Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Sometimes it’s really easy to be lazy on the weekend. I am extremely guilty of this. My commute amounts to 15 hours a week on top of working full-time so by the time the weekend rolls around I just want to sleep, eat and maybe catch a film. And of course there is the boring stuff to do – food shopping, household chores, y’know the drill.  However, I always regret this come Sunday night/Monday morning. Nothing worse than a wasted weekend. So me and David decided to take a leaf out of Lynne from Cocktails and Daydreams book (blog) and join the Alphabet Dating bandwagon.

Alphabet Dating is basically where you plan dates according to the letter of the alphabet you are one. So could be aquarium, art, arcade etc… you get the idea. A nice suggestion is to take it in turns to plan so it’s a surprise for the other person.

For our first date we decided on A for Arboretum. Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is located between Gloucester and Bristol in the Cotswolds and is home to some 15,000 trees, 17 miles of pathways and even plays host to concerts.

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

The treetop walkway is a new addition to the park and offers views a birds (nest) eye view of the start of the Silk Wood section of the forest. We took the Summer Trail around the Silk Wood which was 1.6 miles and took us just over an hour at a leisurely pace.

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

The above image is of a 2000 year old lime tree and a sculpture made from cuttings from it. Really! Even though it doesn’t look like what you might expect.

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

What’s the Time Mister Wolf? I loved this tree sculpture. There were a few dotted about (including the Gruffalo) so it would be cool for them to add to this.

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

After this walk we stopped at the cafe for lemonade and scones, which were lovely. However, this rather pleasant a civilised morning came to an abrupt end when I discovered a tick on my wrist! I think that it hadn’t quite burrowed all the way in as it wasn’t engorged (vom) and David was able to pluck it out of my arm fairly easily but I was absolutely horrified! I have a fear of bugs so it was all I could do not to burst into tears.

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

We did then walk around the Old Arboretum Summer Trail (1.2 miles) but we had a bit of a case of the heebies so the pace was picked up quite significantly! The Old Arboretum shows subtle differences in how trees used to be managed and displayed. There lots of information as you walk round and additional activities for kids to do such as a digital “Tree Quest” if you so wish.

Days Out | Westonbirt Arboretum

Entry to the Arboretum was £9 each which I did think was quite dear. Luckily the prices in the restaurant seemed fairly reasonable, so not the cheapest day out but not the most expensive either. We did pack a picnic but unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and we didn’t like the fact that the picnic tables were just in the carpark. Had it been a nicer day (and I hadn’t already had a tick trauma) we might have just sat on a blanket in the Old Arboretum part of the park which doesn’t allow dogs so is generally quieter.

We’ll definitely revisit Westonbirt. I think the Enchanted Christmas Illuminated Trail looks wonderfully festive and I would love to see it. Plus all the ticks will be dead by December!

Overall, we enjoyed the first instalment in our Alphabet Dating adventure. I just hope the next one doesn’t involve any insects.

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Long Time, No Blog

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Well then. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve managed to publish a grand total of one blog post since the end of the January and, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about this.

I’ve been a bit disillusioned with blogging recently. I’m not into the whole SEO, monetising, numbers thing and it seems like there is a lot of pressure to do exactly that. From this being the focus of blogger chats to the flood of how-to posts, it’s easy to feel like you’re doing blogging wrong. Don’t get me wrong, all this is great for people who want to take their blog in a more professional direction, but for me it feels like I don’t have a place in this world.

So I’m making my own blog world. I’m going to continue blindly down the hobbyist path. No analytics, no adverts, no stress. I’ve missed having something to do and I enjoy writing and taking photographs (albeit on my phone – but hey, seems to be appropriate) so I am going to get to it now.

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So what else have I been up to? The reason I took a break in the first place was because we finally completed our house purchase in early February so we spent two months packing, decorating, moving and unpacking. And shopping. And decorating. So much decorating! I’m going to share some room tours soon so look out for them if you like interior posts.

Anyway, I would love some inspiration. Whether you’re a fellow hobbyist or a pro, let me know what your favourite thing about blogging is in the comments.

