Friday, October 20, 2017

The Big Reveal: Our Guest Bathroom Before and After


When we were house hunting, having a second bathroom was on my dream list - and most of the houses we saw only had one (or a main bathroom upstairs and a single toilet downstairs, usually tucked behind the kitchen, which I hated).

Along with a first floor bathroom (that's the second floor, for my fellow Americans), we're also very lucky to have a loft bathroom attached to the master bedroom, which we remodelled at the same time (you can see the transformation here!).

To put it mildly, the first floor bathroom looked like a murder scene when we moved in (John would say that I'm grossly exaggerating at this point, but whatever). The walls were cracked and damaged because the previous owners had only tiled half-way around the bath; the linoleum floor was bubbling and uneven; and the toilet seat was a constant source of amusement for guests, as it featured an aquatic scene ... with a giant jelly fish in prime position.



I hated it.

So, it became my little project. And because of my aversion to the purple walls, dim lighting, and creaky floor, I wanted it to look as bright and clean as possible.

Originally, I'd selected a marble mosaic tile for the floor from Fired Earth, but stupidly miscalculated the square footage we'd need and realized it was going to be eye-wateringly expensive - which threw off the rest of my design (I'm pretty sure I also threw myself on the couch like my 3-year-old niece and kicked and screamed - yeah, I know. I'm vile). John told me to order them anyway, but instead, I opted for the Fired Earth tiles in St. Ives Frost for the floor, arranged in a herringbone pattern, and the square white bevelled Boho Soho tiles for the walls (note: I tried to find a dupe for these - no such luck. Plenty of metro bevelled tiles out there - not a lot of square bevelled tiles, except for a shop in Wisconsin that sells them too).


But then.

That's where my success ends. Literally every single item I ordered after that was wrong: the wrong size, bad quality, the wrong shape, etc.

I eagerly ripped open a couple of sconce lamps I'd ordered from The Garden Trading Company and, despite having carefully read the dimensions, they looked like the size of something that belonged in a doll's house. I kid you not. (I ended up getting these from Dusk Lighting instead).

Then, the shower head I ordered didn't work with the boxed in flue (luckily, our builders found a solution to this and quietly fixed it before telling me what had happened, as they knew I was prone to hysterics) and ... there was the matter of the bathtub.

So, I ordered this tub online from Victoria Plum, along with an acrylic bath panel and thought nothing of it when they arrived.

"Is this your, um, bath panel?" asked John when he came home from work one evening, scrutinizing the delivery of boxes in our living room. "I can lift it with one finger!" he said, before - literally - lifting it with one finger.

This wasn't good.

"Also, that bath looks a bit ... um, cheap," he said.

"I thought that's what we were going for in this bathroom," I snapped.

The next day, our builder arrived and I told him what John had said.

"Yeah ... to be honest ... they're not the best," he said, wringing his hands a little.

So, the bath and the corresponding panel went back to Victoria Plum, and in their place, I received a Bette super steel bath and Burlington wood bath panel.

"I'm just going to go for it," I texted John before I placed my order with the builder.

"Yeah," he replied. "Otherwise your whole bathroom gonna be cheap cardboard. *laughing emoji*"

Face. Palm.

Anyway, after that minor drama was over, I managed to find an XXL mirror for the wall opposite the bath (but only after asking my builders the awkward question, "Is it weird to see yourself when you're showering? Would you find that weird? Is that weird? I think it's a little weird, but is that okay? What do you think? It's weird, right?") from IKEA.


The grey Shaker-style vanity unit was from Victoria Plum (I replaced the ugly silver knobs with knobs from Anthropologie) and my builder made a bespoke cupboard to box in our boiler and Megaflo unit (which is huge). He was so nice, he threw in an extra bespoke cupboard for free to hide the rest of the boiler flue and to give us some extra storage space (I also had him install knobs from Anthropologie for these). Now I can bulk-buy my toilet paper, Kleenex and soap!


I sourced an antique milking stool from eBay (our Airbnb in Iceland had one and I loved the look - John uses it as a stand for our Samsung Galaxy View when he's taking a bath and wants to watch Formula One/cricket/rugby/random-history-programs) and bathmats from Anthropologie and Cologne & Cotton. The plants in the windowsill are from Patch.



