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

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Exploring Leicestershire and Lincoln

Hello dear readers and welcome to my first post of 2018!  In line with my goal of updating this blog bi-monthly I am here with the latest news and adventures from Casa Cowley.

January largely passed without incident, getting back into gear at work and catching up with friends after the Christmas break.  February has been a little more exciting as I had a week off with my partner Pete, which we spent exploring Leicestershire and its vicinity.

On Monday we collected our hire car and then headed into Market Harborough to explore.  We ducked into a few shops to look round (including locally based fashion label Joules) but spent a lot of the time tucked up in a pub or coffee shop because it was so bitterly cold!  I was pleased to take him into Emerson and Wests' to peruse the cakes and sweet treats on offer, in the end curiosity got the better of us and we shared a local treat called a Market Harborough Cheesecake between the two of us.  It was very nice, spongy and fruity and slightly creamy.

Tasty treats at Emerson and Wests'

Tasty treats at Emerson and Wests'

Tasty treats at Emerson and Wests'

Tasty treats at Emerson and Wests'

Tasty treats at Emerson and Wests'

In the evening we were joined by my parents and we tried out a local restaurant called Rocksalt Seafood and Grill, which served us a very pleasant dinner.

Tuesday was a really indulgent treat: a spa day at Best Western Ullesthorpe Court Hotel.  We were greeted by hot chocolate and biscuits upon our arrival, hitting the onsite gym shortly thereafter to mitigate for the calories.  At lunchtime we were served an afternoon tea, and then enjoyed our treatments: Mum enjoyed a thermal body wrap while I and Pete went for a hot stone back massage.  After that we went for a swim and lazed in the jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.

Spiced biscuits welcomed us at Best Western Ullesthorpe Court Hotel

An indlugent salted caramel hot chocolate to go with the biscuits

Delicious afternoon tea of sandwiches, scones, furit and cakes

A pretty frosted buttercream cupcake

We had an exciting adventure on Wednesday: a trip to Lincoln to see Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral!  I had been once as a college student to meet and interview Kat and Dave (a.k.a Sue and Steve) of web comic Two Sides Wide but didn't get to see much of the city at that time, so I was really excited to get the chance to explore it properly.  Pete had worked here for a week recently and had told me it would be worth a day trip - we weren't disappointed!

A view of Lincoln Cathedral from Lincoln Castle

A view of Lincoln Cathedral from Lincoln Castle

The Georgian prison building to the left and Lincoln Crown Court straight ahead

The Georgian prison building with the Victorian section visible behind

View of the water tower from wall of Lincoln Castle

Inside Lincoln Cathedral
First we visited the castle, which started life as a motte and bailey built by William The Conqueror and was a Roman legionary fortress before then.  It assumed various guises throughout the ages but today the buildings consist of two prison buildings, one a red-brick Georgian wing and another Victorian wing; as well as a medieval castle wall that you can walk around and the Lincoln Crown Court which was built in 1845.  It also has a modern vault containing a genuine copy of the Magna Carta for the public to view.

We then headed on to the cathedral.  Its construction began in 1088, and wasn't complete for very many years as it was subsequently built and rebuilt many times over!  For 238 years it was the tallest building in the world due to its spire, unfortunately it lost the accolade when the spire collapsed in 1549.  We were lucky to walk in just as a guided tour was about to start, so were treated to an insider's scoop of all the quirky carvings and interesting history of the building.

While in Lincoln we ventured down The Steep, a long shopping street leading down a steep slope away from the castle and cathedral.  There were loads of awesome quirky shops and tearooms to explore, but my best find was the local art gallery and artists' co-operative Harding House Gallery!  Highlights included ceramics by Lizzie Brown Ceramics and Tydd Pottery, as well as paintings by Gill Vines which Pete was especially keen on.

Ceramics by Lizzie Brown Ceramics

Ceramics by Lizzie Brown Ceramics
Ceramics by Lizzie Brown Ceramics

Ceramics by Tydd Pottery

Ceramics by Tydd Pottery

We rounded off our visit with dinner before heading home, since we were in the mood for a curry we called in at Castle View Indian Cuisine which was well reviewed on TripAdvisor and with good reason!  It very much slaked our thirst for warming spice and luscious flavour.

On Thursday I got to tick off a to-do that had been on my list for a long time: Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.  I had visited the initial excavation of the car park where the remains of Richard III were discovered (before they even knew for definite it was him) and had since been to visit his final resting place in Leicester Cathedral and the Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester city centre, but had never been to see the site where he was actually killed after a heated battle against the forces of Henry VII.  It was really moving to see the place in person and hear in detail the story of the battle that day and the events leading up to it.

