January Joy 2018!


Snow Scene

Well, hello 2018!

January Joy came about because I love to celebrate the start of a New Year but also to try and improve what is a bit of a depressing month. Poor January gets a bad rap I think, but it can’t be denied that the weather, lack of festive fun and annual dose of guilt we pile upon ourselves after Christmas excesses doesn’t exactly make for a fabulous start to the year. Previously January Joy has taken the form of a series of prompts to bring some Joy to your January but (in keeping with one of my themes for the year,) I’m going to change it a little this year. We all have very busy lives and as my life has evolved I imagine many of your lives have too. I don’t have time for daily or even weekly prompts so I’m going to focus on a few themes that I’ll be working towards all year instead and I have several posts lined up for you this month that fit within those themes. I always like to start the year with a bit of reflection and goal setting! So what are they, I hear you ask?


Tortoise BuJo spread

Slow Down

So often nowadays I feel like days, weeks and months are rattling past at a frenetic pace. We are quite a social family, we like to go out and do things, keep the kids busy, travel, and whilst we don’t do as much of this as before we had kids, it still all too often feels like we are rushing from one thing to the next, stressed preparing and organising for these things, instead of enjoying them. More often than not such a packed schedule adds more stress due to double booking, forgetting things and one of my biggest stresses currently, not keeping up to date with everything at home. The washing, the tidying, the stuff for school and work and so on. I want to feel more in control of all of this but also to just slow down and savour my girls while they are little. Having children has taught me to be more present, in the moment, not just to watch but to participate and I want to have time to do that, not through a series of day trips or experiences, just in our own home together. I’m hoping that making a bit more time available will allow me to take some time for myself, and I can introduce some mindfulness and self care, so I feel better able to tackle the rest of life’s chaos. A key part of this is getting more organised and I’ll be sharing my BuJo experience so far as part of that.


Talking about re-using and recycling made me think of this post a wrote a while back about Recycling your old scented candles.

Reduce

This year we want to continue to make changes to contribute towards reducing our impact on the environment. Waste has become a real bugbear of mine and so reducing it in a variety of ways is something I constantly thinking about. I’m talking food waste, plastic waste and landfill in general so look out for some blog posts on changes we have made as a family that really help.

Complete

Probably the biggest project we will be managing this year is the extension, while it’s not a resolution or a goal per se, its going to occupy huge amounts of our time and effort, both mentally and physically. The building work has already started with clearing the site and its pretty depressing looking at the mess and destruction, which looks 1000x worse in grim freezing damp January! I can’t wait for it to be finished but beyond that I’m determined to have the whole house finished by the end of the year. (Well, maybe not the top floor but we can just ignore that, right?)


Bauble iPhone wallpaper download

Connect

Lastly, I want to reach out a bit more via the blog, to make new connections with other bloggers and give Florence Finds a little more love again! Hopefully that will mean bringing some inspiring content to you guys too.

So now it’s your turn. What are your goals or resolutions, themes or inspirations for 2018? Are any the same as mine? Are some the total opposite? Please do drop me a comment and share!

Happy New Year readers!

Rebecca

January Joy: Make some Resolutions!

Hi again! Its so lovely to hear from you all again – thank you so much for the comments, I’m glad to be back. It would appear I’m not more timely than I was tho ;)

So as promised… my resolutions. I know some people dont like resolutions but I’m a goal setter and I just can’t resist January as a fresh start for getting some plans, aspirations and must-try harder goals on paper. I thought about not bothering but realised how negative it felt and although it’s seen as cliche, I can be found making resolutions most weeks of the year so the first is no exception ;)

Here they are. Resolutions, the 2016 edition.
1. Clear out and declutter corners
2. Finish the house
3. Eat better
4. Learn to Knit

I actually started my first one before Christmas with our Cellar. I was brought up purging (my mum is pretty good at it with clothes and as a child we were always made to go through the toy cupboard and get rid of some things before Christmas, which were taken to the local Childrens home.) Unfortunately I’m now busy, lazy and married to a man who hoards. The dangers of having a big house are that you fill it and our lives have exploded from a 3 bed terrace to 3 sprawling floors of space that is rapidly getting filled. The thought of having to pack it up if we moved terrifies me and I’m a BIG believer that if you are putting something into a room to keep it out of the way where it doesnt get looked at year to year, it shouldn’t be in your life. So I’m trying to use my resolutions to action that thought. Clearing out the cellar (4 car loads to the tip later and we are half way there I think!) was an amazing feeling and I want to keep going. To keep it achievable I’m tackling little corners and spots of clutter at a time, rather than unachieveable whole rooms and after reading this A year of tidying I’m thinking I’ll buy the KonMari book – Has anyone read it?

