30by30: Walt Disney World, Florida

Maybe it was a bit of a cheat, putting this on my 30by30 list, because it was already fully booked (although not quite paid for!) when I wrote my list. But I had a little feeling it might be a highlight of my pre-30 years, and I was right!

Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much might have been because Ant and I were in serious need of some time together. Ant had had some big work projects on and my nights off had been few and far between – in fact, I was working right up until midnight the night before our  5.45 am start to the airport. This meant it wasn’t until I cracked open my first G&T on the train (yes, at 7am – I’m a NERVOUS FLIER, okay?) that the holiday feeling really kicked in.

That feeling didn’t leave me once for the entire two weeks. I’ve never had a holiday where I felt so completely cut off from home, from household bills and work worries and changing the cat litter and putting out the bins on a Thursday night and remembering to lock the side door before we go to bed.

The whole entire stay was just magical. I knew I would love it, but honestly, you should have seen me grinning like an idiot and waving at the characters in the parades. You know, the underpaid actors in well-used Mickey Mouse costumes? Yeah, those guys took me right back to being six years old.

We just had the best time. We held hands at the fireworks, we talked for hours over amazing food, we giggled at Mr Incredible’s dance moves, we screamed on Expedition Everest, we made plans under a sky full of stars and we promised ourselves we’d come back some day.






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BurgerSearch 2: Get Baked

BurgerSearch posts document my search to find the best burger in Leeds, as part of my 30by30 goals. I’ve got plenty of places on my list, but I’m very open to suggestions, too! Where was your best ever Leeds burger from?

My latest burger venture came about after a long day of blogging in my pyjamas and not going out to fetch any food. I thought I might as well make it a full day of luxury and order in, because why the hell not?

Venue: Get Baked, Stainbeck Avenue, Meanwood
Burger: the Nice, £6.95

Burger Patty 15/25

Juicy, slightly pink and really tender. It seemed slightly peppery, not in an unpleasant way but it was a bit weird. It smelled amazing! My cats thought so too – you might be able to spot them in the pictures trying to get a piece of the action…

Bun, toppings and fries 18/25

The brioche bun was good and sturdy and the toppings were generous. You choose your own sauces and salad, which is always a bonus – picking out bits of onion is never fun. The fries, on the other hand, didn’t seem to travel well and were quite cold and chewy by the time they reached me. They were quite bland, too.

Service and atmosphere 19/25

I’m a homegirl at heart, so the atmosphere of ‘on my couch watching crap nineties box sets’ gets full marks from me. The food took absolutely ages to arrive – well over ninety minutes – but they’re very upfront about this on their website, saying they get very busy and cook everything to order. Plus, just as I was starting to wonder where my food might be, I got a call letting me know it was on the grill. Not bad.

Value for Money 20/25

At £6.95, I thought the burger was great value, but if I was ordering again I wouldn’t bother paying for the chips. The huge range of dessert options was a bit too much for me to resist, so the Kinder Bueno cheesecake (amazing) and delivery charge brought the bill up to £13.45.

Total 72/100

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the better delivery options around. (I’m a big fan of The Sunshine Takeaway, who I’m sure will make an appearance here soon, but they don’t deliver.) I won’t bother with fries again, and it’s worth ordering a good hour before you start to even think about feeling hungry, but it’s a great burger for the price, especially considering you barely have to leave your couch.

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Spot my little helpers…

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Whoops! How did that get in there? (Delicious)

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On driving home from work with the traffic lights against me

Sometimes I treat each red light as an invitation
to think about something uncomfortable like a decision I’ve been avoiding
or a socially awkward exchange at work
or the linear nature of time

Other times I speed up when I see a yellow light, and gasp across the line
at the last possible second
or maybe even a bit after that
because what if I got home at 1.08am?
or 1.09am?
when I could have made it by 1.07am?

When I’m in a bad mood
I seethe and rage at a higher power

When I’m in a good mood
I skip the CD back to a big ballad and I belt it out
occasionally causing alarm to adjacent drivers

But no matter what my mood
or what time I get home
my little white socked cat is watching me from an upstairs window
not just looking out of the window
but really watching me
and I can’t help but think
that she knows much more
than she lets on

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WBN 34: The Island

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

I found The Island to be an unexpectedly sweet novel. Although it’s essentially a beach read, the story of a young woman bent on discovering more about her secretive mother’s past, and the parallel story of said mother’s great grandmother’s tragic life, I found it quite absorbing and deeper than I expected. The titular island is not the blissful desert island you might expect, but instead the site of a colony, where lepers are sent to die. This brings with it a whole new set of expectations – a miserable pit of a place with depressed, dying inhabitants – but Hislop gently introduces us to a vibrant, democratic community packed with residents trying to better their lives and fighting for respect from the mainland community.

