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

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

April Life Lately

I can't believe it's May already! April has gone so quickly - my last April as a single woman! I can't believe this time next year we'll be married! Here's what I've been up to in April

What I've been doing
So speaking on getting married, we've made some good progress on the ol' wedmin (urgh, I know. I started using the term ironically and now I can't stop). We've just sent out our save the dates and I LOVE them (thanks Mum! Never been a better time to have a Mum who works in printing!) and we've had a meeting with our photographer this month who I'm really excited to book.
Ready dress shopping ready with my Mum and maid of honour!

And most excitingly, I had my trip to a wedding dress shop!! I obviously can't say much at all (not being able to tell Phil stuff is KILLING me because I usually tell him everything!) but I can say I have not yet said yes to the dress, but I have definitely gotten a lot closer to what I do and don't want, and I think my next trip dress shopping - which is in a couple of weeks - I'll find the one! I made some notes afterwards for a blog post because despite reading up a LOT before I went, there are a few things I didn't expect, so we'll see how my next shops go and I'll try to write up a post.
I've played some excellent board games this month - 221B Baker Street which I bought for Phil's sister Suzie for Christmas, and Telestrations which I got for my Birthday. 221B Baker Street is like Cluedo times ten and is really good fun, and Telestrations is such a fun party game. I can't wait to play both of these again!

I've also had some really good nights this month catching up with my best friends. I've had bao in the sun with one of my best friends, and beer garden catch ups and hen party chat with two of my others. 

And despite injuries and challenges and niggles, I've been running. I ran 12 miles this weekend, painfully and slowly, but it means I'm feeling confident I can run 13.1 in two weeks - my sixth half marathon and my fifth Great Manchester Run. I've struggled through training so this will not be a PB, but I'm looking forward to getting to the physio to get sorted and hopefully running a strong sub 2 hour PB in my October half.

Where I've been
For Christmas, I bought Phil tickets for us to see Jaws at the Bridewater Hall with a live orchestra, as we went to see La la Land last year and it was amazing. Jaws was as incredible as you can imagine - and I jumped out of my skin at "the" jumpy bit!
And along the same theme of "buying people Christmas presents you also get to enjoy", I got my Mum a spa day voucher which we redeemed this month. We had a massage, facial, head massage, hand massage and foot massage, plus afternoon tea, and we followed it up with a lovely day shopping and for dinner and drinks afterwards. It was such a lovely day!
One thing I was most excited for in April was it being one year til our wedding! Our gorgeous wedding reception venue, Mottram Hall, invited us to enjoy our "ante-versary" with a complimentary overnight stay, dinner and breakfast on what will be our wedding date! Phil and I don't really do fancy hotels - when we're away we just tend to choose something cheap and local and usually plan to spend as little time there as possible, so this as a real treat! We had such a lovely time and it's made us super super excited for our wedding!

And this last weekend I went to Stafford to catch up with my friend, Ellen. We had lunch and hung out at her house and drank mugs of hot drinks and it was perfect!

What I've been reading

I've read more books this year already than I read in the whole of 2014! I'm currently on 26 books read this year, with seven read in April. Here's what I read this month:

Desperation Road
Dark Pines
The Hate U Give
Sing Unburied Sing
Little Fires Everywhere
This is How it Always Is
I'll Be Gone in the Dark

This has been a great month for reading - I think my favourites were Little Fires Everywhere, This is How it Always Is and, like everyone I know on Twitter, I'll Be Gone In the Dark, which I started the day before they caught the Golden State Killer. What a time to read this book!

What I've been watching
Three cinema trips this month - Ready Player One and a creepy double-bill of Ghost Stories followed by A Quiet Place for a spooky Sunday evening. I absolutely LOVED A Quiet Place and I think it will make it into my favourite films of the year.

We haven't watched loads at home this month, but we have watched The Omen as Phil continues my horror film education, and Magnolia, finally, when we finally had a Sunday afternoon with time for a three hour film!

