Happy Sunday: fudge, friends and football

Hope everyone had a great week! As usual, I’ve been keeping an eye out for good news and happy things to share, both from home and away. What good things happened to you this week?

This week:

  • So technically, this happened a little over a week ago, but I’m still very excited, so it’s going on the list… On January 1st, my year got off to an awesome start when I was asked to write a monthly theatre feature in a local magazine. To say I was excited doesn’t really cover it – I can’t wait to get started.
  • Speaking of local, the youngest person on the New Year Honours List is 13-year-old Jonjo Heuerman from Wilmington. Jonjo’s raised over £235,000 for Cancer Research UK, in memory of his nan, who died of bowel cancer, and his football hero, Bobby Moore.
  • My friend Nina had her first article published on Elephant Journal this week. It’s a great piece about how to deal with life’s ups and downs, and well worth a read. And you can read more from Nina on her blog, The Pollyanna Plan – she’s brilliant and one of the most positive people I know.
  • Chris Dempsey from Illinois donated part of his liver to a complete stranger in 2015, after overhearing one of his colleagues talking about Heather Krueger, a family member who needed a transplant to save her life. Chris and Heather got to know each other in the time leading up to the surgery – which was a success – and now they’re engaged.
  • As part of a work project, I randomly decided at the end of last year that I was going to learn Welsh. The idea of the challenge is to learn as much as possible during January using our language app, and although it’s open to anyone, we’re having our own internal competition in the office, which – as of Friday – I’m winning! (I have a feeling when I go in tomorrow I won’t be any more, so I’m making the most of this small victory while I can.)

Welsh uTalk Challenge

  • Last week, commuters on a morning train from Ascot to Waterloo actually enjoyed their journey for once when the conductor posed a fun music quiz, repeating the question each time new passengers got on. Apparently this is quite a regular occurrence on South West Trains – are you listening, Southeastern…?
  • I was feeling a bit grumpy the other day (yes, it does happen – I’m only relentlessly cheerful when blogging) and then my friend Safia produced her latest amazing creation, Super Sinful Oreo Fudge. It’s basically a heart attack on a plate, but if it did kill you, at least you’d die happy. Unfortunately I was too busy eating to take a photo, but you can see Safia’s pictures – and check out how it’s done – on her blog, My Griffin Way.
  • A woman from Sydney, Meg Churches, has become famous for making tiny wraps to protect orphaned baby bats. The idea behind the wrap is that it replicates their mother’s wings, which is crucial for the bats’ survival. Meg’s design goes under the adorable name of Cuddlebatz, and here’s what it looks like in action:
  • Without wanting to bang on about theatre, this week I’ve seen three fantastic shows – New Jersey Nights (a celebration of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, Grey Gardens at Southwark Playhouse, and a second visit to the hilarious Peter Pan Goes Wrong (the link is to my review from the first visit, when the show was touring – it’s now at the Apollo Theatre in the West End, and still brilliant).

Have a great week! 🙂

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NaBloPoMo progress report

We’re now two thirds of the way through BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo November challenge, and I thought it was a good time to pause and reflect on the last 20 days.

Last month, I managed one blog post each week, and that was mostly because I felt I should, rather than because I had any hugely inspiring ideas to share. But I love my little blog, and didn’t want it to become something I viewed as a chore, rather than something I did through choice. So maybe committing to a post every day wasn’t the cleverest move – but as it happens, it’s been exactly what I needed.

NaBloPoMo

Over the past 20 days, I’ve been really surprised at how easily the blog posts have come together, and it’s renewed my enthusiasm and reminded me why I fell in love with blogging in the first place. There hasn’t been a day yet when I’ve had to really think hard to come up with an idea – although of course there have been some when I’ve had less time to write (that’s generally when the photos of sheep start coming out…).

And because I’ve needed an idea for every day, it’s led me to pay more attention to what’s going on around me, and to renew my commitment to looking for the positives in everything I do. I’ve also been thinking more about positivity in general; creating the Happiness Manifesto was a highlight.

I’ve had to manage my time better too; rather than wasting my commute or lunch break, I’ve been using it to blog (or, one occasion, to quiz my colleagues in the name of research).

Some of the posts this month have been the most popular in terms of both readers and response; the debate about when we get to call ourselves writers got some particularly interesting comments. (If you haven’t had your say yet, you’re more than welcome to join the discussion!)

I’ve made several new blogging friends this month, and discovered loads of great blogs to follow as well. Part of the NaBloPoMo experience is supporting others who are taking part, so I’ve spent a lot of time reading and commenting on posts, and stumbled on some real gems.

NaBloPoMo may be almost over for November, but if you’re a blogger, I’d recommend taking this challenge another month. I’m loving it so far, and it turns out impulsively deciding to give it a go on November 1st was a great move. I can’t guarantee I’ll keep posting every day once the month’s up, but at least now I know I can do it if I want to – and best of all, I’ve got my blogging mojo back 🙂

Huzzah!

10 days to go…

Monday Motivation: Why bother blogging?

