Sunday, 21 June 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #24

1// City of Women by David Gillham I read this novel whilst in Berlin and it was quite the experience to read about the areas that we were exploring. I thought this was a very well written and very moving book.

2// Trying new things I've been trying to eat local and traditional food on this trip and this last week I've eaten and drunk so many new things. I have realised that I'm actually rather keen on wurst and aperol spritzers. Although the apfelstrudel in Vienna was by far the tastiest thing. 

3// Cafe Central sometime last year there was a series of art programmes on, I think, the BBC that focused on particular cities. I remember the Vienna episode quite vividly as it was so fascinating and it was wonderful being in the city and seeing everything that they talked about. Cafe Central was quite the literary and intellectual hangout in the years running up to WW1 so I couldn't resist having brunch in the same cafe where the likes of Freud would have done a hundred years ago. The food was pretty darn scrumptious too. 

4// Bookshop browsing I do love a good bookshop and seem to have a nose for finding them in other countries. We came across a couple in Vienna and I searched out one particular one. I may have only bought one book, but I've added a number to my wish list. 

5// Trains yesterday morning we were up at 4.45am to get a train from Vienna to Zagreb. I love a good train journey anyway, but this one was spectacular and the scenery was just beautiful. Even though there were a couple of hiccups (rail replacement service somewhere in Slovenia), I still loved it.

What has made you happy this week? Share your link below and use #sharethehappy on twitter and instagram!


Monday, 15 June 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #23

1// Busy days The new service I work for has really started to pick up in the last couple of weeks and this week particularly I've really loved getting my teeth into difficult queries and learning how to answer them. 

2// Anticipation Even if my excitement this week probably falls more into the nervous excitement category, I do still love those few days before a holiday when you're writing checklists and to do lists and planning when to paint your nails or do the last load of washing. It has been tiring, but I'm tired and happy.

3// Skype How could Skype chats not make someone happy?

4// Battlefield Touring Saturday saw the part of this trip I've been waiting for - the WW1 battlefield tour. It was stunning, moving and so very interesting. I'm now planning my own - I'm thinking a car, tent and map. 

5// Belgium I'm writing this in Belgium as we're packing our bags again getting ready to move on to Berlin. We've had a great time here. It's a beautiful place and I feel like it's been quite educational. I've learnt a lot about the war and about Belgium's history that I didn't know before. Plus, lots of Kriek beer and chocs!

What has made you happy this week? Share your link below and use #sharethehappy on twitter and instagram!


Friday, 12 June 2015

The Book List

A few weeks ago I sent out a request for reading recommendations based on the countries my sister and I will be visiting on our trip around parts of Europe. There were some great suggestions including a few bonus movie recommendations. Thank you to everyone who responded with a suggestion, you certainly helped add a touch of interest to a previously lacklustre list.

With your recommendations offering me a world of choice, it took me a while to decide what to read but I've finally settled on the following list:

Belgium/ Ypres
The Unseen by Katherine Webb

Germany/ Berlin
City of Women by David Gillham 
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (incidentally we're actually staying near Nollendorfplatz which was Isherwood's neighbourhood)

Austria/ Vienna
Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

Croatia/ Zagreb and Pula
Girl at War by Sara Novic

Italy/ Venice
The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins 
City of Falling Angels by John Berendt 
Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers

Italy/ Verona
Italian Neighbours by Tim Parks
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (obviously)

The just-in-case list:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
Armadale by Wilkie Collins

My kindle is packed to the brim with enticing reads and fully charged - what more could I need for a trip around Europe?

What do you think - have I made good choices?


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

On Travelling and Being Anxious

I will always say that travelling is one of my favourite things to do. I save my money for trips away rather than for important things (like a mortgage), I spend ages on Pinterest looking at stunning pictures of dream destinations, and I lose hours daydreaming about places I want to see and things I want to experience.

I'm not a week by the beach or a hotel resort kinda gal, I consider myself to be a traveller. I don't just want holidays, I'm looking for experiences and I want to live the culture of the country I'm in, even if only for a day or two. I love to walk the streets without a map, eat in local restaurants and try local cuisines, find sights that are hidden just off the beaten track, and browse local bookstores (of course).

No matter how much I love to travel, there's one thing that always seems to get in my way and threatens to ruin each and every trip. That one thing is my anxiety. All those worries and fears that I experience daily on my home turf are magnified tenfold when I leave the country. Usually I can keep it in check with my trusty calming techniques, but sometimes even they fail and my world becomes all higgledy piddledy and I am suddenly unable to do things. This doesn't happen to this extent often, I think the last time was when my sister and I went to Milan in 2012 so I'm doing well, but I would be lying if I said I'm not in an almost constant state of anxiety when I'm away.

