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17 October 2014

My Autumn bucket list

Autumn has somehow ended up well in the realm of 'blogger loves' - along with the obligatory cupcakes, fresh flowers and macarons, my instagram and twitter feeds are currently full of bloggers getting wistful about the arrival of Autumn.  But definitely for good reason I believe - living on the edge of the New Forest, I can't help but feel all warm and fuzzy when I see the leaves change colour, and have an excuse to get out in the woods and stomp around in my wellies.

I've made a little list of all of the things that are a must do for me during my favourite season.  I've also become a little bit obsessed with creating the ultimate Autumn Pinterest board.  I love using Pinterest for inspiration, I can get lost for hours just finding recipes, DIYs and pretty photos!

Here's what's on my must-do list this Autumn....

Have a movie night with homemade popcorn.
Go for a roast dinner in a pub in the forest - roaring open fire is a must
Collect conkers and create an Autumnal centerpiece for the dining table
Go for a bike ride in the forest and take a flask of hot chocolate
Stock up on Christmas Yankee candles
Go to Burley Cider Pantry and try their home-brewed draught cider
Go for a run in the forest and try out my new trail running shoes
Make the ultimate Autumn Spotify playlist
Make at least three recipes from Jamie's Comfort Food - the Insanity Burger is already bookmarked!
Master some more slow cooker recipes
Buy a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch
Go to a Fireworks Display (there's one at a local pub with a hogroast and bands playing in the barn - I'm in!)
Make an 'Autumn Berry Pavlova' - there was a recipe in last week's Grazia from Ruby Tandoh (GBBO lady and author of Crumb) that sounded amazing!
Raid Lush for their Halloween and Christmas bath bombs and soaps
Spend a rainy day doing some scrapbooking
Find the perfect pair of Chelsea boots
Make a batch of warming soup for a week at work
Spend as many evenings as possible snuggled under a blanket with a good book
Make mulled wine
Get up early one weekend and photograph sunrise in the forest
Have a fire in the garden and toast marshmallows
Make some more sourdough bread to eat warm with cheese from the deli (perfect Sunday tea)
Start planning homemade Christmas presents
Treat myself to some new slippers

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What's on your Autumn bucket list? Send me your ideas so that I can add them to my list!

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12 October 2014

Trek America Westerner 2 : Day One : LA and San Diego

After my post about San Francisco I thought I would now go back to the start and tell you about my Trek America trip in a bit more of a logical order.  I'm so glad that I kept a Notes log on my phone of all of the places we visited as now even only three and a bit weeks since we arrived home I've totally forgotten the order in which we visited some places, so I'm looking forward to having these blog posts as a record of all of our stops!

Our tour started on 4 September but Tom and I decided to fly out to LA on the 2nd to give us a chance to get over our jetlag and take in a bit of LA before the tour started.  We were due to meet on the morning of the 4th at a hotel in Downtown LA called the Kawada, but looking at Trip Advisor and doing a bit of research I discovered that that hotel and the area it was inb didn't have the best reputation, so I booked us a self-catering apartment near the Financial District in Downtown LA (it was called Residences at 616 for anyone interested).

Having taken the photos off my camera it is probably quite fitting that the first photo on there is a stack of pancakes that we had at IHOP on our first full day in LA.  I love IHOP and am a big fan of starting a day with a pile of Cinnabon flavoured pancakes.  I could eat them again right now - there are so disgustingly good.  Drooooool.

pancakes at IHOP

We had walked to IHOP from our apartment and then decided to explore further into the Downtown area of LA.  This day of blindly ambling around Downtown certainly had its highs and lows.  I'd recommend that if you are staying in Downtown and want to explore that you take note of where the safe areas are to visit before you set off.

I had heard of a really cool stationery/gift shop called Poketo which seemed to be only a few streets on from IHOP, so we mapped out a route on Google Maps and started walking. We walked down Skid Row, which is where the largest population of homeless people is in LA, and saw some things that didn't make us feel very comfortable.  After stumbling onto a row of shops which extended about a mile and only seem to sell drug paraphernalia we decided to head back and give up on our attempt to find the stationery shop!

