Valentines 4

Valentines day alert! Apologies if you’re trying to escape it but seem to be getting it from all angles, I know how that feels! But Valentines Day is almost upon us, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t get away from it. Every brand seems to have a themed advert out; on the TV, on the tube, on Twitter. I walked into Scribbler and an entire half of the store was Valentines cards – I literally couldn’t find the birthday cards I was looking for for a moment. For some of you I’m sure Valentines Day is exciting, a chance to spend some quality time with your other half and an excuse to do something fun. For the other half, I expect you slightly dread it (or perhaps you’re embracing it and going to see 50 Shades of Grey with your girlfriends as half the UK seems to be doing this weekend!) I’m kind of in the middle, I’m not single so I don’t dread it. I do remember that feeling though, it’s the one day everyone can just rub it in your face and not feel guilty! But then I’m also not particularly bothered by it, I’ve said to my boyfriend let’s go for dinner another night to avoid the crowds and the hiked prices.

But anyway, love it or hate it, it’s nearly here. And whoever you are I’ve thought of a way to turn Valentines Day into a positive – whether you’re single or attached – by using it as an excuse to tell everyone you love that you love them. It may sound cheesy but how often do we hear that the biggest regret when someone dies is that you didn’t tell that person you loved them enough? Thinking about this, I decided my love-themed challenge this week would be to tell everyone I love that I love them. It’s not as many people as you would think, there’s plenty of people that I really like but not that many I actually love. And I wanted a challenge that all you singletons could join in with too. Do have a go and let me know how it goes?

hearts

The Boyfriend: Just to get it out the way (skip this part if you really have had enough of smug couples, I totally understand!), the first person that sprang to mind was my lovely boyfriend. We’ve been together 4 and a half years now and I think I still tell him I love him everyday (pass the sick bucket!) but to make it more of a challenge I decided to show him. I knew that he’d had a stressful day and needed some relax time so I nipped in to Lush on my way home from work and bought him a bubble bath bomb. I know he would never go in and buy one for himself but I know he secretly loves them so I went ahead and bought him their new bug bath bomb. It’s a bit of a looker so that made him chuckle too. One person down, lots more to go.

The Parents: Now these two are somehow easy to forget, they do so much for me every single day and yet I’m not sure I tell them how much I appreciate it and love them enough. So I went straight out and said thank you and I love you to them both individually. I probably tell my mum quite a lot so she just gave me a hug and told me she loved me too. My dad on the other hand, I know I’m sometimes guilty of neglecting, so I made sure to tell him too. He genuinely seemed really pleased and gave me a huge hug, I think it might have made his evening! I’ve definitely learnt I should tell him more often.

The Siblings: Being blessed (and also cursed!) by a big family, this was more of a challenge then you might think. You see first off there was my little sister, being the baby of the family I tell her I love her all the time so it was pretty routine. I decided to spend a bit of time with her though to actually show it, admiring her ombré nails! I’m so busy and I often feel guilty for not spending the time I should with her.

Number two was my youngest brother – he’s 16 and having a bit of a hard time at the moment stressing over his A Levels, so this one was important to me. Being 16, he doesn’t really talk about feelings and I don’t think I ever really tell him I love him. I was already planning to have a chat with him about University which he’s worrying about a bit but then it felt weird to say I loved him at the end of that – it would have been so out of the ordinary! So instead that evening I knocked on his bedroom door and said goodnight and I love you, he seemed to appreciate it.

And finally it came to brother number 3 who lives away at uni. I was about to just text him to tell him I love him (we’re much more open with our feelings) when I realised I hadn’t spoken to him in about 3 weeks and I felt awful! So I text him to ask how he was, how uni was going, what he was up to, that I missed him and loved him very much. We got into a long text thread about life and what we were up to and this genuinely made me really happy, I’d forgotten how much I missed him and I wouldn’t have chatted to him if it wasn’t for this mission!

The Goddaughter: My gorgeous goddaughter-to-be (she’s not christened yet) is the cutest little thing ever – she’s only 5 months old. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks so I made sure to last weekend. And whilst I bounced her around on my shoulder (which she proceeded to throw up on) I told her I loved her. She couldn’t understand but I was glad I said it anyway. That one is going to break many hearts on future Valentines Days I feel!

The Friends I Haven’t Seen in a While: University tends to scatter your friends half way across the globe (and country) and means you go from living with people and seeing them everyday to seeing them once a year if you’re lucky. I have two very close friends from uni who I love very much so I dropped them both a text to say I love them. Because of this we are now planning to meet up much sooner than we would have otherwise.

