My year ahead

And hello to a brand new year. A chance to dust off those new diaries we bought for ourselves back in September and make some plans! It’s time to look forward.

I’ve set myself a goal to plan in something fun every month this year. I always live by the idea of having something to look forward to and in these dark and cold winter months, it’s nice to look after your soul.

January

Trampolining

 

Me and my friend are going to go to AirHop. I’ve been wanting to visit for ages. I loved trampolining as a child so I can think of no better way to spend an afternoon than bouncing around, pretending I am eight again. Image credit to Kate Spade, from Pinterest.

 

February

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I am re-uniting with my insta friends Harriet and Michaela. The first time we met, we had a bottomless Prosecco brunch in London. This time, we are off for a trip to Bicester.

March

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I’m trying my hand at a calligraphy class with a friend. I’m always in awe of these beautiful hand-written notes and signs and would like to see what I can do.

April

Lisbon

A trip away with one of my favourites. I think we will be heading to Lisbon in Portugal. The weather should be warming up by then and there will be plenty to explore.

May

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A spa day. I think I’ll need it in the build up to RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

June

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My 30th birthday and I’m really rather excited. For my birthday itself I’ll probably either take the day off or work it, which I don’t mind, as long as I can wear a birthday crown and eat cake all day. It’s a very busy time of year at work. I’m taking the following week off though and celebrating in style with a trip abroad. I’ve narrowed it down to Italy or Croatia…

July

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I’m actually going to make it to National Trust Mottisfont to see the glorious roses. The flowers in bloom are such a pretty sight to see at this time of year and it will be a lovely day out.

August

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I’d like to go to a food festival I think. The River Cottage ones always look good.

September

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I am hoping to head to the Cairngorms in Scotland for a bit of a walking holiday with a certain man and his dog. It will be something entirely different and I’m all for exploring what this beautiful country has to offer.

October

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I’d like to go to a supper club. Me and my friend Emily had planned to attend Club Epicure back in November. Unfortunately I fell ill. I’m so glad Emily still made it. You can read her review on her blog. Image credit to Emily too!

November

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Time for the Christmas preparations to begin. I always love attending the Spirit of Christmas Fair or Country Living Christmas. I wasn’t feeling it last year for obvious reasons and only made it to the Winter Brocante. I have a feeling my festive feelings will be back in full force ready for this year.

December

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A little trip away to a cosy B&B I think to soak up all the beauty of winter and the warmth of the decorations and fairy lights.

What plans have you made for the year ahead?

Notes on 2017

I know you will all join me in saying “Where on earth did 2017 go?” I think unfortunately, in hindsight, I wished the year away.

I knew in January that we wanted to move. The organisation and planning required for a house move in those first six months of the year was a forced distraction from how unsettled I felt in myself and of course, as soon as you have a buyer for your house, it’s all you can do to wish away those agonising months as you wait for solicitors to do whatever the hell it is they do.

In amongst the highs of Chelsea Flower Show this year, I lost my beloved 100 year old Grandma. I remember my husband calling me at 9pm as I sat on the bed of my hotel room eating the worst fish and chips I had walked a mile around near my London Premier Inn to find. I quietly sobbed. I threw my chips away, went to sleep and went back to the flower show the next day, desperate to just have a good cry and grieve for the loss of a charismatic, stubborn woman full of stories and with a social calendar far better than anyone I know.

Can you believe my Grandma’s was the first funeral I’ve been to? At 29 I recognise how sheltered I am not to have experienced much loss.

And within a few months, I lost my Godfather who had succumbed quickly to a particularly aggressive form of dementia. How sad it is for a person not to know themselves and for their loved ones to bear witness to it.

I took two memorable holidays. Iceland in March was magical and unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen. Majorca was a much needed break from a busy events season but both holidays were tinged with an unknown feeling of discontent.

I have experienced some of the most unhappy times this year and completely lost my confidence in moments when I really needed it. But it’s only when we are faced with the fear of change, or, the opportunity for change that we find strength we didn’t know we had. Simply because we have to. We have to carry on, in really utterly shit, hard times because, we have to have that faith that if we carry on, it will get better.

