40 happy moments – the annoying road to self-discovery

‘…the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.’

‘The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume Three: 1925-1930’ – Virginia Woolf

I’ve had a little epiphany. I am no longer going to try and be happier – I am going to try and be CALMER.

A number of things have led me to this decision – here’s one of them.

Highly sensitive?

My lovely sister asked me recently if I’ve ever looked into whether I might be a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’. I’d vaguely registered this concept while looking into the plight of the introvert but hadn’t looked into it in detail – there are so many labels and syndromes for people and they aren’t always helpful. Turns out this term was coined in the 1990s and it seems to be a fairly well-established ‘thing’.

So I found this online test and scored 23. By contrast, lovely sister scored 9. Seems she might be onto something.

My initial reaction – which has not yet passed – is to be utterly pissed off. What is the point of being one of these people? No wonder I find everything such flipping hard work. If it’s true that as much as 15-20% of the population can be categorised as HSP, then there must be some value or purpose in having these highly sensitive traits but I’m too angry to look at the positives at the moment. For now I’m going to concentrate on what to do about it (40 isn’t too late, right?!)

Trying to focus on staying calm seems a good place to start. When I feel calm, I do better work, am less annoying to be around, think more clearly, make better decisions, am less likely to forget things, sleep better, and feel more capable. When I’m not calm, I am more likely to seem grumpy or irritable, I find it harder to finish or even start things, I feel less able to cope or take in information, I start cancelling things and letting people down, and I get overwhelmed by thought of the tiniest tasks. At worst I feel as though I can’t even see properly!

Luckily (?) I have been ill a couple of times lately – just mild colds, but the enforced confinement helped me start to think about what could help me and perhaps others. Being calm doesn’t just mean lying down with your eyes shut although at times this can be surprisingly effective! And being calmer may require a combination of:

  • long-term investment (getting more sleep, reducing alcohol intake, spending more time doing activities that absorb you like reading, sports, craft or particular tasks at work)
  • trusted quick fixes that set you up for the day or help you recover from intense activities (things like taking a quick walk, having a leisurely breakfast, learning some breathing exercises)
  • developing strategies to reduce the chance of things occurring that prevent you from being calm. For me at work, for instance, such strategies are likely to include trying to answer emails faster (so people don’t phone me to chase and put me on the spot), spending more time planning ahead and booking time off after meetings that I know will be draining. In my personal life, there are hopefully lots of options – everything from trying to batch-cook and freeze meals to limiting social media time – the short, sharp barrage of new and mostly unsolicited information is not remotely calming.

Wish me luck, and if you also scored more than 14 in the above test, let me know your strategies! If you scored less, be very grateful.

The quote at the beginning of this post made me feel better about not being able to tell whether something is a happy moment until after the moment has long since finished. This is why I started to write instead about ideas for habits and hobbies, attitudes and approaches that, in my inexpert opinion, might help a person lead a life that contains more happy moments. Although now I wonder if I’m just too weird for this to be relevant to anyone else! I’ll keep writing anyway – here are 10 more.

