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Go Visit : Kicking back at St Andrews

With the world seemingly taking time off, I think the festive two week break really is the only time of the year when falling off the radar feels completely deserving, satisfying and totally guilt free.

And we really did make the most of the 'us' time - travelling and exploring new places (me anyway, thanks hubby), indulging in some pampering and fine food consumption, celebrating with family and losing ourselves in quiet contemplation of all we've experienced this year.

First up and a special pre-Christmas treat courtesy of Mr. L, a mini break at Old St Andrews, the award winning country retreat spa hotel that overlooks the ferocious North Sea and the birthplace of Golf - the famous Old Course at St Andrews.  It's about an hours drive north of Edinburgh and the landscape en-route, the course and the town of St Andrews are beautiful and dramatic, even in the heavy permeating rain that's synonymous with Scotland. 

We changed up the obligatory car journey game of 'I Spy' for 'Pronounce the Scottish Village', which Scots-bred Mr. L found hilarious if a bit frustrating.  Go on, you have a go - Auchtermuchty - Freuchie - Kirkcaldy.

The sun made one appearance, so out came the camera. This is the view of the 18th hole from our room.

On day two, the stormy weather ripped up the wind to a point when you could hardly stand upright.  The tough freezing conditions didn't seem to put the hardened golfers off.  The sea was just as fierce and the waves were breaking far out from the shore.  Amazingly, there were guys crazy enough to go surfing in it... brrrrrr.  Byron Bay it aint!

It's fun and very satisfying to brace yourself for a wild, wintry walk along the coast and to come back into the warmth and comfort of the hotel, with it's twinkling festive lights and roaring log fires.

We relaxed from the moment we entered the place. It's one of those hard to find hotels that's slick and professionally managed for a large resort hotel and actually still feels like a home from home. There was nothing uptight about it at all, a very comfortable relaxed vibe, traditional touches of decor, cosy luxury rooms and friendly welcoming staff that could not do enough for us, we were totally spoilt.

We were welcomed by a pretty Christmas tree and a wee man in a kilt (not this man!).

Decorative features included Stag antler lighting, antique glass chandeliers, leather seating and wood panelled walls.

Mr. L got to do a bit of childhood reminiscing and indulged daily in a traditional hearty Scottish breakfast of the regular bacon and eggs, but including stomach churning haggis, black pudding and potato scones.

The Kohler Spa was perfect for recovering from a busy year.  With a few lengths (30 for me) of the swimming pool done, the hydrotherapy pool and Japanese steam room tested, we snuggled up in fluffy robes and read a book.  I've had my eye on this one since it published a couple of months back and the stumbleupon and purchase at the local Waterstones was made sweeter when we discovered it was a signed copy (and their one and only). How cool is that? thanks Darcey.  If you love dance, and ballet especially, you'll fall in love with this beautiful book of images shot by a few famous photographer friends.


We both indulged in a Kohler signature facial and massage and I had their signature manicure, just in time for the Christmas festivities that were about to happen back in Edinburgh. 

I can count on both hands the number of spas I've visited in my time and this one has just topped my list of favourites for its great vibe, wonderful staff, top class amenities and amazing treatments.  It was pure bliss.

All it leaves now is for me to say Happy 2013 lovely people.  It's only day 3 but I'm hoping it's all going to plan for you.  It feels good to be back.



Christmas table arrangements


Wednesday evening, I escaped the Christmas shopping hubub and got stuck into some festive flower and foliage arranging at The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers.  You may remember the first time I was invited to take a course with them in May, I had an amazing evening with a group of friendly flower enthusiasts and tonnes of fragrant blooms so I knew I was in for a pretty fabulous time. I actually felt like a bit of an old veteran upon stepping back into their florid store, made over in a stylish and colourful yuletide theme, especially for this time of year.

The Christmas table arrangement class, expertly tutored by Madeleine and her assistant Robyn is a 3 hour delve into creating a capacious centre piece for your Christmas dinner table using swathes of lush green scented foliage, vibrant blooms, seasonal festive ornaments and a candle of choice, a pillar for me but other members of the group chose tapered ones.

After receiving expert tips on oasis soaking, snipping stems for optimum water take-up, wiring foliage and assembling the skeleton of the arrangement, we moved on to the fun bit, the technique of selecting then building up our chosen foliage around the oasis to get a full and even spread. 

Adding flowers and ornaments is the most creative bit of the process.  We all had the same items to choose from yet we all were able to produce something very individual.  And there was quite a selection to choose from - flowers, pine cones, cinnamon sticks, glitter twirls and dried apple and orange slices.

