Come on, let me see you shake your tail feather!

January can be a pretty miserable month and sometimes the perfect pick me up is an upbeat song!

Earlier this month we finally watched The Blues Brothers and since then I have been listening to this song every moment I get. On Saturday, whilst making breakfast we danced around the kitchen to it and it was the best start to the day! All that twisting can be exhausting so before breakfast, and a big bowl of Lucky Charms, was the perfect time to do it!

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013

My favourite exhibition to visit in London each year is the National Portrait Gallery's annual photographic portrait prize - first established in 2003 as the Schweppes Photographic Portrait Prize, changing in 2006 and 2007 to simply the Photographic Portrait Prize, and in 2008 it became the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.

It was in it's first year as the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize that I first stumbled upon it, and I haven't missed one since!
The exhibition brings together 60 new portraits by photographers from around the world and every year there is an incredible array of images on show. There is often the common theme of pictures of famous people and pictures by already well known photographers, but there are also some extra special individual works that make it through to the final exhibition, and those are the ones I am always most excited to see!

Below are some of my favourites from this year's selection:
Jockey Katie Walsh by Spencer Murphy
Man with Owl and Lucy by Deana Kolenčìkovà
Latvia, 2012 by Clare Hewitt
Andrew's favourite:
Choir Master by Rosie Hallam
And my absolute favourite:
Fabio by Andy Massaccesi
I'm not really sure why this picture of a man carrying a goat in his backpack didn't win, but I love it! It is an uplifting image, with beautiful lighting, a gorgeous colour palette and an incredible subject!

The exhibition finishes on February 9th and I highly recommend paying it a visit. Entry is only £3 (half price with an Art Fund Pass) so it's certainly worth it...even if it is only to go and see the picture of a man and his goat... You won't be disappointed!

NYC: The Met & The Upright Citizens Brigade

In March last year, Andrew & myself finally had the holiday we'd been longing for forever - we made it to New York City!
We'd always talked about how one day we would love to visit NYC - countless episodes of Gossip Girl & 30 Rock helped fuel the desire (obviously Andrew doesn't watch Gossip Girl, he wanted me to clarify that...), plus Andrew is a subscriber to The New Yorker (he's very keen), so we were unbelievably excited when we finally booked it!
On our first full day in New York we ventured over to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka The Met) - the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere! As is common in many NYC museums there is a 'pay-what-you-like' entry fee, so we paid our $10 & headed for the Egyptian art section.
We always seem to start in the Egyptian section of a museum and then spend the majority of our visit there... We especially loved the Met's Sackler Wing (above) where the Temple of Dendur is housed. The room was filled with wonderful daylight, and the reflection pool made the whole place very peaceful (despite all the tourists...).
I'll admit, we headed out pretty late on this day (I could blame jet lag but that would be lying...) and so after the Egyptian section we had a quick mosey through the American furniture section, via a circular room with a panoramic painting of the Palace of Versailles - it was beautiful!
After lunch we made a beeline for the modern art section. Sadly there was so much to see and so little time (The Met closes at 5.30pm Sun-Thurs) so it is impossible to do the whole of it in one day, but it's certainly somewhere we'll return to on our next NYC trip.
I was very excited to see some Chuck Close portraits up close (below), and at The Met I got to see two! I studied Close's work a lot during my first year of 6th form, and was greatly inspired by him to start playing around with portraiture myself. His work is incredible, and I felt so lucky to get to see the different examples of how he works - the photo-realist and the coloured grids. Seeing them both, in the flesh, witnessing their sheer size and all the intricate details, really was the cherry on the cake of my visit to The Met.
We left The Met at closing time and headed over to a comedy club that Andrew wanted to visit in Chelsea. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre was founded by a group of comedians who perform under the same name - at the time this group included Amy Poehler! We bought tickets to see a group called The iNTECOLLECTUALS - a very funny sketch comedy group from L.A.
Before the show started we explored a bit more & grabbed a drink in Argo Tea (I had an Earl Grey & Strawberry Crème concoction...they had some unusual but delicious teas) before getting some dinner at Brgr (their Blueberry-Pomegranate milkshake was amazing!). We were also fascinated by the parking lots in NYC (above). I guess when you can't go underground and street space is limited you pile 'em high! A definite theme in NYC.
Our first day was a fantastic start to our holiday, we certainly made it our mission to experience a lot while we were there and as for pictures, well, there's a lot (thousands)!

Happy Birthday A.A.Milne!

Today would have been A.A.Milne's 132nd birthday, so I thought I would write a little post to celebrate it...

