Saturday, 28 December 2019

December 2019: The End of a Decade

Hello readers, and welcome to this, my first (and last!) blog post of 2019!

It’s been well over a year since my last update, apologies for the super-long hiatus.  There’s been a lot of changes in the interim, it’s amazing what can happen in such a short space of time (when put in context of the human lifespan).  But since I’m off work for two weeks for the Christmas and New Year break and finally have some free time, I thought it would be nice to get one last blog entry in before the start of 2020 and the new decade.

I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: Pete and I ended up going our separate ways.  He was put in a situation where he needed to move back to Manchester to care for two of his three children full time, and I wasn’t willing to go through the upheaval of moving to a different part of the country away from family and friends.  It was an amicable split, and we’re still in touch.

However, some very good things have happened: in November 2018, I (finally!) passed my driving test, which was a huge achievement for me and the culmination of many hours of practice with my instructor and long-suffering parents.

It's a pass! Finally got my license on 22nd November 2018.

This lead to the second very good thing: I got my first car!  She’s a white Citroen DS3 and I have named her Lady Rosalind (or Rosie for short), because a pretty car deserves a pretty name.  She handles very well and is easy to drive, plus comes with all the mod cons I wanted (parking sensors, cruise control, sat-nav, air conditioning and DAB radio).  My only complaint is with the on-board sat-nav: its tends to pick idiotic routes and constantly needs paid-for updates to stay current; these days I just use Waze on my phone, which is free, updates automatically and is very effective at finding efficient routes to miss traffic and obstructions.  I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my newfound freedom, zipping around with Planet Rock blaring through the speakers!

My shiny new car, Lady Rosalind (Rosie, if you like), out for a spin at Foxton Locks.

Rosie came in especially handy when I met my third piece of good news: my new(ish) boyfriend, Tom.  We met shortly after I got her through the dating app Bumble, and since Tom hasn’t yet passed his driving test (his first try was Friday 13th December – sadly it lived up to its reputation as a day for bad luck!), I currently am the default designated driver.  We were soon planning trips both near and far: one of our first dates was to Foxton Locks (country lanes in the dark, such fun!) and since then we’ve taken Rosie to Bath, London, Coventry, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  Next year we’re hoping to share the drive up to Scotland to visit my brother and his family, providing Tom has passed his test by then of course!

The ancient Roman Baths at the Georgian spa town of Bath.

Then the fourth piece of good news to share: Tom and I moved in together!  Tom had been living in a massive pad in the Stoneygate area of Leicester (it had an AGA and everything!) with his pal Rob, but they wanted to move out as the rent was due to increase and unfortunately the landlords hadn’t been proactive about maintaining the standard of the property, so it was slowly falling into disrepair.  He had to find a new place to live anyway, so he asked me… how about finding somewhere together?  We’d only been seeing each other for around three months at that point but decided to take the plunge and see how we’d get on making a home with each other.

Our lovely home in Syston, it looks even better in the summer when my hanging baskets don't look so sad!

I’m pleased to say that almost nine months on, we haven’t regretted the decision once!  Tom is an absolute pleasure to live with, he’s relaxed, easy-going and happy to pull his weight with the housework (which is a godsend to me, being rather house-proud).  Hopefully he feels the same about me!  Our home is beautiful too, it’s only around ten years old with lots of modern features, a humungous kitchen and lots of light and space.  For the first time I have ample room to store away all my kitchen gadgets, organise ingredients and experiment with food – I am thoroughly spoiled!  We also have the pleasure of really friendly landlords; their parents are also our next-door neighbours and lovely people, so easy to get along with.

Our massive kitchen, possibly my favourite room in the whole house.  I'll often be here cooking or enjoying a cup of tea!

Our new home is in Syston in north Leicestershire, and we’re enjoying living in this area so far.  It’s really peaceful and quiet, has its own rail station with direct routes into Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham; and has the added benefit of a small town centre with ample shops and amenities.  It also has the craziest number of supermarkets within spitting distance: Aldi, Tesco, ASDA, a giant Sainsbury’s, M&S Food Hall and Costco (which we absolutely love!), plus the Barkby Thorpe out of town shopping centre five minutes’ drive away.  The jewel in the crown though is Watermead Country Park, a series of interconnected lakes and waterways with lots of leafy paths to explore and waterfowl to spot.  A lovely place for an afternoon stroll or picnic!