On Friday my sister and I are starting out on our 16 day trip around a small part of Europe. We've arranged everything ourselves - we don't tend to use packages or anything similar - so it's all in the planning. I've done a lot of planning, but it still doesn't feel like enough. I know exactly where we are going to be when, including specific timings, and how to get from airports and train stations to our hotels. I've covered all eventualities and it would be easy to assume from my packing list that I'm going into the wilderness for an unknown period of time. Yet I still have that feeling, right in the pit of my stomach, and it doesn't seem to want to shift. I'm hoping that when I'm on that Eurostar to Belgium it'll all fade, but I know that if it doesn't go completely I have a few handy techniques I can call on.

I thought I would just share these 'in the moment' techniques - perhaps they could be of use to you in those anxious moments either at home or away:

Repeat a mantra For years my Mum has been telling me to 'feel the fear and do it anyway' courtesy of Susan Jeffers (you can read more about that here). This has become something I repeat to myself whenever I'm in a situation that makes me anxious. When that fails to have its usual impact I often turn, in true Dr Pepper style, to 'what's the worst that can happen?'. Either of these or even a combination of both can do wonders to calm my overanxious mind.

Have an object I used to be really interested in crystals and I had this beautiful piece of red jasper which had a handy little dent for my thumb. I used to press my thumb into this dent whenever I felt the worry rising and focus instead on the feel of the crystal in my hand. This was particularly handy on planes or when trying to sleep in a strange bed. I think any object could have a similar function as it can help focus your mind on something else. One of those squidgy stress balls would be perfect!

Curl your toes Okay stick with me here, I realise this sounds a little odd. Most of my techniques are based around finding distractions and things to focus my whole mind on, so whether that's slowly making fists or curling and uncurling my toes, I focus solely on that and make sure to breathe in time with the movement.

I've always been determined not to let anxiety get in the way of living the life I want, which means that these techniques are definitely tried and tested. They might not work every time, but they do give me something to do rather than letting the anxious thoughts take over. One day I'll pack a suitcase without my arms going to jelly, but for now I'm going to keep pushing myself to take a deep breath and explore.

I'll be posting updates here (wi-fi depending) and sharing my adventures on twitter and instagram if you wanted to come along.

Do you experience anything like this when you leave the country? Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping it at bay? Can you recommend any calming reads?

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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #22

1// Finishing War and Peace if you follow me on twitter or instagram you would have seen my excitement this week when I finally finished War and Peace. It has been an emotional journey (god damn Tolstoy, why do you kill everyone off?!), but I'm amazing and pleased with how much I loved it. I'll certainly re-read it in a few years time and there are a number of quotes I'm going to keep handy for when a low moment threatens.

2// Florence's new album Florence and the Machine released a new album this week and it has been pretty much all I've listened to. I don't think it compares to Ceremonials, but I never can resist her voice.

3// Holiday planning as of today it's less than a week until my sister and I jet off on our trip, so I've been busy planning our itinerary and booking various tours and activities. Planning helps me deal with the anxiety of being in an unknown place, but it also helps ramp up the excitement. It's safe to say I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve right now.

4// Sunny days the weather this week has been an absolute dream. A bit of sun makes a huge difference to my mood, as I'm sure it does for most, so it has been very uplifting to wake up to a beautiful sunrise most mornings.

5// A new desk I had an early birthday present from M this week when an Ikea parcel turned up in the post. It turned out to be the Micke desk in white which I've been lusting after for the longest time. We put it together yesterday (using a swiss army knife and a wrench instead of a hammer - I'm nothing if not resourceful) and I already just know it's going to be the perfect spot for writing and being creative.

What has made you happy this week? Share your link below and use #sharethehappy on twitter and instagram!


Friday, 5 June 2015

The Lost Art of Sinking by Naomi Booth

The Lost Art of Sinking
Naomi Booth
Penned in the Margins
June 2015

For the last month I have been pretty dedicated to reading War and Peace. No other book has had a look in for about five weeks, but neither have I felt the need to read something else. That is, until The Lost Art of Sinking dropped through my post box. 

Penned in the Margins asked me a couple of weeks ago whether I was interested in reading their upcoming release from Naomi Booth. They sold it well - 'a dark comedy about losing yourself'. Booth's fascination with swooning was mentioned (she's writing a monograph on the subject), and it was this which initially grabbed my attention. I too find fainting/swooning fascinating and have done since reading an offhand comment in one of Jane Austen's juvenile works warning us to 'beware of swoons'. That one comment has stuck with me for years (literally) so, long story short, I could hardly turn down the opportunity of reading this novella about the art of fainting.