On the way back we walked through Grand Central Market, which sells all kinds of amazing sounding food via food kiosks and restaurants, and made us feel very hungry.  One of many occasions during our time in America that I wished I could erase the fact that I was full of food already and eat again!

grand central market

We wandered down Broadway but hit another spot on the corner of 5th Street where we again felt a little unsettled (I saw a really frightening looking guy in a clown costume who also had his face tattooed with clown makeup - and not in a fun 'children's birthday party' kind of way...) so we decided to head back to the Financial District and back towards our apartment.

Downtown LA
Downtown LA

The next day was the day we were off to meet the rest of our group and start the tour.  We were meeting at 07.30 so we were up and packed early (also assisted by the jetlag) and set off to the meeting place at the Kawada Downtown Hotel.

When we arrived in the lobby it was obvious who the other members of the tour were (spot the scattered pile of suitcases and hiking backpacks!) and we sat down and waited for our Tour Leader to arrive.  I think everyone was slightly nervous at meeting the people we would be spending the following two weeks with.  Most people had come on their own and so there was a bit of chatter about who we all were and what we were expecting out of the trip, before our Tour Leader Brian arrived and things got underway.  We completed some paperwork, were given our itineraries and then we carried our bags down to the van to load up the trailer.

Trek America has various different types of tour but the one we were booked on was predominantly camping, so the van we travelled in also had a trailer for us to load our bags into, and it also had all of the tents and mattresses etc stored inside.

Our first stop in the van was to see a bit of Hollywood before going on to San Diego later that day. We went to see the Hollywood sign but it was really foggy and overcast so it wasn't the most exciting or breathtaking sight!

Hollywood sign

We then went on to Hollywood Boulevard which is obviously a big tourist spot and has the celebrity stars/Walk of Fame, Chinese Theatre and lots of other theatres and memoribilia shops, as well as several museums.  We explored for about an hour before heading back to the van.

Robin Williams star Hollywood Boulevard

It was about three hours onto San Diego, where our first stop was Mission Beach.  We spent the journey peering through the van windows and hoping that the cloud would burn off so that we could enjoy the beach when we arrived! There were 13 of us in the group and so naturally we did some more getting to know each other - the group was made up of two Dutch girls, one German girl, one German guy, one Australian guy, two Welsh guys, one Swiss guy, three English girls and Tom and I.

We arrived in San Diego to blue skies and warm sunshine.  It was probably the first place we'd visited since arriving where I really felt like it was 'our kind of place'.  I really didn't enjoy downtown LA, and Hollywood was a fun place to tick off, but San Diego was beautiful from the moment we arrived.

When we arrived, the first thing on the agenda was lunch.  In the trailer, Brian had a big coolbox full of salad, wraps, sliced meat, fruit, snacks and all kinds of yummy food, and so we made wraps and sandwiches and took in the beautiful surroundings.

San Diego
We then walked on to Mission Beach for sunbathing and swimming in the sea.  It was all of a sudden so hot and several of us got a bit sunburnt - myself included!

Mission Beach Mission Beach

After a few hours of lounging in the sunshine, it was time to head to our campsite to set up camp for the first time.  Now - I love camping and Tom and I go away camping a lot, albeit usually in the van rather than in tents.  This was predominantly a camping trip so you obviously have to enjoy camping for it to be the right trip for you - but there are other versions of the tours where you can stay in hotels if it isn't your thing.  This is our van and the trailer - there was lots of room for all of our bags, the tents and the coolers for food.

Van and trailer Trek America

I must admit that the campsite was not like the camping experiences I am used to in Britain! There was a swimming pool, hot tub, wifi, a shop and a laundry.  We put up our tents and then got showered and changed and headed into the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner and to go to a baseball game. This is mine and Tom's cosy little home!


On a lot of the days we had options for different things to do and on this evening half of us chose to go to a baseball game and the other half headed off for dinner and drinks

We went to Petco Park to see the San Diego Padres play the Arizona Diamondbacks, which was really fun! I loved the atmosphere there, there were loads of families out enjoying themselves, eating good food (there was so much yummy food there!) and watching the baseball.  I must admit I didn't 100% always know what was going on in the game, but I enjoyed it nonetheless!

