Vegan November

 

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Having decided to join in with Vegan November following an event I attended the month before, I was full of enthusiasm and excitement. I have to admit, I didn’t think it would be difficult at all, and the fact that I eat a predominantly plant-based diet anyway, I thought it would be a breeze. Also, because I’m fairly informed about nutrition, I didn’t think I’d find myself lacking in any key vitamins or nutrients, although I knew I’d need to be even more conscious of what I was eating.

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Pictured above: Gnocci cooked in chopped tomatoes and garlic – seasoned with black pepper. Grilled aubergine and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top, served with a side of green beans. 

The first week went well, and I was pleased to find myself branching out a bit with my food choices. I made a tasty gnocci dish, gave tofu a try, and made the most delicious avocado pasta (pictures below). I snacked on nuts, gave my meals a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, added quinoa to my porridge, and added kidney beans into dishes where perhaps they didn’t really belong, all in an effort to make sure I was getting enough protein.

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Pictured above: Tofu, mushrooms and green pepper, cooked with lemon juice, soy sauce, and seasoned with black pepper.

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Pictured above: Spinach pasta cooked in a sauce made from mashed avocado mixed with lemon juice and seasoned with salt and pepper. Grilled with sliced tomato, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast and topped with a handful of almond flakes. 

In the first week I was faced with my first real challenge – eating at a Chinese restaurant as a vegan. It was a family celebration, and it was challenging to say the least, given most things were fried in egg or served with fish sauce. I managed to get by with some steamed rice and vegetables, which was perfectly fine, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eyeing up the duck in pancakes.

Luckily for me, I have a Planet Organic very close by to my flat, which means I’m never far from vegan soup, bread, chocolate, or pretty much anything else a vegan could want! Strangely enough, about half way through the month, I started to crave foods I would never have eaten before turning vegan; I guess it’s a prime example of wanting what you can’t have. Suddenly I was noticing certain smells more as I passed through the station on my way to work, like bacon sandwiches or Cornish pasties. I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate a bacon sandwich or a Cornish pasty, so it was definitely just psychological. I even started writing a list of the food I would eat once November was over!

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Pictured above: Spiced sweet potato stew with butterbeans. 

Throughout the month, and even before hand, I was told about so many amazing vegan restaurants in London and I actually ended up eating out far more than I usually would (because of course, I had to try them all out). I discovered some amazing restaurants and I’d definitely return to all of them, whether I stay vegan or not! My favourite vegan restaurant was Mildreds, in Soho, although they do have restaurants in other locations in London. Unfortunately you can’t book in advance, and it was an hour to wait when we went along on a weeknight. Luckily, it was more than worth it! There was so much on the menu that I really was spoilt for choice. I opted for smoked tofu, fennel, apple and white bean sausages, with cider jus, pan-fried hispi cabbage, peas, dill and mash, and it was truly delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try some of the other dishes!

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Pictured above: Smoked tofu, fennel, apple and white bean sausages, with cider jus, pan-fried hispi cabbage, peas, dill and mash at Mildred’s restaurant. 

The second vegan restaurant I would recommend is Pickywops in Fulham. It’s not the nicest of places to sit in, but I hope that soon, with it becoming so popular, they might open the restaurant up a bit so there’s more seating and more space, but the food is incredible! The guys that run the restaurant are so passionate about the food, and about using only the best ingredients. Once you’ve been seated, staff will tell you a bit about the ingredients they use and talk you through the different options for the ingredient added to your base, such as turmeric, spirulina or hemp. Having not eaten cheese for about three weeks at this point, I was overjoyed and overwhelmed by the different cheese options. I went for ‘Vegan temptations’, which was a violife coconut oil based mozzarella, kale, broccolini, almond ricotta and blueberry pizza with a multigrain base. (That’s right – blueberries on a pizza! And yes, it tasted as good as it looks!)

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Pictured above: ‘Vegan temptations’, a violife coconut oil based mozzarella, kale, broccolini, almond ricotta and blueberry pizza with a multigrain base, served at Pickywops. 

In the final week of November, my feelings towards eating meat again, changed. I wasn’t craving it, and in fact, the thought of eating fish, or even eggs didn’t seem appealing at all. It was the first time I thought about actually continuing with it after the month had finished, because other than closely monitoring my protein intake, I was sure it would be easy enough to keep up. The only thing I don’t like about being vegan was being the awkward one at a social dinner, or at an office lunch. When I’m cooking for myself, it’s definitely manageable, and actually it’s encouraged me to really branch out with my cooking, but sometimes when I’m at social events, I do feel like I’m being an inconvenience by being vegan.

So, it’s now the start of 2018, and I’ve decided that I will, for the most part, stay vegan. When I’m cooking at home, or if there’s a straightforward option on the menu, I’ll opt for vegan dishes. But, if I go to a friend’s house for dinner, I won’t be requesting they cook a vegan dinner especially for me. I believe that as long as the majority of my diet is vegan, and that the intentions are there, it’s good enough. I really do believe there are endless health benefits to this diet, and of course, the ethical reasons alone should be enough to follow it, but unfortunately, our culture can make it challenging (although that is starting to change!).

I’ve really enjoyed this month and it’s helped me learn so much more about nutrition and the health benefits of veganism. I still have so much more to learn, and I plan to continue with my research. Check out some of the recipes I’ve included, and I hope this blog post has inspired you to really think about exactly what you’re putting into your body.

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Pictured above: Butternut squash ribbons cooked in a tomato and garlic sauce, with aubergine, pepper, mushrooms and spinach. 

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Pictured above: Roasted sweet potato with mashed avocado and lemon juice, served with mushrooms and kidney beans. 

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Pictured above: Vegan rocky road brownies, using chopped dates, coconut oil, cocoa, cashew nuts, syrup and oats. 

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Pictured above: Vegan jammie dodgers, using blended raspberries and a little sugar for the filling! 

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Is vegan best?

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Last week I went to an event organised by the vegan charity ‘Be Vegan Make Peace’. I love learning new things and developing my knowledge on health and nutrition, and veganism is something I’ve recently become increasingly curious about. It’s a topic everyone seems to have an opinion on, and I wanted to find out more about the plant-based diet and the benefits of being vegan.

