Wedding Wednesdays - What We Wore

From the moment we started planning the wedding, I had teal in mind for the bridesmaids and luckily it tied in with the peacock theme we had chosen. It’s so hard to choose bridesmaids as a lot of my friends are dear enough to me that I thought of them, but I knew who I wanted. My sister, who has been by my side since the day she was born and who is the glue who holds me together, my cousin Emily who is like an extra little sister to me, my best friend Rowena who I have known for 25 years and Siobhan, the friend I sit next to at work and have become really close with over the past two years. They are the four people who are there for me when I am at my lowest and have picked me up over the years, so they were the four people who I wanted to be with me when I celebrated my happiest moment.

teal bridesmaid

I searched high and low for dresses in any other colour than black or gold, but given that I was looking around Christmas party dress season, I really struggled. So I went online. Eventually I found this site but was so worried about buying dresses that I had never seen in the flesh, felt the quality of or heard from anyone else if they actually arrived and weren’t a massive scam. I bit the bullet and paid the little extra for custom sizing as my bridesmaids are all totally different shapes and sizes.

When they arrived I was so pleased. The dresses were strapless but with a built in bra, so the corsetry was enough to give the girls support for the whole day. The dresses were made to the highest of quality and all looked amazing on them. So pleased. If you are planning to order your dresses here to bear in mind that you get charged an import duty when they arrive at customs, something that I wasn’t aware of so hadn’t factored into the price, but also made me panic that I had succumbed to a con site. Panic over, all legit!

flower-girls

I ordered the flower girls dresses from Etsy, and was so pleased with the result. They came in less than ten days and the quality of them was brilliant. I bought some little fur boleros for them too, as I knew that being outdoors in February would be a bit much for them in the cold. Lilly (to the right in the photo above) wanted a french plait like the big girls but Poppy's hair was too short. I didn't want her to feel like she was missing out so I bought some foam flowers on wires from Hobbycraft and wrapped them around a hairband to create this cute little headband. I wanted her to feel like a Princess too!

The boys were far easier to dress. Phill walked into the suit shop and opted for the first waistcoat he saw, and as luck would have it, the cravats matched almost perfectly the colours we had chosen for the bridesmaids. The dads had one style of waistcoat, the two best men another, and Phill had a different one to himself.

You can read my dress story here, but needless to say I tried on ten before I found the one that I went on to buy. I wore it all day and loved it, but be prepared to lose all dignity every time you need to go to the bathroom! The photo above is not the girls looking at my underwear but helping me into my shoes. So cute! I actually love those two, despite the seeming death stare I'm giving them. Bitchy resting face people, I can't help it!

Phill chose the engagement ring himself with no prompting from me, and I adore it. It’s simple and elegant, and white gold (not a fan of normal gold). His wedding band is simple, and my wedding ring fits perfectly with my engagement ring.

What do you think of the outfits?

Posted on March 4, 2015 and filed under Weddings.

2015 Travel: Moments in Matera, Italy

Compared to last year, 2015 has started off slow for us by way of travel (weddings get in the way of all that!) so we decided to book a trip to Italy to take some time after the madness of getting everyone we love in one room.

Our flight took us to Bari, in the heel of Italy, where we picked up a rental car and bombed the hours’ drive to Matera, in the dark.

sextantio-matera

Oh. My. Goodness.

Let me set the scene, we had conducted limited research on the city; we spotted the unusual cave hotel and booked the trip and then basically forgot all about it with wedmin getting in the way. We plan to take a big trip at the end of the year for our actual honeymoon, so this was a few days break to eat cheese and drink wine.

matera cave room

It was so much more than that. The Sextantio le Grotte Della Civita was pretty hard to find, nestled in the heart of the Sassi region of Matera. We drove around, I fluttered my eyelids and begged directions and eventually we came across the flight of old stairs and the tiny sign.

sextantio-le-grotte-della-civita

Our suite had a larger-than-kingsize bed and an adjoining cave with a bath. The clever lighting is hidden in small dug outs so you never see the bulbs and added to with large pillar candles. The smell is divine; what I imagine to be a blend of wild lavender and verbena but a secret recipe to the hotel, and all of the rooms have Wi-Fi. Clever.

