Homemaker Happenings ... No. 003

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Hello and Happy New Year! Oh January, you are hard. It’s cold and bleak, the month seems to last foreverrrrrr. I’m assuming that you’re probably looking forward to some sunshine by now too?

It was a quiet Christmas for us by all accounts, however the run up to it couldn’t have been busier! Upon reflection I’m really happy with how the season turned out for us. My close friends and I had been talking quite deeply just before Christmas about the common stresses of it all, and there was a conversation whereby I recalled how I have a really distinct memory of a certain Christmas in 1994 where I felt really content and festive.

Some Christmasses can feel somewhat “lacking” and hold a lot of pressure, particularly as you get older - from both internal and external sources. It’s not always “happy holidays” and admittedly, not exactly my favourite time of year, so I tried to remember what I could in order to de-Grinch.

All I can remember getting is a hot water bottle with a cover shaped like a sheep (from my Aunt), and watching Snow White on VHS. My little brother was a year old, and the warmth and feeling of family togetherness in my Grandparent’s home, and the light, oh that “hygge” light that only Danes can do so well, stands out to me above all else. It glows so warm in my mind. A magical Christmas. Not the things, but the feeling.

I’m obviously quite aware that I was a child, but there was something about that Christmas just evokes a feeling of quiet contentment that I wanted to harness for our own small family - there was a distinct lack of social media over that period which felt refreshing. We certainly didn’t have that in 1994! One of my very favourite books pulled my focus toward a simpler Christmas too, one that a younger me would have dreamed of.

I still took plenty of pictures, and would love to share what we got up to, for as much as this is a lifestyle blog, it’s also my diary of sorts too…

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Ellenborough Park Afternoon Tea

As mentioned in my last post, my Blenheim Circle sisters descended from all corners of England to Gloucestershire to come and celebrate my birthday with an afternoon tea at Ellenborough Park. The day started with a light lunch at my house, and an exchange of Christmas gifts. I put little gifts together with a few things I found at Home Sense - clip-top glass jars, filled with Savon de Marseille soap flakes, topped with a cotton crochet cloth, and the most delicious smelling hand soap. I was really quite proud of them as they turned out prettier than expected, and everything is either practical, or re-useable.
homemade_christmas_gift_homemaker_idea.jpgEach colour corresponded to a friend. Mint Green for Sian, Light Pink for Katrina, and Cerise for Lydia. The cloths came as a pack of four, and I was glad to keep the beige one for myself… we had a giggle about that, as I’m quite partial to a “neutral”.
best_vintage_friends.jpgMy husband called while we had lunch to say that there was a big vintage and antiques fair on in Cheltenham, so we scrapped our original idea of heading to Winchcombe, and popped into town. I was very happy to see a vintage clothes airer that had been on my wish list for a long time… even better that it had the perfect chippy green paint.
cheltenham_vintage_antiques_fair.jpgThen to Ellenborough Park for afternoon tea. The setting has to be seen to be believed. It felt like we were in a gorgeous medieval banquet hall. A huge open stone fireplace, incredible portraits of Lords and Ladies of old, and a rather decadent afternoon tea.ellenborough_park_cheltenham_afternoon_tea.jpgAs always, the day ended too soon and we had to say our goodbyes.Ellenborough_Park_Afternoon_Tea.JPG---

A birthday trip to Harrogate and Betty’s Festive Afternoon Tea

Didn’t I mention? This is an afternoon tea blog now…

My husband and I like to have a winter getaway in November for my birthday, and have been itching to visit Harrogate for ages. We have quite a lot of TV programmes here in the UK showcasing Yorkshire (God’s own country as they call it up there), and Harrogate is always a suggested place to go. We stayed at The Majestic (historic, gorgeous, grand), which was a lovely hotel, and a two minute walk into town. We spent a morning in the spa, but I did NOT appreciate the “ice bath” haha! Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip without a visit to Betty’s. If I’m honest, this is the only reason I wanted to go!
bettys_afternoon_tea_review.jpgBetty’s is a bit of an institution when it comes to traditional afternoon teas, and we had a table booked for the Festive Afternoon Tea in the Imperial Room. The tea (and Prosecco), the cakes and sandwiches, all enjoyed while listening to a live pianist was absolutely lovely, but the uniforms worn by the staff really stole the show!betty_afternoon_tea_review_harrogate.jpgimperial_room_bettys.jpgThe Imperial Room at Betty'sbettys_harrogate_afternoon_tea.jpgI wish I had had more time to thoroughly explore the shop downstairs, but it was so very busy (it can be a bit of a tourist trap). If I ever get the chance to visit again I might pop in first thing in the morning in the hopes that it is a bit quieter.betty_christmas_window_harrogate.jpgHowever I’m happy to report that I managed to purchase my Mum’s Christmas gift from Betty’s this year. Her favourite - marzipan fruits! It’s “our thing”.  For as long as I can remember, I have bought her a box of marzipan fruits for Christmas. I love little traditions like that, ones that make up your family story.
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December in Paris, Diana, and Dior