This bathroom gets a lot of natural light already (it's a lovely place to take a bath if you're feeling sick/down as it's bright and relaxing), but we replaced the dingy overhead light the previous owners had installed with a selection of spots, and two wall sconces. To keep it from looking too stark, I chose a pale, barely-there pink for the walls, which even my builders ended up liking!

As with the upstairs bathroom, our builders fitted Warmup underfloor heating so our guests' tootsies will stay nice and warm when padding to the bathroom in the middle of the night/in the morning.

Although very different in look/feel to our upstairs bathroom (AKA John's project, which looks a lot slicker and more modern with the digital shower and fancy sink), this bathroom still feels like a sanctuary to me - and welcome relief from the design disaster that was the old one.

I hope our guests enjoy using it as much as we do, and I'd love to know what you think!
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Friday, September 22, 2017

Relationship Goals



I can count the number of times I've thrown up in my adult life on one hand.

Really.

Two of those times were in front of John. And both of those times, he held back my hair, stroked my back, and whispered encouragement like, "Oh, you poor thing. Oh, bad luck, sweetie. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, sweetheart. I know. It's just a shock. You'll feel so much better when it's over, I promise," as I vommed chunks into the bathroom sink (because I could never make it in time to the toilet, and also because bending down that extra bit seemed improbable to me in the moment).

And after that - after I spat out the last, bile-filled mouthful and collapsed, face red and tear-streaked on the bathroom floor (because even as an adult, I find throwing up awfully traumatizing) - he was the one who sweeped away my vomit with his bare hands and handed me a glass of water to rinse out my mouth, before fetching another glass of water to mix up a rehydration packet because he didn't want me to wake up with a headache. 

That, my friends, is the definition of relationship goals: someone who will scoop up your vomit with his/her bare hands

Not those sappy, Pinterest-worthy quotes about holding doors open and compliments and long hugs and texting, "Good morning" and "Goodnight" (they're sweet, but not necessarily "goals").

Vomit.

Bare hands.

Because relationship goals is about being there when the shit hits the fan (um, sometimes literally ... Norovirus 2010, is all I have to say) - and loving that person in their most vunerable, humiliating, and lowest moments. And every single time, it's those moments where my husband's true character shines: patience, empathy, kindness - selflessness. 

So, the second time I spewed into the sink, it was about 10 p.m. by the time I finally cleaned myself up and gingerly climbed back into bed.

"Do you want to watch 'The Andes' on BBC iPlayer?" he asked, propping up my pillows for me.

I nodded.

And he held my hand as I watched, heavy-lidded, while puma cubs frolicked in the mountains on the screen in front of us before finally turning onto my side and falling asleep. But he kept it on just a bit longer because he knew that the sound would calm my anxiety and help me fall asleep faster.

But the real reason why I fell asleep so quickly that night was because I felt safe and loved - unconditionally so.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Did You Have a Wedding Registry?


October marks our five-year wedding anniversary. How time flies! I can never quite remember the exact date - whether it's the 5th or the 6th - but it's there, it exists, and photos mounted in silver frames dotted around our home remind me so: me, in a lace blue dress; him, in a dark blue suit; us, against the backdrop of the Great Orme looming behind us.

Although we eloped (you can read our elopement story here), we celebrated with friends and family at two transatlantic receptions - but we didn't have a wedding registry or a honeymoon fund.

In Seattle, we asked our guests not to bring gifts (though friends and family generously slipped checks and crisp bills into congratulatory cards) and in Oxford, we asked that donations be given in lieu of gifts to Trinity Hospice, where John's uncle Chris (who became my dear friend shortly after my move down to London) passed away.

We didn't have a wedding registry for a few reasons. Mostly, we felt a bit funny about the whole thing (though I don't blink twice when ordering a muffin tin or china set for friends' weddings) i.e. having a list of things we wanted and asking (or, rather, expecting) our guests to buy them for us.


Perhaps the biggest reason why we didn't have a wedding registry, was the fact that we'd been moving from flat to flat for years, and still didn't have a place to call our own when we were married, let alone a rental agreement long enough to last more than a year (it was a time when the housing market in London went insane and house prices went £100k+ above the asking price, so our landlords would inevitably sell at the end of our lease) - we simply wouldn't have space for the items we'd longed for.