Posing in the cold at the memorial on Bosworth Battlefield

The exhibition and walk round the field took around 3 hours to complete, after which we headed home to relax in the warm with a rejuvenating pot of tea.

A cup of fragrant cherry-flavoured black tea.

Friday was our last full day with the hire car, so we rounded off the week with a bracing walk at Rutland Water, which I hadn't been to since going on a trip with the Girl Guides when I was young.  We headed to the Hambleton Peninsula where there was a convenient parking area right near to the start of a circular walk around taking in the whole peninsula.  We completed the walk in roughly two and a half hours, and then headed in the direction of home.  However on the way back we stumbled across the famed Hambleton Bakery, and couldn't resist popping in for some treats!  We left with some wonderful breads to try as well as a couple of pastries to sample.

Breads and baked goods at the Hambleton Bakery

Pastries at the Hambleton Bakery

Breads at the Hambleton Bakery

On Saturday morning we had to return the hire car (making sure it was squeaky clean inside and out!), after which we headed up to Leicester city centre to do some shopping and watch Maze Runner: The Death Cure at the cinema.  I had recently bought the new Tom Kerridge recipe book Lose Weight For Good, so we used a recipe from that to make dinner: South Indian fish curry.  It certainly helps that Pete and I are pretty good when it comes to cooking but I have to hand it to Mr. Kerridge - this dish was delicious!  Not the quickest ever to cook but packed with flavour and certainly not what you'd consider 'diet food'.  We always enjoy a chance to cook and will certainly be making this dish again.

Well that pretty much wraps up the week!  Pete and I packed quite a lot of activities in, we don't get to have much time off together and don't yet own a car between us so we like to make the most of both the time and the transport.  Judging from my diary we don't get another full week together until October!  However you will hear from me before then, they'll just be weekend adventures rather than week-long ones!

All the best and I hope to see you then!


Sunday, 31 December 2017

2018: Goals and Aims

Greetings lovely readers, I am delighted to share with you the very last post of 2017!  My previous post looked back on the successes, failures and achievements of the past year, so in this post I'll be looking forward to 2018 and listing my goals for the year about to start.

Goal 1 - Use Happiness Jar

My newly acquired Happiness Jar

My first goal is to make use of my new Happiness Jar to record and remember things I'm grateful for, including moments of success and good things that have happened.  In general I'd like to try to be more grateful and appreciative of the things that I have this year.  There are some major goals that I have yet to achieve, but though remaining focused on your goals is a good thing it is also important to remember, acknowledge and congratulate yourself for the progress that has been made so far.

Goal 2 - Complete 52 Lists Project and Q&A A Day Books

52 Lists Project and Q&A A Day books

52 Lists Project book - double page spread

Q&A A Day book - double page spread

I was lucky enough to be gifted both of these books last year and have been eagerly awaiting the new year to start them ever since!  The 52 Lists one lasts for one year with you making one list per week while the Q&A book lasts for five years with the owner answering one question per day.  I really enjoy activities like this that get you thinking about your peccadilloes, interests and priorities - though the prospect of recording over a whole 5 year period scares me somewhat!  I'll be halfway through my thirties by the time the Q&A book is complete.  There are so many things I want to achieve by that time... I wonder if I'll have managed to accomplish them all?

Goal 3 - Driving

Probably my biggest goal of 2018 is to pass my practical driving test, after that I intend to take motorway driving lessons and once I feel I've mastered driving on a motorway I will buy my first car.  After that some major milestones will be driving to Manchester and back to visit my partner Pete's family, and then later in the year helping with the drive to Scotland and back to visit my brother James and his family.  They've indicated that they'll be spending Christmas at home in Dunfermline next year and will be inviting us up from Leicester and my sister in law's family over from Northern Ireland to spend it with them, so I'll have some time to prepare for this goal!  I'll be particularly happy to achieve this though as I always feel bad about not being able to contribute to the driving on such a long journey.

Goal 4 - Health

Me in October 2016

Me in September 2017

As stated in my previous post I've already made some great progress in this area over the year by losing 25kg, following an NHS prescribed eating plan and increasing my activity and fitness levels.  In 2018 I'd like to go the distance and finally reach my goal weight of 60kg by losing a further 25kg over the course of the year.  This would put me in my healthy weight range for the first time in my adult life (I've struggled with excess weight since my age was in single digits) and would greatly decrease my risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  This second stretch will likely be even harder than the last: my weight loss plateaued for a few weeks prior to Christmas though after a few adjustments (cutting back further on starchy foods in particular) I've managed to have it dropping steadily again by about a kilo per week.  I'm sure such plateaus will occur again as I near the finish line, so I'll have to see what sacrifices I can bear to make while still enjoying life.  In support of this I will be aiming to continue going to the gym 3 times a week and completing further long walks in the Peak District.