  1. Taking time to be calm. See above. This won’t be for everyone but if it is, it will involve different things for different people. But if you think you’re more likely to be happy if you’re feeling calm, this could be something to explore.
  2. Animals and wildlife – again, not for everyone, but if you are remotely interested in the natural world you’ll already know this makes sense. A recently fed a hen by hand for the first time in a couple of years, and I still have a happy hen glow. I definitely need to increase the number of animal encounters in my life at the moment.
  3. The absence of pain. This one occurred to me when I thought about that moment when you suddenly realise the painkillers you took earlier have kicked in. Bliss! Pain can make you so miserable and make everything seem so difficult, so this one is about taking time to appreciate the times when nothing hurts, or an injury has healed or a headache has passed.
  4. Comfort and shelter. From appreciating the basic security of having a place to stay or a hug from a fellow human, to relishing the snuggliness of your favourite blanket or hiding from the rain in a bus stop – sometimes these lead to the most immediate happy moments on their own but they can also be essential in fostering other areas of happy living.
  5. The kindness of strangers. I’ve already covered human contact but I noted this one down for a specific reason which I intended to share and which I’ve since forgotten – sorry. But there’s nothing quite like a stranger being unexpectedly kind towards you! There’s perhaps not much you can do to increase these occurrences other than being receptive and being out and about in places where there are strangers, but you can also spend more time…
  6. …Being kind to strangers, and people generally! One of my big alarm bells for knowing that things aren’t quite right with me is when I start snapping at strangers. They might well deserve it (pushing in front of me at the bar, taking up the whole pavement and so on) but snapping at them doesn’t seem to serve any purpose or do any good and I definitely do it more when I’m tired, ill, fed-up, scared or resentful. I wonder if trying to smile and be kind to a stranger at times when my gut instinct is to push them in the road might actually help flick a switch in my head at a crucial time? Something for me to try!
  7. Feeling in control. People take drastic steps to feel in control of their lives when they feel vulnerable, but even things like being on top of your laundry or your Christmas shopping can give you a sense of wellbeing – and having things hanging over you can keep happiness out of reach. Feeling as though you are at the mercy of others, that you don’t know what’s going or that you are out of your depth can all weigh heavily. You can’t control everything but if you can work out what causes you the most angst and then work out whether you can change it, who knows what energy you might free up!
  8. Feeling competent. It’s really hard to be happy when everyone else seems to be better than you at absolutely everything. But is that really true? I can only think of a handful of things that I would venture to say I’m good at – I’m usually a bit surprised if someone suggests I’m good at something else and go to great lengths to explain to them why they’re wrong. If you find something you are good at, do more of it (unless it’s something mean).
  9. A sense of purpose. I don’t have one of these and am envious of people who do, as it seems to be a great oblique route to happiness and fulfilment! Perhaps my negative and futile goals of ‘not making mistakes’ and ‘not annoying people’ will be replaced by something more positive once I’ve filled my life with calm…
  10. Asking for help. I covered ‘being useful‘ in an earlier post, so this is the reverse. I think generally people like being asked to help, particularly when it is specific, convenient and time-limited! So if you have a problem that may be affecting your happiness, tell people, and one of them might have a great solution or be willing to spend an hour over a coffee hashing it out with you while you try to solve it yourself.

10 more to go – by the age of 41 I will almost certainly have identified the meaning of life.

Thanks for reading!


A successful failure – my 2018 challenge

I did half of it! Which I will take as proof that everything takes twice as long as I think it will.

As a reminder, for my 40th birthday challenge I set lots of mini challenges to do 40 of various things. There were 17 different headings, meaning a total of 680 things. At the time of writing, I have managed 340. I’ve decided to give myself until my actual birthday (in three months). Here’s the list which I’ll continue to update.

It was always a long shot and I’m fine with that, not least because the thing that set it off in the first place was the idea of having 40 days of holidays – and that’s the only one I have finished. There were two reasons why this was important: I hadn’t really been on holiday properly for ages, and I had not been very good at taking my annual leave in recent years. I didn’t quite use all my leave in 2018 but I gave it a good go, and not only did I go holiday, I went twice, both times solo and once abroad. This seemed impossible to me a few years ago so I’m very pleased.

I also went from being someone who didn’t dare cycle to work to someone who did – I’ve got a long way to go but I’m looking forward to picking this up again in 2019.

The book-related challenges weren’t realistic at all, although I just about managed my 52-book Goodreads challenge in time; my neck today is not thanking me for spending nearly all of 31 December reading frantically. My target for 2019 is 80 books…and to do some daily stretches aimed at looking after my spine!

If I’m not getting very far with the remaining items by the end of January I am considering auctioning some of them off – let me know if you need that extra push to do something brave and you can do one of mine!

One regret is that I set things up in a way that wasn’t conducive to blogging so I haven’t been doing much of this. I’m not out for a massive audience (so thank you if you are reading this) but was enjoying the writing itself, so I hope to do more of this in 2019.

Back on the ‘new things’ game, I haven’t really got any particular projects for 2019 but I’m setting the little challenge below for anyone who is interested in joining me! 19 is a more realistic number than 680. It feels like a kind of new things scavenger hunt.

