Top 5 Books of 2015

I’ve uploaded my first YouTube video!

Trying new things is one of my goals for 2016 and I’d been thinking of venturing into YouTube videos for a while so I gave it a go.  I’m so glad I did.  I wasn’t nervous at all and it was easier to do than I thought.

Now I’m super thrilled to share it with you all!  Check out my Top 5 Books of 2015 video:

I’d love for you to head over to my channel and like my video.  Watch this space for more!

AtHomeWithLife on YouTube

 

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2016 goals

2016

I’m so excited for the year ahead, and although I don’t make new year’s resolutions (because if you need to change anything about your life you should do it straight away and not wait for the clock to tick round to midnight on the 1st January of a new year), I do believe in having goals, and the new year is a great time to reassess those goals and think about all those things that you want to achieve in the future.

And I like writing my goals down, otherwise I have all these wishy-washy half-thoughts floating around in my head, and when they’re in my head they’re somehow not entirely real yet.  Somehow, when they’re down on paper they’re alive, and I feel like I’m one step closer to actually getting stuff done.

So here are my goals for 2016.  They’re not in any kind of order, but they are written down!

  1. Blog, blog, blog! I have loved writing on this blog so far, and I only want to write more and improve my content as much as I can.  I’d also like to increase the amount of content I put on here: currently I blog once a week and that fits around my life well, but I have a million and one ideas for what else I could write about and share with you, and that means upping the weekly posts.
  2. Get a promotion at work.  A promotion has been on the cards for a while and, if I don’t say so myself, I’ve worked bloody hard for it.  This year will be my year for progressing at work.  Let’s do this!
  3. Do more things to our house.  With the living room and home office partly completed in terms of decoration and furniture, I’d love to do more things to the house.  Decorating is not really something I thought I’d enjoy, but I have to say it’s quite therapeutic, and I enjoy having accomplished something.  By the end of 2016, I want to have got half the house done.
  4. Try new things. This goal seems a bit vague, but experimenting and putting myself out there is what I want to do more of this year.  We’ll see how this one goes!
  5. Incorporate more exercise into my lifestyle. I suck at this.  Any excuse not to do it, I know exactly what to say.  But towards the end of 2015, I knew that I couldn’t continue on this path forever.  So this year, I really must find some activities that suit me and actually do them.  I would like to be even just a bit fitter by the end of the year than I am now.  Not quite sure how you measure that, but I’ll figure it out along the way.

I’d like to look back at this post at the end of 2016 and say ‘Yeah, I smashed it’ – only time will tell as they say!

Happy new year everyone!

P.S. You can now follow my blog on Bloglovin – check it out with the link below:

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Christmas 2015 Round Up

Happy New Year!

We’ve had such a good Christmas holiday!  We’re back to work on Tuesday after two weeks off, but what a festive, fun and productive time it’s been.

When you’re an adult, and the childish excitement of Christmas has worn off a bit, Christmas is all about spending time with your family and making memories.  And that’s exactly what we spent a lot of our time doing.  Our three nephews are little cuties and it’s such a privilege watching them grow and learn, and over the holiday we’ve had lots of fun with them, making special Christmas memories.

I always find that the Christmas period is a time for reflection too, and hubby and I spent lots of time talking about what we want to do to the house, places we’d like to visit and things we’d like to achieve moving forward.  2016 is going to be an exciting year!

Here’s a roundup of my favourite photos from our 2015 festivities!

‘The Poppy Factory’ by Liz Trenow

Liz Trenow’s ‘The Poppy Factory’ was such a poignant read in the month of November.  Not only was it fitting to read alongside Remembrance Sunday, but it also was a great insight into fighting on the front line, especially at such a fragile time across the world.

I’ve read a few novels centered around World War 1 before, but have never read anything about war in my own lifetime, and after I had finished the novel, I wondered why there weren’t more novels that dealt with this time available – after all, it was such a fantastic insight into what soldiers and medics on the front line in places like Afghanistan have had to go through in recent years.

And there of course lies the answer – not enough time has passed for the pain to ease and the memories to fade, not enough time has passed to make writing about such a sensitive subject easier.  Some of the best post-WW1 novels and memoirs were published years after the end of this war, and it is only now that we have a much better insight into the horrors of this despicable conflict.

