The Happiness Project: What is it?

As I’ve been working on improving my mental and physical health, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve maintained a positive attitude in the face of some pretty solid psychological brick walls.

It’s all about trying to be positive and do positive things- small things. The idea for the Happiness Project probably isn’t new or groundbreaking, but it’s something I’d like to do on a weekly basis… and if you want to join in too, that would be ace!

So what it is it? Well, I’ll post a prompt, an idea or a quote on a Friday morning and then briefly discuss why I posted it. If you want to blog, Instagram, tweet or do something on Facebook related to it, I’d love to see it! I’d also be happy for suggestions for future ideas too.

So. Fancy joining in with the Happiness Project?

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#PaperHaul: Ice cream and hazy summer days

My #PaperHaul arrived on one of the hottest days of the year- and the theme this month, ice cream and cooling down, was just the ticket!

20150628_155453I’m currently slightly obsessed by Magnums (especially those new pink ones), so these gift tags are PERFECT! I like the simplicity of them. You can also see two of the postcards- aren’t they just so cheery? A friend of mine just relocated to the States and I might send her one to remind her of Brighton.

The washi tape is ice cream perfection too.

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On the left, we have the two large stickers. I’ve already stuck these on my recipe notebook, as it’s full of sweet treats!

On the right are the cute little notecards. These can be a bit hit or miss for me, but I do like these a lot. I think the watercolour style is really pretty.

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The cards from this month are sweet- I especially like the one with all the ice creams on!

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The vintage ice cream stickers (top left) are my favourite part of the box this month! I think they have a proper 50s, malt bar feel. Ace. Next to that is the final postcard- again, it’s all about the Magnums!

Underneath are the craft papers, which as always are super fun. The alternative view is below:

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Overall, a super sweet box of stationery! (I’m still hoping for a dino-box though…)

You can register for #PaperHaul here.

Disclaimer: I get my box at a discounted rate, but my reviews are honest and reflect my own opinions.

Gardening is good for you (well, it is for me.)

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I’ve never been what you would consider ‘outdoorsy’. I don’t like horses, or camping, or sunburn. I don’t like sitting in sunshine (sunburn, again.) So why have I embraced spending endless hours outside in the garden?

Simply, it’s good for my mind.

I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, or the extra vitamin D, but I’m finding every opportunity to get out there are get my hands dirty. At the moment, I’m interested in growing vegetables. The picture above is of a pea plant. I’ve always had a soft spot for sweet peas- they were the first thing I ever grew successfully- and so I’m growing actual real peas this year. The variety I chose produces beautiful pink, white and purple flowers and dark purple pea pods- the peas themselves are incredibly sweet and it’s really hard to leave them on the plant:

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The garden has become a hive of activity- D has a sandpit out there and Toby Rabbit is being put to work keeping the small amount of grass down.

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The best bit, though, is eating the stuff I’ve produced (although the birds have got to the strawberries. Next year, I’m doing like Monty Don and getting a teeny polytunnel- if only to stop Bronte sitting on them.) I’ve even started a compost heap, which I’m embarrassingly excited about.

My favourite so far? My potatoes (which have been all over my Instagram like a RASH.) These Cheyenne potatoes were cooked up for a barbecue and tasted delicious.

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I think that’s why I like it so much. I have a reason to enjoy outside and I can have something focus to think about- I’m already planning next year. Also, D is very into the irritating fake northern charms of Mr Bloom, so he’s super eager to help out (which is not actually terribly helpful. I may or may not be directing my son to water a small patch of weeds, rather than proper veggies. Next year I may have to give him his own little growbag.)

I honestly think, with running and gardening, I’ve made a positive change that’s helping me keep my depression under control and making me healthy all round. That’s never a bad thing, is it?

