I thought was super cute.

Onto the food... we all opted for the two course set lunch menu; with three of us ordering steak and chestnut mushroom pie, and two fancying the shin of beef, while Matt chose chicken in a tomato and olive sauce. My pie was absolutely delicious and was served with creamy mash and giant carrots and parsnips. All of the food was presented beautifully, especially the desserts - which resembled the type of dishes put together on something like Masterchef, with the thoughtful and unusual details. Between us we ordered the banoffee cheesecake, the 'burnt' meringue, sticky toffee pudding and the Valhrona chocolate tart (you can see this above!) My chocolate tart came with blueberry compote and candied orange peel on the side, which I've never tried! The sugar glaze was lovely; then it became a little tangy. Nevertheless it was fun to try something new! The other puddings generally came as deconstructed versions, where the ingredients are all separate - again, I've seen this on professional cooking programmes!

If you are ever in South East Kent, and fancy a trip to an inviting country pub with hearty but slightly unconventional food, I hope you will try The Red Lion!


Friday, 17 February 2017

How to Buy a Birthday Gift

For today's post, I wanted to give you some birthday gift inspiration; by showing how right my wonderful family and friends got it on my 24th year of birth (yesterday). I am always stunned by how well said family and friends know me! I often get told I am easy to buy for: I'm not too sure why. Maybe it's something to do with this amalgamation of words: floralpasteldisneycountrybumpkinbuntingfluffyanimalsstationarybookscandlesharrypotterfood. Anyway, here are a few ideas for buying gifts (for girls).

A cosy jumper (Topshop Tie Sleeve Mohair Knit)
Matt bought me this gorgeous minty blue jumper and I just love it. I didn't realise when we bought it together that it has slits up the sides - just up to the bottom of your rib cage- but I think this is super cute, especially for when spring comes around. I got a petite size 8 as it looked quite long and it's a perfect fit. It's unbelievably soft too!

A childhood game (Harry Potter & the Mystery at Hogwarts)
Harry Potter fans: brace yourselves. My little sister found me this board game that we used to play all the time during our childhood. Apparently this is extremely hard to get hold of as it is now a collector's item and isn't manufactured anymore. I was so shocked but delighted to open this! It's in amazing condition and just looking at the box is making the memories flood back. It's an electronic game with lights and sound effects, including - if I remember rightly - the voice of the sorting hat and the troll in the dungeon!

Disney memorabilia (Disney Film Cards from Paperchase Bluewater & Canterbury)
I can't believe Paperchase are selling these! They are too nice to use as cards, so my plan is to find little frames for them and put them up together on a wall. I received these ones but they also sell Jungle Book and Snow White versions. Thank you to Matt's Mum and sister who couldn't decide and bought four!

Books (Vintage Wedding FlowersDeliciously Ella With Friends, The Honeymoon Handbook, Eat Smart)
My Mum and Matt's Mum were accidentally in sync with each other and bought me the same book - a beautiful hardback all about vintage wedding flower arrangements. I highly recommend this to brides-to-be; the colours are gorgeous and there's ideas for weddings all year round. My auntie chose me the Deliciously Ella With Friends which I'm super excited about as I have her first book and had been eyeing this one up! So far a few pages I've folded over are p20 (crumbly blueberry squares) and p86 (sweet potato noodles). Mum also got me Niomi Smart's Eat Smart - I watch her foody videos all the time on YouTube so am looking forward to recreating some of her tasty, plant-based dishes! Finally, my sister found us the Honeymoon Handbook. This will seriously be useful as we haven't decided at all where we want to go! It doesn't help that we were planning to go in February half-term, quite an odd time of year weather-wise, and that I'm not keen on planes!!

A staple watch (Olivia Burton Watches)
I wasn't expecting this gift at all but Mum and Dad bought me this gorgeous Olivia Burton watch with a light mauve strap and rose gold face. I have worn my Kate Spade one every day since I got it on my 23rd birthday, so it will be lovely to have that one by day and my new Olivia one for occasions. You can't go wrong with an elegant and timeless watch.

Little treats (Winky Lux Flower Balm, Cath Kidston Ducks in a Row, Lindt Orange)
I personally love receiving little bits and bobs that you can keep in your handbag or on your dressing table. These flower balms are incredible; I've never seen anything like them before. They have tiny real chrysanthemums inside the lipstick itself. Plus, the balm applies clear but finds your natural skin pH levels, creating a unique shade of pink to match your lips. My Mum popped into Cath Kidston and found these adorable duck print pocket size tissues. She also bought me some napkins in the same print. She then found me a notebook with different kinds of dogs all over, and there's one that looks like Genny! My parents chose me a box of Lindt orange. I've never tried these but love chocolate oranges so I'll be working my way through these today while watching cringworthy day-time TV like Come Dine With Me! 

Other (Kate Spade Stapler, Too Faced Sweet Peach Collection, Bloom Bouquets)
I am a stationary addict, so when I opened this stapler from Matt's sisters, it's safe to say I went a little crazy! Matt was like "So I could have just bought you staples and you'd have been happy." Um, yes?! Matt's oldest sister very kindly bought me not one, not two but three pieces from the Too Faced Sweet Peach collection. I've yet to try the eye-shadow palette but it looks amazing. My favourite shades at the moment are Bellini, Georgia and Peaches 'n' Cream. Lastly, I received two of the Bloom artificial bouquets and they will look just perfect in glass jars around the house.

