Our houses are so much more than just shelter from the elements. It’s the place where we expect to find peace; feel safe; be ourselves; relax; represent who we are; have friends over, and most of all, be happy!
As an excited first-time homeowner, it’s so important that the place that Mr.D and I call home is somewhere that brings us a lot of peace and happiness – a place that we can’t wait to come home to every day. And happiness doesn’t always come from designer kitchens, finished basements, and Olympic sized pools – although I wouldn’t say no to any of those! But quite often it’s the simple things that that make a house a home and bring a sense of peace, happiness, and well-being. These are the things that make mine a happy home.
1. LET’S GET PERSONAL
Many of us would like to live in the kind of home that wouldn’t look out of place among the pages of Home and Garden – or in my case, MTV Cribs! But in trying to do so, we get so bogged down with the details concerning our chosen theme or colour scheme that we discard anything that doesn’t ‘go’ with the decor – even though quite often these are the very things that reflect our personality and gives the home we live in a sense of identity and signs of life.
I’m often quite underwhelmed by homes that don’t seem to contain anything personal or tell me anything about the people who live there. To me it feels a little soulless. So I love to see photographs, artwork, holiday souvenirs, collections on display, a library of well-loved books, home made furnishings, home-grown flowers in a vase… anything that tells a story and says something about the habits, interests and personality about the owner of the house.
True there should be some flow between personal objects and the style of the house but with a little imagination, you can bring together the most eclectic of objects bound together in your own inimitable style. So our house is most definitely going to refect our love of travel, rock music, food, family and friends, 1980s nostalgia, angels and… Lego! Now that’s some story to tell!
2. DISPLAY PHOTOS
There’s hardly anyone out there who doesn’t carry some kind of device for taking photos which means that they can literally snap away any time, any place, anywhere. Taking photos has never been easier. But unfortunately most people have a tendency to just leave the photos on their phones or tablets or upload them on to social media and then just forget about them. When I worked in a gift shop, most of my customers would only really buy photo frames or albums as a last resort. “Well that’s what Facebook’s for,” they’d say.
Well I personally think that’s a waste of a good photo.
When I lived at home with my family, I was photo mad. My room was a shrine to me and Mr.D. which some people found nauseating but who cares! Then I framed photos and put them all over the house which annoyed my family as they kept knocking them over. Which in turn annoyed me if the photos were just left lying there, or worse the frame was broken. And when we moved to the States, I couldn’t bring my mammoth collection with me but I made sure I had enough to put all over the apartment.
I love displaying photos and I don’t think a home feels complete without them. There’s nothing like seeing the faces of the people you love most every day, especially when they can’t be with you in person as often as you’d like. Each photo tells a story and gives you the chance to relive memories. I’ve also found that photos can be a real talking point when you have guests over – especially with people you don’t know very well.
And there’s an array of gorgeous frames available to suit everyone’s taste, to simple and elegant to colourful and funky. Yep, I’ve got the lot!
3. A SOFT SPOT FOR SOFT FURNISHINGS
As the child of parents who own a soft furnishings business, I definitely have a liking for soft furnishings – much more than Mr. D does. I think they add a touch of luxury and a lot of comfort and really make a house feel like a home. True, I’m not into doilies, you’ll never find chairbacks or armcaps on my sofa, and I’m not sure how fussed I am about tablecloths.
But I know that I’m most definitely a fan of curtains. I appreciate the beauty of a well dressed window as well as the practicalities of providing privacy and retaining warmth. Beautiful bedding is a must; beanbags and floor cushions provide extra, informal seating for guests, and I don’t believe that a couch is really a couch unless is got throws – perfect for snuggling under when you’re watching TV or surfing the net – and a truckload of cushions. Not that Mr. D would agree with me!
And what I love most about soft furnishings is that it really is the quickest, most convenient, and possibly the cheapest way of instantly changing the appearance of a room.
4. SIMPLY SCENTSATIONAL
Like songs, certain aromas are highly evocative and have an effect on our moods, feelings and well-being. But quite often how fab – or unfab – your home smells is often overlooked.
When I used to live in a house-share, some of the highly pungent foods that my housemates used to cook would make me want to gag. I would have to hold my breath as I walked into the kitchen and I would be afraid that the not-so-sweet fragrances would be lingering on my clothes. And I couldn’t even escape it in my bedroom where the dreaded smell would be wafting up into my room. So even though I do have happy memories of my time in the house-share, this was not one of them!
But pleasant aromas can have a positive effect on us and can make us feel refreshed, calm, energised and can induce sleep. Everyone knows why people eager to sell their homes are keen to have the aroma of freshly baked goodies wafting around their home, and its that same smell that can be delightfully welcoming to a guest visiting your home. That and freshly ground coffee, and beautifully-scented cut flowers.
I’m not really a fan of air freshener or highly fragranced cleaning products with that ghastly synthetic smell, so I wouldn’t use those. But I do love good quality scented candles and incense sticks; good old-fashioned drawer liners and lavender sachets; essential oils being used in oil burners, floral-scented water spritzed over bedding, and an aromatic bath doesn’t just do wonders for you but also makes your bathroom smell divine.
And although I wouldn’t normally have it in the house the rest of the year, I really don’t think Christmas is Christmas without some festive-looking and festival smelling pot pourri!
5. MAKE TEA-TIME A REAL TREAT
It wasn’t anything as grand as afternoon tea in a posh hotel or quaint tea-room but growing up, tea-time was a pretty big deal in my family – especially when I went to Granddad’s house. Everything stopped for tea! I guess that’s where I get my love of afternoon tea from.
Unfortunately with the hours most of us work, tea at four o’clock every day is impossible. It would however make a fabulous, relaxing weekend treat – just what’s needed to help you unwind. And why not go to town by using real china, cake stands and serving lots of scrumptious, sweet, creamy delicacies?
There’s no reason why tea-time at home shouldn’t be every bit as enjoyable as at your local tea shop.
