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The Better Living Series#4: Make Me A Happy Home

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!

7. CANDLELIGHT

 

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.

11. PEOPLE!

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?

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Ideas For A Fabulous Valentine’s Day Breakfast In Bed

 

Yay! St. Valentine’s Day is about to descend upon us – and I’m thrilled. Say whatever you like about this day but I do love everything it stands for. And what’s so great about this St. Valentine’s Day is that it falls on a Saturday so it’s more like St. Valentine’s Weekend. Even better! And I’ve definitely got into the spirit of it. Although we’d originally planned to go away this weekend, I’ve been a little under the weather so we’ll be staying at home but it most definitely won’t be boring. We’ve got the cards, the gifts, the choccies, the booze, the candles, the rom-coms, the Valentine’s Day treats and all the ingredients for a fabulous dinner. Because we were long-distance for a long time, we never got to spend St. Valentine’s Day together until after we were married, so it’s very special to us.

 

So seeing as you have the whole weekend to lounge around and be totally loved up, there’s no excuse not to have a long, leisurely Valentine’s Day breakfast. A piece of toast on the go just won’t do especially as (I hope) you won’t have to dash to the office. And there aren’t many things that scream romance quite like breakfast in bed which is the perfect way to start a lazy weekend. And let’s banish all thoughts of your usual fare – Valentine’s Day is a great time to try something different and indulge in heart-shaped delicacies and dainty little pastries.

 

So here’s some ideas to inspire you – and have you wishing every day was a breakfast in bed day!

First things first. When serving breakfast in bed you’ll need:

  • A tray
  • Cutlery
  • Glasses
  • Cups/mugs
  • Napkins or kitchen roll
  • Flowers
  • Newspapers or magazines
  • A bottle of Champers (it’s a special occasion!)

 

What To Serve:

  • Porridge served with berries/chopped bananas, honey and cream
  • Pancakes with a selection of fillings: jam, honey, peanut butter, maple syrup, Nutella etc.
  • Homemade croissants with butter and jam
  • French toast with berry compote
  • Scrambled egg and smoked salmon bagel
  • Sausage, egg and cheese bagel (Mr. D’s favourite!)
  • A fry up! How often do you get to have a full English? Be sure to serve on extra large plates.
  • Fresh fruit salad
  • Danish pastries
  • Muffins – these can be made in advance to save you from getting up early to prepare them.
  • Waffles with butter, syrup and strawberries
  • Steak and eggs
  • Fresh fruit smoothies (my fave!)
  • Eggs Benedict
  • Yogurt in a tall glass layered with fruit, cereal/oats and compote/honey
  • Stuffed French toast with Nutella and raspberries or mascarpone and blueberries
  • Crumpets with butter and jam
  • Hot chocolate made from scratch with whipped cream

 

And remember…

  • If you’re going to serve toast, make sure you prepare that last so that it stays warm.
  • Likewise if you’re going to serve yogurt, get that out of the fridge just before you go up so that it stays cold.
  • Make sure you have all the things you need before you go up. It’ll be annoying to run back down because you’ve forgotten the cutlery.
  • Napkins and kitchen roll are a must!
  • If you’re going to serve Champagne/sparkling wine along with the breakfast, make sure you pop it in the fridge the night before.
  • Don’t worry about crumbs or mess. This is quality time with your other half. Enjoy!

 

 

















My Anti-Bucket List

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Kick the Bucket.”

In the last few years, the world has gone bucket list mad – including me! There’s tons of things we all hope to do before we ‘kick the bucket’.

I’ve always been a bit of a bucket list girl and I’ve already managed to tick quite a few things off my list including being front row at a concert; visiting certain countries; going to a New Kids On The Block concert; finding my dream job, and marrying the love of my life.