Dr Tuttle is the author of the best selling book ‘The World Peace Diet’, and although I haven’t read it yet, I was keen to hear what he had to say about veganism.

Dr Tuttle is an award-winning writer, educator and composer, and has presented widely throughout America and Europe. His PHD dissertation in education from the University of California focused on educating intuition in adults. He’s practiced meditation and vegan living for over thirty years and is devoted to promoting world peace through educating compassion and spiritual awareness.’ (Taken from Dr Tuttle’s blog).

I should probably mention at this point that I’m not vegan, or vegetarian, and I’ve never seriously considered cutting all animal products from my diet. That said, I don’t eat much meat, and my diet is already predominantly plant-based, with the exception of fish and eggs.

I’d gone to the event alone, and I’m pleased I did, as I ended up sitting with two girls who had also gone by themselves. It was really interesting sharing our reasons for being there and I also got some great recommendations for vegan restaurants in London, which sound amazing (http://www.pickywops.com/ & http://www.222veggievegan.com/). The Loving Hut (the vegan restaurant hosting the event) served up a tasty meal of a vegan burger in a bun with chips. Although it was a perfectly enjoyable meal, I did feel like the meal could have included some vegetables, and maybe some lentils or other grains, given the event was promoting a plant-based diet.

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Dr Tuttle gave a powerful and informative talk on the healing benefits of the plant-based diet and his experience of living a vegan lifestyle. He spoke passionately about eating for spiritual health and social harmony, as well as discussing the challenges we face today in breaking free from the culture we’ve been born into.

He told stories about the slaughterhouses he’s visited whilst travelling the world, and described the awful conditions he’s seen animals kept in, and the abuse inflicted upon them. He’s appropriately titled his book ‘The World Peace Diet ‘ as world peace and harmonious living is what he aims to achieve through spreading his message. He promotes the vegan diet for a combination of reasons; because he believes it has endless health benefits, but also because he believes people should treat others, including animals, as they would wish to be treated themselves.

“I am the vegan activist,

My heart filled with the wish to relieve the hideous suffering

Mysteriously inflicted on animals seen as food” – (Taken from Dr Tuttle’s blog)

Something Dr Tuttle spent quite a lot of time talking about was the attitude people can have towards vegans. He said that some people might view being vegan as a brave thing to do, because it’s going against the culture we’ve been born into; the culture that promotes the message that we should eat animal products in order to stay healthy. I was surprised that he saw it this way, as I thought the majority of people would support the vegan diet. After all, vegans are being health conscious, promoting a positive message, and trying to make the world a better place. I didn’t quite understand why anyone would view this negatively.

Following the event, one of the girls I’d been sitting with, suggested we go vegan for November. I thought it was a great idea, especially with November 1st being World Vegan Day. I was intrigued to see how difficult or easy it would be to adjust our diets, and although a month isn’t really long enough, to see if we noticed any difference in the way we felt. It would also be a great way to learn even more about nutrition and to try foods and ingredients I may not otherwise eat. I’d need to make certain adjustments to replace the protein and vitamins I usually get through eating eggs and fish, but I was excited to give it a try!

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Everyone has their own reasons for being vegan, but no matter what those reasons are, it seems everyone will have an opinion on it. When I told people I was going vegan for a month, I was surprised by the different responses I got. Some people were curious, and told me that they’ve considered going vegan, or at least becoming vegetarian, at one time or another. Some thought it wasn’t necessary to go to such extremes, when it could mean running the risk of becoming deficient in the nutrients you need to stay healthy. For others, they saw it as following a trend and trying to fit a certain image, and shared their concerns about people becoming vegans for the wrong reasons.

As I said before, everyone has his or her own reasons for following a vegan diet. Some people might choose to follow a vegan diet because they don’t agree with the abuse and killing of animals, whereas others might make the change to experience health benefits or to relieve certain symptoms. Others might decide to change their diet because it’s something they’ve heard about from friends and decided they want to be a part of it too. It might be that people are following the trend, but this means they see it as a positive trend that they want to join in with. Although everyone has different reasons, I don’t think there are right or wrong reasons for being vegan, and it looks like more and more people do want to be a part of it, since Google had a 90% increase in vegan searches in 2016.

Of course, vegans do have to make more conscious decisions when it comes to the meals they eat and the ingredients they use. Eating animal products is an easy way to get protein, iron and calcium, so it’s important to find those things in other foods instead. Although this might seem difficult at first, the nutrients you need, can all be found elsewhere. Vegans do need to carefully consider what they’re including in their meals, and should listen to their bodies and adjust their diets accordingly. There’s so much advice and guidance out there for vegans these days, and the vegan recipes available also make it far easier to ensure you’re getting all the goodness your body needs.

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At the end of the event I was excited to receive my vegan goodie bag, which I’ve pictured below. Products included Ombar chocolate, Raw Gorilla munchies, Koko milk, a Macacha protein shake sachet, some beauty products, plus so much more! The highlight was probably the ‘Plant Based’ magazine. It’s full of mouth-watering vegan recipes as well as a handful of interesting articles. The recipes look delicious and I can’t wait to make some of them over the next month!

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There’s so much to discuss on the topic of veganism, that I can’t possibly fit it all in one blog post. I haven’t discussed the specific health benefits of the plant-based diet, or explored the different ways vegans ensure they get all the nutrients they need, but I’m going to write a second part to this blog at the end of November, when I’ll have followed a vegan diet for a month. By then, my knowledge and understanding of all things vegan will (hopefully) have widened and I’ll have read Dr Tuttle’s book – ‘The World Peace Diet’. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more, I’d really recommend watching a lecture delivered by Dr Greger, titled ‘How to delay death with veganism’ (Link below). It’s full of facts and figures and Dr Greger delivers it in a really fun and engaging way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke2LtkDXZrI

There’s so much to learn, and what I’ve discovered so far is just the beginning. There’s lots of research I’d like to look at, and I’m not suggesting the plant-based diet is for everyone. It’s very individual and depends on a person’s health, beliefs and lifestyle. I’m giving it a go to see if it can work for me, but I’m also keen to hear people’s views and experiences.

