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?
Jennifer Aniston has admitted that watching The Bachelor is her guilty pleasure. I watched one series back in 2012 where Courtney Robertson waltzed off into the sunset with her bachelor Ben Flajnik. I found the show to be over the top, contrived, and appeared to be scripted. It was something that people watched when they didn’t want to engage in anything too intellectually taxing… but oh my goodness it was so addictive! I hated myself for not doing something more productive with my time but once I started watching I had to continue in order to find out who Ben would choose. But I made sure that it was to be the last series I watched!
We all have our guilty pleasures in life. We all enjoy something which we feel a little bad for liking. And we shouldn’t feel bad – after all no one is ever harmed while we pursue our guilty pleasures – but we can’t help feeling a little bit naughty all the same.
It got me thinking about my own guilty pleasures – and I had a lot more than I thought. Naughty Mrs. D!
1. Romance novels
I wish I could say that I love rolling with the classics and I have a copy of War And Peace on my bedside table but that just wouldn’t be true! I’m a sucker for romance novels and it’s one of my ambitions to increase my collection of Danielle Steel and Mills and Boon novels. I’m lucky to be married to such a romantic man so there’s no shortage of romance in this household but these novels do help to reaffirm my belief in love and romance (as if I need reaffirmation!)
I’m sure I’ll get around to War And Peace one day!
I have a ridiculously sweet tooth. My parents are big sugar fans so I reckon I inherited my sweet tooth from them – and my dad in particular loves puddings. And if there’s lashings of custard, so much the better! I always stop off at M&S every Friday to ensure that I have enough yummy desserts and puddings to last until Sunday. During the cold winter months, there’s nothing I enjoy more than to curl up with something sweet. Unfortunately it means that I go back on the promise that I made to myself to be healthier.
Oh well – at least I’m sensible from Monday to Thursday!
I’ve loved magazines pretty much from the time I’ve been able to read. When I was a kid, my aunts and uncles used to spoil me with comics and kids magazines. As I was growing up, I’d sneak a peak at women’s magazines that my mum and aunts used to buy before I graduated to pop music and teen mags. At one point, I used to buy pretty much every magazine that was out there (or so it seemed!) which looking back was a ridiculous waste of money.
These days I limit myself to just two magazines a week which isn’t too bad and provides me with something to read on my way to and from work. The only problem is that our home is permanently strewn with magazines and pages that I’ve ripped out from them. So far Mr. D hasn’t complained…
I get such a buzz from buying things I really want that have been reduced to a fantastically great price. Books, clothes, shoes – you name it; if the price is low enough, I’m snapping it up! I don’t mind admitting that I’m a great bargain hunter and I try very hard not to pay full price if I can avoid it which often means waiting until it’s on sale. Whether this is a good thing or not is debateable but at least I can honestly say that say that I’ve never annoyed a retailer – or embarrassed myself – by haggling in my quest for a good bargain.
5. Reading in the bath
Reading in the bath is all very good if you live by yourself. But when you live with others, you run the risk of irritating them when you hog the bathroom while you indulge in a bubble-filled bath with a little light reading material. Whether it’s a magazine or one of those romance novels, it’s perfect ‘me’ time – especially when I throw a little chocolate into the mix!
6. Salon pampering
OK so there’s a lot of beauty treatments I pay for at professional salons which I could actually do myself at home thus saving money. But I’m often short of time (OK, a little lazy!) and I like being pampered. Grooming often feels like a chore when I have to do it myself.
And it doesn’t help that there is a salon right down the road from me…
7. Celebrity gossip
I don’t like gossip. I don’t like people who gossip. I’m careful not to gossip or repeat things that I’ve heard especially if it sounds dubious. So why is it that I’m addicted to the celebrity gossip pages of a particular national newspaper? It’s not only me but one of my closest friends as well who can’t get enough of the same gossip column, and we can often be found at work discussing in great depth what we’ve just read about Angelina, Jordan and co.
Mr. D is not impressed by any form of gossip and I have to admit I’m not too proud of myself either – but I try to convince myself that we’re not gossiping about real people!
8. Take aways/Eating Out
When I cook at home I save money, I know what’s going in my food, and it’s healthier. But there are some days when we just can’t be bothered to enter the kitchen – especially when we’re having a lazy weekend, in which case we’ll phone to get something delivered. And if we happen to be in town, we’ll stop off at one of our favourite restaurants. The food’s always delicious but I can’t pretend I don’t feel guilty afterwards.
9. The Internet
Ever since I discovered the benefits of being connected to the world wide web, it’s totally taken over my life. I do use it constructively – most of the time – but then there are times I’m just aimlessly surfing and I can spend hours wasting time looking at sites with animals wearing silly hats and people doing funny dances! I’m not sure what’s so addictive about the internet that it causes me to waste time when I actually do have things to do like sleep for example – but it’s one of those things that can’t be explained.
