Tuscan adventures and new beginnings

I realise that it has been quite a while since my last post, for which I have the (fairly reasonable?) excuse of a wedding and honeymoon. Twelve months almost to the day that we got engaged, R and I tied the knot in Tuscany last month, surrounded by our closest friends and family, on what was genuinely the happiest and most fantastically fun day of my life.

img_6216From swimming laps with my bridesmaids before breakfast and racing across the pool on inflatable pizza slices with my pals (I had to burn off the nervous energy somehow!), to exchanging our vows in a beautiful hill-top town hall and dancing the night away in a Tuscan castle, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day.

img_6349

I can’t tell you how grateful we both felt to have so many of our wonderful friends and family members fly out to Italy to share the day with us. While I have always acknowledged how amazing the people in our lives are, having them all there together – and seeing new friendships form between our respective friends and relatives – filled me with so much happiness and gratitude; I really do feel so amazingly privileged that we are able to share our lives with such incredible people.

img_6248

After the wedding – and following a few days de-compressing with our families – R and I spent two weeks travelling around Italy. It’s amazing how taking a step out of your everyday routine really shifts your perception and allows you the time and headspace to reflect on where you are in your life, and to appreciate all that you have. It was so wonderful taking time to talk about everything and nothing – discussing our life plans, politics, art, our future together and our career goals – rather than simply worrying about what meetings or deadlines we had coming up at work or who was cooking dinner that evening (the usual topics of conversation in our everyday lives!).

Our lifestyle took on a whole different pattern too: we were getting plenty of sleep, spending all of our waking hours outside, walking, cycling and swimming – in the sea, in pools and in lakes – dining out on good food and eating when we were hungry, rather than when we were bored or tired. We read book after book, appreciated amazing art works  and architecture and took the time to pause and notice the little things in the world around us.

IMG_6454.JPG

And after what felt like a terribly indulgent couple of weeks I returned to the UK feeling healthier and better than I have done for a long while.

As you can imagine, coming back to London has been quite the fall back to earth, and despite an active holiday, rising early for my pre-work yoga and getting back into my running routine has taken a bit of a push. No matter how much you love it, London life is not serene by any stretch of the imagination and it is amazing how exhausting just commuting while surrounded by hundreds of people can be!

While we are falling back into many elements of our pre-wedding day-to-day routine, there are some habits from the holiday that I’m trying to maintain and some feelings that were stirred up from the trip that I don’t want to let go.

Post-wedding I’m taking the time to pay attention to the little things in the world around me – the way the light passes through the clouds, the autumnal freshness to the air, the changing colour of the leaves, the shapes and colours of the city, the little alleyways and interesting architectural features high-up on buildings that are so easily missed.

IMG_7150.JPG

I’ve continued to read fervently, burying my head in a book on my commute and in little cafes during those lunch breaks when I don’t go running.

Having allowed myself to eat freely and mindfully during the honeymoon – enjoying good and nutritious food, including a lot of bread and pasta (something I would have considered sacrilege pre-wedding!) and resultantly eating to satiety rather than over-eating – I’ve adjusted my eating habits since I’ve returned home. I’ve taken to eating slightly more at breakfast, as we did on our honeymoon, and to keeping an afternoon snack on hand to stop me from getting over-hungry come 7pm and devouring too much at dinner.

Finally having had the time for my mind to wander and whirr, to be filled with history and art, political ideas and literature, I’m looking at opportunities for further study. Be it via an ever increasing reading list that I’m creating for myself, evenings in the British Library or lengthy conversations with my academic friends, I’m starting, once again, to feed that little intellectual sprite that sits on my shoulder and makes noises about a PhD.

img_7023

So as one chapter of my life has come to an end, and as I ride out the inevitable dip that comes post-wedding-and-wonderful-honeymoon, a whole new and exciting chapter is beginning, and I’m embarking on it as a Mrs with the best man in the world at my side.

More soon.

img_6331

Pretty Honest

With the exception of the addition of an eyebrow pencil about 18 months ago and the occasional change to my mascara brand, I have to admit that my make-up routine has remained largely unchanged for the past 10 years. This is not because I’ve found the perfect combination of products, which make my skin glow with a ‘natural’ radiance, but rather because the world of make-up slightly terrifies me and a combination of choice paralysis and utter lack of knowledge in the beauty realm mean that I keep reverting to the same old familiar brands.