A couple of weeks ago, I was out for the evening with a fellow blogger, who introduced me to a friend of hers. It turned out that we all have blogs, and so, over dinner at Nando’s, we got into a discussion about our various sites. My friend has a few, covering everything from movie reviews to travel to politics, and her friend has a daily photography blog. So when she then turned to me and asked what my blog was about, I got a bit embarrassed and muttered something about it all being fairly frivolous.

The truth is, until very recently I didn’t really think of this blog as anything of particular significance. I mean, it’s significant to me, but I didn’t honestly think reading my ramblings would mean much to anyone else. So when my friend interrupted and told me very sternly that it’s anything but frivolous, I was surprised and pleased.

I remember exactly why I chose the ‘happy things’ theme. It was a couple of years ago, and I’d been thinking about starting a blog, but couldn’t decide what to write about. Then one night, I was going to the theatre with my mum, dad and sister; I was coming straight from work on the train and they were driving, and we’d planned to meet at the theatre, then they’d give me a lift home afterwards.

Unfortunately, the others got stuck in a massive traffic jam and didn’t arrive until the interval, at which point I gave them a quick – and, I suspect, fairly unhelpful – summary of the first half. Then, barely an hour after they’d finally arrived, we got back in the car to head home. And halfway through the journey, I realised that I hadn’t stopped complaining to them about what a rubbish day I’d had. Even though I wasn’t the one who’d sat in traffic for two hours or missed the first half of a play I’d paid to see.

And so the Blog of Happy Things was born. I decided I wouldn’t restrict myself on subject, and would just set one rule: no complaining allowed (except one day a year, on Alternative Thanksgiving). If I had an aim, besides just having a place to write about stuff, it was to hopefully make people smile and take a moment to think about the good things in their own lives. But I didn’t really think anyone besides my family and maybe a few friends would look at it.

Fast forward two years, and the other day another friend mentioned that he was thinking of starting his own blog. I told him, without hesitation, to do it, and that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, which is 100% true. Not only because it’s been a lot of fun – which it has – but because it’s brought me new friends, both online and in the real world, opened up fantastic opportunities (I’d never have considered writing for London Theatre Direct had I not already had a blog of my own) and forced me to spend time looking around and focusing on happy things, if only so I always have something new to write about. By making me do that, I definitely think it’s made me a happier person overall.

And then there are moments like that one in Nando’s, when my friend told me that if she’s feeling fed up, she pops over here to have a read, and always finds something to make her feel better. Knowing that someone has not only visited the blog, but that they’ve read a post that means something to them, is more than I ever expected, and it totally made my day.

So thank you to everyone who’s ever been to the blog, liked a post, commented or shared. It really does mean the world to me 🙂

And to anyone else who thinks their blog is a bit frivolous, guess what? It’s anything but. At the end of the day, if it means something to other people, that’s a lovely bonus. But the most important thing is that it means something to you.

February challenges

At the start of the year, I said that I was going to set myself a new challenge each month. For January, this was to learn German, using the uTalk app, and I’m happy to say that last Sunday, I completed it! Whether I remember any of it is the next question, but the ultimate test of that will come on Monday (I’ll tell you about that later, if it goes well)…

uTalk challenge completed!

And so to February. This month I thought I’d go for something a bit less taxing on my poor little brain, leaving space for me to continue practising my German; after all, it seems a bit silly to spend a month learning it and then give it up immediately.

This coming month, one of my goals is to have a big clear-out of all the rubbish that’s been piling up at home. I’m a bit of a hoarder, and if I think there’s even the slightest chance I’ll need something again, I can’t throw it out. This has the double consequence of me living surrounded by piles of stuff, and never being able to find the important things when I need them. So it’s got to go.

Besides a general clear-out, I also really want to set myself up with a ‘blogging nook’. This is an idea I discovered on a blog called Smiles and Trials this week, and I knew instantly I wanted one. So my second goal is to transform my desk and its surrounding area, which currently looks like this (oh, the horror):

Desk

into a cosy corner where I can retire with my laptop and (hopefully) write some good stuff. Given that I also have a novel to edit, this is probably better done sooner than later…

Also, because apparently this month wasn’t enough for me, I’m taking up another work challenge – although this time I think it won’t be quite such hard work. It’s a photo challenge with a languages twist, so it’ll be more like revision than actual study, and it’ll be a chance to get a bit creative.

Once again, everyone is welcome to join in – all the details you need to get started are on the EuroTalk website. I plan to mostly focus on German, although I might chuck in a few Spanish words for old time’s sake. And no doubt I’ll share my efforts with you as the month goes by 🙂

EuroTalk February Photo Challenge

Has anyone else got any goals for February?