Ali  xx

Easter Caramel Cheesecake

Easter Caramel Cheesecake Feat. Hotel Chocolat

Easter Caramel CheesecakeThe last time I blogged an Easter baking recipe was three years ago when I shared a lovely, but rather garish, green cake. Bright green icing, fake mini eggs, butterfly sprinkles and Malteser bunnies, it was delicious but not the classiest looking of desserts. When these glorious looking Easter treats* landed on my desk from Hotel Chocolat I decided to put them to good use and make a more grown up, but still eye-catching, dessert.

Easter Caramel Cheesecake Easter Caramel Cheesecake

In my package I received A Dozen Quail Egglets which include two each of the flavours Chocolate Mousse, Salted Caramel (one of Hotel Chocolat’s best flavours IMO), Peanut Butter, Raspberry Supermilk, Strawberries and Cream and Hazelnut Praline. This is an extremely nice set with a wide range of flavours that would make a perfect gift for any adults you have to buy for this Easter. I also received a set of the Caramel City Bunnies, a sophisticated take on the ever popular Easter Bunny motif. I love his little tie, he looks like he is ready to take the Caramel Bunny out on a date – which gave me my inspiration….

Easter Caramel Cheesecake

…Lets make No-Bake Caramel Cheesecake with caramel, Caramel, and even more caramel!

Ingredients

For the (buttery biscuit) base you will need:

300g biscuits – I like digestives and especially chocolate digestives best but you can use any that gives a good ‘rough’ crumb, such as Oreos for a richer flavour

125g melted unsalted butter

For the filling you will need:

284g (family pack size) full fat Philadelphia or similar cream cheese – mascarpone is also a good one to go for

75g icing sugar

100g  Carnation Caramel or similar

150ml double cream

150g Dairy Milk Caramel (chopped up)

To decorate, I used:

Carnation Caramel

Canned whipped cream

Hotel Chocolat Caramel City Bunnies

Hotel Chocolat Salted Caramel Quails Egglet

Galaxy Golden Eggs.

Method

  • Blitz your biscuits in a food processor (or smash in a bag with a rolling pin if you’re old school/have something you’re cross about). How fine is up to you, I like quite fine but don’t mind the odd chunk, especially if it still has chocolate on.
  • Stir into the melted butter.
  • Press into the bottom of a 11 inch loose base baking tin. Leave in the fridge to set while you prep the filling

Easter Caramel Cheesecake

  • Whisk together the cheese, caramel and icing sugar until smooth. Remember to taste it during this and the next step: if you need it to be sweeter, add more sugar; if you want it to be richer, add more caramel.
  • Pour in the double cream and keep whisking until it thickens. It needs to be thick enough to form peaks so best to use an electric whisk for this one. It is ready when the peaks stand on their own:

Easter Caramel Cheesecake

  • Next, stir in your chopped chocolate.
  • Spoon over the biscuit base and spread evenly. Return this to the fridge for at least 5 hours.

Easter Caramel Cheesecake

Finally, we have reached the most fun stage – the decorating and the eating! I added the Caramel drizzle before removing it from the pan (for tidiness sake mostly). You may need to put a knife round the pan to loosen the biscuit base when removing it. Then I added some squooshy cream, the lovely little bunnies and a golden egg nest.

Easter Caramel Cheesecake Easter Caramel Cheesecake

I think it looks lovely. Still lots of fun, but a distinctly grown up affair for adult who kind of wish the Easter bunny was real. I love how the cream gives the look of little cotton tails on the bunnies. And because I did all the work, I’m definitely going to make sure that Egglet ends up on my plate…

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it has put you in the mood for Easter – tell me, what is your favourite Easter treat?

 

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I Read the F*@#ing Books | The Help

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help a few months ago having received a free Kindle download. I have to say I wasn’t that interested in it. I had heard a lot about the book since the 2011 film adaptation directed by Tate Taylor after it gained a lot of Oscar buzz but I didn’t watch the film and it took me a long time to get round to reading the book. Having rectified this, I want to share my thoughts on both of them.

The Help is set in 1960s Mississippi. The book is told from three women’s perspectives: Aibileen, her good friend Minnie and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minnie are both black maids working in the households of Skeeter’s (a white woman) friends. Aibileen is smart, well-read and respected by her community. She left school at a young age due to the need to earn but keeps up with her writing at which she is quite talented. Minnie is the firecracker of the pair, she has been fired from numerous jobs for talking back to her employers, but the one person she doesn’t stand up to is her abusive husband. Having just returned home from college, Skeeter begins to see the way in which her friends and her community treat their employees and decides to enlist the help of Aibileen and Minnie to publish a collection of their stories, exposing the true experience of ‘the Help’.