Weird present alert: I also received an electric toothbrush from Mum and Dad. We went for the Oral B 2000 Pro in pink! I can't wait to try that out today! Mum also spoilt me (and Matt) and chose us a pretty Laura Ashley duvet cover with birdies on. I'm putting it on the bed so I didn't get a picture but I'm sure one will go on Instagram!

I love absolutely every one of my gifts and am beyond grateful to my friends and family! I hope this post has given you some food for thought if you're looking to buy a gift for a lady in your life!


Saturday, 11 February 2017

The February 14th Edit

From top left across: ASOS Suede Backpack with Ring Pull £38, NYX Butter Gloss £4.00, French Love Poems @ Anthropologie £9.99, Bella Freud Candle @ Liberty London £40, Vogue Weddings @ TK Maxx £7.99, You're an Eleven Valentines Card @ Urban Outfitters £4, Pink Rose Mug @ Urban Outfitters £6.30, ASOS Kiss Me Pyjamas £24, Eternity Rose Bundle @ The Artificial Flower Shop £11.16

As Valentines approaches, the shops become filled with prettiness. At this time of the year, if pink or red don't make up at least 88.8% of your colour palette, then the fashion police just might turn up at your door. I wouldn't know if there's any truth in that, seeing as I become obsessed with said colour palette as soon as February the 14th looms. I love pink. I really like red. And who ever said they can't go together? This Urban Outfitters mug proves they're a perfect match. I adore this mug; they've undoubtedly taken inspiration from the upcoming release of Beauty & the Beast. UOs have also jumped on the Stranger Things hype, with this super cool card for fans of Eleven. I do like the character, but having seen Millie Bobbi Brown in the media, she comes across as a blossoming diva; in a bad way. It kind of put me off. I would gratefully accept this card though! That peter pan collar would look good on the shelf.

I found this book of french love poems on Anthropologie and really couldn't see a reason not to put it in this edit! It's a beautiful blue colour, I love France as a country and also the poems inside look authentically French and quite quirky. I like! I can see myself snuggling up to read some pรณesie, by the fireside, with a candle burning. The Bella Freud candles look incredible but at £40 will remain on my wishlist as really, who can justify that on a cylinder of wax, gorgeous as it is?! I'd be wearing this fab ASOS leggings and tee combination to chill out in. The top says 'Kiss Me' on the back.

The ASOS backpack has been saved in my basket for weeks now; it just looks like it would massage your back as you walked, it looks so soft. I don't know how practical the suede - which tends to water stain easily - would be with unpredictable British weather though. If this goes on sale, I will be grabbing it! Onto makeup... I have only tried one NYX product but they are a seriously popular and affordable cosmetic brand, and I love this range of colours named after desserts! Some of my favourites are Creme Brulee, Madeleine and Sugar Cookie. I bought my sister Maple Blondie for Christmas as she is a true blondie.

I felt I wanted to include a nod to any other newly engaged girls out there. I spotted this Vogue coffee table book on the TK Maxx website. I cannot resist an aesthetically pleasing coffee table book and I'd love to delve into this one for some bridal inspiration! It showcases the dresses of royalty, social figures, models and artists who have appeared in Vogue throughout its magazine history. Last but not least: flowers. Personally, I will be having real flowers at our wedding, weather emergency permitting (fingers crossed!) but if you wanted to go down the artificial route or even just mix it up, The Artificial Flower Company is the best site I've found. I bought a bunch of their pink tulips when we moved in and they look lovely in a vase by our bed.

This year, I think Matt and I might wrap up and take a little country walk, head to a local farm shop for breakfast (hungry farmer style for him, pancakes for me) and then return to the cottage to chill out with the log fire and the kittens. We often get the M&S dine in for two, so that could also be on the cards!

What are your plans for Valentines?


Monday, 6 February 2017

Quarter Life Crisis

I'm engaged now. Whaaaat.

I turn 24 in a week and a half. Maybe I'm having a quarter-life crisis, maybe I've been influenced by Bridget after watching Bridget Jones' Baby at the weekend, or maybe it's the nostalgia of coming across all my old posts, but I just miss blogging. So I thought: why not start to write again? And if just one or two people stumble across it; well, that would be lovely!

If you are interested and are hanging on after that probably cringe-worthy introduction, it's time to tell you that SO much has happened since I last logged onto Blogger. For starters, I actually live in my own house, and I'm now ENGAGED to Matt - who I've been with for ten years this October. Because we've been together so long, we weren't going to wait around forever - there was already a huge running joke prior to Christmas Eve when the proposal happened, that Matt was just never going to make it official! But it just so happens that family and friends were proved wrong (this was all light -hearted, promise!); the wedding is booked and we will be husband and wife on the 30th December 2017. I have yet to find out whether I'm crazy or just head over heels (in terms of giving myself a year to plan my perfect wedding, I mean!) Obviously I am more than happy with my suitor!

I feel that wedding talk will definitely come into the blog... this is an event I have been picturing for a long, long time. But now that it is no longer a fantasy, it is definitely scary, so I'll appreciate any advice I can get!

I'm going to make this short, and I guess you'll stick around if you want to hear more.

This is 6th February 2017. My life consists of a manic but rewarding job teaching English by day, a dream cottage in the countryside, my perfect fiance and two adorable but extremely naughty kittens named Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Gen (aka scruffy labradoodle) is still happy and healthy, if you were wondering! I'm sure she and the kitties will check in soon.

Thank you for reading this if you are, and welcome back to Vintage Beauty!