This coming year we plan to buy a house together to settle into and make our very own, so we will be moving again in the fairly near future.  However, we’re not planning on going far and if something suitable comes up in Syston, we’d definitely be more than happy to stay in the area.

Strange sculpture at Watermead Country Park in Syston, not a clue what the scene is supposed to depict.

2018 was a year of ambitious forward thinking and progress towards goals, and my career aspirations were no exception.  In September that year I started a distance learning course with the Oxford College of Marketing to achieve a Chartered Institute of Marketing Level 6 Diploma in Professional Marketing.  Throughout that winter and during the first half of 2019 I studied extremely hard, submitting two lengthy pieces of written work and then sitting an exam in July.  In September this year I got my results (more good news!): Pass with Merit!  I also discovered that I am now eligible for an upgrade to Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and can use the letters ACIM after my name.  It was a really proud achievement, that I am hoping will allow me to further my career in marketing.

To be framed and hung in pride of place: my hard-won diploma.

One last piece of lovely news is that we have some new additions to the family: in 2016 I became an Aunt for the first time when my little nephew George was born to my brother James and his fiancĂ© Jenni, my older brother and his wife Leah followed suit in 2017 when they had my niece Niamh.  In August this year Will and Leah welcomed another new arrival, a little boy called Edwin.  And in May 2020, James and Jenni will also greet their second child.  I’m thoroughly enjoying my new role as an Aunty; my niece and nephews are cute as buttons!

Another thing I should mention before I sign off: Sunday Assembly Leicester is sadly no more.  For over a year it was essentially being run by three people including myself, then that dropped to two of us and became impossible to manage without more manpower.  So we made the decision to see it through to the end of 2018, and held our last assembly in December of that year.  We went out on a high, singing Christmas songs and enjoying lunch together like always.  It was a good time to bring that chapter to a close as I was able to then better focus my energies on studying for my CIM qualification, and (once Tom and I moved in together) maintaining our new household (no more Mum and Dad getting dinner ready for when I come in from work!)

Tom and I celebrating our first anniversary at Tandem in Leicester.

Lastly, I’ve been making some plans for future good health, which has included adding more walking to my daily commute (to and from Syston and Leicester train stations each way), creating and using a home gym, and joining Slimming World in July this year and achieving a weight loss of over a stone so far.  The latter of which in particular has been really rewarding, I’ve discovered new ways of cooking and eating more healthily, have tried lots of delicious new recipes and made some great new connections in my local area.  The Christmas break has presented a bit of a departure from the usual plan regarding food (anyone know a recipe for Syn-free sherry trifle or Christmas pudding?  No, I thought not!) but now that Christmas is over it’s time to put some control back in and perhaps just allow myself some extra Syns for alcohol on New Year’s Eve.

I think that’s all the news I have to share (for now!), see you in 2020 for the start of a new year and a new decade.  Here’s hoping it’s a really special one for all of us; wishing you all health, wealth and good luck!

Saturday, 4 August 2018

June - July 2018: RHS Chatsworth, Peak District walks and Coton Manor Gardens

Greeting readers, felicitations to you on this fine August day!  For once I am bang on time (perhaps early even, given that the month has only just started?) with my posting schedule and am here to bring you the latest news, activities and (hopefully) some pretty photos.

The month kicked off in style with Leicester Riverside Festival, an event taking place each summer on the river Soar on the Western side of Leicester city at Bede Park, Castle Gardens and surrounding streets.  You can enjoy boat trips, music, live performances, and stalls selling food, drink and hand crafted goods.  There was a lovely friendly, buzzy atmosphere and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

Narrow boat converted into a stage at Leicester Riverside Festival 2018.

Musicians on a boat at Leicester Riverside Festival 2018.

There was a good turnout for Leicester Riverside Festival 2018, with a chilled-out atmosphere.

Midway through June my brother came down with his fiancee and son to spend a few days with us.  Mum's 70th birthday was back in January, but for her big birthday we planned a special (if delayed) treat: a day out at RHS Chatsworth!  None of us had been to an RHS flower show before, and we were not disappointed - the arrangements and presentation of the flowers were absolutely stunning, and getting the blooms to look (and stay!) so fresh was a real skill.  I had a fun time spotting my favourites: orchids, chrysanthemums, dahlias, roses and peonies.  I also loved the displays of Japanese acers, as well as succulents, grasses and leafy plants to add texture.