2014 – the highlights

Happy New Year (nearly)! I hope that 2015 will be a good year for everyone. Thank you as always for reading the blog and joining in with my mayhem over the past twelve months. In case you missed them, here are a few of my highlights:

In January, I took on the 100 Happy Days challenge – sharing a photo of something that makes you smile every day for 100 days. It wasn’t always easy, which is why some of my pictures were of such exciting things as shower gel or an umbrella, but it was a lot of fun and it was definitely a worthwhile experience to look for something positive in every day. It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

Here’s one of my favourite Happy Day photos, taken on an afternoon walk at Bluewater in Kent:

Bluewater

February was pretty quiet – I was still doing the Happy Days challenge though, so plenty to smile about. And it was in February that I had the Big Idea, which would prove to be very important later in the year (more on that in a minute).

Ideas notebook

March was the Month of Mabel. A brief note of explanation – I’m a member of a pub quiz team, and each week, the winning team was handed a sheep and challenged to take a photo of her in some location or other. My first outing with Mabel was to London, and was a lot of fun, even if I did have to adopt the ‘if I don’t look at people they can’t see me’ approach a lot of the time. Mabel’s subsequent adventures included going to work, having a pub lunch, playing tennis and going on The X Factor. (That one took a bit of imagination.)

Mabel gets the tube

In April, I had a long weekend in Naples with my mum and my sister for the Davis Cup GB v Italy tie. Which we lost. But besides that sad fact, and the frequent biblical rain showers, we had a great time. And I got to practise my (very) basic Italian. (Hint: when you don’t know the word for ‘dessert’, just say ‘cake?’ with a hopeful expression. It works.)

Cake

And then in May, I discovered Guernsey. Lovely Guernsey. I went to visit a friend who’d moved there earlier in the year, and fell instantly in love with the beautiful island (and, most importantly, its stunning sunsets). It’s a strange little in-between world, neither England nor France, and has a charming, old-fashioned feel to it. Also, the weather was amazing. And did I mention the sunsets?

Sunset at Cobo Bay

 

In June, I enjoyed a brilliant and inspiring day at TEDx Houses of Parliament. This was my second visit, and once again, I came away feeling like I could change the world (which I still haven’t done, but give me time). This was the day that introduced me to the concept of outrageous optimism, and this immortal quote from wobbly comedian Francesca Martinez: ‘Even an arsehole can change your life.’

Houses of Parliament

July was most memorable in the UK for being very stormy. I’m not good with thunderstorms as a rule – I’m quite scared of getting struck by lightning and I’m fairly averse to loud noises too, so I was pretty proud of myself when I ventured out to take some photos of one particularly dramatic storm. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I look at this picture, I hear ‘There’s a storm coming, Harry…’

Pre-storm

Technically July and August, but next comes our family trip to Scotland for the Commonwealth Games. We stayed in Edinburgh and commuted to Glasgow for the Games, then spent a few days exploring Edinburgh before returning home. We got rained on a lot, spent hours waiting for park and ride buses, saw a one-legged man throw a discus, watched a penguin parade and discovered literally the best cheesecake I’ve ever eaten – so good that I haven’t really shut up about it since.

Strawberry and blueberry cheesecake, Dubh Prais, Edinburgh

In September, I got my Christmas present from my sister, which was a tiger encounter at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent. I adore tigers, but they tend to be a bit antisocial, so I was very excited at the prospect of getting a bit closer and actually seeing one for a change. But it was even better than that, and before I knew what was happening, I was feeding two beautiful Bengal tigers. I won’t lie, it was pretty terrifying – they were a lot bigger than me and on one occasion I did nearly lose some fingers – but I wouldn’t change it; it was incredible.

Meeting the tigers at Port Lympne, Kent

Also in September, because I can’t not mention it, I had a few days in Barcelona, and went inside the Sagrada Familia for the first time, which was basically breathtaking. I will be going back.

La Sagrada Familia, BarcelonaIn October, my sister Helen and I climbed the O2 Arena in London. It was supposed to be the sunset climb, although by the time we got to the top after getting suited up and having a safety briefing, we’d almost missed it. But even so, we had some great views across London and the South East, and the satisfaction of reaching the top without falling off. (This was a genuine worry before we started.)

Up at the O2

And so to November, when I wrote a book. And by that I mean I wrote 100,000 words of semi-coherent plot, which I hope to make into a book in 2015. This was all part of NaNoWriMo, and basically meant I had no social life for a month, but it was totally worth it. Not only was it great to get the Big Idea finally on paper, but there was also the exciting feeling of having set myself a challenge, and completing it. Which is probably why I’ve now decided to learn German in January. What could go wrong?

NaNoWriMo - 100,000 words!

As for December, that was mostly about panic-buying gifts for Christmas, because I hadn’t left the house at the weekend for most of November. But I managed to fit in a movie screening of Birdman, which is out in the UK tomorrow, at Twentieth Century Fox in London. This was the latest in a series of exciting developments over the last few months that have also seen me become a blogger for London Theatre Direct. I never thought, when I started this little blog, that it would take me anywhere – so again, thank you all for taking the time to read my nonsense; I would have given up long ago without you.

Twentieth Century Fox

Here’s to the new year and all the challenges, experiences and happy things it brings 🙂