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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

wedding: the budget

Although this isn't going to be quite as exciting as ‘The Dress’ blog post, I figured hoped this would be useful advice for any other Brides-to-be.


I’m not about to digress how much we are spending, but I thought I’d talk you through our ‘budget’. 

So let's start at the beginning, after all the excitement of being engaged dies down, and you actually sit down and think about what you need to do, it helps to set a budget right from the off, obvious I know, and you may not stick to it, but it gives you something to work towards. It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to wedding planning, so budgets stop you ordering two white doves, 20 tier cakes and a Kim Kardashian style 12 million dollar figure. I jest…I was working towards 20 million!

Anyway, back to reality...a phrase that has been coined many times during the planning of the biggest most important party in your life. We did some sums, and proposed (geddit!) our ‘wedding budget’, it wasn't grand, but it seemed, what we thought, was fairly realistic.

I then downloaded, from somewhere in the internet ether, an average wedding budget for 2014, which was broken into each element of the big day. This was more than our budget, but still reasonable.

Then I started researching everything we wanted, I contacted various suppliers, and started creating my own mini comparison sheets (what can I say, I love excel!). Now, don’t get me wrong, our wedding isn't small (approx. 100 guests), and I appreciate there are certain things that are important to me, that may not be to others, but WOW, weddings are pricey. 

Now, I’m getting married in the North, where prices are generally more affordable than the South (surely every 'wedding budget' you read in every wedding magazine is based on Southern prices?), but after months of research, every single cost on that ‘average wedding budget’ is coming in over and above. Yes, we are choosing a slightly pricier venue, but I’d like to think we are counting the pennies everywhere else. We don’t need cars, and we’re roping in family members to help at every opportunity...invitations, decorations, and all the other tions.

And, my dress also came in under budget (I KNOW, BIG SURPRISE) but I hadn't built in costs for alterations, or any of my accessories…so first, durr, then again, goodbye budget. And these average wedding budgets seem to forget these smaller but no less significant element.

Now, this isn't intended as a big moan. My dad started saving for my wedding the day I was born...I have two sisters, he had to start early. So that combined with our own pennies, we should be ok. 

I just wish I’d read a post like this, before I started crunching numbers.

So a piece of advice from me is, if you download a wedding budget from the internet, I’d suggest adding around 20% to the cost of everything. Unless you choose a more affordable venue, but a lot of these have hidden costs because you end up spending on things to make it the venue you warned, at some places you have to hire chairs, tables, cutlery, crockery, table clothes...the lists goes on.

And a piece of advice I was given, chose 3 key things that are the most important to you as a couple, and spend money on those. Which is what we are doing:

The Dress (obvs!)
The Venue

But i'd love to hear if you have any money saving tips, because as they say.. Every little helps!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

christmas has landed

It's official.  I love Christmas.  

Even at the tender age of 29, the excitement levels are up there.  So much so that decorating the house has become an event in it's own right in our house.  

Yes, an official event.  It starts with breakfast, when it has to be something interesting than a bowl of cereal.  This year we opted for bacon butties, well it'd be rude not to on a cold Winter's day, or any other day for that matter...but it's always a favourite of mine.

all wrapped up and ready to shop!

We then head out for the all important purchase of the Christmas tree.  The boy had never understood or appreciated the importance of this, having never had a real one until last year, but I believe that comparing Christmas trees (fat enough, tall enough, bushy enough, Christmas smell-y enough) is a pretty big deal.  And now he understands it too, we spent a good 20 minutes deliberating this year over which was 'the one'.

Next up is the somewhat amusing drive home.  We own a mini.  But live in a Victorian terraced house, so only a 7ft or taller tree will suffice. Yep, go figure.  This involves me cramped in the back, and the boot tied shut, and a rather slow, carefully considered drive home.

And then the fun begins.  Christmas jumpers are donned.  Festive tunes are lined up on the playlist.  And decorating commences.  Not to mention the 4 (yes 4) Next Festive Spice air fresheners I bought this year, just to ensure the house smells suitably seasonal.

