I'm not sure who was most excited about spending a day at the Winter Wonderland at Stockeld Park - me or my nephews, Alfie (4) and Finn (2). What with polar bears, an enchanted forest, a helter skelter, ferris wheel and (stop press) Father Christmas, it was sensory overload.
It all started well - awe at the forest's talking tree, the excitement of jumping wellington-feet first into muddy puddles, giddiness of running around the maze (despite the many dead ends!), stunned into silence by the big man with a "bowl full of jelly" but, as they say, all good things come to an end. When hunger pangs mix with feeling the chill of the biting winds, and not to mention tired little legs, things can quickly take a turn for tantrum-town. And I love it!!
They are so expressive! At the points when they were excited by the puddles, rides and running over bridges we found in the maze, they were so full of joy. Maaaaan, life could NOT be better!
Then there was the polar bear - the queue couldn't move fast enough for Alfie and Finn to get close to the walking, talking polar bear they spied with excitement as we entered the park. Then, when we got closer, the excitement turned to doubt - silent, sulking doubt. Hilarious!
And have you ever seen a sunny disposition turn to dark clouds more quickly than a hungry toddler? That spaghetti bolognese wasn't there pronto and so we were all treated to the bottom lip from one and a cool aloofness from the other. I was busy having a silent chuckle to myself, while my sister and her hubby tried to entertain and pacify both boys until the slow-mo waiter finally arrived with the goodies. Comedy gold.
One day with the gorgeous pair was such a breath of fresh air. I'm so used to moderated behaviour. Being (or acting) the way a professional, responsible grown-up should. Being aware of what you say, how you say it and, the dead giveaway, body language for fear it may not be, what's the word... appropriate. Bottling up anything on the sliding scale of uncontrollable giddiness to sheer anger and frustration if it's not the right environment to showcase these beauts. In a nutshell, compromising that puddling-jumping you inside.
Throw off the shackles. Dance wildly to music you love. Devour your food like there's no tomorrow - who cares if it ends up around your mouth? Express delight and excitement loudly and forget the carefully considered diners on the next table. Scream and shout if something is just wrong. And, if all else fails, feel free to sit in silence and sulk.
With a saunter around Becky Wiggins online home EnglishMum, there's evidence a-plenty of the self-professed nurturer at work. Recipes for soda breads, cinnamon buns, slow-roasted pork and the odd cocktail or two, sit alongside straight-from-the-heart accounts of her home-life and travels. Home economist, blogger, wife and mum, and deservedly short-listed for the Red's Hot Women Awards, I'm delighted that Becky shared a little about her best life for the spring-cleaned Inspiration Monday!
Tell me a little about you and your blog...
I'm a mum to two teenagers and very proud wife to a pilot. I work as a home economist, recipe tester and developer, but my blog seems to be taking up more and more of my time! We live in the home counties with a very disagreeable cat and a slightly neurotic greyhound. I'm very much a home body and you'll find me in the kitchen, usually.
What is your vision of your best life?
I think I'm more or less living it! As I get older it seems to me that it's less about how much money you make and what material things you have and more about being comfortable in your own skin and happy.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges/obstacles/fears you've faced and how you've tackled them?
We moved to Ireland a few years ago because of my husband's job. It was tough leaving my family and friends and, although we settled, we missed home. Recently we've moved back and I'm the living embodiment of the phrase 'home is where the heart is'. I'm back where I belong! Sadly we've had to leave our beautiful home behind, but it's made me realise that without the people you love, it's really just bricks and mortar.
Have you ever thought you had everything planned, only for life to show you an alternative?
All the time! We'd just bought a house and were quite settled when the hubby's job came up in Ireland but we coped, and lived there reasonably happily for a few years.
Has there been a 'defining moment' that has changed your life/your view of life? Or a series of events? What has been the nudge in the right direction for you?
I don't know about a 'defining moment', but when my husband lost his job in Ireland he had to come back to the UK without us to find work. We lived apart for a few months and it really made me realise that what I wanted was to be a mum and a wife, and everything else was secondary. I'm a nurturer! Once we were back together, everything fell into place - my blog's continued to grow in popularity and I'm loving my life now.
If you were to look back and offer advice to your younger self, what three pearls of wisdom would you share?
Don't worry what other people think of you. It's important just to be yourself. If they don't like you, they don't like you. You should never try to change to be what somebody wants.
Cherish the people you love. It's so easy to take our family and friends for granted, and having lost some of those really dear to me, it's made me really conscious of keeping in touch and making an effort.
