New Year, New Me?

How does this happen? How does a year move by so fast? I’m not sure if I can actually bring myself to believe we’re entering 2017. In the lead up to the New Year, I’ve been getting that feeling that hits your insides. A dull ache I’ve come to associate with fear. Not pain, and not necessarily sadness – more a muted fear, that I’ve not done enough. That this next year will bring much of the same. That I’ll feel like I failed in someway.

I haven’t achieved what I wanted, I didn’t share my feelings with that guy I sort of kind of but not really liked, or that in some paradoxically universe my life would feel more complete. I wouldn’t be that twenty-four-year-old living with her parents, going through a degree purely because I couldn’t get a job. The excitement of finishing in May tainted with the unknown. Do I leave the country I’m studying in, do I go home? And to what? To do what?

My friends all seem so successful – they have a plan. Or at least I think they do. And for some reason they all seem to be getting engaged, or having babies(!?) It’s amazing, I feel like I’m getting left behind.

I think we can all relate to those feelings. The feelings of shame, fear, disappointment. You’re not good enough for this, you regret not doing that, you hate yourself for making someone upset. If you’d only tried harder…

I guess I’m kind of sick of that now.

I’m sick of hating me, and in that process faking a different me who I hate even more but seems to be accepted by those around me. An ever-so-trying, always caring if slightly unhinged version of the person I should be.

I’m sick of it, and if a fake persona is what you put up too, my vote is now to stop it. I don’t want to be a half person for fear of upsetting someone, not saying something I believe because they might not believe it too. Generally I think I’m okay, but funnily enough it’s the people closest to me who probably don’t know me really, at all. I always just nod, say yes and smile.

Reality is something different.

I just want to scream at them.

So, I’m not making any resolutions, not the usual anyway, you know – be nicer, healthier, fitter.

Nope, none of them.

I guess the only resolution I’m going to make, if I have to call it a resolution, is to be me.

Unapologetically me,
because at the end of the day my happiness is all that counts and I’m a full on believer (even if I haven’t lived my own advice so far) that you have a choice to be happy.

At the end of the day, if friends and if family can’t accept you for you – do you need them anyway?

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be,” -Abraham Lincoln

Happy New Year,

-H

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A French Adventure – Avignon Part Two

I did have to split my time in Avignon in two, even if today’s adventures weren’t quite as expansive as yesterday was. It was more about the travelling I did between the two, and by travelling I mean by foot.

We got up extra early this morning to walk over two bridges and discover the Fort Saint-Andre.

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The walk was long, the wind was strong and the small inclines felt like mountains, but it was a good trip. Fort Saint-Andre is across the river from Avignon situated in a small town called Villeneuve lez Avignon. According to our guide pamphlet it is a: “perfect example of medieval military architecture,” honestly I’m not so sure.

The walk up there wasn’t as tough as I’m making out. It took us approximately an hour and half both ways and was a bit up and down to say the least.  When we finally arrived we got told the gardens and the abbey, which I had wrongly assumed were attached (although they are) were not open, so it was only the fort we could see. Although the fort was fine, I can’t think of a better dull but good adjective for it, the only real thing about it was the panoramic views of Avignon that we got from the top of a battlement.

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There were some interesting ruins but we couldn’t access them to see more. It did seem a little strange that we could only get to one of the three places, but it was affirmed to me by our concierge later that evening that most tourist attractions were closed on a Monday. Note to all travellers: don’t come to Avignon on a Monday.

That being said, after we managed the walk back we found a beautiful restaurant, that was by the Porte de L’Oule opening in the city’s walls.

View over Fort Saint Andre 3

My poor dad was more then happy to go back to the hotel to sleep after this meal, but I decided that it was time to try the Avignon mini train that I kept seeing making its rounds around the city. Can I just apologise now to my dad, although good (?) it was bumpy, uncomfortable and honestly although it gave you some slight historic knowledge I felt that having already been around most of its stops I knew it all already.

Having said that it is a nice and easy 40 minutes drive where you don’t have to do anything bar trying to stay in the carriage.

I tried a panorama, but in reality I was too close to the Palais des Papes.
I tried a panorama, but in reality I was too close to the Palais des Papes. Still kind of love it though

Nikita by Niki, Niki Mahon Interview

Nikitaby_Niki_Logo

Some of you by now hopefully have read my little blog on NikitaByNiki’s Acasia piece, if you haven’t you can click here to catch up. For those of you who saw how much I rated the necklace I got from NikitabyNiki I got to ask founder Niki Mahon some questions about her brand and what inspires her to come up with the beautiful pieces she has over on her website.