After several hours of takes some time to sufficiently hang enough baubles to cover a 7ft tree, feet are put up, wine is opened, and a Christmas film sees us through the nice.

Oh, and we demolished a takeaway, because all that hard work deserves a treat! Don't you think?

I've got to admit, it was hard to beat last years 'Christmas Decorating Day' (I feel I need a catchier title?) as the boy got down on one knee, and proposed.  But this year, was pretty darn good...and I'm sure after Christmas Day itself, I'l be counting down the days till next year.

Now tell me I'm not alone, and you too have special traditions when it comes to Christmas decs? 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

wedding: the dress

1. 2. 3.

 The Dress.  Oh, let’s talk about The Dress

I wish I could sit here and relate to you the perfect dress story.  Of how I walked into a bridal boutique and fell in love with the first dress I tried on.  Or even the seventh dress I tried on.  I didn’t expect it to be the 57th dress I tried on.
So where do I start?  
 I've never had an idea in my mind of the wedding dress I wanted, I haven’t sketched pictures since I was a young girl, and I haven’t day dreamed about Disney princess style petticoats, Kate Middleton lace or a slinky Grecian number.  Having been an avid reader of wedding blogs for too long to admit, this may come as a surprise
 But one bride’s account of her wedding dress story stuck with me.  She choose not to look at magazines or blogs to get ideas about dresses before the day came when she had her first appointment.  She didn't want to have a set idea in her mind, which would overrule everything she tried on.  I thought this was quite possibly the best advice I’d ever read.
Now, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn't open to ANYTHING.  There was certain styles and elements I very much knew I didn't want (but I shan't be giving anything away).  In addition to this, I was really nervous.  My whole life, I've loved shopping, I've loved dressing up, and I’ve loved the process of getting ready for a special occasion.  But somehow, I knew my wedding day would be different, I would want something perfect, I wouldn't want to ‘settle’ and I wanted something unique, that was just for me.  Plus a four figure wedding dress isn't quite the same as a £30 LBD off the high street.
I’m lucky in that Cumbria is well covered when it comes to bridal boutiques, so I was spoilt for choice in terms of where to start.  For my first appointment, I selected a boutique which I knew had a large range of designers and styles, I had no expectation that I would find a dress in the first shop, but it seemed a good starting point.  So off I headed with my mum.  What felt like several hundred dresses on a very hot Summer’s day, I went home feeling completely overwhelmed, and could barely remember the last dress I’d tried on, let alone the first.
A couple of weeks later, and arrived appointment number 2.  At a boutique which I’d always been fond of, and convinced that was the place I would find my perfect dress.  With designers such as Jenny Packham and Rosa Clara and on their books, the dresses were intricate, beautiful, and each unique in its own way…but none of them were for me.  The particular angling of one mirror which made my bum look HUGE (I kid you not) did not help the situation.
1. 2. 3.
I left feeling downhearted (and convinced my rear end had tripled in size).  I knew that I’d only had 2 appointments, and so I wasn't at a point of complete despair, but I had been so sure I’d find ‘the dress’ in this shop, that I felt at a bit of a loss as to where to go next.
Fast forward a couple of months, 4 appointments later, and a trip to Scotland, I still hadn't found ‘The One’.  And in between appointments number 2 and 6, I’d made the mistake of turning to the internet and had become completely obsessed with googling the living daylights out of ‘wedding dresses’, and was pinning like my life depended on it.  And of course, I fell in love…with a dress that was only stocked in America. 
During those 6 appointments, I had tried on what felt like every shape and size of wedding dress that existed, short, long, lace, silk, taffeta, satin, sleeved, strapless, beaded, simple...the list goes on (and on and on).  I'd begun to believe the dress for me just didn't exist, in the UK at least.  
In my last two appointments, I'd started to learn what I really liked, and had a clear (ish) vision of the type of dress I wanted.  With one appointment still booked, at a boutique i'd already visited, I'd started to lean towards the idea of having one made, it would certainly be unique, it would be just for me, and it would have all the elements I'd loved on the hundred other dresses I'd tried on. 
But what if all those elements were too much together?
What if it was going to cost 3 times my budget?
And most importantly, what if I didn't like it?
The list of what ifs was endless, but I was running out of options.
1. 2. 3.
On the 11th October, 5 months after my first appointment, I headed back to a boutique i'd already visited.  The shop had had a delivery of 40 new dresses, so I figured I'd give it one last go before giving up on finding a dress that already existed.
I went assuming I was never going to find a dress, and so was pretty much ready to give up before I'd started.  I chose 8 dresses to try, 7 new ones, and one I'd tried before.  I quickly reeled them off, 'no, no, it's ok, definitely no' get the picture.
Then I tried 'The Dress'.  The dress I'd tried a couple of months before, and I'd liked, but not loved.  But I definitely felt a flicker of interest, that I hadn't felt before.  It wasn't perfect, it was far too simple, I couldn't really breathe (it was too sizes too small) and it was not what I'd envisaged!
20 minutes later, I was still wearing 'The Dress' only now i was also sporting a veil and a headpiece, and holding a fake bouquet of flowers.  I'd discussed every possible option available of altering it to suit me.  We'd talked adding bling, adding buttons, adding sleeves, adding a belt, adding lace...anything you could add, I'd considered it.
At this point, I started to feel a little queezy (not unusual when i'm nervous).  After so long looking, I couldn't believe i may have found the one.  The lovely lady in the shop sent me and my mum away to think about it.  Rather than doing the obvious of having a large glass of wine, we sat in the car...wondering.   And at that point, I decided that Yes, that was the dress.  It wasn't my dress yet, but it would be once we'd made a few changes, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The dress was found.
There was no tears, there was no 'this is the one' and there wasn't even a glass of champagne to celebrate.  And despite all the ups and downs, and what felt like 5 very long months, I loved the whole process.  I loved trying on wedding dresses.  I loved every appointment.  But what I loved most? Is picturing my dress now, and smiling because I know, I've made the right decision.
 And I would advise any bride who is going through similar situations, just to keep going, don't give up and settle because you will regret it.  And, I LOVE to hear 'the dress' stories, so do tell me yours...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

