Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Solutions for the New Year's outfit challenge

New Year's Eve outfit

New Year's Eve outfit by eleanorbirdy 

Why is it that New Year's comes along right after Christmas when I'm at my fattest, pasty-est and feeling completely un-glam? It's a bit cruel really. 

I normally love dressing up and going out, but in the post-Christmas slump, I'm really not up for much. Still, I'm due to go out and celebrate so what to wear?

I'm a big fan of midnight blue and already have two evening-y sort of tops in that colour. For some strange reason I love the bat-wing shape too. I don't think it's particularly flattering, I just really love it. So, I'm tempted by the Mary Portas top I found on Polyvore, but it's handwash, would need ironing and I DON'T NEED IT. I will stick to what I've got. 

My chocolate brown coated jeans from H & M are showing their age a little (the coating is scuffing off on the seams) but they'll do for now. 

I don't currently own a pair of black booties, but I've got some gift cards to use up so I'll get me some post-haste. I do have lots of statement necklaces so I'm covered in that regard! 

I goes without saying that this outfit will be topped off with a big coat and my warmest cashmere pashmina. Not for me the silly business of tottering around town in winter with no clothes on!

So, what are you doing for New Year's? Got an outfit sorted? 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

I'b god a cod

 The lead-up to Christmas tends to feel like a race. I galloped and galloped and made it past the post with no major disasters but of course, now I have a cold.

Do you do this? Get sick as soon as the pressure's off? I can pretty much set my clock by it. So here I am in the lull between Christmas and normal life... in bed, drugged up, blowing my nose... Oh well, at least it's forcing me to rest. I guess that's the point.

It's also quite nice to have some fallow time to acknowledge the change of season. All the frantic Christmas festivity is over. All five advent candles have been lit and been snuffed. Winter solstice has been. We're now into proper winter (it's suddenly gotten colder) with the creep towards spring, more daylight, a few hardly bulbs peeking through the soil and the bloom into full summer. 

Awww... look at her face!
 I have a massive list of chores that I could be doing on in my few days off, but I'm not able to do any of them.
 Hopefully tomorrow I'll be up to mattress shopping as our  landlord's mattress has really given up the ghost. We got Christmas money to go towards a new mattress and we're itching to spend it. It will be lovely to have a comfy bed.

  I'm also looking forward to be healthy enough to get on the   wagon of eating nothing but vegetables and taking a daily run.  Well, I exaggerate somewhat, but I am a big blob at the moment  and need to indulge in the traditional January masochism. Soon, my pretty, pretty...

 Right, now I think I'll go back to my book. Bye!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Winter weekend adventures

Ah, the last weekend of sanity before Christmas... We very deliberately kept it low key and thusly had a lovely weekend. Highlights?

Christmas market


There is a market that pops up near our house every few months. This weekend was a particularly big one and there was a lovely singer doing her own take on a range of songs from folk songs to carols and 90's pop songs. We had lunch with a friend and snapped up some local 'Wife of Bath' cheese to take for Christmas. We also got some handmade pies (chicken, bacon and leek) and some locally roasted and ground coffee. I'd been stalking a lovely statement necklace with fuschia and emerald green beads on a brass chain so I *suggested* to my husband that it'd make a good Christmas present.

It was sunny, there was mulled wine and handmade mince pies... Lovely.




Cathedral service

Our normal church was having a kids service so we popped into the cathedral. It's so festive! The choir in robes and ruffs, lighting the advent candle, 10 foot Christmas trees up the front. The only thing I kind of wish they did was incense, but they're not as 'high church' as that.

Also, WHY is it that churches uniformly don't take the opportunity of having more lovely Advent carols? "O Come, O come Emmanuel" is my favourite Christmas song and I haven't had the opportunity of singing it yet this year.

Blaise Castle Estate and Blaise Hamlet


We thought we'd have another go at actually finding the castle in this large local park. We spent a couple of hours walking about there in summer and managed to totally miss the castle.

This time we followed the signs carefully and (after a lovely scenic walk through the woods and several delightful encounters with squirrels) found our way to the top of the hill. There is a surprisingly small 'castle' built on the hill in the 1700s at the request of the rich landowner.

We also had a quick wander around the green of Blaise Hamlet. There are nine of the most riDICulously cute cottages you could imagine. Don't they look like Hobbit holes? You can see some more here.

They were built for pensioners of the Harford family who owned the estate. Imagine being so rich that the housing for your aged servants is designed by a famous architect! (John Nash, in case you're interested). They're all owned by The National Trust now but are still lived in by a few very lucky people. 

 On our way back to the car we stopped in at the cafe and got pulled (not at all reluctantly) into a lovely carol sing-a-long. There was quite a competant pianist and a group of about 15 from (I found out later) the local church. I had great fun doing the descants on the final verse of carols like "Once in Royal David's City" and doing the male king/ female page thing in "Good King Wenceslas".

