Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My 2009

There remains but only a few days of this year. I have spent the past few days reflecting on the year behind me, and what a year it has been! Every year I try to create some sort of summary of the year behind me, putting everything in perspective, in the correct compartment in my head, ready for whatever is to come! Well...this year I have more to report than ever before; it has been a year of changes, mostly good, and I am leaving the year in almost the opposite frame of mind to how I entered it.

So, please allow me to indulge as I head back over the past 12 months and pick out the most important parts!

What happened in 2009?

- I fell in love

The unfolding of our relationship was the most exciting, romantic and passionate thing I have ever known, and our growing together is the warmest, most magical and most revealing thing I have ever known. I am excited for what is to come in 2010, for more adventures and more normal things becoming not normal when they are shared with someone else. This thing that I thought only existed in stories does actually happen in real life. If I had always known that, things would have been very different in the past, and I'm so glad I didn't know it!

- I graduated

After four years of hard studying, a lot of fun, late nights, early mornings, getting fat, getting thin, living abroad, not leaving the house for days, making friends, arguing, writing and writing, reading and reading, talking French in my sleep...finally, I graduated with a 2:1 as Catherine BA (hons) in French and German (Language and Linguistics). Graduation itself was such a lovely lovely day, maybe the most special day I have ever had, and, despite the bitterness of not quite getting that first that I so wanted, I felt incredibly proud of myself. Still, my student days didn't end there, as I now struggle through the first half of my MA. I wasn't done with learning then, and I'm not quite done now. Nearly.

- I had my hair cut off

From this

To this*

I always wanted to, and finally I had the courage to go for it. To anyone else thinking of doing something outrageous with a view to feeling new, liberated, whatever; I say go for it! I loved my hair long, but it will grow back, and I currently love it short. I can't loose :-)

- I walked to the Lake District

"Aaaah 86 miles is nothing" I thought. Man, I was wrong. Genuinely, this was the only time ever in my life that I have doubted myself. At one point, by the M6 as we were crossing over into Cumbria, I actually thought I couldn't do it. This was scary. Really terrifying. But I did do it, proving that even the things that seem impossible can be done. Daniel kept saying it, and I agree; 20% physical strength, 80% mental strength (the ratio kept changing as we moved along the route...). If the mind is strong enough, the body will follow. The biggest achievement of my life; bigger than A levels and degree all in one, bigger (just) than music exams.

I really learned a lot this year, both about myself and about things in general. Probably my eyes were opened widest on Christmas Day, when I saw exactly how strong it is possible for people to be. My family have achieved something incredible this year; I was lucky enough to not be in the middle of such a difficult time, I was only an onlooker, trying my best to do what I could from afar. But they, unable to escape the worst of life's offerings, pulled together and stayed upright and didn't moan or complain or give in. If they cried, they did it when no one else was looking. They make me see how I complain too much sometimes. It isn't necessary to wear troubles on your sleeve.

I leave 2009 massively in love, immersed in academia, and with exciting plans for the future. I have some idea of what I want from my career, a proper direction to follow. I'm also quite afraid of what is ahead; I am no longer complacent about what I have, maybe too aware that the things we love can dissappear all too quickly. The only thing to do about that is to celebrate the moment and the people in it.

I haven't made any resolutions; really I just want to stay healthy, climb some mountains, enjoy my MA, spend time with friends, run a half marathon. And finish knitting my scarf and reading my book! If I haven't done these last two things by this time next year then I promise to give them both up as a bad job ;-)

*Woah I look like my Dad in this photo!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas at Home

As I had already predicted, it has not been the easiest of Christmasses. I have been bogged down with assignments, carrying the stress of them with me at all times. There has also been some sort of gloomy relief hanging over my family, as it has been a difficult year for everyone, where at times the idea of celebrating Christmas didn't seem likely. But we are here, celebrating, eating, laughing together. As wonderful as that is (and none of us wanted anything more come Christmas Day), it left some unnerving sense of general uncertainty, for everyone. Who knows what 2010 will bring? Probably best not to know.

Anyway, on to more positive, festive thoughts!