View of Chatsworth House.

Display of orchids.

Display of orchids.

Display of orchids.

Display of peonies.

Display of acers.

At the end of the week we took a trip up to the Stoneygate area of Leicester to see Art House Leicester, an event where homes in the area open up to the public and become temporary galleries for local artists.  It was my first time attending the event and I was immensely impressed by the quality and amount of local art on offer - suffice to say I made a few purchases!  I'm very much looking forward to seeing more next year.

I took my monthly trip up to greater Manchester to see Pete and the kids, for which we decided to make the most of the fine weather and do a walk in the Peak District since it's not far from where Pete's Mum lives.  The walk was a circular one from Ashford On The Water, going through Monsal Head, Deep Dale and Sheldon before passing over Sheepwash Bridge (allegedly the best place to play poohsticks!) and back to Ashford On The Water.

Friendly cows.

View into the Wye valley from Monsal Head.

A large weir.

Pete and the kids in front of the weir.

Homes in Sheldon.

Plant growing out of a stone wall in Sheldon.

View over greater Manchester area.

The video below shows the view around the lovely rolling countryside of Deep Dale.

At the end of June it was my 31st birthday, and it happened to fall on my day off!  So we took a special trip to Coton Manor Gardens to wander around in the sunshine and admire the plants.  The house is still privately owned so is inaccessible, but we had a lovely time looking at the flora and fauna - which included flamingos!

Flamingo at Coton Manor Gardens.

Flamingos at Coton Manor Gardens.

Roses at Coton Manor Gardens.

Sculptural water feature at Coton Manor Gardens.

Pond at Coton Manor Gardens.

Coton Manor.

Lilies at Coton Manor Gardens.

Wildflowers at Coton Manor Gardens.

Wildflowers at Coton Manor Gardens.

Water feature at Coton Manor Gardens.

Stag sculpture at Coton Manor Gardens.

Irises at Coton Manor Gardens.

The day was rounded off with a trip to Boboli in Kibworth, one of our favourite Italian restaurants.  The following day we went for a manicure and back massage in Oadby, and then on the Saturday night I went out with some pals for dinner at Casa Romana (another Italian - their steak in truffle sauce is to die for!)  Afterwards we hit some bars in Leicester city centre, including 33 Cank Street, The Terrace and 45 West, all of which I can heartily recommend.

This was a month of much organising and planning: Leicester Sunday Assembly's July assembly was fast approaching and as the other committee members were away, it was down to me to lead the event!  This involved organising and delegating, setting up on the day, coordinating the cooking, as well as hosting (i.e. presenting the event) and doing a reading.  It was a busy morning but all went well - even the food!  I felt pretty proud of myself afterwards as only a matter of months ago having so much responsibility would have scared the hell out of me, so it was a validating experience to rise to the challenge.  And I was lucky to have my fellow assemblers there to provide support when needed!

The last major event of July was another Peak District walk, this time we decided to tackle Mam Tor, also known as the Shivering Peak!  This walk started and ended in Castleton, going up Losehill, along the Great Ridge to Mam Tor and then back past the Blue John Mine and Treak Cliff Cavern.  It was a boiling hot day so we were rather uncomfortable for much of the walk, but the views made it all worth it: probably the best of any of the walks we've been on to date.

Start of the ascent to Losehill.

View across the Great Ridge to Mam Tor.

View from the top of Losehill.

View from the top of Losehill.

View across the Great Ridge to Mam Tor.

The descent heading back towards Castleton.

The two videos below show the view either side from the top of Mam Tor giving views of the surrounding valleys: Kinder Scout, Edale and Hope Valley on one side and Castleton on the other.

That's all for now folks, see you in October when I'll be sharing news and events from August - September!  As always, thanks so much for reading :)

Emma x

Sunday, 1 July 2018

March - May 2018: Cheesefest Leicester and Much Wenlock in Shropshire

Hello lovely readers, I hope all is well with you!  This is (only) my second post of 2018 - and we're already more than halfway through the year!  Apologies that this is somewhat later than expected, I meant to create this post at the end of May but was somewhat overtaken by events.  My next post detailing events that took place in June and July is due to appear at some point in August, then we should be back to a regular bi-monthly posting schedule.