TV-wise, we finished The Assassination of Gianni Versace which I know I've been banging on about for months but I absolutely loved (more on this below) and I'm kind of bereft it's over. We've also really enjoyed Clunk on Britain which has been absolutely cracking me up, and we've just started Westworld after hearing everyone praising it!

What I've bought
More than I thought this month!
This is Cosmo, the lipstick I've been waiting for all my life

I got two new perfect nude MAC lipsticks in Cosmo (which is exactly what I want Mehr to look like on me) and Nicky's Nude. 

I also got the most beautiful Oasis dress for a wedding I have coming up.

One recipe book this month (whoops!) in the form of On the Side which is my new absolute favourite recipe book. The whole book is side dishes, which I felt sounded a bit dull, but the indexes in the back help you to find the perfect side dish for whatever your main dish is, and this is amazing! I've only made the spiced carrots so far, which I've made twice alongside different curries (we eat a lot of curries so this is a great back-pocket recipe!) but I've already convinced my Mum to get a copy. I'm really excited to explore this further and review it over here soon.

I also bought a copy of Vulgar Favours, the book that The Assasination of Gianni Versace is based on, which I can't wait to read, but I need to read something less-murdery-y after I'll Be Gone in the Dark.

Finally, two things bought for nostalgia. I bought a nude faux leather jacket almost identical to one I had in my early twenties (blog proof!) and I got some Tigi honey and oatmeal shampoo which I loved as a teenager because once someone reminded me of how good it smelled I couldn't resist!

What I've been loving

My friend Riven is an excellent present buyer, and this time I think she excelled herself. Look at those Fight Club tshirts! And a Parks and Rec/Jurassic World crossover tshirt! And a Charlie and the Chocolate factory makeup pallete! I'm in love!

One more Gianni-Versace-related thing - if you're as obsessed as I am you have to listen to the Vanity Fair Podcast - Now watching: Versace.

What I've been eating

So last week I read an article that said that my favourite Liverpool player, Mo Salah's, favourite food was an Egyptian street food called Kushari. So yes, I found a recipe for it and made it. It's the weirdest combo of rice, lentils, chickpeas, pasta (!), tomato sauce and cripsy onions and it's bloody amazing (and, as you might expect, crazy filling, which was perfect after a 12 mile run on Sunday!). Here's the recipe I followed.

What I've been reading online
The Pool - How would you look through the eyes of a terrible male author?
A Rosie Outlook - Be A Dead Fish
Norwegian gender pay gap video
Two Bossy Dames - We self-care too much
Virgin - Embracing Failure
The Pool - How to can help repeal the 8th
Self - I have depression and anxiety. Stop telling me to go for a run

What I'm excited for
I've got a really quiet May which I'm pretty excited for because March and April have been pretty exhausting (if fun!). I'm looking forward to my fifth Great Manchester Run because it's always an amazing atmosphere, and this year I'm running the half and Phil is running the 10K so it's going to be fun to be supporting each other.

And I also have a day of wedding dress appointments this month - fingers crossed I find "the one"!

Charlotte x

Monday, 30 April 2018

Recipe: Nostalgic sweet potato and and spinach curry

I wrote this, minus the recipe, without knowing whether it would be a blog post or a newsletter piece. I don't really know what goes where, and sometimes I don't know what this blog is "for" anymore, when most of my writing is in my newsletter, but sometimes it's nice to still blog.

I started university with a stack of green books, new and shiny with spines intact.
I don't remember buying them, but I'm sure they will have come from my Mum, from Borders, our favourite place, which Google tells me closed in 2009.

I didn't really know how to cook. Until I was 18 my speciality had been a concoction of kidney beans, microwaveable rice and pasta sauce.

I found my feet with those green shiny books.
Lentil bolognese and Quorn cottage pie and vegetable crumble in the days before I even thought to Google a recipe or read a food blog.
Everything was simple, but revolutionary. Lentil moussaka with a topping of cream cheese mixed with eggs and nutmeg. Easy versions of dishes, made cheaper and quicker for the amateur student cook.

And I learned a lot about cooking in those first few years of uni. Discovering why you wash spinach before use, and that bicarbonate of soda isn't the same as baking powder, and is a quick and efficient way to ruin a batch of cookies you've been salivating in anticipation of.
What my books look like now, after years of use and being used to lean on while doing my nails...