We had some real cause for celebration, and celebrate we did!

My Auntie iced us a gorgeous Christmas cake...

On Christmas Eve I created Monique, the festively fabulous snow lady. She has lost some weight since this photo was taken, and is now looking quite sunken. The joy of being so fabulous is shortlived, when you are under so much pressure.

In the evening we visited some family friends for the annual Christmas shindig. This involves a lot of laughing, singing, eating, and mostly drinking, to secure a nasty headache for Christmas morning.

Then, Christmas Day came, awoken, of course, with a banging head. The odd thing about Christmas at home these days is that my parents get up first! They are not woken up at some nasty time with us jumping on the bed. In fact, I had to wake my grumpy brother up at 9:30 - probably a record! We had a tasty breakfast of berries, yoghurt and homemade bread, and then hit the presents. I am spoiled every single year, no matter how much I try to convince my parents that I am too old for so many things! However, the nature of my gifts has become rather grown up:

Thermal vest and long johns for chilly adventuring
A block of knives
A hand blender
A book on how to knit
Yoghurt coated gooseberries
Sparkly wine
2 BAGS of chocolate pennies (Father Christmas brings us some every year, but I've never had 2 bags before!)

Later on, my auntie and uncle and cousins came over for dinner. I think I was eating for 6 hours solidly. We discussed drugs and feminism and illness and health, my hate of Jeremy Clarkson, atheism, and alsorts of relevant festive issues.

Later, we delved in to the Christmas Cheese Box; a box of wierd and wonderful cheeses ordered for us by my Canadian auntie every year. Teamed with oatcakes, honey and port, it is one of my favourite parts of the season! Naturally, the night's sleep to follow is always interesting.

On Boxing Day we go for an annual family adventure. This is ALWAYS an ordeal; known to leave us hanging from cliffs by our finger nails, climbing up waterfalls, you name it. Action Dad knows no limits! This year my brother chose the route; something flat to match my Mum's hip troubles. It would have been an easy 12 mile jaunt, no real hills, decent paths, nice scenery.


We were trudging through knee-deep snow, unable to see 3 metres ahead of us, for 12 miles. This causes some aches the following day, I can assure you. It was cold. I was soaking wet and starving. Marmalade sandwiches helped, but it was too cold to stop and eat. Arguments, tears, numb toes - all part of the fun!

Anyway, one of the main reasons that we do these things: the comfort to follow. French cinnamon hot chocolate, broccoli soup, jacket potatoes and a film by the fire; we forgot the trials behind us and squished up in comfort.

As far as Christmases go, it certainly wasn't a bad one!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Come Early

Owing to our homes being at opposite ends of the country, Daniel and I celebrated our own Christmas Day on Sunday, here in York, before we go our seperate North/Southbound ways today/tomorrow. It was my dream Christmas, the one that never actually materializes at home with my family! There was no TV, no one fell asleep (though we both came close), we played board games and our conversation and manners were quite acceptable during our feast! A much-needed fresh take on Christmas!

What a feast we prepared! Maybe the most well-timed big meal known to any kitchen anywhere!

This involved:

- My special cranberry nut roast
- Honey roast parsnips
- Roast potatoes
- Mustard mashed potato
- Fried leeks
- Carrots and broccolli
- Gravy
- Cranberry sauce
- Stuffing

We shook down the first course with a delighted mini rave after the announcement of the Christmas number one - awesome!!

And then Christmas pud and custard, to ensure great discomfort for the rest of the evening.

Of course, there were presents!

Here is my collection of treats!

We got eachother the same card - oops!

We rounded off the afternoon lethargically with board games accompanied by chocolates and tea. A perfect Christmas Day - if the next one is half as good, it will make for a lot of fun. I can't wait to get home and see my family now, where it is warm and I don't need to leave my dressing gown all day if I so choose!

Have a lovely time everyone!!

Saturday, 19 December 2009


It's cold outside!

I love waking up to this...

Shortly followed by this...

My first real snowball fight, I think!

And what better excuse for a festive afternoon tea?