Don't stay in a job that makes you unhappy or because it's what somebody else wants. Pursue something that makes you happy!
What book, piece of music, blog, quote or person inspires you the most?
I have a friend called Erica, who writes a blog called littlemummy.com. She's an incredible entrepreneur and is really inspiring. She's also a great sounding board when I feel my life's going a little off track. She always seems full of creative solutions.
Excited crowds at the Christmas market. The smell of gluwein, sugary crepes and spicy goulash in the air. Generous measures of red wine in cosy Nordic bars. Oh, and a little playful moment on the carousel...
One: I'm a believer..... Two: As a big sis myself, I love snooping at famous sisters so I loved W Magazine's 'Sister' shoot Three: The freshness of elderflower, the fizz of champagne .... what's not to love!? Four: I'm going to have a bash at making these clementine macarons. Festive and delicious...
Oh if only to rewind a whole year - I'd be back in beautiful Paris with my mum and sister. It was freezing cold but there was more than enough mulled wine, hot chocolate and .... oh, French champagne to keep the chills at bay. A white-out in the UK meant our flight home was cancelled so we had to stay an extra night ..... What a shame, I hear you cry - except we could only book into a flea-ridden hotel next to the train station! On the plus side...
Our Parisian highlights: ... Walking away from Le Tour d'Eiffel over the bridge to turn and see it light-up. I know Parisians find it tacky but we LOVED it! ... Drinking champagne on the Champs Elysee ... Taking a wrong turn and ending up on the beautiful Place Vendome ... Queueing forever for the Monet exhibition at le Grand Palais. We made our own entertainment ... The Christmas market at La Defense where we devoured raspberry macarons and met Santa Claus!
It's funny how people notice your little idiosynchrocies and quirks. I've mentioned before that instead of writing new year's resolutions, I create a new year moodboard - it's become a little ritual. In fact, I've already started curating pictures from blogs and tearing photos from magazines, as my 2012 vision board comes to life. And so, while this little creative pursuit of mine has become second nature to me, I wasn't aware how aware my family and friends were of it - how 'me' they saw it. So much so, that it was mentioned in the speeches at our wedding and the board above created by my little sister to mark the occasion.
She had me at hello! I luckily bagged a slot for Kristen Domingue'sMagnetic Branding call a few weeks ago and, within seconds of it starting, I was hooked - I could almost hear Kristen's vibrant, bubbly personality crackle down the line! Now here was a lady with passion... I wanted some of what she was having!
Her story intrigued me. A successful entrepreneur (femme-preneur as she would call it) working in a city she loved, Kristen made the bold move to change track ... all based on an instinct that something just wasn't quite right. A bold move, no!? And, to cut to the chase, Ignite was born - a boutique style and brand consultancy for femme-preneurs. And here she was, sharing some of her insights with us lucky ladies.
Fast-forward two weeks and I could do with a little help with my Magnetic Branding "homework". I've completed parts one (purpose) and two (excellence), but need some fresh eyes for part three (what the world needs)...
The Purpose part encouraged us to look at the things that made us most feel alive. Or those things that you'd do even if you're not getting paid for it. For me, that bit was easy. I feel alive when: I'm helping people or have made a difference... When I can make people feel loved and cared for... Writing... Creating... My blog... Learning about what makes people succeed against the odds, and using these nuggets to inspire others... Looking for inspiration and images in magazines/blogs and creating moodboards... Being surrounded by family and friends....
Excellence really challenged me. It required me putting myself out there and asking my nearest and dearest what things come to me easily that they are in awe of. Things they'd love me to teach them. With toes curling, I text this question and held my breath when I read their responses: Being creative... Thoughtfulness... Listening to people and helping by "breaking things down into smaller steps"... Offering new perspectives... Being highly organised... Knowledge of music (especially the stories in lyrics)... Writing... Creating inspirational moodboards... Being a loyal friend...
With What the World Needs I've come a cropper. It means putting myself out there again and asking people: which people in the world are hungry for the combination of skills in Purpose and Excellence? Who could make use of this unique combination?
I'm being brave and asking you. Answers on the back of a postcard ... or comments below.
