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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Autumn's arrival

At last it's here. Crunchy leaves under foot, steaming cups of tea, long scarves and warm jumpers. Just a few of the reasons I love autumn.

It's a beautiful time of year if you ignore the one or two damp days that accompany it. Even as I type, the view out of the window is stunning - blue sky, bright sunshine and burnished leaves. I've been going out and about recently, enjoying the scenery, and the benefits autumn affords us. Local to me is a wonderful community orchard, and the community is invited to pop by and help themselves to some of the tasty fruit on offer. I went there last week with the aim of filling my fruit bowl (and maybe making a crumble or two). Just walking to it is a pleasure, it feels like you're making your way to a secret garden.


I love the anticipation of what's to come when we reach this season, there's so much to look forward to. In the next couple of weeks we have our big annual beer festival happening, the Apple Day celebrations at Bromham Mill, film festivals, Halloween. you then have Bonfire Night to look forward to and then (whisper it) Christmas. Everybody else seems to see summer as their social peak of the year, but I've always preferred autumn.

I even broke out my slow cooker yesterday. It's great coming home to your dinner already prepared after work, plus my house smelt amazing! I love having friends over for dinner, so did just that last night, testing out one of my recipes on her. Luckily she seemed to like it!

Even the food and drinks available to us seem to be getting into the autumnal spirit this year. I know it's almost obligatory to drink nothing but pumpkin spiced lattes from September onwards, but now there's something better, pumpkin spice Baileys. And I have a bottle all to myself. Don't look at me like that, I'm an only child, sharing can be difficult for us...
In between all the fall festivities, this is the best time of year for reading that book you haven't quite got around to, or watching those movies you've had on your list for ages. So if anyone needs me, I'll be found curled up in a blanket somewhere with a good book and a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Soup in Summer


I'm that weird breed that constantly craves what I can't have. It's summer? I miss autumn. Tell me I'm gluten-intolerant? I want to mainline bread and beer. I can only buy brick-red lipstick? But I want oxblood. I can't help it, I'm bloody difficult. I also want things that are deeply inappropriate for this time of year. Boots, hats, but mainly soup. And none of that cold gazpacho. Hot, hearty soup.

Yes, yes I know it's due to be a scorcher of a week. The sun is bright, sky is blue, and the thermometer is edging towards 30. The normal among us will be sipping a cool drink and contemplating a salad (or a tub of ice-cream) for lunch in their quest to stay cool. Me? I want soup. The stomach wants what the stomach wants. Plus the sight of another lettuce leaf may just tip me over the edge.

I've been making a conscious effort to be healthy of late (ignore recent Instagram pictures, we're all allowed a cheat day), so I wanted to put something together that would be filling and satisfying, but packed full of nutrients, not calories. I also wanted to make something that would be accessible to as many as possible, so stuck with the vegetable variety, and what wouldn't cost a fortune to make. I took inspiration from the website Yummly - http://www.yummly.co.uk/. If you haven't got an account already, I'd suggest signing up. Free to use with hundreds of suggestions, you can't beat it. It's particularly good for those of us who are restricted in what we can eat. 

I found a recipe that utilised a slow cooker, so lessened the effort involved as you just bung everything in! It's a bulk recipe so make sure you have plenty of tubs to hand, or a large group to feed. But with it's lack of meat it should last for a few days, and the ingredients are robust so should freeze well too.

You need:
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I use Knorr, as all of their standard stock cubes are gluten-free)
  • A sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 onion, diced (alternatively, a handful of shallots would be a lovely addition)
  • 2 tins of haricot beans
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Celery
  • 4 carrots
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped (if you don't like spice just omit this. You can also replace with chilli flakes)
  • A pinch of allspice
  • 1 1/2 tsps paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Prep all your vegetables and place in your slow cooker, along with the garlic, beans and tomatoes. Sprinkle over your seasoning and add the stock. Set the slow cooker to low for 7 hours. If in more of a hurry, set to high for approx. 4 hours.

The beauty of this is that you can throw anything in that you like. Have a play and see what you think!





Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Trying my hand at upcycling

As is the case with me more frequently than I would like to admit, I become ridiculously busy, my attention is diverted and I forget to commit time to the things I enjoy! I hope that the summer is going well for you wherever you are! Or winter depending on which hemisphere you are reading this from!