The second resolution is stolen from Pete. We still have several rooms to tackle and others that have been 80% completed but lack finishing touches. We also have an exciting project under investigation which I’ll share if it is actually going to happen. Either way there are lots more home posts to come from FF in 2016!

New Year, new house project…. Fireplace shopping today! #renovation #interiors #periodhouse #fireplace

A photo posted by Rebecca Norris (@rebecca_norris) on

The last two are certainly the stuff of yearly resolutions. Delving a bit deeper though I want to expand my weekly standard recipe repertoire and find some less stodgy but satisfying and delicious winter options. We eat a lot with Bea and I obviously want her to eat well and try lots of things so that needs to be woven into he plan too. I’ve already branch out and bought Good Food magazine which Pete tried a Cod, Cauliflower and Chorizo dish from last night that was amazing, so I’m inspired to keep going.

And it wouldn’t be New Year without a new skill right? I suppose I could say I already know how to knit but I haven’t done any for at least 15 years and even then didn’t know how to cast on or off, so there’s plenty to learn and re-learn. I’d just love to whip up a new hat for Bea when I want to or little jumpers and cardigans, and to know she was wearing something I made with love would be, well… pretty special. Watch this space!

Of course there could be more… date night, trying to get fit again… but now it’s your turn readers. Have you made any resolutions? Got any goals? even if they are not for the year and just on your current to-do list, I’d love to hear them ;)

Rebecca x

PS Look how big Bea grew! I couldn’t resist including a few pictures as it’s been a while… ;)

Welcome in the #JanuaryJoy


Image via

Happy New Year readers!

I gave some serious thought to doing January Joy this year… it’s the third year now and a lot has changed in that time here on the blog. I wasn’t sure I could commit to a regular daily post anymore so thought I might have to let it go, but I know so many of you enjoy it and I do myself – I just love the possibilities of a New Year. So I’m going to do it differently this year…


Background glitter image via

I usually blog about 3 or 4 times a week now so there are 13 prompts. That’s enough for 3 per week and one for good measure. You’ll notice there are no numbers so you are free to pick and choose which prompts you do when, working through them as January progresses. I think this might work better for lots of you as it means you can plan a family day out at the weekend when work isn’t an issue and also use the weather to your advantage. There’s nothing better than a Sunday lunch with friends or family when the weather is cold outside, or a walk on a crisp sunny day. And if you can’t or don’t want to get through them all then that’s fine. January Joy is about embracing the New Year, a spirit of optimism and joy for life, so just fit it around yours.

As always, the whole point is to join in, so feel free to download the image above to share by clicking it, or clicking here. Please let me know when you’re taking part – blog about it, or tweet or instagram using the hashtag #januaryjoy and you can see who else is joining in and how, by searching the hashtag in your social media feeds.

Oh and for those of you needing a bit of additional inspiration, I’ll be pinning January Joy appropriate challenges, tips and fun on my January Joy Pinterest board – do follow along and tag me or the hashtag on Pinterest too and I’ll add your ideas and pin your January Joy activities too!

Will you be joining in readers?! I hope you all enjoy it! :)

Love,
Rebecca
xo

#JanuaryJoy: Read something new

This morning Gemma is taking the reins with one of my favourite posts of the month, sharing her recent reads and reviewing them for your pleasure. Don’t forget to tell us if you agree with her appraisals or if you can recommend something she has missed…

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Tightly plotted, laugh out loud funny at times and with some of the most tightly written characters I’ve ever come across in detective fiction, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a treat of a book.  Especially good for those who are familiar with London, who’ll recognise places and people loosely yet distinctly referenced in her fictional locations.  About a private detective with the flat-out-fabulous name of Cormorant Strike who is hired by the brother of a famous model who’s just committed suicide (or has she?) The Cuckoo’s Calling has all the elements of a classic gumshoe detective story, but is somehow still incredibly fresh and engaging.  One of my favourites of 2013.