Alan Alexander Milne was an English author best known for his books about Winnie the Pooh, a fictional bear that lives in the Hundred Acre Wood (a fictional wood inspired by the Ashdown Forest in Sussex).

Winnie the Pooh was named after a teddy bear owned by A.A.Milne's son, Christopher Robin, who himself was the basis for the character of the same name. His toy bear was named "Winnie" after a Canadian black bear that he saw at London Zoo and "Pooh" after a swan they met on holiday. Other toys owned by his son also had their names lent to characters in the book.

For as long as I can remember I've been very fond of Winnie the Pooh and his Hundred Acre Wood friends. As a child my bedroom was adorned with all things Pooh Bear, everything featured him! If there was an option to have something Winnie the Pooh themed, I almost certainly did. And although this may not be the case these days, I still love that silly old bear! He sits proudly at the top of my tree every year, and as I type I am sat by a Winnie the Pooh shaped cushion.
Winnie the Pooh will always be important to me, especially because of the special connection he provided between myself and my late Grandpa M. He was very fond of him too and so it felt kind of like our thing, providing many happy memories :-)

Recipe: Cheddar Cheese Puffs

I like cheese. I really like cheese. I really really really like cheese. If I had to choose between chocolate and cheese for the rest of my life, I'd pick cheese. Sure, I'd miss chocolate occasionally, but I'd still have cheese, so everything would be ok.

I'd been planning to bake some savoury snacks since Christmas (we have a lot of cake & chocolate leftover from Christmas. Like, a lot!) and on Friday I saw an article on The Guardian website about cheese puffs. A cheesy savoury snack?! Mmm...perfect!
Cheese puffs are made using pâte a choux dough, which is the same used for making eclairs and profiteroles. The water in the dough turns to steam and expands in to air pockets, causing a puffy, light dough.

I closely followed this recipe and loved how simple it was compared to others.

You will need:
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 250ml water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g plain flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 115g grated strong cheddar cheese
  • a sprinkling of dried rosemary (optional)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. Mix the water, butter and salt together in a medium sized pan over a high heat using a wooden spoon.

2. Once the butter has melted, reduce the heat and add the flour, all in one go! Stir quickly. The mixture should start to form a doughy ball and come away from the sides. Keep stirring for a few minutes before removing the pan from the heat completely.

3. Leave the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then start adding the eggs one at a time, stirring after each. (You need to ensure the mixture is still warm but not hot before this stage, to make sure the eggs don't start to cook.) Keep stirring until the mixture is creamy.

4. Stir in the grated cheese and rosemary with a pinch of pepper. (You could also try adding thyme instead of the rosemary.)

5. Spoon out on to a lined baking tray in balls an inch apart. Cook for 10 minutes at 220°C, then reduce the heat to 180°C for another 15-20 minutes. The balls should be puffed up and golden. (I made quite big balls and managed to get 16 puffs from this mixture.) Remove from the oven & leave to cool. 

6. And lastly, enjoy these cheesy balls of goodness! They are pretty scrummy when warm...
p.s. you can also try this recipe with other cheeses. I'm pretty tempted to try it with goats cheese next...

The Alphabetical Prop Project - F, G, H & I

So...2013 was an awful year for my The Alphabetical Prop Project. I took a grand total of 2 images. Both of them in January. And both of them I only got round to editing in the last week.
I can try and blame the difficulty that was coming up with something for J (though, that did delay it massively for some time), but really my enthusiasm for photography just sort of disappeared. The only creative images I took for myself in the last 12 months were H & I above.
One of my New Years Resolutions for 2014 is to "re-ignite my love for photography", so let's see how that goes! Now on to J...

You can see A-E here and the whole project in full here.

p.s. I got pretty stuck on edible props...I wanted to do Jammy Dodgers for J. I even bought some packets but Andrew ate the packets and I felt it best I didn't buy more...

p.p.s My eyebrows look super weird in G! I think that was just before I stopped getting them threaded. I just couldn't trust them NOT to make my eyebrows look stupid. And they kept threading my forehead?! I mean...why?!?