Mine has been, as previously mentioned, a bit hectic to say the least, and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Between weddings, hen dos, birthdays, house projects and work, I've been kept rather busy!

I did find time to work on a project I've been meaning to get to for ages - upcycling my bedside drawers. I've been inspired by my cousin, who is incredible at taking plain, unloved furniture, and transforming them into gorgeous pieces. Freecycle is a wonderful thing, and I managed to nab a set of 2 pine, 3 drawer units a few months back. Having been stored in a garage with several things piled up on top of them, they were a bit scratched and sorry looking, but were functional and did their job. I've been planning their makeover for a while, but am the most indecisive person when it comes to choosing colour, or anything for that matter.

But as you can see, they needed some love and attention...


Finally having selected their new hue, and bought some beautiful new drawer knobs to add to them, I decided to make a start. Before these I'd only upcycled a small side table, so this job was slightly more daunting! 

I used chalk paint, as I love the finish it gives. The great thing about it is that you only need to provide a light sand on the surface for the paint to take. Just be sure to give it a thorough wipe over to remove all the loose particles. Once that was done, I added a coat of paint - colour choice called Flint - and allowed it to dry. I topped up a few areas where the wood colour was still visible, but as I was going for a vintage, worn look, I didn't worry too much. Once this was completely dry, I added a coat of clear wax, allowing it to set for a while before buffing off. Adding the final touch of the new handles, they were complete, and quite beautiful if I do say so myself!


From start to finish, the 2 units took around 6 hours to complete, and cost about £50 to renovate once the cost of the handles, paint and wax are factored in. I used the same products to upcycle a dresser for the bedroom too, without having to buy more, so a little really does go a long way. 

If you've been thinking about a similar project but have never tried it before, do what I did, practice on something smaller, preferably something that you didn't spend a lot on, if anything at all. But it's surprisingly easy, and really therapeutic. No item of furniture in my house is now safe! 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Independent Businesses - The Healing Shed


Recently I've been feeling sluggish and more than a little lethargic. It had been a while since my last break from work, so last week I headed off to (occasionally) sunny Norfolk for a few days of relaxation. It was much needed. As with everything the stresses of work and the every-day build up until it's take a break, or actually break. It's worked wonderfully, I'm feeling pretty great! However this isn't all attributable to my little trip away. A couple of days before setting off I was lucky enough to visit the lovely Jennifer in her beautiful Healing Shed.

I met Jennifer at a fundraising pamper evening for the Bedford Daycare Hospice. She was one of the wonderful volunteers who had sacrificed their evening to provide treatments for attendees, all in the name of donating their fees to the Hospice. Having been treated to a back massage with Jen (which was heavenly), we got talking about her life and what other treatments she offers. Whilst there are a multitude of strings to Jen's ever-increasing bow, her passion for Reiki really caught my attention.

I had never experienced reiki before, and knew very little about it, but Jen was more than happy to talk to me about it and offer me insight into its meaning and purpose, a well as inviting me to a session.

Reiki was developed by a Japanese buddhist in the early 1920s, and centres on the concept of transferring positive or healing energy from the practitioner to the client through the placement of hands. Reiki masters train students in the field, and the knowledge is passed on from master to student and so on and so forth.

Jennifer has been conscientiously working on developing a space on her property at home to practice from, transforming a space on her land into a beautiful, tranquil spot for her clients to visit for a number of treatments, including reflexology, deep tissue massage and, of course, reiki. You can find out more on her website here http://www.thehealingshed.com/treatments.

When I arrived, I was taken through to Jen's back garden, a beautiful space. I was taken through to the treatment space, where Jen told me a little more about her ambitions for the business. She has a series of workshops available for people to attend. These include meditation, reiki levels 1 & 2, smudge stick making, dreamcatcher workshops and reiki shares, with more to be added soon. It's clear just from talking to Jen that she genuinely adores what she does, and has a powerful desire to help others.

The treatment began with Jen asking me to lie down on the treatment bed. She then placed specific gemstones at various spots around me, and began the session.

It's incredibly difficult to describe the session, as I was so calm and relaxed, I very nearly drifted off! Jen was aware from having given me a back massage that I struggle with upper back issues, so she focussed on this area. She placed her hands at specific points and held them there for short periods of time, whilst I relaxed, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the birds in her garden and enjoying the stillness. I came away feeling incredibly peaceful, and felt throughout the session a strong sense of positive wellbeing.