pinterest picks

It would seem this week, my Pinterest picks are scarf orientated.  Well who doesn't love spending Christmas days coveting chunky scarves when the weather turns a little chillier.
1. 2. 3. 4

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

the leather jacket quest

1. All Saints
2. Oasis
3. Whistles
4. Karen Millen

My beloved leather jacket and I have had a good relationship.  This year marks our 5th year together, not bad innings I’d say.  But the time has come, sadly, to say goodbye.  Although it is still ‘wearable’, just, it’s not looking good, and the rather unsightly tear along the elbow makes it a little rougher around the edges than I’d like it to be.  (Read: I always feel a little inappropriate wearing it in any vaguely formal situations)

So the dreaded search has began.  I bought my current one in a moment of feeling sorry for myself, after having a pretty grim wisdom tooth extraction and docs orders to be signed off work for two weeks, I needed some retail therapy.  I’d spotted the jacket in Topshop and lusted after it for weeks, but couldn’t justify the price tag, in hindsight, it wasn‘t actually that bad for a real leather jacket, but I’d been unemployed for a while so it wasn’t exactly a priority.  However, when you’re laid up in bed for two weeks it’s amazing what you can find on the internet (keep it clean!) and  I found the same jacket on ebay for half the price.

Now, yes, perhaps the fact it quite clearly had it’s ‘Topshop’ label snipped out, and it was brand new, possibly meant it had fallen off the back of a van, I wasn't complaining, I was in love.

I fear things are not going to run so smoothly this time around.  I’ve already spent several weeks (edger closer to months) on the search, and have yet to find ‘The One’.  Oasis have some beauties, but I seem to be completely in between, and everyone knows All Saints and Whistles are the place to hit up when looking for a classic leather piece, but the small loan I’d have to take out to buy one of those isn’t going to happen.

