Sunday, February 28, 2016

word of the week

It can be a bit of a scary world out there, and at times I find myself worrying about worst case scenarios. When we went away to Paris recently, particularly because of events there in recent months, I found it difficult to relax. I often do in large cities, on planes, or in unfamiliar surroundings. A number of you commented saying how much you liked the city, and I was conscious of wanting to enjoy it and see the beauty rather than feel fear.

Co-incidentally, before we went, I picked up a copy of Psychologies magazine, and there was an article about "not being terrified by terrorism". It made useful suggestions about managing worrying thoughts, and recognising that they often reflect a situation we have seen on television, or in the news, but not what is happening to us in that moment. Instead, it suggested concentrating on the reality of the situation you were in and "present-moment living", taking in the beauty of your surroundings.

While in theory it seemed logical, I found it difficult to apply! It was fine in a peaceful hotel room, but out in the bustling city, I could see what a lovely place it was but it seemed too soon to dismiss those events as distant and unlikely. My brain wouldn't simply dissociate what could happen and what had happened from the present moment. Then we visited Notre Dame, and The Husband pointed out a quote on a poster. It stood out, in some ways for the wrong reasons, as a glossy, modern display board in the middle of the glorious architecture. It was a picture of Pope Francis, and beside it a quote, which included the phrase "have the courage to be happy". It stuck, and as I sat in a pew, I kept mulling it over, and it felt more powerful than the advice about being in the moment. I realised that it allowed room to recognise that the world can be scary, to accept that bad things can and do happen, often unexpectedly, but also highlighted the importance of enjoying the good, and focussing on the positive anyway.

It wasn't a sudden revelation, and I didn't immediately stop worrying. But it did give me a simple way of thinking, that suddenly made it easier to wander around the city and appreciate it properly. An almost gentle defiance, to make the very best of life, rather than live in fear, to have the willpower to enjoy each day as best you can. I have carried on reflecting on it since, and it does feel a little like an anti-dote to those worst-case scenario thoughts, although they are not as prevalent back in familiar surroundings. It does, even so, serve as a reminder to notice the good things, and take the chances to be happy as they come. This weekend has been filled with a theatre trip with my Grandad, a delicious meal with The Husband, and a slightly mind-boggling day having an initial look at prams, and travel seats, and nursery furniture. There is much to be happy about indeed!  

The Reading Residence

Project 52: Week 8

A Sunday afternoon stroll with The Husband and Millie. It's still looking, and feeling, very much like Winter outside, although a few brave daffodils have appeared in the garden, so I'm focussing on those for some colour.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


Thursday, February 25, 2016

see you in london or maybe in paris

A slightly picture heavy post ahead, as I share a few of the snaps from our recent trip. So, it was certainly a week of the unexpected, beginning with a surprise theatre trip to London. We travelled by train and stayed at a hotel very near to St. Paul's. Once we were checked in, The Husband then told me that we were off to Paris the next day by Eurostar.

We spent our night in London watching As You Like It at the National Theatre, which had the most incredible set, and a really innovative chorus. Much like many of Shakespeare's comedies, it involved mistaken identities, people being banished, lovers chasing each other through forests, and multiple weddings. The next day I took my first ever journey on the Eurostar, and the journey through the tunnel was over almost before I realised. From there we headed to a beautiful hotel just near the Champs-Elysees. We switched rooms just after arrival because they hadn't realised when we first checked in that The Husband had booked an upgraded room. We were wondering whether to mention it, but we were glad we did, because the room we ended up with was slightly bigger, but also had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower from the window!

The Hotel also offered a complimentary afternoon tea each day, although the only day we were there at the right time we had just returned from my birthday lunch, so didn't ever get to try it. It looked beautiful though! We visited the Louvre on our first full day, and once I had recovered from queuing for rather a long time to get in, we enjoyed having a wander around. The Mona Lisa was, as you might expect, swamped with people, as was the Venus de Milo, so it was quite difficult to get a real sense of them, especially as the Mona Lisa was behind a perspex screen, but I was glad to have seen them. It was an immense gallery to wander through, and most of the other floors were much quieter. We didn't cover even half of it, but enjoyed what we saw, and it is somewhere I have always wanted to visit.

