Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Lake District - one for your bucket list.

When I was little my family and I used to go up to the Lake District every Easter. We would stay with old friends and go boating on Lake Windermere. Now that I have my own family we carry on the tradition of travelling up to the North of England to visit the Lakes, these days staying with my cousin and her family. We usually go up some time around November and it is one of my most favourite events of the year.

Lake Windermere from Gummers Howe

If you have never been up to the Lake District then I can recommend it mightily! For us, from the Home Counties, its a pretty long drive, about five or six hours depending on the traffic, although for those of you from the USA or Australia this probably seems like a trip to the shops!

Lake Windermere
We usually turn up at my cousin's house just before midnight and settle down for a nice glass of wine and a chat before bedtime. The next day is a day to go for walks and there are so many to choose from. If you go onto the Lake District website there are lots of walks to choose from - from hard core walks to pleasant strolls. We tend to tailor our walks depending on which members of the family are with us!

We love to walk on the estuary at Greenodd, as well as walking the hills and around the lakes.

We are all keen photographers and the Lakes provide a never ending treasure trove of images. There's just nothing more wonderful that being outside with your family, breathing in the fresh air, taking photos and then, maybe, having a pint infront of a roaring fire in a local pub!

looking out over Windermere from Gummers Howe

On the way up to the top.

We usually have a big bonfire on the Saturday night, standing in the dark with sparklers and damson gin ... maybe some hot homemade soup too. My cousin makes an excellent butternut squash and chorizo soup!

There are lots of books and websites about the Lakes and I am no expert, but if you haven't been then you are missing out!! You don't have to be a huntin' fishin' walkin' expert. You just need to make sure you choose the right walk for you, whether its round the shops or up to the tops, and wear the right clothes for the walk you choose and the season you are in.

Secret Housewife and my Man.

The sites I have linked to are full of information, but really, if you've never been.... go! Its one of those places that should be on your bucket list. We tend to go when its quieter - fewer tourists, but any time of the year it's gorgeous.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Afternoon Tea at The Lancaster, London with Chef Ben Purton - such a treat!!

Over the last year I have been enjoying Afternoon Tea in various establishments around London and the Home Counties. Its a difficult job, but someone has to do it!! I have been part of the #LDNBloggersTea group - about 25 bloggers who have tea, drink champagne and then write about their experiences. This Sunday was the turn of The Lancaster, London, under the expert cheffing hands of Chef Ben Purton. The lovely Melanie, from Sunny in London, had worked very hard to organise the event, taking over the reins from Selena at Oh The Places We Will Go. And a very professional job she did too!! Thank you Melanie for giving us all such a treat!

I have attended all the London Bloggers Teas bar one and that was when Chef Ben created tea for us last. Since then he has been an enthusiastic supporter of our little tea scoffing band and I was looking forward to both meeting him and eating his wares.

I made my way to Lancaster Gate tube station and from there it was a two minute walk to The Lancaster. We had our own private room, just off from the lounge on the first floor and we were greeted with warm smiles and chilled pink Laurent Perrier champagne. Things were looking good!

If you are visiting London, then The Lancaster is in a brilliant position for seeing the sights and the views from our room were gorgeous. The windows looked out over Hyde Park, the Serpentine and its fountains. It was beautiful.

Chef Ben had obviously worked very hard on their menu and it was clear that they were very proud of their work. A huge amount of effort has gone into creating an Afternoon Tea here. Before Ben Purton arrived it was a service that they did not offer so full marks for adding to London's menu of top notch teas.

The scones were freshly baked and we were the first to try the Christmas Pudding flavour scone, along with a plain and a raisin flavour. And the good news was that there was plenty of clotted cream and delicious homemade strawberry jam.
One of the things I really loved this afternoon was the attention to detail... we were able to see the huge range of teas on offer - from Pear and Ginger to English Breakfast to Dragonwell Green Tea. And the lovely representative of Laurent Perrier, Ashley, told us all about what was best to drink with the champagne - apparently strawberries are good, but so was the terrine shown below. Yum.

As is usual at these occasions I was pretty full up by the time it came to eat the dessert tier. There is only so much tea and champagne a girl can consume before she gives up the ghost. However I manfully continued and was treated to white chocolate and raspberry lolly pops which sparkled in my mouth, mostly because of the surprise popping candy! A honey and apple cake was another favourite and the tiny lemon tart was scrumptious!