It turns out that there are over two thousand semi abandoned historic towns across Italy and fifteen thousand where the abandonment is full, for many reasons including poverty, repeated earth quakes and invasions. The Sextantio hotel group acquired a grant in the Sassi (an area deemed the ‘shame of Italy’ in the sixties) and have lovingly restored the caves to a series jaw droppingly amazing hotels.

sextantio grotte della civita

When we woke the following morning we popped down for breakfast, which is hosted in a thirteenth century church.  Lit by candlelight and a large open fire, the room was amazing and the view to die for. We spent the day walking the thousands of steps from tiny church to ramshackle house to get a good view of what the city had to offer.

The Sassi has been there since prehistoric times and has been continuously occupied; protected from invasion by the sheer drops in the rocks and the difficult layouts. The porous limestone rock made it a favourite for monks who painted their frescos on the cave walls and dwelled beside them, which explains the presence of scores of churches in the region. Notoriously a poor and overpopulated region, it was evacuated in the sixties by the Italian government; riddled with malaria and inhabitable dwellings.

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It was left abandoned until the early nineties when it was recognised as a UNESCO heritage site and gradually occupation has resurrected, with three thousand people now living in the region. Its home to lots of hotels, a handful of restaurants and some homes,  and is distinctively beautiful. The stone holds the whispers of voices from the last nine thousand years, and the city is absolutely incredible.

For three days we wandered up and down the meandering staircases to dead ends and front doors; a house with a doorbell and a mail box next to an abandoned cave in the shadows of another tiny little church, and listened to the daily bell practice of each and every duermo. We visited the set of Ben Hur, due to be released in 2016 and currently filming in the Sassi, and cut our way through a century of Roman soldiers ready to film plus props wagons and an armoury van  which added to the appeal of the little town.

On our third day we invested in a gastronomic tour of the region, which was polled as being a trip to an artisan cheese factory and an old fashion bakery to sample some delights and see how the traditional fares of the region had been made. Disappointingly the cheese factory that they normally used was unable to accommodate us so we visited a cheese shop which wasn’t the same, but the bread part of the tour totally made up for it.

Massimo, a third generation baker and owner talked us through how they made the Mediterranean bread and the history of why and how, plus helped us make his signature loaf. It was great to see someone so passionate and in a flourishing business (we couldn’t get in the shop for customers) and was the highlight of the trip for me.

We ate local cheeses, dined on prosciutto and salami and mixed grills of meats (the “interiors” which turned out to be kidney and liver weren’t my favourites) and eight euro bottles of locally produced wines in welcoming little cave cafes carved in the side of the rocks. My Italian is minimal and the occupants of the Sassi have very little English, so we muddled through with hand actions and laughter.

matera streets

We ordered panacotta in one restaurant expecting a milky jelly dessert with fruit and receiving a smelly sheep’s cheese, artichoke and stale bread delicacy (our mistake!). Apparently it can be both.

The beauty of the town coupled with the warmth of the people ensured that we didn’t even mind the rain.

If you're looking for a trip less than three hours away from the UK but a polar opposite of life here, then I would strongly recommend the Sassi region of Matera. We fell in love.

Have you been to Matera? Or Italy? Where has been your favourite travel destination so far?

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Posted on March 3, 2015 and filed under Travel.

Five Happy Things

This week seems to have gone by in a flash, and it’s probably to do with being on holiday. Travelling has to be my favourite pastimes, and our trip to Matera in Italy is going to go down as one of my best visits so far (the post will be up tomorrow!); it’s well worth a trip.

One / The lovely man at Victoria station. We got home from Italy this weekend and jumped on the train, not realising we were on the wrong one. When we got to Victoria we couldn’t get through the gates and it turned out we had got a train from a different company (who knew there were different train companies!) rather than charging us a full new fare he just charged us an add on and let us through. Thank you, nice chap.

