Book Club for One

I've been largely off-grid owing to the fairly large life changes afoot: starting a new job and buying a new house. I don't recommend it. Why is it that these monumental shifts have been coming in twos recently? Get married + move country. New job + sell house. I keep wondering when a "quiet year" is around the corner. Bring on a fixed-term mortgage dictating we keep those moving boxes away! In a bid to not combust, have a breakdown or burst into tears in public, I've had to cut myself some slack on what I'm managing to do in a day. Taking on a new job is no easy feat, getting to know new names, new processes whilst simultaneously making that great first 90-day impression. Throw in some estate agents, solicitors and mortgage advisers and that's my capacity shot to pieces. Something had to give. Bye bye posting on Instagram. Adios scheduling posts. Adieu writing them too *sad face*. But one thing that is keeping me sane(ish) and entertained in my cherished down-time is my ready supply of reading material. One of my highlights of last weekend was browsing for over an hour in an Oxfam charity bookshop (Yes, I came away with 4 new additions to my bookshelf... not ideal for the impending packing up task to come I agree!) Everyday, without fail, I tune in to an Audible story, a Kindle page-turner and, on special occasions, actually pull out a hard-back (yup, Easter is deemed 'special occasion').

These are the five books I've finished most recently and, incidentally, recommend them all!

The Wrong Knickers - A Decade of Chaos
Bryony Gordon
If you loved Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love then this is for you! Written a few years earlier, London-based journalist Bryony Gordon manages to capture the grittiness of living in London fresh after uni with that inner party-girl instinct living off a tiny graduate salary with the encounters and stories worth dining out on! The name of the book is the situation Bryony finds herself in the opening chapters. A hilarious read that is scarily familiar but at the same time makes you appreciate not being that age anymore!

Bryony Gordon survived her adolescence by dreaming about the life she'd have in her twenties: the perfect job; the lovely flat; the amazing boyfriend. The reality was something of a shock. Here in the Sunday Times bestselling THE WRONG KNICKERS Bryony busts open the glamorised myth of what it means to be a young (perpetually) single girl about London town, and shares the horrible and hilarious truth. The truth about picking up a colleague at the STI clinic; sinking into debt to fund a varied diet of wine, crisps and vodka; and how it feels when your dream man turns out to be a one night stand who hands you someone else's knickers in the morning.
Hinch Yourself Happy - All The Best Cleaning Tips To Shine Your Sink And Soothe Your Soul
Sophie Hinchliffe 
What I'm about to say will be, to many, controversial: I hadn't heard of Mrs Hinch until the eve of my 30th birthday. However, if ever there's a time to get to know this cleaning guru, it's the milestone of "proper" adulthood. I must have been living under an Instagram algorithm rock! And I can confidently say that as when I started reading the her book she had 1.4m followers, by the time I finished it five days later she had 1.9m and now, at the time of writing, over 2.4m followers. Sophie Hinchliffe is literally wonder woman! 'Hinchers' - a fond term for her followers - have adopted her passion for cleaning, hoovered up her tips better than a Dyson and introduced 'freshnup Fridays'! I am now a resolute fan of her Insta stories and on the hunt for my very own Minky... you have to know to know!

Cleaning - aka hinching - doesn't have to be that job you dread, not when Mrs Hinch is here to show you her sparkly ways. She has taken the nation by storm with her infectiously addictive charm, clever tidying tips and passionate belief in cleaning. Mrs Hinch invites you into her home and while inside you'll discover how a spot of cleaning is the perfect way to cleanse the soul. She'll even share the story of Mr and Mrs Hinch and their 'dorgeous' boy, Henry.

Vinegar Girl - The Taming of The Shrew Retold
Anne Tyler
This recommendation is courtesy of Coco's Tea Party Book Club which I highly recommend signing up to for a monthly newsletter that will have your Amazon or Goodreads accounts getting a lot of action! I had totally forgotten the storyline of The Taming of The Shrew so I enjoyed this modern-day adaption.

Kate Battista is stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and infuriating younger sister Bunny? Dr Battista has other problems. His brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, his new scientific breakthrough will fall through… When Dr Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Will Kate be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to win her round?
Feminists Don't Wear Pink (And Other Lies)
Scarlett Curtis
This has been on my reading list for AGES and I'm so grateful for the Easter weekend to enable me to get stuck in. I call myself a feminist but the F-word does get a lot of bad press. This book is an incredible library of essays from inspirational women including Keira Knightly, Jameela Jamil, Bridget Jones (written by Helen Fielding), Lolly Adefope and so many more, which articulates what being a feminist means it its many guises (and yes, men can be feminists too... I'm married to one!)