19 new things to do in 2019:
1. Read a book from a new country (could be the setting of the book or where the author is from).
2. Draw a picture of someone new (family, friend, colleague, stranger, famous person).
3. Make a new recipe.
4. Try a new type of food or drink.
5. Do something new in your community (parkrun, creative workshop, fete, talk, volunteering).
6. Go to a new village, town or city.
7. Do a new out-of-your-comfort-zone thing.
8. Spend a week noting down a random or bonkers new thing you have witnessed each day.
9. Help someone else do a new thing.
10. Play a new game.
11. Try out a new tool (physical machinery, app, method of doing something etc).
12. Try a new type of writing (format e.g. blog post, postcard to a stranger or haiku, or style e.g. calligraphy).
13. Try on a type of clothing you’ve never worn before.
14. Do a new music-related thing (go to a new venue, pick a band you think you might like and listen to all of their albums, read a new music magazine, try a new radio station).
15. Do a boring but useful new thing.
16. Learn to identify/recognise a new thing (tree, insect, musical instrument, greeting in a new language, car)
17. Plant a new thing – in someone else’s garden, if necessary!
18. Do something new that starts with the first letter of your name.
19. Do a spontaneous new thing!

I hope 2019 goes well for you.

40 happy moments – 10 more ideas

‘I suspect that you cannot recall any truly significant action in your life that wasn’t governed by two very simple rules: staying away from something that would feel bad, or trying to accomplish something that would feel good. This law of approach and avoidance dictates most of human and animal behavior from a very early age.’

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

The quote above introduces a chapter about narcolepsy (which I thankfully don’t have) but since I have lately been spending time thinking about ‘happiness’, I spotted the relevance straight away. To have a happy life, not only do people try to do things that make them happy, they also avoid things in order to minimise the risk of being unhappy.

I’ve learnt that certain activities will, more likely than not, make me miserable – so I do what I can to avoid them. Anything that requires me to dress up and pretend to look nice fills me with terror, so you won’t catch me in a club or a fancy hotel and I am afraid I might not make it to your wedding. I can’t handle rejection at all so it would seem to make no sense for me to try internet/speed dating. I don’t like letting people down so team sports probably aren’t for me.

But I’ve also learnt that it’s easy (lazy?) to tell yourself that you won’t enjoy something based on past experience, and then avoid it thinking that you are protecting yourself, when in fact the risks are worth taking for the sake of the potential gains.

How can you tell when your gut instincts need to be ignored? I’ve convinced myself I hate driving but if it meant I could dash off to the coast whenever I wanted to, would it be worth it? I like music festivals and I like camping but I’ve never camped at a festival as I’ve assumed it would be a nightmare; in this case I think the chances of me not sleeping are very high, and I am a bit of a mess if I don’t sleep, so my gut is probably right. I can’t imagine enjoying going to the gym (if I’m going to run, why would I do it indoors surrounded by loads of people who are better and thinner than me?) but given that exercise is meant to make you happier, do I need to challenge my expectations in case I’m missing out – perhaps it’s a more supportive environment than the hostile and judgmental one I have always envisaged?

The obvious answer is just to try these things but sometimes you have to find a different angle or motivation, which can take the pressure off. I said I’d never do a job that involved presentations – I assumed I’d be terrible at them and that everyone would hate watching and listening to me for an hour, which would in turn mean guaranteed misery for me. But realising my job would be easier if more people had a better understanding of what I needed them to do led me to start doing training sessions. I still don’t think I’m very good at presentations and should probably undergo some proper training myself, but now that I care less about the stylistic side of it and more about the learning results (and my reduced workload), they bother me a bit less. And if I’d stuck to my guns and refused to do a job that involve presentations, I would never have got the positive feedback I mentioned in my previous happiness post. It’s a particular surprised kind of happy feeling when something you assumed would be grim turns out vaguely OK.

However, ‘just trying it’ is all well and good when you are only putting yourself at peril, but sometimes the risks aren’t acceptable. For me this applies to things like skiing (when I know I would be a burden to the emergency services) and one of the biggies – having children. This is such an obvious source of happiness to many people but I’ve always been about 99% sure that having children is not something I should do, for a fairly lengthy list of reasons that I won’t go into. That 1% doubt plagues me from time to time, and being a non-parent, even through choice, sometimes causes enough unhappy moments to make me wonder if I’ve got this wrong (you need a thick skin for some people’s attitudes and comments, not something I’ve been blessed with), but I do think you need to have a bit more certainty about everything before bringing a child into the world! Fortunately I’m an auntie so I still get some of the perks.

Anyway, back to my more light-hearted list of 40 things that might contribute to a happy life!

