Happiness Planner: a review

Happiness Planner

I wish I was one of those people who used paper planners. I can spend hours on Pinterest lusting over beautiful handwritten journals, knowing that I just don’t have the patience to do something similar myself. However, in an effort to try and become one of these people, I purchased a Happiness Planner.

There is a whole website dedicated to the Happiness Planner, which is described as “a planner like no other. Instead of focusing on productivity, it focuses on your happiness. It is designed to help you welcome more positivity, joy, and happiness into your life by applying the practices of positive thinking, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-development. The focus is on making each day a positive experience, building introspection into your routine and increasing self-awareness.” That’s a big ask for a planner. One of the reasons I chose this was that it offered something different to a traditional planner: I put meetings, appointments, tasks and to-dos in my Google or Outlook calendars; maybe I’d actually use this planner if I was using it for something different.

The planner is undated so you can start using it on any day. The idea is that 100 days is a perfect length of time to make a change, whether that is a change of habit, behaviour or mindset. The Happiness Planner features the following:

  • Yearly pages
  • Weekly Overview/Plan
  • Weekly Reflection
  • 100-Day Daily Pages
  • 100-Day Reflection
  • Daily Inspirational Quotes
  • Daily Focus & Goal Setting
  • Daily Notes & To-Dos
  • Daily Exercise and Meal Plans
  • Daily Reflection, Gratitude Log, and Positive Affirmations

I will say that personally, I detest generic inspirational quotes. I say “generic” because I do find value and inspiration in quotes that mean something to me from people I like and respect. Generic quotes, though, I find to be so vague as to be practically meaningless and they just make me roll my eyes. This planner is full of them and they did nothing for me. Each to their own, though. Some people love them, which is fine!

What I did find useful: the daily focus and goal setting, along with the exercise and meal plans. I can’t say I did everything I planned to do (who can?), but this aspect of the planner helped me to structure my days and weeks, helping me to get more exercise and more of the right food, and enabling me to do more of what I wanted to do.

I also liked the reflective aspects of the planner, even if the weekly reflection got a bit tedious after a while. I do struggle with reflection, even though it’s something I need to do on a professional basis. Doing it on a personal basis is new to me but I can see the value in it.

Did I feel happier after the 100 days? I don’t know, I feel these things are hard to tell. I guess so? I feel like I was doing more of what makes me happy, especially socialising: it’s something I can easily neglect but I tried to make more time for it over the hundred days.

I’m kind of glad I didn’t go for the full year happiness planner, as I think that would have been a bit too much for me. I quite liked the 100-Day planner, though, as a way to get started.

Halloween 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – no, not Christmas, Halloween. I’ve been distracted by work and my friend’s wedding recently, so I hadn’t planned as much as I would have liked, but I managed to squeeze in a few fun things to mark the occasion.
First up was a trip to the Royal Academy to check out the PsychoBarn, Cornelia Parker’s amazing creation inspired by the house in Psycho. I wore my Odd and the Sparkly brooch to visit, just because.

PsychoBarn

PsychoBarn

On Tuesday I attended a screening of a classic silent film Der Golem (it’s German) at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, complete with live musical soundtrack. Considering the film is almost one hundred years old I thought the special effects were pretty impressive. Sadly, they didn’t provide English translations of the text displayed between the scenes, so I had no idea what was going on.

On Halloween itself I went to see a play about a Victorian séance. It was promising but ultimately unsatisfying, and I began to wonder if I would have been better off having a night in with a horror film or a book of ghost stories.

Lord Halifaxs Ghost Book

Speaking of which, I spied a book on a friend’s Instagram with the most amazing cover that I immediately decided to track down myself. The book was Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book and was full of apparently true stories of ghostly experiences in houses all around the country. I might take these claims with a pinch of salt, but they were entertaining nevertheless.

VA Day of the Dead VA Day of the Dead

As well as Halloween, it was also Dias De Los Muertos – the Mexican Day of the Dead. The V&A held a late to mark the occasion and I went along with a friend. We made a beeline for the crafting area where I made a mask – now displayed on the wall at work – and painted a skull necklace. Despite my known lack of artistic talent, it wasn’t too bad.