This is the must-read book that every woman needs. We asked 52 women: what does the F word mean to you? The result is extraordinary.
"Brilliant, hysterical, truthful and real. These essays illuminate the path for our future female leaders." - Reese Witherspoon
Queenie
Candice Carty-Williams
Hot off the recommendation of the Queens themselves - Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes - this is an incredible story of a 26-year old British woman of Caribbean descent living in London as she battles mental health issues, relationship woes, race and gender discrimination. You'll find yourself wishing this book never ends whilst simultaneously rooting for Queenie as she braces herself through denial to self-destruction and out the other side.
Queenie Jenkins can't cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That's definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there's her boss who doesn't seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don't seem to listen (if it's not Jesus or water rates, they're not interested). She's trying to fit in two worlds that don't really understand her. It's no wonder she's struggling. She was named to be queen of everything. So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

What's in your Kindle wishlist, bookshelf or Audible reading list? I might make this a monthly thing (if I don't make anymore drastic life decisions that is... what do you think?)
Photo by Aung Soe Min on Unsplash

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(My very own) Weekend Reading List

A new spot of reading activity for me is away from the daily commute and one I have been savouring in the comfort of my own bed on a Saturday morning. I've recently discovered one of my favourite lifestyle bloggers - Coco's Tea Party - posts a Weekend Reading List every Friday and in the last month I've been heading there for some brilliant & interesting articles. I can easily lose an hour discovering new publications, journalists and points of view that otherwise in my day-to-day life I don't get the time to explore. Another great source of reading material is my absolute fave podcast, The High Low. Between these sources (and a few others), I wanted to share articles that have, in one way or another, made a lasting impression on me. I've shared each of these with at least one friend or family member, so they're collated here for your easy weekend scrolling...enjoy!

Dolly Alderton // We All End Up A Bit Like Our Mothers 
Read online at The Sunday Times Style

What Do You Do Outside Of Your 9-5?
Read online via LinkedIn

How Millennial Became Generation Burnout
Read online at BuzzFeed

Is An Obsession with Achievement Holding You Back?
Read online at The Sunday Times Style

The Tyranny of Hen Parties: 5 Traditions We Wish Would Disappear
Read online at Harper's Bazaar

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6 myths about living in New York

Is it all sipping Cosmos, eating cupcakes & running around in stilettos in the city that never sleeps?
City of Dreams. Big Apple. Concrete Jungle. The home of skyscrapers, yellow taxis and pizza slices. Credit to the silver screen for making me fall in love with this city before I'd even touched down on the tarmac at JFK. I grew up on an appetite of Friends and Sex and the City, dreaming of visiting New York and after my first bite of the Big Apple aged 18 thanks to my Fairy Godmother, I fell in love with the idea of living there too. Aged 28, that dream came true and I packed my husband, Manolos and rose-tinted spectacles to set-up our life in New York. A year to the day since I returned to London, I can still say it's one of the most magical cities in the world but the reality of living there is quite different to the HBO version. I'm here to dispel the myths and misconceptions of living in New York City. 


“So maybe it won’t look like you thought it would in high school, but it’s important to remember that love is possible. Anything is possible. This is New York.” - Carrie Bradshaw

1. You Speak The Same Language
It turns out Americans and Brits really don't speak the same language! Seriously. 

If, like me, you thought the main difference between American English and British English was a bunch of 's's and 'z's, I'm here to tell you that spellcheck won't help you navigate this cultural shift! I realised the seriousness of the issue when my new American boss began a glossary of my "Britishisms". Turns out, I'm more colloquial than I thought and became acutely aware of the bizarre habits I had picked up. For someone who doesn't even watch University Challenge, my saying 'starter for ten' confused the hell out of my Vice President! Turns out I couldn't turn over a new leaf either and my punishment was recording the New York office's voicemail message for being the "most British".


"That's another reason I love New York. Just like that, it can go from bad to cute." - Carrie Bradshaw

2. You can write a weekly column & afford to live in a New York apartment!

 "I've spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!" - Carrie Bradshaw

The entire island of Manhattan is, by London standards, like renting in Mayfair. And it's either that or hop across the river to Queens or New Jersey where you can pay the bargain, pinch-free, on-par-with-Islington prices! Unlike Carrie, I didn't have a bathroom with two doors or a walk-in wardrobe or even two dimes to rub together after I'd paid my rent every month! Yep, it's eye-wateringly expensive and 'rent-controlled apartments' are just like the Mary Jane shoes, an urban myth!  

While the cost of moving anywhere is high, New York has the same effect on prices as the word 'wedding': everyone just adds on a couple of zeroes! I bet you didn't know that literally everything stocked on the shelves in Manhattan has an 'Island Tax' added to the price tag which is effectively the cost of getting the produce over the bridge and onto the island!

"When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more." - Carrie Bradshaw

The biggest shock is the cost of everyday life and the fact that after six months, I was having dreams of walking into Tesco or Superdrug and almost trolley-dashing at the (by comparison) low pricesWhere is a dollar store when you need one? We swapped Sainsburys for Whole Foods because the only affordable food store in the whole of Manhattan, Trader Joes, only has three stores in the entire island and the savings would have been gobbled up by the taxi fare home (please don't suggest the subway home, you know they pack things in paper bags, right?). Plus, the queue for the checkout literally begins at the entrance and the best tactic is to shop from the queue as it weaves up and down every aisle! Certainly makes me appreciate Ocado, Hello Fresh and being closer to European-sourced food now! 
3. The City Never Sleeps
Well that's a lie. I can't tell you how many times I had been disappointed by the pizza shop closing at 10pm. What is this?! I lived down by the Financial District so the weekends were pretty quiet around there and the shops certainly didn't operate on a 24/7 policy. I know many other districts did though. Along with the thousands of bars and restaurants that are open 'til all hours, the average New York dinnertime was around 10pm and you could easily catch a movie at gone midnight. 

