Saturday, 4 August 2018

July Life Lately

July was a month where it felt like I spent the whole time being away, or preparing to go away, so I feel as though I was super busy without actually doing much!

We started the month in Centre Parcs (which I talked about last month), spent 8 days in Spain, and then two days after I got back from Spain I was down in London for 4 days, so it feels like I haven't actually been home much at all!

Here's what I did get up to this month...

What I've been doing

This month, 5 months earlier than billed, I hit my Goodreads reading goal for the year! I set my goal as 4o books even though I know over the last couple of years I've been reading about twice as voraciously! I didn't want to make reading a chore, and give myself some big lofty goal which would make me pick up novellas instead of big, lofty books I really wanted to read. I'm really proud of achieving my goal already, and I'm currently up to 51 books. I reckon I'll read somewhere between 70 and 80 books this year.
I hung out with some doggies.

We've started to tentatively think about redoing our living room. We had it redecorated a few months ago but we've not really been in a rush to buy new furniture (I nearly said "to get it finished" but I don't think a room in a house is ever "finished"!). We've got a few ideas of what we want, after a few trips to Next and IKEA and Dunelm, and we've made a start putting pictures back up after we took them all down after we decorated, and we got a lovely floating shelf from IKEA which I'm totally in love with. We're taking it very one-step-at-a-time so we don't rush into any decisions but I'm excited for make progress.
For my Birthday last year I got a little set for growing your own herbs on the window ledge and a few months ago I finally got it all set up. I'm not green fingered by any stretch of the imagination (RIP the tomatoes I tried to grow), but I love my little herb garden and I was really worried they would all die while we were on holiday. So before we went away I decided to at least use them if there was going to be a chance I'd be coming home to dead mulch, and it was really exciting to use my own basil, dill, coriander and mint! And thanks to a little plastic mini greenhouse find in the Aldi middle aisle, they survived my time away!

Where I've been
Gig tickets these days are so expensive that Phil and I have a game called "who would you pay £60 to go and see?", and honestly, the list is pretty short. But when tickets went on sale for The Killers, even though they were £65 (we honestly did dither over the extra £5!) we had to go for it. I last saw The Killers at Leeds festival in 2008 so I knew it was going to be a good show. We didn't get off to a good start - it took us 3 hours to get the 22 miles to Bolton, and we thought we were going to miss the gig! We ended up arriving only 5 minutes before they came on stage! They were absolutely incredible - one of the best gigs I've been to in ages!
This month I also headed off to Spain with Phil and my parents for 8 days. I absolutely love getting away, turning off my phone for a week, completely disconnected from the world and focusing on reading, eating and nice walks by the sea. 

I also had a busy trip to London this month. I was down for work doing some courses in the week and Phil was heading down for at weekend for his friend's Birthday so we made a nice little weekend of it. We did some tourism at Burgess pakrun - eventually! Turned out after waiting 20 minutes for a bus that all the buses were cancelled, ran to another bus stop and waited 10 minutes for the bus, got on board and found out we couldn't both board with one contactless card and ended up having to run the 1.5 miles to the park! We arrived 5 minutes late, and exhausted, so we didn't get our best parkrun times, but it was an absolutely beautiful park so I'm glad we made it! We spent the afternoon exploring Walthamstow Wetlands which was gorgeous, went to a gin bar in an industrial park and had a great time catching up with Phil's friends from uni.

What I've bought
Whatever the opposite of an impulse buyer is, that's me. This month I finally bought a top and a jumper I've been wanting to buy for probably 4 months.

It's not quite the weather yet, but I am so excited to wear my new llama jumper and stripey top
And along the theme of quirky prints and stripes, I also got this stripey (check!) banana print (check!) top for €2.50 from Primark in Spain.

What I've been reading
So as I mentioned earlier, I hit my Goodreads challenge of 40 books read this year, and I actually hit it before I went on holiday and read 7 books. 

Here's what I read this month:

I Capture the Castle
The Cabin at the end of the World
The Stepford Wives
Everything I Never Told You
Instructions for a Heatwave
The Great Believers
Gentlemen and Playes
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
The Water Cure
The Party
This Must be the Place

My favourites were The Stepford Wives, Everything I Never Told You, The Water Cure, Educated and This Must be the Place. I cannot get enough Maggie O' Farrell at the moment and This Must Be the Place left me broken and bereft when it was over!

What I've been loving
You might remember by obsession with The Roasting Tin last year. It was my favourite recipe book of 2017, maybe even ever. I've lost count of the number of copies I encouraged friends to buy - two of my colleagues have it, my cousin has it, I bought a copy for my Mum - it's my most recommended book ever.
So I was obviously ecstatic last year when I found out there was going to be a Green Roasting Tin full of vegetarian and vegan recipes! Rumi actually messaged me herself and said she wanted to send me an advanced copy to thank me for all my support for The Roasting Tin which was absolutely lovely and completely unexpected!