  1. Avoiding things that make you unhappy. See above for some of my personal examples but I would like to know about yours too!
  2. Trying new things. See my whole blog! From the benefits of routine and purpose to overcoming fears and meeting new people, you will definitely increase your chances of experiencing happy moments if your life is more varied. I have not been as good at this lately and I have noticed the difference.
  3. Human contact. I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself and often need time on my own, but not too much time, it turns out. Obviously there are many kinds of human contact, not all of them available to all of us when we need them, but it’s amazing how just a chat with a shopkeeper or a smile from a passing dog-walker (and if you’re lucky, a smile from a passing dog) can change your mood. This is one of my excuses for going to my local supermarket every day…
  4. Laughing. This seems like a symptom of being happy rather than a cause, but it works the other way round too. Do more of whatever tends to make you laugh – comedy shows, playing games or hanging around the friends most likely to make you giggle. Making people laugh is also very rewarding. My biggest fits of laughing always seem to happen at random, and shamelessly spending time with people who always make me laugh seems a bit of a selfish approach, but children and animals are good value here, if you know any!
  5. Creating a holiday feeling. People often thing their holidays are their happiest times and I am sure this is true, partly because they often encompass some of the things I have already listed, from spending more time outdoors to trying new things to getting more sleep – even avoiding things you dislike if you’re unlucky enough to have a job you don’t like. There are clearly aspects of a holiday you can’t recreate easily, like the sea and the weather, but if you think about what contributed to the happy memories you have, can you incorporate more of them into your everyday life? Did you watch TV every night on holiday? Perhaps not, so what did you do instead and can you do it at home? How many local villages and towns have you not visited – can you have more days out, or even an hour here or there? Did you love the breakfasts in your hotel – could you have a holiday breakfast every weekend?
  6. Eating food and drink that improves your mood. I’m not an expert on this and I expect a lot of it is a bit faddy, but I know there are foods that make me feel grumpy and there is lots of information out there about things to avoid (e.g. salty and sugary foods) or eat more of (green leafy veg, oily fish, oats etc). And a simple mug of hot water is one of my emergency measures if I’m feeling less than cheery.
  7. Receiving gifts. Well it is Christmas. And a good present – whether something you wanted or something you didn’t even know you wanted – can put you in a right good mood and leave a happy glow. This seems like a bit of a greedy item to have in my list but I think the point is to take time to appreciate the gift itself, and how it will change your life, and the person and thought behind the gift, for as long as possible – if it’s perishable, take a photo while you can and keep the memory!…
  8. Good memories. Thinking and talking about happy memories can bring back the same happy feelings. If you don’t have a very reliable memory then make use of photos, diaries and the people around you – these will help reinforce the memories in a way that seems more necessary than bad memories which seem to embed themselves very easily. And remember to make new memories too!
  9. Reading. I’m still considering this one. An old friend was recently shocked when I said I’d only just got back into reading properly after years of hardly reading anything. I was shocked by her shock, as I hadn’t really thought about the lack of books in my life and that this might have been a problem. I’ve felt a lot better since I’ve been reading more, I just don’t know why yet! A lot of reasons, I expect.
  10. Walking. I’ve already covered the outside world and exercise may feature in a future post but, for me, walking has special properties. At the worst of times, it can be the best medicine besides sleep. It passes the time, it can give you perspective, it’s calming, it takes you out of a situation, and it takes virtually no preparation. I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse mentally after a walk, but I’ve often felt better. And if you’re already in a good mood, then you’ll probably feel even better after clearing away some cobwebs, seeing some lovely trees/sky/buildings/sheep or maybe even having an unexpected brainwave! If in doubt, walk.

My next post will cover my unsurprising failure to achieve this year’s mission, and my plans for 2019. But I have a day and a bit to turn things around – let’s see how far I can get!

40 happy moments – a thought-provoking challenge

‘…happiness, like peace, or The Holy Spirit, is something you can only find when you are alone.’

‘A Summer of Drowning’ – John Burnside

When I was putting together this year’s challenge, a friend suggested ’40 happy moments’. I added it to the list as a very lovely and positive idea, not realising that I would find it weirdly difficult. I’ve spent the rest of this year so far vaguely wondering what we – and I – mean by happiness. How do you know when you’re having a happy moment?

I was relieved when I read the quote above, in an otherwise irrelevant (but excellent) book.  Looking back for occasions when I remembered thinking ‘I’m happy’ at that precise moment, I could initially only recall situations that involved things like walking on my own in the middle of nowhere, lazing in the garden in the sun with a book or some music on my headphones, or digging over a flowerbed. I felt bad about this until I read that line, which set me thinking.

