Hello from a very soggy Sunday morning in Leeds. We are in the middle of “Storm Brian,” which is pretty full on. I’ve been awake since 5am (great Sunday lie in) after waking up from a horrible zombie nightmare. Maybe I need to stop watching The Walking Dead right before we go to sleep…
Parker is delighted that I’m up so early and has pushed my laptop off me and has started giving me a slightly scratchy massage.
When I first started my blog in 2015, I gave myself something fun to do, and also to write about by setting myself 25 challenges to complete before I was 25. I didn’t really complete them all, but it was good fun. You can click the links to read about when I tried lobster, caviar, and meditated for ten days.
Now I’m picking up my blog again, I’ve decided to give myself a new set of challenges. (With no more fishy business – now I’m a veggie)
Although I’ve just turned 27, I’m sticking with 25 challenges (seems like a more manageable number haha)
Here we go, here are my challenges for the year!
1- Visit India
2 – Hike one of the three Yorkshire Peaks
3 – Read “Shantaram”
4 – See live comedy
5 – Watch “Gone With The Wind”
6 – Get a tarot card reading
7 – Take a language class
8 – Donate 200 things to charity
9 – Spend no money for one week
10 – Go to a pilates class
11 – Learn to salsa dance
12 – Play piccolo in an orchestra
13 – Learn to sew and make something wearable
14 – Host a dinner party for my friends
15 – Go plastic free for a week
16 – Try making my own cosmetics
17 – Go Christmas shopping in York
18- Go to Ireland
19- Go to a concert of music from another culture
20- Go vegan for a week
21- Read sixty books in a year
22- Volunteer to help out with a charitable cause
23- Start drawing again
24- Have a car-free week
25- Do yoga every day for thirty days
So there we have it! I’m excited to get going. How nice to have a list of stuff to fall back on when I’m bored.
I’ll keep you posted with how I get on.
P.S. apologies for the photo overload! These are all photos I took on our visit to Harewood House yesterday where I had my mind blown by the dahlias. I am no longer using instagram, so you can expect a lot of photos making there way on here.
This is my 100th blog post! Wow! I’ve been a little (okay incredibly) flakey since we returned from our big trip around the world, but lately I’ve found more time on my hands thanks to my decision to quit social media.
I’ve been reading a book about how we can make and break habits. It’s called “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin.
Usually on a morning, the first thing I’d do would be to grab my iPhone and spend a few minutes trawling through Facebook and Instagram. I felt like this was putting my mind in a bad state for the day, and so, decided to create a new habit to replace social media. I now read a poem as soon as I wake up every day.
I plonk a book of poetry on my bedside table and it’s there awaiting me in the morning, so I don’t have to move or think about it. Also, poems are usually quite short, or you can always flick through until you find a short one, so it doesn’t feel too much of a burden.
I love how I can wake up and feel a bit more inspired than before.
Before setting myself this challenge, I hardly read poetry. I’m now slowly working through my poetry books. This is great for my goodreads reading challenge, where I set myself the challenge of reading 60 books in 2017. I’m currently on book number 44/60, and it’s mid october, so I’ve got to pull my finger out!
I’ll leave you with a poem by Alice Oswald from her collection: “Falling Awake”
It’s been a while hasn’t it? I’m writing this sat in the lounge of our house in Leeds. I’m fully dressed with my dressing gown on over the top because I’m refusing to put the heating on. I’ve got some candles burning to cheer myself up a bit, a mug of chai (standard) and Eva Cassidy/Joni Mitchell on in the background to stop my urge to put Christmas music on because I’m feeling really Christmassy but it’s still not December so I’m trying not to start everything off too early.
I haven’t blogged for ages but I’ve been missing it, and work’s still slow so I don’t really have that much to do, so I thought I’d give you all a little update on how things are at the moment. I also thought I’d do some cheeky subheadings for your viewing pleasure.
When we got back we saw our close friends Joe and Lauren get married. It was a lovely lovely day full of laughter. Tom pulled off his best man duties well, including a speech which had everyone chuckling. We are so happy for them both.