6. HAVE A BAKE-IN!
Closely linked to number five, baking used to be regarded as something that your mum or gran would do especially if you needed cheering up or deserved a treat. But for a long time it wasn’t really considered cool or especially trendy. When we wanted a birthday cake or fresh bread, we headed over to our local bakery rather than whip something up ourselves. We all live such hectic lives that when we get home after a hard day’s work, the last thing we feel like doing is creaming butter and sugar!
But baking can be relaxing, enjoyable and therapeutic. And shows such as Great British Bake Off, Masterchef and Next Great Baker have reignited our enthusiasm for baking and enabled us to get happy with the mixing bowl again.
Baking is an activity which involves all five of the senses. Who doesn’t love the sight of prettily iced cupcakes; the texture of bread as it’s being kneaded; the taste of choc chip cookies; the aroma of delicious home baking, and best of all, the sound of everyone happily tucking in!
If there’s something else I think that makes a home complete other than framed photos out on display, it’s candles – and lots of them. And if they’re scented candles then that’s even better. There’s nothing like the cosy, warm glow of candlelight to bring that touch of magic into your home. It’s great for when you want to unwind, meditate, or get romantic. Candlelight is also great to fall asleep to but for this I would strongly recommend the common sense option of battery operated candles.
8. CREATE YOUR OWN SPACE
When Mr.D and I lived in London, we had to make do with a flat that was a little on the cosy side! But despite this, Mr.D and I both marked out places that were our ‘spots.’ These were places where we could put our feet up; watch a bit of telly; read; have a cuppa; blog or do crafts (me!) play computer games (definitely Mr. D!) and have it looking the way we wanted it to look.
When you live with others, I think it’s important for you to pick a place in the house that you can call your own: a place where you can talk on the phone; read a novel; write etc. and generally just slow down, enjoy your own company and be lost in your own thoughts. Absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Your own space could be a comfy armchair by the window; a window seat with a nearby bookcase containing your fave novels; a corner of the room with bean bags, floor cushions and a side table with all your fave knick-knacks on it. In fact who even says it has to be indoors? Maybe you could relax on a blanket beside gorgeous, sweetly scented rose bushes in your garden, or a bench under a tree.
In one episode of Wife Swap, I came across a lady who had built a thirty thousand dollar meditation feature in her garden, which she never used for meditating but she did like sitting out there and admiring it (admittedly, we don’t all have the budget for that!)
9. TO READ OR NOT TO READ
Knowing that printed literature is fast becoming obsolete makes me feel sad as just looking at a book puts me in a better mood. To say that I am a bookworm is something of an understatement. I grew up with books, newspapers, and magazines and I cannot imagine a world without them.
Yes, I know that E-readers are all the rage and that everyone reads newspapers and magazines online these days. But when I was growing up, the focal point of the sitting room were the bookshelves that contained Dad’s vast collection of books which he used to sit and read most evenings in ‘his space’. And I like the fact that some kind of reading material perched on a coffee table gives a home a nice ‘lived-in’ feel.
And taking a look at people’s bookshelves also tells you a lot about them. Mine reveal my love of crafts, writing, studying languages and chick lit. My mum’s extensive collection of recipe books gives away her love of cooking, being a bit of a feeder, and ambition to be the next Masterchef! My brother’s books show that he’s sports mad, while Mr. D’s reading material point towards being a Trekkie and avid watcher of Game Of Thrones and that he loved Brian Jacques books as a kid.
10. WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
Sleep: the one thing that most of us can’t get enough of and would never say no to more of – if only we had the time!
When I’m sleep deprived I am not a happy bunny but then, who is? That’s why it’s so important that your bedroom is a tranquil haven where you can nod off easily and get adequate hours of peaceful slumber. And when I’m not sleeping, my bedroom is the place where I lounge around, read, and meditate, so it really is the place where I get some much needed rest and relaxation.
That’s one of the reasons why I firmly believe that, if it can be helped, you should never use your bedroom for working or studying in. It should ideally be kept clutter-free and as device- free as possible which, yes I know is hard, but we all know how technological gadgets interfere with our sleep. And if you suffer from allergies like Mr. D and me, then its important to keep your sleeping area clean, tidy and dust-free.
Even though my bedroom when I lived at home was pretty loud (which wasn’t a problem for me) most people would generally decorate their rooms in calming, serene colours or darker colours which help them to nod off more easily. Use adequate blinds, curtains and poles for windows as early morning sunlight seeping into your room might cause you to wake up sooner than you would like.
You can decorate your home any way you like but it’s the people we love who bring the happiness and laughter into our homes. And being a born hostess who loves nothing better than to entertain, I love having friends over to watch movies, major sports games or to stay for the weekend. I enjoy throwing parties and gatherings; hosting formal dinner parties or informal supper nights, and my famous cocktail and canapés events.
After all what’s the point of having a beautiful home of you can’t share it with your amazing family and friends?
A while ago I told you all to expect some good news – but not of the gender reveal variety! Well I’m thrilled to announce that Mr. D and I are at last homeowners!!! Woo woo woo!
To be honest we never thought this day would come. I guess the move to America was worth it after all because when we lived in London, the dream of owning our own home was just that – a dream. Despite the fact that we were both working and Mr.D was earning quite well, it was impossible to find a property in our price range. Even a tent in a field would have been a bit much going by crazy London prices! London has gotten ridiculously expensive and it’s sad because given the choice, we’d have liked to have stayed here.
But I suppose everything happens for a reason and once Mr. D had found his dream house, there was no stopping him! If I’m brutally honest, I didn’t feel like this was the house for us. As it was in the country, and I’m a die-hard city girl, I can’t say I was jumping up and down at the prospect of rural life – something I’d tried before and didn’t enjoy, although Mr. D, of course, couldn’t wait to get back to country living.