It was perfectly lovely. Jennifer has created a beautiful little nook for her clients to visit, and she is such a lovely presence to be around, you would be hard-pressed to leave feeling anything but rested and serene. I really do believe that you are only capable of having a positive experience with a person who has a true enthusiasm for what they do. Jen is such a person. Friendly, warm and welcoming, she is an open book, so willing to talk about her craft and explain the reasons behind what she does, and you leave feeling as though you have made a wonderful new friend. Having never tried reiki before, I'd certainly go back to see her. That relaxed feeling is addictive!

You can also follow the Healing Shed on Twitter and Facebook at https://twitter.com/@the_healingshed and https://www.facebook.com/jenshealingshed.

  

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Bedford Daycare Hospice


This blog has been a bit of a blessing. What started out as a casual opportunity to write some babble that perhaps a handful of people may wish to read, it has become a wonderful chance to meet some truly fantastic people doing incredible work.

This week I was invited to spend time with a group of people doing one of the most fundamentally selfless, generous of jobs - running a hospice for those in our society who suffer from life-limiting conditions. Bedford Daycare Hospice provides support, company and activity for seriously ill people from Monday to Friday, as well as raising awareness and fundraising on behalf of those who need support in their time of need. I am lucky enough to know one of the fantastic folk that work there.

My friend contacted me, asking if I would like to visit the hospice and take a look at some of the work they do, and I jumped at the chance. As I have said in previous posts, chances seem few and far between these days to celebrate the positives in life, it seems silly to pass up the opportunity to do so. So keen was I, we in fact arranged 2 visits. The first took place before the hospice opened one morning last week. I took my mum along with me, a further opportunity to both spend time with a friend not seen for a while. On arrival, Caroline showed us around the main building.

I imagine that, when the word 'hospice' arises, most people picture a clinical, cold, impersonal place, full of uniformed staff and blank, spaces lacking personalitiy. This could not be further from the truth when it comes to Bedford Daycare Hospice. The staff wear their own clothes, to make their clients feel more at ease around them. The main lounge is full of comfy armchairs for visitors to relax in. Beds are available in other rooms, if quieter, more relaxed times are needed. It feels warm, bright, and, importantly, it feels comfortably familiar. So good are they, that they were awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Services 2013.

The staff could not be lovelier. These guys are fantastic. Enthusiastic, caring and generally just rather brilliant, they are a wonderful bunch. The time they dedicate to making every experience here pleasant is only surpassed by the willingness of all involved to dedicate free time outside of work to fundraising money to keep the hospice ticking along.

Once we had completed our look around the main building, Caroline took us into one of the hospice's ongoing projects, the Butterfly Boutique. A quaint addition to the grounds of the hospice, the Butterfly Boutique is an onsite shop, selling all manner of treasures kindly donated by the public. Needless to say that, with myself and my mum in attendance, it was slightly emptier after our visit! It really is gorgeous, full of goodies, and in such a beautiful setting. I urge you to visit and take a look. Not only will you enjoy your time there, but you will be helping fund an excellent, necessary cause. And you can always donate your own items if you are feeling particularly generous!




Once we had the full tour and I had taken plenty of pictures, it was arranged that I would come back and attend the pamper evening organised to raise funds for the hospice. I was lucky enough to nab a facial and back massage spot on the evening, no mean feat considering how many people attended! All the treatments given were as a result of time donated by local practitioners, and what a lovely bunch they were. My first treatment was provided by the wonderful Caron who gave me the most relaxing facial. During the session we talked, and I asked what prompted her to join in the festivities. Her response was touching, being that she wanted to assist in making the lives of those in difficult situations easier to handle. She also visits the hospice regularly to provide treatments for visitors, she's a genuinely terrific individual.

I then had a session with the lovely Jennifer from the Healing Shed for a back massage. This was her first time volunteering at the hospice. She wants to contribute more of her time to the community, and offering help to those who need it. She's fantastic.

On the evening, a raffle was taking place, products were available for purchase, and socialising was taking place. It was a wonderful atmosphere, with everyone enjoying their treatments and getting to know those who had also come along. Treatments on pamper evenings are £10 for 30 minutes, with the proceeds donated to the running and upkeep of the hospice. It was a lovely way to spend an evening.