Our next day in Paris included a beautiful lunch, and the waiting staff were incredibly helpful advising me on what they would recommend that was suitable for pregnancy. From there we had a walk through to Notre Dame, which I think was my favourite place in Paris. I didn't take any pictures at all, and wandered around awestruck by the architecture. We sat for a good while, quietly taking it all in. It felt like a very special way to spend the last day of my twenties, and it was lovely to sit and reflect on where life has brought us in the last decade.


From there we went for a coffee, and then enjoyed a night at the Opera Bastille, watching The Barber of Seville. Happily there were subtitles, as neither of us are opera aficionados, and it was another incredible set, with a full scale set of apartments that fully rotated so you could see in all the rooms (the picture above is not the set, just to be clear, I just liked that someone had got patriotic with their pants!). We returned from the opera to the most wonderful surprise, which was a knock at the bedroom door from my parents. The Husband, knowing full well that I have always shared my birthday with my mum, had invited them to join us, and so after a comedic scene which included me calling my mum and genuinely being baffled when I could hear the ringtone, I discovered our visitors! And as if that wasn't enough surprises, The Husband then told me that after my parents travelled home we would be carrying on from Paris, to spend a long weekend in Venice.

So my birthday was spent opening cards and presents with family, over breakfast in our room, and then from there we went for a very special lunch. After a beautiful meal, everyone was given a complimentary brandy to toast my birthday, and as I couldn't partake, I was given a cocktail glass of sorbets to enjoy instead. We spent the afternoon exploring the Rodin museum and gardens, posing with the sculptures and taking some very funny pictures. I was so glad to see The Thinker, a sculpture I have always wanted to see, and it was a lovely way to spend a few hours. We ended the day with an alcohol free cocktail for me, and some champagne as a gift from the hotel which everyone else enjoyed! As birthdays go, it was an incredibly memorable one.

The following morning we all went for breakfast and then waved my parents goodbye. Our final day in Paris was beautifully bright and clear, perfect for some sightseeing. We wandered up the Champs-Elysees, to the Arc de Triomphe, and then to the Eiffel Tower. The Husband was most excited of all to spot an actor from The Walking Dead, which was a little lost on me, but I daresay made his trip! We picked up a picnic, and our suitcases, and then headed to catch our overnight sleeper train to Venice. 

I have always liked the idea of travelling on a sleeper train, and The Husband had booked us our own little sleeper car. It was absolutely great fun, although bizarre to wake to the train pulling in and realise we were going through passport control as we crossed the Swiss and then the Italian borders. The darkness meant there was not much in the way of a view, although it was odd to look out to see snow on the ground as we travelled through the Swiss mountains! I slept well in between the different stops, though The Husband fared slightly less well, and by the time we had got the vaporetto water bus from the station to the hotel in Venice, he definitely felt like the ground was moving beneath him!

Venice had a completely different feel from Paris, and from anywhere I have been. The buildings, and streets, are full of nooks and crannies, narrow and crooked, and then suddenly you step round a corner to see the bright blue water almost at your feet. Particularly once you had crossed over the Grand Canal, it felt a lot more residential, with far fewer shops, but even with the throngs there for Valentine's weekend, it never felt so touristy that it lost its charm.

We weren't blessed with great weather during our days in Venice, but we had umbrellas and coats, and were quite happy to wander. The Husband had also booked a really beautiful hotel, and our room was lovely so it was quite nice to have an excuse to spend a few hours there when the weather was very wet. Before we left home, The Husband had downloaded some walking tours to his phone, which link to the GPS and tell you about the different sights as you walk past them. It was a great way to explore Venice at our own pace, and as it is such a small place, you could get around quite easily on foot.

We had a great few hours at the Peggy Guggenheim museum on our second day. It had a nice cafe, where we stopped for lunch, and to shelter from the rain. Once it had dried we were able to wander through the gardens, and then into the galleries. It was a really interesting and varied collection, and a fascinating place to spend some time.

After enjoying huge pizzas on our first night in Venice, our final night of the trip was spent having a lovely meal at a restaurant The Husband had booked. It was a really nice way to spend our last night. The following morning was very wet indeed, so we spent the final few hours of our trip looking around St. Mark's Basilica. Mass was going on, although we were in the upper part of the church looking at the mosaics and artefacts, it was interesting to hear the service in the background too. We actually went out onto the roof, which gave some incredible views, but The Husband ventured out over the sloping tiles alone!