For this month I decided to set myself a challenge and do DECHOX to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation - the original idea was to give up chocolate for a month but I decided to make it more challenging and give up all foods with high levels of added refined sugar - including biscuits, sweets, jam, sugary cereals, cakes... in other words all the good stuff you like to treat yourself with!  It was very challenging, especially towards the end as Easter approached and the shops were full of rabbit and egg shaped sweet treats.  However I did have an advantage in that my Dad has been sugar free for a while now, so if Mum does any baking she'll use Splenda, fresh or dried fruit in place of the white stuff.  So I wasn't completely deprived of something nice to have with a cup of tea!  As the 1st of April (Easter Sunday) approached I readied a glass of chocolate milk (I'm a sucker for the stuff, like the woman-child I am) and toasted in the start of the new month at midnight.  The following day I broke my chocolate fast with a yummy Easter egg.

We were supposed to see two ballets this month: Prokofiev's  Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake.  However we only made it to the latter performance because of the unseasonally huge amount of snowfall - we got out on the roads and had to turn back because it just wasn't safe to drive through.  It was rather gutting for Mum because Romeo and Juliet is one of her favourite pieces of music and she was looking forward to that performance most of all, but I'll just have to keep my eyes peeled and hope they come again another year.

The certificate I received at the end of my fundraising, I raised a respectable £55.00.

There were more cultural activities this month as I went to my first ever opera - in fact, two in two days!  The first night we were treated to La Traviata which was very moving and powerful, and then the following night we saw Madame Butterfly.  I didn't enjoy Madame Butterfly as much as I felt it didn't build up to such a moving climax as La Traviata, but I certainly felt a lot of sympathy for the young protagonist in the story and both performances were very skillfully executed.

I bagged us tickets to Cheesefest at The Athena in Leicester as soon as they became available - an entire festival of cheese sounded right up my street!  There were more flavours and varieties than you could count, and we tasted and picked up a lot of cheeses to take home with us, including (allegedly) the favourite cheeses of James Martin and Gorden Ramsey.  Most of the cheeses we chose were continental as they prove harder to get hold of in this country, but I think my tastes must be changing - French and Italian cheeses used to be my favourite, but the cheese I enjoyed most of all was a humble cheddar!  Black Bomber by The Snowdonia Cheese Company, to be precise.  We also took the opportunity to try some much-celebrated halloumi fries while we were there, which deserved their reputation for being delicious.

Chutney stalls at Cheesefest Leicester.

Cheese stalls at Cheesefest Leicester.

Cheese and cured meat stall at Cheesefest Leicester.

Cheese stall at Cheesefest Leicester.

There were more performances to see this month which provided good excuses to catch up with friends: we saw My Dad Wrote A Porno Live (hilarious), The Crucible and Fleabag (loved the TV series, had to see the live show where it all started).

We also had a very big reason to celebrate: my dear friend Holly married her long-time partner and university sweetheart Jools!  The wedding was down in Shropshire, so we took the opportunity to stay in Much Wenlock and see a little of the surrounding area.  We explored Much Wenlock town centre, as well as taking a trip out to see Buildwas Abbey and Benthall Hall.

Raynald's Mansion, original Tudor manor house in Much Wenlock.

The Corn Exchange in Much Wenlock.

The Guildhall in Much Wenlock.

The Clock Tower in Much Wenlock

An antique and vintage shop in Much Wenlock.

Buildwas Abbey.
Buildwas Abbey, cloister ruins.

Original tiles remaining at Buildwas Abbey.

Windows at Buildwas Abbey.

Archway at Buildwas Abbey.

Benthall Hall.

Table setting at Holly and Jools' wedding.

Finally, we rounded off the month with a trip to Alton Towers for my partner's son's birthday treat.  We tried out the new Wickerman ride (a modern reimagining of an old-fashioned wooden rollercoaster - swoopy bits were rather fun) as well as old favourites Air (renamed Galactica with the option of wearing a VR headset during the ride) and Nemesis.  We also went on The Smiler for the first time, which I was trepidatious about given the awful accident that happened on there some years ago but actually enjoyed that most of all the rides - the twists and loops were such good fun!  I was also pleased with my frugality that day - I brought a packed lunch and a refillable water bottle, which the staff were happy to top up with tap water at kiosks throughout the park.  All in all a very pleasurable day out.

That draws events to a close for now, check back in August for my next post!  Thank you for reading as always!

Emma x