There is nothing better than coming in from the cold on a wintery night!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Simple Pleasures

It has been a long time since my last update! I have been busy busy busy, working on assignments and such things, and the time is flying past! Christmas will come and go in no time, I am sure, and we will be standing there, in the year 2010, with a whole new year ahead of us, and yet another year behind us. It always suprises me how soon Christmas comes around again; each year I am aware when it suddenly pops up as if from nowhere, reminding me that slowly I am getting older and wiser, and one day soon I might feel like a grown up.

Something that always worries me about "getting old" is that I might stop admiring the world the way I like to do now, and that my eyes will change, and the world might appear a little duller, a little less exciting, and not as fresh as it does today. This sentiment stems from real people I know, many many many of them, who just don't notice how wonderful the most simple things can be. My Mum looks at me in bemusement when I show her a photo I took of the inside of a vegetable. I hope joy brought on by vegetables' innards never fades!

And so, some simple things that I love...

- Running

Yesterday I went for an early run, while the moon was still up. Most of the world was still, cold, frosty. In the hour that I was out, I witnessed the world waking up, heading to work or school, walking the dog, buying the newspaper. And then of course, returning, showering, indulging in a warm bowl of porridge and a huge mug of tea.

- This city where I live

I fall in love with York at least once a week. The more I know it, the more I love it. It's not so far from where I've been forever, but I'm happy here and not restless. The quiet of the ancient buildings and the hurried city centre. Then all the secret corners unknown to tourists, the little escapes and all the room for adventure!

- Mugs of different colours and shapes

And tea pots, too! I love a good mug! Enough said! (And the stuff you put in them, too, of course!)

- Untouched space

The countryside, when untouched both physically and by sound, produces something in me that I can't get any other way. That moment on a long walk when you can see and hear nothing of mankind is to me the most precious thing on earth. Mmm I love a country walk - preferably with a great picnic and muddy boots!

And when I get home...

- Soup

Every Sunday I make a soup. I am a creature of habit. And I love my habit of chopping and stirring and adding exciting herbs or spices. I love the comfort and warmth that a bowl of soup brings, and the vibrant colours and smells and tastes. After a family walk, we always have soup for tea. Yum yum yum!

The best thing about "simple pleasures" is that, generally, they are shared by everyone. At heart we're all the same, and we all love the same little parts of life, which too often go unmentioned. And I am striving to never stop noticing the colours of the trees in the park, because once that goes it's probably a slippery slope down to life in black and white. Great for old romantic films, but not for every day.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Christmas Giveaways!

Just a quick post to show you these lovely hand-crafted ornaments from The Magical Bean!

I only discovered this blog last week from the Dorset Cereals Little Blog Awards! I would love one of these candy canes to hang on my tree next to my felt decorations! On that note: tonight's plan is Delia's Chritstmas and some crafting - perfect Sunday evening in :-)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Christmas Wishes

All I want for Christmas this year...

- Enough time to finish my book (and maybe start a new one too!)
- Enough energy to train for the York half-marathon
- Opportunities to catch up with family and friends (especially those who are on a flying visit back from Germany!)
- Enough enthusiasm, dedication and concentration to write a great assignment!
- An adventure into the wild
- Some new socks

I've not had the best time over the past few days - things have been getting to me too much! Now it is time to leave that there where it was - there is some celebrating to be done...

But more on that later :-)

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Mooching in Malton

Yesterday, when the rest of the world descended upon York for the St Nicholas Fair, Daniel and I escaped by train to the market town of Malton. What an exciting little town it is! We perused the market and bought cake and vegetables, and I went weak at the knees for some adorable guinea pigs and their funky fringes in the big local pet shop. Malton is incredibly old fashioned in its ways - there was a town crier, a livestock market, and an admirable recognition of the fact that meat is actually dead animal - displayed in a rather morbid fashion outside the butcher's:

Like York, Malton has its own Shambles, and it is lined with exciting and unusual shops. Piles of jumble everywhere, from floor to ceiling in every shop!