In part two of this blog I’ll include some of my all-time favourite vegan recipes, as well as some new ones, which I’ll undoubtedly discover over the course of the month. I’ll share any challenges I come across, and any benefits I experience along the way. I’m really excited to learn more about the plant-based diet and to hear other people’s views and experiences of veganism. But for now I’m about to tuck into a delicious plate of aubergine gnocchi (cooked with nutritional yeast for some B12!), served with a side of mixed, colourful vegetables! Happy World Vegan Day!

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Cooking on a budget (London living part 4 of 4)

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I’ve always been interested in nutrition, but I’ve never been one to invest lots of time in cooking complicated meals. I like to find simple dinner ideas, which are quick to make but healthy and satisfying at the same time. Over the years I’ve gathered a collection of recipe books with beautiful, mouth-watering photos, but I’ve always been faced with the same problem when it comes to making the meals myself; the sheer amount of ingredients used. In the past I’ve made the mistake of buying all these weird and wonderful ingredients and abstract spices, only to find that the dish takes so much time and effort to make, that I never make it again. As a result, all the additional ingredients have remained in my kitchen cupboard collecting dust, never to be used again.

In this blog I’ve decided to share three of my favourite go-to recipes, which use many of the same ingredients so you can avoid buying random spices and abstract ingredients! They’re also recipes that can be easily adapted depending on personal tastes and preferences.

Each dish has the potential to be meat based or vegetarian and all of them are healthy, simple, but tasty. Under each recipe I’ll give ideas as to how they can be adapted as well as giving different serving options. These dishes all have sweet potato as the main ingredient and also share lots of the same vegetables and spices too! They may all look very similar, but the flavours are very different, and with a choice of sides (wholemeal wraps, brown rice or chickpeas for example), you’ll forget you’re eating many of the same ingredients for each meal!

Following the three recipes, read how batch cooking has helped me to save money, to be lest wasteful and to enjoy a healthy, home-cooked meal every evening! 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

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The recipes I’ve given serve two. If you’re batch cooking, simply double the ingredients for 4 portions!

Sweet potato, fennel and kale stew (2 portions) – Madeline Shaw

Ingredients:

1 fennel

2 sweet potatoes

Half a bag of kale

2 red chillies

500ml of vegetable stock

1 white onion

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tbsp of coconut oil

Salt and pepper to season

 The recipe:

  • Cut the sweet potato and the fennel
  • Chop the onion and sauté in a pan with the garlic and coconut oil for 5 minutes
  • Add the thyme and cook for just 30 seconds
  • Add the sweet potato and fennel
  • Cook for 5 minutes and add salt and pepper
  • Add the kale and the vegetable stock and cook for 30 minutes
  • Add the chilli and a final pinch of salt and pepper

Variations:

Although this is delicious just as it is, you could of course substitute the sweet potato for some lean meat. If this takes your fancy, adjust cooking times as appropriate. Serve with a crusty granary roll for dipping!

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Sweet potato curry (2 portions) – Anthony Worrall Thompson

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

½ a white onion, chopped

½ a red chilli, chopped

2 sweet potatoes, chopped

A handful of spinach

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp medium curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp tomato puree

200ml vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to season

 The recipe:

  •  Heat the oil and add the garlic and onion
  • Add the chilli, cumin, curry powder and turmeric and continue to fry for 1 minute
  • Add the tomato puree and vegetable stock and simmer
  • Add the sweet potato and spinach, and continue to simmer till the potato is cooked
  • Season with salt and pepper 

Variations:

This could be used as a side to a portion of meat, or served as a vegetarian dish with a side of rice. Serve with a sprinkle of coriander and a dollop of yoghurt!

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Vegetable chilli (2 portions) – Madeline Shaw

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes

1 tsp of coconut oil

1 chopped white onion

1 chopped red pepper

1 tsp of chilli powder

1 tbsp of smoked paprika

1 tbsp of cumin

1 tsp oregano

2 garlic cloves

1 sliced courgette

200ml vegetable stock

1 can of chopped tomatoes

1 can of red kidney beans (with chilli sauce)

Salt and pepper to season

The recipe:

  • Cook the onion in the coconut oil for 5 minutes
  • Add the red pepper, and garlic and cook for 1 minute
  • Add the chilli, cumin, oregano and smoked paprika
  • Add the sweet potato
  • Add the stock, courgette and beans including the chilli sauce and chopped tomatoes
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Cook with the lid on for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes

Variations:

If you’d rather include meat, simply replace the sweet potato with mince, or why not have a little of both? Serve as it is, or with rice or pasta. Complete the dish with a sprinkle of cheese and side of guacamole!

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The discovery of batch cooking

Now I live in London, it’s all about fast paced living and trying to squeeze as much into the day as possible. When I get home from work in the evening, I want to go to the gym, go to meet friends, update my blog or watch a film with my housemates. I have to say, that cooking fiddly meals on weekday evenings isn’t high on my priority list. Batch cooking is something I’ve always said I’ll start doing, and something which makes so much sense, but something I’ve always put off for one reason or another.

One weekend I didn’t have a whole lot planned so I decided to finally give it a go. I’m so pleased I did, and I’ve kept it up since. I find it so satisfying collecting my little tuppa-wear from the freezer in the morning before work, knowing I have a tasty home cooked meal to come home to that evening. What’s more, I know it’ll need just 3 minutes in the microwave before it’s ready to go. It may not seem like a revelation, but as well as saving time not having to prepare the meal itself, I’m also not spending time washing dishes and pans afterwards. Also, it means me and my housemates aren’t all tripping over each other while we try and fit three of us in the kitchen while we all try to cook at the same time.