What I particularly liked about Liz Trenow’s novel was the female perspectives it was told from.  Not only do we get Rose’s narration, written through diary entries, about her husband’s Alfie’s difficulties in coping with life after the war, but we also get Jess’ perspective – a medic on the front line in Afghanistan, she has just returned from a tour and is also struggling to cope with ‘normal’ life.

Knowing little about the experiences of service personnel on the front line in war-torn countries, other than the impersonal stories shown on the news, the novel provided a better comprehension of the effects of war, with PTSD still very prevalent. Even with all the advances in training programmes and technology, we cannot get away from the psychological (and physical) ramifications that war can bring.

And that’s where the work of The Poppy Factory is still so important today.  The novel provides an enlightening history of this important charity, making us all no-doubt consider what we do for those who have returned from war to resume an ‘old’ life or start afresh.  There are a number of ways that you can help this extremely worthy cause, and if reading the novel helps readers on their way to doing just that, then you need to read it!  And we need to salute Liz Trenow!

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Comforting Cottage Pie

Today’s post is all things comfort – a warming cottage pie, nonetheless.

One of the things I love about this meal is that I don’t need to worry about extras.  The potato is on top, the vegetables are in the middle and it creates its own gravy – brilliant.

The other thing that makes this great is that there are two portions – one for tonight’s dinner and one for the freezer, a real bonus.  We always try to make one dish every week that means we have extra left over for another midweek meal.  Food is so expensive, and with prices only seeming to go up, we try to be as careful as possible with what we buy and how far it’ll go.

So this cottage pie fits the bill nicely for lots of different reasons.  Top of the list, though, is its hearty, satisfying effect.  Truly scrumptious, especially on a wet and windy day.

Cottage Pie

Serves 4

Preparation time – 35 minutes.  Cooking time – 1 hour 50 minutes.

Ingredients:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp tomato puree

300ml beef stock

150ml red wine

2tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp dried herbs

For the mash:

6 potatoes, chopped

150ml milk

25g butter

100g cheddar

Method:

Heat 1tbsp oil in a large saucepan and fry the mince until browned.  Set aside.  Put the rest of the oil into the pan and add the onion and carrots; cook on a gentle heat until soft.  Add the garlic, flour and tomato puree, increase the heat and cook for a few minutes.  Return the beef to the pan and pour over the wine.  Boil to reduce it slightly before adding the stock, Worcestershire sauce and dried herbs.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  By this time the gravy should be thick and coating the meat.

Meanwhile, bring the potatoes to the boil in salted water and simmer for 25 minutes.  Drain well and allow the potatoes to steam-dry for a few minutes.  Mash well with the milk, butter and three-quarters of the cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas Mark 7.

Spoon the meat into four individual dishes or one square dish.  Spoon over the mash to cover the meat and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the topping is golden.

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Making a House a Home: A Small Step on the Road to Making it Ours

We moved into our house in July 2014, thrilled to have bought our first home together and excited to make it ours.  Neither hubby or I are DIY buffs, so we were always looking for a house that didn’t require a total overhaul.  We wanted something that felt like home already, but just needed our own personal stamp put on it.  And we could learn how to do the personal stamp bit, surely?

Needless to say, our house needed nothing doing to it when we moved in, and we could happily live in it as it was for quite some time.  After all, saving for our wedding was our priority at that point.  We were getting married in May and going on honeymoon in July, so we needed to do some serious saving.

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After the wedding and the honeymoon, we could finally draw our attention to making our house a home, and this was good timing, as we had started to notice little things that needed our attention and had had some inspiration for how we wanted to transform it into the Mallard residence.

First thing on the list – carpets!  For some reason when we moved in there was laminate floor down in the living room and in all three bedrooms. Now, I know what the positives of having laminate floor can be, but we wanted warmth and comfort, especially in the winter, and a laminate floor wasn’t delivering this.  So we decided to have the laminate ripped up in the living room and our bedroom and carpet put down.

Finding someone to do it wasn’t that hard.  Hubby’s parents had recently had their whole house re-carpeted by a lovely guy called Nick who was local to them, so it was a no-brainer that we’d do the same.  This is one of the problems to overcome when you’re a DIY novice – knowing trades that you can trust.  After all, who wants someone who’ll do a shoddy job or who’ll massively overcharge you?  That’s why it’s always good to find these trades through word of mouth – if they’ve done a good job for someone you know, it stands to reason they’ll do the same for you.

