Taking my joy from… 4

IMG_5504It’s the shortest day today. The sun will set in Leeds at 3 forking 46 pm! I’ve almost gotten used to it, especially if I distract myself by staying busy around dusk. I also have a little ritual of lighting candles and these days, the Christmas lights too, of course.

I’m still riding the Christmas high the way a hawk uses warm air currents to stay aloft, and I can smugly say my Christmas shopping is finished. This is less admirable when you understand how short my list is and how convenient online shopping makes things. And I know I’m not alone when I confess that I’ve picked up a few wee things for myself as well.

  • Top of the list of things bringing me joy is this Luchador Ice Tray from Kikkerland. I was scanning HomeSense for silly gifts under a fiver for a family game, and found this offbeat bit of awesomeness. I had been looking for the perfect soap mould for ages, as I need tiny soaps for my downstairs loo and I think these guys will be the perfect size, and will make me happy every time a fresh soap is needed. Also, I just love Kikkerland products – every time I’ve simply had to get a little something, it usually ends up being something they’ve designed.
  • My annual night in watching Love Actually. Naysayers, leave it alone. I like it!
  • I can’t reveal any secrets, but there’s been a giftie or two that I’ve bought for loved ones that I simply cannot wait to see their reaction. I love finding perfect gifts, even when mere hours before I had no idea what to get until hitting the shops. I really should have more faith in stores making it ridiculously easy.
  • My home office window looks out over our street. The other day I saw a couple walking home while lugging their Christmas tree, and the smiles on their faces was the essence of the holidays, right there.
  • Jeff has been playing Christmas carols to prep for gigs, and right now he and a friend are jazzing up Silent Night on their guitars – it’s beautiful.
  • And finally, one more impulse buy while out shopping. I love these so much, and they look beautiful during the day too:IMG_5496.jpg

Well, my darlings, it’s near enough to the Big Day to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! If you’re in charge of cooking, may your turkey be moist and succulent, your dressing just sagey enough, and remember it’s ok if some of your sides get a bit cool while you’re juggling everything. As long as the gravy is hot, you’re golden. And make someone else do the washing up.


Taking my joy from… 3


Harewood House

It’s now early December, a glowing time of year. I’m finding it ridiculously easy to take my joy these days, and I hope you all are embracing the season in your own big or little ways. Our Christmas season is always pretty chilled out – my family and friends have never really gone overboard, which makes everything a bit more sane.

So these days, I’m taking my joy from:

  • Christmas lights and decorated shop windows – in Leeds city centre, in Chapel Allerton, any other town or city I’ve visited lately has been filled with festive fun and has my heart brimming. Bonus points for the rare snowfall in quaint, charming Knaresborough last week.
  • Indulging my inner kid with a chocolate advent calendar. So far I haven’t jumped ahead. So far.
  • A bit late to the party on this one, but This is Us has me hooked. All the feels!
  • Spotify’s Christmas Classics playlist – just a nice mix of the Christmas songs you didn’t know you wanted to hear.
  • Victorian Christmas at Harewood House – this was a beautiful day out, made even more fun by sharing the day with good friends, surprisingly mild, occasionally sunny weather, and the wisdom to visit on a quiet Monday morning.

‘As ithers see us’

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
– Robert Burns

Ok. I get it. The parts of my life that I make public – especially on social media – seem enviable: living in a new country, surrounded by beautiful architecture (more on that later), easy access to awe-inspiring countryside and quaint towns, with dazzling European cities a short plane ride away. Career is doing quite well, marriage is going strong and we have a cat that really loves to cuddle. Living the dream? You fucking bet I’m living the dream. And I give thanks for all of these things every single day.

I struggle a lot with what to post on social and have done so ever since Jeff and I crawled out of student debt and were finally able to think about travelling further than Montreal. Some people genuinely want to see and hear about our experiences and actively request photos and status updates, especially of our adventures while living in England. Others, and I know first-hand because I was this person for many years, might find it frustrating to scroll past travel photos, especially if they’re at work and it’s not Friday afternoon yet.