Then of course there was the distance to Mr.D’s workplace as our new house is quite some distance away. As we’re leasing our car we need to keep an eye on mileage and also I was worried about him driving home in heavy snow ( I guess it shows that I’m a Londoner!) Furthermore, I’d already met one of our neighbours and let’s just say that living close to him was not something I especially wanted to do…
However it was quite obvious that Mr. D. was smitten with the house and especially the acres of woodland that came with it. Plus I have to admit, the house kind of grew on me; it wasn’t bad for a first time home; it was habitable, and needed very little work. We were getting a pretty good deal on the house… So we went for it. And now here we are!!! And I’m even excited about giving country life another attempt.
I’m unfortunately still in London, tying up loose ends and trying to pack up remainder of our never-ending belongings. I’m very sad that I wasn’t with Mr. D. to collect the key but then again I guess that moment belonged to him and him alone. After all if it wasn’t for his determination and persistence, we wouldn’t have had this wonderful opportunity. It really is because of him that we can call ourselves homeowners and begin to pay our own mortgage rather than someone else’s. There’ll definitely be a chance for him to carry me – and all my items of luggage – over the threshold of our new home, and that’ll hopefully happen sometime soon.
The idea of a thirty year debt isn’t appealing, and neither is the thought of having to cut back on the little luxuries that Mr. D. is always telling me off for splurging on which is definitely the downside of having your own home but my goodness, I won’t miss paying extortionate rent; matchbox-sized flats; greedy landlords determined to rob you blind; moving every few months; dodgy estate agents, and obnoxious housemates. And that’s just some of the horror stories!
This is the beginning of something new and hopefully good for both of us. I can’t wait to begin this stage of our lives. Its just a pity that our family and friends live so far away but hopefully they’ll all get to visit.
Just not all at the same time!
By now most people will have heard of Kenny Harmon, the grandfather from Oklahoma who makes a mean hamburger, and is now affectionately known as Papaw. He made headlines around the world after a photo posted on social media of him tucking into a hamburger went viral. OK, so there’s nothing remarkable about a photo of a man eating a hamburger – but the story behind it is!
THE STORY SO FAR…
The doting grandad had invited his six grandchildren over for dinner, and set about creating a hamburger meal for them, complete with twelve – that’s right, twelve – hamburgers! However come dinnertime, five of them were a no-show. The only grandchild who did turn up – Kelsey Harmon – took a snap of Papaw as he tucked into his dinner and posted it to her Twitter account, explaining that dinner for eight had become dinner for two. Then before you could ask for more burger sauce, the post totally blew up on social media with thousands of people commenting.
THE PUBLIC HAVE SPOKEN!
A lot of people commented that the look of disappointment etched on Papaw’s face made them a little teary, especially when they heard about how much effort he’d gone to. Many agreed that they wanted Papaw to be their grandad too. Others wanted to know what had happened to the remaining burgers – and rightly so! A few sad cases declared that Papaw couldn’t be a very good grandfather if his grandkids didn’t want to spend time with him, while the odd couple of lost causes made death threats against the kids who didn’t turn up. Seriously people, get a life!
Just about everyone had an opinion regarding hamburgergate although the response to Papaw’s photo was generally very good. And one thing this photo succeeded in doing was make us think about our own grandparents and the role we played – or for those lucky ones, still continue to play – in their lives. And it certainly made me think about mine.
OUR ROLE MODELS
When it comes to grandparents, Mr. D. and I consider ourselves to be extremely blessed. Our grandparents were exactly what you would expect grandparents to be and served as excellent role models, not just to us kids, but to many other people who also looked up to them. We were adored by our grandparents who spoilt us rotten but were wise enough to know when to stop. And in an age where marriages collapse faster than an undercooked chocolate fondant, our grandfathers were devoted to their wives – quite simply they couldn’t live without them. If Mr. D. and I could have just half of what they had, we’re on our way to a very successful marriage.
Our grandparents may no longer still be with us but they are still the people we aspire to be like. They played a massive role in our upbringing and helped shape us into the people we are today. It saddens us that they didn’t live long enough to see us marry and guide us through our married life.
BUT WE WEREN’T PERFECT…
But I’m sorry to say that although Mr. D. and I had the perfect grandparents, we weren’t always the perfect grandkids. As we went from sweet kids to rebellious teens, we swapped sleepovers at our grandparents for raucous nights out with our friends, followed by all night swotting before exams at uni, before getting started in our chosen careers. So as we got older, even though our grandparents were always in our thoughts, we didn’t always visit or call as often as we should have. It was never intentional but it’s something that fills me with shame to this day.
WHY WE WERE MOVED BY PAPAW
Papaw’s story is both heartwarming and inspiring because it illustrated that in a world where people don’t get enough quality family time, there are still people who make an effort to get their familes together. In an age where the family unit isn’t as cohesive as it once was, there are still grandparents out there who want to play an active role in their grandkids lives. And although some people have passed judgement on the absentee grandchildren, I know just how easy it is to let the demands of real life get in the easy of things we really ought to do. And even though its been a zillion years since I was a teenager, I remember putting off visits to my own grandfather to go and join in with my friends’ crazy antics.
Its not that teenagers and young adults don’t love their grandparents of course. Its just that at that age, we often forget that the time we have with them is limited; we think that they’ll be around forever and that we’ll never see a time when they’re not around. At least that’s how it was for me. I think Papaw’s story has reminded us to make every second count when it comes to our loved ones.
WE LOVE OUR GRANDPARENTS…
Most of us really do the very best we can for our grandparents. Where I grew up in Northwest London, I saw even the roughest, toughest kids turn into big softies when it came to their grandparents and they couldn’t do enough for them. And even after their grandparents pass away, they’re never forgotten with their grandchildren marking birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions.
…BUT SADLY SOME ARE FORGOTTEN
I’m glad that Papaw’s story had a positive outcome but it also made me feel sad because I thought of the grandparents who are not made to feel loved or valued – and believe me I’ve come across plenty of them. Many elderly people I know talk about their huge families – complete with grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren – with pride. But these are the same people who struggle with the simplest of tasks as they go about their daily lives, depending on the kindness of neighbours, friends, acquaintances and even strangers rather than burden their children and grandchildren. In fact I know of people who usually see their grandchildren when they turn up demanding a handout!