So I’m turning to you lovely lot, in the hope that someone out there knows what I’m looking for, simple, stylish and seriously affordable (the seriously was unnecessary there, but you know, I wanted to keep with the alliteration) so if you have seen one, please can you let me know?

Monday, 3 November 2014

wedding: the venue

Bearing in mind I got engaged last December, I think it’s clear to say, I haven’t rushed to blog my way through the planning.

However, I really wanted to, but just never really got round to sitting down and doing it, until today.

I have always loved reading wedding blogs, yes, even before I had the ring on my finger, but that doesn’t mean I was sitting with my scrapbook and my wedding fully planned before the boy proposed.   In fact, I had no ideas at all about what I wanted, I just loved reading about others weddings.  I love looking at the beautiful dresses, the flowers, the colours palettes, even the men’s suits, but rarely actually considered my own.  And then the boy got down on one knee (you can read about that here) and all of a sudden, I was allowed to outwardly profess my reading habits, wedding websites could be added to my favourites, without that being weird!

I started reading Rock My Wedding years ago, and loved all the posts relating to Charlotte’s big day, I really wanted to do the same with mine, thinking it would be a lovely way to diarise my just never happened.  But today, I just decided to sit down and do it.  I’m thoroughly enjoying the planning process, Pinterest’s stats have probably trebled since I got engaged, and I’m fairly sure there isn’t a bridal blog out there I don’t know about.

So where do I start? Luckily, we’ve been fairly relaxed about the whole wedding planning, and so I shouldn’t need to bombard you with an influx of posts just to play catch up, because so far we’ve taken it slowly.  We have just hit the 6 months-to-go mark, so that may will change.

Well let’s go right back to the beginning.  After the proposal, we spent hours (and hours) googling venues.  I knew we’d need to get moving with a venue, because to get married when we wanted (Spring/Summer 14) we’d need to get going to secure a date.

We knew we wanted to get married in Cumbria, we live (and both grew up) in the Lake District so it would be foolish to dismiss such beautiful surroundings. We also knew we didn’t want a ‘wedding package B’, we wanted to be able to customise our day to make it our own.  I didn’t want a Roast Beef dinner, and we didn’t want a corporate hotel room.

Ahh, it would seem, despite Cumbria having hundreds of beautiful venues, there wasn’t an endless list of places we really wanted to see.  In the end we saw only two.  The first, I fell in love with over the internet.  It was a real blank canvas, a barn set in the middle of the countryside, which every couple made their own.  So off we headed, I was super excited and sure I was going to come away, having signed, sealed and deposited (the money, obvs!).  But, 10 minutes in, I was bitten by a dog (yep, really), which wasn’t a great start to planning your perfect day.  Feeling rather flustered we continued to look round, but as the price shot up, so did the list of things we needed to do.  A blank canvas, yes.  But, a whole design job from start to finish I was not expecting, hiring everything from carpet to crockery to caterers was not quite what I was ready for.  Plus, this was all money on top of the initial costs.

So feeling a little disheartened, we headed home.

And hit up google once again.

Then I discovered Askham Hall, a venue that had only been hosting weddings since the previous October (only three months at this point) and so had only had a handful of weddings, which meant there was very little information online to find out more about it (and even fewer photos of other couples big days for me to stalk).  But what we could see, it was certainly ticking the right boxes, a beautiful barn which would give us that perfect slightly rustic and informal feel, a stunning 13th century stately home with impressive gardens, the perfect backdrop for those all-important photos, AND a heated outdoor swimming pool? Ok, so that wasn’t a necessity for our wedding, but it was certainly a nice additional touch.

I rang immediately, and made an appointment to visit.  From the second we arrived, despite it being a gloomy January day, we felt welcomed and totally in awe of the whole venue.  Even on a rainy day, we could tell it was the place for us.  The barn was exactly what we wanted, and we didn’t have to hire any of the basics, HURRAH, chairs and tables and glasses and staff and food, it all came in as part of the cost!


Where do we sign?