4. I'm staying in tonight to 'do laundry'
Carrie Bradshaw did more airing of dirty laundry in her column that actual laundry but many American films and sitcoms are guilty of glamorising this mundane chore. The reality is most apartments in New York aren't fitted with washers and dryers (aka. washing machines and tumble dryers to us Brits) so be prepared to either lose an entire evening (don't dare attempt this on a Sunday) riding the elevator to get your whites glistening or swap the "I'm washing my hair" excuse with the very real "I have to do laundry". Living on the 23rd floor and having to hoik your bags of dirty washing down 22 floors to use coin-operated washing machines feels (a) way behind the times and (b) completely unromantic compared to the John Hartnett version.

5. Bright Lights, Big City. 
Or not as the case may be. Unless you're in Times Square...in which case, prepare to be dazzled and watch out for retina damage. Though generally it's cooler to eye-roll at Times Square, avoid it like the plague and pity any visitor who suggest going there (then you're almost a bonafide New Yorker!). But the real point here is the bizarre observation that ceiling lights in New York apartments are few and far between (like chip & pin card machines or ATMs that don't charge you for withdrawals). Or was this just my apartment?? You can completely forget lighting in your bedroom, too! How weird, right? Having sold my last two bedside lamps three weeks before leaving the city, I was plunged into darkness from 6pm onwards every evening. Apparently the reason for this is to keep costs down for developers... if only the same could be said for the electric bill when you have lamps in every corner.

6. You'll holiday in the Hamptons. 
"One of the best things about living in a city like New York is leaving it. My friend, Patience and her husband invited me out to the Hamptons for the weekend. Patience and Peter were the perfect married couple. They were fun, smart, and they looked like they fell out of J. Crew catalog. If their house wasn't right on the beach, I would've hated them." - Carrie Bradshaw

The Americans may only get 10 days holiday a year (and they don't even take all of those!) but you are sure guaranteed a trip to the Hamptons. New York has a great summertime rule of closing the offices early on a Friday - aka. Summer Fridays - and the weekend away culture is a big thing. Prepare to network to find out who you know in your social circle with keys to a house in the Hamptons. The truth is, I didn't venture far enough afield to experience the Hamptons first-hand. I had a mixed bag of opinions from colleagues at to whether it was worth it; my conclusion is you need a 10-bedroom mansion on the beach to experience anything quite like the movies portray! So for now, the bubble hasn't burst on this New York dream of mine!

"After all, seasons change, so do cities. People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know that the ones you love are always in your heart, and if you're very lucky, a plane ride away." - Carrie Bradshaw

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The Truth About Laughter Yoga

When your mother tells you she’s becoming a Laughter Yoga Leader, that in itself may conjure a laugh. Or a raised eyebrow. Or a furrowed brow of confusion. What is a Laughter Leader?! It turns out, there’s a whole community that is turning to laughter to improve wellbeing, combat stress and get those endorphins flowing. I didn’t know until I was stood in my first ever laughter yoga class on a Saturday morning, that the brain can’t detect the difference between a “real” laugh and “fake” one. If I’m being honest, I have required fake laughing before now and recalled how incredibly exhausting I found it - perhaps this Laughter Yoga was going to feel more like a workout that I thought! Not surprising for an introvert that the notion of standing in a room full of strangers and being asked to do a series of exercises (most of which require eye contact and bellowing laughs) was my idea of hell. However, I’m all for trying things once...and I told myself, even if I didn't find the experience funny, the anecdotes would no doubt be worth the £10 to attend (cheapest ‘Yoga’ session in London I might add!)

Before I get into the detail, I'm aware there's a little myth-busting required so you all understand what exactly Laughter Yoga is... 

The first misconception about laughter yoga is you’re required to own exercise gear. Wrong. You can turn up in whatever you feel comfortable to move in, but you certainly don’t have to don Sweaty Betty’s latest collection to fit in here. This is a judgement free zone.

The second misconception is you’ll be going red-faced in downward dog with, God forbid, your arse is in air and asked to laugh. That’s enough to make my very clenched little bottom run in the opposite direction. But nope, it’s not yoga in the traditional sun-salutation sense, it’s yogic breathing that features here: in through the nose, belly expands, out through the mouth (with a ha ha haaaaaa on the outward breath).
The 90 minute session is comprised of 60 minutes of laughter exercises and 30 minutes of mindfulness and meditation. The warm-up starts with an exercise sharing names and getting familiar with making ha-ha and hee-hee sounds. Okay, easing me in gently. Then comes the science, which is pretty impressive:

FACT NO.1. Did you know between childhood and adulthood we “learn” to stop laughing. As children we don't have the filter to think about laughing, we just do it when something humours us! But something about growing up causes us adults to become more reserved, filter ourselves and, sadly, laugh less. Nothing funny about that. 