Those green shiny books sit in my loft. Piled up ready to go to the charity shop, ready for another student to educate on 15 ways with jacket potatoes, but I'm not quite ready to let go.
No longer shiny, but splattered with years of drips and splotches and spills.
While my shelves groan with the weight of Ottolenghi, and my cupboards fill with fenugreek and sumac and homemade baharat.
And tonight, I pick them up for the taste of nostalgia.

The sweet potato curry I used to make to impress my friends. That I made in a lonely kitchen in student halls, that I made for my housemates when we somehow managed to share the cooking every night for a year, that I made for my American housemate and her husband as a thank you for letting me stay over an alien-to-me Thanksgiving holiday, that I made in Minnesota and New Jersey, and of course, in Birmingham. Frozen in tiny, unidentifiable bags so that dinner was sometimes a surprise.

I've made hundreds of curries since. Dals and vindaloos and homemade samosas. I could make a sweet potato curry with my eyes closed.
But tonight  I turn to the book. Scared to get it wrong. Scared to miss out on the taste of nostalgia.
Remembering it eaten in a large pudding bowl, with carrots and broccoli lazily steamed to mush in the microwave at 9pm after two back-to-back dance classes.
Or splashing out on naan. Covering it in ketchup.

I must have made this curry thirty times. Eaten it sixty times more.
But tonight I make it for my fiancĂ© for the first time. Remembering all the times I made it before. And now making it for my soon-to-be-husband in a house that we own, after getting home from my 9 to 5.
I still love piling in the spinach and watching it wilt into velvet.
I no longer serve it with ketchup, but if I was home alone I would have microwaved the carrots and broccoli to submission, the way I did when I was 22. The way I did when I cried when the microwave broke because that's the only way I knew how to cook my vegetables.

It reminds me that delicious food need not be complicated, something I often forget. That it doesn't need every pan in the house or hours slaving over the stove. That I don't need to make something different every single night. And it tastes every bit as good as it did when I was 18.

Sweet potato and spinach curry
Serves 4
(adapted lightly to maintain as much nostalgia as possible, from The Vegetarian Student Cookbook. I've made this so many times this is more like a guide, and I was surprised how much of it was muscle memory, so I don't know quite how much olive oil I used or how long I cooked my onions for, but if you're any more advanced than 18 year old me in the kitchen you'll figure it out)
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tsp turmeric
1 large red chilli
400ml (1 can) coconut milk
250g baby spinach, washed
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook sweet potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but not mushy. Drain and leave to the side.
2. Heat the oil in large pan, and cook the onions on a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli, and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the turmeric.
3. Add the coconut milk, stir well and simmer for 3-4 minutes until thickened
4. Add the cooked sweet potatoes and cook for a further 4 minutes
5. Stir in the spinach, and cook, stirring regularly, until it has all wilted
6. Season and serve!

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

March Life Lately

With the exception of December (Christmas! and now our engagement anniversary on Boxing Day!), March is my absolute favourite month. It's bookended with Phil's Birthday on the 1st and mine on the 30th, which means it feels like a big ol' month of celebrating, which is certainly what this year felt like!

Here's what I've been up to in March...

What I've been doing
We took a couple of days off for Phil's Birthday and despite crazy weather, we had the best day in Liverpool to celebrate. After two failed attempts previously to go, we finally made it to the Anfield Tour which we both absolutely loved and then we went for the best ever pizza at our favourite pizza place in Liverpool. I bought him a jacket and a tshirt from Pull and Bear, the Scrubs boxset and a framed print of the bridge where he proposed.
I've mentioned before that we've been having work done on our house over the last few weeks and we are finally almost getting there! This month was a big one with the addition of our mustard yellow feature wall in the living room! Over the last year we've gone from saying we'll have a yellow chair, to a yellow sofa, to finally deciding on a yellow wall. It looks absolutely incredible and I love it. Now all we need is new furniture and the living room is done and the kitchen should be done in the next week or so!
In sad news this month, while out in Manchester I realised at some point my Fitbit strap had broken and the whole thing had fallen off my wrist and was lost forever! I was absolutely devastated, especially as I'd already had the strap replaced once, but amazingly Fitbit replaced agreed to replace it and I had a new one just a few days later! I'm thrilled with their customer service and am keeping an eye on my strap obsessively now!