The Girl With All The Gifts – M R Carey

Now firstly, I have to declare my bias about this book.  I have recently changed jobs and now work in PR for Little, Brown, the publishers of The Girl With All The Gifts.  HOWEVER.  I didn’t have the job when I read this book, and I would still recommend every last thrilling page of this unique, moving novel.  Despite a strong sci-fi element which might put some FFers off, please take my word as an incurable book worm and give this book a go, if only for the strong female characters and moments of bleak but beautiful prose along with big questions about what makes us human.  (I could go on and on and ON about this but am erring on the side of ‘least said’, because there are a couple of big twists in this tale and I really don’t want to give them away.  But please leave a comment if you’d like to know more or if you’ve read it!)

The Last Letter from your Lover – JoJo Moyes

Me before you – an earlier Jojo Moyes title, had me in absolute floods. We’re talking ‘oh god where are the chocolate biscuits and oh my wasn’t mascara a mistake today’ floods, so I was looking forward to The Last Letter from your Lover.  Added to Moyes’ genuiune ability to make you feel for her characters was the fact that The Last Letter From Your Lover was set in two different time periods and I couldn’t stop reading it, especially when it became clear how the two different stories overlapped.  Did I love it as much as Me Before You?   Not quite.  But it’s still worth a read.  Here’s the online description:

When journalist Ellie looks through her newspaper’s archives for a story, she doesn’t think she’ll find anything of interest. Instead she discovers a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband – and Ellie is caught up in the intrigue of a past love affair. Despite, or perhaps because of her own romantic entanglements with a married man.

In 1960, Jennifer wakes up in hospital after a car accident. She can’t remember anything – her husband, her friends, who she used to be. And then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter, and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for.

The Emergence of Judy Taylor Angela Jackson

In a first for my reviews here at FF towers, I have a confession to make.  Despite the review in Grazia saying ‘The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a heart-wrenching yet dryly funny tale of relationships and second chances’, despite reading and hearing great things about this book, it, well, left me totally cold.  I found Angela Taylor’s prose hard to get into and I didn’t really like any of the characters.  The eponymous Judy Taylor has become dissatisfied with her life married to Oliver, living near her parents and brother, in the same English town she grew up in, and the novel charts her decision to leave it all behind to go and live in ‘vibrant Edinburgh’.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Edinburgh isn’t vibrant, (as I’m sure I’ve said many times, I flipping LOVE Scotland and Edinburgh is one of my favourite places.)  it’s just that for me, moving from a village to Edinburgh isn’t all that out of the ordinary, and there I think is the crux of my problem with this book.  At its core, it’s about a woman thinking ‘there’s got to be more to life’ but I think most people could imagine for themselves the situations Judy finds herself in in her new life, and I also found the storyline with Oliver afterwards quite unrealistic.

Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding
In contrast to the review above – I wasn’t expecting to like the latest Bridget Jones outing as much as I did. The book has certainly had some less than positive feedback about, for example, its opening (Mark Darcy has been killed off) Bridget’s lifestyle (she’s now closer to fifty than thirty and a mum of two) and its plot arc (I’d heard: a bit cobbled together, rushed at the end, and predictable.) with the above in mind (some I agree with to an extent) I still found Mad About the Boy funny and sharp on the social commentary. I wasn’t the right generation for the first two Bridget books, and have found more in them in later re-reads now that I’m close to thirty, so in that respect I’m not qualified to say whether Mad About The Boy is an accurate portrayal of mid-life motherhood or not. If you’re expecting a literary, thought provoking read, I doubt Bridget Jones would be your first pick anyway. But for flashes of brilliance, like the pitfalls of making friends on Twitter, Helen Fielding is on form. My only gripe is, what happened to Shazza??

As always, let us know in the comments what you’re reading.  Anything that should be on my radar?

Love, Gemma C-S.

#JanuaryJoy – Reflect

It’s January 31st and I’m sad #JanuaryJoy is over!