Bluebird Tea Co.’s 2015 summer tea collection*

Ah, summer. Do you still drink tea when the weather’s warm? I do, although I do tend to switch to green tea (I find black tea a bit heavier on hot days, but I do still have a sneaky Earl Grey first thing in a morning!) Anyhoo, let’s get exploring Bluebird’s new teas…

Chinese Treasures

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Now this is GOOD STUFF. This is the kind of tea I like to drink when I get home from a run and feel alternately smug/virtuous. It’s a green tea that’s been formulated around principles of Chinese medicine and has a pleasant, sweet jasmine flavour. A hint of ginger, added to some ginseng means that this pretty tea packs a hidden punch. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a permanent addition to the Bluebird collection- and one that health nuts, lovers of green tea and connoisseurs will welcome with open arms. My new favourite green tea by a mile.

Ice Cream Float

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I’m going to be honest with you- this isn’t my favourite. I do like an ice cream float, but one with Coke, rather than root beer. However, root beer is definitely the inspiration behind this one; I loved the idea of caramel pieces, tea, spices and liquorice, but the addition of burdock and sarsaparilla (both strong flavours) was a bit strong for me. However, I have shared this tea with friends who have loved this, so I guess your mileage may vary- and if you like strong, quirky teas with a vintage twist, this could be the tea for you!

Simply The Zest

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Picture an orange grove in Seville (or one of those orangeries posh houses used to have in the olden days)- then mix that juicy flavour and the heady smell of sharp citrus with a good, strong bodied black tea and you’ll find yourself with this lovely tea. It’s summer in a mug and a beautiful tea for a sunny morning. You can’t help but feel cheerful when drinking this- and you’ll also be forgiven for channelling your inner Tina Turner, too. (Just me?)

Pineappple Mint

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This is a pretty tea, isn’t it? It’s also an excellent candidate for iced tea; the ingredients are classic fruit tea- dried pineapple, pepper/spearmints, lemongrass. It surprised me by not being as sweet as I expected, as the mint is really the dominant flavour here. I reckon this would be lovely cold, laced with a cheeky little bit of gin. Lush.

*Sent for review

How to shop for clothes on eBay

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I buy most of my clothes secondhand- and a lot of them come from eBay; I’ve been doing so since I was a sixth former and I like to think my game is fierce. Often, when I tell someone one of my dresses came from eBay, I get an answer like ‘Oh, I have no idea where to start with online shopping!’ or ‘How do you know it’s going to fit?’

So wonder no more, mystery friends! I thought I’d share my tips on how to navigate the online thrift shop with ease and (hopefully) style.

1. Know your size

It’s really handy to know what size you are in certain shops- for example, I know I’m a 14 in some and 16 in others. I also make decisions based on whether I think a particular garment will be comfy/flattering in a bigger or smaller size. Be warned though- some shops’ sizes have got smaller in recent years. Damn recession.

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2. Have a brand in mind

I love Monsoon clothes, but am rarely able to afford to buy from the store- so I often keep an eye on what’s new on eBay. I know that Next, M&S and Dorothy Perkins often offer things I like and I always avoid Primark on eBay. It never lasts and is often priced way up more than it should be. I also find H+M to be hit and miss with sizing, so I try to avoid it if I can. It’s often handy to have a saved search for these things.

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3. Buy out of season

I just bought a brand new Next winter coat for a tenner (and £3 p+p). Last year I bought some calf length DMs in the middle of July for £50. Buying out of season means you beat demand and can snag some bargains.

4. Consider a budget… and stick to it

It’s really easy to get carried away on eBay, so I think of what I’m after and how much I want to spend. Then I take a look at the Buy It Now options first, as you’re paying a fixed price. I’m also a great fan of seeing these lots from the ‘lowest price first + P+P’ angle.

5. Think about what you like- and will you really wear this dress?

Some of the eBay mistakes I’ve made have been when I’ve bought something that is really not my thing (for example- high heels. I never wear high heels, so why I thought I’d wear some patent pink stilettos is beyond me. Yellow makes me look washed out if I wear too much of it and pleated skirts make me look like I have the legs of a wrestler. So if anyone can explain why I bought a mustard dress with pleated skirt, I’d be interested.) So I stick to things I like. Mostly skater dresses with birds on. Also, never fall for that part of your brain that says ‘Oh, I’ll alter it!’ 1) You won’t and 2) that way, madness lies.