There are a multitude of events and experiences made available, all in aid of continuing the excellent work taking place at Bedford Daycare. In the next few weeks alone you can attend a coffee morning (4th June. I'll be there. Come along, I'll buy you a coffee.), the Sweetings nightclub 30th reunion (11th June), a river cruise including food and bubbles (13th July), Proms in the Park (tickets purchased from the hospice will donate £5 back to them), and the Purple Butterfly Ball in Pavenham (17th September). There is so much to get involved in, all great fun. There is something for everyone, and it all contributes to your brownie points! You can find out more about future events, and the hospice itself at http://bedforddaycarehospice.org.uk/About.htm. You can also find out more about the Butterfly Boutique on the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/butterflyboutiquebedford/?fref=ts.

There are thousands of charities out there, all needing support and funding. Many of them are almost faceless. We receive pamphlets through our doors, asking for help, collectors on the high street, informing us about the good work occurring. But it's something else entirely to see it in practice. To talk to the people on the front line of it, day-to-day, delivering the care, working with the people, trying to keep everything running. These people care so deeply about what they do and who they do it for, you can see it when you talk to them, in the dedication they show to their work. They had a fundamental effect on both myself and my mum. We left wanting to, wishing we could, do more. And we're hoping to. The lounge in the main building needs a spruce up. If needed, we're going in, paint brushes in hand. We'll be attending their events, and jogging our friends to join in with us. There is a multitude of ways to help. New towels are needed for visitors. Cleaning products, items for the Boutique, charitable donations, time that can be given to improve onsite areas. Painters, decorators, plumbers, electricians, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors, I'm calling on you guys. If you can help please do. You can contact me and I will pass on details. Alternatively you can contact the hospice directly on their site. But if you feel that you can offer anything, I really do, in the most heartfelt of ways, urge you to. Charities like this one, community based, quietly getting on with their work without making a huge fuss, are the ones that need help. They require our support in order to support others. I just hope that, should anyone I know and love ever need the assistance of such a wonderful enterprise, that they are still going strong, and that it is still filled with the kind of gold-hearted souls as it currently is.


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Brighton, cocktails and inflatables


My friends have all deemed 2016 the year to get married, which is setting the tone for an exciting summer! Along with the beautiful wedding invites, hen do invitations have been winging around all over the place. The first 'do was this weekend in sunny Brighton.

My friends are a wonderfully eclectic bunch, all different but all fab. For this particular bride-to-be (my gorgeous friend Clare), lovely bridesmaid Amy arranged for us to compete in It's a Knockout. Think inflatables, think foam, think raucous lunatics running around! Great, great fun, all completed with the obligatory hen-do t-shirts and the cork hats favoured by our Australian buddies. Needless to say the only photo you guys are getting a look at is the one above! I did rather well in the drunken penalty shoot-out, wearing goggles that give the impression of one too many gins and dribbling a ball past 3 inflatable defenders, but it was pointed out that, as I enjoy a tipple, it's likely I've grown accustomed to seeing that way anyway and my success doesn't count!

My personal favourite moment was bride-to-be Clare dressed as a penguin being chased by 2 other brides dressed as penguins, all ending in a bout of sumo wrestling. What's not to love?!

It was a brilliant afternoon. If you're looking to organise anything similar I'd recommend checking it out. We were blessed with gorgeous weather, but they do still run in the rain so don't be put off by it's outdoorsy nature.

The evening was a slightly more refined occasion. Well it involved a cocktail making class, so it didn't remain refined for very long, but still, there were dresses and heels, as opposed to the trainers and trackies from earlier! We had a lovely cocktail waiter, Carlos, demonstrating all the tricks of his trade, then the poor soul let us loose on his bar. Shots, slushies, bombs and cosmos where all enjoyed!

Afterwards, we headed for dinner, then on to a nightclub, before collapsing at an hour too early to be decent. Breakfast at an American diner was my saviour the next morning!

We're heading to Bournemouth next weekend for the big day, so it will be all systems go again. I'll make sure to take plenty of lovely photos for you all to enjoy. When I get back, I'll be telling you all about the wonderful work of the Bedford Daycare Hospice, and the events that they run. Have a great week!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Independent Businesses - Cleanse & Wellbeing (Forever Living)

There is a wealth of opportunity these days for everybody to dip their toes into the realm of self-employment. No longer restricted by having to rent or own premises, the internet and social media have flung open the doors of possibility, you just need to have the drive and motivation to give it a go.