Todays prompt was to reflect. In a moment I’m going to share what I did for each of these prompts but really, for me, January Joy wasn’t about the individual activities but the overall feeling it has given me, and I hope some of you. There’s always a reason to feel under the weather, a hard day at work, miserable weather, life not working out the way you had planned. #JanuaryJoy was about making time for yourself, finding joy in the little things, feeling proud of things you can do, making the most of new experiences and fitting in things you never manage to prioritise. Prioritising is the key word – we all have a finite amount of time in the day and certain things can’t wait, work commitments, and hopefully family are pretty high up that list, but taking part in #JanuaryJoy has made me prioritise myself and ultimately my own happiness. It’s a resolution I’ll be keeping this year. ;)

So, how did my January Joy go?
1. I made some resolutions and am doing okay with them so far… more on this later.
2. #DryJanuary was tough, and I had a couple of slip-ups, or shall we say intentional ‘breaks’ but it has really changed my outlook on alcohol and I’m drinking so much less. I no longer head for the fridge after a stressful day and I’m feeling so much better for it.
3. Pete and I finally got our date on the 18th, better late than never! (We went here,)

4. Walks this months have been everywhere from my local walks in the Mersey Valley to the Elan Valley in Wales this weekend… many of them in the snow!

5. We talked skin care and I reminded you all to treat your spots properly – sharing my acne treatment.
6. Penny introduced me to Haim (who I later heard on Radio 2!)
7. I pledged to do more Yoga this year (and managed to do it for the first time last night!)


View Larger Map

8. I shared my plans for a grand trip this year and since then have plotted my route in South Africa – now to book the flights!
9. I went to the Movies, and saw Les Mis.

10. For a mid-month cheer up, I tried the silhouette or crescent moon manicure
11. I discovered The Glass Palace through Gemma’s reading recommendations for January
12. I updated you all on how Pete and I were getting on with our new financial arrangements and talked savings.
13. I’m getting my better-late-than-never hair cut today (hurrah)
14. I shared some medical know-how on how to prepare yourself for pregnancy if 2013 is the year you’ll be starting a family.

15. Meatless Monday saw me sharing my latest meat-free recipe
16. Now the temperatures have settled down, I might be able to get on with my Craft project!
17. I started on my photobook of our road trip last year.
18. For my clear out I tackled my shoes, purchasing new ikea boxes to store them in, and Michelle taught us how to tackle your whole wardrobe.
19. I planned a trip to the Opera, and Victoria shared her Girl about Town tips for nationwide culture.

20. My bread recipe sparked the idea of a monthly bread post.
21. The month ended with some me-time and TLC for our neglected winter bodies
22. And here we are, reflecting.

Now I’d love to hear how your January went – did you do any of the activities? (I know many of you did lots if not all of them!) Thank you so much if you got involved and watch out for a post soon rounding up all my favourite blog posts inspired by January Joy :)

Love,
Rebecca
xo

#JanuaryJoy – Make something Naughty [to Eat]

Today is your reward for all the amazing things you have done this January! Tomorrow we’ll be reflecting on that, but first of all today, I have a challenge for you to test your baking skills and make you feel like an accomplished domestic goddess in the kitchen. Every January I bake a cake of Pete’s choice from any of our recipe books for his birthday, so it’s kind of a tradition to attempt something new and impressive… I’m so glad he didn’t see this before making this year’s choice ;)

Thank you so much to Asma from Sugared Saffron for sending in this stunning creation – I think it would be a seriously impressive gift or centrepiece on a dessert table or for afternoon tea. Do let her know in the comments box if you have any questions!

Tips:

  • Add a teaspoon of cinnamon and all spice for an extra wintery flavour
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the caramel for a Salted Caramel layer
  • To save time, bake the cake the day before. The pear means it’s extra moist so just make sure you’ve wrapped it in cling film and leave it at room temperature.

Ingredients for the Pear and Vanilla bean cake: 
170g Unsalted butter (room temp)
170g Caster sugar
1.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract or the seeds of half a vanilla bean
3 Large eggs
170g Self raising flour
6 firm pears, peeled, cored and chopped into cubes.
1/2 a firm pear.

For the caramel layer:
100g caster sugar
Water
100ml double cream
1 tablespoon of butter

Finishing touches:
75ml Chantilly cream. That’s just whipped cream, flavoured with vanilla and sweetened with a teaspoon of icing sugar.
Spun sugar

Cake Method

  • Prepare a 7″ baking tin by greasing and lining with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C
  • Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Add the eggs to the creamed mixture one at a time, make sure they are completely combined before adding the next. If the mixture is curdling, add a tablespoon of the measured flour to it.
  • Mix in the flour.
  • Fold in the chopped pears until they are evenly distributed in the mixture.
  • Spoon the cake mixture into the tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. This part depends very much on your oven so check after 30 minutes but pressing the cake and testing with a toothpick. If it comes out clean and the cake springs back after being pressed, then it’s done.
 