Probably above all, I’d say batch cooking is a money saver. I’m not someone who orders take always or opts for fast food options, but if I know I’m cooking that evening, I might be tempted just to pop into the supermarket on the way home to add something a bit more interesting to my omelette, for example, or be tempted by the reduced shelves, resulting in me buying something I don’t really need. If I know I’ve got a complete tasty meal waiting for me, then my eyes don’t even wander in the direction of one of the many supermarkets I pass on my journey home. Continue reading

Dating in London (London living part 3 of 4)

I’ve heard dating in London can be a bit of a whirlwind.  I can only go from what I’ve heard from friends as I haven’t had the courage to enter the dating scene since moving to London, but what I’ve heard is that it can be both the best and worst place to date.

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For this post, my good friend Callum has kindly written a piece for me which includes tips and advice, as well as some great recommendations and ideas for places to go on fun and exciting dates in London! Enjoy!

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Do you enjoy dating in London?

London is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities to live in, and because of that offers some of the best date experiences around!

When I first moved to London I was in a relationship, and it was only when I became single that I truly began to see the city and all it has to offer. Whilst I’m sure that there are plenty of people that make the most of the city whilst in a relationship, for me, this was when there became no pressure and no expectations! It gave me a real chance to explore and experience all of the city’s bright lights.

Whilst this makes it sound magical and wondrous, it does however have its downsides and dating in London requires resilience and patience alike. You’re in one of the capital cities of the world, bringing with it a lot of people! You begin to understand you’re one of many, unlike when in the seaside town you grew up in.

Do you think it’s different to dating in other places?

I grew up in Eastbourne on the South Coast, and looking back, it was rather idyllic in many ways. In a small town you’re limited to a smaller number of single people around your age that might be a suitable match! It makes a not so diverse pool of potential partners and most people are connected somehow in a small town like that.

The dating opportunities in London are very different. When dating in London, you have so much choice of what to do and where to go. You can go to a new pop up, see some comedy, go to a salsa bar, axe throwing, a roller disco even (this actually happened on a first date of mine)! London is an evolving city in itself and there are some fantastic blogs and websites that you must keep your eye on!

https://thenudge.com/london-things-to-do/

https://www.timeout.com/london

Don’t forget that dating is a competition and whilst in a dream world, the one person we’re talking to is only talking to us, they could be talking to many other people! This is something you get used to! Hell, you’re probably talking to at least 3 people yourself!

You want to stand out compared to others and if you’re considering asking someone on a date, where you ask them to go could make all the difference. For example, if someone else is asking them to go to a cocktail masterclass, and you’re asking them to go for a coffee, it automatically makes the second person more spontaneous and fun to be around. Plus, a lot of the time, some kind of fun activity takes the pressure off of conversation but is still a great way to get to know someone informally.

I would suggest ‘going for it’ when planning a date, even if you’re unsure of an event or activity. Once, I took a date trampolining! It was hilarious at how terrible we were compared to some professionals there at the time but even if a relationship doesn’t come from a date, if it creates a lasting memory for you both, it is definitely worth it.

What are the positives?

No matter what day of the week you’re planning a date for; there will always be something to do. This can be something simple like going to watch some live jazz, checking out The Crypt in Camberwell or visiting the Nightjar in Old Street. Or you could see comedy at numerous places or see a show! I would suggest downloading TodayTix for shows that only advertise tickets for that day or the upcoming week and for comedy, Top Secret Comedy Club in Covent Garden, though a bit of a dive, it has more charm than The Comedy Store and is less pretentious. Usually these things are a little more than just a drink but impress and are no more expensive than a meal out!

What are the challenges?

The challenges are always the same, but amplified in London. There is endless choice and a never-ending number of people to match with! This makes dating in London very disposable.

One week you could decide you’ve found the man of your dreams, and then you match with someone new and forget all about this person you were so besotted by before. Commitment in London is hard to find, and when it does come it’s usually taken for granted because it’s easy to think ‘what if the next swipe is better than the guy I have in front of me?’ This is the harsh reality of dating what with the access to numerous apps. It’s not something purely confined to London, but I imagine in a smaller town or even city, you give people more opportunity than you would in London.

Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself that not everyone is on your wavelength with dating. Recently, I had just had enough and yet the pull of dating was still there. I realised that I was dating someone that was ready to settle down and I just wasn’t in that place at all. You can never presume that just because you’re dating someone that it means they are ready for a relationship and it isn’t always easy to figure out whether someone is looking for a relationship, something physical, companionship or whether they have no idea at all! In my own experience, many people go through all of those phases and sometimes it changes daily!

What’s the best date you’ve had and where did you go?

This is a really tricky question to answer. I have had some excellent dates, and fantastic memories!

The date that stands out the most would have to be when I went spontaneously to go and see Alan Carr. Some tickets became available and I asked my date whether he had plans that evening. Luckily for me he didn’t and we decided to go! We drank way too much wine and ended up having a great night, which even including clubbing followed by sitting in the street yelling Harry Potter spells at people! Not quite what I’d expected for a second date, but one of the most memorable and exciting!

More recently, I was talking to a guy that was away working near Seville and he was planning to spend the weekend there after he’d finished. He jokingly suggested a couple of times that I should meet him out there. Of course, this was a crazy idea for a third date! Yet, there I found myself booking flights to Seville the next day to meet him, and we actually had a fantastic weekend together!

My top 5 places for dating in London:

  1. Southbank- whether you’re going for a walk, going for casual drinks at The Understudy (which in the winter has cute blankets to wrap yourself in if you sit outside) or you plan to find a restaurant or pop up, it usually has something to offer! Recently I had a date here at the Udderbelly Festival for the Black Cat Cabaret! It was different, exciting and imaginative!
  2. If you like Jazz and want to impress, then Nightjar could be the place for you! The cocktails come in a variety of receptacles that are always a surprise and usually pretty strong. This place isn’t cheap and might be more second or third date material. Booking is also definitely advised! Sometimes even 2 weeks in advanced isn’t long enough, hopefully that shows you how good it is! Go on their website for more info.
  3. Gordon’s Wine Bar. If like me, you’re a fan of wine, you can’t go wrong with a visit here. It’s perfect for a first date for some casual drinks. It is relaxed and sometimes has live music if you’re lucky! It is especially good in the summer to sit outside and you can always then try and find a table inside once it gets dark. Beware, it can be very busy!
  4. Top Secret Comedy Club. Yes it is in the basement of a shut down restaurant, and yes sometimes it smells damp. The wine is less than £15 a bottle and questionable, but… the Comedy is good! The price is reasonable and if you can look beyond its dive like appearance, it is gritty and down to earth, which is charming in itself!
  5. Get out of the city! This is not really a recommendation but more of a suggestion. If you can get out of the city, go and explore! Go to GoApe and swing from trees for the day, head to Guildford and go trampolining or go and grab a hot chocolate and have an adventure in Richmond Park! If that seems like lots of effort, then as an alternative, Boris Bikes in Hyde Park is always a winner, followed by Prosecco in the park. There’s nothing wrong with finding a Tesco Express for a bottle with some plastic cups. If anything, quirkiness surprisingly adds to the romance!