I may enjoy lounging around in the bath tub but I absolutely love my bed and no matter how much time I spend in my lovely comfy bed it’s never enough time. It’s where I sleep; read my magazines and romance novels; indulge in puddings; surf the net; eat my take always; shop for bargains on the internet, and of course snuggle up to my gorgeous hubby.
But I think I need to get out more!
They say you should never judge a book by its cover but I have to say that it was the cover of Pear Shaped that caught by eye: pretty and dainty in light blue with splashes of bold colour including amethyst and hot pink (my favourite colour combination) featuring a girl carrying a scrummy looking dessert. It screamed girly heaven and I believed that this read was going to be all sweetness and light. Little did I know that there was an element of darkness lurking between these pages…
In Stella Newman’s debut novel, we meet Sophie Klein, a confident, sassy independent thirty-something with great friends, a good social life and the best job in the world – pudding developer for a company called Fletchers. She gets to come up with ideas for new desserts; think up packaging and best of all, she gets to taste-test them – an aspect of the job Sophie absolutely loves.
But Sophie’s life isn’t all rosy in the garden. She is getting over a broken relationship; her mother and brother live thousands of miles away in America; there’s her annoying neighbour Amber and the boss she can’t stand, Devron, and her beloved elderly grandmother who can no longer care for herself. Sophie, being the ever resourceful girl that she is, just takes these things in her stride. Unfortunately life’s about to throw a curveball she won’t be able to manage…
On a night out, Sophie meets the charming and charismatic business owner James. Although he is not conventionally good-looking and a fair bit older, Sophie takes a shine to him. They soon start dating and James makes grand gestures in order to really sweep Sophie off her feet. It isn’t long before the attraction she feels for him soon turns to love.
However, after a while Sophie starts to feel quite insecure in the relationship. James doesn’t seem ready to commit, and then there are his frequent absences as he goes away on business and his erratic texts and phone calls. The fact that his ex-girlfriend is a model also doesn’t help. Sophie begins to wonder if James is too good to be true – and it isn’t long before his true colours begin to show. During a heart- to- heart, James reveals that he’s never been out with anyone like her, referring to her size. James doesn’t seem to realise that although this is a woman who tests puddings for a living, Sophie isn’t fat but he’s obviously comparing her to the skinny model exes.
So it all goes down hill from here as a pattern develops in this book: Sophie gets close to James; James pulls away; Sophie tries to move on; James reels her back in. As irritating as Amber and Devron might be (they do incidentally provide some of the comic moments in the novel) James is by far the most unlikable character in this book. Shallow, arrogant, selfish, insincere, and a man who befriends cheats and liars, it’s quite obvious that he doesn’t care for Sophie, constantly putting her down, but at the same time he can’t quite let her go.
I could relate to this story and Sophie’s pain as she desperately tries to move on and get her life back on track, as we’ve all had the misfortune of knowing a James at some point in our lives. We’ve either dated him ourselves or our friends and sisters have. We’ve either been yelled at by worried friends and relatives who insist we leave the relationship, or we’ve been the ones doing the yelling. Despite feeling saddened by Sophie’s plight and seeing her sink into depression for which she eventually needed medical attention, there were times, I just wanted to reach into the book and shake her. This is a young lady who has everything going for her, who could easily find a man who treats her better – if only she could shake off that horrible James. The Jameses of the world are not easy to spot because they are charmers and schmoozers who know how to say and do all the right things to get you sucked in, causing you to ignore all the warning signs, as Sophie soon found out.
Despite being light-hearted and comical at times, there is a deeper, darker element to this novel. Stella Newman explores the sinister side of relationships: infidelity, emotional abuse, the need to control and the devastating effect it can have on the person on receiving end of it. Sophie’s lack of self-respect and insecurities are a sharp contrast to the feistier elements of her character which shows the effect this unhealthy relationship is having on her. Without wanting to give too much away, there is a somewhat semi-happy ending but I did find the climax to be a little disappointing as I felt that such a dramatic and thought-provoking story needed a stronger conclusion.
However, I do think that Newman is a brilliant and witty writer. I loved her lengthy descriptions of the puddings (food porn for us dessert-aholics!) and another thing I liked about this book is that the author lists the places she likes in London and New York (both cities feature in this book) plus restaurant reviews and recipe sources. Perhaps the only real love affair in this novel is between a woman and her sweet-tooth! But I just couldn’t get away from the fact that this was a novel about an abusive relationship and it was brave of Newman to tackle such a taboo subject for a chick-lit novel. There has been criticism that the novel reflected badly on women but I disagree. This is a novel about one woman’s heartbreak and her attempts to rebuild her life – with the help of lots of sugar!