Hello from #whitby! #daytrip #199steps

A post shared by Heather Hewer (@heather.hewer) on

A few years ago, I read, loved, and thought an awful lot about this piece, 7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook. To my eternal amusement, an acquaintance on Facebook actually posted it and suggested that his Facebook ‘friends’ should follow its advice. An excellent candidate for a brisk ‘unfollow’.

I try not to fall into any of the annoying categories the writer listed, and often ask myself if a post fits his criteria – is it:

  • interesting?
  • informative?
  • funny/amusing?
  • entertaining?

Now I realise there’s nothing more tiresome than a person who thinks they are funny, and isn’t, and I know my limitations – I can’t tell a joke worth a damn, for instance, but I like to think I’ve made a few people laugh over the years. I try not to complain, in real life or on social. I think that whining online (or worse, ‘vaguebooking’) is deeply boring, especially if the person complaining isn’t receptive to suggestions or solutions. That said, my stance changes completely if we meet up for a cup of tea or a glass of wine –  I’m all ears and sympathy.

When posting, I like to share interesting articles, tag people in recipes that are right up their alley, or support a restaurant, jazz venue, musician or product I particularly like. I’ve worked in social media – I know how much every single like, retweet, share, or comment can mean to the person responsible for engagement. But I don’t always manage to stick to these guidelines, and if everybody did, our feeds would be nearly empty, with tumbleweeds and suggested posts rolling through them. You can’t just ‘fix’ people like that, any more than you can control a party beyond food, drinks, places for people to sit, lighting and music.

And this criteria gets really murky when it comes to travel photos. If one were take a hard line with that article, travel photos are an instant ticket to being insufferable; reeking of ‘image crafting’, ‘attention craving’, ‘narcissism’, and ‘jealousy inducing’. But what about the people who truly want to hear about these trips? What if I’ve taken a photo I’m proud of? What if posting from the city I’ve travelled to is the quickest way to let my loved ones know I landed safely? What if friends and family miss us, but also understand that we are taking advantage of an amazing opportunity and want to see the evidence? What if they are -gasp- happy for us?

I’m not going to stop posting travel photos. It’s enough that I’ve given my cat her own Instagram account that people can choose to follow or not.

I’m also not going to tell you about the not-great parts of my life. Why would I? And I certainly wouldn’t do it in a forum like this. But just like everyone else, I’ve had them. I’ve got them. One of these days I’m going to actually create the t-shirts I keep meaning to, that simply say:

You don’t know.

Because You. Don’t. Know.

We’re all just walking around, doing the best we can every day, even if our best isn’t always that great.

When I was very young, most of my world was bland, mediocre, if not downright ugly – my family’s church springs to mind as a particular example of hideous modernity.  It was all an affront to the eyes of a bookish, romantic girl fascinated by old stone buildings, Victoriana, fairy tales, princesses, hobbits and pretty things. I once wrote an exam at Guelph C.V.I., one of the oldest schools in Ontario, and thrilled at its ‘oldness’ – the closest I ever got to feeling like ‘Anne of Green Gables’. That girl is still me, and I delight in drystone walls, hedgerows, 18th-century stonework, rolling hills, fields of grazing sheep, and the stunning cathedrals of Yorkshire, England, Great Britain, and Europe.

But bless, I also know the power of the Unfollow button, and it’s there for a reason. Use it. Nobody needs to know.

My ‘me, only better’ makeup

IMG_5420 2.jpg

It’s amazing how many products it now takes to look the same way I did a few years ago, sailing out of the house with a clean-scrubbed face and a swipe of lip balm.

I have never bought into that secretive, ‘what? I woke up this way’ vibe that sometimes creeps in to competitive female dynamics, which I loathe, whether it’s beauty, fashion, cooking, or home stuff.  I’m more of a socialist – let’s pool and share our knowledge.