Courtesy of Niki Mahon ©
Courtesy of Niki Mahon ©

ME: Firstly, basics. I know your name is Niki Mahon and NikitabyNiki was started in 2014, but how old are you, and when did you realise you wanted to establish and create jewellery?
NIKI: I have very recently turned 23. I work full time as a Senior Account Manager at a mobile and web development agency in London. I have always been one to multi-task and fill my spare time with something productive and beneficial. I realised I had a genuine passion for jewellery at the age of 16 when I secured my first job at ‘Silverleaf Jewllery Ltd’, managing the store and creating unique pieces by hand. I absolutely loved this job, however pursuing a degree and securing a full time job were of top priority before exploring this avenue further and growing it into a business.

You could say as a typical girly-girl and perfectionist, I am drawn to and love making things pretty, and I am thrilled that I am now in a position in my life where I can devote my time to a jewellery brand that I firmly believe in.

ME: What or who was the inspiration behind the beginnings of NikitabyNiki?
NIKI: The best word to describe my jewellery is ‘Statement’. Although I wear dainty, delicate pieces on a daily basis, I believe when a woman dresses up, she does not need to break into her purse and buy an entire new outfit every time. The NikitaByNiki pieces aim to be feminine and flattering, yet bold enough to transform any ensemble again and again without having to worry about wearing the same outfit twice.

NikitabyNiki The Boho Collection Style Paris £25
NikitabyNiki The Boho Collection Style Paris £25

ME: How involved are you in the designing, creating and making process of your pieces?
NIKI: I currently source the pieces from trustworthy and talented manufacturers worldwide. My connections are obtained through networking, researching and travelling. Initially I sourced existing styles, however my most recent ventures involve channeling my love for drawing and design by customising and creating the NikitaByNiki pieces myself to ensure they are unique, beautiful and of a great quality.

ME: Where did the influence come from for your Boho and Rhinestone Collection?
NIKI: The Boho Collection was born first. I was so intrigued by the the London look of casual outfits dressed with bohemian silver cuffs and large statements. I wanted to branch out further and test the market with the Rhinestone collection soon after. This collection, for me, represents more evening wear, providing a more glitzy and elaborate addition to what can otherwise be a sleek and simple outfit. Naturally, I went on to further pursue those that proved to be the most popular and have the highest demand.

In April, I am going to be launching the NikitaByNiki Ring Collection which compliments both collections by combing vintage silvers and classic gem stones.

ME: Are there specific pieces from each of those collections that you think represent you and your brand the best, and why?
NIKI: I would definitely say I have some brand ambassadors within the two collections. In the Rhinestone Collection, Zahara and Aurora are solid examples of how a pieces can add the ‘wow’ factor to any look. Within the Boho collection, Paris is one that I believe to stand out on the website amongst both photoshoot and product photography.

NikitabyNiki The Rhinestone Collection - Style Zahara £20
NikitabyNiki The Rhinestone Collection – Style Zahara £20

ME: Are there any brands of jewellery, or other people who influence the designs that you create?
NIKI: Yes absolutely!

Interestingly, a lot of inspiration comes from clothes designers and gorgeous jewel encrusted wedding pieces; Zuhair Murad embellished gowns inspire me with their ability to look utterly classy without approaching the border of tacky and ‘blingy.’

In terms of jewellery, I have inspirations whom I strive to surpass. These are people and companies whom I prefer to hold close to my chest.

ME: Lastly, what do you want your buyers to feel when they wear your pieces?
NIKI: What drives me most is the feedback I get from ecstatic customers. A tremendous amount of effort goes into the final touches and packaging of each item and each order receives a small thank you note which has proven to attain repeat orders.I strive for all items to reach their owners safely, in the expected condition and for my customers to be able to wear their pieces over and over again without any hesitance.

Ultimately, I want my buyers to feel how I feel when wearing NikitaByNiki statements: beautiful, comfortable and stylish.

See what people have said about shopping at NikitaByNiki: www.nikitabyniki.com/testimonials

To follow Niki on:

TUMBLR

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

INSTAGRAM

Muriel’s Kitchen, Leicester Square

So you want to eat out in Theatreland,London, but you want to avoid the overpriced and stuffy air that can come with some eateries in the West End. Ladies and Gentlemen, look no further then this little gem, which sits perched at the top of Leicester Square, Muriel’s Kitchen.

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This branch, one of three (the others are in SoHo and South Kensington) is perfect, if like me and my aunt you’re looking for a dainty and easy atmosphere, that serves fast but extraordinarily scrummy food. Picture it if you will, having dashed into Foyle’s Bookshop searching for a mosaic-ed map floor which seems to know longer exist since their move, desperately hungry but worried about missing the show they’ve book to see, two women scrambling around to find a restaurant. Well it wasn’t quite like that, but it was sort of close.