I lacked much empathy with the main present day character, Alexis – she struck me as a little self-centred – but once her journey took her to the site of the island and the story of her family, I became much more engaged. As with most of these Mediterranean love stories, there is a myriad of outlandish characters with similar, unfamiliar names, and the story spans several decades, which at times had me scanning back through the pages to remind myself who was who. However, I loved the way the narrative was hung around the women of the community, and the way each of them staked a firm claim on my attention.

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BurgerSearch begins: Byron Burger

It’s been a great week for my 30by30 challenge! As well as collecting Christmas craft ideas, I’ve made a start on one of my other goals: find the best burger in Leeds. Most of the delay in this has been down to fine tuning the scoring system, trying to decide whether toppings are worth as many points as the bun, or how much the service should count for. Obviously, it doesn’t really matter, but tasks like this with numbers and neatness are right up my street- they appeal to my perfectionist side!

I’d also been wondering where to try first. I didn’t want to set the bar too high or have a disappointing first burger, so in the end it was a good thing the decision was taken out of my hands. We were in town at a loose end, and Ant picked Byron Burger for dinner. We had a lot of fun critiquing the burgers and tweaking the scoring system even more – sadly, I think we enjoyed this bit more than we enjoyed eating the burgers!

Venue: Byron Burger, Lands Lane, Leeds
Burger: The Byron, £9.50

Burger Patty 15/25

The burger was cooked medium and was perfectly pink in the middle. It was obviously good quality meat and was a really nice texture. However, I thought it could have had a bit more taste to it, honestly. I’d have liked it to be a bit more seasoned and a bit juicier. It was good, but not amazing.

Bun, toppings and fries 20/25

We opted for thick cut chips rather than fries, and they really were good. Hot, with fluffy insides, and with the crispy skin still on. The cheese was a really good mature Cheddar, and the bacon was salty and not too crispy. I know a lot of people like really crispy bacon, but I like it quite chewy and this was just right. There was also tons of iceberg lettuce which added a nice cool crunch. The bun (brioche OF COURSE) held together nicely, but because the burger wasn’t that juicy, it wasn’t much of a challenge.

Service and atmosphere 16/25

The atmosphere at Byron Burger was quite nice. It’s got a distinctive industrial, exposed brick sort of style, and the warm lighting and low level music was a refreshing change from some of the dark, noisy, nightclub style eateries that festoon the city centre. Service was fine, not especially friendly but efficient, which for me is more important.

Value for Money 10/25

Two burgers, the chips, aioli and two soft drinks came to £29.05. This is probably quite standard pricing for this style of burger joint – a sit down place that positions itself as a quality burger provider that’s all about the taste. Unfortunately, I just didn’t think the burgers were amazing and shelling out £15 each (bearing in mind we’d shared a side) felt a bit much.

Total 61/100

Not a bad score, but not great, and I think it reflects quite well on the experience. Not bad burgers, but with room for improvement, and not, I felt, at quite the right price point. If I’m paying £9.50 for a burger, and extra for a side, I want to feel really positive about it, instead of just okay. Not, for my money, the best burger in Leeds.







Filed under 30by30, Food & Drink, Life, Restaurants

8 Blogger Christmas DIYs

You might remember that one of my 30by30 goals is to have a homemade Christmas, where I make as many of the decorations and gifts as possible. My plan is to do this properly next year, and use this Christmas as a sort of practice, to get an idea of what sort of time I’ll need to dedicate to this, and to build up some of the skills I’ll need. I’ll be baking to see which treats last the best,  trying to get my knitting speed up beyond ‘slow motion’ and getting a little head start on the crafty decorations.

I would apologise for the insanely early Christmas post, but since my craft experience level is essentially, like, minus 1, I feel like this might be it for me for the next little while. Just crafting and, probably, crying, when it all goes wrong.

My usual tactic when I’m a bit nervous about starting something new is to throw myself into the research phase of things and massively overdo it in an attempt to put off actually having a go at it. I know, could my fear of failure manifest itself in an any more obvious way? I’ve been trawling the blogs for weeks, and here are the results of my extensive research: the eight projects I’m most looking forward to crying over this winter!


Anna’s DIY Christmas gift tags

angel in the north

These gift tags are simple and stylish. They look really professional, despite being super easy to make, which is kind of exactly what I’m looking for here.