So if you’re blonde, fair-skinned, have blue/green eyes, and feel like you need some new directions in makeup, read on. Most of my ‘holy grail’ makeup finds have come to me courtesy of AskMetafilter, MakeupAlley and my new girl crush, Sali Hughes.

First things first – what kind of face issues am I dealing with whenever I contemplate leaving the house? I’ve got sensitive skin that likes to go red whenever I even think about a cup of tea, spicy food, wine, cold weather, hot weather, or Outlander. Thanks to heredity, questionable lifestyle choices and strong prescription glasses, I’ve got dark circles and puffy bags under my eyes that make people ask me if I’m feeling ok. Those same eyes have ‘hooded’ lids, making many intricate, smokey eye and winged eyeliner looks best left to others. And I’ve never really been a big, bold eye-makeup look kind of gal anyway, so if someone has to have hooded eyelids, it might as well be me.

Following the Oil Cleansing Method means I’ve finally left acne behind, and wrinkles are holding off for the most part, courtesy of the portrait I’ve hidden in the attic. Nothing touches my face but a warm, wet washcloth, a tiny swipe of micellar water for stubborn eye makeup, and 4 drops of jojoba oil once or twice a day. OCM is a bit of a dangerous beastie – your mileage will most definitely vary – so I cannot endorse it without a strict warning to do your research and commit to it with trepidation. One major bonus to having a very inexpensive skincare regime is that it’s easier to justify pricier makeup brands.

So, now I’ve got a gently scrubbed face that has been treated with 4 drops of jojoba oil, chosen for how closely it resembles the sebum human skin produces. Time to get ‘normal’ looking. I am NOT a makeup artist, and not an expert in any way – in fact I’m surprised that between not-very nimble fingers and being virtually blind without glasses on that I manage to do an OK job of it at all. Please tell me in private if I don’t.

So, getting started with clean and moisturised skin, I use the following products:

Everyday look

NYX Dark Circle Concealer – does what it says on the tin, with a peachy tint to counteract the purple smudges. Opposites on the colour wheel don’t lie – it’s science.
Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream – miracle in a bottle. Smooths out uneven skin texture and colouring, bounces light around and never, ever makes my skin break out, even if I fall asleep without washing my face.
MAC Pro Longwear Paint Pot in Painterly – a nude beige that makes an excellent eyeshadow primer, or use it alone for an angelic, wide-awake look.
Bobbi Brown Eyeshadow in Wheat – a medium ash beige that I use to cover my lids and creeps up over my crease a wee bit.
Clinique Lash Power Flutter-to-Full Mascara in Black Onyx – I’m new to tubing mascaras and a total convert, no more raccoon eyes. Staying subtle, I stick to the ‘flutter’ setting.
Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey – hearing about foolproof shades that look good on everybody is my catnip.

If I’m in a rush, that’s it. Donezo. And nobody will ask me if I’m feeling ‘peaky’.

My ‘See You in Hell’ look

If you remember that awesome oughties duo, the Etiquette Grrls, they have a wonderful concept, their ‘See You in Hell’ look, reserved for occasions both nasty (giving notice at your loathsome job, lunching with an ex) and nice (weddings, job interviews), any time when you need to ‘bring it’ hard, pull out the stops and look amazing.

On an ‘I’m worth it’ pilgrimage, and homesick for Sephora, I ended up in Space NK and spent a small fortune on two products; a foundation and a concealer that are too expensive for every day, but come out as extra steps on ‘See You in Hell’ days:

Chantecaille Le Camouflauge Stylo
By Terry Sheer-Expert Perfecting Fluid Foundation 

The jury was out and the sticker-shock was prolonged, but one day I caught a glance at my reflection in a train window and was astounded at how dewy and glowy I looked, so yeah, I can sleep at night.

Evening Look

Living in The North as I do, my ‘evening look’ is laughably subtle but as it also usually includes a very simple dress, or more often a pair of jeans and a nice top. It works for me and that’s all that matters, kids.