FACT NO.2. The brain cannot decipher the difference between real and fake laughter. Hence why you all need to hang out at your local Laughter Yoga session regularly to get your fix of giggles. It's so dull to say but day-to-day life, especially in a high intensity or isolated job, can mean laughs are not a-plenty. Time to meet like-minded people, have a laugh and feel great!

FACT NO.3. At any time, laughter can help release a D.O.S.E of these 'happy hormones' - Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphin - which is basically kryptonite to those stress hormones. 

Then it comes to granting permission. You are asked to give yourself permission to laugh. Ah, right, there are my inhibitions being confronted. Yes I’m feeling awkward about the whole thing. Yes I’m slightly dreading it. But there we all are being asked to be equal and find the benefits of laughter together, without judgement. I would hazard a guess that everyone is feeling the same trepidation if they’re a first timer but you have to be in it to win it, I guess. In fact, as the session unfolds, you can feel the reservations melting away from all those around you get more used to the scenario before them and the laughter rises in volume.

A few examples of the exercises you’ll do are analogies for the trials and tribulations of modern life and so, incredibly easy to relate. All those thoughts from the working week whizzing around your head? Floss them away. All that worry and stress that’s in your pockets, empty them out. That never-ending to-do list burdening your shoulders, throw it away. The metaphors combined with breathing and laughter, giggling and chuckling has an addictive and enlightening effect. It also teaches us a much more significant lesson and that’s to use laughter therapeutically to keep balance in our life; next time you get stuck in a traffic jam, laugh at it to diffuse that adrenaline and nasty hormones flooding your body with stress. There’s a saying I often use when in a stressful work environment - If I don’t laugh I’ll cry - and it’s that, but done consciously. With Brexit upon us, there’s never been more need for us stiff upper lipped Brits to crack a smile, laugh at the political ridiculousness we’re in! Ho hoo ha ha haa!

The third misconception is people are laughing at you. Not true. There are times that hearing other people’s laughter helped me create more of my own, and sometimes the over-exuberant Laughter Leader cracked a joke but there’s certainly no laughter at someone else’s expense. I often did think throughout the session that if my husband could see me now, he certainly would be laughing AT me, but even I found vividly imagining that to my benefit when we were asked to free-laugh FOR FIVE MINUTES!!
Believe it or not, sixty minutes of laughter does feel like you’ve had a workout. Your core has been active, you’ve been moving/miming/walking around so by the time you get to lie down and meditate, I was basically asleep. The lasting feeling was certainly happy one. We were asked to share a word for how we were feeling at the end of the session: relaxed, energised (and relieved) were among them. The effects for some were so profound they felt compelled to share their delight at how they now felt; admitting their nerves at the beginning but that the laughter yoga served as a perfect antidote to bigger issues they were dealing with, such as depression and anxiety in their everyday life. When the results are that strong after one session, why aren't all of London doing this?? 

Valerie Letley - Laughter Leader & Life Coach - is celebrating International Women's Day with a session in East Sussex. Contact Valerie to find out more information about upcoming Laughter Yoga events.

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Reykjavik's Tastiest Secret


Well, you'll quite rightly assume that fish will be on the menu wherever you go in Iceland! Where to eat in Reykjavik? Up until our last night, we had been more than happy experiencing the quirky soup-in-a-bread-bowl at Svarta Kaffid, the cinematic entertainment alongside a burger at Lebowski Bar and the carb treat and novelty of Reykjavik Chips. But we ended our little trip to Iceland on a culinary high: Enter, Fiskmarkaðurinn - an asian fusion twist on seafood straight from the shore!

“Colours and scents and sounds mingle when fish is traded fresh off the boat. The cold air is heavy with potential; it invites discovery. Wander, hear the fishmongers and seamen, allow for the unexpected. Take a moment. Welcome to the Fish Market. Explore at will.”

By all accounts, I’m not the most exotic or confident seafood-eater. Serve up cod and haddock, I’m happy. Salmon? That’s as fishy as I’ll go and usually I slather it in sweet chilli...I’m just not mad on the ‘fishy’ flavour. So, fair to say, I entered this restaurant with an ounce of trepidation. Particularly, as Icelandic cuisine is synonymous with puffin and whale. 

Fiskmarkaðurinn’s reviews on Tripadvisor were glowing and many recommended the tasting menu (prepare for a sizeable price tag). However if the five dishes that we shared between us were anything to go by, it would certainly be worth the investment! The ambience is moody yet calm and the service is attentive. First out of the kitchen after we had ordered some wine was a little amuse bouche of salmon tartare on a poppadom cracker. The myriad of flavours from such a little mouthful was a great taster of what was to follow!
S T A R T E R | Mrs
Bitter lemon glazed Arctic Char served with edamame purée, pickled onion, cauliflower and crispy Icelandic 
rye bread.
This was a light and refreshing starter. I had no idea what type of fish would arrive on the plate but Artic Char is definitely my kind of fish! Quite meaty in texture, the surrounding flavours were tangy but didn’t overpower the fish. 