As my skin has changed over the years I have been promising myself that I’ll invest in some new products and learn more about make-up application, and with the proliferation of beauty vlogs and YouTube tutorials there really isn’t an excuse for not following up on this pledge. However, for one reason or another I have continued to drag my feet on the matter, or at least that was the case, until my recent trip to Italy and the absolute disaster that was the trial for my wedding makeup.

Planning a wedding abroad has its pros and cons. On the plus side it provides the perfect excuse to employ a wedding planner who adeptly deals with all of the stress of finding and fielding suppliers (an indulgence we would not even have considered had we decided to get married in the UK), on the downside there is of course a language and cultural divide that makes conveying a vision of what you want slightly more tricky. Pinterest has been my saviour in communicating the aesthetic for the venue, flowers, table decorations etc., but when it came to my make-up this was a little harder.

At the heart of the problem is my total lack of knowledge or direction in what I want from my wedding make-up – ‘just me but kind of better’ is apparently insufficient guidance, especially for an Italian make-up artist who doesn’t actually know what ‘just me’ consists of. Combined with the language barrier and cultural differences my trial attempts resulted in baby-doll red cheeks, dark eyes and, what I can only describe as pearlescent Barbie doll pink lips. The overall effect on my childlike face was less the sophisticated beauty I had hoped for and more like an infant who had been let loose on their mother’s make-up at some point in the mid 80s.

Looking in the mirror with a mix of emotions from horror to mild amusement, I made the decision that I was going to do my own wedding make-up and that my current repertoire of concealer, blush and clumpy mascara just wasn’t going to cut it on our big day.

On our return home I pulled out Sali Hughes’s book ‘Pretty Honest‘, which had been given to me as a birthday gift and which, to that point, had been an under-tapped resource. Reading the book was a revelation. Hughes has such a candid but friendly voice and her reassurance about how to approach counters in department stores, which products to consider and when alarm bells should ring (for example, never trust anyone offering products that will ‘warm-up’ your skin tone as you may end up orange, or those who imply a product will only work in conjunction with one or two others, as every product should stand on its own two feet), immediately made me feel like I could tackle the make-up mountain.

What I also loved was her unapologetic love of make-up and the beauty industry and her reassurance that deciding to invest some time and effort in your appearance doesn’t automatically deplete your IQ:

‘I believe looking good to be an important and valid pursuit. All too often, women with an interest in their appearance are assumed to be stupid, shallow or unintelligent. Even traitors to feminism. But I see good grooming and feminism as entirely complimentary…I believe it’s perfectly normal to love both lipstick and literature, to be a woman who paints her nails while shouting at Question Time. The implication that us poor women are getting up half an hour earlier than we want to and miserably trowelling on slap because it’s what society tells us to do is absurd.’

These are sentiments which I share, (although ones which I execute significantly less adeptly than Hughes). The truth is, as Hughes asserts, everyone does look that little bit better for a bit of blusher and and sweep of mascara and the ‘natural’ look that many men say they prefer is usually augmented by a tinted moisturiser and a well-groomed brow. I know with a round face and naturally fair hair, without my mascara, eyeliner and brow pencil I just become a featureless mass of face, which is not pretty in anyone’s book, no matter how natural!

The book includes advice on skin-types and which products work best whether you have oily, combination, dehydrated, dry, young or old skin. From cleansing and daily skincare tips to how to choose a foundation (invaluable to me having never in my life owned a foundation), and from how to look good in photographs to negotiating the world of beauty salons, ‘Pretty Honest’ has become my new bible. This is recommended reading for everyone and anyone wanting solid advice on anything from moisturiser to brow powder (even if, like me, you didn’t know that such a thing existed until just now). I’ve learned the value of a good flannel for cleansing and a good eyelash curler for opening up your eyes. Hughes addresses the essential difference between concealer and highlighter pens (something which many of us, myself included, confuse and the latter of which can lead to that all too familiar panda-eyed look in photographs, when the light reflecting elements flash white while concealing under-eye dark circles). I’ve learnt that there are five types of foundation – sheer foundation, better for women with clear skin and freckles, mineral foundation, for women with rosacea or acne, cream foundation, for dry or heavily blemished skin, powder foundation for oily and combination skin and liquid foundation suitable for anyone, particularly those buying their first foundation – and that toner is largely just nice-smelling water and not as essential to our daily skincare routine as we may have been led to believe.