Oh, you already have 47 weddings booked in for 2013, and 2014 is starting to fill up.  Sooo, what days do you have available? There was a couple of dates that would work for us, May bank holiday looked even more promising, but my mum and dad really wanted to see it.  A quick phone call later, an exclamation of how much I loved it, meant that yes, we would book that date, and sorry mum, but I’ll bring you back for lunch another day.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t QUITE as smooth as this, we needed to confirm figures and numbers and all the finer details, but we headed home (feeling rather elated) and got out the calculator.. and OUCH, really, weddings ARE expensive.  We then spent a week deliberating, setting up an extensive spreadsheet, sat with heads in our hands, and wondered if really, maybe ‘Wedding Package B’ and ‘Roast Beef Dinner’ wasn’t sooo bad.  But in our hearts, it wasn’t what we wanted, it didn’t make me excited, and it is what is supposed to be our ‘perfect day’.  Knowing we could make cuts elsewhere, and knowing that the venue really is one of the  most important parts of the day, we rang and proclaimed:

‘yes, we would like to confirm 23rd May 2015’

And we booked our wedding day!


P.S. I wasn't expecting this to be such a long post...I think I'm going to enjoy this!

Friday, 31 October 2014

mississippi mud pie

 If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, then you may have spotted this slice of deliciousness popping up all over my profile.  
Yes, I did indeed make that.  
Yes, it was as good as it looks. 
 And Yes, I'm not ashamed to brag about my own baking.

What can I say? I rarely produce something that actually looks like the picture in the recipe AND tastes as good.

So I thought you I'd share the recipe and a few snaps (apologies in advance for any drooling on keyboard incidents) so that if you want to, you could give it a go yourself.

Now, I got this recipe from a book called 'Bake' (classic name!) that the boy kindly treated me too a couple of months ago.  It's full of recipes from around the world (can you guess where this one came from?), and this is the first thing I've made from it... going on the success of this, I'll definitely be returning to give plenty of the others a go.

So without further ado, and before my head gets much bigger, here you go:


Chocolate Layer
85g Plain Chocolate 
85g Unsalted Butter
85g Light Muscovado Sugar
2 Eggs, beaten
100ml fl oz single cream

175g Plain Flour, plus extra for dusting
25g Cocoa Powder
40g Light Muscovado Sugar
85g Unsalted Butter
2-3tbsp Cold Water

250ml whipping cream
85g plain chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.  To make the pastry, sift the flour and cocoa powder into a bowl and stir in the sugar.  Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs.  Add just enough water to bind to a dough.
I then popped my pastry in the fridge for around 20 mum always says pastry is easier to work with when it's been chilled, and mum's always right, right?

2.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to a round large enough to line a 3cm deep, 20cm round tart tin.  Use the pastry to line the tin. Prick the base with a fork, cover with a piece of greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans, then bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and take out the greaseproof paper and beans.  Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

3.  Put the chocolate and butter into a saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring until melted.  Put the sugar and eggs into a bowl and whisk together until smooth, then stir in the chocolate mixture, cream and vanilla extract.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pastry case and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until just set.  Leave to cool.
I left mine overnight in the fridge before adding the cream layer, but that's not to say doing it once it's cool won't work.

5. to make the topping, whip the cream until it holds its shape, then spread over the pie.  Put the chocolate into a bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water and heat until it melted, then spoon into a piping bag and pipe decorations over the cream.  
I actually just grated the chocolate over the top, much quicker and easier, and I didn't really think pouring hot chocolate over cream was a good idea?

Serve, and enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

pinterest picks

1. The simplest pairing of classic pieces, and yet oh so chic.

2. Christmas excitement has officially began, with daydreams of snowy days ignited by perfect city street scenes.

3. Forever distracted by anything that includes salted caramel.

4. Longing for hair that looks this good.

Don't forget if you want to follow me on Pinterest, you can, here!

Friday, 24 October 2014

for the love of dim sum - ping pong

I'd like to share a little secret with you, I love dim sum, like, really love it.  When I lived in London, I worked 5 minutes from China Town, and was never far from a Ping Pong restaurant.  