Baseball game Me and Tom baseball Petco Park

After about an hour or so at the game we decided to head into the Gaslamp Quarter to get some food. The Gaslamp Quarter is San Diego's 'historic district' and is packed full of bars and restaurants.  We absolutely loved walking around - delicious smells emanating from all of the restaurants, and loads of cool looking bars, packed with people.  We chose a Mexican restaurant and had fish tacos and Sangria - so good!

After visiting a couple more bars we met back up with the rest of the group and headed back to camp - an amazing first day of our tour!

I think I'll leave it there for the moment, I can't believe that's only our first day of the tour - I can't wait to share more with you.  Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like to know about the Trek, or Trek America in general and I can always fit in some other posts!

Hope you're having a great Sunday wherever you are,

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8 October 2014

Trying to find some peace

I first 'discovered' meditation right at the beginning of this year.  I had about two weeks off work to spend Christmas with family and friends, and though it was a blissfully happy time, this happiness for some reason developed a darker edge.  Somehow all of that joy and love also brought fear and anxiety - it was almost as if the more I came to appreciate how lucky I was, the more anxious I became that somehow it could be taken away.  I started to have trouble sleeping and my mind started to race away with itself, giving me an almost permanent sense of 'impending doom', and conjuring up images and thoughts of anything that might have the power to make me feel upset or anxious.  When I asked friends (and Twitter!) for advice, I was recommended meditation, yoga, and to read a book by Eckhart Tolle called The Power Of Now.  I found it a complex but extremely enlightening read and it certainly helped me challenge myself in terms of my thought patterns and anxiety.  I found this brilliant image on a Book Club site which has a little more about the book and the lessons contained inside.

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I learned about meditation through the Headspace app, which has a free section of meditations before you then go on to have to purchase a paid membership.  I religiously undertook my ten minutes of meditation for about a month or two before I slowly slipped out of the habit.

I think that yoga, meditation and practising mindfulness (more on mindfulness here) are easy things to slip out of the habit of.  I was almost 'medicating' myself with meditation and mindfulness, and as soon as life got a bit more comfortable and the anxieties started to slip away, I forgot about making time to find quiet and peace, didn't always find time for yoga practice, and began going about my busy life again.

I've not exactly kept it a secret that I've found things a little challenging since coming back from holiday.  I try to generally be a positive person, but if you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me whinging about my new commute (I've transferred from an office five miles away to one 25 miles away), and traffic has meant that I've been spending between 2 - 3 hours on the road a day.  I was previously in a very lucky position whereby flexitime and living so close meant that I was arriving home at 16.30 with lots of time to myself for blogging, reading, walking the dog, etc - but over the last few weeks I've been getting home relatively late and exhaustedly having dinner and going straight to bed.  It's fair to say I'm not really carping many of my diems at the moment! Added to this, I've been having terrible trouble sleeping, meaning I lie awake for several hours a night and then feel like a bit of a zombie for a lot of the daytime.  I'm hoping this is still some residual jetlag and that I will get back to normal soon.

After another night of feeling guilty about not having blogged, seen friends, done any exercise or had any proper 'me time', Tom suggested that I think about picking up meditation again.  And of course it was an excellent suggestion.

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I also happened upon a recommendation of a book called Spirit Junkie, which I've been enthusiastically devouring.  I've also started going to yoga classes at my new gym and had a really lovely class last night with lots of blissful relaxation and rejuvenating stretches.  

I feel like I'm starting to get back to feeling like 'me' again, even though getting stuck behind a tractor doing 15mph on a 60mph road through the forest for half an hour really tested the limits of my newfound zen!  I also want to make more time for being creative and 'unplugging' - I have pulled out lots of notebooks, my Wreck This Journal and The Pocket Scavenger and even bought myself a lovely new fountain pen to help inspire me to write! Another plan is to start getting the train instead of driving to work (even though the cost of it makes me weep) and to reserve that time for a bit of reading and notebook scribbling.

What do you do to find peace in times of change or challenge?

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