The film is very true to the book in events, characterisation and sequence. There are a few minor changes that I do think matter. I read the book first and my main criticism of it was that it seemed very sanitised. Terrible things happened, such as the enforcement of the rule that the maids had to use toilets outside, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of anger about it. Only one of the maids, Gretchen, was angry at Skeeter’s privileged position and this resulted in Aibileen telling Gretchen to leave her house. This was removed from the film. I think that’s a shame because it showed the reality of tension between the communities. For the most part The Help sticks rigidly to the idea that if you’re a ‘good’ person you’ll get along with anyone which to be frank, for the time it was set, seems a bit rose-tinted to say the least.

Another thing that irked me about the film was that I felt like Aibileen’s intelligence was dumbed down. She is a kind, nurturing woman, but she is also shown to be fiercely smart in the novel. One of the most famous lines in the film is the whole “you is kind, you is smart, you is important”, but Aibileen doesn’t say this in the book, she says “you are kind” because she has a strong grasp of language! It’s such a small detail but it seems like they were trying to make her seem less well read, more provincial even for no reason.

I guess the biggest criticism of The Help is that it is attempting to be the true story of black women in America in the 60s, but it is written by a white woman. Incidentally, a white woman who grew up with black maids. Of course she is going to have a certain bias. Even more disappointing is that the film is directed by a white man. The result is a perfectly pleasant book and film, but don’t assume that you’re going to get anything close to a historically accurate representation of black women’s experiences. The cast of the film is terrific but it’s such a shame that their source material was so weak. This was a cast that could has dealt with BIG issues with grace and integrity but instead they’ve produced a film that just pays lip service to the era.

Neither the book nor the film were my cup of tea, plus they’re so similar that I don’t think one is better than the other. If I had to, I’d say the book is superior due to the extra depth it gives Aibileen. I realise this might be quite controversial because it both are very popular, but I’d honestly say just skip both.

What did you think of The Help?

 

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A Little Boots Makeup Haul

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I was very recently doing my makeup when I realised that my eyebrows were looking weird. They’d start off ok but then by the time my eyebrow gel dried down they’d take on a milky look. I thought maybe it was just because my chosen product was crap, but on closer inspection it turned out that nope, it was just me that was crap. I bought a coloured gel for blondes. And this is the problem not being able to wear your glasses when you’re doing your makeup. I can’t bloody see!

Anyway, the point of this ramble was that I needed to go to Boots. For one thing. So obviously I bought seven things. Not a huge haul but I thought I’d share what I got anyway.

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The fist thing I got was Rimmel’s Brow This Way brow styling gel in ‘Dark Brown’ aka the actual colour of my eyebrows. I really like this, it adds a bit of colour and definition and holds everything in place without getting too crispy. I also like the tapered brush, it’s not the smallest but neither are my brows so it works for me.

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Boots have a few deals on just now, either 3 for 2 (like on Revlon) or buy one get second item half price (on Rimmel, Maybelline etc) so it’s a good time to pick up some of your essentials. This is how I’m justifying the rest of the items I bought anyway…

The second item I picked up was this Rimmel Kate Eyeshadow Stick in the shade ‘Rose Gold’. Rose gold aka copper. I love copper eyeshadow, it looks great with blue eyes so I’m sure this will become a go-to. It’s metallic and super intense on one swipe but also easy to blend out with a pinkie finger.

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From Maybelline I bought one of the Color Drama Intense Velvet Lip Pencil in the colour  ‘Red Essential’. This is super pigmented and really creamy so although it is a pencil you still have to be careful when applying it.

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Here’s a swatch of both the lip and eye pencil, both are really high quality and I’m very pleased with them.

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I also finally got myself the Maybelline The Eraser Eye concealer. I got the shade ‘Light’, it’s slightly warm for my skin but it’s totally fine when it’s blended out.