There are companies out there facilitating these opportunities, encouraging individuals to invest in products in order to build their own businesses. There is still a certain level of scepticism about such endeavours, so I took the chance to speak to Caroline, an active advocate of Forever Living products and owner of Cleanse & Wellbeing, to find out about the viability and lifestyle that comes from being involved.

I met Caroline at the D'Parys birthday event, mentioned in an earlier post. We did the stereotypical thing of chatting in the ladies restroom and quickly discovering that we have things in common (both gluten intolerant, it's amazing how these things encourage bonding!).

Bubbly, friendly and smart, Caroline told me about her business, and how much she believes in the products she sells. When you experience intolerances, whether they be dietary or other, you quickly become used to checking out the viability of different products and develop an interest in what you put into, and onto, your body. We arranged a get-together so that she could tell me more about what she does.

Previously working in HR, Caroline found herself in the tricky situation of facing redundancy last year. Testament to her character, instead of resting on her laurels, she looked at other opportunities in which to invest her time. An old school friend introduced her to the idea of Forever Living and encouraged her to find out more.

Forever Living is an American company, founded in Arizona, it has been running for 38 years and spans 150 countries. The products they offer are aloe vera-based (they farm their own aloe), and cover everything from health, beauty, fitness, home and pets. With a wealth of dietary supplements, skincare, weight management, cosmetics, vitamins and probiotics, they aim to cover all aspects of life.

Caroline has flown since starting up her own branch, hitting her first month's target in the first week! She talked to me about how she enjoys the social aspect of the job, and loves getting out there and meeting people, talking to them about the products that she believes can help them. She's a huge advocate for good customer service. Just speaking with her confirms that she cares a great deal about the clients she has gained and the quality of the products that she sells. Currently she is holding at least 2 events a month, whether face to face or online (you can find her Facebook page here - https://www.facebook.com/CleanseAndWellbeing/), and she is also happy to come and talk to anybody  who may interested in her products. I was lucky enough to receive some samples, and I have to say, they've worked wonders. I'm particularly taken with the Aloe Heat Lotion. As someone who suffers with a recurring back problem, when the pain kicked in a few days ago, I decided to give it a try. It really did help, and i managed to go about my day with little discomfort. Needless to say, I've ordered a bigger batch! The lip balm is also a treasure, my lips feel so soft since using it. The shampoo and conditioner, body lotion, gel, I've yet to try any of my samples without finding a new gem.

It's lovely to know that, by placing an order with Caroline, I'm not just ordering a product that I will be happy to use, but I'm also helping her expand and strengthen her business. This lady has plans. Currently developing her website, she wants to build a team of her own, and wants to nurture others who want to give running their own business a try. Whilst she may have been dealt a hard hand with her previous career, it's admirable that she has dived straight into a new career path and has given it her all. It's clearly paying off and she deserves every positive outcome she achieves.

Caroline has an event coming up on Friday 29th April at The Cock Inn, Wootton from 7pm. I urge you to visit her, have a chat and find out more.                   

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Bedford Langar Project

External shot of the Gurdwara.
It is, sadly, a rare and happy occasion these days when we get to hear about acts of kindness, of generosity, of humanity. We are constantly inundated with images of horror, reports of violence and acts of terror. It would be easy to throw the proverbial towel in, throw our hands in the air and declare defeat in the face of such negativity. But then along comes a reminder that all certainly isn't lost.

I had one of those very reminders recently. Over the past few months, my attention has been drawn to The Bedford Langar Project, and it piqued my interest. Aware that it was a volunteer based project providing food for the homeless, but not knowing much more, I contacted them, and asked if I could meet them, see what they do and find out why.
Other events organised by the Gurdwara.
I was put into contact with Ravi, one of the most engaging characters I have met in a long time. He invited me to attend the next session, and I eagerly agreed to a visit last Sunday.