Finally (and perhaps the biggest reason why I'm glad we didn't have a wedding registry), our tastes have changed so much from five years ago. Of course, I would have loved to have (I think we asked for John Lewis gift cards at Christmas for about three years straight) house-related gifts when we moved into the house we bought two years ago, but even the things I thought worked in our home then, don't really translate into what we know works for us now.

Either way, I don't really care or judge whether friends have a wedding registry/honeymoon fund or not (although a 'thank you' note is always appreciated!) - it just wasn't for us at the time.

How about you? If you're married, did you have a wedding registry or honeymoon fund? Or a chosen charity to donate to? I'd love to know!
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Monday, September 11, 2017

My 5 Favorite TV Shows For When I'm Feeling Sad/Mad/Bad


There's a certain kind of show I like to watch when I'm feeling sad/bad/mad: I've dubbed it The Comfort Show. The Comfort Show contains mild drama to keep me hooked, almost always involves some form of food (whether it's being consumed or cooked), almost always has an element of cheese (whether literal or metaphorical) has zero violence, and is usually shot in a neutral (but cute) and peaceful setting.

In other words, it's safe. It's cozy. And preferably, it's in a series meant to be binge-watched and left on in the background, lest I fall asleep midway through (I've been known to self-soothe during bouts of insomnia with the Gilmore Girls playing on our Samsung Galaxy View, but laying with my back to it, at a volume where I can just about make out Sookie's shrieks. I don't know, it works for me.).

John does not understand my love for The Comfort Show and thinks they're all ridiculous fluff - which they are. That's the point.

Gilmore Girls

When I was healing from surgery, I watched Gilmore Girls on a loop in our garden, and from bed. It was a nice distraction from the pain, and it also kept me from feeling down, which is a side effect I often experience the weeks following an operation under general anaesthetic. I used to loathe Rory and Lorelei's fast-talking, smart alecky ways (and sometimes, I still do), but after I started watching the show for what it was (a mother and daughter just tryin' to navigate their way through this thing called life), I started to enjoy it a lot more - plus, all the incidental characters that go along with them (e.g. Miss Patty, Kirk, etc.). 

Heartland

It's a TV show about horses set in Alberta, Canada. Need I say more?

Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten reminds me of my childhood best friend's mom. Her voice is so soothing, and her easy, methodical way of cooking is so calming, I could watch it all day while laying horizontal on the couch with a box of tissues by my side when I've got a bad case of the sniffles. There's something so comforting and soothing about imagining a mom-like figure stirring a big pot of chicken noodle soup in your kitchen ... even if it's happening in your TV instead.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

It's funny, it's clever, and Kimmy's outfits are colorful, it's worth watching just to see what patterned cardigan she'll wear next (and what amazing theatrical vocals Titus Andronicus - yes, really - will bust out). The blink-and-you'll-miss-it pop culture references and witty humor have me howling with laughter every time - it's the ultimate pick-me-up and the imaginary world I wish we all lived in.

Chef's Table


I used to find Chef's Table eye-rolling-ly pretentious, but I recently tuned in and was so moved by some of the chefs' stories (not to mention, the beautiful cinematography), I found myself a little misty-eyed ... and full of admiration. I love the personal stories; the journey from childhood ambition to Michelin-starred kitchen.

What's your ultimate "comfort show"? The series you binge watch when you're reaching for a box of tissues or recovering from a bad break-up? I'd love to know!
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Monday, September 4, 2017

You Before Me


On a recent trip back to Leicester, John triumphantly recovered a box full of childhood memories from his dad's attic: school workbooks; a Thundercats figurine; a well-loved teddy, his ears misshapen and worn from too many nighttime snuggles with a small, fair-haired boy.

I patted the teddy and gave the stuffed owl an affectionate squeeze, but it was John's schoolwork that I pored over extensively. Fascinated by the insight it gave me into the person I knew and loved so much, I delighted in discovering his long, sloping cursive, written in mandatory blue fountain ink. I spent hours in front of the TV, on our couch at home, reading workbook after workbook - smiling at a teacher's encouraging feedback and frowning at grades I thought were unfair.