Moving back to Carlisle was always going to be a culture shock, we're usually a year or two behind the latest trends (sorry any Cumbrian readers...but you know I'm right!) so dim sum? Unheard of!

Although I try to visit London fairly regularly, this year hasn't been so easy, so I'm sad to say I've gone at least 18 months without my dim sum fix.  I. know! It's been pretty unbearable.  Yes, this may be slightly dramatic but I don't like things to get in the way of my food.

However, last week I was heading down to London town, and two days before departure an email arrived in my inbox asking me if I'd like to review Ping Pong's latest autumn menu.  I kid you not!  I had to stop myself squealing at my desk with excitement (I was in the office, it could have been embarrassing!).  Not only was I being offered the chance to review food (always a winner right?) it was at one of my favourite haunts...queue a very excited email response, and a cheeky text to the boy to tell him my good news.

So on Thursday of last week off we ventured.  We chose to go to the Soho Ping Pong, which was the one we used to visit the most.  And it was heaving, thank goodness we'd booked.

We decided to order a selection of the new autumn dishes, developed apparently to 'spread warmth and seasonal flavours', and that they did, with dishes like lobster dumpling and honey-soy chicken wings on the menu, what's not to get excited about...!

On top of a few seasonal dishes, we had to pick my old faves, Char Sui buns are my most favourite food ever, so we ordered two (of course), because one is never enough.  I genuinely deem these little balls of cotton wool my choice of 'death row last meal'...does anyone else ever play that game?

I honestly can't put into words how good the food was, I know dim sum probably isn't to everyone's taste, and not being so canny with a camera...they aren't the easiest things to photo, but don't be put off.  Dishes and dishes of chinese-y deliciousness is the only way to describe this meal.  I was in a very happy place.

So what did we order? It's probably easier to tell you what we didn't, ha, only jokes, here you go:
Lobster Dumpling
Honey soy chicken wings
Potato and Edamame Cakes
Prawn Toast with Sesame Seeds
King Prawn and Scallop Sticky Rice
Char Sui Bun x 2
Chicken and Cashew Nut Dumpling
and the Apple and Cinnamon Parcels

I'd like to tell you our eyes were bigger than our bellies, but they weren't, we ate every last morsel, and contemplated a third round of Char Sui Buns.

Everyone was amazing.

The only criticism I have (and it's not really criticism, but a matter of personal taste) and that is that I'm not a huge cinnamon fan, we ordered those for the boy really, but I think it's fair to say that his comment of..

'They're like a McDonalds apple pie, but f*cking mint' 

is pretty much the perfect way to end this post.

Thank you Ping Pong for an amazing meal, I just wish I could say, I'll be back soon!

P.S. The boy usually is a little more eloquent than that, but no other comment really could have done justice to such yumminess!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

black and white shorts for a summer's day

Based on the title of this post, I imagine you are wondering firstly, why would I be wearing shorts in weather like this, and secondly...a summer's day?  No, you're not going mad, and Carlisle hasn't had a sudden heatwave in the middle of October, but rather, I've stumbled across some photos from July that I never posted.  I figured posting them 3 months late was better than never.

If you're a regular reader of this little space, you will no doubt know that my legs rarely see the light of day, so I must have been having a moment of madness when I stepped out, IN PUBLIC I hasten to add, in this outfit, either that or it was actually just a warm (read sweaty) summer's day!  Little did I know that later on that evening the heavens were going to open, and silly old me not only went out like this, I was jacket-less and umbrella-less so I ended the night a sad drowned rat.

However, enough of my witterings, I actually really like this outfit, I kinda think hope it makes me look cooler than I actually am...and you may recognise the shorts from that little profile picture over me, look -------> over there on the right.  I think in future I'll be sticking to wearing them with my beloved black tights, at least I know that if it's tights weather, it's umbrella weather...and I'm always well prepared for umbrella weather (well accept that one time)!

Top - H&M
Shorts - Primark
Boots - Miss Selfridge

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