I sat back in my chair and looked around the room, dressed for Christmas and full of happy smiling blogger faces, some new, some who had been to a LDNBloggersTea before, and the feeling was good. 

Afternoon tea at The Lancaster, London costs £30 per person, £35 with a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne and £40 with Laurent Perrier Rose. We were fortunate enough to be given a discounted rate of £25 for our tea. If you are looking for a safe haven just a few minutes from Oxford Street, where you can watch the world go by and indulge yourself then this tea is very lovely. I can't recommend the staff enough as they could not do enough for us! Thank you to Ben Purton from The Lancaster and Ashley Wilce from Laurent Perrier. You spoiled us magnificently!!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Winner!! Oh Yeah Baby!!!

Oh yes!! 50,035 words. A whole month of writing. A book I never knew I had inside me. I am so proud of myself I could cry. I am now going to open a bottle of champagne.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is NaNoWriMo?

You may, like me, have seen the strange word "NaNoWriMo" popping up all over the web in the last few weeks or months. I had noticed last year and the year before and had wondered what on earth it meant.

To be honest I had difficulty even saying the word .... NaNooMeeeMooo.... NaWriMaMooo..... MaaaNaaaMiiiiReeee...

I had no idea...

To my surprise, this year, I received an invitation from my brother and his girlfriend to take part in NaNoWriMo... or, as I prefer to say..

National Novel Writing Month

My brother explained that the thing was a writing challenge. Write a 50,000 word novel in a month. To be specific write it in the month of November. I would need to average about 1600 to 2000 words a day if I was to complete my masterpiece in the set time span.

Well, I've often been told by people, mainly my husband, that I should write a book. My answer has always been to stare in disbelief at him, them and shake my head. Write a book? Just like that?

I have no inspiration, no ideas... how can I write a book?

Well, Grasshopper ... this is where NaNoWriMo comes in. You just write. I see that other people have varying approaches. Some plan meticulously before November, having plot, characters, history all prepared before the start date. Others just sit down and start writing on the first day.Some adopt a combination of the two methods. This is what I have done.

It doesn't matter if you don't finish. It doesn't matter if it's rubbish. What matters is that you sit down and write. Apparently only 17% of people who try it succeed, but if you do you get ... well, actually you get nothing but a little virtual badge of honour and a feeling of smugness in your heart. You also, I would imagine ( I say imagine as I am currently on Day 4 so 50,000 words seems an awfully long way away) you also would enjoy a very large sense of achievement. 2,000 words a day is no small feat when you have a job, kids, a husband or wife who thinks you're mad...

The NaNoWriMo site is full of forums, support groups, graphs to show your word count and links to Pep Talks. They arrange meet ups in local coffee emporiums all over the world so that you can write with company. I do like a graph.

So, as I say... I am on Day 4 and things are going ok. I am fitting my writing in around work, taxiing children, sport, housework and a husband with a bad back ( say no more). My plan is to write as much as I can early on so that on the days when I have absolutely no time ( and they will come, Grasshopper, they will come) I am ahead of the game.

My story seems to be channeling itself through me from somewhere, though God knows how. I am certainly enjoying myself.

If you are reading this and wondering whether you should do it, I say yes!! What do you have to lose? You might be able to start now if you work hard, or you could start planning for next year. Or perhaps you are reading this next year... in which case... Do It!!

Its free, its a challenge and its not going to be judged by anyone. What's not to like?. I don't think I will end up being the next J.K Rowling, but I will at least have proved to myself that I can string more than 300 words together.
I will come back and write another post when and if I finish....

Friday, 31 October 2014

Changing lifestyle & Walking to be Fit.

Over the years I have been fortunate to be pretty fit and healthy.I have tried my hand at various sports and although I've never been particularly brilliant at any of them I've not been awful either. My basic level of fitness has been good. Six years ago I ran the London Marathon and before that I was running four times a week in order to train. I've enjoyed playing football once a week, tennis, skiing.

Blimey! I sound like a complete sports freak!! But I'm not and as I say I have never been particularly brilliant at any of this. The main thing thing though, and the most important thing, was that I was getting out, trying my best and having fun. My heart, lungs and muscles were active, as was my mind.