The Bedford Langar Project is a Sikh-run project, originally developed by 9 core members 2 years ago to assist the plight of those who struggle, and they have volunteers of all races and religions, and open their doors to everyone. The first Sunday of every month sees the volunteers meet together at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, roll their sleeves up, and put together delicious dishes to be transported to the town centre and dished out.
Fundraising success.
On arrival, Ravi gave me a tour of the Gurdwara, and gave me some insight into the Sikh faith. We slipped off our shoes, covered our hair and made our way inside.
Inside the Gurdwara.
An impressive building, it's incredibly peaceful inside. Spacious but welcoming, it's decorated with various artworks depicting the struggles experienced by Sikhs over the centuries. Pleasant the subject matter may not always be, but they are rich with a history that shouldn't be forgotten.

The kitchen was emitting gorgeous smells so we naturally gravitated there quite quickly! Inside we found possibly the most pleasant group of people I have ever met. We were welcomed and greeted so warmly, everyone was willing to talk to us about what they were making, how long they had been participating in the project and why. Ravi introduced us to the volunteers, and explained more about the project itself and how it came about.
Flurry of activity in the Gurdwara's kitchen.
The kitchen in action.
Sikh's practice the act of Seva, or selfless service to humanity. Seva intends that you help others where they require it, and the Langar Project does exactly this. Langar  refers to the food and kitchen itself, which is served daily within the Gurdwara. All the food is vegetarian, and none of the ingredients used by the project are permitted to be blessed, however the food served daily in the Gurdwara is. All people, regardless of race, religion or gender are welcome (demonstrated by the 4 doors placed around the Gurdwara), and it is designed to uphold the principle of equality. Sikh's are not permitted to preach to others about their faith, but will answer any questions asked by others.
Some of the food prep.
Once our tour was complete, we were served some of the food ( it was delicious) and I had the opportunity to speak with some of the volunteers. The recurring feeling emanating from the group was that participating in the Project is no hardship, but an enjoyable opportunity to help others and benefit society. Jas, one of the women volunteering that day, said that being able to help, to witness the comfort brought to those who benefit from the food they prepare, makes her feel humbled. Others felt touched by how appreciated the whole endeavor is, and said they felt proud to be able to participate. As a group they are incredibly humble, not seeing what they do as anything particularly special, but just an enjoyable part of their life. They are a truly kind, generous group. As Ravi said, they have become a family, looking after each other as well as the wider community, and enjoying the time they spend working together. The project on average, prepares and serves around 100 at a time, an amazing feat.
The delicious food served by the project.
Once the food is cooked and packaged, it is whisked off to Church Square (or Pigeon Square as it is more commonly known) in Bedford Town Centre. Service starts at 6pm, in order to allow their clients to collect food and still have time to get to the night shelter, which closes its doors at 7pm, and the food is served in take-away boxes to aid with this. This is just another demonstration of the thoughtfulness of the entire exercise.

On arrival at the Square, clients were already gathering, waiting for service to start. As well as hot food, a selection of boxed desserts, chocolates, tea and coffee, and bottles of water were all handed out, most of which had been donated to the project. At Christmas, scarves and gloves were donated, the concern being that the group wouldn't see their regular attendees until January and were worried that they would suffer in the winter weather. Other occasions have seen boxes of biscuits, homemade baked goods and other donated food handed out.
Clients queue for the food prepared by the volunteers.
It isn't just the draw of food and a hot beverage that encourages so many to attend these events. As one of the volunteers stated, this might be the first time in days that some of these people have spoken to another person. Such is the plight of those who find themselves fighting through hardship, they see themselves becoming invisible to society. We can all be so wrapped up in our daily goings-on that we scurry past, not thinking just how much a passing hello or a friendly smile can help. The Bedford Langar Project provides respite from this, even if only for a short while. Volunteers laugh and joke with their clients, they ask after them and show an interest. They demonstrate care and affection where others would simply walk past, and they really do care.
The volunteers ready for action.
My afternoon spent with the volunteers of the Langar Project was truly eye-opening. It is a word used regularly throughout this piece, but it was extremely humbling. I feel incredibly lucky to have met such a wonderful group of people, and would like to thank them for affording me the opportunity to witness them in action. It was a wonderful experience, and the work being done by them is fantastic. They welcome everyone to participate, so if you would like to volunteer, I encourage you to do so. You have the opportunity to make somebody's day a little brighter, take it! You can contact the project on their Facebook page here - https://www.facebook.com/BedfordLangarProject/?fref=ts for more information. I'm going to be back there next month, I hope I see some of you there!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

St Paddy's Day and D'Parys

Only a few days ago, the world became lighter and brighter as we turned our clocks forward and continue our stroll into Spring.