Skull crafts

A weekend with Mam

As the title suggests, my mam came down to London for the weekend and we did a few exciting things. Well, they were all exciting for me. A couple of them weren’t too exciting for my mam. Sorry, Mam.

Entrance to Cahoots

Entrance to Cahoots

So the first place we went was Cahoots, the 1940s London Underground-themed bar near Carnaby Street. This was fun and we got some cool cocktails.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

The next day we popped into the National Gallery first – we haven’t been there for ages. I was surprised at how badly it was all signposted compared to, say, the V&A, but there was some interesting stuff. We also had a wander around St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Bomber Command memorial

We also went down to the Bomber Command Memorial, near Green Park, before going for tea at Enzo’s Kitchen – where we went because we are both Inspector Montalbano fans and I was able to get MONTALBANO’S ACTUAL FAVE PASTA. Yum. Sardine pasta, and the nicest bread I have ever had.

Enzo's Kitchen

The next day I dragged Mam to a sonnet event at the Globe – I loved it but I’m not sure she was too keen! Next time she comes down I promise not to take her to things she feels dubious about…

Sonnet Sunday

A wedding, a boat trip and a movie

After leaving the north and going back to London, I only had a few days back at work before heading back up north again – this time to Cumbria for my cousin’s wedding. My mam and I met up with some family members in Windermere the day before. I was rather sorry we weren’t staying longer in that hotel because it had a massive bookshelf and I wouldn’t have minded reading some of them.

The wedding itself was held at the Wild Boar, just outside of Windermere, so called because the last wild boar in Westmorland (which along with Cumberland was a county that now makes up Cumbria) was killed in the vicinity.

Me at the Wild Boar
Made a new friend…

The venue had low ceilings and wooden beams and was generally very atmospheric. I wore a dress from Collectif and massive earrings from Tatty Devine. The bride and groom brewed their own beer for the wedding and I drank rather a lot of it, so I had to go for a lie down after the meal. I came back refreshed, but sadly my mam had a headache so we couldn’t join in with much dancing.

Table decorations
Table decorations

It was really nice to see family again, and weddings are always exciting, anyway. This one had flower dogs, who were massively cute. The wedding was a humanist one, which I’ve never experienced before, but which was very personal to the bride and groom.

Flower Dog Tilly
Flower Dog Tilly

The next day, my mam and I had an extra day in Bowness-on-Windermere, so we went on a boat trip out on the lake, and then went to see Mamma Mia 2 (which was awesome) in a lovely old-fashioned cinema.

Cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere
Cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere

We had Thai for tea but we didn’t stay out late because we were both absolutely shattered! We got the train back the next day – we separated at Oxenholme and I caught the train back to London.

Windermere
On the lake

Sunderland and other exciting North East experiences

Ah, Sunderland. I’m not the biggest fan of the place, yet I ended up visiting more than once while I was at home for a few days.

Mowbray Park
Mowbray Park

Once was to go for lunch with a friend. Afterwards we went for a walk around Mowbray Park and came across the statue erected to commemorate the Victoria Hall disaster. It’s a tragic tale but all it reminds me of is the poem William McGonagall wrote about the catastrophe.

’Twas in the town of Sunderland, and in the year of 1883,
That about 200 children were launch’d into eternity

Mowbray Park
Mowbray Park

Her Majesty’s grief for the bereaved parents has been profound,
And I’m glad to see that she has sent them £50

Commemorative statue
Commemorative statue

Later that week I popped to Sunderland with my parents, who go every weekend. We visited a few shops and had a coffee in Marks & Spencer. It’s such a shame there are so many closed shops and dingy streets, as there are some really nice areas, and the city does have so much potential as well as a rich history – as marked by the ‘Propellers of the City’ monument to Sunderland’s shipbuilding past.

'Propellers of the City' monument
‘Propellers of the City’ monument

Gunnersbury Park Bat Walk

Gunnersbury Park Museum has recently reopened after refurbishment, and while I was browsing the website I came across a bat walk. I signed up to go on the July walk in the hope of coming across a few bats.

Bat detector
Bat detector

On meeting at the park, we were handed bat detectors, which were quite exciting, designed to pick up bat squeaks at high frequencies. Different species have different frequencies so you have to move the dial around to make sure you pick up anything that might be out there.