Caramel sauce

  • In a heavy pan (not non-stick) place the sugar and pour over enough water to just cover the sugar. Heat on a medium-high heat and wait until the mixture dissolves and becomes amber at the edges.
  • Swirl the pan and keep on the heat until the amber colour is uniform, this will only take a few seconds so be quick.
  • Take the pan off the heat and add the cream, mix until it’s combined nicely.
  • Return the pan to the heat for a couple more minutes until the caramel thickens and changes colour.
  • Remove from the heat and add the butter. Let it cool down for a minute and pour over the top of the cake.
  • Whilst the caramel is setting, take your half pear and place in a hot non-stick frying pan to caramelise at the edges and surface.
  • Once the caramel is set and the pear is cooled, dollop on some of the Chantilly cream.
  • Add the spun sugar and pear at the very last minute before serving.


Recipe and Photography courtesy of Asma Hassan, (Baking Ninja) Sugared Saffron

#JanuaryJoy – Home Spa

I perhaps should have run this earlier in the month as it is definitely in the ‘budget friendly’ category of January’s activities but I also think it nicely rounds out the outside of your body in a month where so much emphasis is placed on improving the inside.

Home Spa January Joy
Image Credit

I was a late-comer to the concept of spa-days and still hesitate to splash out due to the cost, but I have since being a teenager set aside evenings at home to completely switch off, buff, polish and smooth myself into a state of complete relaxation and then slip into bed early to re-charge.

Here are my 5 easy steps to the perfect DIY home spa experience.

  1. Set the atmosphere. First and foremost, make sure the temperature is right, it’s simply not relaxing getting down to your birthday suit in a draughty house. Light a couple of scented candles, make sure you have towels warming on the radiator, a cover up or dressing gown and a magazine to hand if you wish. You might even want to play some music then start running your bath.
  2. Start at the top. Remove your make up (and nail polish if you’ll have time to paint your nails too) and then cleanse again for super clean skin. Pat your face dry then exfoliate (I use No.7 micro-dermabrasion exfoliator) and dry again. Lastly, apply a face mask to give it time to work while you are in the bath.
  3. Let your skin soften in the bath first then exfoliate. If you need to shave, do it after exfoliating. I prefer body scrubs with an oil base (like this one,) as they add extra softness to the skin. Exfoliate your entire body from the collarbone down, focusing on dry patches like elbows and heels and problem areas like the back of arms or waxed areas. Then do nothing else, just wallow. Read a magazine if you must.
  4. Extract yourself from the bath before the water gets cold and dry off, then slather yourself in moisturizer from top to toe. Gently wipe or peel off your face mask and moisturise your face.
  5. Wrap yourself up in a big fluffy dressing gown or your favourite pyjamas and either head straight to bed with a good book or to the sofa with a chick flick.

(You can incorporate a hair mask into this routine, washing your hair as soon as you get into the bath and applying it while you soak, but I find the hassle of blow drying afterwards negates the relaxation!)

I like to do this once a month at least (although as I write I can’t remember the last time I actually did!) and if you remember throughout winter you won’t have to make any effort at all to be summer skin ready when the warmer weather arrives!

Do you ever create a home spa and have you got any favourite products to recommend?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

#JanuaryJoy – Your Daily Bread


Of all the possible things you could bake, bread has to be the one that gives the greatest sense of wellbeing, hence its inclusion on this #JanuaryJoy list. Deemed by many to be tricky, or hard work, this is the easiest wholemeal bread recipe I could find and as it doesn’t require knocking back or kneading, it’s also the quickest, needing only one rise before baking. Bread does require a little planning in that sense, but if you wanted fresh bread in the morning, this could always be left overnight to rise, then baked. Personally, I think it’s best saved for a weekend lunch or brunch and is a surefire way to impress even those you usually find hardest to please. ;)

Quick, Easy, Wholemeal loaf - Delia Smith
Fills 2 x 1lb loaf tins or makes a large round loaf.
570g Wholewheat flour
2 Teaspoons of Salt
1 Teaspoon of soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons easy blend dried yeast (usually 1 sachet)
400ml hand-hot water.