That change came in the summer when two weeks after our house move, we separated. Time does heal and it’s never quite as bad as we imagine. Those fears that we have do dissipate and are replaced with a more realistic future that we have more control over. It just takes a lot of strength not to get overwhelmed. If I stopped now and thought about everything I must do and prepare for in the coming two months, I would cry. But taking it day by day, methodically has helped me no end.

I am the Queen of organisation so I’m using it to my advantage in the weeks ahead when some of the biggest changes are coming.

Such loss and grief does not, I have learned, go unnoticed by our bodies. In November, having been surprised I hadn’t been hit by so much as a cold during those first few months, my body stopped me in my tracks. I developed what I thought were cold/flu like symptoms which a few days later I thought was a sinus infection. Naively, at the doctor’s I told him that’s what I thought it was so I think he didn’t thoroughly examine me to know it was something else entirely. My puffed up sinus face soon developed into the worst tonsillitis I have ever had. But each day I thought I would probably turn a corner and that bed rest, antibiotics and fluids would sort me out. I stopped sleeping, I didn’t get out of bed and eventually in the early hours of Sunday morning, a week after first getting ill, I realised that something was really terribly wrong. No longer able to swallow, talk or get liquids down me, I sent an SOS to my mum who took me into hospital. My tonsillitis had turned to sepsis and my body just couldn’t fight it anymore. Essentially it was shutting down. After a few attempts at getting a line into me, the IV antibiotics and fluids began to work almost immediately and I was transferred to a hospital with an ENT department. The doctor said I had arrived at the right time to prevent any chances of the sepsis spreading. Ironically I had been reading a leaflet in the doctor’s surgery about signs of sepsis just a few days prior. After a day in hospital and the strongest dose of antibiotics to continue with at home, I was on the road to recovery. My blood test results showed glandular fever which is probably why I was so susceptible to the severity of the tonsillitis.

I’ve found my road to recovery frustrating at times. Glandular fever requires a lot of rest, even when you feel ok. Netflix kept me sane as I watched it on my iPad in bed for a whole week after. I didn’t even have the energy to watch TV in the lounge. I felt exhausted when I first went back to work (part time for a few weeks) and was in bed by 8pm. But how wonderful my friends and family were, bringing me wholesome food I could just cook easily, cleaning my house, bringing supplies and get well cards, holding me when I just needed to have a cry because I felt so low. It lifted my spirits to know I wasn’t actually alone. In that moment on that Sunday morning when I woke up and realised how unwell I was, I’d never felt quite so alone or quite so scared. I’ve realised however that it is ok to ask for help. When people offer their help they do actually mean it. It’s really ok to lean on people when you’re stumbling or in my case, collapsing on the floor of the A&E department.

And so here we are on the verge of a new year. I feel back to health and am finally allowed to exercise again. This time I have now between Christmas and going back to work and beyond is about renewing strength; emotionally and physically, of reminding myself that it’s ok to be sad at times but also, despite a really shit year, I feel quite happy.

And what I do want to acknowledge is that I know there are so many others quietly struggling with their own pain and loss and uncertainty. I think I’ve said before how taken aback I have been at times at what friends and strangers have shared with me. Some pain we know about and can see, and so much of it we choose not to share for fear of burdening or oversharing. More so than ever, kindness amongst us all is so very important.

I really have got some wonderful friends who have each uniquely been there for me, without fail. I’m discovering me and I quite like her. So many people have commented how happy and at ease I am these days. I’ve made new friends from Instagram. True, real friends who are in my life for the better. And I’ve found new love. Unexpected, new and exciting.

That’s not to say I haven’t faltered and I don’t ever want to have to go through this pain and uncertainty again but I am going into 2018 with hopes and dreams and a vision for what I want and need. Like for so many of us, this time of year is a chance to nurture new opportunities and dreams and watch them flourish and develop throughout the year.

I can bet you they won’t all go to plan and some things will come our way we never could have imagined but I can tell you I think it will all be ok. We will be ok. You might even discover something even more wonderful along the way.

Table for one?

As we put on our coats and grabbed our bags ready to leave the office for the weekend this evening, talk turned to our Friday night plans. When I explained that I had planned nothing more than to cook myself a nice dinner, pour myself a glass of wine and hunker down in my pyjamas and watch some festive TV, I was met with surprise.