It's amazing how much you can learn in just a short space of time and the sense of achievement is palpable as us students initially felt quite out of our depth but ended up producing something quite spectacular.  With only a maximum of 10 to a class, there's plenty of hands-on assistance and table space to spread yourself out.  There's an easy going, steady pace to the lesson, suitable for novice and more experienced flower arrangers alike.  The class is very good value at £98 and I now feel very confident about re-creating this piece again at home in the future and even adapting it for another celebration or event.

The courses would make a fabulous birthday or Christmas present for a mother or friend and perhaps be something you could do together.  Talking of presents, The Covent Garden Flower Academy also have an online store where you can buy a place on a class but also purchase gifts from a selection of their signature home accessories - scented candles and soaps as well as other homewares and textiles and of course their beautiful handmade bouquets.  You can visit their online store here.


Merry Christmas everyone. If today, like me you are closing up for a bit of much needed rest, relaxation and fun with the family for a few days, have a wonderful holiday.

Sam x


Decorating for Christmas

The most fun and magical bit of Christmas for me is pulling the boxes of decorations out of storage, delving into them and selecting items that will make my festive shortlist.  You know, there's always a bauble or two that I forget I purchased the previous year and so along with my most recent purchases, I sit cross legged on the floor and set about deciding on the look and the colour scheme for my tree. 

As the years have passed, my tree has taken on a more natural look. It's bristly branches and heady scent are now the main focal point, I dress it with just a few simple trimmings and a couple of strings of twinkly lights.

This year, I've pared it back even further -  soft glow lights, a couple of dozen glossy and frosted baubles in muted shades of warm grey, caramel, black and cream and a handmade twig star on the top. Plus, with the living room wall in Studio Green and to prevent the tree blending with its backdrop, I decided to spray the branches with some faux snow.  Okay, so this may seem a bit of a 'dated' look but judging by the number of faux, snow adorned trees I've spotted in the stores and online, it's had a bit of a style revival.  There's hope yet for 70's favourite, tinsel!

I'm very pleased with the snow effect and thankfully the tree doesn't look as if it's been caught up in a blizzard - the needles have a little dusting, like they have been kissed by Jack Frost.  I say it every year (as does Lauren), as I stand back and admire my handywork - I think I may have excelled myself and created us the best looking Christmas Tree yet.

In fact, the other day I was asked for tips on buying new Christmas decorations in terms of adding to items you've purchased in the past in order to achieve a cohesive look.  For me, there's just one rule I stick to and that is to buy ornaments of the same type or two.  For example just baubles like me, or baubles and snowflakes as I've had in the past, or seasonal characters, or the same colour scheme, whatever you like.  Just make sure there is a common theme running through everything you purchase then you won't end up with a mish mash of stuff that looks a bit tacky.  As I say, this is just my opinion and appreciate it's not for everyone so don't all shoot me down!

And another important point - if you have a real tree, select ornaments that are not too heavy otherwise you'll have them reaching for the floor under all the weight.

So how have you dressed your Christmas tree this year?  Photos please :-)

Merry Christmas!



Oh Christmas Tree!

So here we are, December has arrived and with it comes the most momentous part of the month - Christmas Tree shopping!

For me, Christmas ain't Christmas without out a 'real' tree, it's traditional in these parts.  There's been the odd year or two, during the kid's first months, when I've succumbed and like a good mother, stuck up a fake faux one to avoid them eating and crawling through the dropped needles.

Today is the perfect wintry day for selecting a fine looking festive woody perennial, we have had a good dusting of snow overnight and there's a northerly wind making the temperature feel well below freezing.  It's a cliche but it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Breaking with a conventional Wednesday (hoorah!), I wrap up warm and head out into the silent countryside.

We always stop by our local farm for our tree - Slamsey's with its huge corrugated metal outbuilding, lined front to back with leaning yet majestic non-drop Nordman Fir trees of all heights.  It's a cold, dark, damp place but the pungent, piney scent is overwhelmingly comforting.  My co-pilot and I (this time my mum) have a ritual of walking up and down eyeing each row and grabbing upright the trees that look nice and bushy, but not too wide at the base. One of us stands there, gripping the tree by the spiky trunk gamely turning it slowly 360 degrees while the other inspects the middle for baldy deficient areas and even worse, a pitifully sparse top.

It pays to go and select your tree early, then you get the pick of the bunch, even if you don't intend to bring it inside and decorate it right away.  For me, it's a bit too early to be putting up a real tree - racking up the central heating to at least 21 degrees and the poor thing will look sullen, dehydrated and bald come the 25th.

We hit the jackpot on this trip and settled on the very first tree we come across - a fancy 6 footer with a lovely even physique.  Call that fate, lucky or just because we were early but we like to think it's because we've got a few years of experience between us now in spotting the perfect festive tree.

I'm so eager to start dressing it but I think that's a task for the weekend.... patience young padawan!

Do you have a real tree?  Do show and tell!