I'll be reviewing it soon, but for now you can see everything I've cooked from it on my Instagram, and I'm also using Alice's hashtag, #tinlads

I have a habit of getting super excited about new podcasts, downloading hundreds, getting my phone full and then deleting them, and about two months ago I was looking for book podcasts to supplement my beloved What Page are you On? and one recommendation I got was Reading Glasses. It sat in my "unlistened" pile for weeks until a few weeks ago when I decided to give it a go, and now I'm obsessed! Unlike What page are you On? it's less about particular books and reviews and recommendations, and more about reading life and book culture. I absolutely love Mallory and Brea and I would recommend this to anyone who loves reading and talking about reading!

What I've been watching
Well, football didn't come home but I absolutely bloody loved the World Cup. I watched every single game I could and I was absolutely gutted when it was over - good job the Premier League Season starts next week!

Phil and I have been putting off watching All About Eve for years - it's been a running joke that we would never watch it. We kept hearing how good it was (Buzzfeed chose it as its number 1 Best Picture winning film a few years ago) but we just didn't fancy it. But this month, on a football-less Saturday night, we finally caved. And guys, it's so so so good. SO good! We totally get it now! It's on Netflix so you should definitely watch it.

We're finally catching up (although still totally behind) on The Handmaid's Tale. It's not always the easiest thing to watch (so dark, so depressing) but it's absolutely brilliant. I'm really intrigued by where this season is going!

In other "films-we've-been-meaning-to-watch-forever", this month we also watched Before Sunrise which we both completely adored. It's the exact kind of film we both love and I found myself crying at the end but didn't know why?! I can't wait to watch the rest of the trilogy.

What I've been reading online
I've been working on scrolling less and when I want a break to look at my phone (usually when I'm drying my hair!) I've been trying to read articles instead. Here are some of my favourites I read in July:

A Rosie Outlook - Sacking off my 2018 resolutions
What Olivia Did - When jeans don't fit
The Guardian - How the psychology of the England football team could change your life
Biscuits and Blisters - Spare Change
The Pool - Insatiable's fat-shaming feels unfunny – and potentially dangerous and also my girl Bethany Rutter's piece on this too
Medium - Why waking up at 6am won't make you productive
Yes and Yes - How to feel richer and fancier without spending any money
Vix Meldrew - Making friends as an adult
The Pool - When is knowledge not power? When you’re a woman picking up the pieces

Hope your July was great and your August is going well so far!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Cookbook review - Bosh!

It's not often that a vegan cookbook gets genuine hype in the mainstream. 

I was on a book-buying ban when I first started hearing about this (doesn't this always happen? It was the same thing with The Roasting Tin last year which ended up being my cookbook of the year). My friend Sophie had made a few recipes from it and posted about them on Instagram and told me I'd love the book, and then it was the book of May at Cookbookamonth. I don't watch videos online much, so I'd never heard of the "Bosh boys", but I started to noticed their names popping up more and more, and hearing about the popularity of this book and their recipes.

So, one day after work, after finding out it was on offer in Waterstones, I caved.

First Impressions

This book gives a brilliant first impression. It makes vegan food so accessible and easy and importantly, fun. While I have no problem ordering nutritional yeast or vital wheat gluten online, I like that it doesn't include a lot of "obscure" ingredients which can put people off, and instead focuses on plants, pulses, nuts and the occasional bit of tofu.

I don't think if this is the intention or how it's marketed, but I feel as though it's a book for meat-eaters intrigued to try vegan food. It makes everything seem quite easy and it's not preachy at all about the benefits of vegan food of a vegan diet. It also, thankfully, doesn't preach a "clean" agenda, but there are a few comments about "healthy" (which I personally dislike only because it's so subjective). However one recipe shout about how it's "healthier" than a takeaway, yet includes half a bottle of sweet chilli sauce. BUT I would rather it be this way - desserts and chocolate and pizza and burgers - with no "healthy" or "clean" agenda.

From an initial flick through there are a lot of the standard fayre you expect from a vegan book - a veggie chilli, curries, tofu scramble, stir fry, salads, veggie burgers, lasagne - but there are a lot of interesting twists on these recipes (more on this below).

Finally, if you haven't been able to tell from the exclamation mark in the title, the language is a bit Jamie-Oliver-circa-2004/Joe Wicks in terms of over-the-top enthusiasm. I've learned to ignore it because it's pretty grating but you do get used to it.