We headed down to the lake and at first there was no sign of any bat activity, even though we walked right round the lake and were there for ages. Eventually, however, as it grew dusk, some bats began to come out of hiding and we saw them swooping around, aided by the bat detectors which picked up their noise almost before we saw them.

Lake
Waiting for bats

I never thought that standing by the side of a lake in the dark on a Friday night would be such fun, but it really was. There is another walk taking place in September if you fancy giving it a go.

My veganuary experience; or, confessions of an ice cream fiend

In January, for some unknown reason, I decided to give Veganuary a go. I’m already pescatarian, but eat a vegetarian diet most of the time, so I decided to try giving up all dairy and all other animal-derived products. Here’s my verdict:

The Good

I enjoyed making interesting vegan meals. I used Cooking on a Bootstrap pretty much as a Bible and in particular grew addicted to the black bean and peanut stew. Lots of the meals I ate as a vegetarian were suitable for vegans too. Price-wise, I didn’t find my vegan diet any more expensive than my veggie one, and in some ways it was cheaper as I wasn’t buying cheese.

I loved exploring the range of plant milks. Almond milk is yummy on cereal. Coconut milk is handy for curries and other meals. In general, plant milks and non-dairy spreads last longer than dairy ones, and in the case of spreads are often cheaper. I discovered that many of the foods I love are acidentally vegan – Hobnobs, Oreos, and Tesco Value garlic bread, among others.

I have a sweet tooth and was very happy to discover this brand of Tesco dark chocolate – which I often heated up with coconut milk to make an amazing hot chocolate.

Tesco Ivory Coast 74% Cocoa Plain Chocolate

I also found Alpro chocolate and hazelnut desserts, which are amazing.

Alpro Chocolate & Hazelnut Desserts

Tesco has recently brought out a range of vegan cheeses, which are reasonably priced and taste good – I really liked the one with jalapeños.

Tesco Free From Jalapeño and Chilli Cheddar

The Bad

I seriously missed regular cheese. And ice cream. I stalked Tesco daily to see if they had any dairy-free Ben and Jerry’s, but it was never in stock. Milk chocolate was out, too. In fact, sweet snack foods were notoriously difficult to find (savoury snack foods were easier, owing to the huge variety of crisps that happen to be vegan).

Constantly checking labels for hidden dairy ingredients became a bore. I know that this becomes less of an issue as you learn to know which foods are suitable and which not, but I grew very grumpy thinking about all the foods I could no longer eat. I felt cross and deprived, and that’s not a good thing.

The Indifferent

Health-wise, I felt no different on a vegan diet. I did feel a bit fatigued at first, but after upping my quota of beans and pulses, I felt fine. I’m convinced that a vegan diet can be just as healthy as a vegetarian or omnivorous one, for the average person anyway.

I had heard that a vegan diet can help clear up eczema, which can be triggered by dairy – this happened to one of my friends. Sadly it didn’t happen to me.

To conclude…

After January was over, I went out and bought a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, and I ate the entire thing.

I believe that a vegan diet can be healthy, cheap, exciting and practical. I also believe that it’s not for me. I’m afraid that I love ice cream, cheese, and chocolate way too much. Having said that, I’m happy to incorporate more dairy alternatives into my life – plant milks, for example. So the month hasn’t been completely wasted.

What I did on my holidays (trip up north, to be precise)

North
North

My week mainly consisted of naps, to be honest. However, during my week at home I also did the following:

Read books
I read War and Peace and the whole of the Enid Blyton ‘Adventure’ series. A bit of a contrast there. W&P was the Maude’s translation in a cute little three-volume edition by Collector’s Library. The Blyton series is the one starring Kiki the parrot, who was always one of my favourite characters, and inspired me with the desire to own a pet parrot (as well as somewhat unrealistic expectations of what parrots are actually capable of).

I also reread a book I discovered a few years ago, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is wonderful.

The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House

Dieted
Thanks to my mam, who was on a health kick. In fairness it wasn’t too bad, and we discovered one recipe for macaroni cheese made from Primula Light cheese and mustard, which was amazing. I also ate much more fruit than I usually do, and enough miniature chocolate bars to form several whole ones.