Building on my ‘See You in Hell’ look, I swap out Wheat for a slightly stronger pigmented eyeshadow and correspondingly subtle, pale lipstick for a bit of a 60s mod look:
MAC Eye Shadow in Satin Taupe – a plummy taupe that brings out the green in my eyes
NARS Sheer Lipstick in Dolce Vita – another foolproof lipstick shade

Or I do my ‘See You in Hell’ look and go darker with my lipstick:
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Black Cherry – being faint of heart, and bold of eyeglass frame, I tend to apply this more as a lipstain rather than full-on ‘here are my lips’. Besides, I’m rubbish at remembering to reapply lipstick.

Nails are usually short and blissfully bare, for that ‘I cook and clean a lot’ look that telegraphs my disdain for rubber gloves. I like to go a wee bit goth with Essie’s Wicked, a wonderfully dark red that looks especially awesome on toes. When I want to look neat and tidy, Essie’s Mademoiselle is my pale pink go-to. My nails can’t handle shellac very often, but when I get that done, I go for the darkest red I can find.

If you’re more into visuals, I’ve collected images of these products on my Pinterest Beauty Board.

I shall conclude by stating that I do not receive any compensation for mentioning and linking to these products, this is just a list of what works for me. 

Taking my joy from… 2

IMG_5341I don’t know if this will be a weekly thing or not, but it works well with a practise I try to keep up from mindful meditation. It is never going to be a bad thing to focus on the positive things in daily life.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a bit of a tricky week with some difficult choices, but that means it’s been even more important to find the good stuff. And go out for pizza and wine tonight.

  • The Printshop!!! If you know what I mean, you know what I mean. If you don’t, you don’t.
  • Podcast I’m deep diving into: The Ongoing History of New Music. I was never very good at listening to radio programs during their scheduled time slots, but always loved when I caught this show accidentally, so subscribing to the podcast makes me feel like I’m righting an ancient wrong.
  • A wander in Oxfam Bookshop – love the randomness of second-hand charity bookshops and surfaced with two major scores: Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table and The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style. I don’t know how I would get dressed without Kim France telling me what to wear.
  • LION! I heard about this heartwarming, against-all-odds story in the news a few years ago. Back when we were all playing with Google Earth to find out which of our neighbours had swimming pools, Saroo Brierley set out to find his lost birth family with nothing but vague memories of his home, number crunching of data points, and massive leaps forward in satellite imagery and GPS.

Remember, remember – Bonfire Night is coming


Halloween, schmalloween. Bonfire Night is one of my favourite things about my adopted country. Last year we had two perfectly crisp, clear nights for the festivities, the Friday night was Roundhay Park’s annual massive bonfire and fireworks, the Saturday night, Bonfire Night proper – 5th November –  spent at a fun house party with lots of chili con carne and jacket potatoes, a fire lit in the backyard brazier, and one of their obliging, yet anonymous, neighbours had a seemingly endless supply of fireworks. We walked home with reddened cheeks, serenaded by the pops and bangs of fireworks from every direction.

This relatively obscure celebration stateside nonetheless has rather rich representation in pop culture:

Taking my joy from… 1


It’s Saturday morning sofa time, which usually means I’ve got a podcast on – with my freelance, unstructured life I like to save watching tv shows and films for after dark, otherwise disorder and lawlessness would overwhelm me.

I was listening to the Dear Prudence podcast, and had to hit pause and create this blog post RIGHT NOW because she and her guest host are talking about how they are coping with stress this week and the question, “where are you taking your joy from?” just absolutely delighted me. Heck, I think I’m going to make this into a blog category, I heart this concept so much.

This week, I am taking my joy from:

  • “It’s chaos – be kind.” Patton Oswalt’s new Netflix special – Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
  • Waiting for my delivery of The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater 
  • Luxuriating underneath a new duvet for the sofa, which was sorely needed in this icebox of a house
  • The crisp October air, especially at night
  • A cowl turtleneck in a heathery light grey that feels like a hug
  • Breaking down and buying a packet of Bourbon biscuits