Recipes I tried

I tried 7 recipes from this book. I usually like to try 10, but I ran out of time with going on holiday. However there are still loads of recipes I want to try, so maybe I'll do an update in a few months. It's also not helped that it's been roasting while I've been using this book, so Mushroom Wellington and Rich and Creamy Lasagne were not the kinds of things I wanted to be eating! I still have about another 20 recipes I was intrigued by.

edit: As I've mentioned in previous posts, I haven't been as active on Instagram over the past few months, so as a result I don't have photos on all the recipes I made. Apologies for that.

Sticky Shiitake Mushrooms

I shop at Aldi so I couldn't get shiitake mushrooms, so I just used portabellos, but next time I'd probably use regular mushrooms, as Phil later dropped the bombshell that he doesn't like "big mushrooms".

This was super quick and easy and so so delicious that I kept saying "do you like it? Do you like it? I love it - what do you think?". Also a great storecupboard recipe - all I needed was the mushrooms.

Recipe here.

Veggie kebabs with spicy shashlik marinade

As a veggie in the summer, you eat a lot of veggie skewers (and grilled halloumi, but I will never complain about that. Keep bringing the grilled halloumi!). I love a veggie skewer, but I especially love the different marinade options the book provides (side note: are these marinades if they don't marinate? They just kind of get tossed in and then cooked - do you need some rest time to be a true marinade? Anyway....)

I found the instructions here didn't make loads of sense (covering the veg in the sauce first then threading sounded messy to me), so I threaded them first then poured the marinade over them, but oh my god the marinade. There are a lot of ingredients in this (18!), but they all get thrown into a blender and whizzed up to make the most divine spicy, yoghurt-y sauce (oh confession, I used regular greek yoghurt).

This made A LOT. I used a few fewer tomatoes and still ended up with 13 skewers. I was eating this for days, which was fine. 

I really liked that you baked them, so you can have a BBQ without actually owning a BBQ (something we do at least once a fortnight and still call it BBQ cause there are things on sticks). 

So this was a hit, so much so that I made them again with a different marinade - see further down...

Creamy Korma


Okay it was a bit of a faff. Roasting the veg, toasting seeds, frying things off and then blending them up (you definitely need a blender for this book), and it takes about an hour, but oh my god so good!

I added chickpeas for some extra protein, and got 5 portions. Some of the serving sizes are a range (eg. 2-4) in this book which can be confusing, but saying that a lot of my books suggest child-sized portions so it was quite nice to not feel judged if your portions were towards the lower end of the number of people it suggests.

This was just amazing. The lime and salt really help cut through that creaminess and I would definitely make this again and experiment with different vegetables or pulses in the sauce.

Sweet and sour tofu
We love tofu in our house and I'm always trying to find new and exciting ways to cook it.

Sweet and sour prawns used to be my takeaway staple (I do still eat fish but very rarely these days), so I was really excited to make a vegan version.

It was quite hands-on and intense - if you've ever done a Jamie Oliver 15 Minute Meal you'll know what I mean. However I was making rice, cauliflower rice and warming spring rolls at the same time. It took about half an hour in total.

Bloody hell this was good. It tasted EXACTLY like my favourite takeaway prawns - so sweet and sticky and tangy - and the texture on the tofu was so crispy on the outside - exactly how I like it. I think this would be a great gateway for people who want to try tofu but don't know where to start.

Rogan Bosh
One thing I like about this book is it makes the idea of making your own curry pastes much less intimidating. The paste here is a blend of chillies, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and water, but along with the spice mix, both tastes and smells exactly like a jarred curry paste.

Like making a curry from a jarred paste, this is a really easy recipe once you've completed those initial steps.  It's another 15-minute-meal-esque speedy rampage, which meant I did misread a few steps and found myself confused at why I was frying the aubergine first when it wasn't going into the pan til the onions had cooked for 15 minutes. 

The sauce is quite dry, and it encourages you to add as much water as you need to get it to a "thick, gravy-like consistency", but my addition of spinach, and the water it needed to get it to wilt, along with the water it releases, ended up making the finished dish a little watery. Next time I would consider cooking the spinach separately or adding it in earlier, as it was a nice addition.

Considering the easy of the curry paste here, I'm really keen to give this another go with different vegetables, maybe with some tinned tomatoes for a more curry-like texture, but the flavours are completely spot on.

Recipe here.

Veggie kebabs with Asian BBQ marinade
As mentioned earlier, I decided to give the veggie kebabs another go with a different marinade, and settled for the Asian BBQ marinade, which was a mix of chillies, garlic, coriander, ginger, agave syrup, vinegar and soy sauce. 