S T A R T E R | Mr

Robata grilled Minke Whale lightly grilled and served with Icelandic wasabi root, citrus miso & soy ginger vinaigrette. 

Controversial indeed. Mr A ordered this with an air of ‘When in Rome’ and a large sip of his beer after that request winged it’s way to the chef. However, he (and I) were both pleasantly surprised. Absolutely packed with flavour and the thin slivers of meat literally melt in the mouth!

M A I N  C O U R S E | Mrs

Lightly salted cod spiced with lime and served 
with potato purée, dried cranberries 
and sweet celery salad.

I may not have been adventurous with my choice of fish but I literally loved every mouthful. The potato was the most incredibly buttery mash and I could have eaten a plate full of it! Really generous portion size, perfect for swapping two-thirds of the way through with the husband!

M A I N  C O U R S E | Mr

Pan-fried ocean perch served with capers pesto, honey carrots and curry vinaigrette.

Another unknown fish but I can conclude that ‘perch’ is on my list now too! This packed quite a punch with stronger flavour groups than my main and the hint of curry in the vinaigrette was so addictive I was chasing the flavour around the plate with a sidekick of pesto and bitterness of kale. If I was to eat here again, I’d be ordering this from the menu!



I hope you enjoyed this little bite of food blogging. It's not my usual content but since I posted about our incredible culinary masterpiece at Urko in Ecuador, it's been one of my most popular blog posts so that suggests there's an appetite for it! Bon appetit!

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Northern Lights: What To Wear

What should I wear to watch the Northern Lights? Well, it's not going to be about glamour on this little outing. Practicality - as boring as that sounds - is key.  You don't want to taint the memory of the night you saw the Northern Lights with that same time you got a touch of frostbite. Having recently ventured to Iceland in February with only carry-on luggage to hand, I can assure you that there will be room for enough layers to keep you warm. As the best time of year to see the Northern Lights is December though to March, it's time to embrace those sexy thermals. Here's what I wore the night I stood under the star-lit sky for three hours watching the Northern Lights put on the most incredible dancing show.

Starting with the base, a layer of thermals is essential. I literally packed this M&S thermal top in three colours (black, white, oatmeal) and rotated them throughout my stay. The HeatGen range is the best for quality from the High Street and easy on the purse-strings. They have a great selection of necklines and fabrics ranging from thin, lightweight, discreet tops to more thicker, fleecy ones. The latter was what I opted for; the thicker, the warmer, the better. Available from £16, Marks & Spencer.

One thing I hadn't come prepared with was thermal leggings. A 20-something Londoner doesn't have many needs for longjohns in her wardrobe but whilst, on this occasion, I felt I had missed a winner, luckily I was offered my husband's cycling leggings to add a second layer to my legs. Plus, a bonus of this situation is when is a better time to be able to store an extra pair of socks in your crotch area?! For next time, I'll be stocking up on these M&S HeatGen Thermal Leggings with Cashmere, £25.

Black jeans are oxygen to my wardrobe so they were the final layer for my legs. Particularly sexy to note the tucking action that went down here: thermal top into my waistband and a pair of socks under and walking socks over my trouser leg. The aim here was 'snug as a bug in a rug'. My go-to brand & style for jeans is River Island's Molly Jeans, £40.

Knowing I would be jumping between different temperatures throughout the evening, layering was my approach to the top half! The hotel room in which we got ready became increasingly like an inferno with every new garment applied. On top of the thermal top was a long-sleeved shirt made from a brushed cotton-type material. Super snuggly and handy to button up/down depending on whether I was stood outside by the bus-stop waiting to be picked up for the tour, or sat under a heater on the coach's 50 minute journey out of Reykjavik.

Thermal + Shirt + Jumper up next. I wore this one from Topshop for it's high neck and ample room for said layers to sit beneath without distorting it for future wear. I recently learned that the reason wool keeps you warm is because it lightly abrades the skin's surface, therefore sending blood rushing to the site. Kind of weird and ineffective in this case given there were two layers between said woollen jumper and skin surface but an interesting fact none the less. Similar style can be found here, Topshop £32.

The coat is key. For me, I was really glad to have a coat that didn't resemble that much of a sleeping bag from an aesthetic point of view, after all I was hoping to be in the odd photo or two, whilst not compromising on the heat retention. Pockets, for me, were a must for lipbalm, camera, iPhone and headphones. Whilst I love this coat, it was more fashion-based than practical so I couldn't turn down the offer of a gilet to go over the top of the coat. Told you, sexy.