I've been getting back into driving lately after having not driven for 7 years up until a few months ago, and this month I drove on my own for the first time! This was a huge and scary and exciting deal and it's totally boosted my confidence! I only drove to my parents' about 2 miles away to go to parkrun but it's so great to be able to drive myself now when Phil is away!
My friend Riven has started to knit and she's doing really well! She lent me her yarn a few weeks about and taught me to knit a bit and I'm starting to get the hang of it! I've wanted to learn for ages so I need to get practising!
This month also brought our first race of the year with the Poynton 10K. I'm in the middle of half marathon training at the moment but I'm having trouble with bursitis in my hip (which I've had before during my marathon training!) and some knee pain so I wasn't very excited for this race! It ended up being a really tough course and I started to feel pain after a few miles in so it wasn't my best time, but it was a nice local race I'm looking forward to tackling again next year!
When Phil's parents asked me what I wanted for my Birthday I asked for a really good vegetable peeler (theirs is great!) and Exploding Kittens. We've played this game so much in the week and a half we've had it and Phil has beaten me all but one time! We've already ordered a second pack so we can play it with more people!
And of course, this month brought my Birthday! I've had some amazing meals out, an amazing weekend away (more on that below!) and some incredible presents! From Phil I got two prints - one of the park where he proposed and an Arrested Development one, along with a Mo Salah Egypt national shirt. From my parents I got two bags, two jumpers and a board game, and from work I got the cutest teapot and teacups. I've been completely spoiled!

Where I've been
I was a little distracted because it was the night I lost my Fitbit but this month I finally made it to Grub Food Fair. I've wanted to go for ages and it was so much cooler than I expected! I had the most amazing aubergine pitta and masala chips which were absolutely incredible. It's the coolest little space and I cannot wait to go back.
Okay, so obviously the biggest thing that happened in March was that WE FINALLY SAW HAMILTON! We booked our tickets in January last year so it's been a long 14 months of waiting and 18 months of listening to the soundtrack over 100 times. I don't think I'd been as excited for anything in my whole life and it was honestly the best thing I've ever seen. I can't even begin to explain how incredible it was. I thought having listened to it so many times I knew it inside out, but seeing on stage was just... I don't even have the words. Seeing the acting and the costumes and the set and the choreography just absolutely blew my mind and it was almost a completely different musical. I'm going to stop going on about it now but it was a million times better than my insanely high expectations. I'm already desperate to see it again!

So Hamilton was on the Thursday with my Birthday on the Friday, so Friday morning we woke up and I opened the cards and presents that we could fit in our cases and after a lovely brunch we headed to St Pancras to get the Eurostar to Bruges!
Well our first stop was Brussels, and the one thing we wanted to do there was visit the Cantillon brewery. Phil's surname is Cantillon (and it will be mine in just over a year's time!) and we got off the train at 4.20pm when the brewery closed at 5pm, so we raced there just in time to buy matching Cantillon-branded sweatshirts (cringe!) and get a selfie outside, but didn't have enough time to get a drink (which is probably for the best because Cantillon is a sour beer and I'm not sure if I'd like it!). 
I should probably write an entire blog post on Bruges but if I don't get around to it, we found some amazing bars and I found a taste for Belgium beer, we had hot chocolate and waffles and mussels and chocolates, we climbed the 366 steps up the Belfry and took a boat tour and spent the weekend trying to find all the locations in In Bruges, and even went to Retsin's Lucifernum which completely freaked me out. We had the best weekend ever and it was the best way to spend my Birthday! 