Attended pub quizzes
Two, to be precise. One was my dad’s quiz, which we won, no thanks to me. My dad’s quizzes are HARD. The other was at a pub near to where my parents live. My mam and I went with one of her friends from the estate and said friend’s mother, who was eighty-nine, had never been to a pub quiz before, and was very excited about it. We did fairly well on this one, and I don’t think the three bottles of wine we consumed had too much of a negative effect.

Popped down to Seaham
My mam and I drove down to Seaham to go for a walk and check out the shops. The highlight was undoubtedly a trip to Lickety Split. They do GINGER NUT ICE CREAM.

Seaham harbour
Seaham harbour

Visited some new bars in Newcastle
Newcastle has really changed since I was last there. I went for a friend’s birthday and we started off in The Alchemist which does amazing cocktails.

Me at the Alchemist
Me at The Alchemist

Between us we had one that looked like a miniature bubble bath, one that resembled a science experiment and one that looked like water but which tasted of different things as you drank it. We then moved on to The Botanist which is simply gorgeous.

The Botanist, Newcastle
The Botanist, Newcastle

Celebrated Heritage Open Days
With a tour around Hetton-le-Hole, on which more in my next blog post…

Wreck This Journal – a review

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who fill pages and pages of journals with intelligent drawings and pretty pictures. However, I am hampered in this desire by the unmistakable fact that I simply cannot draw. My people have never progressed beyond stick men and my animals all look like the children’s drawings IKEA turned into soft toys a few years ago. My brother got all the artistic talent in my family.

Anyway, I decided to give Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal a go. Smith is an author, illustrator and artist who created this ‘alternative journal’ to help people “engage with the creative process”. It’s full of suggestions that invite you to mess up or destroy the journal in various ways: tearing out pages, immersing it in water, rolling it down a hill. As someone who won’t even bend the spines of her books, the thought of all this made me shudder: but perhaps it would be liberating?

Short answer: no. Some of the prompts were ones I rather enjoyed. Generally these were the ones involving less destruction and more colour: painting a page with nail varnish or lipstick or some such.

Some of the prompts require you to tear pages out of the book. It seemed a bit wasteful to me, but I duly complied.

I cringed when requested to mark a page with dirt, especially when said dirt had to come from a dusty car. Standing on a pavement next to a random car, looking carefully to make sure no one was around before surreptitiously rubbing my book on the side, was possibly my most embarrassing moment of the project.

My very favourite was the one that asks you to fill a page with one word written over and over. I found this quite enjoyable, suggesting my heart really does belong to writing.

Well, I’ve completed the book, and I’m not too sure what to do with it now. It’s far too messy to put it in a drawer with my old diaries. I’ll probably just chuck it out, to be honest.

What have I learned from wrecking my journal? Mainly it’s reinforced that destruction really isn’t for me. I’m not an artist and I don’t want to be. Give me words any day.

If you think this book sounds brilliant, you’re probably right: lots of people love it. If not, you might be like me, and that’s also okay. Honest.

Wedding up North(umberland)

I love weddings. I really do. A chance to get dressed up in an over-the-top outfit and enjoy yourself, surrounded by people you (hopefully) know and who are in the mood to celebrate. Of course, not every wedding is a positive experience, but happily the wedding of a family friend I went to last week was lovely.

The wedding took place in Newton Hall in Northumberland. The venue was gorgeous, but it was a shame about the weather, which prevented the photos being taken outside in front of the Hall. Still, a great deal of fun was had by all.
I got this bargainous dress from Collectif a few weeks ago: it’s the Maria Bloom Swing Dress. My mam made me do it: I had a different dress planned to wear, but she persuaded me to get this one. Well, it was in the sale.

Me wearing my new Collectif dress
Awkward mirror selfie

My shoes are ones that I’ve had a long time. They’re lovely and relatively comfortable, but it’s so long since I’ve worn heels that they started to kill me. The bride had thoughtfully provided flip-flops for all the ladies, but I’ve never been able to wear them (toe posts kill me). So I took my own Rollasoles instead. My bag was a charity shop bargain. I did have a jacket to wear but I ended up leaving it in the house, which meant I was absolutely freezing when we got there. Luckily once we made it inside the building it was nice and warm.

The wedding was beautiful, lots of speeches were made and plenty of wine was drunk (mainly by me). I got to see people I haven’t seen for ages, and I may also have had a bit of a dance. Perhaps.