I didn't agave syrup (though maple would, I'm sure, have been a fine substitute), so being a non-vegan I used honey.

Having already done the spicy shashlik marinade, I knew what I was doing a bit more here, so I used a lot less veg (eschewing the aubergine which had remained a bit spongey last time) and brushing the marinade on. This was really, really good and I loved how easy to was to make what felt like a completely different dish from just a different marinade.

I'm keen to try the rich satay sauce next and really feel as though my summer BBQ game has been upped thanks to these kebabs!

Ultimate chilli

On my original list of "recipes I want to cook from this book", this didn't make the cut.

I make vegetarian chilli at least once a month, maybe even once a fortnight, and I have a few favourite go-to recipes - Cookie and Kate's Butternut Squash chilli from Love Real Food and the Super-thick Three Bean Chilli from Minimalist Baker. Both of these are delicious, made of storecupboard ingredients and can be made in the slow cooker or in my Instant Pot.

So I'm not sure what made me revisit this, but upon another look I was intrigued by the unusual ingredients list - red wine and chocolate are fairly common in chilli, but also maple syrup, soy sauce and cinnamon? I was curious.

Another thing I loved was the idea of making "mushroom mince". This isn't a new idea - I've seen Jack Monroe do it months ago, but I'd never done it myself. 

Like my previous comment, the order of instructions was odd - mincing the mushrooms is the first step although you don't add them til the last 10 minutes, although doing them first does mean you only need one pan (edit: The recipe does say you need two pans though so maybe not?)

Anyway, this was super super super delicious. For a house that eats veggie chilli often, Phil declared this his favourite chilli, and I really loved it too. The only downside, for me, is with the red wine needing to be cooked off, it's not really an option for the slow cooker (however I wonder if I could make it in my Instant Pot? One to look into), and it's a good 45 minutes from start to finish, and even then I would have preferred a longer simmer.

Recipe here.


In conclusion, I absolutely loved this book. There are still loads of things I haven't gotten around to making yet - giant burrito cake, Thai red curry paste, homemade naan, onion fried rice, vegan sticky toffee pudding, hash browns, so I know this is a book I'll keep going back to.

For me, the sweet and sour tofu and korma recipes were as close as I've ever tasted to takeaway and a complete revelation, and the marinades for the skewers were so simple, but have really given me great ideas for my next BBQ.

I think this is the perfect introduction to vegan food for those transitioning into eating less meat, or curious carnivores. It makes vegan food fun and exciting and interesting, and not just salads and meat substitutes (although I do love both of these things!). 

It's vegan without too much of a health agenda, and it's not preachy or judgemental. I love the emphasis at the start of the book on how well-tested all the recipes are, and there's a great section about learning to cook and how to continuously improve which is really inspiring and helpful. 

The whole thing is very positive and inspirational, without being unattainable, and I really like how easy and accessible they make vegan cooking - they talk about opportunities to try new things and develop new skills, not about anything being missing from their lives without meat or dairy.

I'm excited to see more from Henry and Ian and I'm sure another Bosh book won't be far away, and if it's a good as this one, I'll be sure to buy it!

Charlotte x

Thursday, 5 July 2018

June Life Lately

And somehow, it's July! June was a brilliant month - here's what I've been up to..

What I've been doing

At the start of the year, I had only driven a car twice since 2011. I just wanted to have the freedom and flexibility to take our car out when I was on my own, or get myself from A to B. I've spent the last few months driving a lot more, forcing myself to drive to my parents or BMF or to parkrun even when I really, really didn't want to. And this month I drove on my own for the second time and I finally don't feel nervous at all about driving anywhere and I finally feel confident driving on my own. At the moment I've only driven to my parents and back on my own, but now I'm over the initial oh-my-god-I-have-to-make-all-my-own-decisions I feel totally fine about driving on my own, which is huge for me!

Wedding-wise, it's seems to come in bursts, and after a few months of being pretty chill and not crossing things off (except my dress!) I suddenly panicked so we ticked a few things off this month! We've booked our florist, booked the amazing Amy for our photography, got an outfit for my Mum (and a hat!) and started to look at suits for Phil (though we were laughed out of the shop and told to come back in January!). There are a few more things I want to tick off over the next few months but we've still got plenty of time so I'm trying to take each task one thing at a time!