Deciding to eat relatively near to The Prince of Wales Theatre, meant walking through Leicester Square. And there on our right-hand side we saw balloons. Yellow balloons, welcoming balloons that called to us, and said: “Don’t worry, we’ll feed you,” and so they did. In we entered, and were greeted by what can only be described as a jumping/dancing waiter called Jack, full of energy and best of all saw we needed comfy seating. Leading us over to a sofa area, and sitting down you actually get the chance to look around, and for some reason, feel at home in the warm aura this restaurant brings.

www.crazyabouthome.com
http://www.crazyabouthome.com

I’m still now, trying to think of something I really can make a bad comment about with Muriel’s and so far I keep coming up blank. The service was incredibly lovely. Jack, the server was funny, polite and took all our orders promptly, and I’d like to point out without a notepad. Memory skills are always a good thing, especially when you remember the orders right. He was engaging, but without that oh-so-typical: “how’s the food,” that for some reason, lots of waiting staff seem to ask right as you put a piece of something in your mouth. The awkward question usually leading to an awkward thumbs up from me.

Plus, there are swinging seats.

www.murielskitchen.co.uk
http://www.murielskitchen.co.uk

Now I’m not all about the furnishings and quality of staff on this blog, I know that I need to get to food. Muriel’s Kitchen has a monthly chancing menu, which for the one on at the moment click here for.

So take a look.

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Pulled Pork Burger £11.95

This was my meal, and just looking at this picture is literally making me dribble. I could get on a train and go back to have this again, and again for possibly the rest of time. It was just scrumptious, the chips were perfectly cooked and came in a little flower pot which tickled me, almost senseless and the pork was, well as BBQ-ed as you’d ever need it. It was sticky goodness, and it came with extra sauce, which is something I always have to ask for, which is a bonus in my eyes. Less talking = more time eating. Although demolishing food has always been pretty easy for me, this meal was definitely filling. I ended up having to leave the buns because there was just so much meat. It was an outstanding burger.

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Chicken Skewers £7.99

Now this was my aunt’s food so I’m not technically sure how good it was, but the plate was clear and we were both pretty silent as we ate. Not silent in a bad way, but more the silence that fills the air when the food is too good and conversation just can’t compete. On a side note, the skewers this chicken came on is massive.

DESSERTS!

IMG_1460 IMG_1462 Yummy in my tummy.   This dessert was , so amazing. I was stuck between this Our Famous Carrot And Walnut Cake, £5.25 and some other dessert which now seems like ancient history in my mind. I’m so grateful that this is what Jack suggested because my goodness, this was a form of heaven. It was moist, it had flavour, the creamy bit on top and in the middle was just magically. And when I couldn’t fulfil my destiny in eating magnificent cake, that was just oh-so-big Jack kindly wrapped it up for me to munch right now. Honestly this cake is just wonderful, and I’m so happy I can still enjoy whilst I’m writing this post.

IMG_1464 IMG_1465 Smells good!

Di’s dessert was apparently also pretty fantastic. One moment looking and I saw this interesting looking pot containing Bread And Butter Pudding, £6, with a little side of custard that was surprisingly plenty for the dish, the next it was empty. I think I was lucky I insisted on taking a quick snap before it got gobbled. It did smell absolutely wonderful, mind.

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Everyone meet Jack! Am-dram aficionado, food interpreter, comfort bringer to the sofas, dancer, and Kylie Minogue fan. What more could you want! Oh, there’s me.

When I got home from this amazing dinner, I did a bit of research about Muriel’s Kitchen and it made me like it even more then I already did. When I read the story behind the restaurant I though it would be a really nice add to this blog, as it just so personal.

Muriel’s Kitchen is run by a husband and wife team, called Charlotte and Sam. Charlotte’s grandmother was called Muriel and according to the website: “she was not only a brave and wonderful woman but an absolutely fantastic cook.” ‘Nana Muriel’s’ Kitchen was the: “heart of her home,” and this it seems is what Charlotte wanted to bring to London. And indeed, you do feel at home in Muriel’s. The food is cooked from scratch by chefs everyday and wherever they can, they use local and ethically sourced produce; from veggies to eggs, fish to chicken everything is thought through before it hits out tables.

You can’t ask for anymore. In case you interested check out their lovely website.