  • Warm the flour on a low temperature in your oven.
  • Thoroughly mix in the yeast, sugar and salt.
  • Make a well and add the water then mix to form a dough. You may need extra water as you should end up with a clean (or almost) clean bowl. Use more water as required.
  • Form a round and leave in a warm place for an hour to rise.

  • Press some oats into the top for decor and cut a 1-2cm deep cross in the top of the dough.
  • Bake for 40 minutes (until hollow sounding when the base is knocked,) at 200 degrees centigrade.

Enjoy!

I enjoyed making bread again so much that I might make this a monthly feature, with a different bread recipe each time… what do you think?

Do you or have you made bread? If not, will you be trying this one as an easy introduction?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

#JanuaryJoy – Do something/Go somewhere you have never been before

Today’s prompt seemed like the perfect time to hear from Victoria with her monthly Girl About Town post, particularly as she is always doing things I have never done before. Today’s prompt is intended to get us all out of a January (or maybe long-standing  rut. I think that doing new things, trying new stuff and going to new places is what makes life fun and exciting and keeps life fresh. It’s also great for your relationship. Discovering new things together is key to a relationship and if you choose to do this prompt with a friend then having something new to go home and share with your other half is just as good.

I’ve been thinking about some of the things I want to try and so far I have come up with two – I’d love you to share yours in the comments box after reading Victoria’s post!

  • Take a snowboarding class (I ski but have never tried to board!)
  • Go to the opera – something I have just never gotten around to…

Do something/go somewhere you have never been: History lessons with a twist

I know that all my talk of cocktails, shoes and afternoon tea may leave you surprised when I say that I’m a big fat history geek. As in, I see David Starkey crop up in that information box at the bottom of the screen when flipping through the channels and I’m rendered unable to move from the sofa. Despite giving it up in year nine at school (I thought it was a tedious and boring subject  – turns out, that was just the teacher) I’ve been surrounded by a family full of history buffs all my life and so I seem to have picked up the obsession by osmosis (you’ll tell by the misuse of this science reference that I’m clearly not a science geek, nor Brian Cox fangirl). The past, I now realise, has always been fascinating to me. It’s why I prefer stately homes to art galleries. It’s why, although chick lit is a big fat no on my reading list, chick lit disguised as historical fiction is a-ok (I’m talking to you Philippa Gregory), it’s why although I hate soap operas, my Sky+ is full of costume dramas (basically just soap operas in longer skirts) and why every fancy dress party I throw has some kind of dress code/theme from eras past.

So in that vein, I’m telling you about some little day trips I made to see some stories from our recent past, and one from prehistoric times!

Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum, Westminster, London

My bro is the biggest history buff of my whole family clan, so for his birthday we all paid a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms. I knew of their existence through the Imperial War Museum, and because my uncle used to work for the Home Office and mentions them a lot, but had never paid a visit as I still to this day have nightmares about the Blitz experience and the trench walk we did when I was a child. I’m also a bit claustrophobic about airless, underground rooms, but seeing as people lived and worked in those rooms for years, to preserve the freedom of our country, I thought I could suck it up and get on with it.

Anyway, back to the actual Rooms. You enter through a sleek sliding glass door at street level, and head straight down under ground to buy tickets and collect the rather good audio guides, before commencing the self-guided tour. It starts with the Cabinet room, set up exactly as it would have been when Churchill held his meetings here with the original furniture (no reproductions!), maps and even the original “graffiti”. It’s literally like you’ve stepped back in time with the sights, sounds and even smells of a defining era of our history assaulting every sense in your body. The whole set up gave me shivers when I realised that in these dingy, dark, uncomfortable, slightly shabby rooms, the fate of the world was decided by a few dedicated men and women (and a few animals too).

The commentary on the audio guide, much like the audio guide at Alcatraz (renowned for its excellence), is punctuated with real life reports from people that lived and worked in the warren of underground rooms, and the sound effects of bustling corridors, whistling guards and whirring machines add an eerie sense of reality to the tour.