Of course, we couldn't resist buying a selection of books from Britain's smallest bookshop! It may be small, but it had a great selection; I need buy no more books until next year! (Of course, I probably will, anyhow)

We stopped for tea and muffin/pork pie nourishment in a prize-winning local deli, before heading off on a walking tour of the area. We came across 12th Century churches, Thai pubs housing ancient crypts which we weren't allowed to visit, breweries which didn't brew beer, muddy fields with mosaics, and much more. It was cold cold cold, and we walked for a good few miles, hands biting and visible breath. The visit ended with hot white chocolate/ale in a local establishment before we headed home. I am enjoying our new visiting places hobby - there are many more locations on the list, too!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Let the festivities begin!

I've just spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the christmas markets at the St. Nicholas Fair (who would think I was in the midst of MA overwhelm-ment?!). I refuse to spend my Saturday, my only free day in the week, pushing through bustling crowds of people - at best I am rather misanthropic, but at worst...well...I wouldn't like to think what I might be capable of! So, Friday afternoon it is; though there were still hoards of people pushing, shoving, fighting to get the free cheese samples! All part of the spirit, one could say!

The St Nicholas Fair is the busiest weekend in York's calendar, and rightly so! It seems that all of the best parts of our yearly market stalls gather, with added festivities, costume and plenty of samples! The first stall was selling lovely christmas liqueurs, and I was very nearly £20 down in the first 10 minutes after a sip of some local port! We continued to mooch, anyway, and being the foodies that we are, spent plenty of time admiring the breads, cheeses and fudge. The pork pie stall was omitting such heavenly aromas - not quite heavenly enough to turn my vegetarian tummy meat-wards, but I did have a slight wave of regret towards my moral choices! And I couldn't help being excited about the meringue mountain at the curious breads stall!

All in all, it was a productive peruse of some lovely products. I only bought two gifts, one of which was for myself, but I did pick up some inspiration for some crafty ideas - never a market visit wasted!

I have been searching for a while now for a milk jug, as I hate having the milk bottle on the table next to my teapot. Well, I found a lovely one - not only is it perfect in size, but it is also greeeeen!!

It will sit quite happily by my teapot - and I see it as an investment in my degree; assignments and reading need no longer be interrupted to boil the kettle!

We finished our trip with hot chocolate and some sit-down time to talk properly. Such a lovely few hours; I haven't been mooching in town, or even had a real hot chocolate stop, in way too long.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Chez les Cavendish

Finally I have a spare minute (or rather, a need for some procrastination) and I am able to write about the second and most exciting installment of my weekend antics!

Since summer my Mum had been planning on having a day trip down to Derbyshire, for the Chatsworth Christmas Fayre; she went to the Autumn Fair and brought back many lovely treats and tales of sumptuous grandeur, and so I could not resist inviting myself to her christmassy market bonanza!

Typically, on the one day we had 2 hours of driving ahead and a hours to spend out in the open, the weather was horrendous. But weather-resistance is a main requirement for being British, I suppose. The drive was rather frustrating; communication between pilot and co-pilot broke down for a while, to say the least. When we finally left the motorway for the Peak District, I was all fluttery inside - I've recently watched the film The Duchess, and highly recommend it (even if, like me, you can't bear Kiera Kniteley's excessive pouting), and as the lanscape started rolling upwards, I expected to see her house nestled in the hills around the next corner. It's a really lovely part of the country, and I'd love to go back soon to explore the Peaks! Finally, we pulled into the drive. Wow. Even though half the place was covered in scaffolding, the scale of the house and its grandeur was incredible! From the gardens behind, a giant flume of water was gushing upwards, blown at an angle by the wind.

We headed for the markets, and instantly spent £3.50 on a bag of exciting fudge - get the important things done first, I say! The stalls were selling alsorts, from lovely wooden ducks to pidgeon pies, and I bought a selection of organic soaps set out in an egg-box for a christmas gift.

We decided to miss out a tour of the house and have extra time in the gardens, as they are immense, with more to see than we had time for. The landscaping was done by Capability Brown in the 18th Century, I am told, which is something not to be missed (though, actually, I think we missed that bit...)!