There are plenty of others and that is what makes London so great!

What advice would you give to someone new to the London dating scene?

Be open minded and patient. Understand that not everyone will be in the same place as you. Be honest to yourself and those that you date, it is easy to lead someone on or be lead on, but trust your judgement and have respect for yourself and those you meet. Don’t take anything too personally.

Lastly, have fun! Be spontaneous and enjoy dating in London! It is a great place to date. You’ll visit some amazing places that you may otherwise not have had the chance to see, you’ll meet some great people and who knows, you may even come across that special someone that you spend the rest of your life with!

Making a dingy box room feel like home (London living part 2 of 4)

Part 1 found at:  A small town girl trying to make sense of London living

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After securing a room in a lovely flat in Earlsfield, it was time to pack up all my belongings and make the big move. I’m not ashamed to say; moving to London scared me. The first night in my new room made me feel like a child away from home for the first time, which was strange since I’m 27 and left home four years ago (having previously left home at the age of 18 for University). There was just something about being in London that felt really daunting. But it was a new adventure, which was also really exciting.

When I’d viewed my new room the week before, it had been after work when it had been dark, so I was in for a bit of a shock when I first saw it in daylight. Either the lack of light, or wall hangings that had been up when I saw the room last had masked the dirty marks on the walls. Still, I was in a good area with lovely housemates, paying reasonable rent, so I couldn’t complain.

I love interior design, and always get excited to decorate a new space. Obviously I wasn’t overwhelmed with creative ideas for my new dingy box room, but I had to start somewhere and I knew I could make it feel like home.

I started by buying bright, bold bedding to give the room some colour, since the room has cream walls and a beige carpet. At least having nice bedding would make it an inviting place to sleep. I love the home range from Urban Outfitters as their style is really up my street. I was lucky enough to benefit from their sale and got my bedding with 20% off (which was handy since they can be a little pricey for what they are). I teamed this up with three patterned cushions to introduce a splash of yellow and pink; colours I knew I wanted to feature in other areas of my room. Two of the cushions came from John Lewis (who again were holding a sale at the time), and the other from Urban Outfitters.

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  • Yellow and grey cushions: John Lewis (exact cushions no longer available)

https://www.johnlewis.com/john-lewis-triangles-     cushion/p2637794?colour=Citrine

  • Patterned rectangular cushion: Urban Outfitters

https://www.urbanoutfitters.com/en-gb/shop/agda-embroidered-yarn-cushion?category=cushions&color=111

 One of my favourite details in my room is the copper fairy light wire, which goes in one corner of my room above my bed. These pretty little lights really help me unwind after a busy day and add a whole new level of cosiness to the room.


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  • Fairy lights: Urban Outfitters (exact set no longer available)

https://www.urbanoutfitters.com/en-gb/fairy-lights

I decided to put a large brass-edged mirror on the wall, where the previous tenant had also had one hanging (after seeing the wall behind it I could see why they’d chosen this spot!). This really opened the room up and made it feel much bigger than it is. I’m lucky enough to have two windows in my room so it’s always very light and airy, and with the mirror on the wall, it felt fresh and spacious.

I’d decided a world map would look good on the wall just under my shelf, and after a little time searching for one, I discovered that Waterstones actually sell a world map print wrapping paper. It was perfect because it had the faded, vintage, pastel look to it and only cost a couple of pounds! I bought a sheet and after putting it in a light oak frame I was thrilled with the outcome.

  • World map (wrapping paper): Waterstones

https://www.waterstones.com/category/stationery-gifts

  • Picture frame: John Lewis

https://www.johnlewis.com/house-by-john-lewis-aluminium-photo-frame-a2-with-a3-mount/p1339479?colour=Natural

I found the perfect sized patterned rug from Urban Outfitters (currently on sale) and this disguised the worst of the old wrinkly carpet – definitely a good buy! Now I was on a roll and really started to enjoy spending time in my new room.

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  • Pattered rug: Urban Outfitters (currently on sale)

https://www.urbanoutfitters.com/en-gb/shop/triangle-weave-2×3-rug-001?category=rugs&color=066

Finally, I decided to put a desk in the space just beside the door. I love to write, and sitting on the bed for long periods of time isn’t ideal so I felt a desk was a necessity. I’d searched online and found some lovely oak desks, which would’ve looked great in my new room. Unfortunately, my estimate of the distance between the door and the wardrobe wasn’t quite accurate, and after measuring the space carefully, I realised I might need to buy a child’s desk if I was set on having one.

However, at just 80cm wide, and at £19.99, Argos came to the rescue, with a miniature (but not child sized) writing desk. I’m not going to lie, assembling the desk took about 3 hours of blood sweat and tears, but now it’s all done, it looks perfect.

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  • Desk: Argos

http://www.argos.co.uk/product/6172516

Desk accessories

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  • Desk lamp: Wayfair (Exact model no longer available)

https://www.wayfair.co.uk/Table-Lamps-C476084.html

 For the finishing touch I bought two small Ivy plants. I love houseplants and feel like they’re really what make a room complete. I found these beautiful pots at Hilliers garden centre, and they just so happened to be the perfect size for my new little plants.

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  • Plants and plant pots: Hilliers garden centre

http://www.hillier.co.uk/

Now it’s all complete, finished off with some photo frames, books and candles, I can honestly say my new room couldn’t feel more like home.