Now onto accessories... Pack a long scarf that you can wind around your neck a couple of times and tuck into the front of your coat (anyone else remember their parents doing this to them before letting them loose in the playground?). Leather gloves are so much more efficient than wool ones and damp, cold gloves should be avoided at all cost. Considering the snow on the ground and how damn dark it is 'out there', one slip and drop of the lens cover into the snow and you're screwed. An 'ear-band' to ensure your ears are actually contained under a layer of weather resistant fabric makes more difference that you would think. I actually got an earache from whistling cold wind hitting my ears earlier in the trip so I highly recommend. Again, another of the husband's cycling paraphernalia which came in rather handy! Woolly hat (preferably with bobble) to top it off! I just love my Kate Spade 'Ooh La La' black and white hat.
So there is my packing list for your adventure out into the darkness to see this spectacular phenomena. Three hours stood outside in the freezing cold, crunchy snow underfoot and throat-catching winds blowing a gale requires some serious outfit consideration so if in doubt, do a 'Joey' and wear all your clothes. Every trip and tour may be shrouded in disclaimers about the uncertainty of whether you will see the Northern Lights, but should you be one of the lucky ones, the misery of feeling cold to the bones whilst you're gazing upwards or forced to retreat to the warmth of the coaches will hopefully be prevented by reading this post.


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Gym Game-Changer

I am writing this on an endorphin high. I am writing this in case it's a fleeting or brief epiphany which later I can return and read myself in the hope it will make me wriggle into a sports bra (girls, we all know how challenging that is!) and get my butt back to the gym.

I've dabbled with gym memberships over the years beginning when I was 14 and my parents offered to pay an extortionate fee to keep me entertained for an extra hour or two after school. The truth is I mostly sat on the machines chatting and the only muscles getting any major workout were those from my constant chinwagging with friends. Throughout University, I had an on/off relationship with the gym and in true student style, was never seen there before midday and was solely motivated by a) a small dress I was daring to wear that night at Oceana or b) the hot men working out in close proximity. (Tangent: My favourite memory from this time was when my roommate and I went to the gym and were - standard behaviour - walking on the treadmill, only when my friend thought a guy she was seeing had walked in, she then tripped and made a rather dramatic flail to regain her composure. Turns out, it wasn't him.)

When I moved to London after graduation, in some vain attempt to tick those I'm-a-real-grown-up boxes, I signed up to another extortionately priced gym in West London. The slight victory was I actually went there! At best, my average was four hours a week which, deceptively, would only require two actual visits to the gym with a Les Mils Body Pump class followed by Body Balance. Brutal.

The 'W' word was the real milestone in changing my thinking about a regular exercise regime. First stop: Professional help, obviously. Hello PT! I was recommended Kaytee as the best of the best when it comes to understanding a woman's physique and how women want to feel in their bodies (and she has a body to die for so you know you're in good hands). She eye-rolls at men doing all that huffing and puffing and gives diet advice on the side (she's a chef and caterer by day). This is the woman I have to thank for getting me into the best shape of my twenties. Just as well considering the low-cut back and clinging wedding dress I had fallen in love with.

Fast forward two years, travelling out of a backpack for 6 months with an on-the-go diet and then the shock of American food (read: pizza) on my ever expanding waistband. I remember hearing a colleague of mine say both her and her husband had put on a stone in their first year of marriage. Ironically, the little voice in my head said, That won't be me! ... It was me. My first go at ClassPass had led me to fall in love with Physique57 barre classes where I attempted to repair some of the damage. The mental benefits alone were totally worth the $300 monthly membership fee and it encouraged me to try ClassPass back in London. I can finally see the pattern: the way to get me to move my butt is to book me into the escape-free-zone of an exercise class where you'll slap a penalty charge if I don't turn up! Trap me in the room, make me fear losing face for walking out or giving up and I'll give you 60 good minutes of movement!

But, to finally bring you to present day, living outside Zone 2 makes ClassPass slightly less convenient. Add it to the change of job afoot in February, I have a distinct feeling my days at the barre are numbered. Whilst on a mission to get into shape ahead of the big 3-0, I've joined a gym where the membership fee is under £30 a month (I had begun to think that was an urban gym myth) and I just went for my first session there. Truth be told, the intention tonight was for a gym induction. Only, for less than £30 a month they forget to book you into the system and you're stood there in head to toe gym kit fighting the urge to turn back and head home to the sofa. So, I did what any self-respecting 29-year-old would do... I plugged in my headphones, sat on a cycling machine and watched Instagram stories for 20 minutes. The fact I managed to get a sweat on whilst scrolling the 'gram felt like the most efficient I've been so far this year! Perhaps I should consider this a regular habit?

The real game-changer (hence the title of this post...if you've persevered this far, well done!) was when I took to a new app on my iPhone. ClassPass GO is a database full of different 10/20/30 minute regimes based on whatever time you have and whatever type of exercise you fancy; choose from arms/butt/core or Yoga/Pilates/HIIT and state your ability from beginner > medium > advanced. It was the gateway to a host of mini gym workouts for those of us that stand in a gym feeling self-conscious and wondering how long we need to stand there pretending to know what we're doing. For me, this was a game-changer though. Despite hours of PT sessions where I felt my confidence rising, understanding and using different equipment around the gym, take that PT away and my mind goes blank. I need that structure and I need that voice telling me what to do, for how long and when to rest/drink/breathe/repeat. Best of all, it's a completely complimentary service for the ClassPass subscriber so in between your Reformer Pilates, Hot Yoga, Spin or Pure Barre, you can pop to the gym or even make space in your living room to achieve your fitness goals. This evening, I was headphones in with one of LA's finest PTs instructing me through a beginner's Upper Body Burn (10 min) and Booty Burn + Balance (10 min). The app has hundreds of programmes to choose from plus some handy pics to follow for posture etc. and even the background music to make you think you're in that studio being energised to the beat! Try it.