Over the last couple of years my activity has slowed down, dropped off and has been replaced by ... well, basically by sitting on my fat backside eating crisps and drinking wine...

This has begun to worry me. I am 50 now and I don't want to turn into a big fat unhealthy couch potato. I find running harder these days because I end up with sore knees and hips and its just not as enjoyable as it used to be. So I have started to create a new regime of exercise. I have begun yoga classes once a week and plan to practise yoga at home too. I have also started adult ballet classes once a week.

But I have been wondering what else to do that will raise my heart rate, be enjoyable, but not pound my joints. I read a really interesting blog post from Morgan Prince today over at Shaking Away the Cobwebs. She was saying what I had been thinking. She goes out walking, makes time for a 30 minute walk each day and she has started yoga. She shared a great yoga video for beginners too. I read it and thought Yes! This is the way!

The thing is, we all are in such a rush these days. My Granny used to walk everywhere, even into her 80's and she was as fit as a fiddle. Now we want to get everywhere quickly. The journey is an inconvenient part of our day that we want over as quickly as possible. Even the times I have walked to work I have been worried about how long it has taken, how long it will take me to get home. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

So today I have decided to take a leaf out of Morgan's book and make time for myself. My walking will be 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, probably 3 or 4 times a week - sometimes more, sometimes less. And in that time I can take photos, fill my lungs with fresh air, think and get my heart working. I went out this morning ...

I had such a lovely walk and my heart rate went up, my muscles were working, my lungs were working. It felt great and I could wear my normal clothes. No changing into sports bra and running kit - just put on my walking boots and head out the door. I came back happy and full of beans. 

If I can keep doing this I will be walking about 6 to 10 miles a week as well as my ballet and yoga. And the walking is free, which is excellent! I am determined not to let my body go to seed and I want to invest in my future. I don't want to look at myself in 5 years time and think "God! What went wrong?!"

We only have one body and I have been lucky enough to be fit and healthy for the last 50 years. Now I need to make a conscious effort to try and be fit and healthy for the next 50!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Toffee Apple Disaster.

So, its Half Term and I have lots of time on my hands - lucky me. I came over all Martha Stewart today and decided it would be marvelous if I wrote a magnificent post on how to make Toffee Apples. How hard can it be?? And I could take the delicious Toffee Apples to my mum's house to share with my triplet nephews.

First Job ... stick sticks in apples

My first job was to stick my sticks into my apples. An easy job, but finding the sticks proved tricky. Bewildered faces met me at every turn when I went into various supermarkets to ask for Toffee Apple sticks. You would have thought I'd asked for some sort of instrument of torture...

But in my Earth Mother mode I was not daunted. I would make my own damn sticks from Mother Nature herself. I grabbed my clippers and went outside in the rain to chop twigs of the appropriate size. Good work Mrs Secret Housewife!!

Then came the other ingredients ...

400g of sugar

150ml apple juice & 100ml maple syrup

And a teaspoon of cider vinegar ...

The next bit I was a tad nervous about. I would go as far as to say that I was scared. I had to slowly melt the sugar in a sturdy pan without burning either it or myself in a horrible sugar scalding accident. I have read that you don't stir the sugar, you just watch it and shake it lovingly occasionally. So I did.

When it had melted I added the maple syrup and apple juice and cider vinegar, letting it bubble and boil for 7 minutes...

bubbly sugary stuff

And that, dear reader, was when it all went horribly wrong.

Drop little bits into a jug of cold water, they said. And the little bits will solidify into lovely crispy toffeeness.... Well not in my house they don't.

Eventually I thought that I would dip the apples anyway. I mean, how long can a girl boil sugary stuff before she keels over from exhaustion? So I dipped the apples and put them to set on my newly bought baking paper. (Non Stick... I hope)

And before my very eyes most of the sugary sticky stuff slid majestically down the apples to form a delicious pool of ... stuff on my tray.

There may still be some sort of hope. There is a chance that in the next 5 years the toffee will set to a crispy crunchy delight, but I am not overly optimistic. Still, at least I tried and I hope that, if you attempt or have attempted Toffee Apples you are more successful than me.