Two / Matera. When we booked a short trip after the wedding we didn’t really research Matera, figuring Italy = wine, cheese and pretty scenery. It really was a fantastic trip, and steeped in history.

matera-church

Three / Sextantio le Grotte Della Civita. The hotel we stayed in was amazing and one of the highlights was a massage in our cave. The hotel organised two masseuses to come and set up in our room and give us full body massages (to Phill’s slight horror “did she cup your bum? He cupped mine!”) by candlelight. Definitely an experience.

Four / This broccoli frittata. We seem to have approximately one million eggs in the fridge, so this weekend, with healthy goals after the cheese fest of last week, I Googled the ingredients in my fridge. Try it, it’s amazing.

tuscany-countryside

Five / Planning a trip for Easter. With Italy still high in our hearts we think we might take advantage of the long weekend and go on a wine tasting tour in Tuscany.  Yum!

What are your plans for the Easter weekend?

Second image via

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Posted on March 2, 2015 and filed under Happy Things.

Wedding Wednesday - How We Styled It

As I’m not a wedding blogger I don’t want to go mental and be talking weddings every day, but I thought I would showcase a Wedding Wednesday to share some of the highlights of our day.

The first is the styling. When we got engaged I wanted to opt for dusty greens and lavenders and have a really rustic wedding, but given the season the flowers we wanted weren’t available which meant we had to rethink. We decided to navigate around the minefield of colours and seasonal bouquets by opting for a peacock theme; teals and royal blues with touches of gold and a heap of peacock feathers thrown into the mix, and it really worked. The bridesmaids dresses were teal, and their bouquets were white tulips hand tied with gold ribbon, to tie the theme back together.

All the wedding stationary followed that theme, with the peacock invites for both day and reception and our wedding gift cards were the same. For our thank you cards we opted for something simple that showed off one of the fantastic photos Greg took. We chose them all through minted.com as there is such a lot of choice and they even print the envelopes in the same font for you, which is so handy when you have over one hundred envelopes to address (and can I get a silent prayer for stamps that are sticky. Thank goodness you don't have to lick them all anymore!)

A big theme for our relationship has been travel; a chunk of my family are rooted in Southern California so I spend as much time as I can back and forth and the rest of my time is spent scanning for deals to see the world. During our relationship the Mr (feels weird to say!) and I have been on ten trips together and so we wanted to reflect our love of travel wherever we could.

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We chose table settings with a postmark on them, and made our table plan from a world map. I hated the idea of numbering the tables as it felt to me that we were ranking our loved ones in order, so we settled onto naming the tables places we had visited together. We had Tavira, New York, Dublin, San Diego, London, Bergen, Paris, Vancouver and Matera – a lot of travelling for the time we have been together! Matera was a little bit of a cheat as we are going on a mini-moon there, so we snuck that one under the radar!

Our wedding cake was made of cheese and decorated with flowers to make it prettier. The first tier was a Cornish Yarg, the second a Delice de Bourgogne, the third was Colston Bassett Stilton and the top tier was a 
Chaource from the Champagne region of France. Being diabetic I didn't want a huge cake, and no one ever eats it anyway.  We cut it and served it in the evening with continental meats and olive bread. I'd love to tell you it was delicious but all I sampled was some leftover Yarg that we took home with us the next day! The cheese went down a storm, and all that was left was a chunk of the Yarg at the bottom, which was lovely to be able to give to family to take home and enjoy at a later date.

We didn't provide a wedding list but instead asked for money towards our honeymoon. We are headed off today to Matera for a mini break, and then are currently play fighting over a trip to Hawaii (and maybe Bora Bora) or a fortnight between Cambodia and Vietnam. We knew people would bring cards so opted for this gorgeous wooden card box; a kind gift from Not on The High Street. It’s so beautiful, and personalised which means that we can keep it with all our photos and keepsakes from the wedding.

We had such an amazing day and I can’t wait to share a little more!

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Posted on February 25, 2015 and filed under Weddings.

Five Happy Things

I'm slightly concerned how what seems like five minutes ago it was the New Year and suddenly March is looming, but so many exciting things have happened so far and so much more to look forward to. This week has been a bit odd; an anticlimax from after the wedding but a blank space before the mini-moon (Southern Italy, T-minus two days) yet still feeling the love so feel well placed to offer up five happy things to the Gods of smiling.