(That’s Tom below the feathers)
Our friends Kate and Ed announced that they are expecting their first baby, which is such wonderful news! I can’t wait to get my knitting needles out and make a start on Baby Robert’s hand-knitted wardrobe.
Tom and I celebrated a year since our engagement, and also our six year anniversary. Can you believe I was 19 and Tom was 20 when we got together? We were babies! Still are really… but we’ve got a wedding to plan! Far too grown up for my liking!
I’m at a weird equilibrium of still enjoying my home comforts whilst feeling the post-travel blues. I miss not knowing where I am for a few seconds when I wake up, but at the same time, I’m loving seeing my family, getting drunk with my friends and making up new songs to sing to my cats.
I’ve found a new lease of passion for decorating and changing up the house since we’ve got back. I think being away for a while gives you a bit of perspective and inspired me to make some changes.
I guess the biggest thing that’s happened is Gaby and Peter have sadly moved out. We loved living with them for a month when we got back! We decided to rent our room out via Airbnb. We used airbnb several times whilst we were away. (For those of you who don’t know, it’s a website where you can find spare rooms to rent, or rent out you own spare rooms. At first the idea of staying in a stranger’s home can be a bit weird, but we discovered it’s actually a great way to make new friends and a cheap way to visit new places.)
So we painted the top spare room and bathroom and put it on the website. So far we’ve had three sets of guests, and it’s going really well. Our current guest, Paul, has been with us for a few weeks and is staying until Christmas, and we all get on really well, so that’s nice. Luckily he’s quite understanding with my late night piano lessons plonking away right under his bedroom! Phew!
(Here’s the room – fancy, no?)
We’ve also painted the kitchen and dining room, and painted the outside steps. Tom fixed the doorbell, and I’ve just ordered an outdoor light, which makes everything much more inviting to my students arriving in the darkness.
I’ve been on a shopping rampage recently, and I’ve bought new knobs for the chest of drawers in our room and the Welsh dresser in the kitchen. I also discovered the website Desenio which is great for cheap prints. I went a bit bonkers and bought a tonne, but they’ve given the house such a lift. Our next step is painting our bedroom.
Tom has started working in primary schools doing music technology on iPads, so he’s doing that on weekdays. He also works in a pub up the road on some evenings and weekends, and he has a third job working for a local radio station.
In contrast, I’m not really working as much as I’d like. I have twelve private flute and piano students who I teach in the evenings, one daytime school teaching flute and recorder, and a Saturday music centre where I teach big groups of piano students, and a music theory class. Having seen that written down, I realise I’m working more than I think… It’s just taking a while to build up, but I accepted that when we went travelling!
(New prints above the piano too 🙂 )
We’ve been to a tonne of gigs since we got back: Kate Rusby, James Vincent McMorrow, Tom Odell, the Low Anthem, and we’ve booked tickets to see Bon Iver in January.
I love live music, and it’s a constant reminder of why I do what I do and love doing it! I must say, Tom Odell was truly mind-blowingly good. He’s my second favourite gig of all time. (Number one was José González at the Sydney Opera House, incase you’re wondering.)
I’m enjoying having Spotify working again. For some reason it gave up the ghost and refused to work whilst we were away. Can someone let me know if I’m allowed to listen to Christmas stuff yet?
This is getting a little dull isn’t it? Ha! Well, I like to think of this blog as my diary, so I know I’ll find it interesting in years to come, plus you may find some film/tv recommendations in here.
When we got home we were massively behind on our TV watching schedule. So we’ve been catching up on Orange is the New Black, Bates Motel, and Game of Thrones. New shows we’ve discovered and loved have included Stranger Things, Happy Valley, and the new series of Planet Earth.
I’ve been binge watching Outlander, since we met Dave who worked on the show when we were in Laos, and he told me all about it. I read the first book whilst we were away, and I’ve been watching the show since we got back. (I’d just like to add that it’s quite gory and not for the faint-hearted!)
Whilst I loved the convenience of having a Kindle whilst we were away, I’ve loved getting my hands back on real books. They are such a pleasure and comfort to me and always have been.