Reasons to be Cheerful - December

  • Putting up our Christmas tree
  • Andrew's return from a week in New York (lucky duck!) with bags of M&Ms
  • Christmas dinner (and that amazing chocolate log!) at Lensbury with my Great Aunt
  • Christmas at home and giving everyone their presents
  • Cuddles with my friend's babies :-)
  • Andrew's Christmas cake & a green KitKat from Japan
  • Surprise flowers from my love
  • The Brownie's Christmas party and the Poinsettia that was a thank you gift from them :-)
  • Christmas day & Secret Santa with Andrew's family
  • Our Christmas Eve of two Christmas concerts - one in a church, one with a brass band
  • Tea, homemade cheese straws and helping my Grandma with her jigsaw puzzle
  • Dad (reluctantly) wearing his Christmas pudding hat
  • A party size bag of Reese's PB cups from my brother - those'll last me till Spring...
  • Spotting Jude Law in London. No biggy...
  • Playing Cluedo with my cousins on Boxing Day
  • New lovely books & a Kanken bag for Christmas
  • Festive jammies (and his & hers Rudolf socks)
  • A beautiful brooch that I saved from life at a jumble sale
  • Our flight being delayed (for 11hrs) due to bad weather meaning extra time at home
  • Making exciting plans for the future...
Read/Watched/Listened to/Saw/Visited:
  • A Muppet's Christmas Carol, Elf & Jingle All The Way - 3 of the best Christmas films!
  • A Harry Potter movie week - I needed to do something while I was home alone
  • Home Alone - possibly not the best idea the night before Andrew went away...
  • Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - so good!
  • Jeeves and Wooster at the Duke of York Theatre - I highly recommend it
  • Nine Lessons & Carols for Godless People - this was our 2nd year & it was even better!
  • Dawson's Creek - thanks Netflix for getting me hooked on this!
  • More Gossip Girl - just longing for the day I'll be back in NYC...
  • Sherlock Season 2 - preparing for new Sherlock (Mmm Mr. Cumberbatch)
  • Generally this month was one big Netflix binge!
  • The end of Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier and the start of Charles Dickens' The Christmas Books - Volume 2
  • The Manx Museum - one of our favourite places on the Island
To look forward to in January:
  • MOJO at the Harold Pinter Theatre - Rupert Grint & Ben Whishaw...swoon!
  • The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013
  • Seeing a friend that I haven't seen in a long time!
To do in January:
  • Do J of my Alphabetical Prop Project - I just need to get it done already!
  • Lots of planning for something special :-)
  • Re-start the 30 Day Shred...

The Snail Mail Collective - October & November

Finally - my Snail Mail Collective October & November blog post!

My partner for the October round of The Snail Mail Collective was the very lovely Brittani from the Linen and Lace Blog.

Brittani lives in Texas with her husband and gorgeous baby, Eli (warning: the pictures on her blog may make you broody...). She is a teacher, runs her own online shop and looks a great deal like Kate Beckinsale!

I really enjoyed exchanging emails with Brittani, we talked about teaching, weddings and life in general - it was a real pleasure getting to know her.
The theme for October was Autumn Adventures - and so my package to Brittani featured some bits from London - including a red bus and a tube map pencil because, well, travel = adventures. I also included some Galaxy chocolate (delicious!) and some English breakfast tea - something warming after a chilly Autumn Adventure.

Sadly, this was actually my second parcel to Brittani as the first one arrived open & empty :-(
My parcel from Brittani was full of incredible gifts! There were some delicious American treats, a ceramic pumpkin, handmade bunting from her shop (which you can see in my Thankful post) and a Texas Wedding Guide magazine. She also included a fantastic recipe for Pumpkin Cream Muffins, which as soon as all the Christmas goodies have been devoured I will be sure to attempt!

I loved everything in my parcel! Thank you so much again Brittani :-)

In November I was paired with Magdalena from Charmant Choses.

Magdalena, or Mag as she kindly let me call her, lives in Singapore and is also a teacher. When we first started emailing she was actually in the UK on a school trip.

I learnt a lot of things about Singapore from Mag that I didn't previously know, such as the fact that Singapore Island is smaller than the Isle of Man but has a massive 5.1 million people living there! (The Isle of Man only has about 75-80,000).
The theme for November was What are you grateful for?
Looking back, I'm not really sure I kept to the brief, but I hope Mag liked it! She mentioned to me that one of her favourite artists is Banksy and so upon seeing the above card I thought it'd be perfect for her. The Sew Your Own decoration kit was intended as something she could do with a friend, the stickers to remind her of London and the pen because, well I am VERY grateful for my lovely little Island.
My parcel from Mag included some wonderful gifts, and they were all related to things that she is grateful for:
- The Singapore keyring is because she's grateful for a place to call home.
- The tea/coffee letter set because she is grateful for having food on the table.
- The coin purse because she is grateful for having a job & money in her pocket.
- The heart decoration is because she is grateful for family & friends and the love they've shown her.