With Hughes’s advice under my belt I headed to Oxford Street, armed with a list of ideas for products and determined to book in for some make-up lessons at department stores.

A couple of weeks later and I’ve purchased my first serum, an investment from Clarins which leaves my skin feeling like silk and, when used overnight, counters the grey, tired look that comes from inadequate sleep, replacing it with a dewy glow. I’ve also bought my first foundation from Bobbi Brown along with a foundation brush and fixing, finishing powder, all chosen with the help of the really lovely Bobbi Brown staff at John Lewis.

After make-up lessons at both Bare Minerals and Bobbi Brown there were certainly many more products I could have bought, from the Bobbi Brown sepia gel eyeliner and brush, to the moisturising primer and eye cream (both of which I was given free samples of to take away and try).

I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to my make-up goal but there are still more lessons to be had and more potions and lotions to try. While this new hobby is not the cheapest one, I have to admit that with every new product I am feeling terribly pampers and more confident that I’ll look how I imagined myself on my wedding day.

If like me you are a make-up novice I’d really recommend starting with Sali, either her book or blog, and then booking in for some free make-up lessons at department stores. It is great to have someone explain all of the products to you and to help choose the right colours and make-up combinations.

As for me, I’m enjoying the excuse to spoil myself too much to stop yet; next stop, MAC!

 

Wedding spirit(s) and off-road running

ImageI’m back in a rather hectic London after a heavenly weekend away with my family. We spent four days in North Yorkshire for a wedding combined with country walks, country runs and plenty of alfresco eating.

It was the wedding of two of my favourite people in the world: Matt is one of my oldest and closest family friends and one of the most outdoorsy people I know. He is the only person that I’ve ever met who carries a whittling knife and hammock around with him at all times, (just in case), and who, when I travelled with him, managed to make sleeping on the streets of Geneva, in a refuge in the Italian alps and on mattresses on the floor of an attic in the Czech Republic, seem like a wonderful adventure. It was perfectly fitting, therefore, that the wedding was similarly outdoorsy, in an enormous tepee complete with fire-pits and gourmet BBQ in the Yorkshire countryside.

We fell in love with Matt’s wife, Ruth, the day we met her. Not adverse to donning an anorak and getting lost on a walk with our family, she fit in straight away. Although she would undoubtedly protest at my gushing appraisal, I can truly say she is one of the most amazing and inspiring people I have the honour of knowing, (and pretty damn beautiful to boot!). I will say no more than to refer you to her blog, Dez’s Demise and to urge you to read.

image 3The wedding couldn’t have been more perfect. From the dress to the decor and from the buttonholes to the BBQ, everything was so carefully thought out and so full of Matt and Ruth’s personality.

Delicious mixed deli boards followed by sweet potato cakes, washed down with raspberry vodka and sloe gin (courtesy of the allotment of one of the best men) and of course plenty of champagne, meant that, even after a night of dancing, I still felt guiltily stodgy on Sunday morning.

A five mile country walk followed by a six mile run made me feel a bit more like myself.

ImageAlthough not the longest of runs, the tough terrain of waist-high grass and nettles, tractor tracks, muddy fields and (accidentally) the garden of an unsuspecting Yorkshireman, all in 20 degree heat, meant that I was put through my paces.

The route was set by my Uncle Alastair, who also happens to be the dad of my marathon training partner Becks and I can now understand how, on her last run with him, they ended up being chased by a farmer welding a gun, as ‘the way’ and ‘the path’ bared only a loose relation to the route that we took. Still, it was really good Tough Mudder training and certainly got me thinking about needing to up my training on different terrains to get ready for race day.

imageBack to London and with post-weekend blues and the guilt of one too many veggie kebabs and gin and tonics I went on two runs on Tuesday, an 8.7km at lunch followed by 7.7km after work.

Today I plan to climb and hopefully fit in some abs training tonight and to ensure I’ve paid my penance for a perfectly decadent weekend!