One / Getting some of the wedding photos back. We have had a few (and I shared some here) but the photographer sent us some of the ones that he has worked on and I adore them. Its amazing how much better they look that anything we could have done. Shout out to Greg and his amazing work, hit him up if you need a professional photographer in the UK.

Two / Talented Talkers. I love my team. A community I started for bloggers two years ago now has three full time people chatting to you guys all day, and we have so many fun events and cool clients to work with in the coming months. Scoot over and say hi on Twitter!

Three / A weekend doing absolutely nothing. After the madness of planning a wedding in three months and being pulled here, there and everywhere to make sure all the components were right, we relaxed. Saturday was spent cooking and hanging with my bestie, and yesterday we spent the whole day in our pjs watching TV and drinking tea. Brilliant.

Four / Maltesers bunnies. Those amazing chocolate delights are back, and I''m thinking about starting a public service to send them to people who have never experienced them (I'm looking at you, Sarah). Do you guys love them as much as me?

Five / Choosing our honeymoon and mini mooning in a few days - we are off to Matera in Southern Italy on Wednesday morning, and although I'm slightly gutted a restaurant I have been coveting is closed for 'winter' while we are there, I'm super excited. Be warned for feeds flooded with Italian gorgeousness!

What has made you happy this week?

Posted on February 23, 2015 and filed under Happy Things.

Tips For Using Google Analytics

Sometimes it feels like blogging is a bit try-it-and-see, but actually there are a whole host of tools that can really help you to understand what content is right for your readership and how to better understand you followers. I'm going to cover them in a series of (hopefully helpful!) blog posts, and the first one is Google Analytics.

using-google-analytics

I blog using Squarespace - I was with Wordpress for the first four years of my (sporadic) blogging life, but it came to a time when I wanted something far more responsive, and to be able to have the ability to adjust it how I like. Despite some initial teething problems and fearing change, it’s been amazing. The analytics included are robust and comprehensive, but since my background is in SEO, I always use Google Analytics to give me more information.

To start using the analytics suite you need to install the code so that the spies at Google can track user profiles and visiting history. It’s fairly easy to do, and you don’t need to install it where people can see.

Overview

The first place to start analysing all the information your blog has to offer is the Overview. This gives you a 28 day tracker of your visits (you can use the calendar in the top right to amend the search history to go back as far as you like), plus a handy pie chart showing you new and existing users to the site.

The bounce rate is also really helpful; this means how quickly people left your site after browsing to it. With brands, we use this to analyse their keywords, for example you would expect the bounce rate to be high if a brand such as Primark were using “luxury maxi dresses” as a keyword. People would hit the site and browse away. The lower the bounce, the more relevant the content for the people visiting your site.

Acquisition > Campaigns –>Keywords

SEO is a bit tricky to get your head round, but it's actually quite simple. If you are looking for a new computer, think about what you would type into Google. Maybe laptop reviews? OK. So apply this to your blog post. What would you search on if you were looking for the product you are writing about? Working this out is really helpful for naming your blog post in the URL string as Google serves the most relevant content to people making these searches. The more bang on your keywords are, the more natural searches you will get from Google.

Acquisition > Referrals

Here you can see where your traffic is coming from if not directly from the search engines. So if you want to analyse which blogs are best to repeat advertise on, here you can see referring traffic. I get a lot from StumbleUpon when I share the right kind of content there, and also from my blogging friends.

Keyword not provided is something you will see here. This will be more and more prevalent as browsers are now requesting users sign out, rather than sign in as they used to. It means the engines capture data, and for privacy reasons, don’t disclose what you’re searching.

The ones that stand out to me from my last year of blogging are: 'chicken, ginger and edamame soup recipe' and 'how long does it take night nurse to work'. What have I learnt from these?

The first thing is that people like recipes on my blog, and that, in this example, I wasn’t the only one trying to recreate that amazing Pret soup from last year. The second is a bit more relevant. I wrote a lighthearted post a few years ago about the weird dreams I get on Night Nurse (cold and flu medicine) and a lot of people have been finding my blog searching for it. I added a disclaimer to say that this was by no means an advice piece, just to make sure people don’t think I am their friendly GP.

