Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lime Wood Hotel & Spa, New Forest


I woke before John - before dawn, in fact - at 5:45, when it was still pitch black outside. But with the clocks changing overnight, it felt like 6:45, and, being an early riser, I began to fidget under the sheets - the down duvet crinkling around me like a weightless cloud of feathers.

It was dark, sure, but as I tiptoed to our room's window facing Lime Wood's grand drive and peered out onto the scenic lawn, I contemplated going out for a walk - by myself - in the nearby woods. A thought which surprised me since, just a few years ago, you couldn't convince me to put on a pair of hiking boots, let alone go for a walk in a muddy wood on my own.


But 24 hours at Lime Wood had already placed a strange hold over me: call it magic, but I longed for a walk in the cold, bracing air to clear my head, after embarking on one shortly after our arrival the day before. I wanted to see the magical New Forest ponies once again, who - like a line of chorus dancers - eyed us curiously, before trotting past in a semi-choreographed line of their own accord, tossing their manes as they did so.

When John opened his eyes, I was hovering over him like a crazed stalker: "Can we go for a walk now?" I asked, practically lacing up my boots already. He rubbed his eyes and smiled at my new-found enthusiasm for convening with nature. "Sure."

But just then, there was a knock at the door, and a uniformed man bearing a large and heavy tray cluttered with fresh pots of tea, fruit juices, homemade granola, New Forest yogurt, and a basket full of warm pastries deposited the said tray onto our bed and we sat, tucked up in the duvet once again, watching the sun rise while dropping crumbs on the pillows.


Satiated, we finally embarked on that walk: sneaking down the staircase before other guests had risen like a pair of teens creeping out to make mischief, making our way through the boot room which held a rainbow-hued collection of Hunter wellies neatly stacked under a reclaimed wooden table, and unlocking the gate to the woodland - my boots making squelchy sounds from the mud underfoot.




Back at the hotel, sheepishly returned with muddy boots in hand and wasted no time in slinking directly to Herb House spa, where we indulged in hour-long Bamford massage treatments before soaking in the hydrotherapy pool as powerful jets of water pummelled our aching shoulders; the soles of our feet. At one point, I sat flipping through a water-damaged issue of Grazia that someone had left behind, warming my feet and seat on the long, U-shaped heated marble bench, and declared, "I'm happy," to John, who had thrown a towel over his shoulder en route to the steam room.

"Good," he said, and disappeared into the mist.

Later that afternoon, we peeked into every drawing room and discovered the library: a cozy little snug with a large bay window and working fireplace (which John set to lighting straight away, after asking permission) filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves heaving with art books. We ordered spicy Bloody Marys and refreshing herb-infused lemonades, nibbling on peanuts and speaking only to mutter exclamations over enticing holidays advertised in the paper we both shared.




The food, though highly anticipated, erred on the side of disappointment for us. As huge fans of Angela Hartnett's Murano in London, we expected to be similarly excited by the fare served at Hartnett Holder & Co, Lime Wood's main restaurant (the other restaurant, Raw & Cured, offers a healthy, raw-food-focused menu at Herb House spa). But our crab linguine was overseasoned yet lacking in flavor; the chicken schnitzel nothing to write home about; and the seaweed-encrusted duck a strange (and unnervingly sweet) concoction. However: the crispy bacon sandwich at breakfast was out-of-this-world delicious and the charcuterie board deserved the highest praise.

Despite this, I'd happily return to Lime Wood - again and again. The rooms, the service, the activities - that spa - make it the ultimate treat for adults (although it was lovely to see that children were welcome too).

We're already plotting our next trip there - magical ponies and all.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Indefinite Leave to Remain


So, it's been a pretty crazy and momentous few weeks for me ... first, after months of nagging from John, I finally signed up for and passed my UK driving theory test.

Whew! That test was hard, compared to the US version (I also found it a little bewildering and intimidating to be subjected to nearly airport-style security upon arriving at the test center). I especially struggled with the infamous "hazard perception" section of the test, where you're shown 14 CGI clips of a drive (in a mix of rural and urban areas) from the driver's perspective and are instructed to click on "developing" hazards within a prescriped period of time. If you click too early? BAM! Zero points. Clicked too late? Sorry, buddy, ZERO POINTS. I was failing every single practice test up until the night before the real thing ... out of desperation, I watched a video on YouTube (hilariously filmed by some kid in his college dorm room) and ... passed the next day! (Tip: if you're thinking of studying for the theory test, the app is the best way to learn.)

Oh! And we bought a car. Hence the need for a UK driver's licence (US licenses don't simply transfer over).

In anticipation of my practical driving test in January (gulp!), I've booked in some lessons with "Dave" - my neighbor's kids' driving instructor - who said reassuringly, "Don't you worry about a thing - you'll do brilliantly. Just let me do the worrying, okay?" after I recounted the story of how I drove up on the curb with John recently and felt "traumatized" by my first UK driving experience. I can tell we're going to get along well.