Or their Twitter. Facebook. Instagram.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, Deborah Rodriguez – Review

IMG_8666Have you got your tissues ready ladies? If not, you are probably going to need them by the end of this deceivingly pretty covered novel. Or maybe I’m just soft. Either way The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is now on my list of favourite chick-lit books ever. A great thing about this book before you even begin it, is that there are no promises of spectacular-ness on the front or indeed on the back cover of this book except for the small and unassuming little praise, “As if Maeve Binchy had written The Kite Runner”. However I will freely admit I have no idea who Maeve Binchy is, and therefore it didn’t really strike a chord with me. (A Google session will occur in the next 15 minutes though so I can revel in my ignorance until then.)For me this was a winner, although I love to see what people think sometimes having more praise on the cover and having it almost outweigh the title of the book has always been a no for me, I’m not sorry.

As a debut novel Deborah Rodriquez handles herself beautifully. Beginning with the oh-so-famous and much loved quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Women are like tea bags; you never know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water,” it sums this book up ever so simply and without a doubt perfectly.

This book explores the five different but entwined lives of five strong-willed women in one of the harshest and most dangerous places on earth, Afghanistan and how they try and make the best of what they’ve got whilst encouraging each other on to live their lives.

Like a strand of DNA this women fit together.

Rodriquez really achieves something memorable in this book and that is the way she delicately handles such serious issues. Issues like child prostitution, the use of women and children as a form of collateral, abuse of women, traditional ways of life vs morality and of course the ever present idea of breeding terrorism. This collection of issues are so serious, you could spend an era discussing them individually and never find a clear cut path to the solution of how you stop them, but Rodriguez carefully and respectfully is able to mix the fear and seriousness of these issues with the lightheartedness that stops this book from becoming a depressing and altogether too-much-to-handle mess.

I’m always worried I’ll give too much away when I attempt to explain a plot like this one. This book is to me chick-lit but with one key difference, there is heartbreak that you won’t find in books like Sex And The City or Confessions Of A Shopaholic. It’s not necessarily about a man who breaks a woman’s heart although there is some of that, nor is it about the quite frankly ridiculous assertion that all women have a problem with shopping (I do have this problem), it’s not even solely about women cat-fighting. Instead it’s a mixture of everything that every chick-lit fan will love thrown into a heated and terrifying mixing pot with the recipe’s key ingredients being the issues that a country under turmoil such as Afghanistan has to face each and every day.

It’s about the fear that a country like Afghanistan can bring, but yet about the resilience that same country shows. Particularly, it has to be said this book embodies both the fear and resilience in two of its characters who seem to represent Afghanistan. One is Yazmina, a young girl brought up under the Taliban’s reign – widowed and secretly pregnant she is collateral for debts owed. Head down, fully covered she embodies the fear and submissiveness. Whereas Halajan, a sixty-year-old who has lived through Taliban reign, freedom and then the Taliban re-emerging embodies the resilience of Afghanistan. With her hair cut short and a secret miniskirt under her burqa she is the spirit of those who chose to fight back. Together these two women teach each other about what is perceived to be traditional versus the morality of actions. Both the teachers and both the students. They are Kabul.

This embodiment of what it is to be an Afghan woman in a country that is constantly changing and finds itself in the heart of a war is balanced by the appearance of the three Westerners. Two Americans and one Brit. Each of them holds a place in this novel so well. Sunny, the sturdy and emotional and sometimes over helpful Texan who owns and runs the little coffee shop explores the concept of life in Kabul. Her character seems so real which perhaps is because Rodriguez herself once owned and ran a coffee shop in Kabul before she had to flee. This link between author and character cannot be ignored. There is so much life to Sunny’s character and her strength is what really brings all these women together. Her like-ability and in some respects her naiveness at Kabul always being accepting of her is what maybe leads the book in the direction it takes. Sunny ‘s relationship with two handsome suitors is also a mass bonus in this book, especially for the chick-lit lovers that I know are out there.

Candace is almost Sunny’s counterpart when it comes to Americans. She’s wealthy, she’s loud and she’s just left her very rich husband for her Afghan lover, a strange and mysterious man named Wakil. Her job as a money raiser for his certain charities is what really catches you in this book, and Rodriguez does seem to be looking into what women would do to try and keep a man. Candace is a character who I struggled with, maybe because I feel as if I’ve known her type. However as the book evolves and more about Candace is revealed as well as her relationship with Wakil and the other women comes more to light you can’t help but like her.