Where I've been
Ooh I've done some lovely things this month! For my Birthday my Auntie bought Phil and I a voucher for Afternoon Tea at the Radisson Blu and we decided to do this while we were suit shopping for Phil. We went for the Gentlemen's Afternoon Tea and they did a great job of making everything vegetarian for me, and it was a gorgeous hotel and a brilliant experience I'd definitely recommend!
Last month brought Phil's Dad's 60th Birthday, and as a surprise, Phil booked for us all to do the Crystal Maze Experience. Phil's Dad had no idea, and when Phil's Mum brought him into Manchester on a Friday afternoon he thought he was just going shopping - til he walked into Debenhams to find Phil, his two siblings and me waiting for him! He was completely shocked but excited - he'd applied to go on the tv show back in the 90s so it was the perfect  gift. I don't want to say too much because honestly, it's one of the best things I've ever done in my entire life, and I cannot recommend it more. It's exactly like being on TV, and I loved every minute. A must-do for any fans of the TV show!
June also brought the wedding of one of Phil's oldest friends, which was the most beautiful day. Mike and Hannah got married at the most beautiful little church in the most gorgeous village, with an incredible reception at the bride's parents' house. Everything about it was absolutely beautiful, and I had the best time dancing along to the amazing band with great company, great food and a few glasses of fizz! 
And this week I just got back from the best weekend away in Center Parcs with Phil's family for further 60th Birthday celebrations for his dad. I'd never been before but absolutely loved it! I did yoga and pilates, played badminton, we had two BBQs, watched every World Cup match, played board games and just had so much fun. Oh and of course Phil and I found a parkrun to tick off our list! What we didn't realise at the time was it was over an hour's walk away, and we totally misjudged it and ended up having to run the last 15 minutes and arrived at 8.58am! It was one of the most beautiful parkruns we'd been to, though, and well worth the walk!

What I've bought
I got a great stack of books from a charity bookshop, although a few weeks ago while scanning my Goodreads realised I'd already read The Shaking Woman! I read A Little Life a few years ago and it's one of my favourite books, so I had to it in paperback as I read it on Kindle.

I also bought the Bosh! book which I'll be reviewing at some point in the next few weeks! It's a really great intro to vegan cooking and everything I've made so far has been amazing so watch this space for that!

I treated myself to some gorgeous dresses from Warehouse this month too which unfortunately I don't have any photos of, and a couple of swimming costumes for my holiday this month (including this one from Sainsburys with toucans on!)
Oh and Phil bought me these pyjamas after I found them in Primark - Aladdin is both mine and Phil's favourite Disney film so I had to have them.

Finally, not bought, but a gift - this month I finally got an Instant Pot! I asked for it for Christmas and for my Birthday but it's been out of stock since October, and this month it finally came! I've joined a few Facebook groups which motivated me to give it a try from day one so it didn't stay in the box for months, and so far I've done the water test, made boiled eggs (the shells literally slipped off! Gamechanger!), adapted my favourite chilli recipe for it, made butter chickpeas (with dried chickpeas in 45 minutes!) and made a pasta dish. Next stop is egg bites and yoghurt. It's taking a bit of getting used to but I really love it - I'll write a full post once I've had a bit more practice!

What I've been reading
Five books this month, as I didn't realise The Crimson Petal and the White was 900 pages long! I absolutely loved it though and devoured it in a few days. I also read When I hit you for the What Page Are You On? bookclub and fell head over heels with Maggie O Farrell when I read After You'd Gone - I cannot wait to read more of hers!

I also read The Little Stranger ahead of the film coming out, and I just finished Based on a True Story which I absolutely loved and was definitely my favourite book of the month.

What I've been watching
Football, football and football. God I LOVE THE WORLD CUP. I've watched every game possible, listened to many while at work, read dozens of articles, oh and this was where I watched England's opening game (I found myself knocked onto my back lying on the floor when the winning goal went in).

We also managed two cinema trips for Solo and squeezed in during one game we weren't as interested in, Hereditary, which I absolutely loved for it's callbacks to some of my favourite horror films (Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, anyone?). A lot of people in my cinema were not into it and it was ruined a bit by laughing at the end, but as someone who doesn't like jump-scare horror, I thought it was excellent.

What I've been reading online
Guardian - How do you make friends as an adult?
The Pool - On anxiety and saying yes
What Olivia Did - Lessons I learned at 24
Guardian - The processed food debate is a class war
Miss Pond - Some things I learned in my twenties

What I'm excited for
We're off to Spain this month for our annual trip with my parents and I've got 17 books ready for an 8 day trip. I'm also into London for some training courses for work which I'm really looking forward to, and obviously, more football! 

Hope your June was great!

Charlotte x

Monday, 4 June 2018

I found my wedding dress! (And here's what I learned)

As I mentioned in my May roundup post, two weeks ago I found my wedding dress!

It was an incredibly intense emotional experience, and over the following few days my emotions veered more towards extremely sad than extremely happy.