Halfway round the tour you segue in to the Churchill Museum, with modern and interactive exhibits to really make it stand apart from the early- to mid-century set up in the Cabinet War Rooms themselves. It makes you feel like you’re actually getting two tours/exhibits for the price of one. The museum is laid out along a time line of Churchill’s life and is full of artefacts, reports, videos and blood-stirring excerpts from his speeches. It’s an amazing insight in to the well-known but also the hidden parts of the life of one of the most famous men in British, if not World, history.

If like me you’re also fascinated not just by the history and the life stories, but also the idea of international espionage, then the little details like the secret telephone room and colour coded telephone receivers will really capture your imagination. My favourite part of the tour was the map room, which was set up exactly how it was found, including the map pins left in the place on the day the war ended, the staff left and the lights were switched off and there they remain to this day. It was also rather endearing to see little touches like carpets and little flourishes of extravagance that were clearly added in an attempt to make this subterranean world more homely for the people that called it both The Office and Home.

As an aside, in the gift shop (there’s always a gift shop!), look past the “Keep Calm” posters and take note of the wartime propaganda notices about keeping your house and life in order. I bought postcards for all my team to pop up on their desks, and interestingly they contain messages that are as appropriate today as they were then, just for different reasons. Amongst others, ones that were particularly relevant to me were: “Less shopping means less shipping!”, “Go through your wardrobe: Make do and mend!” and “Eat less bread”

Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland

I did know that Titanic was built in Belfast, but it also kind of slipped my mind. It’s one of the facts about Titanic that disappeared behind a wall of fiction in my memory, created by James Cameron. Everything I now “know” about the ship centres around a certain floppy haired actor and a porcelain skinned actress! So, seeing as all the facts I knew had cleverly wiped themselves from my brain, and 2012 was the 100 year anniversary of the tragedy, it felt right that on a trip to Dublin at the end of last year I booked some train tickets to head up to Belfast to see the recently opened exhibition.

Of course it’s not like normal exhibitions, full of artefacts and actual tangible items for you to oooh and aaah over, or as is the case with exhibitions of tragic moments in history, observe in respectful silence and with tears in your eyes. It’s the artefacts that usually pull me in and help me identify with the story the exhibition is trying to tell, so I was a bit worried that it’d leave me a bit cold with no actual stuff (that’s not meant to sound crass, apologies if it did), and that I’d find it hard to empathise with the story. 

I needn’t have worried. Titanic’s much-publicised beginnings are told with pictures, videos, on-board simulations, stories read by actors and real life accounts from survivors told in their own words and voices. The set up is clever, taking you through the history of the community that built her, an actual journey into the “shipyard”, through a very clever launch simulation looking over the actual dock where she first hit water, and then “inside” as they fitted her out. Really, we are seeing the raucous, noisy and glorious birth of probably the most famous ship in history.

Then the mood changes, and the moment she is hit is detailed with displays, narrations and visual effects that left me shivering inside. I sat in the room that told this part of the story in a reflective silence for a long time, listening to the actual voices of survivors, reading the distress message transcripts, and staring at the Morse code symbols over and over.

The inquests that followed the tragedy, and the changes in maritime law that were implemented as a consequence, were then examined. After that you reach a beautiful display of the countless books, films and pieces of music written in tribute to the ship, her crew, her survivors and the poor lost souls, and the years of media coverage and interest her wreckage has generated. I spent quite a lot of time here just looking and listening and feeling.

But then there’s the best bit, a theatre playing footage and voice-over commentary from the submarine that found Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. It’s enchanting, mesmerising, chilling and upsetting all at the same time. Anyone who has seen the James Cameron film will also recognise snippets of the recording. At the end of the film you can then explore the ocean floor for objects using touch screens to access different visual locations from the various mini-submarines and even stand on a (fake) glass floor to look through to the “sea bed” beneath your feet. Even though you know it’s all a simulation, it’s startlingly real and even made me feel a bit queasy!

At the very end I was also excited to find the actual costumes worn by Kate and Leo in the James Cameron film along with a few others, and some props, which explains why they weren’t at the V&A Hollywood Costume Exhibition, where I had expected to see them!

It really was very cleverly done and, considering there’s nothing but photos, film and interviews that they can show, it really captured my heart and drew me right in. My highlights would include the virtual deck tour, re-creations of the cabins, the deep water exploration theatre and the interactive “artefact locator” with the “glass” floor. It’s most definitely worth a visit if you’re in the City.