Geo > Location

I find this one really interesting. Although I’m based in the UK and always have been, a good chunk of my readers come from the US (*waves*). For this reason, I like to make sure that my blog posts are done before 3pm UK time, to maximise traffic from the UK but also to ensure that when the US wakes, there is new content fresh and ready to read. It also helps with my cross country personality – when I am in the US I know that talking about stores or products there won’t be totally lost as there are a lot of people that the content is relevant to.

This barely scratches the surface, but hopefully this starts to give you some help on how you analyse your traffic to make your blog even more awesome than it already is.

Posted on February 20, 2015 and filed under Blogging.

Chop It Like Its Hot - My Dream Kitchen

The love of cookery runs through my veins, its part of my history and my childhood, and it relaxes and de-stresses me. So when we moved apartments, the deal breaker for me was one of those kitchens on a wall in the lounge (you know the ones they call kitchens, but are really just a series of cupboards with a sink?) I had dreams of a huge space with loads of storage.... so now we live in an apartment with a kitchen on the wall. Go figure! But it had all the other fantastic things that we wanted (built in wardrobes? In Central London? Ya kidding me?!) so we moved and the inner chef in me had a mini sulk.

I do still spend a whole lot of time thinking about my dream kitchen though, and one day I hope I can wander around, touching the worktops, marveling at the organisation of all the crockery and fondly remembering that time the pan fell out of the high cupboard and thwacked me on the head, rather than my blood slightly boiling at having to risk life or death to make pasta again.

dream-kitchen

I used to live in South London, and there we had a huge kitchen / diner with a central island which housed the dishwasher and sink, that we all had breakfast around. The central island still has a dear place in my heart, and teamed with exposed brickwork (New York loft style, yo) and a huge enamel sink. I'm happy.

The kitchen rules? No high cupboards unless they are really well organised. I hate having to stand on a tall pile of wobbly high things to get the bottom pan from a stack out of high cupboards, and when the food cupboards are opened it would be great if things didn't come flying out at me like there was an angry house elf in there. I love big, deep drawers so we need loads of them, and absolutely no stainless steel. Sure, it looks pretty, but its an absolute devil to keep clean and smudge free, and its not really part of my life plan to spend my days buffing the kitchen counters.

Pinterest currently stops my day dreaming from being all out warfare on the moving idea. We are the best of friends.

What does your dream house look like?

This post was written in collaboration with BettaLiving, but all views and words are my own!

Posted on February 19, 2015 .

How to Make Southern Fried Chicken That Would Make The Colonel Proud*

* in my humble opinion.

On the wind down from the wedding, we got home and realised we had no food in the house, and by that I mean no emergency stuff in the freezer, just completely bare cupboards. Short of eating what is left of the wedding cake (made entirely of cheese) the Boy popped out and got the ingredients for the meal his heart desired - KFC. Right. There goes the healthy Lent plan then! I'm pretty proud of my homemade KFC and I'm pretty sure the colonel would approve.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs
8 chicken drumsticks
200ml milk
200g self-raising flour
large pinch each paprika, cayenne pepper and a good shake of BBQ seasoning.
6-8 tbsp oil

Pre heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Put the chicken in a bowl and pour over the milk. Tip the flour into a large plastic bag and add the spices plus some salt and pepper for good measure.

Heat half the oil in a large frying pan – I used half olive oil and half sesame oil for flavouring. Take half of the chicken out of the milk, shake off any excess and put in the bag of seasoned flour. Hold the top closed and shake well (make sure the bag is big enough as ours were a little on the skimpy side and I got covered in flour!) Lift the pieces out and shake off gently to remove any excess flour. Pop into the oil and fry on each side until golden and crisp – don’t forget you'll bake it next so don't overdo it.

Use tongs to turn the chicken carefully and when you have chicken that’s browned on both sides, transfer to a baking tray with a wire rack (this part is important- I used to ignore it but it winds up a little soggy) and bake for 30 mins until cooked, serving with fries, coleslaw or corn on the cob.

Its delicious.


Posted on February 18, 2015 and filed under Food / Recipes / Reviews.