Whilst I fall into an exhausted slumber, I seriously recommend the ClassPass GO app for anyone reading who doesn't think they're a gym person. (Even you, Rose)

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Life Changing Purchases

Is it a sign of becoming an adult when you get excited about spending your disposable income on a sofa, a steamer or a kitchen utensil? If so, then I have officially embraced adulthood. This past year has been all about investing in our domestic life, truly setting up home within our owned bricks and mortar (a first for me). Bring on nails in the walls, new paint colour schemes and those ‘life essentials’ to make home life that bit more comfortable. Here I share with you the absolute game-changer purchases that have made such a positive impact on my life.

NEW BED [OF DREAMS].

I’ll start with the most expensive purchase and you can scroll down for less bank-stretching items if you are sleeping on a mattress under 5 years old. I was always brought up on the philosophy of ‘pence per wear’ and if I were to already calculate the minutes I’ve spent in this bed catching some much needed zzzz’s it’s already cheap as chips! Our former mattress was seriously old having withstood various house-moves (you’ve gathered we do that a lot, right?) and even spending 10 weeks on sea-freight making its way to New York. By the end of our stint there, we didn’t think it was worth the moving costs considering how heavy and large a king size mattress is to a removal company!

I’m not going to lie, I had no idea where to start with ‘mattress shopping’ having never entertained the idea before. Luckily I have a husband who’s a dab-hand at Google and, in turn, found Which? website – an independent consumer body who impartially recommended the best brands on the market. As a result, we checked out Casper as one of the best in the biz. One conveniently placed pop-up shop visit later to the Oculus in downtown New York and I was sold (mainly because I wanted the decision made rather than making more awkward attempts to lie on a bed in public without putting my snow-boots directly on the bed…my mother taught me well!) The truth is we almost placed the order without visiting a showroom but it was pure coincidence one happened to be on our doorstep. The reviews spoke for themselves and we felt reassured it was the right mattress for us.

So, we threw down £650 on The Casper mattress and chucked in a couple of the fancy pillows to go with it. My parents were dumb-founded when I said our mattress would soon be delivered to their house in a (relatively) small box and if he could inconspicuously store it out of sight until our return, please, that would be ace. Turns out mattress tech has moved on since my parents last bought theirs! Rolled up neatly in a tiny little box, this mattress is almost vacuum-packed in a roll (imagine a Swiss Roll cake) and you simply unroll it, unwrap it and leave it to expand for a couple of hours. Done.

The other awesome thing about Casper is that they have a 100-night trial; if you still don’t like it after that time, you can send it back free of charge. It took me all of two nights to get used to it as it was slightly more firm than I was used to, plus I was an additional 3 feet off the floor thanks to our new bed frame. Conclusion?  I. LOVE. IT. I've even got my eye on the matching mattress protector now...

Tip: Look out on the London Underground for their adverts which offer 15% off purchases with a code. Plus, Casper is a global brand so available for delivery to many locations!

HOOVER. VACUUM. WHATCHAMACALLIT.

I hate hoovering. With a passion. Until now…

Having lived in a townhouse previously, the stairs were a killer and I never much fancied how often it damn well needed doing or how hot and sweaty I got in the process. Never mind the tripping over the lead, moving from plug point to plug point and the faff of emptying the vacuum bag. If you can relate (and I know you can), quit your moaning and buy one of these! I kid you not, I now love hoovering* (*defined as a love greater than any other household chore, especially ironing!). I watch on sympathetically to anyone who wheels out a Henry hoover or anything with leads sprouting from it. The Dyson V8 animal is a cord-free hand-held whizz of a vacuum that comes with 5 different connections making it perfect for stairs, under tables or cobwebs in the corner of your room that, let’s face it, we can never reach or be arsed to tackle. Now, boom, it’s so easy I'm willing those cobwebs to appear. Charge it up like a mobile phone for an hour or so and I can hoover my entire flat 2-3 times before it needs to be recharged. Plus, you can hang it from the wall in your utility or cupboard so it’s not taking up precious floor space. SERIOUSLY – A GAME CHANGER! I’d actually do your hovering for you if you got this*.
*In exchange for a large glass of wine.

YOU'VE GOT TO LISTEN TO THIS!

I’ve professed my love of Audible many times here and on my Instagram page. It’s honestly revolutionised my ability to ‘read’ all the books everyone talking about! It’s just £7.99 a month for one new credit every month (1 credit = 1 book) and I have never felt so satisfied with a subscription service. My wishlist grows weekly! You can’t watch Netflix whilst cleaning the bathroom at the same time, can you? You can’t Amazon Prime when you’re on a run, can you? You can’t read your Kindle whilst cooking the dinner, can you? Seriously, there’s nothing you can’t do whilst listening to Audible. Multi-tasking in the making! I recently spent the entire weekend in the company of Michelle Obama whilst I completely reconfigured my bathroom shelves, packed away the Christmas decks and did 3 loads of washing. She was great company! I have been banging this drum for ages now, trying to share the benefits with anyone who will listen and happily debate with anyone who scoffs are the notion that “it’s not really reading, is it?”