Clearly I’ve had many fun and amazing times with other people so what does this mean? Is it just that things get complicated when other people are involved? Is there too much going on to be able to stop and appreciate? A ‘good time’ is always in danger of becoming a disaster at any moment. And is the state of mind of the other people too influential? If your happy moment doesn’t mean as much to those who shared it, it’s a bit cringe to post about it on your blog, isn’t it?

And how long is a happy moment? The properly ‘happy’ bits in the examples I gave at the beginning probably only lasted a few minutes even though the activity probably lasted longer. If you go to a great gig, you’re not happy for exactly two hours while you’re there. You might not even be happy about it until you think about it on your way home. Or you could be enjoying a fabulous meal at the same time as having an awful conversation, with each mouthful being a teeny happy moment but with the overall experience being the opposite. But life is full of knocks, challenges and sadnesses, so to aim for ‘happiness’ as a constant state is futile and unhelpful – and you can still have unexpected happy moments while you’re enduring the worst that life can throw at you.

Since I don’t think you can plan to have happy moments, and you can’t be happy all the time, then it makes sense to create a life for yourself that is generally agreeable to you and has the optimum chance of triggering genuine happy moments on an ongoing basis. I suppose that’s what this whole year’s challenge is all about for me and maybe it’s working. There have been times lately when I have thought ‘I’m not as miserable as I should be at the moment’! But in theory a holiday should be one long happy moment, and before I went on my first solo holiday abroad, I told someone that I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it until after I was safely back home. There is a difference between ‘happy moments’ and ‘happy memories’.

So instead of 40 happy moments, here are my first thoughts about things that might contribute to a happy life, for me but maybe for you too! Feedback and your own contributions (and quotes) would be gratefully received. We’re all beautifully different so there will be things on your list that will never be on mine and vice versa!

  1. Getting positive feedback. I received an email giving unexpectedly enthusiastic feedback following a training session I provided. If receiving positive feedback makes you happy, then try and do nice things and good work. But it means even more if you weren’t expecting it so it can’t really be your motivation behind doing the nice things and the good work.
  2. Nice stuff! I don’t think I’m a particularly materialistic person but having recently downsized and given away an awful lot of stuff, I’ve thought a lot about possessions and which ones are important. I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve got more clearing out to do. But I really love these coasters and they make me happy every time I look at them! So I bought some more. For you it might be a pair of shoes, a gadget or your bike.

    Coasters by Alison Hullyer – http://www.hullyer.co.uk/shop/
  3. A window of calm. If, like me, you realise you’re more likely to experience happiness if you’re feeling calm, then you need to give yourself a chance to let the dust settle from time to time. I’m sure meditation and mindfulness can help with this but it could equally be the routine of your journey home, a useful but straightforward chore, knitting – something that takes you away and stops your brain buzzing (even if you thought you were fine as you were).
  4. Being useful. I often feel like a bit of a waste of space so an opportunity to ‘do good’ usually leads to a happy glow. I am trying to do one-offs rather than anything that involves ongoing commitment, as the latter runs the risk of eventually letting people down which is not a happy feeling!
  5. Music. Singing is good for you, listening to live music is inspiring, dancing is apparently good for you although my day of clog dancing is the only time I remember being sufficiently un-self-conscious and sober to experience this properly. Hearing a favourite song you’d forgotten about can be great, especially if it reminds you of a happy time, but a word of warning here as music is so evocative it can just as easily remind you of something awful and plunge you into the doldrums!
  6. Eating and drinking! If my holiday hadn’t involved delicious food and wine, it would have basically been a week of worrying with a bit of walking here and there and some nice trees. As alcohol is a depressant, but there is an awful lot of happy socialising I wouldn’t do without it, I find this a tricky one. Happy food-and-drink moments are often small, surprising treats and seasonal bounties rather than massive slabs of cake and hangover-inducing binges, so I think this one just needs a bit of awareness and caution.
  7. Cooking. There is a difference between cooking when you have to, and cooking when you have time to revel in it. Personally I particularly enjoy preparing vegetables – even butternut squash. I like big handfuls of herbs, I like pressing ‘start’ on my slow cooker and I like putting a tub of delicious leftovers in the fridge for tomorrow. And if I cook for someone else and it goes down well, that’s nothing short of miraculous. What are your favourite aspects of cooking?recipe
  8. The outside world. It’s not a coincidence that the three examples I gave at the start of this post were all outdoors. Whether you’re a sun worshipper, dog walker, runner, gardener, nature lover, barbecue guru or people watcher, you’ll no doubt have your own ‘outside things’ that improve your wellbeing. Even being indoors with the window open can be magical.window2
  9. Relief! I have become much better at being THRILLED when bad or difficult things are over. It’s a good habit to feel that something was horrible but that now ‘I’m all right at the moment!’ Is this one of the few times when you can actually predict that you’ll have a happy moment and even plan for it? How can you capitalise on it?
  10. A good sleep. I’m halfway through Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Sadly I now suspect that years of poor sleep are the cause of ALL of my problems. I realise the scope for experiencing happy moments while you’re actually asleep is limited. But for many reasons, particularly due to the massive link with mental health issues, you stand a much greater chance of being happy while you’re awake if you’re well rested.