We've just enjoyed a long weekend, although, cheekily, this was my 2nd long weekend in a row. Ah the blessing of lieu days!

I had decided to take the Friday before Easter off, which transpired to be perfect timing, as the D'Parys hotel were celebrating their 2nd birthday on the Thursday evening, meaning no early morning wake-up/loathing myself the next day!


D'Parys has been transformed from a rambling husk into a successful, beautiful boutique hotel and restaurant. Since it reopened 2 years ago, I've been several times for dinner or drinks and enjoyed every experience. Their menu is often eccentric and playful, offering creative dishes that taste amazing. The goat's cheese and celeriac mille feuille with beetroot meringue and carrot ravioli was a personal favourite. As was the 'Egg & Chips' dessert! I've never managed to stay there, but my best friend chose the venue for her wedding night, and said it was gorgeous.

Their 2nd birthday bash has been a long time in the making. Invites and requests for suggestions of what to include in their night have been circulating for a while, all aided by the opportunity to win a night's stay (I didn't win, unfortunately, but I'll get in there one day!). With the promise of prosecco, hog roast, live music and canape versions of some of their most-loved dishes, we made our way down there.

I might add that the evening the event took place on was St Patrick's Day, so you can appreciate how much I must like the place to sacrifice my yearly ritual of traditional Irish music and Guinness (ok, I lie, I did partake, at The Three Cups, but only after attending the party. What do you expect, I'm an O'Brien!).

We arrived quite early, so found our way to the bar clear. But it was already abuzz in there, and we had to squeeze onto the end of someone's table to grab ourselves a seat. Everyone was in high spirits, and we spent most of the evening making new friends and talking to the team running the Charles Wells mini-bar. They were handing out pints of their newest ale, and filling everyone in on their newest venture. Keep your eyes open for a post dedicated to them very soon.

The hog-roast was taking place outside, next to the bouncy castle (no, I didn't dive head-first onto it), and, thankfully, underneath the outdoor heaters. We bundled up and went to grab some grub. It was delicious, as were the food platters being passed around inside. They really took care of us!

Afterwards, we trotted off, destined for that longed-for pint of the black stuff and a few Irish ditties with the crowd at The Three Cups. A very well spent evening had by all!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Spring has sprung


An eventful few weeks has been had in my house, hence the radio silence recently. A wedding, a christening, work reviews and a (badly) burnt arm have amounted to me neglecting my blogging duties and being rather useless! But with the big events over and done with, my arm on the mend (my cooking abilities apparently don't match up to those I believe I have!) and the ominous reviews complete, I'm now looking forward to making the most of the soon-to-be better weather and enjoying some much desired down time.

Last weekend I decided to take it easy. It has been monstrously busy recently, and, despite the fact it has been mostly enjoyable escapades which have kept me preoccupied, I wanted to partake in some leisurely activity. So, with the weather as glorious as it was, Sunday saw me venture out of winter exercise hibernation into the sunshine for a stroll around Priory Country Park and Marina.

Priory is one of Bedford's most beautiful spots. Marina, meadows, woodland and conservation areas, as well as a bar/restaurant with a spacious outdoor area, it has nooks and crannies aplenty just ready to be explored. Despite the horrendous rain we have had in recent days, it was relatively flood-free and ready to be walked around.

I love walking around the marina and lakes, I adore being near water. Living in a doubly land-locked county really doesn't suit, so I take advantage of having such a readily available source of liquid loveliness as much as possible.


It would appear most of the town's population had the same idea. The sun really does bring everyone out into the open, and there was an abundance of walkers, cyclists, children and four-legged friends enjoying the afternoon.

We decided to stick to the bank-side path, making our way around the water's edge, providing me with the opportunity to test out my new camera in natural surroundings.

Getting out into the fresh, admittedly still nippy, air cleared the cobwebs and got the leg muscles working again, it was beautiful. Don't let the chance of chilliness put you off, take advantage if you have equally beautiful areas in your local vicinity.

In the next few weeks I have some experiences planned, including an escape room experience which I'm particularly excited about sharing with you, plus more in the way of my Independent Business series. Chances are I'll be off wandering around the countryside too at some point, so I'll be sure to take more lovely photos to!