After picking out the carpet we wanted and booking it in to be done, we turned our attention to the matter of wanting new sofas in the living room.  We had a corner sofa that we’d brought in Homebase for the flat we’d rented the year before, and although there was nothing wrong with it, it was too small for our new living room.  We looked around lots of different sofa retailers and finally found the sofas we wanted from DFS. They were very reasonably priced, had good reviews and guaranteed to deliver in time for Christmas.  Plus we could pay the full amount through the website or set up a credit agreement to pay later.  Their 4 years interest free credit deal is really useful, and we definitely would have used it if we hadn’t had savings to pay for it.

We plumped for two three-seater fabric sofas in a teal colour – called ‘Pizzazz’, these sofas came in 11 different colours and had a real modern feel to them.  DFS also offered Eaziglide feet for the sofas – for an extra
£15 per sofa you could add feet which meant that the sofas would be easy to move around, a blessing when it comes to keeping the room clean.

We ordered them on October 26th and they came on the 14th November – I was really impressed with the delivery times.  They were delivered and unpacked within minutes and they completely transformed the room, giving it a new lease of life.  The new sofas are super comfy and we really like the colour.  The room feels brighter, cosier and homey – exactly what we wanted.

The carpets were fitted yesterday, and the living room is now looking more the way we want it to.  There’s still a lot to do – we’d like to paint, wallpaper a feature wall and get new curtains, amongst other things – but we’re certainly on the road now to making this house our own – hooray!

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Cute Strawberry Baby Hats and How-Tos On YouTube

Knitting has always been a part of my life.  Mum taught me the basics when I was very little, and I remember attempting to make a pink dress for one of my dollies.  It didn’t work out too well, needless to say, and Mum ended up finishing it for me.  Mum knitted lots of things for us growing up, including green school cardigans when we were in primary school.  She was a pro, and I’ve spent years wondering how she got so good at it.

For example, how did she know what all those obscure acronyms meant on a knitting pattern?  How did she correct any mistakes?  How did she automatically know what the finished article should look like?

As an adult, it’s only recently that I’ve started to understand all those fundamental things about knitting, and it’s mainly thanks to the internet.  Watching how-to videos on YouTube is the key to how I have improved my knitting skills over the last few years.  I learnt to crochet through YouTube and I massively improved how I knit.  The great thing about knitting (and crochet) tutorials on YouTube is that I can pause and rewind as many times as I like, and have the confidence while I’m watching that my project looks the same as the one being made on the video.  Plus I can compare what I’m doing to a written pattern, and this has been indispensable.  I finally know what most of those acronyms mean and how to apply them to the project I’m working on.  Hoorah!

Watching videos on YouTube also means I can complete a project in full, and I hadn’t knitted a whole project in a long time.  Squares for a blanket yes, but a whole finished product no.

Enter Studio Knit  and a quirky lady called Kristen who taught me how to knit in the round.  I didn’t even know what circular needles were for before her channel, and would never have attempted to use them without some serious research.  In the month of October, Kristen uploaded 5 videos in 5 days that guided you through how to make a Strawberry Baby Hat.  These hats are so cute and colourful that I just had to have a go.  Each step took me about as long as each video is to do, and I ended up with a project I’m truly proud of.  I didn’t make this with a particular baby in mind, so it’s sitting on my shelf in my wardrobe ready for a moment of gift inspiration.

Hopefully you will agree with how adorable this hat is, and perhaps it will inspire you to make one of your own.  Knit away, knit away!

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Cranberry and Pistachio Cookies – Nom Nom!

Today was a baking day.  A day for making something yummy and enjoying it with a cup of tea on the sofa.

I’ve been looking for a good cookie recipe for a while, one that I can adapt and put different things in.  Today I finally found it, courtesy of The Hummingbird Bakery.  I’ve had their first cookbook for a while and made quite a few of their recipes, with their chocolate brownies a firm family favourite.  I really must visit one of their bakeries – New Year’s Resolution?

Cranberries and pistachios were the optimum choice for these cookies today. Not only did this combo go down well in biscotti a couple of months ago, but these flavours also remind me of Christmas, and it’s comforting to look forward to all those nice things that Christmas always brings.