But there’s still plenty of things that I haven’t done and am still waiting to tick more off my list, such as spending NYE in Time’s Square; writing a book; becoming a really good baker and confectioner; reading the entire Bible, and becoming fluent in another language… and many, many more! In fact I don’t think I’ll ever have a completely crossed-off list as I keep adding to it.

But the thought of an anti-bucket list had never occurred to me until I saw The Daily Post’s writing prompt, and it got me thinking about things I would never in a million years want to do, want to have, or want to go to!

So here’s my selection of twenty (that’s right, twenty) things – in no particular order – that complete my anti- bucket list!

1. LEARN TO MAKE QUICHE

image from bbcfood.com

image from bbcfood.com

I absolutely hate quiche with a passion. If you came to my house for lunch, you can be sure that you won’t be served with this vile savoury tart/flan/whatever you want to call it. Why the rest of the world is quiche crazy, I’ll never know. Even though I want to hone my baking skills, this is one area of baking I don’t feel I need to even bother trying to learn let alone improve upon.

2. BECOME A BIGOT

Obviously no one goes through life intent on becoming a bigot. And even when most people do have an extreme intolerance towards others, they naturally won’t admit to it or even realise how offensive their views are- though you will get a few who don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with having such prejudicial views and will defend these views to the hilt. What they don’t seem to understand is how ignorant they sound.

Going through life with an open mind is so important on many different levels and for so many reasons- at the very least it makes the world a far better place.

3. APPEAR ON THE APPRENTICE

 

Don’t get me wrong – I love watching The Apprentice and tune in every year to find out who will be Lord Sugar’s new business partner. It’s addictive, and as someone who’s keen to go into business, it is of great interest to me.

There are times I think, fleetingly, about applying to go on the show but I know I never would. The other contestants show way too much arrogance, ruthlessness and attitude, and many of them are nowhere near as good as they claim to be. I really don’t think I could handle so many huge egos under one roof.

I’ll still continue to watch the show though!

4. VOTE UKIP

 

The media would have you believe that the whole country is full of UKIP supporters even though I know that that’s not necessarily the case. I can see why a lot of people have fallen under the spell of Farage and co. but those who can look at things objectively can see that they clearly lack credibility, so whether they are the flavour of the month or not, I will not be jumping on the bandwagon and be voting UKIP.

And is it just me, or does their logo resemble something similar to a budget supermarket chain?

5. READ FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

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It’s meant to have enhanced activity in the boudoir and had women buying the E.L. James novel in droves. Nothing wrong with that of course. However, unlike Christian Grey, I am a hearts and flowers kind of person, so this isn’t a book that will be gracing my bookshelf, and I prefer old-fashioned though slightly corny romance rather than raunchy in your face erotica. Give me Mills and Boon any day!

6. WATCH WHAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HOT ON  BRITISH TV RIGHT NOW

 

The Only Way Is Essex, Made In Chelsea, Big Brother, The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity… these might constitute compulsive viewing at the moment but quite frankly I find it all quite boring.  I used to watch shows like these a long time ago but then it started to lose a bit of its gloss and I just gave up. However, I can’t escape these shows entirely because the ‘stars’ are always in the media. Even though I can’t profess to be a National Geographic kind of girl, this sort of telly really isn’t for me either.

7. BABYSIT A SPOILT CHILD

I like children as much as the next person but when it comes to children who lack discipline, don’t know the meaning of the word no, and think that all adults should do as they’re told (by them)… forget it! I once had the misfortune of babysitting a child (and not just any child, but a relative!)  who was a complete and utter nightmare but clearly thought that his behaviour was cute. And when his mum was told about his behaviour, she clearly couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

I think it takes a special kind of person to be able to handle a spoilt child. I’m obviously not one of them.

8. BECOME ADDICTED TO TECHNOLOGY

There’s no denying that we’re in the digital age and we all use technology to some degree. But to become addicted to gadgets to the point where it overrides common sense and courtesy is unacceptable. I really don’t wish to be that kind of person.