A Few From the Wedding

So, we did it! After a mere three months of planning it went off with barely a hitch, and we had the best day ever. All our friends and family in a beautiful destination, and despite the rain on Saturday and Monday, Sunday was glorious and unseasonably warm (although my body didn't feel it after an hour having photos taken!)

I wanted to share with you a few of the shots our guests took; we are so excited to get the photographers shots back and I can share those once they arrive. We ummed and aahed over getting a photobooth, but given a (hopefully imminent although looking more like late 2016) move abroad, we wanted a selection of informal shots from our loved ones. Below are my favourites, with special love to the bottom right - Phill's Granddad, Granddad's lady friend and his great Aunt... because you are never too old to don a funny hat and have fun in a photobooth, right?

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There was a lot of love in the room, and I still have all the feels, so here's hoping I can spread some of them to you!

Love


Posted on February 17, 2015 and filed under Weddings.

Road Tripping Around the USA

It’s no secret that part of my heart lives in Southern California, and moving to America is part of my three year plan. I have a few pans on the boil with this, so fingers crossed it will happen in the not too distant future!

I love to travel, but other than a few places in the States, I haven’t really scratched the surface, opting for European and Canadian destinations. I just always defer to heading back to San Diego and hanging out with my cousins, but there are some amazing road trips I want to take.

Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon

450 miles – should take 5 or so days.

Tunnel View >> Yosemite Valley >>Glacier Point >> Wawona >>Grant Grove >> Cedar Grove >> Giant Forest >> Mineral King Valley.

Image via *

Image via *

I’m used to the glorious sunshine, arid earth and sandy beaches of Southern California so this tour has always appealed to me. The landscapes of Yosemite have been the muse for artists, songwriters and photographers for years, and its calling me! At Tunnel View you can spot El Capitan and through Yosemite you can visit Yosemite falls (the tallest in North America) plus Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Grant Grove is the home of the amazing sequoia trees which would be the highlight of this trip for me. You can even walk through a fallen tree which is so huge it used to be the home of a hotel. This trip finishes off in Mineral King Valley, and awesome mountain retreat.

We need to make sure we don’t take this trip in winter as the snow ion the region is known for blocking the road, but I really want to go hug the trees!

The Eastern Sierra Byway

350 miles – three days.

Lone Pine >> Whitney Portal >> Mammoth Lakes >>Reds Meadow >> Bodie State Park >> Reno

The thing I love about the US is that it has so many different climates. This trip is the historical backbone with deserted towns and hot springs.

Lone Pine starts the trip, and its here that you have the backdrop of all the iconic westerns of the 21st century. Moving on to Whitney Portal we can climb Mt Whitney and Lone Pine Lake. Mammoth Lakes is a bit of a resort town but they have amazing natural hot springs that you can bathe in. I loved the Blue Lagoon in Iceland so much that I want to do stuff like this again! We can give Mammoth Mountain a miss as I went skiing there a few years ago (with disastrous consequences)  but head on to Bodie, which has been a place of interest for me for years. Its Americas best preserved ghost town, a booming mining town when gold was discovered there in the early 1800s and abandoned in 1890 when the gold ran out. History tells of brawls, saloons and brothels, and I can’t wait to have a nose round that museum!

The last stop on the trip is Reno, Nevada’s second largest city and ringed by mountains. We may even trip to Las Vegas after for s blow out!

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Image via *

Zion and Bryce National Parks

176 miles – six days

Virgin >> Zion Canyon >> Red Canyon >> Bryce National Park

I love kitsch, and Virgin is polled to be the epitome of it. It has a weird law that any resident who lives there MUST own a gun (oookay) and it’s a cute Wild West replica town. Eek!

Zion Canyon has gorgeous backdrops and the Emerald pools, where the pools feed from stoop to stoop and are absolutely stunning.  The Red Canyon is full of the iconic coloured mountains and geologic displays and I am so excited to take the car through the windy roads and trails. Ultimate road tirp!

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Image via *

The tour finishes in Bryce National Park, famous for the pastel coloured rocks and canyons, in including the Navajo Loop.

Where in the US have you been or do you want to visit?

Posted on February 12, 2015 and filed under Travel.