Thursday, 25 February 2016

Independent Businesses - Ashley @ Kels Belles Beauty

As some of you will have seen recently, I have been making it a mission of mine to visit and write about independent businesses and their owners, to keep you all in the know about who to visit, where to go and what to spend your pennies on. This week, I was asked to visit the lovely Ashley, resident hairdresser at Kels' Belles Beauty.

I will hold up my hands and admit, I am a hair-dressers' nightmare. I like my hair long. I like it blonde. I like it, effectively, to never be touched, and when it has to be, I'm part of the 'take of the smallest amount you can' brigade. I'm not particularly brave or creative with my bonce.

But even I find it a treat to, every now and then, change it up a bit and go for something different, and already knowing just what an excellent hair stylist Ashley is, when she invited me in for a treatment I jumped at the opportunity to get my locks looked at.

As stated above, I am incredibly fussy and nervy when it comes to getting my hair done, but having known Ashley for a long time, I felt entirely comfortable with her. She is so very good at her job (as the pictures show), is friendly and welcoming, and really listens to you when you describe what you would like. So even those without my previous knowledge of Ashley's work and can visit her, comfortable in the knowledge that they're in for a treat.
Beautiful bridal hair
A while back, I had some copper lowlights put through my hair by another wonderfully talented hairdresser and absolutely adored them, so asked Ashley if she would freshen them up for me. She did this and so much more.

As mentioned in my previous post about Kelly at Kels' Belles, the salon is a wonderful place to visit. You really do feel like you are visiting friends. Chatty, warm, and bubbly, there's always a lovely atmosphere. My appointment was the last on a Tuesday evening, so the girls would have been forgiven for being tired, but as usual, they were hard at work making people look fabulous.

Once I had taken a seat and been provided with a (perfect) cup of tea, Ashley went through the colour options with me, and whilst advising me about the colours and my selection, allowed me to make the decision for myself. I chose a gorgeous golden copper tone, slightly richer than my previous colour and Ashley got to work.
Just some of Ashley's work
As the dye was applied to my hair, the conversation flowed, and Ashley talked me through how she chooses her products. She's incredibly conscientious about the quality of the products she uses, and is considerate of what she is happy to apply to her customer's hair. This is hardly surprising considering that she has studied and practiced hair dressing since leaving school. In actual fact she was practicing her styles on her friends at school during lunchtime. I should know, I was one of them! She has a wealth of experience, and shares that with her clients, not being afraid to advise them on what would be best for their hair, but always having their wishes at the forefront of her mind.

Once the dye had done its job, we moved over to the basin for my favourite part- the hair wash. There is something incredibly therapeutic about someone else washing your hair, so I kicked back and relaxed.

Ashley had talked to me about a new range that she is currently utilising in the salon called Milkshake. A hair care range inspired by all things natural, the products feel gorgeous, smell delicious and are well priced (see more here - http://www.milkshakehaircare.co.uk/). They sounded amazing, so Ashley popped one of the hair treatments on for good measure. My hair was silky and soft, and smelt so good I could have eaten it. Don't worry, I resisted! She also told me about a new dying process she has been using - mixing Milkshake's Whipped Cream leave-in treatment in a cocktail glass with a temporary colour. Apply to the hair and leave in, as simple as that!
Milkshake's Whipped Cream leave-in treatment mixed with a temporary hair colour.
Once the dye was washed out and my hair had been rinsed, we moved back to the mirror, where I had a trim (a very small one!) and a blow-dry, leaving my hair in soft waves, with a warmer tone and looking very pretty.
The finished look. Warm copper and blonde tones set off with soft waves.
A good hairdresser can cut your hair. A great hairdresser makes you feel like you've had a complete make-over. Ashley falls into the latter category. I left the salon that evening feeling refreshed and relaxed. She has years of experience and has worked her way up, from studying her craft, to working for various salons, to where she is now - a successful business owner in her own right, based in a gorgeous boutique salon. Success isn't easy to come by, and takes dedication, hard-work and a love of what you do to achieve it. All things Ashley has in bucket-loads. She deserves every achievement because she works so hard to earn them, and takes care of those who choose to trust her with their hair. That trust is well-placed, and explains why her clients return to her time and again. Anyone who hasn't visited her, get your appointment booked now, you won't regret it!
Keep your eyes open for the next Independent Business posts, I'll be visiting some lovely local entrepreneurs over the next few weeks. I'll keep you posted.