English workbooks from primary school revealed a sweet boy with a sense of humour and lovely imagination, harshly critiqued by a (possibly?) embittered teacher. I thumbed through pages and pages of physics and chemistry equations - equations that I hadn't even begun to ponder until my final year of high school, which he solved with precision at ages thirteen and fourteen. French conjugations painstakingly written and re-written, again and again.

This part of John - this part of his history - unlocked a part of him to me that I'd never known, but had been eager to meet. 

This was him before me.

At times, I was overwhelmed with emotion, reading these workbooks. I laughed at the silly stories, marvelled at the difficult math problems, but most of all, I saw that he, i.e. the same person he is today, had always been there.

I saw a trajectory from childhood to adulthood that was so much more straightforward than mine, and therefore, interesting. As a child, then teen, then university student, my interests were varied and unfocused. I excelled at everything and nothing at once. John was different: focused, logical, and methodical. Especially talented in math and science. A lover of football. Popular. Fun. Loyal.

The box revealed all these things, and the revelation was amazing. It made me love him even more.

Have you ever wondered what your best friend, partner, or relative was like before you met them?
(My brother plays this great game with my dad after dinner ... we'll be sitting at the table and he'll ask, "Dad ... what were you doing in [inserts year]?" We learned so much about my dad from those stories!)
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Friday, September 1, 2017

The PAUL Picnic Hamper


When my mom came to visit me in London a few years ago, she fell in love with PAUL - PAUL, of course, being the ubiquitous French bakery and cafe on this side of the Channel that makes the closest thing to the perfectly flaky, ever-so-slightly yielding croissants and pain au chocolats found on that side of the Channel. Naturally, she fell for the delicious pastries and cakes, but I've always been a fan of PAUL's tasty baguette sandwiches too.

And just in time to lift my post-Paris-holiday blues (and just in time to catch the last of the warm-ish weather in London), PAUL has launched a summer picnic hamper filled with both sweet and savoury treats, which my friend Alex and I tried last week in Lincoln's Inn Fields.


We unzipped the cool bag that the picnic arrives in, shook out our blanket under a tree, and placed the cute, waterproof chequered table cloth on top (also included).

Priced at £20 for two or £38 for four, the picnic includes either sandwiches, quiche, salads, chips (or "crisps" as they're called here in the UK!), drinks, and - of course - dessert from PAUL's famous patisserie counter.


We tried the vegan sandwich - a beetroot baguette stuffed with grilled peppers, carrots, onions, carrot hummus and spinach - though I think I might have enjoyed the sliced roast beef sandwich more (note to self: order the sandwich boeuf next time!). The beetroot bread itself, however, was very good, and it's good to know that there's a sandwich option for my vegan and veggie friends.

It was a fairly warm day when we had our picnic, and we grazed on PAUL's chardonnay wine vinegar (addictive, with a zing) and sea salt (basic, but essential) crisps while people-watching in the park and catching up on our favorite new-store openings in London (Arket! Weekday!).


Of course, I couldn't wait to try the dessert: a slice of PAUL's fruit rouges tart (I made a mental note to buy it for the next office birthday) and a large pistachio macaron, which we managed to split in half with as much grace we could muster.


Too bad for us, we only had an hour or so for lunch, so it wasn't long before we had to pack up our PAUL picnic, fold up our picnic blanket (which had acquired a bit of mud at this point that still hasn't washed out), and reluctantly head back indoors. This portable picnic is perfect for a last-minute al fresco gathering with friends ... or, a romantic lunch/light dinner for two in the garden (which I'd love to do with John!).

Will you be taking advantage of this late-summer picnic weather?

Our summer picnic hamper was provided courtesy of PAUL. All opinions are my own.
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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, Paris


Pushing open the door to Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, a grand house-turned-hotel tucked away on a pretty, sun-dappled street of the Marais, I was distracted by a small, wiry ball of black fur regally descending from a back office somewhere as if he himself were the proprietor of the hotel. He paused a short distance away from my feet, tail wagging, looking up with serious eyes, as if to say, "Welcome" or, since we were in Paris, "Bienvenue".

"That's Bobby," said the receptionist, laughing, as I bent down to ruffle him behind the ears. He moved quickly, from me to Udita, eager to greet us both, yet completely soundless - too polite for even a whimper or a bark. (Later during our stay, I'd wonder aloud about Bobby's whereabouts when we returned to the hotel and Udita would joke, "Probably in his office, reading the Financial Times.")