Goal 5 - Career

To further develop my career I'd like to improve my skills in deign programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.  Presently I feel that I'm competent in these programs but would like to fully master them.  I also want to continue learning to code in HTML and CSS and start learning to code in JavaScript.

Goal 6 - Personal Development

During 2018 I'd like to gain further experience of public speaking in a low pressure environment to build my confidence in this area.  I may take on some small speaking roles at the non-religious Sunday Assembly group I attend and perhaps attempt some larger ones as the year progresses, possibly including a 15 minute presentation about Pedestrian, the arts education charity I work for.

Goal 7 - Illustration

This area was badly neglected in 2017 so I'd like to make some modest improvements and work on some more creative goals in the coming year.  I intend to make a new piece of work to be submitted to the Leicester Open Exhibition in 2018 as well as completing some outstanding pieces of work and designing  Christmas cards to send to family and friends.  I will also aim to do some on-location or observational drawings every month.  I am hoping to update this blog and my Facebook page once every other month as well as continuing to share good quality content on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Goal 8 - Relationships

A newly added category but an important one!  I've recently reconnected with a good friend I've known since infant school so I intend to keep in touch with her better by writing a letter at least once per quarter.

Phew, it's going to be quite a year!  What aims, goals and ambitions have you set yourself for 2018?  Let me know in the comments!

Best wishes for the new year, and thanks as always for reading.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Emma is Doing Her Best: Looking back on 2017

Hello dear readers!

Welcome to my latest blog post and what will probably be the last installment of 2017!  It's been an exciting year with many ups and downs, trials and tribulations.  Mostly it has been a year of successes and positive developments, there's a sense that things are finally moving in the right direction after a few years fraught with difficulties and setbacks.  Many of my goals have yet to reach their endpoints, but I have made good progress this year and am optimistic that they will be accomplished in the new year.  So without further ado, here is what I have achieved in 2017:

This year my driving has improved a great deal, I feel so much more confident behind the wheel and in my last few lessons there has been very little for my driving instructor to correct me on.  This year I succeeded in passing my theory test with good marks, practised driving in my Mum's car (i.e. with no instructor, second set of pedals or other person to take over if I mess up), gained experience of driving in a petrol car (my instructor's car is a diesel one), memorised the notorious Pork Pie roundabout and became fully confident at driving at speed and on county roads.  I have yet to pass the final finish line and pass my practical test (having attempted it twice) but considering how well things are going I have a feeling that a pass is just on the horizon.  The only challenge to this is that as of the 4th December 2017 the content of the practical test changed, so I'm going to have to learn some new things before I can put in for my test again.

I've made some dramatic improvements to my health in 2017, the journey towards which began in January when I was referred by my GP to a programme run by the NHS called Lifestyle, Eating, Activity Programme (LEAP).  This consisted of 12 sessions run weekly during which we were weighed, then had an hour of diet/food education followed by an hour of exercise in the form of circuit training.  At the beginning of the programme we were given a diet regimen tailored to our measurements and activity levels to follow, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was all very common sense (moderate portions of carbohydrates and lean protein, plenty of fruit and vegetables and as little fat and sugar as you can manage to do without) and that there was no mention of all the nonsense you see in the national press about eating macca powder, chia seeds and other quack 'super foods'.  My apologies, but I don't have the patience to make smoothies and Buddha bowls!  A great thing about the diet (or rather, 'lifestyle change') is that it's very easy to stick to, flexible and doesn't restrict whole food groups.  And even better - it works!  By April I had lost 9.5kg (1.5 stone) and by the end of this year I have lost 25kg (about 4 stone).  By the end of next year I hope to lose another 25kg and reach my goal weight of 60kg (about 9.5 stone).

Alongside watching what I eat, I have also increased my exercise which has the dual benefit of helping with my weight loss as well as improving my physical fitness.  Earlier in the year I was doing Aquafit class, yoga and a gym session each week, which were good fun but the classes tended to finish later than I would have liked and were difficult to fit around my schedule.  Plus, to get home from the gym I had a 40 minute walk - fine on balmy summer evenings but not a pleasant prospect in the cold and dark of winter!  So I recently swapped gyms for one in the city centre that I can go to directly after work, do a full hour session and then catch a bus home.  I'm finding this routine pretty easy to stick to (goals need to be achievable, after all) and in a few weeks time have seen a marked improvement in my stamina and strength.  I also succeeded in completing two walks lasting about six hours across challenging terrain in the Peak District this year, which was testament to how far I'd come and how much my fitness has improved.