A few highlights of my general bookwormishness since we got back:
IT by Stephen King (I’m a massive Stephen King fan, and I’ve been meaning to read this massive tome for years. It took me a good three weeks but I bloody loved it. I also read this at the same time as we were watching Stranger Things and fell into an eighties nostalgia black hole. (I do realise I wasn’t alive in the eighties but yeahhh))
Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes ( Hughes is a beauty writer for the Guardian, and I’ve always loved her writing. I treated myself to a copy of her book and, girly as it sounds, it’s inspired me to change up my make up look. I always used to wear the same make up every day, but it’s so fun to experiment and try new looks!)
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett ( A beautifully written novel, about a hold up in a big country house in an unnamed country. The whole book takes place inside the house, and quickly becomes not about the hostage situation but the relationships that blossom.)
Into Thin Airby Jon Krakauer (Non-fiction account of a Mount Everest disaster. I’m obsessed with Mount Everest, and I’ve read other works by Krakauer, so this was an obvious choice. Definitely read if you’re wanting something that will leave your heart in your throat and appreciate the lengths human beings can go to.)
Quiet by Susan Cain (Currently listening on audible. A book about the power of introverts. I’ve now realised there’s an actual reason why I’m exhausted after big social gatherings and absolutely love time to myself – hello introversion. Weird that it’s taken me this long to realise, as I’m not a shy person! But this is a really interesting and insightful listen for me, and I’d highly recommend it!)
Wedding planning is going well I suppose. People keep saying to me “oooh how’s the wedding planning??” and I’m just like “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING”
SO the ceremony and reception are booked, I’ve found my wedding dress, we’ve sorted the bridesmaids and best men, working on bridesmaids outfits then colour scheme…. blah blah blah. I’m excited! I am absolutely over the moon about marrying Tom but I’ve realised I’m just not the right type of person who gets excited about wedding favours and all that bullshit. Show me the champagne.
Honeymoon? Now we’re talking!!
We’ve been through a million options… Cuba, transiberian railway, Madagascar. I think we’re settling on inter railing around Europe. Once the travel bug bites you’re never cured, and I can’t be doing with luxury lying on a beach all inclusive holidays – it’s just not for me. Gimme that backpack!!
Isn’t it funny, I’m normally in some exotic destination, but it’s good to be back. Really. Kind of. I really want to keep my blog going, so I’m going to try and update at least once a week. It’s a fun hobby. I’m going to come up with some kind of weekly posts about travel etc. I still haven’t got my proper travel pictures off the big camera so I’ll get some of those up here when I do.
Anyway. Time for a little update. Our flight home was fine, not very eventful. I was amazed by our brief stop in Dubai at 5.30am where it was over 45 degrees. It was like stepping off the plane and into a greenhouse. Even the water in the toilet at the airport was hot!!
On getting back to the UK we spent a week in London with Tom’s family, catching up and seeing friends. It was lovely. And sunny too! Then we had a weekend in Southampton with my brother and Charlie and my parents flew down to meet us. I also saw my aunty and Grandad. It’s been so great to see my nearest and dearest after so long. There’s still more lovely people to see too!
Some other things I’ve been doing….
OBSESSING OVER THE FACT THAT YOU CAN DRINK WATER FROM THE TAP AND IT’S DELICIOUS AND IT WONT MAKE YOU SICK.
2) Booked our wedding. No biggie. We will be getting married on the 8th of July next year! So expect to hear a bit of rambling about that in the immanent future.
Enjoying having my mac back and being a mac wanker again. 🙂 I’d also forgotten about the witty sticker I’d put on it. Thanks past Heppy. You are a comical genius.
(I am also pleased to see my flute and piano again but my current migraine is making this a little unpleasant.)
Obsessing over my handbag I bought in Bali and posted straight home. I’d forgotten how lovely it is. It was expensive by Balinese standards (about £20) after a loooong haggling session but I’m so glad I bought it!
Writing in my diary. I finished a moleskine journal whilst we were away and as I lifelong hoarder of empty notepads, this is quite an achievement. So I bought an empty one, and this journal prompt thing on my kindle. It’s quite cool if you’re stuck thinking of things to write about (now that you’re not waking up in a different exotic location each day… sob)
Obsessing over this woman’s hair like the creepy weirdo I am. (N.B these are photos from a magazine haha!) I think I’ll get this done after we are married, need to stay fringe free/not a goth until then.