One: For someone who loves photography AND all things retro, I'm wanting to get my mitts on this little Mamiya beaut Two: These are a few of her favourite things - Jenny's of Aubrey Road that is. What are yours? Three: Pass me the watercolours, I want to have a bash at this Four: I adore this idea via Sweet Paul of a Christmas wreath made up of family photographs Five: I've (eventually!) written our wedding thank you cards so I'm now snooping around for some cheerful Christmas cards. This selection from Oh So Beautiful Paper is oh so merry and bright! Six: Forget the ugly, bulky nylon laptop bags, this is the stylish option on my wish list Seven: Hugging a hot, smooth cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Bliss...
When fashion and art collide, here's the delicious result... British-born Cambridge grad and art gallerist, Lucy Chadwick, is the new muse fronting a gorgeous Zara ad. The beautifully-shot short film follows Lucy's cooler-than-thou life from her upstate New York apartment to the barn/creative space she is renovating. Aside from the enviable style Lucy has, I love to see someone so evidently living their passion ... Clever Zara - I'll be wanting to get a piece of this action, even if the soft grey jumper and a top knot is as close as I'll currently get. Check out the video here
Lucky you! You've won a free draw into the Friendship Lottery and you could win one of the friends below:
Friend One: Takes time out of her day to ask how you are and really listens to the answer. Tells you you look good. Makes you laugh. Gives you a hug. Looks out for your best interests. Is willing to put you first. Celebrates your successes and encourages your talents. Helps you to see your true qualities.
Friend Two: Starts the day by criticising your outfit. Tells you you really ought to get back into your swimming/yoga regime. Hasn't the time in the day to look out for you - you're firmly last on the list. Reminds you of your flaws. Overlooks your talents. Pushes you to do whats expected rather than listen to what your really want.
Ok, I'll give you a little time to think about it. Hard decision? Well, I have news - they're both me. I was Friend One and Two yesterday.
I was lucky enough to spend time with one of my girlfriends yesterday evening and was the friend I strive to be - supportive and game for a laugh. Friend One. I don't always get it right but I'd like to think that I make the effort to be 99% there.
Then there's Friend Two. I was lying awake in bed with my mind racing through the day that had been and I realised - I'd given myself nothing but a hard time all day. I have eldest child syndrome, a typical Type A, so I'm always going to be driven and push myself, but I realised this had gone into overdrive lately and, quite frankly, I'd been a rotten friend to myself.
So this week I'm going to be a little kinder to myself, a bit more easy going and, in my mum's words: "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
I'm not sure if it's the approach of the sociable festive season or the wintry nights sending me into hibernation, but my cleaning session went into over-drive this weekend. You know all those little jobs that you notice but never have time to do? Done and dusted - literally! Photo frames hung, cupboards cleared out, desk re-organised - I was a one-woman cleaning whirlwind. There's something about being able to use a duster AND a power-drill that feeds my independent streak...
And it's made all the difference to our home. It feels calmer, somehow. Cosier. A welcoming retreat as the nights draw in. Snuggle up....
One: Wow, you're set for a glamorous life if your first birthday invitations are as decadent as this... Two: My inner magpie is lusting after this Santi Rom jewellery Three I'm hoping for a little me-time this weekend to write Four As you might know, I adore all things art deco so this chair is meant to be mine Five We're travelling to see my lovely in-laws this weekend. To earn daughter-in-law points I feel I should be taking something like this... Six Pippa Lord's take on the modern age "housewife" is a breath of fresh air. I aspire to be as perfectly imperfect as her Seven I adore these dreamy hand-embroidered covers by Rachell Sumpter for childhood classics such as Little Women, The Wizard of Oz and Wind in the Willows
I had a wonderful Dziadek - for those of you that aren't fluent in Polish (!) that's Grandfather to you and me. It's funny as a child - you're brought up in a family where, in your mind, your parents and grandparents have always been the age they are right then and there. It never crossed my mind to imagine Dziadek as a young man, a person. In my mind even then I knew he was a strong, unique person - so unique that I've never met a person like him since or imagine I ever will again.
He passed away when I was eleven. Too young to know the unique qualities that I know were him through and through. Too young for me to appreciate him fully and express my love for him.
So, tomorrow at 11am I will be thinking of him. He served his country and was proud of it, that I know. But I will be thinking of how proud I am that he survived his harsh reality and lived to create such a wonderful legacy. My beautiful mum and my aunties, lovely Anne and Halina. Of his son-in-laws. His grandchildren - especially his beloved boys.