DIY Deer Glitter Canvas 5

DIY glitter deer canvas

Tales of the Scotts

I love, love, love this glitter deer silhouette. It’s such a simple idea and so easy to adapt that you could quite easily make a whole set of different silhouettes or even make Christmas cards in this style. (I’m looking forward to having this ambition bashed out of me.)

yarn star ornament_finished product

Yarn wrapped star ornament


Just cardboard, yarn and glue, and the finished result is super cute. I’d want to experiment a bit with yarn colours and maybe some metallic spray paint, I think. (A lot of the tutorials I’m finding are American so I’m saying things like ‘yarn’ and ‘holidays’ a lot at the moment?!)

christmas doily light garland craft

Paper light garland

Chasing the pretty light

This blog hasn’t been updated in over a year and there’s absolutely no guidance on how to create this gorgeous fairy light/doily combination, but I love it so much that I think I might give it a go anyway!

rustic christmas candle diy crafts

Rustic Christmas Candle

Vanessa’s Values

Twigs, a rubber band and a red ribbon give a standard candle a rustic, Christmassy twist in a particularly thrifty craft that I don’t think even I could mess up. I’ve seen it done with cinnamon sticks but this feels a lot more affordable…


DIY Glitter Bow Tie Garland

For Chic Sake

This bow tie pasta garland is perfect for a mini Christmas tree or around a mirror. What is it about gold glitter that makes anything a bit more Christmassy?

DIY rosemary christmas wreath DIY Cranberry Christmas Wreath

Rosemary Wreath and Cranberry Christmas Wreath

Hi Sugarplum

Cassie is on another level, craft and DIY-wise, and some of her tutorials are absolutely baffling to a novice like me! But these wreaths are simple enough. I chose the cranberry one because it’s beautiful, and the rosemary one because of the massive rosemary bush in my back garden.

frosty pinecones diy

Frosty pinecones

Elizabeth & Co.

Bowls of frosty pinecones everywhere, please! I love the look and the smell, and if there’s one thing my Christmas decorations have been missing for a while, it’s a bit of the outdoors coming in.

I think that’s just about enough to keep me busy for now, but what are your favourite Christmas crafts? Is there a blogger I need to know about? I’m particularly interested in hearing about crafty Yorkshire people – share away!

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Things I didn’t say to Margaret Atwood

I’m in a queue. It’s a long queue, but a relaxed one. I’ve bumped into some old school friends, and we’re catching up. A kindly lady is handing out cake from Betty’s. I can’t really concentrate on any of this, though, because Margaret Atwood is at the front of said queue.

I never thought I would get a chance to meet this amazing woman, given that she lives 3400 miles away and seems a bit too busy to pop round for a cup of tea. But miraculously, she squeezes Ilkley Literature Festival into her timetable; miraculously, we get two of the gold dust tickets; miraculously, I don’t have to work.

As I get closer to the front of the queue, I find my hands shaking and my mouth becoming dry. Silly, really, because she’s just a person. Just a dazzlingly intelligent, slyly witty, fearlessly whole person.

In just a few sentences, how could I ever get across the impact that she has had on me?

How could I explain how I felt as a rather sheltered 17 year old catapulted into the vivid, seedy, unfamiliar world of Oryx and Crake?

How to help her see the 8 year old who read a children’s version of the Odyssey again and again, and wondered about careful, clever Penelope? And then the 19 year old discovering The Penelopiad in Borders on a drizzly Saturday, and feeling like it was written just for her?

The first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I felt broken. The first time I read Alias Grace, I read it right through the night and into a grey dawn. The first time I read Cat’s Eye, I started to untangle a decade’s worth of feelings about my teenage self. Could Margaret Atwood understand that? Was Margaret Atwood too close to Margaret Atwood’s work and too far from me to understand how intimately, how perfectly, how individually I related to her writing?

As a nervously feminist young woman, Atwood’s writing would alternatively nudge me down my path and call me, fiercely, from my hiding places. It pushed me and pulled me and nurtured me and challenged me.

And now here she is, not looking at me but at my well thumbed books, looking quite harried, actually, with a glint in her eye, and all the words are dying in my throat. We pose for a picture and she looks archly down the lens while I sport an expression my mum will later describe as the same one I used to wear when I realised Santa had been.

Too soon, it’s all over. All I’ve said is a hurried ‘thank you’. She has signed my books with the same message she wrote in everyone else’s books, and she has let me stand next to her despite the evident obsession in my eyes, and she still doesn’t know that she shaped the person I am today.

But, to my immense surprise, that feels okay. It was enough. It was wonderful. I’m happy.