For me though the stand-out character of this book was Isabel, described on the blurb as: “a determined journalist with a secret that might keep her from the biggest story of her life,” you can’t help but immediately be intrigued by her entrance. Isabel’s character, and perhaps I’ve read the book wrong really does end up bringing everybody together. Like a sort of glue she works this novel into its climax. Her secret which has to be discovered for yourself leads you to not only feel for the character of Isabel but also want to fight for her and her cause and in some respect leaves you feeling very protective of her.

This book as uplifting and wonderful as it is, is not all peaches and cream. Without realising it, Rodriguez brings the reader to a position where they have to decide what they believe and, more importantly it makes the reader question all their judgements. For a book that qualifies itself as a chick-lit, aimed more towards women then men book, I think it deserves praise just for this. So far I’ve never read a chick-lit book that can have me laughing on one page and questioning how I could have done so on the next.

This book though an easy read, is a hard story to forget.

You can purchase this book here:

Amazon  – £3.85

Waterstones

The Pronovias Dream

Can we all just take a minute to admire and love the entirety of Pronovias’ 2015 Dreams Collection. Wow, wow, wow. The spontaneity of the tulle dressing the gowns alongside the glorious look of the dresses just being weightless provides an instant glamour, sophisticated edge with a twist of fun. How? I don’t know but Pronovias have outdone themselves. These dresses are insanely beautiful and would be pure perfection for any bride that wants that bit of an edge on their day.

With 11 dresses making up this breathtaking collection a bride would surely love to glide down, slide down(?), dance down (?) or (fill in the blank) down the aisle to her future husband or wife dressed like this. I’m going to focus on three of these dresses and narrowing down my top three was a nightmare. Each of the collection has it’s own beauty and style but I’m far too lazy to address and write something about each of them, and if we’re all honest my opinion being a non-bride/non-bride-to-be doesn’t really matter (although in my head it does). Therefore you’ll have to indulge me for just three of them.

However I’m not leaving you totally in the dark, for the entire Dreams Collection not to mention Pronovias’ Elie by Elie Saab, the Atelier Collection and the other Pronovias dresses (where you can find the dreams collection) click on their respective names….

Sourced: http://www.wir-sagen-ja.com

Style: Mildred

First up is this gorgeous dress, although potentially named after a character in The Worst Witch or after somebody’s grandma this dress is by no means a childish ghoul or ageing granny. It is quite simply put a masterpiece. With a simple but effective sweetheart neckline, and a lengthened bodice wrapped around with ruched tulle it would hug a bride’s figure and give her a slender and elegant curve. If you are lacking in the curve department, never fear a detailed belt would clinch in your waist and bring out the curves that you think you don’t have but are there, I promise. As you leave it’s fit and head down to it’s flared skirt you get the essence of walking on clouds. A tulle skirt gives this dress it’s weightless quality and will give you wherever you walk a sense of gliding or drifting in mid-air. With the little expertise that I do not hold, but rather from observation this is definitely a more gentle fit and flare than some dresses, because (let me explain) the flare begins half-way up the thigh allowing more dress to gentle make a flared shape.

Sourced: http://www.wir-sagen-ja.com

Style: Milenka

Yes, yes, yes a wedding dress with STRAPS! I don’t know why but I feel as if there are not enough of these lovely dresses. Delicate straps followed by an equally delicate bodice that is covered and I mean covered in beautiful gemstone embroidery. With its flower power design comes forward with the appliqués which are lovingly placed at symmetrically balanced positions giving this dress a wonderful sense of a fun loving bride. Flirty, fun and full of festivity this dress is truly magnificent for a special day  – particularly one that would allow it to tie it’s floaty flower elements to an outdoor place in bloom. The mermaid tulle skirt seems slightly more harsh than the Mildred style dress but would make an increasingly beautiful way to appearing taller and is it wrong to say more regal. The real majestic quality of this dress truly comes from the design’s ability to be ferociously fun. Does that even make sense? An oxymoron if I ever saw one!

Sourced: images.pronovias.com

Style: Leina

Well the last in my top three is here because it is truly a mixture of everything. With a more ‘princess-esque’ style in general this dress has a little bit for everyone. The sweetheart neckline itself is covered in feathers, which is a really effective design element in making your dress stand out from the crowd. Although obviously at your wedding, generally you will be the only person wearing a dress of this magnitude. Don’t let your mother turn up in it – mine would. Following this on with its tightly pleated tulle bodice with a gem ribbed (or the more technical word grosgrain) belt and this dress extends the torso not in a swan-like manner. The dress will hold you in all the right places and keep your spine and core engaged helping your posture throughout your day. But beware! Short brides – the thickness of the two pleated tulle with the separating ribbon could cause the exact opposite on you and potentially with the sheer volume of tulle in the skirt you could disappear entirely in this dress.