It was really lovely getting to know Mag and learning about her country, it's definitely somewhere I hope to visit one day. Thank you again for the beautiful package, Mag :-)


You can see my post about my September pairing here.

2013: My Year in Books

Since 2011 I have documented the books I've read each year, as both a reference for myself and as a way of keeping track.

In 2011, I read 18 books.
I had my final term of university & then moved to London. I travelled to work everyday on the London Underground, a twice daily tube journey was the perfect time for reading!

In 2012, I read 17 books.
I discovered that buses are cheaper than the tube - it was a mini revelation for a newbie Londoner. Alas though, I am not someone who can read in cars or on buses, give me a train any day! Then I started a new job where the commute was a simple walk from my flat. Sadly my reading time reduced this year.

In 2013, I read 14 books. The worst so far! (and one of those was for work...)
For the first half of the year I was still walking to work. In March I spent 3 weeks in America where I was far too busy exploring to read anything. Then we moved offices and my commute became a long bus journey everyday. And to top it off, our new office building has no proper communal area or parks nearby for me to spend my lunches reading - rubbish!

The books I enjoyed the most this year were:
  • Googlewhack! and America Unchained by Dave Gorman - if you've never read any of Dave Gorman's work you really should. He is a great writer and comedian, you won't be able to put his books down!
  • A Kestral for a Knave (Kes) by Barry Hines - I loved this story! The way the Yorkshire dialect is written is perfect.
  • Unsaid Things...Our Story by McFly - ok, so I'm probably a bit biased about this one, being a bit of a fan and all, but it was a very interesting read.
  • The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald - the title story was definitely my favourite here but the whole book is a great read.
  • Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier - the way she writes is wonderful!

So 2014, you WILL be a better year for reading! I have a long list to get through and it's only going to get longer... I definitely want to read more classics in 2014, plus make a start on the gems I acquired recently. I've set myself a 2014 Reading Challenge of 18 books. It's not a huge target but it's a realistic one!

L-R: Googlewhack! by Dave Gorman, The Science of Marketing by Dan Zarrella (this was for work...yawn!), A Kestral for a Knave (Kes) by Barry Hines, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, America Unchained by Dave Gorman, Unsaid Things...Our Story by McFly, The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike, Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Christmas Books Volume 2: The Cricket on the Hearth/The Battle of Life/The Haunted Man by Charles Dickens, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

My 2013

So, 2013, if we're being honest, you've been a pretty good year.

You were filled with travel - we finally made it to New York - the place we'd longed to visit for years. As well as Washington, D.C and Boston, M.A.
I travelled to Lille, France with my Mum & Grandma, and then to Germany with Andrew and our friend Veronica. We went to Freiburg where we explored The Black Forest, and Munich where we soaked up some of the Oktoberfest atmosphere.
Alongside this there were many trips back to the Isle of Man - probably the most we've had in a year.
In total, 2013 consisted of 13 flights, 2 boat trips, 1 coach journey and the Eurostar, as well as a LOT of trains.
You were filled with adventure - we tried harder to make the most of our time living in London and we certainly saw more of it this year!
You were filled with culture - this year was definitely our best for seeing shows, some notable ones we saw were: The Minotaur (our first opera), Peter & Alice (with Dame Judi Dench & Ben Whishaw), Wicked (finally!), The Cripple of Inishmaan (with Daniel Radcliffe), and Jeeves & Wooster (with Stephen Mangan & Matthew Macfadyen). We also went to several radio/TV recordings and gigs, including a comedy show in NYC.
We visited numerous Museums & Galleries - both in London and America. The Met & MOMA were some of our favourites.
You were filled with family & friends - we saw relatives we haven't seen for years, and some that we had never met before. Sadly, you were also a year of loss, and we said our final goodbyes to two very important family members.
A good friend welcomed a new addition to her gorgeous little family and there was a tiny new addition in Andrew's family too.
I met my American pen pal and her boyfriend whilst in NYC and they were two of the nicest people I've ever met!
You were filled with exciting plans - some just fleeting moments of hope but some very real, very possible plans. You set us up for an even more exciting 2014!
Now I've never been very good at sticking to resolutions, so this year I'll keep it simple:
  • Make the most of what free time I have - get more stuff done!
  • Give more time to reading - 18 books is the goal for this year.
  • Re-ignite my love for photography.
  • Reduce my spending and start saving.
  • See more of the UK.
  • Finally knit a scarf and crochet an Afghan square blanket.!

So... Happy New Year everyone! What are your new year resolutions?