I don't think I've stated it explicitly anywhere but as you may have guessed I decided in 2015 to cease pursuing a career as an Illustrator and instead find a more 'normal' job.  In August that year I secured a role as Administration and Finance Officer for an arts education charity in Leicester called Pedestrian.  It plays to my good organisational skills, and I'm lucky that I still get to work in the creative sphere and for a worthy cause.  This year I've been focusing a lot on the marketing side of things, and in October took on the role of PR and Communications Coordinator for a project we're involved with called Moneywise Plus.  This was a really positive development as I'm interested in progressing into this area and it gives me opportunities to use my written and design skills in creating posters, invitations, flyers, blog/social posts and press releases.  I gained some valuable experience with using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and am looking to improve my knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite by working through some books I bought called 'Adobe Creative Cloud Classroom in a Book' for Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign.  I have them ready and waiting for the new year!  I've also started learning HTML and CSS coding through Code Academy this year.

Personal Development
Probably one of the things I'm most nervous about is public speaking, so in a bid to improve my skills and gain some confidence I stepped forward to do some small speaking roles at a group I attend called Sunday Assembly Leicester.  These are gatherings that happen on Sundays once a month at Leicester Secular Hall, the idea being that these are fun non-religious events that anyone of any belief system is welcome to attend.  It involves singing songs, listening to talks and readings and then having a vegetarian lunch together.  This year I did three readings (including an excerpt from a story by Isaac Asimov) and filled a slot we have called 'Doing Their best' in which we talk about our successes and failures (much like this post!)  I was pleased that I managed to get a few laughs from the audience and was praised afterwards by one of the attendees for being brave enough to talk about my weight loss goals and struggles.  It was a really positive experience and definitely an area that I'd like to continue developing in 2018.

Creative Development
Oh dear, there's always going to be one area you end up neglecting!  Unfortunately this year I've been so busy pursuing other goals I've not had much time and head-space for creative activity, I always find I need a decent block of time and some physical space to relax and settle in to making artwork and I've not had a vast amount of either recently.  This is definitely something I need to improve on next year!  I also failed to achieve my aim of updating my blog with a new post every month, by the end of this year I'll have done 5-6 posts (including this one) so updating my blog bi-monthly looks like a more reasonable target.  I have however been very active on Twitter and have been pleased with some of the photographs and posts I've shared on there.  I'm by no means a professional photographer but a fun snap on the fly is always satisfying!  Chatting and sharing with others is such an enjoyable activity and there's been steady growth in my followers on that platform, so this is an activity I'll be continuing.

That's all for now folks, as always thank you for reading!  Join me closer to the new year when I'll be setting and sharing goals for 2018.  It promises to be an exciting year!

Best wishes,


Thursday, 26 October 2017

More Peak District Hiking Fun

Greetings lovely readers!

In the last installment I shared with you photos from an aborted hike up in the Peak District, so I am pleased this time to share with you some documentary evidence (in the form of photos!) that we returned a few weeks later and completed it successfully!

View of the Grindsbrook path from its apex

View of the landscape from the top of Grindsbrook

We headed up the Grindsbrook path as before, taking the correct route this time so the ascent onto the Kinder Plateau wasn't too arduous.  There isn't really a photo that can do justice to the altitude you climb in such a short space of time, but you can get some idea from the pictures above!

View of the landscape from the top of Kinder Scout

Interesting rock formation

Rock formation that looks like the head of a crocodile - people have even put in little stones for teeth!

Shallow waterfall on Kinder Scout

Shallow waterfall on Kinder Scout

Shallow waterfall on Kinder Scout

Rocky outcrop

Terrain on Kinder Plateau

We then travelled across the top of Kinder Plateau (also known as Kinder Scout), enjoying the somewhat alien looking terrain and interesting rock formations as we went.  There was also a small waterfall to traverse which made a lovely subject for photographs.

View down Jacob's Ladder

View up Jacob's Ladder

I made it!  Reaching Jacob's Ladder at last

View across farmland

 Despite poor visibility due to mist we found our way around the ridge and eventually to the top of Jacob's Ladder.  Once we'd descended (stopping to take cheesy celebratory photos) there was a stroll across farmland and then onto the Pennine Way for the home stretch back to Edale.  We thoroughly enjoyed having a walk on the wild side and found the route challenging without being exhausting.  Though as with any extended trip I'd definitely recommend taking plenty of water and snacks - this walk took around six hours and the last thing you want is to be stuck up on the tor, hungry and thirsty!  Lots of warm layers and a waterproof are also a must.

I hope you've enjoyed this post, thank you for reading!