In the kitchen

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Recently I came across a great website that sells the prettiest crockery. I couldn’t (and still can’t) quite work out why everything is so cheap. The items in the picture above came to a grand total of £25; that’s eight bowls, two cups and a teapot! Admittedly they had a sale on at the time, meaning the blue and white bowls were only £1.99 each, but even original prices are good value for money, with the teapot costing only £3.99 (original price).

I was half expecting the items to be plastic when they arrived, meaning they weren’t microwavable, but this wasn’t the case! I was impressed with the quality of all of them and they were delivered in good time too. The only thing I would say is that the teapot is more for decoration than practical use, although it’s possible, as long as you’re careful with the slightly flimsy bamboo handle.

All in all I would definitely recommend Rinkit for their crockery, and although I don’t actually need eight bowls for just myself, I just couldn’t resist, and they certainly add some colour to the kitchen!

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  • Patterned crockery: Rinkit

https://www.rinkit.com/

A small town girl trying to make sense of London living

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I’d never pictured myself living in a big city. My whole life I’d always said I would never live in London. But that’s the weird and wonderful thing about life; you never know where it’ll take you. As a place I didn’t have anything against it. I loved visiting, and of course it has so much to offer. But coming from a sleepy seaside town, I just couldn’t see myself as a London resident.

My brother moved to the city for University seven years ago and hasn’t looked back since. For me though, even a day trip to the capital felt like an ordeal, which required at least two days recovery. It was the pace of life which I couldn’t keep up with; everyone seemed to be in such a rush, always running late which meant they had to walk at 100 miles per hour, glaring down anyone who might (God forbid!) be strolling along at a leisurely pace. Then there’s the tube of course; the place where any kind of personal space etiquette is thrown out the window.

Even these two things alone made me question why anyone would actually choose this way of life, when you could live somewhere you’re not forced to breathe in heavily polluted air and practically kiss a stranger on your commute to work. The choice seemed simple. Yet, at the age of twenty-seven, moving to London is exactly what I decided to do. I’ve been here four months now and it’s taken this long to find my feet. But, right now at least, I can say I’m planning to stay.

I’ve written this as a four-part blog and I’ll be including tips, links and photos to hopefully try and help anyone thinking of making the move, or for anyone who, like me, is trying to make sense of London living.

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Finding a house share

(London living part 1 of 4)

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 This was supposed to be the easy part, and the bit I was really excited for. In all honesty, my living arrangements were really what sparked the idea of moving to London in the first place. I felt I couldn’t stay where I was, because I couldn’t afford to live alone and it was near impossible to find even one vacant room in a house share there, let alone having two to compare and choose between. That’s when I had the idea of moving to London, where I was sure to be overwhelmed by the choice.

Once I’d finally made the decision to make the move, and I’d secured a job, I couldn’t wait to start searching for my new London home and for my new housemates! I spent a while doing my research, making lists of possible locations; places which were close enough to work and to friends, with good transport links and which seemed like nice places to live with lots to do. Scanning through https://www.spareroom.co.uk was like a dream compared with what I’d been faced with in the past. It seemed as though there was so much choice so I felt like I could afford to be a bit picky with my search criteria. I started contacting a few of them, and managed to arrange some viewings for the next couple of weeks.

I found viewing the houses a very strange experience. The whole process would take 15 minutes at the most, and within that short space of time I needed to decide if the housemates were sane, friendly, clean, tidy and spent just the right amount of time socialising versus just the right amount of time in their rooms or out the house. Not only that, they also had 15 minutes to figure out all those things about me! Of course, it was harder for me as I also needed to take a good look at the house itself, find out about the landlord, and get a feel for the dynamics of the household (whilst keeping half an eye out for leaking ceilings or mouldy walls). On top of all of that, I had to ensure they could see I was a nice, chatty and friendly person who they should definitely choose to live with them. That’s a lot to do in 15 minutes!

It took about three viewings before I actually found a house I wanted to live in, and I quickly expressed my interest. Unfortunately, I hadn’t passed the ‘audition’ with flying colours, and wasn’t chosen as the best candidate, so it was back to square one. I guess I was still getting used to the idea of selling myself as the perfect housemate! By the time I found the flat I knew was the one for me I was quite the expert at house viewings, and heard the following day that the girls wanted to offer me the room. Well, that isn’t exactly true; they wanted to meet me again (for a round two ‘audition’). It felt a little strange going to meet them, knowing I was being judged whilst having after work drinks (although now I’m about to be on the other side of things, I can definitely understand why they did this!), but still, I was so keen to get this room I went along and fortunately we all got on well and had a nice time together. The following day I found out the room was mine! Somewhere to live – check!

My top tips for finding a house share in London:

  • Stand out from the rest from the very first message you send. I thought getting replies from the people I contacted was a given, but apparently not! I must admit I was pretty lucky that I heard back from everyone I messaged, but lots of people I know haven’t been so fortunate. Make sure you really read what your potential future housemates want from you and match your initial message to this, selling yourself as much as you can. Each lot of housemates are receiving so many messages from people wanting viewings that they might not have time to reply to people who haven’t made the effort to introduce themselves properly, or who have clearly sent the same boring, standard message to everyone. In some ways, it is like an interview, so try to make a good impression from the start.
  • Make a list of key questions and take this with you. Heading to my first house viewing I was confident I knew all the questions I wanted to ask. They were fresh in my mind as I entered through the door, met by four smiling faces. The viewing was over in a flash and the moment I left the house I suddenly realised I hadn’t asked about the length of contract. Then, a few minutes later I realised I hadn’t asked about the landlord and whether he’s quick to get back to them if anything needs sorting out. Unfortunately it took a couple more viewings before I learnt my lesson. By the fourth viewing I’d made the wise decision to take a piece of paper with my questions written on. In future, if I’m ever searching for a house share again, I’ll definitely take a list of all the questions I want to ask; to be sure I won’t kick myself for forgetting something important. 
  • Spend some time in the area. This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the rush to find a house, and even once you find somewhere that might seem like a good location on the map, some things can get overlooked. For example, I found a great house in the location I thought was ideal. But after spending some time there, I realised there wasn’t a local supermarket to pop to for those milk (or chocolate) emergencies, and there wasn’t a gym I could get to without hopping on a bus for 20 minutes. Once you’ve found somewhere you think you might like to live, I would recommend spending at least the afternoon there, having a little explore to see if it’s the right place for you!