A month later I found myself up in the air, drinking vin blanc to alleviate my fear of flying as we headed over the Channel to Paris. They say opposites attract, and that’s true of Mr & Mrs Darling. I am a homebody, and he is an intrepid explorer… Lockdown really did a number on his plans for travel, and as such we had to make up for it. We booked a long weekend in Paris, staying in Madeleine - and I needn’t have worried about the richness of French food because oh my, did we walk for miles!

The personal highlights (aside from obviously spending a glorious weekend dating my spouse), were as follows…

A visit to Ladurée, oh this is such a pretty pretty place.laduree_paris.jpgMr Darling and I have both worked in the design/branding industry for most of our careers, and I just adore taking a peek into shops that execute their brand so well! Especially heritage brands… Betty’s, Ladurée, and the best of the best…

Christian Dior!

The flagship store at 30 Ave. Montaigne was dressed up in her finery for Christmas, and while we only went in to look at this amazing place that has been here since 1946, a dream came true on that magical day. We purchased something that had been on my wish list for many, many years.dior_christmas_paris_flagship.jpgI have toyed with whether I should share this or not, because there is a fine line between sharing and showing off, but then also, it’s such a stand-out purchase it’s really hard to hide, and frankly, I don’t want to hide it! It’s too pretty for that.

My friend Andrea gave me a word of encouragement the other day that “we shouldn’t hide our joy if it’s not harming anyone”...and as such, may I present to you, my “Lady Di(or)” (in taupe no less, I told you like neutrals).lady_dior_taupe.jpgPaco, our friendly Sales Assistant. He could see neutrals were my thing.
Oh that flushed look on my face! I was so excited I felt tipsy. My head in a spin trying to savour every second of the experience. I kept looking at Mr Darling for confirmation that yes, indeed, this was really happening! He beamed too as it was such a happy moment for both of us. Like a rite of passage in a way - seeing a dream realised. As a child he dreamed of owning a certain car, which he now does, and for me, it was this very “grown up elegant lady bag that the Princess of Wales has”. Poignant to have bought it in Paris, with its connection to Diana. It has a story now, this bag. One I’ll (hopefully) tell my Granddaughter one day when I pass it down to her.

There - it’s out in the open. Gulp! I am the happy and very proud owner of a Lady Dior.

Unless you have a passion for handbags and their design history you might look at it from a different point of view, and I won’t type out justifications for investing in it because I don’t owe them to anyone, but please know this…

To buy this bag, in Paris, at the Dior flagship store, on a romantic getaway with my husband - and then later take a (sad but meaningful) Diana pilgrimage is an experience I will hold in my heart forever. It’s not something that will ever be repeated (unless we win the lottery, in which case the red is lovely). I talk about the importance of buying quality over quantity in the Fashion & Style section of English Etiquette, but the words from a well known British designer say it better…

Buy less, choose well, make it last. Dame Vivienne Westwood

It was my own “Mrs Harris Goes to Paris” moment, and ahhhh, I still get tingles thinking about it. Enjoying a glass of Champagne in the Dior Winter Gardens to celebrate was the icing on the French macaron.winter_gardens_dior_paris.jpgParis in December was a glorious experience, we had a very romantic meal at Brasserie Mollard (French Onion soup and Steak Frites for him, Fish Soup and Canard ~duck~ for her), and of course stopped by to visit a few landmarks along the way.mollard_restaurant_paris.jpgBrasserie Mollard est.1867Paris_in_december.jpg---

Snow Days, Christmas and a quiet but Happy New Year

We came back to our lovely cosy home, and settled into the usual Christmas preparations. Mince Pies were made, the tree was dressed in her usual (patriotic/royal) regalia, and I spent a few mindful days making a garland, and gifts for the neighbours.british_royal_christmas_tree.jpgFavourite decorations collected from various Palaces & Castleschristmas_garland_vintage_homne.jpgOur fresh garland (which took hours)homemade_gift_ideas_for_neighbours.jpgJars of homemade Peppermint Creams & Fudge

The day itself was focussed on family, and while my husband and I don’t exchange gifts at Christmas it was lovely to see Arlo enjoying his. He got a scooter which he hopes to ride to school once the weather warms up. We had a surprise blanket of snow before we left for Paris, and it threatens to envelop us again next week.

I shall sign off now, as the stove beckons me to make something warming for the family on this cold January day. I hope you’re having a nice month so far and I’ll write again soon.

With love from my home to yours,
Alena xxx

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