The Best Friend I See Nearly Everyday: I see my best friend basically everyday as we get the train into or out of London together most days. She knows everything about me but I honestly don’t think I ever really tell her I love her. Last weekend was her birthday so with this challenge in mind, I made sure to buy her a birthday card (which I rarely bother to do for anyone these days!) and write in it how proud I was of her and everything she’s achieved this year, and how much I love her. It brought a tear to her eye (she had just necked half a bottle of champagne but still!), mission complete!

So that’s it, that was everyone I decided to tell how much I love them. Some I tell all the time and some not so much but all 10 told me they loved me back (actually my little goddaughter didn’t, but she can’t speak so it doesn’t count!) and because of that I got 10 lots of love thrown back at me. That’s a really good feeling. I suggest if you don’t have anyone to spend Valentines Day with this year and you’re feeling lonely, give this a go. Throw your love out there and I guarantee you’ll get some back in return. Let me know how you get on?

Recipe 12

One of my most popular posts so far has been Challenge 2: Make Something That Lasts Forever (you can read it here if you missed it: http://100waystohappy.com/2015/01/08/challenge-2-make-something-that-lasts-forever/) so today I thought I would flip that on its head and make something that only lasts a few minutes. What might that be, I hear you ask? Or maybe not, I guess it’s pretty obvious it’s going to be food! In particular, food of a very yummy kind.

Yesterday I took to Instagram and Twitter to document me making one of my favourite recipes for my whole family, my infamous cheesy soup. I’m not going to pretend it’s very healthy or good for you, but I believe you should always be able to treat yourself. I live by the rule that if you eat healthily most of the time, you can certainly afford to eat badly occasionally. This recipe is for those naughty days, and I always imagine them to be a Sunday. You’ve worked hard all week, studying or working, eating well and exercising, so now you get the chance to have one day off.

So let’s get down to the recipe, you will need…

Recipe 1

  • 2 onions
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 200g low-fat soft cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 450ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 level tablespoons cornflour
  • 75g mature cheddar
  • crusty bread

Begin by dicing your onions and then cook them gently over a low heat for a couple of minutes, not long enough for them to brown. After this, put the lid on the saucepan, turn the hob down to a very low heat and leave to sweat for 3-4 minutes.

Make the vegetable stock with 2 cubes dissolved in 450ml of boiled water, then pour it over the onions, turn up the heat and bring to the boil. After this reduce the heat back down so the mixture boils and leave partially covered for 10 minutes.

While this is simmering, chop your chives! I don’t know why but I felt like a proper chef doing this!

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Pour your onion mixture into a blender, add the chopped chives and all your soft cheese and blend away for about 25 seconds or until the mixture feels smooth and doesn’t have any lumps of onion.

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Return the smooth mixture to your saucepan and pour in the milk, simmer over a low heat. Whilst this is simmering, mix your cornflour with a little milk to make a thick, smooth paste. Add this to the saucepan, this is what’s going to thicken up your soup. Grate all the cheese, you should end up with a mountain!

Stir the soup on a medium heat and you should start to feel it thickening. Have a little taste and once it is at your desired texture, add half the grated cheese and stir until completely melted. Cook gently for 3 minutes.

Recipe 6

While your soup is cooking gently, slice your bread (you want one slice per bowl of soup) and lightly grill on one side. Turn over and grill the other side topped with grated cheese. These are going to make cheesy islands.

Recipe 7

Make sure your soup is at the desired temperature and thickness, then turn off the heat and ladle into bowls. Add your floating islands of cheesy bread and ta-da! You’ve done it. Now I dare you to try and not devour it in a few minutes! Trust me, it’s impossible!

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Recipe 10

Honestly this is a favourite recipe of mine, and because it is naughty I can’t have it all the time. When I do, it always makes me happy and reminds me of relaxed Sundays. It’s also always gone within a few minutes, the whole family love it! Let me know if you give it a go? How quickly did yours last?!

Recipe 13

Fave instagram

At the beginning of January I didn’t just set myself the challenge of starting this blog 100 Ways to Happy, I also challenged myself to post one photo a day on Instagram for a month. I wanted to try and record every single day, even if it was just in the tiniest way. Some days I found it close to impossible – I leave my house at 7am and don’t return home until 8pm so apart from the office, my lunch break and the train, there is very little in most of my weekdays. A few days it would get to 9pm and I’d be thinking about going to bed and then I’d realise I hadn’t yet posted and have to think of something small from that day I could photograph – hence there being quite a few photos of food and candles! But most days I was surprised, lots of days I ended up posting more than one photo because I had more I wanted to upload.