What I've been reading
Six books in March and some absolute bangers. Here's what I read:

Pages for Her
The Dark Circle
Three Things about Elsie

I absolutely loved Three Things About Elsie after loving The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and I read the whole thing in a weekend, but my absolute favourite book of the month was Beartown which I adored in every single way. It was a brilliant story with amazingly developed characters and it was beautifully written on a challenging subject. It's instantly gone onto my favourites list!

What I've been watching
Quite a lot of film this month! At the cinema we did a double bill of Game Night and The Greatest Showman. Game Night I absolutely loved and know it's one of those perfect "background noise" films I know I'll buy on DVD. 

We also went to a Mystery Screening at The Light which is the new cinema in Stockport which we LOVE but we're still currently cardholders at Cineworld. We were super disappointed when we found out it was Love, Simon as it had been a Cineworld Unlimited Screening the week before and we really didn't fancy it! However as we'd paid a fiver at The Light rather than it being free at Cineworld we decided to stick it out and I'm glad we did! It was not my kind of thing at all but I really enjoyed it!

But the best film we saw at the cinema this month was also at The Light. They were showing The Florida Project which we'd missed the first time around for a fiver and we were  so glad to have caught it! This was one of the best films I've seen this year.

At home this month we've watched Fantastic Mr Fox, There Will Be Blood (arghhhhhh so good!) and of course, we had to watch In Bruges in preparation for our trip!

Finally, we've been loving Queer Eye obviously, and we've just started The Assassination of Gianni Versace which I am super into!

What I've been eating
While we were in Liverpool we had the best pizza and garlic bread ever at American Slice. We'd been a few years ago and were relived it was every bit as good as we remembered!
A couple of new places have opened in Stockport which we enjoyed this month - falafel from Falafel  4 U was excellent before our film and ice cream at Creams was amazing afterwards (I got the black vanilla!). I also had a lovely brunch with my best friend at the newly-opened Berretto lounge. We also had a great Birthday dinner at Jack's which is just across the road from our house and the Vimto jelly was amazing!
Obviously we had some amazing food in Bruges! I'm not usually a fan of waffles at all but we had the best waffles in Bruges and the most incredible hot chocolate. I also found a love for fruit beer and wish we'd had checked luggage so we could have brought some back with us!

What I've bought
In two weeks we have our one-year-til-our-wedding date at the hotel we're getting married at and I wanted a new dress for the occasion. I bought four dresses online and just could not find what I wanted but when I was killing time in Manchester I fell in love with the most perfect bright pink lace dress in Oasis and bought it there and then! I absolutely love it!
Two new recipe books just happened to land on my doorstep this month! I preordered 15 Minute Vegan Comfort Food a few months ago after loving Katy's original book, and this month I was thrilled to receive Jack Monroe's Cooking on a Bootstrap after backing their Kickstarter about two years ago! The book is brilliant and so worth the wait - plus it's nearly all vegetarian!

As mentioned above I love my Cantillon sweatshirt from the brewery and I cannot wait to wear it lounging around the house.
I was dithering for ages over what I was going to buy from the merchandise stall at Hamilton and I'm so glad I decided to go for this amazing mug! We also get a mug from every city we visit (we have a lot of mugs!) and I love the Bruges mug we chose!

What I've been reading online
Yes and Yes - How to Choose a Goal 
Red online - Friendship breakups
Michelle - 10 Habits I've started to reduce anxiety
Biscuits and Blisters - Controlling the fall
Amy - On OCD
Yes and Yes - Is that self care or self sabotage?
Kate Leaver - The Joys of a new Grown Up Friend
Amy - The Mental Health Benefits of Knitting

What I'm excited about
So I am super excited for our "ante-versary" aka, our one-year-til-our-wedding stay at the hotel we're getting married at! We're getting a free night's stay, breakfast, dinner and use of the facilities and I cannot wait!

For Christmas I bought Phil tickets to see Jaws with a live orchestra and it's on Friday! It's going to be so much fun!

And hopefully we're going to get some wedding planning done this month! We've been so busy with the house stuff we've not really done much this month but April means one year to go so we need to get those save the dates out! I've also got a date in to go dress shopping with my Mum and maid of honour in May - eeeee!

Hope your April is going brilliantly!

Charlotte x