Reading Rachel Brathen’s “Yoga Girl” for some inspiration to get me yogaing now I’m back home. And watching Girls. I love it.
I realise all ove the above make me seem very vapid, but I can’t post an image of how I’ve been spending time registering for an NHS dentist, booking the cats into the vets and calling the plumber to have a look at the boiler. Plus, it wouldn’t make very interesting reading would it?!
I’ve been a bit naughty lately with trying to keep this updated but it’s mainly due to there being little to tell…
Basically we’re working away like good little worker bees.
Last weekend we walked along the coastline to Cape Kidnappers – a cove nicknamed due to a member of Captain Cooks motley crew being kidnapped by the Maoris when they landed there.
We we walked along the beach for 2.5 hours before finding the gannet colony with the help of this lovely welly. Classic New Zealand.
The scenery was absolutely stunning, so although it was a much longer walk than expected, we had a great day out.
When we reached the end of the peninsula we came to a big gannet colony. I’ve never seen a gannet before so it was quite interesting. Did you know that it takes them eight days of straight flying to migrate to Australia in the winter? Many of them don’t make the journey, sadly.
The quality of the photos are annoying the hell out of me. Sorry about that – still can’t get the photos off our big camera. I’ll have to bore you all to death with them when we get back haha!
In other news, our housemates Philene and Kerry’s camper van has finally been fixed!
There’s Simson sat on our drive, isn’t he handsome?!
We now start work at 7.30am most days, and I like to use this photo to describe my feelings about this:
We were in need of a night out to blow off steam so we hit Hastings for a night out on Saturday. For pre-drinks we had a chicken/box party (please see below photos for an explanation.)
Absolutely ridiculous. I love these guys so much.
We went to a bar and I asked “is it cheaper to have a white wine, or a pale ale?” The answer was wine…..which instantly made me dubious. It was the most disgusting wine I’ve ever tasted in my life. If I were to describe it in a wine-tasting situation I would have described it as “offensive, with aromas of a vinegar salad dressing and revulsion.”
Anyway, to remedy the situation, Philine decided to steal a candle.
She’s a bad influence on me…
I feel the above three photos sum up the night quite well.
After an unproductive hangover day, we were back to work this morning. At 11.30 Tom and I were asked to house sit for some of John and Wendy’s friends who were attending a funeral that afternoon.
It turns out that in NZ there’s a risk of being burgled whilst out at a funeral because low lifes look at the obituaries and target people whilst their houses are empty. How awful is that?! Anyway, the result was a slightly awkward afternoon of staying in a lovely house. Much easier money than kiwi thinning haha.
The houses here are so cool! Mainly modern wooden bungalows.
Things that have been keeping me occupied:
– Watching the series “Scream” on Netflix. A murder mystery based on the nineties horror movies. I love trying to figure out who dun it with the added layers of head nods to the cheesy horror genre that I adore.
– Reading “Instrumental” by James Rhodes – one of my favourite classical musicians who plays without the silly suit on and actually talks to his audiences. Reading about his childhood abuse was really harrowing, but I couldn’t put the book down. I have so much respect for him.
– Listening to the new book in the Millenium series – “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz. Lisbeth Salander is one of my favourite literary characters and Lagercrantz is doing her justice.
– Baking many many variations on pear recipes – flapjack – bad, pear cake – good. (Mainly good because we now have weighing scales.
As a general rule, I avoid non-fiction books that I know will disturb me. If it’s fiction I can cope with horrid/terrifying subject matter because I know it’s just the spawn of someone’s imagination. The books I absolutely cannot bear however, are true crime and accounts of people who’ve been abused as children.
The reason I tell you this is because I wanted to give a background for how I felt before reading Amanda Lindhout’s “A House in the Sky.”
A House in the Sky is the memoir of Amanda Lindhout, a woman who travels the globe. In August 2008 she visited Somalia, “the most dangerous place on earth,” where she is abducted along with her friend Nigel, by masked gunman.
They are held hostage for 460 days, tortured, and kept in chains before finally being released.