9. APPEAR ON MASTERCHEF USA

 

Once again, Masterchef USA is a show Mr. D and I tune into religiously every year, and we’ve actually picked up a few tips from this cooking competition. However, I would never want to be a contestant on this show, even if I did live in The States, because Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich could very easily reduce me to tears and turn me into a nervous wreck. No thank you!

10. ATTEMPT TIGHTROPE WALKING

 

 

There are a lot of adrenaline junkies out there but I’m not one of them and heights are not my thing, so you won’t see me on a tightrope anytime soon.

11. SWIM IN SHARK INFESTED WATERS

 

As I’ve said I’m not an adrenaline junkie and clearly do not have a sense of adventure, so once again not for me.

12. RETURN TO WORKING IN RETAIL

 

Before anyone accuses me of putting down people who work in the retail sector, let me explain. I spent more years than I care to think about working in retail, so I have a lot of respect for those who work in retail because I know how tough it can be – especially at this time of the year.

In theory, it should all go swimmingly. After all it’s not the worst job in the world; you get to meet people every day; and there are some exceptionally enjoyable perks i.e.- going to trade shows, generous staff discounts etc.

However in practice I’ve found it incredibly draining. Dealing with the general public is not easy. Dealing with those in head office is even harder. Sometimes your colleagues don’t understand the importance of working as part of a team. And let’s not forget with more and more stores open for longer hours and seven days a week, it leaves you with little time for yourself, family and friends. I still like the idea of owning a shop of some kind but I doubt I’ll ever do it as I found it incredibly draining.

13. WORK FOR A NATIONAL NEWSPAPER

 

It was my childhood ambition – until a careers officer said after a consultation that I lacked the ruthlessness and forceful character to be a journo. That and the fact that I didn’t like to pry into other people’s business!

Yep, I think I’m better suited to teaching English!

14. HAVE BOTOX

 

I know I’m getting older and I can see the signs. I don’t look or feel twenty one any more. However, I don’t believe that Botox is the answer – why would I want to inject poison into myself? I don’t believe in putting anything into my body that really shouldn’t be there, so I will fight aging with happy and healthy living.

15. BUY SUPER EXPENSIVE CLOTHES

 

When I was a teenager I was into labels and brand names as most of my peers were. That didn’t always mean I’d get them though and fast forward several years, I’m very grateful that my parents didn’t give into my every whim. I still love clothes and probably have more than I need but I don’t spend a fortune on each item and love spotting a bargain. I’d hate to spend a grand on a coat and then feel I’d need to wear it for the rest of my natural life and then be buried in it just to get my money’s worth!

16. BECOME A POLITICIAN

 

Where do I begin???

17. BE PART OF THE IN-CROWD

 

During the course of my life, I’ve met some exceptionally interesting people who seemed to have it all. They said all the right things, had all the right things, looked the right way, surrounded themselves with all the right people and were seen in all the right places. In a nutshell, they were the in-crowd.

The only thing is that their hearts weren’t often in the right place and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised what’s important.

18. TO WATCH ANY MOVIE THAT’S BOUND TO LEAVE ME TRAUMATIZED

 

Twelve Years A Slave and The Passion Of The Christ are out as interesting and as fascinating as they are, when I watch a film, I want to be entertained not left feeling depressed.

19. OWN A FLASHY CAR

We’d all like a flashy car parked on our drive but I can’t help thinking what a waste of money it is. Unlike houses, the value of a car generally tends to go down not up. So I think I’ll invest my money in bricks and mortar, thank you.

20. RIDE A BIKE AROUND LONDON

I am most definitely not hot on two wheels at the best of times but riding around London with its super busy streets which I don’t believe is really ideal for cyclists… I’ll give it a miss. I’ve heard a great deal about accidents on our roads and even been at the scene of one, and my heart really goes out to those who have been hurt or worse. And I take my hat of to those who are far braver than me and are willing to have a go.

What’s on your anti-bucket list?

 

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