The hotel itself is positioned about a five-minute walk away from Hotel de Ville metro station - a straight shot down Rue de Rivoli, followed by a swift left turn onto Rue Vieille-du-Temple, it's ideal for wandering to the Notre Dame, picnic-ing in the Tuileries, spending an afternoon at the Louvre, or soaking up culture at Centre Pompidou.


Its bright blue facade appears in many Instagram feeds - indeed, I glanced down from our balcony on several occasions to catch passersby standing opposite, poised with iPhone or DSLR in hand.

The hotel has nineteen rooms; small, but perfectly formed (though, by Parisian standards, I found ours on the second floor to be quite spacious!). Within minutes of making Bobby's acquaintance, we were given our room key - no passports to be photocopied, no credit card details to be taken in advance - and allowed to show ourselves to our room, where, upon opening the door, Udita and I collapsed in fits of giggles on the twin beds and shouted, "What is this life?" as we flung open the balcony doors and peered out onto the distinctly Parisian streets below.

Decorated in the 18th-century style, the owner, Monsieur Alain Bigeard, has taken great pains to source antique furniture and the finest quality fabrics to adorn the hotel. The paintings that hang in the rooms and reception area are all original oil paintings, and the framed sheet music extracted from first editions. Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais is, of course, named after Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who - amongst many other things - was a playwright and musician who authored the Figaro plays, the second of which (The Marriage of Figaro), Mozart based his opera.




We met Alain the next morning, after we'd finished our decadent breakfast and were preparing to head out for our early morning wander around the Marais. In his charming, easy way, he explained the history of the hotel, and I pressed for details on where he sourced all his fabulous antique furniture and art. Waking in the hotel feels, at times, like a cross between waking in a fairytale and a museum - drowsy from a late afternoon nap, I momentarily forgot where I was, and thought I'd been transported to the 18th-century, half-wanting to reach for my powdered wig. Alain's fine attention to detail is a testament to the hotel's ability to evoke this magical feeling.

I'd read previous reviews of Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais' legendary breakfasts (which can either be taken downstairs in the basement or brought up to your room - naturally, we opted for the latter), but nothing quite prepared me for the spread that arrived within minutes of me requesting it from reception (advance notice is not necessary - you simply call when you're hungry!). Nestled in a impossibly French-country chic basket tray was a pot of fresh tea, a pitcher of coffee with warmed milk, jars of pate, kiwis, soft boiled eggs perched in porcelain egg cups, tiny pots of jam, honey, and marmalade, freshly-squeezed orange juice, cheese, and - the piece de resistance - a basket of warm croissants, crusty baguettes, and pain au chocolats. I nearly wept (and definitely swooned when I took my first bite of jam-smothered croissant).


The people at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais are as pleasing as the attractive decor - the polite, nearly apologetic way staff tend to phrase requests ("We have a habit of keeping room keys at the desk whilst you're out!"), the warmth and personal attention ("Bonjour, good morning! Breakfast to your room? It would be our pleasure!"), and the eagerness to help ("Can we book you a taxi? Or help you with directions to the restaurant?") - all make staying at the hotel a delightful experience; the exact opposite of the cold, sniffy stereotypes that first-time visitors to Paris typically fear (particularly those whose French skills are limited to ordering a maximum of three pastries from a boulangerie).

In fact, it would be the ideal place to stay if you're a first-time visitor: easy to get to, located in a beautiful, but central neighborhood, and wonderfully welcoming. I know my parents love Paris (my dad in particular!) so I can't wait to take them back to Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais on their return to Europe.


On our last morning at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, we had no time for the glorious breakfast spread, instead stuffing the last of our belongings and newly-purchased candles into our bags and creeping downstairs at an unsociable hour, wistfully hoping for one last glimpse of Bobby, before stepping out onto the quiet Marais street to await our taxi to Gare du Nord. The sun hadn't yet risen, but a fresh copy of The New York Times and Le Monde had been swapped for yesterday's old news in reception, and we were bade farewell as warmly as we'd been greeted.

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, I'll be back. For sure.

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, 12 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75004, Paris, France. We stayed at Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais at a press rate; all opinions are my own.
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