My colleague joked that I should be out on the town socialising, not on my own and certainly not on a Friday night, even when I said that actually, I’d had a busy week and was still getting myself back to full strength following my illness. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved alone time. There comes a point in my day and my week where I just need quiet, a little silence and a time to take stock and be kind to my soul.

And then I read a piece of writing, about love. It was charming, and personal and full of happiness but it was flawed and hinted at a societal ideal that we can only be happy if we find love and have a partner to share our lives with. I believe everybody should know and experience love in many forms but we shouldn’t solely rely on being with someone to know happiness and we shouldn’t ever define another person’s happiness by our own. And by that I mean that whilst one person may be truly happy spending every night socialising with friends, another may welcome a quiet night in to watch a guilty pleasure on TV. And whilst one couple may treasure a weekly lunch date tradition, another married man and wife may enjoy time apart every Saturday morning, doing their own thing.

In a way that wasn’t entirely in my control, I have experienced being alone in recent months. The notion of being alone can be experienced in many different ways. There’s almost a stigma around it and we certainly shouldn’t always associate it with loneliness. No one should ever feel lonely and I know it is experienced heavily. But it’s what makes us reach out and try to make those connections, build our support networks and find partnerships. I’ve known loneliness, both during my marriage and more recently but these last few months, I’ve explored the idea of being alone and started to get to know myself again. And it’s felt really good. And I’ve seen how strong I am, and I know where the stopcock is when I need to turn the water off! I’m not sure I experienced that before. And don’t get me wrong. I have days when I get home to a dark house, feeling in limbo and just craving someone to talk to about my day, to cook dinner with. That’s not to say I am completely alone, it’s just been a bit of an adjustment.

I think when we are happy and in love it’s easy for us to naively want for others, what we have. But don’t diminish the importance of knowing yourself, finding that independence and from that, we might just discover what is missing, if anything.

So yes, I’ve done exactly what I intended to tonight, happily. And it’s been blissful. And tomorrow morning, I fully intend to head to my local café and ask for a table for one. So be proud of yourself, of spending some time alone, because one is enough; you are enough.

Finding your worth

Back in the summer I shared with a friend something very personal I was going through, something incredibly painful and unexpected as it would be for any person; that my husband and I had separated. I hadn’t planned to tell this friend. I just bumped into them. They asked me how I was and I chose there and then to share with them what I was going through. It took a long time to be able to even say those words out loud to anyone without crying which is why I chose carefully initially about who to tell. In that moment, stood in a cutting flowers garden baring my soul, that friend said to me that I would need support and, importantly, company, because the next few months would be really quite tough.

Strangely, I found that hard to hear. Surely the hardest part was over? Taking that decision to separate is one of the hardest, most uncertain things anyone might ever have to do. But, my friend was right. Without a doubt I have found these past four months my biggest challenge. What has been most trying is the indeterminable amount of time it takes to heal. I wondered ‘how am I ever going to get through this?’ and I still wonder that today with so much to sort out, to come to terms with and a daunting amount that is unknown. But, I stopped myself today and realised I have got through it, I am getting through it. From the small steps of being able to calmly tell a friend “I am going through a divorce” to having made a cake last week simply for the sheer joy of baking a cake. I am ok.

Slowly but surely, day by day, week by week, month by month I am healing. I have found the strength to successfully deliver projects and events at work. I have taken the time to laugh when my friends send me ridiculous memes. I have spent precious time with friends, I have done new things. I have met new people. I have put myself out there. Most of all, I have not let this consume me and I’ve taken life’s little joys for what they are when they have come to me. Because life and love and laughter and happiness is still out there.

But I’ve also had moments and days when I am overwhelmed. When all I’ve wanted to do (and have done) is cry. And it’s ok. It really is ok. The harder times make us realise the better moments and give us the tools to acknowledge them all the more. And when those good times come along, and they do, believe me; it feels so good, uplifting even. At once there is a feeling of hope and of feeling just that little bit lighter and you suddenly realise that what you never thought you could do, you have done.