Hopefully I can get this list up to 40 by the end of the year as I’m still very far from my total of 680 things! Expect to see topics like nature, learning, activity, animals, human contact of various sorts, creativity, receiving gifts, laughing, avoiding things that make you unhappy, walking, and, of course, doing new things. I’ve also realised recently that I find it easier to achieve things if I ‘come at them sideways’ so I was pleased to find a book about this whole concept – Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly by John Kay. The blurb on the back specifically mentions happy people and that they don’t set out in direct pursuit of happiness. I purchased it yesterday and hope to find some further pearls of wisdom within – I shall report back.books

Holiday new things – my first solo trip abroad

I went to Germany! I have been to Germany before. Several times. But I have never been on my own before. In fact, I have never been abroad on my own before. And as you will know if you read about my first solo holiday earlier in the year, I have never been away on my own before for more than three nights.

I picked an Inntravel walking holiday which involved staying in three hotels over six nights, walking from hotel to hotel every two days (while luggage was transported separately) and choosing from a selection of planned walks on the in-between days.

It’s a long story of new things so I’ve turned it into a list.

Hotel new things

I have never really been a hotel kind of person so this gave me some ideas about what to look for in hotels in future.

  • Four hotels in one week (all new hotels – Radisson Blu at Stansted, Hotel and Restaurant Peterle in Feldberg-Falkau, Waldhotel Fehrenbach in Alpersbach and Hotel Die Krone in Kirchzarten).
  • An airport hotel.
  • Hotel with an honesty bar.

Travel new things

  • Online check-in.
  • Self bag drop (I love how Ryanair claim this is really quick, which it is if you ignore the insane amount of time queuing with people from every other flight beforehand).
  • Flying solo.
  • Frankfurt airport.
  • Taking the train, a bus and a taxi abroad on my own.
  • Catching a replacement bus in Germany.
  • First holiday with Inntravel.
  • Circling for ages waiting to land while a runway was being repaired 😦

I didn’t enjoy some of these much! But would recommend Inntravel and Frankfurt airport was much more relaxing than Stansted.

Wildlife new things

  • Storks!
  • A hummingbird hawkmoth landed on me (it liked my Fitbit).
  • Shared a balcony with housemartins.
  • Not wildlife exactly but my first experience of hearing cows with actual cowbells (and goats with goatbells) – very nice background noise.cowbells
  • Pied flycatchers.

I did think this list would be longer.

Food and drink new things

I was totally spoilt with the food and drink from day one. Every last morsel was fantastic. Here’s a sample of the new things I tried, although all of the wine will have been new too.

  • Gruner Jagdbirne. My first drink of the holiday so it was particularly delicious. jagdbirne
  • Herring tartare.
  • Rhubarb celery cream soup.
  • Copious amounts of white asparagus. It is HUGE and everywhere and delicious. Spargelzeit!asparagus
  • Food made with bits of Christmas tree (‘Spruce-tips semifreddo with apricots’).
  • Breakfast served like an afternoon tea.breakfast
  • Veal.
  • Maultaschen – the local version of ravioli.
  • Nettles.
  • Various dishes with herbs I’d never eaten before e.g. this cucumber and comfrey delicacy.

New places

  • The Black Forest. I’ve been to Bad Urach on a school trip and although this doesn’t seem to be in the Black Forest, I can’t be absolutely sure where we went while we there. Anyway, I can’t remember it and I’ve never been for a whole Black Forest holiday so I’m counting it.
  • Freiburg (pictured), Kirchzarten, Alpersbach and Feldberg-Falkau.