I can’t help but feel a little angry at situations like this and marvel at peoples carelessness and lack of common sense. Surely if your family is bigger than the average village, than the responsibility of looking after grandma or grandpa should be a doddle, shouldn’t it? Well apparently not! I may not have called in as often as I could have but whenever Grandad needed help with anything, one of us was always there.
CHERISH EVERY MOMENT
When my grandfather passed away, I regretted that I didn’t spend enough time with him. It was only after his death I realised just how much he lived for his grandchildren and how every moment with us brought him so much happiness. But as a few people told me, no matter how much you did for your parents and grandparents, no matter how much time you spent with them even if it was every waking moment, it would NEVER be enough. And grandparents understand that we have things we need to do in life and we can’t always be there and nor would they want to stand in our way. As long as you show that you care, and that you love and value them, that makes them happy. So instead of feeling guilty, we should treasure the time we did get to spend together, know that we did the best we could and take comfort from those memories.
If there’s anything we can take away from Papaw’s story, it’s that awesome grandparents never stop giving, no matter how old their grandkids get. And despite a few exceptions, grandchildren never stop being loving – they just get busy! Modern life is frantic but we should do the very best we can to find even just a little time to let our grandparents know what they mean to us.
The Harmon family’s story did get a happy ending in that Kenny Harmon was reunited with all six of his grandchildren a week later for a special buffet lunch. And I did wonder just how many of those who wanted Papaw to be their adopted grandfather actually made the effort with their own grandparents. Well it seems that the other good thing about this story is that it actually made people reach out to their own grandparents immediately rather than putting off contact to another day.
Go Papaw… and grandparents everywhere!
Thanksgiving is about to descend upon us – and I can’t wait!
Ever since Mr.D. and I became a couple, I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving with him. It’s a very special time for us and it’s become one of my favourite holidays. I know it’s not such a big deal to our family and friends in Britain but last year Mr.D. and I got to celebrate with our friends in Edinburgh – and they loved it. And I enjoyed cooking for eight people – the most I’ve ever cooked Thanksgiving dinner for (all across America, people are going ” Eight people? Is that all???)
Going back to our first Thanksgiving together, I hadn’t a clue what to do; how to celebrate it; what to prepare; I didn’t know anything about the customs or traditions. I understood that a traditional roast turkey dinner was served, and that most people settled down to watch football and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving but not much else. So after interrogating Mr.D. about the dos and don’ts of Thanksgiving, he insisted that it really didn’t matter what the traditions were – we should work on creating our own ones. I thought it was a lovely idea. I also knew that it was Mr. D.’s way of saying that he hadn’t the foggiest what Thanksgiving traditions were despite having celebrated Thanksgiving his whole life!
So create our own traditions we did! Well not right away of course because the thing with traditions is that they need time to take root before they can be established as traditions. Though I’m very glad to say that the first ever Thanksgiving meal has not become one of our traditions or else we’d be eating roast turkey, raw carrots, stuffing and nothing else every year!
So as I prepare to celebrate my sixth Thanksgiving with the man who introduced me to it all, I take a look at all things that are typically Mr. and Mrs. D and that we have to include every year so that it feels ‘Thanksgivingy.’
1. TO CHURCH IN THE MORNING
For me, it’s very important to start Thanksgiving by going to a church service exactly as I would do Christmas morning. Mr. D. isn’t big on church but he does accompany me. It’s my chance to give thanks for all the good things that have happened in the last year and gives me time to reflect. I know that Thanksgiving has no real significance in Britain where we are now so there won’t be a special Thanksgiving mass in any of the churches but I will still attend a church service tomorrow.
2. PANCAKE BREAKFAST
Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without a traditional breakfast of pancakes drenched in butter and maple syrup with bacon/sausage and eggs. You might wonder why we’d be tucking into a very filling breakfast when we’re going to be tucking into a gut-busting meal later on but when you come to number 5, you’ll understand why!
3. ROAST TURKEY DINNER
What else could it be other than turkey? When it comes to Thanksgiving the most traditional thing about it is the roast dinner, which in my opinion – unless you’re a vegetarian – just has to be turkey as tradition dictates. I remember for Mr.D’s first Thanksgiving in Britain, my mum insisted on cooking a leg of lamb because she absolutely hates turkey. Well, I’m sorry – I wasn’t having any of it! I told mum she could have some lamb for herself if that’s what she wanted but we were damn well having turkey! Of course I put it very politely.
We always have turkey with all the trimmings including potatoes, stuffing, candied yams etc. Cranberry sauce usually gets left off the list (unless my father-in-law is with us) as it’s not really our thing. And if we happen to be in the States you can bet your life biscuits and pumpkin pie will be on the menu.
And of course there’ll be a round of sandwiches the next day!
4. TURKEY MUST BE TOPPED WITH BACON
I thought everyone wrapped the top of the turkey with bacon in order to keep it very moist – after all, no one likes dry turkey, do they? It’s certainly something I consider a necessity. But it would seem that when I prepared Thanksgiving dinner in the States one year, many of Mr.D’s family had never seen a turkey wrapped in bacon before. Some even thought it was my own invention (I wish!) They thought it was the most awesome thing they’d ever seen, and before the turkey even made it on to the table, the bacon had already been devoured!
5. A VERY, VERY, LATE DINNER
This is a cross between a tradition and coincidence as try as I might, I can NEVER get dinner on the table at a time when most normal people would expect to eat. But then we’re not known for being a ‘normal’ household! From what I understand, most Americans have their traditional Thanksgiving meal between the hours of 1-3pm. Not in this house though!
I don’t know if it’s because of all the back-to-back movies we’re watching; the non-stop grazing that happens while we’re waiting for the main event, I don’t know why or how but dinner is never served before 9pm. In fact last year, when we were in Edinburgh with our friends we were having such an awesome time that we didn’t serve dinner until 11pm! That’s right – 11pm!!! Although by the time I eventually sat down to eat, it was after midnight and Thanksgiving was officially over.