But the biggest milestone of all, for me, was being granted Indefinite Leave to Remain status by the Home Office last Saturday. After over a decade of living in the UK, I finally submitted the application I'd been wanting to hand over for years. John came with me to the Premium Service Centre in Croydon (where you can typically get a same-day decision) to literally and figuratively hold my hand - and I'm so glad he did, because I had a slight hiccup with my application (which got figured out in the end) and I totally panicked.

After I received my congratulatory letter, all I wanted was a Nando's chicken feast and to pass out on my bed at home (I got both).

I spent the rest of the weekend in a bit of a daze - happy, grateful, nostalgic, and hopeful - especially after I found out that I can apply for British citizenship once my biometric permit arrives.

I went to yoga on Sunday morning and I think it all became a little too much for me: when the teacher asked us to imagine someone supportive and loving in our lives during savasana, John's face and his kind smile immediately appeared in my mind and I started quietly sobbing, until the teacher came around and surreptitously handed me a box of tissues.

(I kind of love him. Just a little bit.)

Speaking of John, he'd managed to score us some tickets to see Van Morrison at the Eventim Apollo earlier in the year - and it felt like the perfect way to celebrate. We had amazing seats, held hands, and marvelled at the fact that he had - at 72 - the stamina to complete a 90-minute set with no breaks. His voice was as strong as ever, and his instrumental skills alone were incredible. So, so special.

I sat there that night in the dark auditorium, along with the rest of audience, as Van sang, "When you don't need to worry, there'll be days like this," with the biggest grin plastered across my face.

It felt - and it feels - nice to be so happy.
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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fall Haul



I was all "bah-humbug" about the arrival of fall, but then I saw this display of decorative gourds and flowers in autumnal colors at the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers last week and it was like - bam! - I was hit with the pumpkin spice stick. Suddenly, everything around me was wonderful: the swirling leaves, the darkening evenings, the unearthing of wool coats and jackets ... I found myself ready to ... well, hibernate.

So, I'm sharing some of my favorite things about fall, along with some goodies from the independent online store Magpie and London, which have made staying in an absolute pleasure:


Netflix and Chocolate

I wrote about some of my favorite TV shows here, but I'm currently working my way through every season of The Good Wife (after finishing Suits - I couldn't resist snapping up this issue of Vanity Fair with Meghan Markle on the cover). It can be a little yawn-inducing at times (there's only so much I can take of Alicia's steely gaze), but I like having it on in the background when I'm pottering around the house or cooking. This Cane & Bean chocolate tastes almost ... healthy. It's dark, and smells like freshly ground coffee beans. A bag of that, a warm blanket, and an afternoon of nothing but Netflix is my ideal way to spend a Saturday.


Long baths and magazines 

We recently remodelled our guest bathroom (which you can read about here!) and we've loved taking baths in the new, bright and airy space. These Isla Relax + Recover bath salts are healing and smell incredible - I can't resist opening the bottle and having a whiff everytime I wash my hands! It makes our bathroom feel like a spa. My favorite lifestyle magazine, Domino, is only available in the States, so I buy a copy whenever I'm over there, and treasure it for months to come back in the UK.


Arm candy reminiscent of summer holidays

Just because it's winter, doesn't mean I'll put away the bling: I love the bright color of this corded Ashiana St. Kitts bracelet. Something I'd wear to the office as readily as I'd wear it to St. Barths.


Banana pancakes

Do you know that cheesey Jack Johnson song, "Banana Pancakes"? I don't know why, but it somehow became a long-running joke between me and John, where one of us would sing it in a goofy voice just to make the other person laugh. Now, whenever I make banana pancakes (even if I'm by myself), I can't help but hum the tune, and laugh while I'm making the mix. I made these last week when I was suffering from a cold, but they're one of my favorite breakfast treats to have in the fall.

I'm giving away this beautiful pair of earrings from Magpie and London this week over on Instagram ... (just find the photo in my feed and follow me + Magpie and London, letting me know about your favorite part of fall! UK residents, you have until Friday to enter ...)


Happy Fall. xo

Gifts provided courtesy of Magpie and London, a store I love for gifts for myself and friends! All opinions are my own. Shop the collection here.
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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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Monday, August 21, 2017

Snapshots From Paris


Saturday evening: rain. Correction: foreboding clouds that gave way to a downpour. But we didn't care. Au Bourguignon du Marais was a mere 2-minute walk from our hotel's reception, and with heated lamps overhead, we chose a table outside, overlooking the street in true Parisian style.

One order of fresh green beans, supreme de poulet jaune and boeuf bourguignon later, we were truly under the spell of Paris: that heady, giggly feeling akin to sipping a glass of wine too quickly, even though neither of us had touched a drop.


A pair of profiteroles melting in a sea of hot chocolate sauce sent us into a dizzying spiral of foodie bliss, and, after paying the bill, we ended up strolling to Pont Louis Philippe for a night-time view of the Seine, spotting the teasing twinkle of the Eiffel Tower's searchlight in the distance.

Too excited to sleep that night, we drifted off around midnight ... dreaming of the day ahead.