I’d seen that the book had rave reviews online, but I was selfishly a bit scared to read it in case it put me off travelling. (It didn’t, but I’m not in any hurry to go to Somalia now!)
The book was incredible. I gave it a rare five stars on goodreads. I couldn’t put it down, I HAD to know what happened. The account is incredibly harrowing, as you can imagine, but ultimately uplifting. Lindhout survives her ordeal by visiting a house high in the sky, a safe place she’s created for herself.
There’s a passage where she fantasises about waking up at home, going for a run in the fresh air and returning home for pancakes. On reading, I was suddenly filled with an enormous sense of gratitude. These are all things that I can do any time I fancy, and I’m so lucky to be free!
Lindhout faced criticism for even going to Somalia in the first place. She is seen as a rich Westerner whom can be held for a huge ransom. Governments don’t pay ransom money as it’s seen as negotiating with terrorists, hence how she was in captivity for such a long time.
What did I learn?
There’s a lot to cover, but what struck me most was her incredible will to survive, her inner strength, her choices, and her friendships.
I’m filled with gratitude for the lucky life that I’ve lived so far, and eager to see the world in all its colours.
“Go anywhere. Fall in love. Make mistakes. Be kind. Forgive. Know that you are strong enough. Make change. Be hopeful. These are the thoughts I am left with, after closing the book. There are others of course – the baseness of human brutality, cultural realities that scare me, how governments work in our lives, the role of women in society, the feeling that there is so much work to be done in so many places. In all this, Amanda leaves her readers with hope, hope for change and hope that despite what she has been through that life holds for her so much more yet.”
Yesterday I suddenly thought: I should write a post about books set in the places we’ll visit!
The first stop on our journey is New York, New York. So I wracked my bookshelves and realised I’ve actually already read tonnes of books set in the Big Apple.
Stephen King’s The Stand – Not set in NYC for the majority of the novel so I cheated here, but had to include it because I loved it. A must-read for anyone who loves the King, The Stand is an epic post-apocolyptic horror novel. I love Stephen King’s characters, and Randall Flagg (the devil in human form) is one of my absolute favourites. Definitely a book for summer, as it’s over 1400 pages long. It took me about a month to get through, and I dropped it on my face whilst reading it and nearly got a black eye. The things you do for love…
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – I adore this book. It’s definitely one of my top ten favourite books I’ve ever read. They recently made a really naff film adaptation with Tom Hanks in it. Don’t bother, just read the book. The premise makes it seem really depressing (a young boy looses his father in 9/11) but it’s actually wonderfully uplifting. The way the book is used as a medium is revolutionary. You need to get your hands on a copy and flip through to understand what I mean. It made me cry.
Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s – More of a short story than an actual novel, this is one of the few cases where I prefer the film to the book. Having said that, I imagine reading the story would be much different if I didn’t have Audrey Hepburn swirling in my mind. Still, a good story based in New York.
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking – The only memoir in the stack, I read The Year of Magical Thinking just a few weeks ago. Didion is an author who looses her husband suddenly and tragically. The book follows her grief throughout the year after his death. This was a really harrowing read. I found myself touching wood constantly, so grateful to still have my nearest and dearest with me. It was a really interesting insight into how we grieve, set against the backdrop of the Big Apple.
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar – Okay, so not really focusing on NYC really, but this is a must-read for any human being. I haven’t read it since my teenage years so it’s most definitely due a re-read. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love – The cover of this book makes it look really naff but don’t judge it by its cover (ho ho ho) I must admit, I really wanted to like this book. I read it when I was really busy and I didn’t give it the time it deserved. The result? I was really bloody confused by the whole book and missed the point completely. Whoops!
Others that I’ve read and loved, but couldn’t find on my shelves: The Great Gatsby. The Princess Diaries (admittedly when I was younger haha)
For the love of god you must read this book!!!!!!
The reason I can’t photograph my copy of The Goldfinch is because I don’t own one – I listened to the audiobook. I fucking loved it so much! It’s a really long (33 hours) listen, but so great to have on whilst you do other things: I listened to it whilst I painted the living room last summer and it was wonderful. Made me itch to go to New York too, although I may avoid the art galleries…
Books on my to read list, set in NYC: The Catcher in the Rye, American Psycho, The Devil Wears Prada, Sophie’s Choice.