So the moral of the story is that if you want to eat on time, Chez Mr.and Mrs. D’s is not the place to be!
6. FAMILY MOVIE MARATHON
Mr.D. is a movie nut so if it’s just the family who are coming over, it’s not unusual to find us watching movies until the early hours of the following day. We only stop to call friends and relatives, Mr.D. takes a break to game (also his chance to chat to his bestie who lives in South Carolina) and of course to scoff dinner!
7. GAMES WITH FRIENDS
If we are having friends over, we know that they will not want to sit around watching movies. So Mr.D. will watch his beloved movies until our guests arrive and then it’s raucous party game time. They might be a bit old hat but charades and bingo always go down well and have proved to be an excellent ice-breaker with people we don’t know very well. By the time they’ve put on their coat to go home, we’ll have made a whole new bunch of friends.
8. DEATH AT A FUNERAL
This may seem like an odd choice but it started out as purely coincidental. I realised that for the first few years that I’d celebrated Thanksgiving, we’d watched Death At A Funeral. I’ve seen both the 2007 and 2010 versions which both star Peter Dinklage. Don’t ask me why but that’s always something that’s on the movie marathon list. So now I feel that it isn’t really Thanksgiving unless we watch this hilarious comedy film that never fails to have me in stitches even though I’ve seen it five times now.
There’s nothing like candle light, and every Thanksgiving I make sure there are candles dotted around the place – especially beautifully scented candles. One of the things our friends remembered about Thanksgiving last year was how gorgeous the place looked bathed in candlelight and the welcoming aroma that greeted them as they entered the house.
And we always have a candlelit dinner for Thanksgiving because there’s just something about that gentle, cosy glow and the warmth of the flickering candles as we’re all sat around the table. In fact, come to think of it, that might be another reason why we serve dinner so late in the evening as a candlelit dinner at 1pm just isn’t the same.
10. CHEESE BOARD
OK I think it may be a little too soon to call this a a Chez D. tradition as last year was the only year we did a cheese platter but it was such a hit that I’m determined to do a cheese board every year. And of course, if you’re going to eat dinner so late, you’ve got to produce something to keep your guests going and this cheese platter seems to be just the thing.
I’ve done posts in the past about cheese courses and what to serve on a cheese board but if you’re going to make one as a precursor to a main meal then it’s best to keep things simple. And last year, everyone enjoyed nibbling on a selection of cheeses with crackers, mini sausages, apple slices, grapes and chutney in between playing charades.
11. I AM THANKFUL POEM
I was our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and we were living in the Pacific North-West when during the church service the priest read a beautiful poem that has stayed with me ever since. It’s a reminder to be thankful for the little things and to count your blessings – even if it may not seem like a blessing at the time. The poem is called I Am Thankful by a talented but unknown poet and there appear to be several versions of this poem. I like to read it every Thanksgiving:
I AM THANKFUL
I am thankful for…
The mess to clean up after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
The taxes I pay because it means that I am employed.
The clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat.
My shadow that watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine.
A lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home.
The spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking.
All the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have freedom of speech.
My huge heating bill because it means I am warm.
The lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means that I can hear.
The piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.
The alarm clock that goes off in the early morning hours because it means that I’m alive.
Weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means I have been productive.
Let’s be thankful – not only at Thanksgiving, but every day.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
In less than twenty four hours time, we’ll know who will be the winner of The Great British Bake Off 2015.
The downside of this is that this year’s series of Bake Off will come to an end, so we’ll have to say goodbye to Mary, Paul, Mel and Sue, cakes, pies, biscuits, meringues, pastries and breads until we see them again next summer – though sadly we’ll have to bid farewell to the 2015 contestants forever!
I get lost in my own little world when The Great British Bake Off is on. I actually feel as though I’m in the midst of the tranquil English countryside where the Bake Off tent is pitched. All those pastel, candy shades of iced goodies appeal to the kid in me. And even though the bakers often feel flustered and panic-stricken, there’s something so calming about the gentle pursuit of baking. It also invokes memories of home life and family time because let’s face it, who didn’t have a mother, aunt or grandmother who didn’t whip up baked delicacies, and I remember that growing up, teatime was a pretty big deal. And of course, the show celebrates that great British tradition, afternoon tea – which I’m sure you all know I’m a huge fan of. And best of all, for one deliciously decadent hour every week, we can forget that healthy eating ever mattered!
I think it’s fair to say that The Great British Bake Off is my very own televised Disneyland!
Mr.D and I have loved this year’s series – not to mention it’s sister program An Extra Slice with the hilarious Jo Brand. I often find that when I’m hooked on one year’s series of any show, the following year’s will fall a little flat so I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this series so much as I thought 2014 was brilliant. But this year has been equally fantastic and we thought the contestants were a delightful and mega-talented bunch. It was so hard to pick a favourite because I had a soft spot for so many of them including Alvin, Sandy, Nadia, Tamal, and Paul. We’ve been watching Bake Off since the third series and one of the things that I love about the show – apart from it developing my love of baking and further increasing my love of all things sweet – is the sense of camaraderie among the contestants and the way they’re always willing to pitch in and help each other out even though this is a competition, and this year’s series has been no different.
Everyone has their own idea about who will win the title of Great British Bake Off Winner 2015 but I personally cannot make my mind up between the finalists Ian Cumming, Nadia Hussain and Tamal Ray. A lot of the work they’ve done has been highly original and really had the wow factor. Some people may have thought that Ian’s chocolate well last week was too simplistic but I thought it was amazing and showed that he really thought outside the box. All three have worked hard to secure their place in the final, and they’re all so likeable that it’s impossible to decide who to root for, so I’m cheering them all on!
Tomorrow’s final is going to be a real show stopper in itself. It’ll be interesting to see what culinary creations Ian, Nadia, and Tamal conjure up. I cannot wait!