On Sunday, we woke early, and I flung open the balcony doors before pulling the covers back up under my chin. I called down to reception to have our breakfast brought up to our room (fancy!) and we nibbled on a feast of jams, butter, fresh pain, pain au chocolat, and croissants, along with eggs, fresh juice, fruit, and more ... before taking our time to get ready for exploring Le Marais.


We peered into shops and snapped photos in front of storefronts and boulangeries. It was magnificently quiet. Except for a group of German tourists that suddendly descended on the street we were standing on, few people were up sipping coffee al fresco at that time of the morning.

I paused to take in the beautiful light; the shade from a pink-blossomed tree; a former hammam-turned-COS-store.


We meandered towards the Place des Vosges, a beautiful green square lined with park benches and four burbling fountains. We sat down to take it all in - and to wonder aloud about our trajectory from meeting at a small college in rural Massachusetts, to living in London and travelling to Paris together.

Stopping into a jewellery store that had just opened, we ogled sparkly rings and chandelier earrings before jumping on the Metro to the Tuileries, where we breezily waltzed into Angelina and ordered the house speciality: thick, molten hot chocolate.


We shared probably the most delicious club sandwich I've ever had, and went for a stroll in the now-humming Tuileries Garden ... choosing the quieter path between trees.



Feeling strangely sluggish and exhausted, we headed back to the darling Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais for ... a nap. And woke an hour later, famished for crepes.

We tucked into the Nutella and banana-stuffed pancakes before exclaiming, "What's that amazing smell?" and ducking into Estaban, before each carefully selecting a candle to take home.

After a so-so dinner at Chez Julien, we wandered to the bridge we'd visited the night before ... and somehow ended up wandering to the Notre Dame.


The setting sun had cast a beautiful wash of egg-yolk orange over the riverbank, the Seine, and all the pretty buildings lining the river. Spanish guitarists strummed melodies under bridges and trees ... another duo had attracted quite a crowd with Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence'. As the sun began to fade into the distance, Udita turned to me and asked, "Should we just go? To the bridge? Should we get an Uber and just go?" She meant Pont de Bir-Hakeim, where we'd planned to visit earlier in the day but had opted for a nap instead.

"Yes," I said decisively, and we marched over to await our Mercedes chariot outside a Subway.

"Are you going on a boat?" the driver asked, helpfully, en route.

"No, just the bridge!" we replied, giggling.

Because it was the view from the bridge that we'd gotten into the car for:


Watching dusk turn into night, we turned away from the tower, before glancing back and noticing that it was now illuminated. We ran to our positions again to snap photo after photo - with only five or so other people doing the same.

That night, we packed our bags and set our alarms, not wanting dawn to arrive. But it did - within what felt like a few minutes of closing our eyes - and we blearily trudged downstairs to await a cab to Gare du Nord, leaving our Parisian weekend trailing behind us like dream we never fully woke from.
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Interior Inspiration: Dressing Table Goals


This is where I spend a lot of my time in our house, but I've never featured it on the blog before, so I thought I'd share it with you today!

My dressing table is where I begin every day - often with a cup of tea while I'm waiting for the curling iron to warm up (I curl my pin-straight, medium-length hair on most days). Depending what time I wake, my routine is either rushed and slapdash, or ritualistic and considered. Often, I like to put on a YouTube tutorial (usually by Lisa Eldridge) or vlog (by Estee Lalonde) while I get ready ... there's something comforting about having someone chat to me as I do my own make-up!

It's also where I end my day: where I swipe on toner, pat on serums and oils, and critically examine my slowly-aging face before I climb into bed (from where John usually complains, "What's taking you so long?").

Years of renting in small apartments meant that I'd clutter up bathrooms and living room mirrors with rows of makeup and skincare products - it's a luxury to have a dedicated space for getting ready in the morning, and winding down at night.


Recently, I took clippings of fragrant wild flowers from our garden - calamintha nepeta 'Blue Cloud', lavender, and geranium - and put them in this beautiful vase from Dartington Crystal. The 'Blue Cloud' smells like mint, and I love the scent of fresh lavender, so having the smokey-hued vase on my dressing table is a beautiful way to start and end each day. Every piece from Dartington Crystal is handmade, and I just found out that you can watch the artisans in action at the Dartington Crystal factory in North Devon.

This floral arrangement also motivates me to keep my dressing table tidy. I'm pretty unorganized - in fact, my room is perpetually messy! It's awful, I know. I have a hard time putting things back immediately and as a result, my make-up is usually scattered all over the place. Having a tidy dressing table, with my brushes in their places and my lipsticks hidden away in well-labelled trays, helps focus my mind for the day ahead.


Now, I just need to work on that pile of clothes on the chair ...

Where do you get ready in the morning? Do you have a dressing table? Or a slightly more improvised set up? I'd love to know!

p.s. my favorite thing to do when I go over to a friend's house, is poke around their dressing table - and my friends do the same when they come over! I pick up perfume bottles and sniff them, and test lipsticks on the back of my hand (with their permission, of course!) - ha!

Vase provided courtesy of Dartington Crystal. All opinions are my own.
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