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WBN 85: Wolf Hall

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

Alias Grace, a couple of books ago, put me in the mood for more historical fiction, so I picked up Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning novel chronicling the life and times of Thomas Cromwell as he goes from abused but hardy child languishing in poverty to advisor to King Henry VIII. Cromwell played a crucial role in the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, making Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn possible, but later fell from favour when he arranged the disastrous third marriage to Anne of Cleves. This book covers Cromwell’s rise to success, and though it finishes with him at the peak of his influence, there’s also a sense of foreboding; those with any knowledge of English history will be aware that Cromwell’s success is short lived; just five years later his head will roll.

The scale of Wolf Hall is simply breathtaking. It takes on the politics of Tudor Britain and the domestics of life at that time, but hangs them all on the frame of a man who is so charismatic and magnetic that he carries it all with ease. Cromwell is for once painted quite sympathetically, as a smart and capable man; the underdog who has deservedly come out on top. This isn’t the easiest read in the world, and its heft can definitely be offputting, but I’d try to convince anyone to persevere. The sequel, Bring up the Bodies, is currently on my shelves, glinting at me in its tempting golden cover. I want to save it until I’ve finished this challenge, but at this stage I’m not promising anything!

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June Roundup

Everyone knows about Leeds Loves Food – you can’t really miss it, can you? – but don’t forget about it’s poor yet delicious cousin, Leeds Loves Cocktails from the 2nd to the 8th June.. It’s not quite as massive a spectacle, but there are some amazing events scheduled including opportunities to taste rare Jack Daniels products or meet the Master Distiller at Sipsmith.

We’ve got two biggies, theatre-wise: West Yorkshire Playhouse gets properly into its Alan Bennett season, which promises to be amazing, and Wicked! finally comes to Leeds Grand (I’m pretty sure I booked my tickets when I was about fifteen. Can’t believe it’s almost here!). New seats have just been released, with best availability during the week, if you still fancy going.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Northern Ballet perform their mixed programme at the Stanley and Audrey Burton theatre. It’s a really intimate venue, and it will be the first time I’ve seen them do anything other than a full-length narrative ballet. Catch it between the 18th and 21st.

Lovely Leeds blog Cheery Little Thing is hosting an offline event on June 11th. It’s an In Conversation event with Betty Magazine, where you can get tips about branding and content, plus there’s a launch afterwards with music, cocktails and cake. Sounds fun, right? It’s in association with Colours May Vary, which happens to be just about the coolest shop in Leeds, by the way.

The Merrion Centre is currently celebrating its 50th birthday. Throughout June, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, they’re operating a free drop in cinema screening films from each decade of the Centre’s existence. I’m hoping to be able to drop in for Mamma Mia! It’s first come, first served though so make sure you beat the crowds.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a little cycling event going on in Leeds later this year…they’re calling it Le Grand Depart. Ilkley Literature Festival seem to have picked up on it and have put on a series of events called Cycling Words to celebrate. Most of these events are towards the end of the month.

Big Bookend, the ‘rock festival for words,’ is even bigger this year. I’ll be away when it’s on over the weekend of the 7th and 8th June, but if I were here I’d be going to A Time for CrimePassions and Pressures: Young Women in Fiction, and because it would be rude not to, An Audience with Alan Bennett. As an ex-Chapeltown resident, I think I’d also enjoy Max Farrar: Where is Chapeltown and what does it do?

My last event isn’t in Leeds but sounded a bit too interesting to ignore! The Unofficial Histories conference is now in its third year, and will be held at the University of Huddersfield on the 7th and 8th June. It’s a conference dedicated to exploring the way history is recorded and reported, and investigating alternative stories. Try this Culture Vultures post to learn more.

I think that’s it for now, folks. Shout out in the comments if there’s anything cool that I’ve missed and please let me know if you go to any of these events – I always like to hear how things go.


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30by30: The Goals

straight branches with bark on laid to from a wood fence

(background image source)

Here are my 30 goals to complete by my 30th birthday. They’re varied, challenging, fun, exciting, and – hopefully – achievable over the next two years. Goals in bold have been completed…

Paris with Ant
DisneyWorld Florida
See the Northern Lights
Take an overnight trip alone
Be a home tourist for a week

Read War and Peace
Finish my World Book Night challenge
Read ten non-fiction books
Take part in a readathon

Health and Fitness:
Run 5k without stopping
Give blood successfully
Go to ten yoga classes
Learn to meditate
Have ten personal trainer sessions

Food and Drink:
Bake perfect macarons
Learn to perfectly poach an egg
Find the best burger in Leeds
Have a champagne afternoon tea in Leeds
Go to the Cadbury’s Factory

New experiences:
Knit a piece of clothing
Join a choir
Learn the ukulele
DIY Christmas using blogs
See the English National Ballet
Win a pub quiz
Have a big 30th birthday party
Explore my square mile
Blog every day for a month
Make 100 hats for The Big Knit
Shop local for one month

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