Walking new things

  • Defaced a map. I got myself a bit worked up about my first hotel-to-hotel walk even through I had step-by-step instructions so I drew the route on my map.map
  • Fitbit record – 174 ‘flights of stairs’ in one day.
  • Walked hotel-to-hotel with baggage transported separately.
  • Sat out a thunderstorm for 1.5 hours in a hut (this hut).hut

Random other new things

  • Got the nearest I’m ever likely to be to a ski-lift.ski-lift
  • Talk from a herbalist – tour of hotel grounds tasting different wild plants, and demo of how to make rose petal syrup.
  • Drank water from the source of a spring. One hotel had its own spring and all of the hotel’s water came from this.spring

I did it! This was by no means guaranteed! I’m fairly sure this is the bravest positive thing I’ve ever done – it might not seem brave but for me it was new thing after new thing after new thing, some of which were super stressful to the point of me wanting to go home. But I am very proud of myself, the food and the walks were stunning, and I will have to go back because I didn’t have a single piece of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. 

A special nod to Joe and Lauren, the only other people who turned out to be doing exactly the same holiday as me and who entertained me in the evenings with stories of their encounter with the ‘guard cows’ and life in the US. Thank you both!

New things every day in May – Caroline (final week)

I also managed a new thing every day in May – maybe you’ll hear about it one day! The final thing was my first ever online check-in for a flight (yes, it’s been a while) – only a little thing, but my first ever solo abroad holiday is not little, and probably wouldn’t be happening at all if it hadn’t been for all the many other little new things I’ve done. For now though, I will leave you in Caroline’s capable hands.

Here’s my final instalment from my month of new things.

22nd May

Someone at work showed me a new moth – the chocolate tip. They are mostly found in woodland areas, but this one was on a wall next to a door (though I do work on a reserve that has a woodland in it). Did you know there are 2,500 species of moths in the UK? There are just 59 species of butterfly.PIC 1

23rd May

I went to a nature printing workshop at work and did a print of two different leaves. I loved it! Really enjoyed the whole process of rolling out the paint, adding the leaf, then peeling it off to see what the result was. Other people did experiments with lots of leaves together, and mixing colours. I really should do more arty things like this. It was so rewarding.PIC2

24th May

I went through the boot of someone’s car to retrieve their car keys that they’d left in the ignition, so I feel like an everyday superhero!PIC3

25th May

Very shortly after we got together 13 years ago, my partner Chris told me that The The were the only band that he’d never seen and would probably never be able to. The last time they toured was 15/16 years ago, but for various reasons he’d missed them every time. So when they announced they were playing a series of shows around the UK in 2018, he snapped up tickets for several of their dates, including two warm-up shows in Nottingham. I went with him, feeling like a bit of a fraud. Here’s a band with a loyal following of middle-aged (mostly) men who are mad keen to see them, and the Rescue Rooms is easily the smallest venue of the tour, tickets went like hot cakes and then there’s me, who’s heard a bit of their music in the car. There’s something incredible about being in a crowd who are all passionate about the band about to go on stage. When they came on, the place erupted. It was amazing, but again, it felt… like someone else probably deserved the ticket more than me. Everyone in the place (except me) knew all the words to every song. I’m not sure I’ve experienced quite that level of adulation before, at any gig, ever. There were tears, there was singing, there was grinning, there were men making friends. I enjoyed it, quite an experience. Perhaps next time I’m in a similar situation I should make the effort to listen to more of the music in advance!

26th May

Another music-related new thing today! I was part of a concert to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the church where my choir practices. All the music in the programme was composed and first performed in 1898. This included three pieces that I’d never heard before. The first was On Away! Awake, Beloved! by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The second was Theme Varié Op 89 by Cécile Chaminade, a French composer and pianist who was once world-famous, and travelled all over the world partly to showcase her music, but who now is virtually unknown. The third piece was Chanson de Bilitis by Claude Debussy – three love songs in French. In the first one, the female protagonist knows she is staying out too late with her man as she hears the call of frogs which marks the start of the evening!