These cookies are soft and chewy, and the recipe makes a big batch of at least 24, meaning hubby and I can enjoy them every day after work this week. Perfect!

Cranberry and Pistachio Cookies

Recipe adapted from ‘The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook’

Makes 24

Ingredients:

250g unsalted  butter, at room temperature

100g caster sugar

200g soft light brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

400g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

100g dried cranberries, roughly chopped

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method:

Put the butter and sugars into a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and cream until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Turn the mixer down to a slow speed and beat in the vanilla extract.

Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix well until a smooth dough is formed.

Stir in the cranberries and pistachios until evenly dispersed through the dough.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into 2 equal rolls measuring 15-18 cm in length.  Wrap the rolls in clingfilm and put them in the freezer to set completely for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3.

Remove the clingfilm and cut the dough into discs about 2-3 cm thick.  Arrange each disc onto 4 baking trays, lined with greaseproof paper.  Make sure that the cookies are spaced apart to allow for spreading during baking.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown around the edged and quite flat.  Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the baking trays, before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

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‘Her’ by Harriet Lane

It’s only over the last couple of years that my reading tastes have expanded to include crime novels and psychological thrillers.  As a younger reader, the thought of picking up a book with blood, horror, or a plot to give me nightmares was a big no no.  Now, I can’t get enough.  Jo Nesbo and Linwood Barclay are my favourite authors in this genre.  Nesbo tells his stories through a detective, Harry Hole, and keeps me on my toes with clever twists and well-written blood and gore.  Barclay narrates his novels from the point of view of someone connected with the victim, usually in the same family, giving a fresh edge to this genre.

I have all of Barclay’s books, including his latest ‘Broken Promise’ in hardback and signed by the man himself (eeek!), and most of Nesbo’s collection on my shelf, but I also love picking up other authors and stand-alones, when in Waterstones, that sound deliciously intriguing and perhaps a little chilling.

‘Her’ by Harriet Lane was an example of one such novel.  I was immediately drawn to it by the clever use the tagline weaved in to the title: “You Don’t Remember Her But She Remembers You.”  Written from the perspectives of the two main characters, this is a novel that can be summed up by the phrase ‘subtle chills’.  The plot will not hit you over the face with its bloody hands; it will not plant bombs and let them off in your imagination.  Instead, it is subtle, intricate, dropping in finespun hints and delicate clues that are almost unnoticeable.  Lane makes the reader work for it, and then leaves them dumbstruck: what on earth happened and, most importantly, why did it happen?

Since finishing the novel, I’ve read a few reviews of it on Amazon, and it seems as if most people didn’t rate it highly because of the ending.  But I think they just didn’t get it.  I think Lane didn’t intend to wrap it all up for the reader and tie up all loose ends; I think she deliberately only spent the last 2 pages on the climax because it didn’t need any further explanation.  Revenge had been served and that was that.

‘Her’ made me ponder all the small things that happen in life, and how they can have a profound impact on the path you take and the decisions you make.  Although the antagonist of the novel was clearly unbalanced, it was a small happening that twisted her mind.  And I suppose this is what was most clever about Lane’s novel: ordinary characters appear to have ordinary lives, but appearances can be deceptive.

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Crocheting for the Home-Start Snowflake Appeal 2015

It’s amazing when you can use your hobby to raise money for charity.  This is exactly what LoveCrochet is encouraging us all to do this November.  They are asking crochet enthusiasts to have a go at crocheting a snowflake to help raise money for Home-Start – a UK based charity that helps families with young children have the best start in life and cope better with whatever challenges life throws at them.

LoveCrochet.com joined forces with Bella Coco and Kirstie Allsopp to ask us to send in crocheted snowflakes that will be displayed at the Christmas Handmade Fair at Manchester Central on the 20th – 22nd November.  The snowflakes will then be sent to families across Britain that are supported by Home-Start to show that they are not alone – an uplifting message.  You can also donate money to Home Start through their website or through the Love Crochet website – http://www.lovecrochet.com/home-start-donation.

Using Sarah-Jayne’s easy to follow tutorial on YouTube, I crocheted six in three different colours to send off for the appeal.  They were fun to make and look super cute and I’m planning on making more to put on my Christmas tree later.

Have a go and support a great cause!

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