I’m ready to draw a line under this year. That’s not to say everything will be fixed come the 1st January but I think we have these rituals, these traditions of renewal for a reason. The end of the year is a time to take stock, to make new wishes and bigger plans, to say hello to new memories, and wave goodbye to old ones, or to those dreams that were never quite meant to be. I am saying goodbye with a fond sadness, not with regret or anger or any blame.

It takes a lot to have courage in uncertain times. I believe it’s about vulnerability; acknowledging the pain and embracing the unknown and taking a little leap of faith. To taking it easy, to looking after myself, to laughing with friends, to using my skills, to embracing my passions and to new love.  My words to myself and to you are to be brave. Be brave, know your worth and you can truly soar.

 

My festive favourites

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After a few weeks of illness, the prospect of Christmas has certainly sprung up on me. I’m feeling stronger day by day so my thoughts are now turning to all things festive.

I adore Christmas but it will be different for me this year. That being said, I am looking forward to making new memories and taking a little time to reflect on the year.

With that in mind, surrounded by the people I love, I’m indulging in things that make me happy so I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite festive finds to share with you.

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Starting with this sparkly dress of dreams. Where do I begin? I bought this on a bit of a whim and didn’t realise quite how sparkly it is, but it’s just lovely. It’s the perfect cut neckline without flashing anything when you move about. The waist is flattering whilst still allowing plenty of room for those all important Christmas canapés and it has flattering short sleeves. All in all, it has the perfect amount of swish. I just hope Oasis will make it in lots of other colours too.

Christmas Breton

This red robin is no ordinary robin, he has a glittery top hat too. I adore this Boden Breton top. It’s lightweight too so you won’t overheat like if you were wearing a thick Christmas jumper.

Nigel Slater

I love a light-hearted read at Christmas. it’s a departure from the usual novels and non-fiction I read and definitely a guilty pleasure. This year though, I’m really enjoying settling down to read Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles. Part memoir, part cookbook, I adore the way Nigel writes and he’s certainly encouraging me to enjoy the Winter season rather than fight it. I challenge you not to love every word Nigel writes, or every dish he creates.

Winter-candles

Bringing light and a sense of calm to our darkest months is so important. If you’re like me and go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, lighting candles at the end of the day can provide such joy. Like many of you, I adore the seasonal candles from The White Company. This year I’ve got a reed diffuser as they last such a long time and throw the scent well. I was lucky enough to receive a gift voucher too so I think I’ll get myself a candle a little closer to Christmas.

Botanical candle matches

Speaking of candles, how lovely are these fancy matchsticks from The Botanical Candle Co? I adore the candles Amalia creates and it’s been great to see the success of her company this year. These would make a lovely little gift, don’t you think?

I love this print from Hero stores. And whilst I’m at it, these beauties have caught my eye for a bit of luxe casual.

I’m usually very lazy with jewellery. I don’t like fuss and I wear the same pearl earring every day, but I’d love a new simple, elegant necklace.

And of course, as self professed queen of bobble hats, I’ve been eyeing this one up for a while. Faux fur of course.

It’s soon time to start with the annual traditions and so I am heading to the Country Brocante Christmas Fair at Cowdray on Saturday. I can’t wait to share my photos with you. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what festive things you’ve got your eye on?

If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake

Baking, cooking, frying, roasting. It’s all therapy to me. 400 {ish} cookbooks (I haven’t done an inventory in a while) and a baking cupboard to rival Nigella’s. It’s fair to say I’ve found a lovely little hobby to keep me out of trouble.

Baking has at times strayed beyond just being a hobby. I have made wedding and birthday cakes for friends. And there was the Great British Bake Off audition of 2013. That was fun but any sense of calm I had in the kitchen went out the window as soon as there was expectation and a time limit. Why I thought it would be a good idea to make French Fancies for the first time is beyond me. Seriously, try it. The messiest bake you could ever try your hand at. Leave it to Mr Kipling!