6. Be zen when mistakes happen

Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned your shopping spree, you end up with a dud. It happens. If it does, I either resell, give to a friend, or (more likely) donate it to a charity shop.

Do you buy from eBay? What are your top tips?

I’ve fallen back in love with knitting

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Katharine Hepburn knitting, 1930s

I’ve found myself desperate to get home and knit recently. This is not new, but it is a renewed sense of longing.

Despite the warmer weather, I love knitting at the moment. My pattern of choice is a light and airy cardigan, Hitofude, which is designed along Japanese principles. It’s a deceptively simple (well, so far) knit and the pattern is satisfying. But is it just the pattern that’s sparked my interest?

I don’t think so. I think it is a symptom of the fact that, at the moment, I am quite content with my lot in life. I’m finally feeling relaxed and work is not dominating my life for the first time in a while. At a time when mindfulness is de rigeur, knitting is definitely a kind of yoga for the mind (I apologise for the description, but it’s true.) I like to get out the knitting, make a good cup of tea and just sit down in front of Netflix. At the moment I’m knitting to RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s fabulous.

I'm not sure anyone can top Marilyn in the glamorous knitting stakes.

I’m not sure anyone can top Marilyn in the glamorous knitting stakes.

Knitting also means I’m looking ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the good weather, despite not being a summer girl, but I’m designed for cooler climes and making knitwear means that a time that can be grim, cold and depressing can be a time that’s cozy, warm and pretty. I can pick patterns and yarn and imagine the finished product.

There’s also the element of love. D has asked me to make a jumper for him- and matching ones for his toy monkeys, Larry and Barry. And I’ll do it, because if I make you something- whether it’s knitted, stitched, grown or baked- it’s because I like/love you.

I’m devouring knitting magazine, scouring blogs and Pinterest and revisiting my quite large library of knitting books for inspiration. What’s in your queue at the moment?

Taking it easy

Another half term comes to an end and I don’t have much to show for it- which, actually, is lovely. It’s the first time in months where I haven’t had work hanging over me and I’ve been able to enjoy D and, for three days at least, Benn’s company.

On Sunday last week, we ambled up to the local windmill to see the sheep (yeah, I live somewhere that has its own windmill- although it’s now a house. Bit disappointed, to be honest.)

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My boys

The sheep were quite good value:

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Apparently, they’re a hardy northern breed and the flock is owned by the council (I had a chat with the lady who was looking at the electric fence.) Where we live is part of the South Downs national park-I had no idea- and the sheep are used to keep the grass down and to help rare species, such as orchids, thrive. When I went back on Thursday, they’d gone. They get shipped around to other areas on the Downs. I imagine they’ll be back before long.

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Speaking of animals, Bronte has taken to bringing in a whole host of creatures from the woods- we’ve seen slow worms, mice and birds; this week I had the honour of trying to save a sparrow fledgling, who I shall henceforth refer to as Terminator Bird.

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This bird was rescued from the clutches of Bronte, who had already eaten one sparrow that day. I gingerly donned gardening gloves and popped him in a box. Excited by the prospect of a Learning Moment With Nature, I showed D the sparrow. Our exchange went something like this:

Me: (Enthusiastically) Look! A birdie! Do you think he has a name?

D: Oh, yes.

Me: (Encouragingly) What do you think it is?

D: (Looks incredulously) Birdie.

He clearly has his father’s imagination.

Anyway, the birds survived that and an escape attempt from the box that meant I was tearing up my office for half an hour before I realised he was watching me from across the room. After much hilarity, in which we resembled a bird/human Benny Hill sketch, I finally re-caught him and gave him to the brilliant Roger’s Wildlife Rescue to look after (they don’t usually take fledglings, but as he’d been subject to a cat attack, they wanted to check him over.)

Otherwise, the holiday was a welcome respite from the madness of exam preparation. We took advantage of the warm weather to read and relax- although I think D was a bit ambitious in his choice of material…

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