Earlsfield – My chosen location

 I’m so pleased with my decision to live in Earlsfield. It has great transport links with regular buses to Victoria and Tooting station, and Southfields tube station is only a 15-20-minute walk away. Regular trains run to Clapham Junction and London Waterloo from Earlsfield station, and run to Wimbledon and Surbiton way in the other direction.

Earlsfield is full of nice pubs and places to eat, some of which I’ve listed below. Also, Southside shopping centre is only a 15-minute walk up the road, which has loads of great restaurants, a big Sainsbury’s, a selection of gyms and a cinema! I definitely made the right choice.

 In the next London Living blog; ‘Making a dingy box room feel like home’.

See below: Earlsfield station, The Earlsfield, The Wandle and Ben’s Canteen.

        

Earlsfield station 
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This sign at Earlsfield station sends out good vibes to everyone arriving, and still makes me smile to myself whenever I leave the station. 

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Welcome to my world of fresh air and laughter.

The Earlsfield

http://theearlsfield.uk

This is a great, laid back bar and restaurant, serving amazing steaks and burgers – plus there’s live music every Sunday! It’s right next to the station and I love the quirkiness of the layout. Also, on your way to work you can pick up your morning coffee and croissant from their outdoor pop up shop! (Be sure to take advantage of Freebie Friday – a free croissant with your coffee!).

 the earlsfield 1

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The Wandle

http://www.wandleearlsfield.com 

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 Ben’s Canteen (Brunch/burgers/wine)

http://www.benscanteen.com

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Discovering mindfulness – Everyday mindfulness post

My most recent post on here was all about my discovery of mindfulness. Since writing that post I’ve attended an eight week mindfulness course and written a blog sharing the challenges and benefits I discovered along the way. A wonderful website I follow https://www.everyday-mindfulness.org posted my piece and I couldn’t be happier that they wanted to share it! Follow the link below:

https://www.everyday-mindfulness.org/discovering-mindfulness-the-journey/

Discovering Mindfulness – The Journey

It only took about fifteen minutes of the first mindfulness class before I started to wonder whether I’d made a big mistake. It seemed like I was being told not to think. Was I really being told not to have goals and not to have hopes for the future? This went against everything I thought I should be doing- it’s what I’ve done my whole life. It was clear from the questions and comments made by others in the class that I wasn’t the only one with these reservations. My doubts grew when, at times, the teacher would dismiss certain questions with non-specific answers. It all seemed a bit vague and as though he gave these responses to any questions flawing his ideas. I could understand why he had to respond this way; so the class wouldn’t turn into a debate, but still, at this stage I wanted some answers too.

Although mindfulness is a state of being, not something you should really grasp intellectually, my brain was still trying to make sense of it. Did this mean I shouldn’t be thinking at all, or only if they’re positive thoughts? How would I plan my holiday if I shouldn’t think about the future? From what I’d just been told, any sort of planning for the future would only result in suffering. Should I not be looking forward to seeing my friends later because that takes me away from the present moment? I had so many questions!

But then, about halfway through the class, the teacher said something, which drew me in; “All that exists is now. Yesterday doesn’t exist, tomorrow doesn’t exist; only now and this moment exist. The future is just a bad guess, which will only cause disappointment when it doesn’t go the way you’re imagining. Because that’s all the future is, your imagination”. By this point, I was starting to wake up and really listen. I thought about that for a moment; the future is just a bad guess. He went on to talk about how realistically, we do need to plan for certain things, but that we need to be open and flexible, and change and adapt with whatever the present moment gives us. If we don’t, we’re just going to have a life full of suffering if things don’t happen the way they happen in our head; in the future we’ve imagined and become attached to. This answered at least one of my questions, but it also gave me even more to think about.

The reason I connected to this particular part of the class was because what was being described to me then was exactly what I was going through. I had imagined my future; I’d even set an age as to when this imaginary future was going to happen. But when reality turned out differently to the plan, I started to suffer and feel badly about myself. Fortunately now, I’m able to recognise that it was only an idea, just one possibility, but before that realisation, I felt like I had failed at something, which of course I hadn’t. What’s more, not only was I focusing intensely on what hadn’t happened, I was overlooking all the wonderful things that were happening. If I hadn’t set up this ideal future in my head, then I wouldn’t have felt this sense of failure and disappointment, despite having achieved so much.

It felt like a breath of fresh air knowing I was able to notice my thoughts, and start recognising that they are in fact, just thoughts. At this point all I wanted to do was tell everyone the good news. I wanted them to realise that they shouldn’t spend any more time feeling sad about the past, or worrying about the future, because it’s only the here and now that matter, or exist.

In the following week I had mixed feelings. I felt powerful when I could bring myself back to the present moment instead of being taken away, but other times, I found it difficult to separate myself from my thoughts. Some days I ended up having to dismiss negative thoughts that told me I wasn’t being mindful enough! But at least I was observing my thoughts.

In the next class we focused on appreciating our senses fully. It made me realise that I am already very mindful in some aspects of life. Take for example, something as small as eating an orange. I already really appreciate the way it feels, and the satisfaction of pulling each segment off and the juicy sweet taste when I bite into it. But this session helped me to open my senses to all day-to-day activities, such as walking from the tube station to work. Rather than worrying about only having ten minutes to get there, I started to notice my surroundings – really notice. The blossom on the trees was brighter than I’d ever seen before, and suddenly I could hear all the birds singing in the trees. This is definitely the part of becoming more mindful that’s made the most sense to me so far. This I can bring into every day situations and I know this will help me to be more aware and more grateful for the present moment. The teacher also said something during this class, which made so much sense and which I think will stick with me. Quoting Søren Kierkegaard, he said; “Life is not a problem to be resolved but a reality to be experienced”.