Here in the UK, Mother’s Day was way back in March. But the rest of the world -including Mr. D. – will be honouring their beloved mums on Sunday. But whether we’ll be celebrating or not, we’ll definitely be keeping our mums in mind.
Everyone says I’m my mother’s double. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve actually been mistaken for her. No it’s not that I look so old (well at least I hope not!) but Mum looks so young. She really could pass for my (slightly older!) sister. But I always felt that our looks are where our similarities begin and end as personality-wise we couldn’t be more different. I’m definitely more outgoing whereas Mum’s a bit reserved. Our style in dressing is very different: I probably dress a little too young for my age (why not? I can get away with it. I think!) whereas Mum dresses in a way that makes the Queen look like Avril Lavigne (which always frustrates me!) I like a good drink and can really put those cocktails away but Mum’s a teetotaller who just has to look at a glass of wine and her head starts to spin. I like my music loud and angry while Mum’s the queen of the easy listening classics. We couldn’t be more different – or so I thought…
I was in bookshop this afternoon, perusing the cook books and wondering what to add to my already ever-increasing stack of cook books when it dawned on me where I got my addiction from – Mum! As a kid Mum had a whole load of cookery books (and I do mean a whole load of books) which I used to pore over, looking at the pics, while Mum would be putting the recipes to good use. All these years later, I’m doing the same (all I now need is the little girl to sit on the kitchen worktop and pore over the books…)
It got me thinking about other ways in which I’m a lot like my mother. I’m often so busy focusing on the differences that I don’t think about things that we have in common. It’s the same with the majority of my friends – they love their mums to bits but don’t think that they’re anything alike. Maybe one day they’ll also discover that they’re more alike than they think.
1. MUM AND I ARE BOTH FEEDERS!
This is where the cook books come into effect. When you come to our homes, you’d better be coming with an empty stomach. Just don’t think you’ll be leaving with one. In fact you may need a crane to carry you out because we’re in danger of overstuffing you! Nothing makes us happier than cooking for other people and having people around our table (something we both get from Mum’s mum and my lovely grandma) and we feel really humbled by the appreciative comments we get.
2. WE WATCHED ALL THE SOAPS RELIGIOUSLY… BUT DON’T NOW!
I got my love of soaps from my mum who used to watch them all: Coronation Street, Crossroads, Dynasty, Dallas, Emmerdale Farm… and naturally I’d watch these too and became something of a soap addict myself, especially with the advent of EastEnders, Neighbours, and Home And Away. It was amazing because I couldn’t remember my six times table but I could remember what caused Sue Ellen to slap JR six episodes ago!
However over the years our love of soaps dwindled. In Mum’s case it’s because she’s too busy to keep up with what’s happening in Weatherfield or Albert Square, and in my case it’s because I just don’t watch TV as much as I used to, and on the odd occasion when I do tune in, I’d much rather watch something other than soaps (which in my opinion aren’t as good as they used to be anyway!)
3. WE’RE GREAT WHEN IT COMES TO THE OLD HOSPITALITY!
I only invite people into my home if I really like them, so it’s very important to me that everyone who does come to our home, whether it’s for a quick visit or to stay for a while, is made to feel very welcome and know that we are happy to have them over. So we go out of our way to make sure they’re happy, comfy and that they treat the place like their second home (even though all of the above meant that Mr.D. and I once had to sleep on the sofa. Not good but hey – it was for our friends!)
And looking after guests is something I learned from Mum. However I think most people prefer to go to Mum’s than mine because she’s a much better cook than I am!
4. SPORT IS NOT OUR THING.
Just about everyone in our family is into a sport of some kind. And just about everyone supports a particular football team.
All except Mum and me. I’ve tried to get sporty in the past but it just wasn’t happening. Mum didn’t even try! It’s a good job I don’t live in California or I really would be in trouble.
We do however tune in to watch the World Cup especially when England’s playing. That’s as sporty as we get!
5. AND NEITHER IS DRIVING!
Mum never learnt to drive and nor has she ever wanted to. I once asked her why and she said that if she learnt to drive then that would be one less thing that Dad did – and he doesn’t do much as it is!
I did get my licence but sadly I’m a real hazard on the road so I tend to leave the driving to those who are less of a calamity.
6. WE’RE NOT ONES TO COMPLAIN
OK maybe not strictly speaking true as we have been known to have the odd grumble. But compared to a lot of people we know, we hardly ever complain. If life’s getting us down, something seems unfair, or we’re just having a bad day, we just suck it up and get on with it.
And on the rare occasions when we do complain, it’s only because it’s absolutely necessary. I guess you could say that we know how to pick our battles.
7. OUR BODIES ARE MADE UP OF NINETY SEVEN PER CENT SUGAR!
It’s not just my looks I got from my Mum but my incredible sweet tooth. Thanks to her, I’m a real sucker for sugar and it’s virtually unheard of for me to go to a restaurant and not end a meal with a dessert. And if I’m too stuffed for dessert, I at least take a peak at the dessert menu to see what I’m missing out on!
8. WE’RE USELESS WITH TECHNOLOGY
Oh my goodness, where do I begin with this? At least with Mum, she was born way before technology took hold of us the way that it has. She didn’t grow up in an era where people stopped breathing if they were clinically detached from their iPhones. I however, have no excuse especially as I’m a blogger as well. I’m not as bad as I’m making out as given a certain amount of time, I can usually figure things out. That said, I’m still far from good!
9. ADVICE IS OUR MIDDLE NAME
For as long as I can remember, people having been calling on my mum whenever they had a problem of some kind – and they still do. Perhaps it’s because Mum’s very understanding, a good listener, gives good advice, and tries to help out in any way that she can.
Well it’s a good job I’ve been trained by the best because at I’ve had all sorts of people – friends, family, colleagues, clients, random people on the bus – confiding in me about their problems.
I guess I just have one of those faces!