Do you have any recommendations? I’d love to hear. I also need to find books set in LA, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia.
I’m still hunting for travel literature and devouring every single one I can get my hands on. My latest? Rita Golden Gelman’s “Tales of a Female Nomad”
Golden Gelman is a children’s book author, who similarly to Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love), goes through a divorce, sells her possesions and then takes off alone, with a dream of seeing the world, and living among people of another culture. To this day, (she’s now in her seventies) she lives as a nomad.
Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.
During the course of the book, Rita visits and lives in:
(The above countries in bold are places Tom and I hope to visit.)
I loved this book. On goodreads, I gave it four out of five stars. (Had it been a mark out of ten, I’d have given it 9/10)
What inspired me most was how she lived with local people, became a part of their daily life, and paid back their favours by teaching English and helping them with writing.
I loved how Golden Gelman met local people, many of whom she didn’t share a common language with, and experienced their way of life. I find this concept very life-afirming. At the end of the book she asks the reader to get in touch. I’ve just sent her an email.
I completely empathise with the sense of freedom that travel gives. I can’t wait to experience it again. Oh how my feet itch!
Slightly away from the travel genre, this is a book that has been on my amazon wish list for years but I only recently got around to buying.
(The Happiness Project, or, why I spent a year trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle and generally have more fun.)
The Happiness Project is a year memoir by Gretchen Rubin, who had an epiphany one day whilst on a bus, and realised that “The days are long but the years are short.” and decided to dedicate a year to learning about happiness and focusing on the things that brought joy into her life.
We are hardwired to absorb bad experiences more readily that a good experience. For example, if you were to loose £100, you’d be more upset than you would be happy if you found £100. Therefore we should always strive to appreciate the good things.
Taking notes is a good idea. Rubin dedicated a chapter to books and wrote about how she always takes notes when reading. I thought what a good idea! I’ve always got my nose in a book but I really struggle to remember what happens in the novels I’ve read. I decided to start a diary. Partly in preparation for keeping a travel journal, but also so that I can write down quotes and remember things from books that have inspired me. I’ll also use it to document my own sort of happiness project.
(Look, I already started!)
Tackling a nagging task is such a satisfying thing to do. I’ve made a list of them and I’m beginning to cross them off. Bliss.
There’s also something wonderful about clearing out. It feels like such a relief to get rid of unused clothes and clutter.
There were a few seething reviews on Goodreads, stating that the Happiness Project is introspective and selfish, doesn’t benefit the starving children in India etc etc… but
“One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy. And one of the best ways to make other people happy myself.” – So striving to be happy isn’t as selfish as they made out.
In other happiness news, I’ve been listening to “Hardwiring Happiness” on audible. It goes into the psychology of what makes us happy, and teaches how we can take in the good. Interesting.
I’ve recently been having a think about how I’d like to document our time away. I’ve got the blog here of course, but I’d also like to have a physical journal or document that I can use to collect tickets and documents. It’ll also come in handy when we’re off the beaten track and we don’t have an internet connection.
At the same time, I don’t want to feel overwhelmed by keeping up with writing, and I don’t want to miss anything whilst I’m away.
I’ve been on pinterest looking for ideas. (You can follow my personal account here if you like. :))
I’ve always loved the idea of a moleskine travel journal. Look at these beauties!
I haven’t done a lot of drawing since art A level, but one of my 25 new things is to get drawing again.
Love this moleskine too:
Below is a more wordy version:
So yes, we’ve established I like moleskine journals. (BTW have you ever pinterest searched “moleskine journal” ? Prepare to fall into a rabbit hole of inspiration/procrastination.
Of course there are many other notepad options. But what about this? :
The idea here is to buy postcards along the way of your trip and write what you did that day on the back: restaurants, funny stories, cool attractions. When you’re home you can hole punch them and attach to binder ring.
This is a nice way of keeping memories, but I worry that I’d forget and then feel guilty. Also, I’d prefer to use my own photographs.
Oh the possibilities are endless. Time to buy a moleskine and get doodling!