Before I started this blog, I had never used Instagram. I didn’t really think I took enough photos or had enough to take photos of. This challenge has definitely proved me wrong. Now when I look back on the photos, very few of them look like photos I forced myself to take for the challenge. Nearly all of them remind me of a moment or thing from that day. You see this was the point, to record everyday and realise that everyday has some worth. I may think that they’re all just blurring into one and life is whizzing by me sometimes but actually each day I do or see or experience something unusual or interesting or happy. When I look back now I realise just from the photos how much I’ve achieved and done in this month. Without the photos and this blog, I’d probably just dismiss January as a cold, wet winter month ready to be written off for something better. But the photos tell a different story, they tell me of all the fun I had, all the trips I took, all the little things I did.

Week 1:

Week one instagram

Week 2:

Week 2 instagram

Week 3:

Week 3 instagram

Week 4:

Week 4 instagram

At the top of this post is a collage of all my favourite photos of this month and I thought I’d quickly take you through why they are my favourite (travelling left to right, top to bottom):

1. Dog: I took this on a muddy walk on the 2nd of January, I was worried about Christmas being over and going back to work but this walk reminded me of all the fun things about January like wellies and puddles and the crisp winter air, and it made me feel positive for things to come.

2. Painting: I love this for three reasons – I loved the day I spent making the painting with my boyfriend, I’m proud of the photo, and that challenge formed one of my favourite blog posts so far.

3. Hot chocolates: On my third day back at work I went to Hotel Chocolat for a cheeky hot chocolate at lunchtime with my best friend, perfection!

4. Fajitas: This is a photo of my first mid-week dinner party with my friends, now we get together for dinner every Wednesday. This little tradition was only created at the beginning of January and shows me that even mid-week there’s more to life than work.

5. Banana snack: Banana and almond butter on oatcakes has definitely been my healthy snack discovery of January, I now have it nearly everyday.

6. Cocktail: I got this cocktail in a secret bar in Bristol when I was visiting my university friend who has now left the UK on an adventure round the world. It reminds me of that last weekend spent with her and also of the fun we had in the secret bar, the drink was disgusting though!

7. Bath bomb box: My box of Lush bath bombs never fails to make me happy, if I just open it and smell what lies within then my bad mood can automatically be transformed! I think I’ve had some of the best baths I’ve had in my life in January.

8. Pizza: This is the biggest pizza I think I ever saw from Homeslice in Covent Garden, and it was so yummy. But this photo also sums up another amazing midweek evening spent with my best friend eating pizza and then going to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

9. Pancakes: Mmmm this photo makes me hungry! I’ve had my boyfriend’s special homemade pancakes too many times this month and everytime they are the most delicious thing I’ve ever tried! For some reason this photo also just reminds me of lazy Sundays and they’re probably my favourite thing in the world.

10. Greek tapas: I’ve decided to try more alternative cuisines this month so one evening I made Greek tapas with my two closest friends, it was so good and we had so many laughs that evening.

These are my top 10 favourite photos for the month. They remind me of 10 very different but happy memories of January. So much so, I think I might continue this challenge into February so I can see everything I achieve in this new month. I can see it will already begin with snow!

Let me know if I’ve inspired you to start this challenge? It may just surprise you how many great photos you end up with and make you feel that bit more positive about life.

Organised blog 1

This is such a January post and I’m posting it on the first day of February! Oh well, today is officially one month since we made all those New Year’s resolutions. I wonder how many of you are still sticking to them? Today also marks one month of 100 ways to happy, I already feel an achievement just to have kept to posting twice a week and to have made it through 9 challenges. I’ve really started to notice reader numbers pick up and to have made it well over 1000 followers on Twitter is just amazing. Thank you to everyone who is following me and to everyone who is reading my posts. Please do comment with any challenges you would like to see me try? And do let me know if you try any of my challenges, I would love to know how you get on.

Now, down to getting organised. For Christmas last year I asked for a Filofax, I’ve always been someone who is obsessive about organisation. I just counted and I currently have 47 notes on my iPhone, I’d be willing to bet that at least half of those are lists! I love a good to do list. But I also love writing things down with good old fashioned pen and paper rather than always typing it out on technology. For a start, I feel calmer when things are on pen and paper – all laid out before me so I can actually process and deal with each one individually. I’m a big fan of writing down everything on my mind if I can’t sleep and then hiding the piece of paper away, that way my mind feels clearer. So a Filofax seemed a natural next choice, lots of space for lists and all written down. I also just can’t get used to an online diary, I know most people do and I do for work but to plan things I like to have an actual calendar in front of me. My Filofax is such a beauty, brilliant red, faux leather and so sturdy. Inside it has a calculator (so old-fashioned but brilliant) and then pages of all different types. There’s space for to do lists, personal details, an address book and, of course, different calendar and diary pages. A lot of people have told me the address book pages are pointless, who needs addresses nowadays and if you do why not store them in your phone? But my favourite thing in the world is sending my friends (especially the ones scattered over the country who I can’t see very often) a birthday card. My Filofax allows me to record the date of their birthday and their address, also meaning I have no excuse for a late birthday card this year (I have been pretty famous for them in the past). So I use my Filofax as my stay at home diary which records important dates like birthdays and anniversaries, and also records all my friends’ addresses and all those personal details that I need to not forget.