10. WE’RE REAL HOME BIRDS
Mum was always a home bird. I don’t think she even went to the pub as a teenager. I, on the other hand, was a real night owl, and once I got a taste of London night life there was no stopping me.
However now that I’m older, those wild nights out are pretty much a thing of the past – although nothing comes between me and my rock gigs! I’d much rather stay at home and cook for friends. and believe it or not, we still manage to have a great time!
Hope all the mums out there enjoy their special day!
So a new year has begun, and for most of us, it will begin in the same way as it does for every other new year: trying to get our finances in order; working off all that excess food that was consumed over the festive period, and making resolutions which – let’s be honest – are most probably broken by now!
I begin every year by wondering what the new year has in store for me – and hoping that it will be the best ever yet. I was very fortunate that the last couple of years have been very good, and without wanting to sound greedy, I am hoping for another one! And that’s why I’m determined to make sure that I play an active role in trying to make life the best it can be. That means taking control and doing what’s best for me. I’m also going to spend more time working towards my goals and doing what I need to do to become a much happier person. Hopefully by the time we celebrate 2016, I’ll be able to look back on another awesome year (2016! Oh my goodness!) And I’ve already started putting my plans into practice…
So that’s what the first post in the Better Living series is dedicated to: setting a few basic rules to guide you into becoming happier, healthier, less stressed, and more focused on getting what you want out of life. It’s a good starting point but in future posts, we will look into each of these aspects in more detail.
20 STEPS TO A NEW YOU!
- Take care of the basics! – Eat healthy food; consume lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; take supplements if necessary; get lots of fresh air; drink plenty of water; do physical exercise; sleep well; meditate, and be happy!
- You are the scriptwriter and the star of your own show – not the supporting actor – It’s always important to listen to those around us who are genuinely there to give us support. But ultimately no one knows you better than you do so do what’s best for you. Don’t be afraid to get advice or ask for opinions but listen to the most sincere voice, not the loudest. Don’t let anyone push you off stage or grab your microphone. No one else tells you what to do or speaks for you – just you and you alone.
- Be a wise decision maker – Sometimes we only have one shot at things, so it’s important to be careful before making major decisions. Too many people jump head first into making decisions that require a lot of thought and then go on to live with the disastrous consequences. Much of our happiness and wellbeing depend on the little decisions we make in our everyday lives, so be aware of the consequences, don’t rush and choose carefully.
- Stop chasing your tail – Life can sometimes resemble being on an exercise bike: you’re peddling away like mad but you’re not going anywhere. Being unnecessarily busy and being productive are two different things. You can rush around like a crazy person but at the end of the day you still won’t have achieved anything constructive and will only have succeeded in stressing yourself out. Cut down on things that you don’t need to do and don’t be afraid to ask people for help.
- Do what makes your heart sing – This year I’ve started doing things that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s not just new skills like learning languages or instruments that are on my to-do list, but also spending more time with friends, getting more ‘me time’, and spending more quality time with my better half. So rather than concentrate on what you have to do or what you’re able to do; think about what you were meant to do and take steps towards doing it. And if you only have half an hour a day to spend on it, at least it’s half an hour that’s going to make you very happy.
- Do what’s right – not easy – There have been many times I’ve done what was the easiest thing to do rather than what was right. And what was ‘easy’ was usually what other people wanted which I went along with for the sake of a quiet life even though the person who lost out in the end was me. But there have been times when I’ve really had to put up a fight and do what was right because the easy way wasn’t going to benefit anyone at all. And looking back, I’m glad that I had the courage to stand by my convictions. You don’t have to do something purely because you can. Do what’s right in the long term – not what’s easiest. In the long run you’ll feel less stressed and resentful.
- Worry solves nothing, action does! – I can’t help it, I’m a born worrier. My friends actually worry about me worrying. But I know that in the long run worrying solves nothing. It just causes more stress and more problems. Replacing worry with solutions and positive action gets far better results. Don’t believe me? Just look at the most determined, successful, happiest people. Do they look like they have endless sleepless nights worrying their socks off? No, I didn’t think so either!
- Burying your head in the sand solves nothing!– Now this is advice I really need to follow. The only way to combat something negative is to take steps towards doing something positive in order to resolve it. Burying your head in the sand and not resolving problems only leads to stress; sleepless nights and a great deal of unhappiness. Now that we can live without.
- Let little frustrations go – Admittedly I do get wound up by silly, trivial little things. In fact I’ve been known to brood over things for days that most people would shrug off. But it’s absurd to let one meaningless incident put a dampener on tons of good things that are happening around you. Everyone has their fair share of day to day dramas but a lot of people have learned not to let it get them down, so focus on the positive.
- Peering over the garden fence gets you nowhere – If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s people who never count their blessings and are forever wanting what other people have. The thing about people like that is whatever good fortune they’ve been blessed with, they’ll never be happy. Let’s be honest, it’s human nature to feel a twinge of envy when we see others with something we would like to have. But comparing ourselves to others and keeping up with the Joneses won’t make us happy. Focus on yourself and your own unique circumstances. Work on what you need to do to make life better for YOU. And don’t underestimate the power of gratitude and counting your blessings. Be grateful for the life that you have and all that is yours – you’ll feel happier, more positive and confident.
- Give from the heart… but don’t let anyone steal your energy – Don’t give with the expectation of getting something back because not everyone thinks the same way and you’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment. That’s why if you’re going to do something for someone, make sure it’s because you really want to do it; that the gesture comes straight from the heart, and that you don’t expect anything back in return. BUT be wary of those who keep taking and give nothing back. All they do is drain your strength and energy and make you feel worthless and resentful. This is where good decision making comes in to play: know when to give and when to draw the line. And if someone really is taking advantage, it’s time to close the door and focus on those who are more appreciative of your efforts.
- Start focusing only on what you can control – It’s pointless banging your head against a brick wall. Do the best you can and then let whatever happens happen. If it’s meant to be it will be, but if not then you have to accept that there are some things that are out of your control and move on.