Favourite reads on Audible so far are: Never Greener by Ruth Jones, My Thoughts Exactly written and read by Lily Allen, The Multi-Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon and Winging It by Alex Jones.

STICK A LABEL ON IT. 

*Geek warning* I’m a stationary fiend and I have to admit this is the second label maker I now own. Introducing Dymo Label Maker. For any like-minded organisational junkies out there, this is for you. I have since taken to photo albums, notebooks, organising my hoards of skincare by category and spice rack to 'label' a few. I have so far refrained from sticking a label on loved ones but it’s only really a matter of time....

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That's my top 4 favourite purchases of late. Having just unwrapped a Dyson Air-Wrap for Christmas I'm sure that may be on my list for 2019. What are your game-changing purchases?  


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Talking Life Goals & New Year BS

I could preach this year I'm hoping to shed a few pounds, drink less caffeine and cut out sugar. I could vow to do more 'selfcare', meditate every day and walk my 10,000 steps. I could say all these things but a) I'm guessing you're already bored and b) we both know I'd have failed by 4th January. I blame the media and brands for this 'New Year, New You' culture which sets an expectation that makes us all feel pretty shitty after a 10-day binge and Netflix marathon. Even when brands aren't singing to that theme tune, they attempt to "be different" and embrace 'New Year, Old You' in some thinly veiled attempt to say 'We think you're brilliant just as you are...but you still need to buy this product.' 

This year, I'm saying: Sod it all.
All I'm looking for this year is positive vibes. I have my own worst critic running a constant monologue in my head, I don't need resolutions to make me feel crap too. January should be wiped off the calendar as far as I'm concerned, pass me all the tea, biscuits and comfort food throughout this dreary month. And don't dare utter the words 'dry' and 'January' in the same sentence (she types as she puts down an empty wine glass on a Monday night. Her second.) 

I wrote last year about how I set myself goals each year (Note: very different to 'resolutions'). Motivated by the end-of-year celebration over Champagne where my friend and I toast our achievements and set our next wishlist for the year to come (sometimes drunkenly), it's become somewhat of an annual tradition.

READ MORE > 2018: LIFE GOALS

This isn't personal development in the serious sense. For example, 'picnic on Primrose Hill' is one of my goals for 2019; something I've never done but would love to and whilst I will always think it's a good idea, I may never get around to it unless it's on a list in my iPhone. I refer to this list decorated with emojis every now and then to remind myself, whilst working life can leave time for little else, that this is the 'living' I want to do outside of the 9-5. I now have honed a template with the following categories:

P E R S O N A L. Yes health and fitness goals can live here if you're so inclined. I had 10k on my list last year and it remained unticked, go figure! Yet, Make my first Christmas cake was proudly crossed off sometime in August, alongside with Read 12 books and Host a dinner party.

P R O F E S S I O N A L. Forget S.M.A.R.T. objectives, this is just the big things you want to do (and figure out the roadmap later). Work trip abroad, perhaps? Socialise with work friends more? Get that promotion?

T R A V E L. A new category for 2019 but one I'm very excited about! The last few years I've been making my way through a very comprehensive New York Bucket List but now I'm back in London, you know us Brits like to plan ahead! Enter here: Places to go. In my case, 2 city breaks, 1 long-haul holiday, 1 girls holiday and a visit to Cornwall!

L O N D O N. Making the most of my favourite city and surroundings, I've listed events, exhibitions, eateries on my hit list. (And picnics on Primrose Hill).

What would be on your 2019 list?

Back to those positive vibes... these are the Instagram accounts that I'm heading to daily to get my fix of energy, perspective and love!

@CarlyRowena Total girl boss. Total babe. Carly refuses to get sucked into that negative space on Instagram resembling The Upside Down from Stranger Things. Sharing her endorphins with us all (even when we're sat on the sofa under a blanket), this lady has just popped out a baby and rocking all that she has going on with a dazzling smile. Plus, Carly begins every day with a motivating quote in her IG stories to get your day off to a good start!

@ThePilatesPT I first met Hollie in 2012 when she lived with my best friend from Uni. Hollie has since gone on to achieve massive success running her own exercise studios (one of which is in the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park), write a book The Model Method and daily gives us a realistic dose of what is right and wrong in an industry saturated with ab-chiselled models who genetically 99% of us could never resemble if we lived off celery juice for a year (don't try that at home!) Instead, follow Hollie for her no-nonsense captions that call BS on the fads, the traps and the pitfalls whilst motivating us in the right way!

@TheSecret365 This is a free alternative to The Secret Daily Teachings app which I have downloaded - £5 from the App Store - which gives you daily snippets from the world-renowned book and film by Rhonda Byrne. I totally buy into the power of putting positive energy out to the Universe and find this essential to remembering to practise it daily! These little quotes help sync your mind onto a positive frequency.

My final thought is to say,
Have a fabulous year... and breathe!

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© Mrs A to B

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