I'm not a Bridezilla by any stretch the imagination (I also really hate that word and concept!). Phil and I have made every decision together, and he's been more involved in many things than I have, and I've been quick to correct people constantly when they assume wedding planning is "all the bride's job" and the groom "just turns up". And I think (or I hope!) we've been pretty laid back about the whole thing. There are a few things we care about, and many, many, many things we don't. We don't want to spend out life savings on one day, but we also have big families and we want it to be nice. 

But obviously the dress is a big one. The dress is something people judge you on, it's the outfit you are remembered for, immortalised on your parents' walls and in albums and in photo frames. And it's one of the few things that are a surprise. Your guests will know the venue, they might have asked you about colours, bridesmaids dresses, centrepieces, flowers, but they won't know about your dress.

Coincidentally, the day we found my dress was the day of the Royal Wedding, when everyone was waiting for that big reveal - Meghan's dress - and quickly formed opinions. While I know I'm not expected as big of an audience on our big day, it did make me realise how big of a decision it was!

It's weird now seeing recommended pins on Pinterest or looking through bridal magazines or going past dress shops and no longer wondering what my dress will be like. It's strange to think that this is the dress I'll be remembered for more than any other dress I'll ever wear. And this was why I found the decision so upsetting.

Everyone has told me over and over how quickly the time you are engaged goes, and I hate it so much. As excited as I am about getting married, I don't want to rush away this time. I want to preserve it forever and I want it to go as slowly as possible. We've already been engaged 5 months, and it's just over 10 months now til our wedding day. So realising I'd found my wedding dress - despite how tiring and draining and decision-fatigued dress hunting was - made me realise I'd never go wedding dress shopping again.

And I've found that really hard. I remember a moment putting on a dress - looking back, I think it was the one, and thinking to myself, remember this, remember this moment. And I really forced myself to stay in that moment and luckily I have so many amazing memories of that day I revisit nearly every day!

So while I'm relieved and excited, I am sad. I had a dress appointment booked for a shop I was sure I'd find my dress at, that I go past every day on the bus to work, and when we found the one we had to cancel it, and even though I knew I'd found the one, it made it really hit home that the search was over.

But I loved wedding dress shopping! I had lots of advice and so many tips that really helped me that I wanted to share all the things I learned finding my wedding dress...

  • I was naked more than I expected

I'm not sure why I didn't expect this, but in my head I would get into a dress and then someone would help zip me up and that would be it, but no, I clearly had not imagined the size and scale of most wedding dresses. I was stripped down to my knickers and bra and had dresses put onto me. Some places had a dressing gown for you to put on, but I was in and out of dresses so much there wasn't much point.

After a while you do get used to it, and you know they've seen it all before, and by the end I was fine with them taking my bra off too, but it does take a while to get over the initial embarrassment, but they're professionals so any anxiety is all from you!

  • Wear good underwear
I wore plain nude underwear and brought a strapless bra in my bag which I didn't end up needing, but is a good idea if you know you want to try some unusual styles. 

  • You have to say "no" a lot
I absolutely hate negativity and I hate being negative, so I found it hard to say "no" to so many dresses on the journey to finding mine. Sometimes you know what you don't like, other times it's hard to articulate what you don't like, but you have to remember you're probably going to say "no" a lot as you only need one dress!

  • Try everything on
I think everyone goes into wedding dress shopping with an idea of what they want to wear to walk down the aisle in, but I heard so many stories from people saying they ended up with something they had never imagined wearing, so I made sure I tried on anything and everything. Try on that awful dress you Mum likes (I did, sorry Mum), try on the silly dress that isn't your style. Be open to anything and you might surprise yourself.

  • You have to be honest

The one person who has to be happy is you, so even if your entourage and everyone in the shop loves a certain dress, if you're not feeling it, you have to be honest. Plus it helps the people in the shop choose other styles for you if they know what you do and don't want.

  • Give yourself plenty of time
At first, I was really against doing more than one shop in one day, and the first day we did just one shop, which was really good fun but did leave us desperate for more. The second trip we had three dress shops planned, and we spaced them out with at least two hours in between to allow for travel. Most appointments take about an hour and a half and you don't want to rush!

  • Pick your entourage well
I took my Mum and my Maid of Honour and it was perfect. Not too many people's opinions, but enough to make sure I didn't get swayed by something just people one person loved it. 

  • Know your budget
This is an obvious one, but find out what the range of prices are in the shops you want to visit, and be sure to allow for alterations, veil, underwear and any adjustments. You don't want to try on your dream dress and find out it's three times your budget!