27th May

Running shoes are expensive – over £100 a pair. Perhaps that is why I had, until today, two old pairs of running shoes in my house for no real reason. I had half-baked ideas to make them into planters or something, but those ideas never came to anything. I couldn’t wear them for running anymore, as they started rubbing in strange places. Maybe it was sentimentality, as I used one pair when I did the London Marathon in 2016. Anyway, they served no useful purpose so today’s new thing was getting rid of them! I put both into the shoe recycling bin at the running shop Advance Performance. They send the shoes to the company SOEX UK who recycle them. Apparently, 75% of the shoes are in good enough condition to be worn again, and the remaining 25% are recycled into a variety of different products, by extracting the rubber, leather and textiles from the shoes.PIC4

28th May

I got an owl moneybox painting kit for my birthday in March. Today, I painted the owl. Doing a new things challenge is great for forcing you to get round to things! Today I also did my tax return. This wasn’t a new thing, but in May 2016, one of my New Things was to do my tax return on the day I got my P60. Whilst I didn’t do that, I do think that doing new things has meant I’m less likely to put these kinds of things off. Plus, I now have a smug face because it’s not due for another eight months!PIC5

29th May

I went out for Chris’ birthday and had a new cocktail: the Orchard Spritz. It contains elderflower cordial, apple juice and lemonade. Very summery and tasty!PIC6

30th May

I got my kickboxing brown belt today! Very pleased as I messed up the grading quite badly, forgot some of the moves, got hit in the face and completely bruised my shins!

31st May

Final new thing! A colleague told me that there are nesting great spotted woodpeckers very near to our office. I stuck my head out of a window and heard the sound of them peeping! I couldn’t get a picture of the nest as I’m not sure where it is, so here is the tree they’re in.PIC7

It’s the end of a month of new things! This time round, I deliberately didn’t really plan them all as such, as I’ve done in previous years. Instead, I waited to see what opportunities for new things came to me. It worked!

I’m going to take a break tomorrow, but then I have more new things planned: seeing the Rolling Stones, doing yoga at the Natural History Museum, and then from 4th June I’m going to be volunteering on the RSPB reserve at Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland for three weeks!

New Things Every Day in May – Caroline (week 3)

I am such a terrible blogger at the moment, although I am just about up-to-date with my 40th birthday challenge list. Luckily, Caroline has done some actual writing and some more new things.

Here’s my third week of new things.

15th May

I have played board games in pubs before, but I’ve never played Pass the Bomb in a pub! That is what happened today. It involved a fair bit of improvisation. The dice were both missing, so we used two coins instead. The bomb (which goes off at random intervals) also wasn’t working, so we used a timer on a phone instead.

The verdict is that playing games in pubs is a very good thing. I’m very, very bad at this particular game.


16th May

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I took the Mental Health Foundation stress test. It turns out that I’m not very stressed as I scored ‘low’ stress and 9 out of 40. The stress measures perceived stress levels ie how you yourself measure your own levels of stress.

17th May

I went for dinner in the Railway Vue in Impington, and was presented with a chopping board instead of a plate. I’m not sure why plates are so terrible, and why there is a current trend to eschew them in favour of other things like pieces of slate. It all seems very unnecessary to me, but anyway it was a perfectly nice veggie burger. In another new thing, a member of our party did a runner without meaning to… but then sent an apologetic text about 30 seconds later.


18th May

A went out for a 40th birthday and watched a band called Vin Yeti. It wasn’t just a new thing for me, it was a new thing for them too, as it was their first ever gig! I also saw four daft men in a band called Chenny, who did an hour’s worth of action movie soundtrack covers. Think Eye of the Tiger, The Heat is On, Highway to the Danger Zone, I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing. Silly singalong fun.


19th May

Sometimes, new things just present themselves. This is what happened today. I came across a busker I’d never seen before: a man with a gigantic hoop, whirling around a large space with Bastille’s Pompeii blaring out. It was a beautiful sunny day, so I stopped to look and gave him some change. I particularly liked his note next to his collection bucket: ‘When you find something you love doing that brings happiness to others, keep doing it.’

20th May

As part of our choir rehearsal, we sang with a 19th century harmonium. The church where we practice is 120 years old this year, and this harmonium is the original instrument of the church! It’s been completely restored too. It works a bit like an organ, but the person playing it has to constantly press the pedals down in order to get air to the pipes.


21st May

I went to a ‘tranquility zone’ session at work – half an hour of silence, readings and music. It was very relaxing. Here’s an extract from one of the readings:

The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and colour from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.