But along the way, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to ensure I get good results so I thought I’d share them:

Baking top tips:

  • It’s good to get the basics mastered. Learn a classic Victoria Sponge and you’ve got a great base recipe to play with. The golden rule of 225g for flour, sugar and butter with 4 eggs will deliver you a light fluffy sponge.
  • On the note of fluffy sponges, I believe it’s all down to how you cream the butter and sugar. I always cream the butter on its own first, in my KitchenAid. I then add the sugar and almost whip it into a frenzy so it goes very pale and has a mousse like texture. This doesn’t fail me.
  • Always sift your flour in a sieve before adding it to a cake mixture. It may look like it’s lump free but it won’t be and you’ll inevitably end up with floury lumps in your cooked cake if you miss this step.
  • If you’re making pastry, roll it out between two pieces of cling film. You’ll use less flour for dusting this way meaning your pastry will remain short as it should be.
  • Have your ingredients out before you start. That way you know for certain you have everything you need and won’t be making a dash to the shops for that last egg halfway through your bake.
  • And finally, a simple one, but certainly something I’m still guilty of missing out…read the recipe before you start. And if you have the patience, read it again.

Happy baking, bakers.

 

November Notes

 

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That Autumn light…

After Bonfire Night, there’s always a bit of a lull; that limbo period where I desperately want to unleash Christmas but know it’s not socially acceptable until the 1st December. So this month, I’ve got some lovely things planned to keep me busy.

My lovely friend Emily over at Life with Emily invited me along to a Supper Club. Club Epicure is a Winchester living room supper club and I’m so excited to be going. It’s something completely new for me; new space, new people to meet, some lovely food to eat and I get to spend the evening with my lovely friend whom I only met this year through Instagram but who has fast become a great friend.

I’m seeing my family in Somerset. I’m taking a Friday off work and going on a little road trip to see my Papa and his partner. My sister and my niece are also popping by. It will be so nice to see how much my niece has grown.

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I’ve got a trip to plan. I’ve got a week off at the beginning of December and the coast is calling.

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I think it’s probably time to get the festive PJs out. The season is short so we’ve got to make the most of it right? I’ve got my eye on these cuties.

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The nights are getting longer, the days shorter and it’s time to bring some more light and sparkle into our days.

Keep learning

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Every day on my journey into work, I pass a sign for West Dean College that simply states ‘Keep learning’.

It has been a timely reminder for me to take the opportunity to discover something new, learn a skill and find the joy in the every day.

When I was at school, then college and studying for my degree at University, it all felt like a long hard slog if I’m honest. Yes, I enjoyed it but I don’t think I did it entirely for the reason of wanting to learn; rather, it was something to be done, a stage in my life that would get me somewhere else. By the time I graduated at 21, I was exhausted and, naively, thought I was done.

Fast forward eight years and I’m somewhere I want to be. I really enjoy my job. I get to head up a programme of events, not least RHS Chelsea Flower Show and for the most part, I feel challenged. It’s rewarding, varied and fun and I get such a true sense of satisfaction achieving my goals with the team.

But I’ve come to learn {see what I did there} that the key to awareness and growth is to be open to learning new things and with it, new adventures.

So I’ve been thinking about what I want to do:

Brush up on my photography skills

I studied photography at college and I love taking photos for my Instagram; my guilty pleasure but I’d love to get myself a new digital camera and really make the ordinary extraordinary. I’ve been looking at cameras and love the idea of the Olympus Pen or the Panasonic Lumix. Can you recommend any?

Take a sugar craft course

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Baking is my jam. It soothes my soul and brings me joy to bake things for other people but I’ve never taken the time to learn sugar craft. It requires skill and a lot of patience and imagination. I love creating beautiful “naked” cakes with fruit and flowers but will often shy away if anyone asks me to create something novelty with figurines. There are plenty of courses available at local colleges or YouTube tutorials that I hope to take in 2018.

Refresh my digital marketing

Ok, so this one is more for my professional development but it’s all par for the course. Digital marketing is an ever-evolving arena and I often feel overwhelmed trying to keep up. The majority of my work is traditional led marketing so I’m conscious of keeping up to date with skills that might otherwise pass me by. I’ll often attend CIM courses or free ones run by the inspirational HPS Group and recently I’ve been taking little ad-hoc Google Digital Garage courses when I’ve had a spare ten minutes.

It’s good for the soul, it’s good for my sense of satisfaction and above all, reminds me that I might be wiser and more experienced than I was as a post graduate eight years ago, but I will never know it all and that’s what keeps me going.

So, what would you like to learn?