  • Every shop is different
We had two really good experiences and one not-so-good experience, and each shop had a different way of doing things. In the end, we absolutely loved the shop I got my dress from so I'm extra glad we found my dress in there! Ask for recommendations from married and engaged friends, and make a spreadsheet of all the ones you want to go to, look at their website and reviews and then pick the top 3 or 4 you want to visit and start from there.

  • The bride doesn't get to enjoy the treats as much!

Two of the shops we visited gave everyone a prosecco but when you're trying on dresses you don't get much of a chance to sit down and enjoy it! In one shop I was offered a cup of tea but I had to wait til we were done to drink it!

  • It's really tiring
Dress shopping is exhausting! You're on your feet in swathes of fabric takings things on and off, and the decision fatigue is absolutely draining!

  • It's not always fun
When you've tried on 25 dresses and still don't feel remotely close to what you want, it can be disappointing and stressful, so don't feel as though you have to have a smile on your face the whole time!

  • You have to suspend your disbelief a lot
They might only have the dress you love in a size much too big or much too small, or you might decide on changing some details which you might have to imagine. You're quite unlikely to have a complete picture of what your dress will be like on the day, but that makes it even more exciting!

  • You don't always know, but sometimes you do
I'd been told by some people "when you know, you know" and by others "it's not always like that", so I didn't know what to expect, but with mine it was the first one where I came out saying, yep, I love this, and everyone could tell by the way I moved and smiled and touched the fabric. As soon as I came out, the lady who owned the shop said "I think you're going to get married in that dress". My maid of honour started crying, then I started crying and my Mum started crying and then we knew it was the one. They offered me one more dress to try on and they knew when I didn't want to take the dress off it was the one, and as soon as I tried on something else I just wanted it back on again!

  • Try not to take photos
After I'd said yes to the dress (or in my case, sobbed, when they asked me "are you saying yes to the dress?") we asked if we could take photos and we were advised not to, which I'm quite glad about. I'd read before you should try to remember how to felt in the dress, as photos can really throw you off, so I made a real effort to process that memory and remember how amazing I felt, though it is hard to not have a photo to reassure you!

I did write a list in my phone a few hours later of all the details of the dress and I do sometimes reread that list to remind myself which really helps!

  • You will doubt yourself
Ever since I left the shop I've been doubting myself and constantly going back to my maid of honour and Mum for reassurance which is totally normal! It's a big decision so you just have to trust yourself that you loved the dress!

  • Stop looking when you've found the one
I was still quite keen to go to the final shop, my logic being that it might reinforce me that I was happy with my decision, but I'm so indecisive than I'm glad I didn't. I didn't want to waste anyone's time so my maid of honour cancelled the appointment for me, and I'm glad it means that another woman might have had my spot and hopefully found her dress!

  • You will forget what your dress looks like
I have a list in my phone of the details, but honestly, I can't really remember what it looks like! I think this is pretty normal though, and goes back to remembering how happy I was wearing it!

  • It's a real catalyst for making other decisions
I didn't realise how much finding your dress influences other parts of your day. It can change how you'd planned to have your hair, your makeup, your bridesmaid dress styles, your veil... And sometimes this can mean changing a decision you've already made.

  • Wedding dresses take AGES to make!
Considering we don't get married for 10 months, I thought we were quite ahead of the game wedding dress shopping in May, but I actually won't get my dress back til December, and with alterations, it's probably about right for our April wedding. Most places can fast-track for you if you have a short engagement, but 6-8 months is usually how long a dress takes to make!

  • It's an emotional ride
I know I've mentioned this but honestly, I did not expect to cry as much as I did. I was emotional I'd found my wedding dress, but also that dress shopping was over and I was never going to do it again. I cried all that evening and into the next day, and I've nearly cried a few things writing this! I've found being engaged really difficult purely for the reason that every decision I make is one less thing I ever get to decide about ever again and it was a lot more traumatic than I expected. I'm not one of those people who has spent my whole life dreaming and imaging my wedding day, but it is still weird to now know what I'll be wearing and know I can't change my mind. What I mean is, bring your tissues! You might cry because you're happy, but you might cry because you're tired and overwhelmed and decision fatigued and also a bit sad too.

  • Not telling your fiance is the hardest thing!
I tell Phil everything so I'm finding it really hard not to be able to say anything to him and a few times I've nearly slipped out a detail of my dress! I haven't even told him about the terrible things I tried on because I don't want to give away what I have chosen, and I've been finding that really difficult! I've had to remind myself that I want him to be completely surprised when he sees me walking down the aisle!

  • It's nice to have a secret
I thought I was going to tell my bridesmaids and maybe close family and friends what my dress looks like, but when it came down to it I decided I want to keep it a secret that only myself, my Mum and my Maid of Honour knows so it's a surprise to everyone on the day and I'm really glad I have. It's nice to have a secret only a few people know!