Described as a dark comedy, this novella is the story of Esther who is obsessed with fainting and 'performing' her faints (she often talks about audiences). 

'Some call it the Fainting Game, others Indian Headrush - but it's all the rage amongst the girls of class 2B'

You learn early on that there is something going on with her mother who never leaves her dancer's studio built in their house. This relationship with her mother, or Moira as she calls her, is significant and often sits just behind the text.

'Sometimes she was on wonderful form. She would usher me in and immediately set off on a story, as though she was restarting a conversation from a moment before. She told me her history as though she was recounting it to a journalist, balancing facts with appealing, atmospheric detail.'

The story moves swiftly from her parental home in Todmorden, to a squat in Leeds and then to London. Throughout Esther's narration is both forthright and distorted. The details she choses to share are significant and often similar images emerge repeatedly - there are some brilliantly vivid descriptions of her thoughts about blood. Not in a way that'll make the reader swoon, but in a way that'll make you really appreciate Booth's way with language. You can almost hear her and, by proxy Esther, trying out the words on her tongue. 

Esther herself is a striking character. She has a bold and truthful voice, but you can tell that her narrative is carefully curated. I can't decide whether it is this which gives her an element of otherworldliness. There's something about her that seems somewhat fantastical, but then she is also so rooted in the world she lives in.

For me the story often fell secondary to the language, which goes to show how brilliant the language is as the story is perfectly compelling. Booth's writing is rich, layered and so utterly stunning. 

'And now, lying in my new bed, I thought of all the people in London, living in parallel, their rooftops multiplying away towards the city centre. I was thinking that most would never know, or even wonder about me. I could chalk them up as parallel lines on a wall and they would repeat away, exceeding my ability to mark them, because of all the new people being born. And even though I couldn't count them, we were all in the city together, at the same time, duplicating one another. I was joining them, just like she had before me; we were all lying in parallel.'

Amazing, right?

This is a quick read - I think I devoured it in around an hour, but then I had just finished War and Peace so there's that. Regardless of how fast I read it, I'm still leaving it by my bedside for a re-read in a week or so. I'm certain there's more to be found.

I would recommend The Lost Art of Sinking without a shadow of a doubt. It is an unusual, beautifully written and deeply affecting novella with a narrator who seems to linger after the final full stop.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any other novellas you think I should try?


Monday, 1 June 2015

June Goals

Before we get cracking with my goals for this month, let's have a look and see how I did with my goals for May:

1// Write a 'Things That Made Me Happy This Week' every Sunday 
2// Work on not feeling guilty if I take a rest day Still not happening, unfortunately. 
3// Read what I want, when I want I only read one book, but it still fits.
4// Reach out to a friend I've not seen a while 
5// Try something new I tried a few new recipes this month which I pretty pleased with.
6// Document more 
7// Be more mindful The most mindful I've been this month is probably thinking about how I should be more mindful. I'll work on it.
8// Cook more I even branched out into a bit of baking this month which is most unusual and super tasty.

I'm feeling pretty good about May, even though I didn't quite achieve my two main goals (mindfulness and not feeling guilty). It felt good having a mixture of big aims with smaller, more achievable goals as I've still been able to cross things off (such a satisfying feeling). I'm trying not to feel disheartened about the others as I know that it will take more than a month to reconfigure my thinking. I think at the moment I'm just missing that initial kick-start. I'll find it somewhere - perhaps in Europe this month!

Anyway, it's onwards and upwards so let's look at my goals for June:

1// Don't hold back I leave for Europe on 12th June and I want to make sure that I experience everything possible. That means not letting myself get in my own way. 

2// Finish War and Peace So close, yet so far. 83% and counting...

3// Get back into a yoga routine Even though yoga makes me feel happy and healthy, inside and out, I seem to have stopped doing it in the last month or so. I think perhaps I need to change it up and try a different app or YouTube videos - let me know if you have any recommendations.

4// Journal more I mentioned the other day how writing something down had helped me to sleep so I will be making a conscious effort to write things down and shake the day off. I'm also planning a travel journal to document every moment of my trip.

5// Be more mindful Perhaps I will start small and just focus on eating mindfully this month. Baby steps, you know.

6// Create a routine that allows for rest days Again, I think a different approach may help with this one. I need to have a good think about how I can make my shifts work for me and create a new routine rather than trying to stick rigidly to a routine based around an 8.30-4.30 work day that I'm no longer doing.

How did you do with your May goals? Do you have any goals for this month?

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