Finally I picked up three of the Revlon Colorstay Shadowlinks. These are small individual eyeshadows that you can pick and mix to create your perfect ‘palette’. I got the shades ‘Sand’ (a pearl finish), ‘Copper’ (metallic) and ‘Cocoa’ (a satin finish). My reasoning behind this was that they are so dinky I thought I could just chuck them in my makeup bag for using at work. I didn’t swath them in store and I wish I had because they don’t actually seem that great. They’re a bit gritty and not that pigmented. ‘Cocoa’ is probably the best but ‘Sand’ really sucks. I’ll give them a fair go though, they might turn out to be fine. I’ll report back.

What have you been buying at the drugstore recently?

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Obsessing Over Enamel Pins

Recently my Instagram and Etsy has been awash with enamel pins. My thought process was thus: ‘I should do a blog post on all these awesome pins’… ‘Oh shit, A Beautiful Mess has done it now’…’Ach well, I’m gonna anyway.’ Yeah. So I thought I would just share the ones that are currently sat on my Etsy favourites list. These are all shops based in the UK, there are awesome shops all over the world with good shipping policies, but shop local and all that.

Axolotl by Hannah Hitchman | Middle Finger by Jolly Awesome | Don’t be a Dick by Veronica Dearly | Drive In Movies by Hand Over Your Fairy CakesHeart and Brain Set by Rock Cakes | Pretzel by Peas and Needles | UFO by Sugar and ViceGummi Venus De Milo by Mike McCabe | Diamond Terrarium by Finest Imaginary | Majestic as Fuck Unicorn by Punky Pins

These are all priced from £5 to £15 (for the two pin set) so a super affordable way to pick up some fun finishing touches. I feel a collection coming on…

Here is the link to the A Beautiful Mess pin posts if, like me, you just can’t get enough.

Drop any links to your favourite pins/shop in the comments please!

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Book Review | The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

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Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying has become somewhat of an international sensation. She is a professional ‘tidier’ based in Tokyo where she helps all kinds of clients declutter, tidy and organise their homes using her own ‘KonMari’ Method. This book talks you through the KonMari Method, so you too can experience the success that Marie’s clients have.

It has to be said, the title is a little silly (life-changing magic, really?!) and some of the client success stories that she starts with are a bit much so I was pretty cynical when I first began reading it. However, Marie’s genuine personality does start to come through as you continue reading and she just seems to sincere and lovely that I really did change my mind. Marie is so convinced that having a tidy home equates to a tidy mind and her enthusiasm really cuts through all the crap that it is hard not to find yourself agreeing with her.

In a nutshell, the KonMari Method is based around decluttering and organising by category rather than location. For instance, clothes, paperwork, books. Marie sets out the optimal order for doing this so that  you begin by discarding items that are relatively easy to let go of and leave more meaningful or sentimental items for later. You have to do everything in the one go so pull all of your clothes out of the wardrobe, drawers etc. gather them together and look at each item. You have to do this for every item in your house and only keep items that ‘spark joy’. Once you have purged your home completely you have to find a place for everything and then your home will be permanently tidy.

This sounds extreme, but actually there is a lot of sense in it. For example, if you have beauty products in your dresser, plus your bedside cabinet, plus your handbag, plus the bathroom… do you really know how much you have? In terms of asking if something sparks joy… I think this can be taken with a pinch of salt. If you’re not a cleaning junkie it’s unlikely that your collection of household cleaning product will spark joy but you might want to hang on to it. But it is worth asking if you actually like  some of the stuff you’ve been hanging on to. Marie points out that a lot of people hang on to gifts purely out of guilt, but actually the purpose of the gift was to receive it – you understand that the person giving it to you did so out of love, generosity and kindness and you appreciate that, but you shouldn’t hang on to something that now makes you feel bad. Also, Marie is not as harsh as she first seems, if something is silly, weird or even not used regularly but you love it, you should keep it.

I think that some of the more earnest/cheesy phrases are possibly down to too literal a translation from Japanese plus a bit of difference in our two cultures (i.e. literally thanking your handbag?!) but overall this book is not half as ridiculous as I had expected. In fact, I would say that if you’re already thinking about your spring cleaning, definitely give this a read first as I’m sure there will be at least a few tips in there that will really speak to you.

When I start packing for moving house I will 100% be remembering Marie’s words to help me reduce the clutter in my new place. I’ve also just discovered that there are a bunch of YouTube videos where Marie demonstrates her folding technique for clothes so I will for sure be checking those out!

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying? What did you make of it?