From there it was homeward bound, after what had felt like an incredibly long break. It has only really sunk in since we got home everything that we did and what an amazing surprise The Husband had planned, and how much effort he, and my family and friends had put in. There was a detailed Millie-sitting rota in place including Grandad and the neighbours for the days when my parents were in Paris, and I was amazed at how many people had kept such a huge secret! Having never visited either place before, it was such a wonderful opportunity to experience them, and enjoy two very different, very beautiful cities. It may well have been our last holiday abroad as a couple for a number of years, and what an adventure it was, with more than enough memories to last a lifetime.

Monday, February 22, 2016

the year in books: february

Due to the recent gallivanting, I'm afraid the February post for Laura's The Year in Books project is quite late in the month. The summary of the books I read in January feels such a long a time ago now, and the part on the books I plan to read in February is a bit of a cheat as I already know I've read two of them! However, I shall write on, and endeavour to be more prompt next time!

"I doubt this book will ever disappear in huge numbers from supermarket shelves, or that people will scuffle over the last discounted copy in a frenzied Black Friday riot. Neither is it the leaden, pan-generational epic I pitched all those years ago. It’s something in the middle. Mid-ranged. Comfy. The sort of book that would turn up to a meeting covered in mud and shit having not changed into something more appropriate. Something a little more me."

I really enjoyed this book, and the style of writing was exactly what I expected, dry wit, often self-depreciating but also warm and well-written. I think a memoir is a good way of describing it, as it feels like a collection of anecdotes rather than a full-scale autobiography. The chronology moves around a lot, and some personal events seem to be only half-mentioned, or turned into a funny aside, which can make it feel a quite light hearted rather than being an in-depth life story. If you come to the book with that in mind, then it is a great read, with some incredibly funny writing, but also some moving sections too. She also writes of her family with a very tangible fondness, and their dynamic is incredibly well-captured. There were some poignant sections, and for me, the writing about her beagles really resonated. Despite my obvious enjoyment of Great British Bake Off, this book included some interesting background to the series, but was about much more than just that programme, and had a really broad appeal.

"I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane."

The Husband bought me a few John Green books a couple of years ago, I think when The Fault in Our Stars came out, and one Sunday in January I picked this one off the shelf and escaped for the afternoon into it. I found it very similar in style to an Abundance of Katherines by the same author, I book I read last year. I enjoyed this one more, but still felt that the main character being given a "quirk" didn't flow well within the novel. In this case, it was a knowledge of people's last words, a subject which is really interesting, but again it just felt a little forced to keep mentioning them in the plot, as though trying to combine a reference book with fiction. I think because I find the last words interesting in their own right, it again felt like a distraction. The plot was about teenagers at a boarding school and was a coming-of-age novel in my mind. The chapters were numbered in terms of a countdown to an event, and I found this an engaging structure, which helped to keep the plot moving, without making it obvious what it was leading up to.

In February, I have a number of books I want to read. The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon has been suggested by Laura this time, in case people were interested in reading the same book as others taking part in the project. There will be a separate twitter chat, in addition to the normal one, for people who chose to read the book, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy through the giveaway Laura ran last month. That will definitely be on my February list, and there are plenty of others on the to-read list too.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Project 52: Week 6 and 7

I didn't get back from our trip until late on Sunday, so didn't get chance to post, despite having picked out one of my favourite pictures from our trip. So please accept this double entry this week, and hopefully I will also do a separate post with some more pictures from our travels.

After Paris, we travelled on to Venice for a few days. We wandered around the tiny streets, enjoying getting lost and chancing upon views like this. We had been trying to cross back over the Grand Canal, and whilst this particular road didn't lead us across the water, it did provide a fabulous quiet jetty to stand for a few moments and enjoy this incredible city, savour the magic of turning a corner and finding crystal clear water lapping against buildings and boats transporting people from place to place.

The week at home since our trip has managed to retain the air of celebration, despite The Husband and I returning to work. On Friday, we went to Manchester House as my parents had treated us to a meal there for one of my birthday presents. We tried the eight course Tasting Menu, and had a wonderful meal. This was our beautiful, and delicious dessert.