Obviously this is all just my experience and if you are dress shopping I recommend Googling "things to know before wedding dress shopping" and ask around, because I got great advice that way.

I hope to have more wedding posts soon!
Charlotte x

Friday, 1 June 2018

May Life Lately

May has been... weirdly quiet! Considering how busy our months are it's been quite nice to have a quiet one. 

I've also disconnected myself from social media quite a lot this month, with the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook apps all deleted from my phone currently, which has been really nice but has made this blog post harder than usual to write seeing as I usually look through my Instagram to remind me what I've done all month! It's been nice to disconnect a bit though and I've been having my phone turned off a lot more and spent more time reading instead of mindlessly scrolling through other people's highlights!

But it hasn't been a completely quiet month! Here's what I've been doing this month...

What I've been doing
The two biggest things that happened this month happened two days in a row! On the Sunday I ran my 6th half marathon. It was hot and sweaty and gross and I've been injured throughout pretty much all of my training and I completely fell of a cliff at mile 12 and I was dying by the time I got to that uphill finish, but I did it! I'm looking forward to working on my injuries and coming back (hopefully!) with a PB at my next race in October.
But more excitingly, I GOT MY WEDDING DRESS! I am planning a proper blog post on everything I learned wedding dress shopping, and I can't say a lot because I'm keeping everything between myself, my maid of honour and my Mum, but the whole thing was much more emotional than I expected (I cried the entire night afterwards I was so overwhelmed by the enormity of the decision) and I'm so excited and thrilled and nervous and trying to field every question and I HATE having to keep it from Phil, but obviously I am so so happy and excited!

We've been so lucky with the weather over the two Bank Holidays this month that Phil and I went full British cliche and instantly went to Homebase and bought garden furniture and ate every meal outside and abandoned our responsibilities and got sunburned at a beer festival and went to the pub and stroked all the dogs and it's just been the best.
 So we've had a couple of exciting parkrun milestones in the Crowley-Cantillon household! This month Phil hit a huge milestone in running his 100 parkrun! I'm so glad I've been getting him up and dragging him out of the house on a Saturday morning for four years! parkrun is such a huge part of our lives - I can't imagine starting a weekend at home any other way (we even do it whenever we're away in the UK if we can find one nearby!) and I'm so glad Phil loves it as much as I do!
So as well as Phil running his 100th parkrun, my 100 parkruns tshirt came this month! I ran my 100th parkrun back in July but there's been a huge wait on tshirts so I was thrilled to find mine was finally available! I even got to debut it last weekend!
I also had the best time volunteering at parkrun as always the day before my race. I love cheering on the runners, I made friends with a lovely slobbery dog called Winston and I helped out a little boy with his Duke of Edinburgh award!
And finally, I've had some brilliant times with my favourite people this month. Vintage fairs and ice cream with Riven, and a gym class and health dinner and Diet Coke with two of my bridesmaids which was a welcome but very different change to the nights we had as teenager, and dinner at one of my favourite places with my new friend, Ali. I'm so lucky to have so many awesome ladies in my life.
Where I've been
We've spent the bank holiday just gone with both of our families which has been lovely! Last Saturday we went to a party to celebrate my Auntie and Uncle's 40th wedding anniversary and on Sunday we went out with Phil's family. It's made me so excited to have everyone in the same room at our wedding!

What I've been reading
Some excellent books this month! 

  • The Hours
  • The Wonder
  • Fire Sermon
  • Marlena
  • The Heart's Invisible Furies

My favourites were The Hours and Marlena, and The Heart's Invisible Furies, which I absolutely adored.

What I've been watching
Only one trip to the cinema this month to see Deadpool 2,  and at home we've watched All The President's Men, The Fog and we re-watched Rogue Nation in preparation for the new Mission Impossible film.

We are also getting quite into Westworld, and The Handmaid's Tale is back for our daily dose of "oh wow this is really depressing and a bit too close to home."

What I've been reading online
Cooking on a Bootstrap - The Only Way is Ethics?
The Pool - On Loneliness
Shortlist - How movies cast ugly characters
NY Times - How an Italian disco hit because Liverpool's Champion's League anthem

What I've been excited for
Ooh lots to look forward to in June! Phil and I are going looking for his suit for the wedding next weekend and we're going to go out for afternoon tea afterwards which I'm really looking forward to! We also have the wedding of one of Phil's oldest friends this month, and my first trip to Centre Parcs at the end of the month!

I have lots of blog post ideas (including that wedding dress shopping one!) to get written this month so I'm hoping to be back soon!

Charlotte x