- You own technology – technology does not own you – Twenty first century living definitely has its emphasis on gadgets, and while they are very useful, it’s very easy to let them take over your life and I feel that some people have definitely lost that human touch. Don’t allow technology to control you. Know when to put down your iPad, to switch off your phone, and to stop texting, make eye contact, have face-to-face conversations, write letters, and hug more!
- Live in the moment – Don’t carry the heavy burdens of the past on your shoulders. And don’t excessively worry about what the future holds. Time has a habit of going by so quickly and before you know it, the here and now will have passed us by without us having the chance to experience it. Try not to dwell on past mistakes, and don’t get caught up in thoughts about the far, distant future. Enjoy the present and live in the moment.
- Start being the difference you want to see in the world – We are all destined for great things. Some of us realise that and act on it, but sadly some of us never fulfil our potential. Being ‘the difference’ can mean writing a prize winning novel, finding a cure for cancer, or winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Or it could be something as simple as making time to have a cup of tea and a natter with someone who needs a friend. We all have the ability to make a difference in someone’s life in one way or another – it’s a gift that should never be wasted.
- Be relationship rich! – Working hard and making money is essential to live in today’s world. But don’t get so caught up in the daily grind that you forget about the people who matter. Show those special people that they are loved and valued. Close relationships are important to our happiness so make an effort to be rich in good friendships and value family time.
- Embrace new growth opportunities – I’m not always one for change but I wonder how much different my life would have been if I hadn’t taken a different path from time to time. I wouldn’t have experienced everything that I have done up to now and I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. We have to accept the possibility that there may be things out there that are better for us and in order to find it, we may sometimes have to get out of our comfort zone. Try something different; go somewhere new. Life is full of countless opportunities and new possibilities. So embrace life, keep an open mind and have fun exploring new avenues.
- Understand life’s lessons – Sometimes life teaches us painful lessons that we didn’t think we needed. But everything happens for a reason and these lessons make us wiser and help us to grow, Everything that happens helps you grow. Learn from your experiences but furthermore learn from the painful experiences of others too. There’s always a lesson to be gained from everyone’s experiences.
- Be proud of those little achievements – We all think that when we hit a certain age, we’ll be at a certain stage in our lives. But real life doesn’t always work that way and you may find that you’re not where you want to be right now. But bear in mind that you’ve come a long way and you’re not stuck where you once were. Don’t set unrealistic targets for yourself. Give yourself attainable goals and work towards achieving those. As a work in progress, you’ll get there a little at a time, not all at once. So celebrate the small progresses that you make.
- True happiness comes from within – You could have all the money in the bank, a jet set lifestyle, a fabulous relationship, and be stunning to boot – and still not happy. That’s because being happy starts with you. If you’re not happy with who you are, you won’t find happiness from any external influences. So if there’s something in your life that you’re not happy with, it’s time to start making the necessary tweaks, adjustments, and changes, and getting rid of what doesn’t work for you anymore.
I hope this post has given you food for thought and that you’re able to put some of these plans into action. We all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day so it will take some time before you see results but don’t let that put you off. The trick is to take things one step at a time. Just think, by the time we get to the end of this year, we could be looking at a whole new you!
Admittedly I have a weird relationship with animals. Never having grown up surrounded by pets at home for a number of reasons – OK, not entirely true, we got a tankful of fish a few years before I moved out – I am a little apprehensive about them. Then there are my million and one allergies which means sharing a home with a pet is unlikely. But I do think some of them are so cute. I absolutely adore the pets in the family (and think they might like me too!) but I do know that keeping animals at home is a big commitment – a lot like having children. They need a great deal of care, time and affection and it’s not a decision to be taken likely. After all a dog is for life and all that.
However, like most people worldwide, I have just witnessed the most adorable piece of CCTV kitty footage which has made me see having pets in a whole new light. I am of course talking about Tara, the latest feline online phenomenon, and a cat superhero if ever there was one. It’s made me realise that perhaps no household is really complete without an adorable pet.
American couple, Roger and Erica Triantafilo’s tabby cat Tara, sprang into action when she saw her owners’ four year old son Jeremy, getting dragged off his bike and attacked by the neighbours’ dog as he played outside his home in Bakersfield, California.
Images recorded on three CCTV cameras witness Tara not only launching herself at the dog but also chasing him away from the house while Jeremy’s mother ran to tend to her injured son. For a little kitty, Tara seemed more ferocious than the dog.
The astounding footage was uploaded the next day and has gone viral with the world hailing this brave little cat a heroine. I wonder if Tara is aware of all the attention she has attracted and of her newfound celebrity status. In fact it was reported an hour ago that minor league baseball team, Bakersfield Blaze, have invited Tara to throw the first pitch at their next home game! Go Tara!
The famous feline cannot be spoken of highly enough by her family. “Tara is my hero,” Jeremy simply stated, while his father explained, “She really did save him from further injury… I’ve never seen a cat do that. Especially ours. It just shows how much she really has a family-oriented mind set.” Roger Triantafilo also added that Tara will rightfully get fish for the rest of her life, “grilled any way she wants!”
What’s just as amazing is the way in which Tara became a member of the family which is a story in itself. She was a stray cat who had followed a courting Roger and Erica as they made their way home from the park after a date – before they got married. They made a deal that if she followed them all the way home, they would keep her. She did so they did! That was six years ago and she even bonded with Jeremy soon after he was born which explains why she is so protective of him.
The dog that attacked Jeremy, a Labrador-chow mix, has been quarantined and will soon be put down. Erica Triantafilo has stated that they do not feel any anger towards their neighbours and that she is thankful that her son’s injuries – for which the little boy had to get stitches – were not worse than what he sustained.
But right now, the spotlight is well and truly on Tara who is the poster girl for cats everywhere. Not only does the whole world want to give her a cuddle and households everywhere want to adopt a kitty, but the fabulous feline has proved that there really is no such thing as a scaredy cat!
The most heart-warming story I’ve heard in a long time. Hope Jeremy makes a full recovery… and Tara gets her fish!