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


word of the week

So this is actually my word of the last fortnight, as it seems to have been an extended period of celebrations since I last wrote! Turning thirty has proved to be lovely, filled with friends, family, and lots of wonderful memories. The surprise trip to Paris included a night at the opera, some beautiful meals, sightseeing in a lovely city, and the best surprise of all, a visit from my parents part way through the week so that I could share my birthday with my mum, upholding the tradition of the previous 29 years, and making the celebrations complete. I also found out that The Husband and I were booked on the overnight train from Paris to Venice, another incredible city we had yet to visit, and so it turned into a mini European tour, and the most wonderful week indeed. Considering this was the first trip The Husband had booked by himself, he certainly excelled, and it was a brilliant way to welcome in a new decade.

Once home, there was a family meal on the Monday, a very special meal out on the Friday with The Husband, a gift from my parents, and yesterday a party at our house including friends and extended family. My parents have been living with us this past week, while they were having work done at home, and it has felt like a real team effort, getting sorted for the weekend, getting organised after our trip away, and having their company when The Husband had to work away. It is incredible that they are able to move in and make life less complicated and stressful, rather than more so!

And now, I am tucked up in a hotel room, as I am working away from home for the next few days. It is odd to be alone after all of the wonderful company and socialising of recent weeks.The quiet is giving me a chance to let the experiences all sink in, and realise what a special time we have had recently. It is also the chance to think about the milestone, and where life has brought me in the last decade, and what the next decade might hold in store. You may remember my adventures before thirty list, and I hope to write a post about that before February is over. I might also do a slightly photo-heavy post with some of the pictures of our trip in the coming days.

In the meantime though, one of my posts for word of the week last year talked about something else that I had hoped to achieve before I turned thirty. After our experiences in October, I am incredibly grateful to say that The Husband and I will hopefully be welcoming a new addition to our family this August. After some concerns in the early weeks, so far things are progressing well, and we are gradually daring to get excited, little by little, especially now that we have started to tell people. It seems that some of the best adventures may well be yet to come.

The Reading Residence

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Project 52: Week 5

A view out over the train station concourse as we set off on our holiday.  Hopefully lots of photo opportunities over the week ahead and an interesting photo for next week's blog!

TheBoyandMe's 366 Linky


word of the week

A very quick entry for this week, as I am unexpectedly writing the blog from a hotel room in Paris! Having finished work for a week on Friday The Husband announced that we would be travelling to London to celebrate my 30th birthday next week. After checking into a beautiful hotel and getting ready for a night at the theatre I then found out that we would be taking the  Eurostar and spending the week in Paris, a city I have never visited.

It was a lovely surprise to end the week and I'm looking forward to the celebrations to come.  I hope you have all had a lovely week.

The Reading Residence

Monday, February 01, 2016

first things first

The first of February.

Which means it is officially the first month of my thirties, doesn't time fly! Bringing with it the first annual leave of the year, as The Husband has something planned, and I am itching to find out what. Not long to go now.

The first day of a new week, I love it when the first of the month is also a Monday, it feels very well organised somehow!

Not a first, but actually rather more than that, as this is my 250th blog post. I feel like I should do something more auspicious, but random ramblings has been my style for the last 249, so I shan't buck the trend now.

The first go at painting with acrylics at art class, hence the slightly imposing picture of a man with a gun at the top of the page. Not at all in keeping with the normal fare on this blog, or my mood in general, sinister as he is, but he turned out reasonably well. We built up the colour putting the black on last, and it was funny to see how it all suddenly came together at the end to turn into something that looked vaguely recognisable, after an hour of painting random shapes.

The first day in a while where I went into work early. I've been going in later and finishing later these past few weeks, partly because I haven't been sleeping well and I needed a bit longer in bed in the mornings. Last night felt like my first night of restful sleep in a while, and it was much nicer getting up and out today and finishing when it was still light.

The first haircut with the new hairdresser tomorrow. I've diligently done my homework and printed out some pictures of hair I do like, and she also asked me to bring some pictures of styles I don't like, which hopefully bodes well, as long as we don't mix the pictures up.

The first night of yet another storm, at least I think it is a new one, it is proving a little difficult to keep track, they are rather relentless. We have been lucky not to be particularly badly affected where we live, but the constant road closures and flooding for those in other areas must be so devastating and disruptive. It seems that every night we go to bed to the sound of blustering winds, and wake up to the same. I hope you are all safe and dry, and not being too badly impacted by the weather, and here's hoping the first few days of calmer, kinder weather come soon.