I will be thinking of the mark he impressed on my young life and the vivid memories I hold of this wonderful person: .... the BIG hug awaiting us when we went to visit. Him standing at the kitchen door .... his smell .... the home-brew in the airing cupboard .... his beautiful garden, his pride and joy .... the greenhouse and his prized tomatoes .... him getting a sun lounger out for us at the slightest hint of sunshine .... my first EVER trip to McDonalds with the vouchers he'd cut out of the newspaper .... the krufki (baklava) we were treated to on our visits to the Polish stall at the market .... the sounds and heated energy of him playing cards with my parents .... the hush we had to keep when he was watching one of his Westerns .... the very "individual" way he would eat chicken!
I could go on and on. I am extremely lucky to have known and be a part of my Dziadek.
I can't remember if I ever told you, Dziadek, but I love you x
Now this is my kind of bar! I love this photo from the anniversary edition of the delicious Rue Magazine with the non-too-subtle reminder behind the bar. (I want me some!) Ok, so it's Tuesday, not my favourite day of the week.... for me, it's all too easy to groan at the sound of my alarm clock, fuel myself with coffee before "getting through" the day ahead with, already, one eye on my sightline to the weekend. Not a great way to spend the 52 Tuesdays in the year hey?! But maybe this Tuesday can "be amazing".... I'm going to make this my Tuesday PB.
... Cutting back on the caffeine ... Making my to-do list manageable (as opposed to humanly impossible!) ... Taking some time to chat to people I cross paths with rather than losing myself in work work work ... Noticing all the little amazing moments throughout the day
How do I put this? Hmmmm? I don't like people looking at me. Or more specifically, I'm not that good with attention. I'm more than happy for someone else to take the limelight and I'll be content to be the one cheering on from the sidelines.
I'm a tough cookie where it counts but sometimes the simplest things can unnerve me - like eating in a restaurant alone. I've had to do it in the past when I've been working away from home and not been inspired by the safety-net of the room service menu, but I'd take a book or a magazine with me to lose myself in at the table. Yes, the prop was essential in portraying the independent woman identity but, even with this, I'd self-consciously sit there and eating would be a functional (and fast!) exercise.
But last night was a mini-breakthrough.... A table for one for just little old me. No book, no magazine and I even restrained myself from absorbing myself in my iphone. This might not sound like much for you well-travelled women but it was a personal milestone. To sit back, leisurely enjoy my scrumptious dinner and take in everything that was going on around me - the couples indulging in a quiet sunday meal for two, the big, boisterious family gathering at the next table, and the girlfriends chatting away at the bar - I was perfectly content and just a smidgen self-conscious. This is major progress.....
I can't say I fit in with the cool crowd at school. I tried too hard to be able to carry off the required 'school is for geeks' attitude. Neither did I set the sports teams on fire. And, while I did well at school, I certainly wasn't the straight A student either. This meant I was inconspicuous somewhere in the middle.
I must admit I never even considered doing anything but working hard and "applying myself" at school. I was a good girl. So I never quite understood the kids in my year that adopted the laissez-faire attitude with one eye on the end of the school year, the freedom that beckoned (that scared the bejeesus out of me) at the end of it all. In short, it was drummed in to me that exam results, education, qualifications were the be all and end all. And I've never questioned that.
Then I read Chris Guillebeau's frank and bare-all admission that he holds not a single qualification to his name and I was forced to open my mind. What, not one? And he's achieved so much? I was in sudden admiration.
As I pack to spend a weekend at a coaching course, I had to stop and question why I was doing it. This time it is for a big, fat selfish reason - I want to. But I can't honestly say other 'qualifications', for what they're worth, have been motivated by the same reason. For the most part, I think a qualification, a bit of paper, has been for everyone else BUT me. To prove something to everyone else. "Look, I can do this. This bit of paper says so!"
And so I am in full admiration of Chris Guillebeau. It must take a serious amount of guts to NOT take the easy option and conform. He took the leap and trusted he would fly! In his case, around the world...... Not a bad life for a school drop-out eh!
So I have tummy flutters this morning. One of my least favourite/most feared things faces me today .... standing up in front of a room and speaking. I have to do it frequently with my work but it never gets any easier ..... All those eyes looking at me! Attention! Listening to my words .... if I manage to get them out!!
To tell myself I can handle this, I'm listing all the things I've been fearful of in the past that were, well, not that bad: ... Travelling to South-East China when I have a little (no, super-size that) fear of flying ... Taking a flying lesson in a small aircraft - see above ... Moving to a new city on my own without knowing a soul ... Buying my apartment and being responsible for paying for it ... Asking a boy out ... Telling a boy I wanted out ... Quitting my job to go freelance ... Public speaking on numerous occasions in the past