The gardens really were wonderful, and we were able to carry on the 'sculptures' theme of the previous day, as a sculpture sale was taking place, and many lovely (and not-so-lovely) works were scattered around the land. In the misty afternoon everything felt so fresh - my favourite part was the woodland, where the trees towered towards the Peak District and the ground was damp and wintery. We spent a lot of time admiring the Cascade Fountain too, which is designed so that each step makes a different sound as the water gushes over it.

A really lovely day - one that I wish I could nip back to now, and escape the huge pile of work looming ahead. So, I must dash and get on with things, especially since I am being wined and dined this evening :-)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sculptures on a Friday

Using a much-needed dentist appointment as my excuse, I spent yet another weekend at my parent's house, which in fact turned out to be one of the nicest home-visits I've had in a long time.

With the freedom of a car, on Friday we headed over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Set in Bretton Country Park, this is a lovely place to while away an autumn day, wandering amongst work by some of the biggest names in sculpting, with a suprisingly beautiful backdrop of the West Yorkshire countryside. It felt quite naughty to spend a weekday doing something that slow and unnecessary, and I needed half an hour to really relax and accept that study could wait. But the weather was perfect; a mix of bright sun, blustering winds and spattering rain, which created exciting light and shadow effects on the sculptures.

There is a lot of work by Henry Moore at the park, and I was especially excited to see a sculpture by Anthony Gormley, which was incredibly eerie looking over us from high up on a tree stump. I can't say that sculpture is something that really moves me; it takes something really special for me to really appreciate it, but One and Other does just that, it was captivating!

And of course, time was taken to reflect on the artwork in the café. Yorkshire parkin - yummm!

I will update on Saturday's activities at a later date! Night night :-)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Rhodie Bashing

Yesterday I spent the morning cutting down rhododendron plants (or 'Rhodie bashing', as it is known by those in conservation circles) in Hagg Wood, a gorgeous woodland just outside of York. I went along with the University Conservation Volunteers group, and we met Friends of Hagg Wood and people from the British Conservation Society in the woodland, who were leading the morning's hacking and chopping.

The wood was absolutely beautiful - a real magical woodland space, just how Enid Blyton would like it. In May bluebells grow there by the gazillion, but in November everything is brown and shadowy, with long silver birches holding up the canopy.

The air was bitingly cold, and it was wonderful to get wrapped-up warm and be out in it, chopping and dragging and pulling and hacking. I have lots of tiny scratches all over my fingers where brambles scratched through my gloves, and we were all covered in moss and leaves and branches. There were so many great people there, all getting wholly involved in destroying this incredible plant before it took over the whole space.

You can see a 'before' shot of the plant in this photo, lurking behind the silver birches.

We stopped for a picnic after two hours. People had made cakes and there was tea, coffee and hot chocolate in flasks. Everyone was so cheerful and keento hear about the University and our studies.

There was 5 or 6 different cakes to choose from! Mostly homemade too!

When we stepped back to look at our morning's work at the end of the meeting, it was amazing to see how much we'd cleared! There were huge piled of chopped-up plant, waiting to be burned away at a bonfire party in two weeks.

And an 'after' shot, with the piles of plants ready for burning!

Needless to say, we were tired out and achey! We felt we'd earned a lazy afternoon and a tasty tea, so we went home to sit around on sofas, all wrapped up in blankets. For tea we made spiced winter vegetable stew; my most favourite wintery meal making it's premier for the year. Then we sat down with stewed apples and homemade custard to watch La Haine. I can finally say that I have found my favourite film scene ever, and much ado was made about winding it back to watch it again (which inevitably lead to circles of the "too-far back, too-far forward" scenario typical of any such re-winding). The scene I am talking about, in case you know the film, starts with the DJ in the Cypress Hill shirt, when the camera zooms out through the window onto the skyline of suburban Paris, and the hip-hop music intertwines with Je ne regrette rien by Edith Piaf. I thought the film was brilliant, and not as violent as I had feared it would be. Daniel disagreed. I had already noticed that reactions to it are very mixed.

Today I work. Tonight I work. My eyes are heavy with the screen, my brain is full of french transcriptions and IPA symbols. I need tea and bed!