As time went on I noticed a definite shift in how I felt. I felt calmer, more open and more present. The world hadn’t changed, but my perspective had. The world will be what I project onto it – this is what I was starting to realise.

Today it’s been a wonderful spring day with warm sunshine and blue skies. Of course this helps when trying to enjoy the present moment, but I was soaking up every last drop of it in a way I never had before. I felt like the world was sparkling back at me, as if I were being rewarding for appreciating all its beauty. I was accepting and embracing the present moment and the world was applauding me for that.

This also applied to the people around me, and how they reacted to my new state of being. I was now projecting this positivity and sense of calm, more so than I was before, and I could see other people reacting to it. It’s not something I can describe or explain, but I feel it, and they feel it too. I’ve always been a people pleaser – I could never be fully happy or content if I had the feeling something’s wrong with someone I care about. If I felt like I’d upset someone, even if rationally I know I hadn’t, I would carry that weight and sense of guilt with me like a tonne of bricks on my shoulders. But now I ask myself, is my suffering helping that person to feel better, or is it just making another person in this world unhappy? Of course it isn’t easy to stop yourself feeling a certain way, but this was a start.

This week the class focused on suffering and surrender. The teacher spoke about being in an unpleasant situation, for example on a crowded tube. Here we have two choices; to be hot, tired and squashed under someone’s sweaty arm, or be annoyed about being hot, tired and squashed under someone’s sweaty arm. The present moment is what it is, and wishing it away isn’t going to improve it. It will be far more unpleasant if I choose to add anger and frustration to the situation, rather than just accept it. This will certainly take some time; I know it won’t be easy to stop myself feeling frustration in unpleasant situations. But the more I’m aware of my thoughts and emotions, the more I’m starting to be able to accept and surrender. Because after all, being angry isn’t going to make anything better.

I still have bad days and times when I feel low, just like everyone else; that’s not changed. But what has changed is my ability to observe my thoughts and emotions, and to shift my view of the situation and take a different perspective. There are days when this just can’t be done, and others when it works almost instantly. But mindfulness isn’t supposed to be a quick fix to a problem; it’s a way of being.

Now that I’ve come to the end of the course, I wonder if I’ll find it harder to stay mindful. Returning to that classroom situation each week helped me to re-focus and to deepen my practice gradually. But then I realised, I can’t worry about how mindful I’ll be tomorrow, or next week, or next year, because as I’ve come to realise, the future is only an idea, or as my mindfulness teacher put it; a bad guess. What’s important is how I feel right now, in this moment. It’s important for me to keep practicing mindfulness, but I can’t prepare to be mindful in the future, all I can do is be mindful right now. After all, as I now understand; now is all that exists.

Discovering mindfulness

“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.” I thought about this for a long time after reading it. For some reason I couldn’t get it out my head. It stayed with me, and I started to wonder; am I guilty of this? My mind is constantly racing and dashing between thoughts and worries, and very often the thoughts are about events or experiences which have already happened and can’t be changed. Or I’ll spend time worrying about the future, thinking about what may or may not happen. I’ve always been this way and I’ve come to accept it as the norm for me, but what I’ve never really considered is all those moments I’m missing out on when I’m letting these worries about the past or the future occupy my mind.

I arrived home and decided to reflect on my day. I tried to think about what I’d achieved, what I’d learnt, who I’d talked to and what I’d seen. But I found that what I could actually remember far clearer than anything else, was what my thoughts had been doing that day, rather than what I had actually experienced. I could remember what I’d been worrying about. I could remember feeling sad this morning about something that happened two weeks ago, but I couldn’t remember today and how today had made me feel. Of course, I’d gone through the motions and I’d done everything I was supposed to, but was I really present, was I really making the most of my day, or was I just getting through it, looking towards what comes next?

Recently I’ve heard about Mindfulness a lot. I know that it takes time and perseverance to fully experience it and to feel a new way of life. But even being aware of it has been a breath of fresh air, knowing there might be a way of settling the chattering voices of anxiety. I’m starting to feel that I can acknowledge when a negative thought comes to my mind, and redirect it to the present moment. Instead of letting that thought take over, I’ll focus on what’s happening now- how the wind feels on my face, or how the flowers in the park look, and even that feels like a step forward.

It’s easy for us to fall into the trap of always feeling like we’re waiting for something better. ‘Once I have a better job’, ‘once I have more money’, or ‘once I have a nicer house’ – ‘then everything will be ok and I’ll finally be truly happy’. Of course it’s good to have goals to work towards, but we should feel happiness and contentment along the way to achieving them too.

Now I’ve touched the tip of the iceberg, I want to keep going. This is only the beginning, and although I look forward to how Mindfulness could change the way I think and feel eventually, what’s important is the journey. After all, life is a journey, not a destination.

Abby xXx

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Back to blogging

After almost three years off, I’ve decided to start blogging again! For me, writing is a way of escaping from the business of every day life, and now more than ever I’m needing this escape. Even if no-one reads my posts (which I hope they do!), when I write, I’m in my happy place. That leads me quite nicely to the blog I’ll be returning with; ‘Discovering Mindfulness’.

I hope you enjoy it, and who knows, perhaps it will even inspire someone who might be struggling to find peace and contentment to go and find out more!

Abby xXx

Tunbridge Wells Food Festival 2014

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Today I made the most of the glorious sunshine by attending the Tunbridge Wells Food Festival. The live music, relaxed atmosphere and delicious food made it the perfect event for a sunny Sunday.

The restaurants of Tunbridge Wells set up stalls to promote and sell just a small taster of what they have to offer. There’s such a variety, from paella to ribs, to pastries to fajitas. There are also fresh vegetables available, cider stalls and a range of homemade marmalades and chutneys to buy. Not to mention the selection of cakes, buns and fudges! Trust me, you will be spoilt for choice!

Of course, the sunny weather did help it’s appeal, but I thoroughly enjoyed my day wandering round The Pantiles. I headed home absolutely full to the brim and very confident that I would be back next year!

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