Then we mulled lots of cider and ate the pies from the market for dinner with lots of gravy and steamed veg.

What did you do in the weekend? Nice festive things or are you just feeling frazzled?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The pleasures of hibernation

Brrr... baby it's cold outside! I'm deeply hunkered down into the couch, furry slippers on my feet. I walked home in the dark with a cold wind blowing through my hair and making my ears ache. It's hibernation time.

So, what are some of the pleasures of this time of year?

Mulled cider

Photo: John Wright
I'd never had mulled cider until I moved to Bristol (the South-West of England is a big cider region). I recommend you give it a go as it's delicious!

Recipes vary wildly but my suggestions include:

* Making sure it doesn't boil (or it'll lose all its alcohol)
* Adding traditional spices like cinnamon, a little nutmeg, about six cloves.
* Peel the skin off an orange in small strips and add.
 * Be cautious about adding sugar. Use caster sugar so it disolves more easily and taste after every dessert spoonful. A lot depends on how dry your cider is.
* Add an extra slosh of Calvados (apple brandy) or dark rum when serving.

Rugging up


Now it's gotten properly cold I can wear a jumper or cardigan to work all day and not get too hot. Often I'm in a scarf most of the day too. Gloves are a necessity for walking outside and I'm back to being grateful for my warm wool and cashmere duffle coat.

I'm carrying a few more pounds that I have for a while, but winter clothes are so forgiving that I'm okay with it for now.

Also, I can pull tights over my dry, white, unwaxed legs (sounds appealing, non? Luckily my husband doesn't care and nor do I).








There are many lovely festive things about December but robins are one of my favourite. They sing beautifully, they're unshakably perky and cute, they're quite tame and common enough that you're likely to see them regularly.

The only slightly odd thing is that they're clearly orange at the front, not red as popular culture insists. Wikipedia informs me that the colour name 'orange' didn't exist in England 'till the 16th Century as the fruit hadn't been imported yet.

Anyway, they're lovely and particularly good on bare winter branches.

So, I'm enjoying a nice quiet week at home after all my gallivanting. What about you - are you hibernating or running around like a mad thing? Or is it summer where you are?

Monday, 8 December 2014

How to do work good (and pretty pics)

So I'm back home now, after a whole week away in a couple of different places for work. It's been a huge week, but a helpful one. I thought I'd mull over what I've learned in case it's helpful for you in your work or personal life.

(Also, I'm popping in pics of Alex Skarsgard 'cos he's lush. Far more interesting than stock photos of people in suits shaking hands.)

1. There really isn't anything to beat face to face meetings. 

Alex agrees with me on this point.
We did a big conference for one part of our organisation. Again and again people were saying how great it was to 'put a face to a name' and how they felt comfortable referring clients to each now that they had met the person they would be referring to.

We try very hard to be connected using things like email, online messaging, teleconferencing or video conferencing, but this week reaffirmed the vital importance of meeting in person.

An even more important aspect is time to have a coffee, chat over a drink, have a meal together. The best ideas and conversations happen when something is going into our mouths!









2. There's a lot of value in personality tests - but not what you'd think.


Alex is more a do-er than a thinker
Another part of my week was a big team meeting which involved some input from a personality test company. Now, you may know that the concept of personality 'types' has been largely dismissed by psychology as it is not supported by research. Putting people into one of a few personality 'types' isn't much more valid than describing people using their star sign. Many psychologists even take issue with the idea of personality traits (though the majority agree on the 'Big Five' model).

This hasn't stopped enterprising people setting up businesses selling bespoke personality tests to businesses. The output of these tests can easily be harmful if used incorrectly, for example as the main factor in recruiting staff.

HOWEVER given all those disclaimers, I think it is really useful to put aside time to have open discussions about what we're really like as people and how we like to be treated.

We are a very new team so it was helpful to have time together to start to get to know each other and to reflect on ourselves. I have already spent a considerable amount of time working on my self-awareness but I did actually gain some more insights through this experience. 



3. Being powerful isn't bad.

Eric Northman and I are both strong characters
I've known since my teens that I'm naturally a very full-on, direct person. And that almost everyone else finds that overpowering and unpleasant, especially in a woman. I've been working all the time to soften myself down, to be more gentle, slower, more collaborative, give others time to speak etc. The message from a lot of quarters has been 'Who you are is wrong'. 

Still, we did a series of challenges as part of a team building exercise. Our team won. A biggish part of that was me quickly coming up with ideas, nudging others into action and keeping on task. I think I managed to do this while giving others a chance to contribute and without being domineering. So, maybe being a strong natural leader has its uses.

So, did you enjoy the Alex pics? Any other thoughts?