We booked tickets online and took a cab from Belfast Central station which takes no more than ten minutes.

Walking with Dinosaurs (seen at the O2 but now on tour, back in the UK in the spring)

I mentioned before that my bro is the biggest history geek that I know, but when it comes to dinosaurs, I know of a contender for his crown – my friend’s six year old son! So I took all my dino nerd friends and family, old and young, back to a prehistoric age to see the Walking with Dinosaurs live show at the O2.

It was awesome.

I was surprised to be so excited by the prospect of seeing dinosaur puppets (not a spoiler!) going about their pre-historic business, set to music and narrated by a fake paleontologist, but I really, really was.

The show takes you through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods and features the “celebrities” of each era… culminating in the Big One. My bro being a complete dino nerd as a child must have rubbed off on me because I found myself actually getting excited as the dinosaurs entered the arena with yelps of “ooooh, Brachiosaurus“, “I bet this is Stegosaurus“, “woooooo, T-Rex!

Thankfully my squeals were drowned out by those of the kids in the box with us!

The journey is illustrated beautifully with the use of the ever changing landscape (so cleverly done) and is accompanied by a moving music score (I didn’t, but I did almost cry at one point). The narrator, playing the part of a palaeontologist called Huxley (who was pretty handsome, as far as I can tell from the close ups!), provided enthusiastic commentary about the flora and fauna of the different ages, evolution, the changing land mass and the dinosaurs themselves in terms that were understandable to young kids, but not boring for the big kids.

The puppets were brilliant and the smaller ones were mesmerising in the same way as those in Warhorse - You know they aren’t real, clearly being able to see the human operatives, but you can’t help but be sucked in by their life-like mannerisms and movements (as life-like as we know long-extinct gigantic reptiles to be). Really very clever.

It’s not highly scientific, more like a prehistoric soap opera at times, and I have no idea on the accuracy, though my dino-expert-New-Scientist-subscriber companions didn’t correct it too much, so I’m assuming it was relatively correct. I found it all rather interesting and engaging but I didn’t learn anything new, but maybe I’m a dino nerd too? Well, I have watched The Land Before Time at least 100 times and the Jurassic Park films about 50, so I must have learned something (Long-Necks don’t play with Three-Horns)?

The ending is all rather cute and funny too with a particular character stealing the show.

It’s going on tour, so check here for dates and tickets.

So what are you doing this month that you have never done before?
Victoria
x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

#JanuaryJoy – Make some memories

Today’s prompt is most definitely a January job. It’s got everything covered – tidying up moments from 2012, brightening your day, and making you feel better than the weather! It’s also got the important role of giving me a kick up the behind with things I’m always meaning to do. And I bet if I were to ask you what was in your top ten of things you are always meaning to get around to but never have time, you would say organising all those brilliant photos you spend so much time taking?


Paislee Press

I am the world’s worst at creating photo books. Since the digital age arrived and my photos go straight from camera to computer, I enjoy looking back at them on there but never create anything tangible. After our incredible road trip last year to Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley and Vegas, I needed to make an album and I’m pleased to say I’m now midway through finally creating and recording some of my own memories. My go-to photo book creator is Bob Books. You simply download the free software and design away to your heart’s content. If you’re after something a little more text heavy, I believe Blurb is excellent but haven’t ever tried them.

inkifi print instagram images

Since them however, I’ve discovered something even better. How many of you use your phones more than your proper camera for snaps now? Do you use apps for your iPhone or android mobile like Instagram with its cool filters and effects that take an average photo to amazing in 3 seconds flat? Those little snaps are such a record of our lives that they deserve to be preserved in the same way. Plus, I’ve taken some pretty kick ass spur of the moment shots (of my niece for example,) on Instagram and worried that the resolution wouldn’t be big enough to blow up into a print. I have used Firebox before to print Instagram images into polaroid type shots but then I found Inkifi. Specifically for printing Instagram photos, you can make simple prints, canvases, acrylic box framed prints, even greetings cards and montages.

So, have I prompted you into doing something with all those photos? Do you have any companies or services to recommend or do you like a good old fashioned album? I’d love to hear your top five jobs that never EVER get done ;)

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS. How cute is this idea for collating children’s artwork?