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However I also need a day-to-day diary to carry everywhere with me which records my day-to-day life and where I’m supposed to be and when. I’ve got a rubbish memory so if something isn’t in my diary then it isn’t going to happen! And I always need to write it down right away otherwise it’ll just go straight out of my head. I found my favourite diary yet this year in the Clintons sale in early January – would you believe I got it for £2.50! It’s called ‘the little diary for a big year’ and it’s pretty basic inside with a week per double page. One side lists the week with space to write your appointments and plans and the other side has space for notes, perfect for me to write my on-the-go lists and any reminders. It also has really cute little inspirational phrases and quotes dotted throughout the diary and relevant to that month or special day. I’m an absolute sucker for an inspirational quote so you can imagine how much I love this. I also just love the motivational front – the little diary for a big year – I want a big year and this reminds me what I’m working towards. Its not lying to you, it’s as little as it claims at A6 size and perfect for any handbag. It may sound crazy but my mood is genuinely lifted whenever I write something in this diary!

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On top of this I also obviously have my iPhone and iPad which are useful for keeping organised. I use my iPhone for on-the-go notes as I mentioned and to jot down anything that I then need to transfer to my diary or Filofax. As I’m sure most of us would say, I’d be lost without my iPhone. My iPad is for longer thoughts or ideas, anything that’s popped into my head and will take a while to write, more often than not on a long train journey or commute. I use it to write blog post ideas in, thoughts for a new novel or long lists like Bucket Lists.

It may sound complicated but the system is pretty clear in my head and I’ve been using it for a month now. For the first time in forever everything is written down somewhere ensuring I can’t forget and also ensuring it is out of my head where I’ll worry about it or toss it around and constantly think about it. If you’re like me and do worry or stress, do try having a couple of places where you write everything down, you might be surprised what a difference it makes!

Box Hill 1

After a long week at work, a long country walk is always what the doctor ordered. The fresh air does me an absolute world of good. To be honest, this isn’t really a challenge for me, I go on a long country walk most weekends. I used to absolutely hate walking and it upsets me how many amazing walks I must have missed out on. I live in walking heaven in Surrey. Beautiful scenery and countryside surrounds me and all those years I just didn’t see it. But I think since I’ve started working and Monday to Friday all blurs into one, especially spending all those hours squashed in on the dreaded commute and then the rest of the hours stuck in an office, I just crave the freedom. There’s nothing better then having a free few hours and no idea where you’re going. I particularly like walking in the winter (bizarre I know), I love the crisp, fresh air and wrapping up in hundreds of layers. In fact, country walks are my favourite thing about the dull months of January and February.

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Box Hill 4

Because I always go for walks and this is supposed to be a challenge, I decided to go a little further afield to a brilliant spot for a winter walk, Box Hill. Box Hill has always been one of my favourite winter walks, those views are just incredible. I would possibly even award them the best views in Surrey. I also love the fact that Box Hill makes an appearance in Jane Austen’s Emma. There’s something so magical about walking on Box Hill and knowing you might be re-treading the steps of Jane Austen, maybe she was even dreaming up Mr Darcy and Elizabeth whilst walking the same route that I was. The section in Emma is just lovely too:

“They had a very fine day for Box Hill … Nothing was wanting but to be happy when they got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving”

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Box Hill used to be pretty unknown, apart from to Surrey dwellers like myself. But then in 2012 it got a little taste of fame as it became the pinnacle of the cycling road race in the London 2012 Olympics. Crowds literally descended on the area and you can still see ‘Cavendish’ etched lightly into the winding roads up to the top. It’s now the first welcoming photo you see when you arrive into Gatwick airport too and, as you can imagine, I love that. I’m just getting upset that my holiday is over and I have to return home when I see one of my favourite places reminding me that it’s always good to be back.

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But enough about Box Hill, the benefits of a winter walk can be felt wherever you live. Even if you live in the heart of London, there’s Primrose Hill or Hyde Park. There’s always a green space to escape to. I like to turn off my phone or put it on airplane mode (if I want to take photos) and just enjoy nature. Admire the beautiful views, snuggle up in hundreds of layers and jump in a few puddles. I really think the fresh air is de-stressing and relaxing, I always come back a lot calmer than I left. It’s also a great way to guarantee me a good night’s sleep, something about the fresh air again I think.

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