The Gathered Home

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The ever growing collection

A cookbook can serve many purposes in a home. It can be a manual for creating food for the perfectionists among us, it can prop up a wonky table leg on the dining room table, it can be a decorative accessory for the aesthetically minded, or, if you’re like me, it can be a form of escapism and inspiration; a journey into someone else’s kitchen through carefully crafted words and beautiful photography.

“A good cookbook is as much about the recipe as it is the story behind it.”

You can tell an unused cookbook from a loved one. The latter will be found with curled edges, and covered in splatters of batter. My most treasured of books are the ones that I have to dust the flour from and which immediately fall open to my most used recipes. The lemon drizzle loaf cake. I know the quantities and method by now but there’s something so lovely in the preparation and cinema of following a recipe; cutting and lining the tins, measuring the ingredients, the surreptitious reward of licking the spoon (and that’s just the adults) and proudly presenting the finished piece to share.

A cookbook lies at the heart of any kitchen, serving as the inspiration for what can be an everyday meal; a necessity for us all, or a memorable, glorious celebration with friends and family. Different books serve these different purposes. There are well known cookbooks I will regularly purchase from my local bookshop written by established food writers. These are writers I feel I know through their food and whose writing I look forward to. And there are others I come across and take a punt on, drawn in by inspiring photography or a way with words that makes me want to cook with them. A good cookbook is as much about the recipe as it is the story behind it.

My cookbook collection is, in a sense, a reflection of my life and everything going on around it. If I have travelled somewhere and tasted good food, I try to replicate that back home and treasure the memory a little longer with a wonderful, authentic dish. If I have a pudding to make for a dinner or a cake to bake for a celebration, I’ll look for books specialising in these. I may not end up baking a specific recipe from these books but I’ll know that they have provided much needed inspiration and got me to the bake I have settled on.

“I cook what my body needs and I read what my soul desires.”

As we observe each season around us, my cooking is heavily influenced by the weather and fresh food available. Cooking allows us the freedom to explore the seasons and to take advantage of the bounty on offer to us each month. I cook what my body needs and I read what my soul desires. There’s nothing better than sitting in a comfy chair on a lazy weekend afternoon; preferably when it’s getting cooler and the air hints at the celebrations of Autumn and Winter to come, and just reading, indulging in words and pictures and planning feasts and collecting ideas for gifts or preserving. A seasonal cookbook is always a favourite, indulging me as I plan for the week’s meals ahead or when I just need an uplifting memory of a warmer season and a reminder that it will come round again.

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The literary cat

I have amassed nearly 400 cookbooks over the years and the collection is my pride and joy as it continues to grow. When I rival Nigella Lawson’s collection of 4000, I may stop, but then again, maybe not. The books, whether shelved alphabetically or by colour of the spine, are a beautiful decorative addition to any space, creating that sense of a lived in home. They are a reflection of me. Where I’ve been, where I’m going, what I love, what inspires me, what I’ve made… and that’s what any collection should be. It is, very much so, my gathered home.

Finding your voice

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The written word has always been my route to emotions. I often struggle to articulate how I am feeling so writing gives me that little more time to get some composure and clarity. What I can’t express verbally, I can far more easily on pen and paper. I suppose the written word allows us to consider our feelings and understand them a little more eloquently than if we were just to say them out loud, unfiltered and unforgiving.

As I’ve lived through my twenties, I’ve been able to get a fair grasp on who I am, my likes and dislikes and where I want to go. I feel relatively sure of myself, even in unsettled periods of my life, I have the reassurance that I am true to myself on the most part. Yet there are always people who can jeopardize that feeling; perhaps not deliberately, but enough to question whether we, as we stand, are good enough. Simply because we are different.

There will always be people in life who we just don’t quite gel with. Sometimes we can’t put our finger on why and sometimes there are glaringly obvious reasons. In which case, where possible, we walk away and find better matches.

A little bit of self awareness, empathy and tolerance can go a long way in making someone else feel like they are good enough. I had been wondering what my first blog post would be and so I thought back to why I so enjoy writing and why I created this page, because it allows me a patient place in which to share and divulge, a little space tailored for me, that I hope speaks to others and entertains. Somewhere I can find my voice.